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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell for Macworld

How Apple’s new MacBook can avoid the same old mistakes

The Apple rumor mill has been churning lately with reports that Apple is readying a new consumer laptop that’s thinner than the MacBook Air, available in various colors, and possibly has the next generation of Apple silicon. Of course, it could very well be an update to the MacBook Air, but it seems to me like Apple is taking another crack at replacing its iconic notebook.

Apple has tried to replace the MacBook Air before—a disastrous attempt that ended up with both of its potential replacements being cancelled and the Air revived. If Apple is indeed trying again, will this time be different? Will Apple’s customers, who appear to adore the MacBook Air, follow the company’s lead? It all depends on how Apple approaches the transition—and whether it’s willing to make a clean break.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

by Jason Snell

New smart-home tech alliance is ‘Matter’

Stephen Shankland of CNET reports that the CHIP smart-home alliance announced back in December 2019 by Apple, Google, Amazon, and others, has a new name and is going to start rolling out publicly later this year:

Matter, the name of the alliance, will let smart devices, such as lightbulbs you turn on with Amazon Alexa or a video doorbell you monitor with Google Home, use its logo on their packaging. The logo looks like a trio of round-tipped arrows pointing toward a common center. Tobin Richardson, chief executive of Matter, said in an interview he expects the logo to become as “ubiquitous” as the Wi-Fi logo currently is.

The arrival of Matter should mark the end of incompatible, competing smart-home device standards. This should make buying and integrating smart-home devices a whole lot easier.

Home-tech writer Stacey Higginbotham has a lot more info, and on Twitter reports that all Philips Hue bulbs will work with the standard. Bring it on!

—Linked by Jason Snell

by Jason Snell

Snowman introduces Pok Pok

John Voorhees of MacStories has the details about Snowman’s big announcement:

Today, Snowman, the studio behind some of our favorite games on Apple platforms like Alto’s Adventure and OdysseyWhere Cards Fall, and Skate City, announced Pok Pok, a new creative studio that is launching an app on May 20th called Pok Pok Playroom.

Pok Pok Playroom is an app designed to encourage interactive play with a series of digital toys that spark curiosity and creativity in kids in a low-key, calming environment. The app’s digital playroom includes multiple brightly colored toys that prompt children to explore through independent play.

Snowman is one of the best developers of iOS apps around—Alto’s Odyssey is one of my all-time favorite iOS games—and the concept behind Pok Pok Playroom is delightful. They’re so confident in this new direction that they’ve spun out Pok Pok as a new creative studio in its own right. I’m looking forward to the app’s release on May 20.

—Linked by Jason Snell

This week Myke and Jason debate the form of future Mac laptops, discuss Apple and Epic’s first week in court (complete with angry emails!), and then imagine what’s next for iOS and iPadOS.

By Jason Snell

Kobo Libra H2O: Liberated from Amazon?

The Kobo Libra H2O is $100 less than the similar Kindle Oasis.

This past year I’ve been spending more time reading books on a Kobo ereader, rather than on my Kindle. The Kobo, a 2016-vintage Aura One, offered a few features that the Kindle didn’t, and I liked the idea of putting a mostly-unloved device to work at something it was good at.

At some point I noticed a big gouge in the screen, probably a legacy of a school trip my daughter took a few years ago. I kept staring at it. And that was when—as you do—I popped over to Kobo’s website to see what their current crop of ereaders looked like. It was just idle checking, I swear, and that’s why it took a couple of weeks for me to buy a Kobo Libra H2O.

After reading a few books on the Kobo, I’m prepared to declare that I actually prefer the Kobo to the Kindle. And while the Libra H2O is made of less premium materials than my old favorite, the Kindle Oasis, it also costs $100 less.

Kindle vs Kobo

I’ve been using Kindles since the beginning, and the pace of Kindle software innovation is quite slow, though it’s actually shown a bit of improvement over the last few years. Still, how is it possible that the Kindle didn’t let you use the cover of the book you’re currently reading as the screen saver image until April 2021?!

More library books are coming to my Kobo soon.

The software on the Kobo is, as you might expect, quite similar to that on the Kindle. But in a few areas, it’s clearly superior. Many libraries will let you borrow ebooks using Overdrive, a service that’s a part of the same company that owns Kobo. Unsurprisingly, Kobo connects well with Overdrive, allowing me to browse and check out books directly on the device. If I’ve checked out a book elsewhere—say, via the excellent Libby app, the book will download automatically the next time the device syncs to the network. You can see your Overdrive queue and return books, all from the device itself.

