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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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How we charge our devices, the travel tech we’re taking with us this year, our thoughts on Apple’s plans for digital IDs, and an examination of Apple’s newly announced Self Repair Program.


By Dan Moren for Macworld

Why does Apple’s ‘change’ feel more forced than transformative?

Apple gets a lot of flak for its “my way or the highway” approach to, well, pretty much everything: App Store terms, product design, colors, and so on. While that’s an approach that definitely has its benefits—you can tell when committees start getting involved in design, and the end result is rarely good—it also lends itself to a degree of obduracy that can be frustrating for any other parties that have to deal with the company.

But that philosophy doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t willing to make changes when it needs to. Innovation is, after all, another one of the company’s hallmarks, and sitting on one’s laurels in the technology market is rarely a path to success. It’s just that sometimes that change doesn’t from people inside the company, but from external forces.

Lately, the company’s made a number of surprising backtracks against previous policies, and while they might not always be done out of the goodness of its heart—as much as a corporation can be said to have one—it does prove that Apple can learn and perhaps improve&even if it sometimes has to be dragged, kicking and screaming.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


John takes a foray into smart home automation. Dan wonders about Apple’s rumored headset, and special guest James Thomson takes us to programming school.


Our computer speaker setups, the latest apps we’ve installed, whether we’re experiencing NFT FOMO, and the smart home gadgets we’d like to get this holiday season.


Apple launches a consumer “Self Service Repair” program, starting with iPhones

In a move that I would wager almost nobody saw coming, Apple has announced that it will now allow consumers to buy official parts and tools to repair their own devices:

Available first for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups, and soon to be followed by Mac computers featuring M1 chips, Self Service Repair will be available early next year in the US and expand to additional countries throughout 2022. Customers join more than 5,000 Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs) and 2,800 Independent Repair Providers who have access to these parts, tools, and manuals.

Essentially, this will give end users the same access that Apple Authorized Service Providers get in terms of instructions, tools, and parts. Initially, this will involve the parts that are most commonly repaired: screens, batteries, and cameras.

In a nice move, Apple says that if you return the part you’re replacing for the company to recycle, you’ll get a credit towards your purchase.

Apple does emphasize that this is really aimed at folks with the technical know-how to replace their own product.

One chief impetus for this is no doubt the growing push for “Right to Repair” legislation across the U.S. (my home state of Massachusetts having been an early adopter of this movement).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Apple’s products will necessarily become any easier to repair. iFixit—a longtime proponent of Right to Repair legislation—and others have long provided detailed teardowns Apple products, and while there has been some improvement in places, don’t expect Apple to let you, say, replace your own RAM (especially given that its now basically part of the system on a chip package).

—Linked by Dan Moren

macOS Monterey’s new network quality tool

Developer Dan Petrov has a quick write up of the new command line network quality tool included in macOS Monterey:

It seems that Apple has quietly added a new tool in macOS Monterey for measuring your device’s Internet connectivity quality. You can simply call the executable networkQuality, which executes the following tests:

  • Upload/download capacity (your Tx/Rx bandwidth essentially)
  • Upload/download flows, this seems to be the number of test packets used for the responsiveness tests
  • Upload/download responsiveness measured in Roundtrips Per Minute (RPM), which according to Apple, is the number of sequential round-trips, or transactions, a network can do in one minute under normal working conditions

As Petrov points out, this is pretty similar to speed tests available from Fast.com or Speedtest.net, but it is useful to have access to it on the command line—plus there are some advantages to the fact that the Monterey tool by default tests upload and download simultaneously, as well as providing you with a qualitative assessment of your connection. Another handy tool for your kit.

—Linked by Dan Moren

By Dan Moren for Macworld

If Apple keeps letting its software slip, the next big thing won’t matter

One of Apple’s best qualities is the time and energy it spends on pushing the envelope of technology. In recent years, it’s debuted impressive camera features, world-class tablets, amazing processors, and much much more.

But one challenge with continually moving the state of the art forward is that sometimes it comes at the expense of making sure the technology that’s already here works as well as it can. After all, if you have to add a dozen new features in a year, that could mean taking away from work enhancing reliability, and squashing bugs in existing features.

We’ve all encountered a slew of problems—some simple (if ridiculous) to fix, others are maddeningly difficult to troubleshoot. As our devices get more and more complex, it’s all too easy for some of those problems to persist for years. And though the best part of the Apple experience has long been “it just works,” the question is…what happens when it doesn’t?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Dan Moren

Rebuilding my smart home: Sensors active

Being able to control your lights from your devices or enjoy audio in every room are great goals for a smart home, but smart tech isn’t just about the things you can do, but what your smart home can do for you.