While Kindles will work with Overdrive, it’s a circuitous process. You need to check out a book on the web or in Libby, then click to send the book to, then click on to send the book to your Kindle. There’s no Overdrive interface on the Kindle itself. If you check out ebooks from the library, or might consider doing so, the Kobo’s simply better. Using Libby got me using library ebooks once in a while, but using a Kobo has made it a regular habit.

The other superior feature of the Kobo is typography. I can’t tell how much of the Kindle’s poor text handling is its operating system and how much is its selection of typefaces, but type just looks better on the Kobo. Kindle fonts seem jagged compared to Kobo fonts. Amazon has improved a lot of its maddening typography features over the years—forced justification being perhaps its greatest sin—but Kobo’s still ahead.

Both services let you buy books from their online stores. Really, Amazon’s greatest advantage over Kobo is that I’ve got years of book purchases locked up in Amazon’s proprietary, DRM-encoded format. However, I’m planning on keeping a Kindle around—and Calibre and its associated DeDRM plugin make it relatively easy for me to download old Kindle purchases and load them on a Kobo.

Down to the hardware

For $100 less you don’t get a nice aluminum back.

Like the high-end Kindle Oasis, the Kobo Libra H2O is a waterproof ereader with a sidelit seven-inch diagonal E Ink screen and a grippable edge with two physical page-turn buttons. The big difference between them is that the Kobo has a plastic back, while the Kindle’s is aluminum. There’s no doubt that the Kindle is nicer to hold—but it’s also $100 more. (You might notice the Kobo logo screened onto the front of the plastic; I wish it wasn’t there, but the truth is that I never notice it when I’m reading.)

I haven’t tried the $120 Kobo Clara, but I’d imagine it’s more or less comparable to the Kindle Paperwhite. And the truth is, for most people a low-end reader like the Paperwhite or Clara is a better deal. But I don’t really read paper books anymore, and so for me, getting a nicer ereader is worth it.

I’ve bought a couple of Kindle Oasis models over the years—the physical page-turn buttons are a must for me—and I’m really impressed that with the Libra H2O Kobo has made a credible competitor for $170. $270 is too much for most people to spend for a very fancy kindle, but $170 is a reasonable splurge for improved ergonomics.

Should you dump Kindle for Kobo? If you’ve got a huge investment in the Kindle ecosystem, it’s going to be a tough decision. (How often do you reread books? Will you keep your old Kindle around? Are you comfortable using Calibre and DeDRM to migrate your purchases?) Amazon has made a great effort to connect Kindle with Audible, and if you switch between ebooks and audiobooks, Amazon offers a superior experience.

But if you frequently check out ebooks from your local library, or think you might want to, Kobo has an advantage. The typography’s better. Support for the Pocket reading service is built in. And if you’ve always wanted a Kindle Oasis but couldn’t stomach the price tag, the Kobo Libra H2O is an awfully nice alternative.

And after all that, I’ll be honest: While I am still a big user of Amazon, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the company, its policies, and its impact on the world. Ebooks are a teeny part of the Amazon juggernaut, but it’s an area where it has very little competition—and having tried this particular competition, I find it superior. All things being equal, I think I’d like to throw my support behind the competitor. And things are not equal—the Kobo really does feel better.

So for now, I’m reading all my books on a Kobo. I can’t guarantee that the next Kindle won’t dazzle me into returning to the fold—remember, a slight screen gouge on a perfectly good Kobo sent me down this path—but I’m enjoying being out of the Amazon ecosystem for the time being.

May 7, 2021

Apple spent the week in court while we all wait for the iMac and iPad Pro to arrive.

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by Jason Snell

Good night, sweet hedgehog

When I started Six Colors in 2014, one of the first tools that I adopted was Nuzzel. Nuzzel looked at my Twitter feed, and even my Twitter lists, as well as the feeds of other people, and turned that information into a newsreader of sorts—powered by the links shared by the people I chose to follow on Twitter.

Alas, we can’t have nice things, which is why Nuzzel is dead. It was acquired by a company called Scroll which was acquired yesterday by Twitter. The only possible upside here is that Twitter says it’s “exploring how to bring the Nuzzel experience to Twitter.” And the truth is, Nuzzel would be great as a feature of Twitter, because it was always just an alternate view of Twitter, or of the web powered by Twitter.

Nuzzel in action.

Sometimes I felt like I was the only person who used Nuzzel, but the announcement of its discontinuation has brought numerous journalists out of the woodwork to decry its loss. I hope that Twitter takes that reaction to heart and builds a new version of Nuzzel, or something like it, that uses the power of social-media streams to aggregate and curate interesting links.

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell

Why isn’t Apple Podcasts showing you the latest podcasts?

ATP Episode 429 is out… everywhere but in Apple Podcasts.

I’m getting a lot of tweets and emails saying the same thing: the latest episode of (some podcast I’m involved with) hasn’t shown up in Apple Podcasts.

Unfortunately, right now my only answer is to say, “It’s displaying properly in every other podcast app around, so if you’ve ever thought of using Overcast or Castro or Pocket Casts or any other alternative podcast app, now might be a good time to try.”

This is an issue on Apple’s side. Apple is aware of it and presumably is working on a fix.

I do have a theory about what’s happening, though. This is just informed speculation, but:

  • The new version of Podcasts shifts from the model where each individual copy of the app talks to the RSS feed directly, to the model held by most podcast apps—a central server that monitors all the RSS feeds, pings them on a regular basis, and then updates the metadata in the individual app when needed. So the app phones home once to Apple rather than to every different server of every subscribed feed.
  • Separately, Apple’s had a “crawler” for years that goes out and grabs the RSS content of podcasts in its database to use in updating web pages and previews of podcasts. It’s not what the app displayed when you were subscribed to a feed, but it was what it used as a preview when you weren’t subscribed. The problem with this crawler is that it was very, very slow, at least for my podcasts. People used to complain to me all the time that the latest episode of my podcast that I was promoting wasn’t appearing in Apple Podcasts or in Apple’s web preview of the podcast; my standard reply was “Try subscribing to the podcast.” It always worked.

  • I assume that the new version of Apple Podcasts, which is reliant on an Apple crawler to update podcast RSS feeds, has forced Apple to drastically improve the speed and reliability of that crawler.

  • Possibly related, Apple is currently migrating a bunch of old podcasts that use its old Site Manager dashboard to the new and shinier Podcasts Publisher dashboard. That’s due by the end of the month.

So here’s my theory: Since Apple is migrating all podcasts to its more modern publishing system, perhaps the new, improved crawler only crawls the podcasts that are in this system? In that scenario, the podcasts that have not yet migrated would still use the old, slow crawler. The result: long delays for listeners.

Regardless of the cause, I hope this issue is resolved soon. And either way, I’m looking forward to my podcasts being migrated to a more modern set of tools within Apple’s system.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

What could Apple give up to put off greater legal threats?

Apple does what it wants to do, and nothing else. At least, that’s the company’s preference…but sometimes courts and laws and governments get in the way. And at the moment, as some Apple executives sit in court while others ponder the European Commission’s finding that it engaged in anticompetitive behavior, it seems like Apple is reaching a point where it’s going to have to do some things that it doesn’t really want to do.

The big question is, will Apple be able to bargain with the powers that be, offering smaller changes that will take pressure and scrutiny off of the rest of the company’s practices? Or will it be forced to change in ways it absolutely doesn’t want by judges and regulators who have decided that its behavior is in violation of the law?

This is complicated stuff. There’s no way to tell how it’ll turn out. But it’s worth considering some of the possibilities, which I’ll rank from most likely to happen (and generally, least catastrophic to Apple) to least likely (and most catastrophic).

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

by Jason Snell

‘LaserWriter II: A Novel’

MCD x FSG books, promoting the debut novel of New York Times and New Yorker illustrator Tamara Shopsin:

LaserWriter II is a coming-of-age tale set in the legendary 90s indie NYC Mac repair shop TekServe—a voyage back in time to when the internet was new, when New York City was gritty, and when Apple made off-beat computers for weirdos. Our guide is Claire, a 19-year-old who barely speaks to her bohemian co-workers, but knows when it’s time to snap on an antistatic bracelet.

This sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Apple had a record-breaking quarter that showed strong growth in all areas of its business, but clouds loom on the horizon. A global semiconductor shortage threatens Mac and iPad sales, the EU ruled that the App Store is anticompetitive, and Apple’s court case with Epic Games is about to kick off. Did Tim Cook suggest that Apple is ready to change its policies to avoid even harsher sanctions? And upon further consideration, does Apple Podcasts Subscriptions create another barrier to competition in the App Store?

by Jason Snell

Is a higher-quality Apple Music tier on the way?

Music industry site Hits Daily Double reported Thursday that Apple Music is going hi-fi:

Apple will announce a new high-fidelity audio streaming tier in the coming weeks at the same $9.99-per-user price point as its standard plan, label sources are telling us. The announcement is expected to coincide with the launch of the third-generation AirPods. Whether these will be compatible with the new, improved audio offering is unknown.