That’s one reason I’ve been experimenting with smart home sensors over the last few years. At the moment, my setup is still pretty limited—I haven’t yet delved into water leak sensors or door sensors—but I have invested pretty heavily in temperature sensors, which I’ve deployed in several places in the house. More often than not, this is just for my own edification, but there are also a few instances where there are specific usage cases.

ecobee3 lite

First off, when I installed a new furnace in the house last year, I had an ecobee3 lite smart thermostat put in too. It’s a huge upgrade over my old apartment’s thermostat, which was nothing more than a temperature dial with a few opaque buttons on it and could only be programmed (in a rather complex fashion) from the furnace unit itself.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.


Joanna Stern embarks upon 24 hours in the metaverse

Delightful video from the Wall Street Journal‘s Joanna Stern about trying to spend 24 hours in the metaverse.1 My eyes hurt just from watching.

Long story short: the metaverse is a ways from being a place most people are going to spend any time, but it’s quickly heating up as a battleground for tech companies. Expect to see a lot more about it in the next year.


  1. In a Holiday Inn Express, no less. 
—Linked by Dan Moren

Panic’s Playdate delayed until early 2022

Global supply chain issues strike again! The first units of Panic’s Playdate handheld gaming device were scheduled to ship before the end of the year, but they’ve now been delayed to early 2022, due to hardware issues:

As our first 5,000 finished Playdate units arrived at our warehouse in California for 2021, we began to test a few of them. We quickly became concerned that some of them weren’t giving us the battery life we expected. Playdate’s battery is designed to last a very long time, and always be ready for you, even if not used for a while. But that was not the case: in fact, we found a number of units with batteries so drained, Playdate wouldn’t power on at all — and couldn’t be charged. That’s a battery worst-case scenario.

This quickly turned into a months-long, all-hands-on-deck research stress-ball, and we halted production at the factory.

Moreover, it turns out that the processors the device uses were backed ordered for two years, so Panic decided to make a change for later units that would allow them to use a similar chip that’s more easily available.

At least there is some good news: the public beta of the Playdate’s web-based game development tool will arrive in January 2022, with the full SDK available in February.

I’ve been looking forward to the Playdate since even before I got to try out a test unit a couple years ago at WWDC. It’s a bummer that it won’t arrive until next year at some point, but such is the way of pretty much all hardware at this point.

—Linked by Dan Moren


Our thoughts on Twitter’s new subscription service, the keyboards we’re using, how we feel about smart locks, and some thoughts on Apple’s new Communication Safety features for Messages.


Apple’s request for a stay denied in Epic case

The Verge’s Adi Robertson:

Epic v. Apple judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers says Apple must comply with an order to let developers add links and buttons to external payment options, denying the company’s motion for a stay. “Apple’s motion is based on a selective reading of this Court’s findings and ignores all of the findings which supported the injunction,” her new order reads.

Despite winning nine out of ten counts in the Apple v. Epic, Cupertino decided it was going to push for a perfect score by appealing the one place it lost (specifically, the judge’s decision that Apple can’t stop developers from linking out of their apps for alternative forms of payment). That change is scheduled to go into effect next month; Apple’s request for a stay was an attempt to delay that change, by claiming that it needed more time to figure out how implementation would work and that appeals were still pending, but Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has denied that request.

So what happens next? Apple hasn’t exhausted its options: the company plans to appeal to the Ninth Circuit to grant the stay (and in theory, it could take it to the Supreme Court), but there are no guarantees. So it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the App Store landscape might be in for a change as early as next month.

That said, even with the ability to link out of apps, the rest of the decisions in the Apple v. Epic case don’t make it an unmitigated win for developers (or consumers). There exists the possibility that even if consumers choose to take advantage of external payment options, developers could still end up having to pay a cut to Apple for use of the store and platform.

—Linked by Dan Moren

By Dan Moren

Review: Lutron Aurora bridges the gap between Hue bulbs and wall switches

Much as I love some good smart home lighting, there’s nothing worse than running into a problem that is singularly dumb. Recently, I detailed the smart home lighting setup in my new house, and noted that in addition to installing Lutron Caseta switches, I had also repurposed my older Hue bulbs as overhead lights in my office.

Just one problem: that meant that I could no longer use the wall switch to turn the overhead lights on and off, and instead had to use Siri, pull out my phone, or stumble inside in the dark to find the Hue dimmer switch that I magneted to my filing cabinet.