It’s interesting to note that many Apple leaks end up coming from somewhere other than Apple, especially if it’s in the notoriously leaky entertainment industry. Here we’ve got a music label spilling the beans.

And here’s 9to5Mac reporting that there are hints of this within iOS 14.6:

9to5Mac can now confirm that a HiFi plan may indeed be coming to Apple Music. In the first beta build of iOS 14.6, which was released last week to developers, we found new code added to the Music app that specifically mentions “Dolby Atmos,” “Dolby Audio,” and “Lossless.” Despite supporting Apple’s own HiFi audio codec ALAC, the Music app has never offered support for Dolby Atmos or Dolby Audio.

Back in February, when Spotify announced it was going to roll out a high-quality option, Apple became the last major Music service not to offer one. At the time, I suggested that Apple couldn’t afford to be left out:

Regardless of the actual appeal of high-resolution audio to a broad audience, the fact remains that Apple is currently behind all its competitors. It will lead to a perception that Apple doesn’t care as much about audio quality as Spotify—and that’s not great for competition, even if most people won’t see the value in paying for a lossless version of their music library.

What’s even more intriguing is the possibility that Apple could roll its Spatial Audio feature, available for movies and TV shows on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, into Apple Music as well. As I wrote in February:

Imagine Apple Music offering access to multichannel audio that, combined with AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, can provide an audio experience that goes way beyond lossless audio in plain old stereo.

The pieces are there. Apple’s probably got the clout (and the cash) to encourage record companies to release multichannel mixes. And it would put Apple back in a position of leadership, instead of where it finds itself this week—behind Spotify and just about everyone else.

I look forward to hearing whatever Apple is cooking up.

—Linked by Jason Snell

April 30, 2021

It’s 2021 and Apple’s rules are… flexible.

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by Jason Snell

SuperDuper can now make bootable Big Sur backups

Dave Nanian of Shirt Pocket Software announcing that SuperDuper can now make bootable backups of Big Sur Macs, including on Apple silicon:

To be clear, this is only possible because Apple made it possible in macOS 11.4. I’m certain it required changes to the M1’s startup process and to asr to finally make it happen. Without those changes, we couldn’t have done this in a supported way.

I’m really happy the teams involved made the effort. Thanks, folks!

Utilities like SuperDuper are essential. It’s great to hear that Apple made modifications to Big Sur to allow these apps to do their jobs.

—Linked by Jason Snell

by Jason Snell

VMWare: Fusion on Apple silicon coming, Windows TBD

Michael Roy, Product Line Manager at VMWare, provides a status report on VMWare Fusion running on Macs with Apple silicon:

Of course, users are expecting to run Windows in a virtual machine, much like we’ve been used to for many years now. With Windows on ARM however, this presents a unique situation, particularly as it relates to Licensing.

The Insider Preview program says: “To install Windows 10 Insider Preview Builds, you must be running a licensed version of Windows 10 on your device.” And as far as we are aware, there is no way to buy a Windows 10 ARM license for a Mac with Apple silicon. There have been plenty of discussions on the topic from users and the media… [Microsoft license terms don’t] say anything about Apple silicon. We have reached out to Microsoft for comment and clarification on the matter.

For the time being, our work has been focused on Linux guest operating systems, and we’re confident that if Microsoft offers Windows on Arm licenses more broadly, we’ll be ready to officially support it.

In short, VMWare has Fusion working with ARM Linux and expects to support it this year; reading between the lines, it seems like virtualizing Windows on ARM (which we know is technically possible) could follow quickly, so long as Microsoft is willing to provide a legal way for Mac users to buy a license. (For the record, Parallels Desktop already claims support for Linux and Windows on ARM.)

As for emulating Intel processors on Apple silicon? According to Roy, it’s not going to happen.

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell

‘Not cast in concrete’: Apple moving with the (regulatory) times

Tim Cook
(Photo by Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc.)

I got most of my thoughts about Apple’s financial results and comments on its quarterly call with analysts in my Macworld column this week, but having slept on it, there’s one Tim Cook comment that I think is worth highlighting.

Cowen and Company analyst Krish Sankar asked Cook “a big picture philosophical question” about a risk to Apple’s business that isn’t as easily analyzed as traditional business risks: regulation.

One of the concerns many investors have is about the overhang of regulatory risks. And I understand it’s very hard to handicap that, but I’m kind of curious, do you think giving more public disclosure on a services business like App Store would help alleviate some of those concerns?