I’d resigned myself to sticking the dimmer switch to the wall next to the existing switch1 when I stumbled across a clever product that seemed like the perfect antidote to my problems: the Lutron Aurora.

Lutron Aurora
The switch (left) clicks into a bracket (right) that sits on the wall switch and is tightened in place with a screw.

The Lutron Aurora is a smart switch designed specifically to work with Hue bulbs (though it can work other Zigbee bulbs as well) and looks like a traditional round dimmer control. It comes in two parts: there’s bracket that you put on a single-pole (or toggle) light switch and then tighten with a screw to keep in place and the dial itself snaps onto that. Installation is fast: it probably took me less than a minute, plus about 30 seconds to pair the switch to my bulbs in the Hue app.

Now I have a wall switch that I can press to turn on and off the lights in my office, and even dim them using the rotating dial control. Best of all, it means I don’t accidentally trip over anything on the floor of my office while groping around to turn the lights on.

While I set up the Aurora with the Hue Bridge I already use my setup, it’ll work without one as well, letting you directly control up to a dozen Zigbee light bulbs. It’s powered by a small CR2032 coin-cell battery, which Lutron says will last up to about 3 years and is easily replaceable. And it doesn’t require any wiring or permanent installation: you can always just remove it later, no harm done.

Just as a note, technically the Aurora doesn’t support HomeKit, but since it communicates directly with the Hue bulbs, that’s hardly a dealbreaker. It basically works in parallel and I’ve had no problem, say, turning on the bulbs with the Home app and turning them off with the Aurora, or vice versa. It does mean you’ll have to do configuration via Hue’s app, which means using their light states/scenes/recipes, but since it’s kind of a set-and-forget-it usage, I don’t foresee any significant issues.

The Aurora’s $40 price tag isn’t dirt cheap, but for me, it’s more than worth that to let me keep my Hue bulbs in service and solve the annoyance of a light switch I can never use.


  1. But I couldn’t bring myself to tape the light switch into my place. The idea physically pains me. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


By Dan Moren for Macworld

How 2022 could be a game-changing year for Apple

As the waning days of 2021 are upon us, it’s time once again to look ahead to the future, to the horizon. Despite a global pandemic and supply chain woes aplenty, Apple has had a blockbuster year, with successful launches of new iPhones and iPads, and a continued transition on the Mac that is redefining the product line for the next generation.

But in the tech business, you’re only as good as your next move. No company can afford to rest on its laurels, and even Apple, with all of its success, is not an exception. So as we start thinking about closing the books on 2021, it’s worth looking ahead to that puck that Apple’s skating towards. And while we may have good reason to anticipate some of its upcoming products, there are always places where Apple could have something surprising up its sleeve.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Dan Moren

Monterey’s new screensaver is probably a trip through an underwater canyon

Amongst the additions in macOS Monterey are a couple new screensavers—I know, try and contain your excitement. One is the retro “Hello” module inspired by Steve Jobs’s introduction of the original Macintosh.

The other is the eponymous “Monterey” module, which appears to be a pretty minimalist series of shifting color images, along the same pink-purple palette that Apple’s used in many of its dynamic desktop wallpapers in Big Sur.

Monterey screensaver

But reader Josef uncovered something interesting about the Monterey screen saver, and it turns out that it’s more complicated than you might think.

While poking around in the file for the Monterey screensaver (which you can find at /System/Library/Screen Savers/Monterey.saver), Josef found a file called canyon.abc inside the package. That’s an Alembic 3D file that appears to contain a mapping of (as the name suggests) a canyon. If you open the file in Preview, you’ll find that you can actually zoom in and out and pan around the image.

Monterey Canyon model

Combined with a second file in the Monterey screen saver, camera paths.abc, it seems pretty clear that what might look like simply an abstract series of colors is actually an animated trip through this 3D model of a landscape—not dissimilar in some ways to the Aerial screensaver on the Apple TV.

Which raises the question: Where exactly is this canyon?

The name Monterey, of course, seems to suggest this is likely Monterey Canyon, the enormous underwater canyon in Monterey Bay, California.

I’ve pulled up a few other three dimensional maps of Monterey Canyon, but it’s hard to tell exactly where this might correspond. The screensaver model seems to be only a partial reconstruction, and it’s mainly concerned with the areas where the camera seems to traverse—just that big central loop; plus, it’s hard to get a sense of the scale or orientation.

Still, it’s a pretty cool little easter egg that makes a mere screensaver decidedly more complex than at first glance.1


  1. Even without any flying toasters. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


Some of us are going to virtual reality. The rest of us are stuck in this stupid reality.