Sankar’s approach to the question is a bit odd—would Apple being more transparent about the App Store really reduce the chances of it being regulated? But it generated this answer from Cook:

I think with the regulatory questions and scrutiny, we have to make sure that we’re telling our story and why we do what we do. And we’re very focused on doing that. If we feel that more disclosure would help, we would obviously move in that direction. The App Store and other parts of Apple are not cast in concrete. And so we can move and are flexible with the times. For example, on the App Store, just a couple of quarters ago we lowered the commission rate for small developers to 15%. So that was an example of moving with the times and we’ve gotten a great, great reception to that. And so we continue to learn and I think it’s very important that we’re very clear about why we do what we do. The idea behind curating the App Store in order to get the privacy and security that our customers want, I think is very important. And we have to convey that in a very straightforward manner.

Why did it take until fall 2020 for Apple to cut the App Store percentage to 15% for most developers? Most likely because until fall 2020, Apple didn’t feel quite as much pressure from regulators, politicians, and major app developers, all of whom are suggesting that Apple’s App Store policies are anti-competitive and rent-seeking.

I’m happy for all my indie developer friends, all of whom are going to get a lot more money from the App Store now that they get 85% of revenue. But that move wasn’t made by Apple out of charity or compassion—it was made out of self interest. Once it made the cut, Apple has been able to cite it repeatedly as an example of how it’s changing to be more fair to developers.

In Cook’s statement Wednesday, he referenced the move again, and then said that Apple’s App Store policies “are not cast in concrete” and “can move… with the times, while the company “continue[s] to learn.”

In some ways, I think that might be one of the most truthful statements Apple has made about this issue. You could read Cook as saying, essentially, that Apple knows its policies can change, and if “the times” (read: sentiment toward Apple by people with the power to force it to change its business model) warrant it, it will change as needed.

I’m glad Sankar asked this question because I think sometimes this issue gets lost or downplayed when people consider the health and future of Apple’s business. At this point, one of the biggest risks to Apple’s business is that a regulator, judge, or political body will force the company to tear its business model (or itself) apart. For years, Apple’s attitude to criticism of its policies, especially regarding the App Store, was essentially “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This statement by Cook reads to me as if he’s signaling that Apple will make more changes to its policies if it needs to do so to “move with the times.” He’s not talking about fashion there, he’s talking about the regulatory environment.

It remains to be seen if the company can get away with making enough limited changes to its policies to avoid the being forced to make wholesale changes by an outside body. That’s something Apple will continue to learn.

by Jason Snell

The 2021 iPad Pro will work with the old iPad Pro Magic Keyboard

iPad Pro magic keyboard

Last week we linked to a report that there’s a new Magic Keyboard model for 12.9-inch iPad Pros that adds compatibility with the new, 5th generation (2021) model. The implication was that it wouldn’t work with existing Magic Keyboards.

But now there’s an Apple tech note that clarifies the situation:

The first generation of the Magic Keyboard (A1998) is functionally compatible with the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation) with Liquid Retina XDR display. Due to the slightly thicker dimensions of this new iPad Pro, it’s possible that the Magic Keyboard may not precisely fit when closed, especially when screen protectors are applied.

In other words, if you already have a 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard, you can use it on a new iPad Pro. It might be a bit too snug due to the new iPad being 0.5mm thicker, but it should work. Apple’s just made a new version because the existing fit isn’t up to its exacting standards. As someone who already has a 12.9-inch iPad Pro Magic Keyboard, I’d call this good news!

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell for Macworld

How the heck did Apple make so much money last quarter?

The last few years, Apple has been on such a ride that it can be hard to put it into proper context. Almost every quarter sets a business record. And yet this quarter, covering the first three months of calendar 2021, is something special.

I’ve been reading Apple financial statements and generating charts about those statements for the better part of a decade now. And this is the first time that I’ve looked at the numbers posted on Apple’s website and thought that some sort of clerical error had been made. Perhaps a harried Apple accountant had gotten a little twitchy with their numeric keypad and put in a few extra digits here and there.

But no, it’s true. Apple generated nearly $90 billion in revenue during the second quarter of 2021. Not only is that a whole lot of money, but it’s just a couple billion shy of the amount of revenue it generated during the holiday quarter of calendar year 2019. That quarter set an all-time record for Apple, bested only by the holiday quarter of calendar 2020.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Jason Snell

This is Tim: Transcript of Apple’s Q2 2021 analyst call

Tim Cook

Immediately after announcing record second-quarter results, Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri hopped on a conference call to make statements and then answer (or dodge) the questions of financial analysts. Here’s a complete transcript.

Continue reading “This is Tim: Transcript of Apple’s Q2 2021 analyst call”…

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