Microsoft and Facebook’s new metaverse moves, Netflix’s entry into the games market, Zoom’s consideration of an ad-supported model, and how we deal with needing to use Windows on our Apple silicon Macs.


By Dan Moren

The trials and travails of iOS 15’s digital vaccine cards

Apple’s added a few features over the last couple years that help us cope with our current world situation, whether it be unlocking our iPhones with our Apple Watches or improvements to FaceTime. In iOS 15.1 last month, it rolled out the ability to store a digital version of your vaccine record in the Wallet app.

With more and more places requiring proof of vaccination, it seems like digital vaccine records would be the way to go—way better than trying to cram that huge card into your wallet. So I decided to give it a whirl.

But if there’s been any constant in my interactions with health and technology (especially over the last year and a half), it’s that things are always more complex than it seems like they should be—especially here in the U.S., where healthcare is a fractured mess of public and private concerns.1

COVID-19 vaccine in Wallet
I managed to get my vaccine record into my Wallet, eventually.

Such it was with vaccine cards. Apple’s system uses the SMART Health Cards specification that’s supported by a wide variety of governments, pharmacies, and healthcare providers; its goal is to create digital health records that can be easily verified.

The good news was that the healthcare network I use is a SMART Card Issuer, meaning that I ought to be able to go to my online patient portal and download the information I needed to import my vaccine records.

But not so fast: Even though I’m a patient of that network, it’s really an amalgam of a variety of different healthcare institutions (thanks to a variety of mergers, partnerships, and expansions), and many of those institutions have their own distinct online systems. After some digging around, I found that the place at which I got my vaccine had its own portal, which I don’t have access to because I’m not a regular patient at that location.2

So, in the end, I had to fill out a general-purpose PDF form authorizing that facility to release my medical records…to me. To their credit, they did reply quickly via email, providing me with a QR code that I could scan to add the vaccine record to iPhone and voilà: my digital vaccine card, complete with QR code. Tapping the tiny icon in the bottom left corner of the card opens the Health app and shows more detailed information, like which vaccine I received, and when and where the doses were administered; there’s even a nice green checkmark and a little explanation of what a verified record is.

Verification

This does, however, raise a second obstacle: uncertainty. I haven’t tried to use this digital vaccine card anywhere yet. Because even though the record is is verifiable using a freely available app, it’s unclear which places are actually going to be checking digital records. My local restaurants? Movie theaters? Many places—like airlines, restaurants, and entertainment venues—are using a variety of different systems. How do I know if they’re going to be set up to take my digital vaccine record? The last thing I want to do is to try and argue with somebody about downloading the right app. I don’t love the idea of carrying around a paper record that could be damaged or lost, but it least it has certainty on its side.

Of course, this isn’t all on Apple—after all, people on other platforms will surely have digital vaccine readers, and all those entities that want to check people’s vaccination status have a vested interest as well. But, again, that fractured system is what makes it so tough.

This isn’t the only place Apple’s dealing with this kind of issue: with iOS 15, the company also announced plans to work with states to make digital versions of driver’s licenses and state IDs. This feature is designed to work more like Apple Pay, where only certain requested information is transmitted via NFC to a reader device that can verify that information is accurate.

I’m still hopeful that having a digital vaccine card means I’ll be able to leave my paper record at home, but at the moment, it looks like I’ll probably be carrying both.


  1. Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework is a great example of a system that had a lot of potential, but the haphazard and patchy way it was rolled out across the country strongly hampered any utility it might have. (There were other problems as well, to be sure, but the implementation certainly didn’t help.) 
  2. By now I imagine a great number of our international readers who come from countries with national healthcare systems are wondering what fresh hell this is. Welcome to America! 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Notch your business

Reviews are in and the new MacBook Pros are a hit! Customers love the power, the battery life, the not totally garbage webcam, and the function keys that are actual keys. It’s hands down the best pro laptop Apple has made in years, and nobody could be disappointed by a single aspect of it.

Well. Except…the notch.

What used to be just a campfire tale warning children about the danger of those newfangled iPhones has now come for all of our Macs. Devouring our menu bars with no remorse. Consuming cursors with a vengeance. Concealing valuable, much-needed screen real estate.

Surely Apple, in its infinite loop wisdom, could have found a way to design around the notch. A company that can fit thousands of songs in your pocket? One that can pack so much power into smartphones that they can outperform expensive computers? That continues to make money with the efficiency of a machine designed only to make money?…

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