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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Display network quality in your menu bar

Network quality

Last week Dan wrote about macOS Monterey’s new Network Quality Tool, which lets you quickly get a sense of your local network speed from the command line.

If you’re a user of ambient Mac menu bar utilities like SwiftBar or xBar, you might be wondering if there’s an easy way to display this information in your menu bar.

I certainly was wondering that, so I’ve written a small SwiftBar plugin (requires python3) to run networkQuality and report the results in the menu bar every 20 minutes. You can download it here if you’re interested.

By Jason Snell

A Thanksgiving spread

An Apple Pencil, a Kobo Libra 2, and some creamed corn.

This time of year leads to a few inevitable kinds of stories. Giving thanks, and… deals? Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and Black Friday one of my least favorite “holidays”, and yet they’re placed back to back on the (U.S.) calendar.

I’ve written the occasional tech-I’m-thankful-for column over the years, and even drafted Thanksgiving dinner one year. And while I’ve witnessed many of my friends in the tech press being forced to spend their holiday week digging up Black Friday Deals, I’ve generally been able to stay out of it.

But in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d spread several familiar dishes across the table this week.

Tech-themed giving of thanks

On this week’s episode of Upgrade, a listener wrote in to ask about the second-generation Apple Pencil. I have to admit, I haven’t written much about the Apple Pencil since writing a love song to it back in 2018, though I did make a video that showed it off as part of my podcast-editing workflow.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

Apple sues spyware maker NSO Group

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today filed a lawsuit against NSO Group and its parent company to hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users. The complaint provides new information on how NSO Group infected victims’ devices with its Pegasus spyware. To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.

The complaint offers new information about a (since-patched) exploit called FORCEDENTRY that was used to install NSO’s Pegasus spyware on Apple devices. NSO, which has been accused of selling its spyware to many foreign governments, is now in a financial crisis after being blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department earlier this month.

Say what you will about Apple’s policies regarding bug bounties and other security issues—the company is capable of spending a nearly infinite amount of money on lawyers who will try to make NSO Group’s existence painful for a very long time.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Qualcomm has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM

Rich Woods reports about Windows on ARM and where it may be headed in the future:

Qualcomm actually has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM, and speaking with people familiar with it, we’ve learned that the deal is set to expire soon.

Other than the fact that Microsoft has publicly said that anyone who wants to can build a Windows on ARM chip, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Qualcomm didn’t just start building PC chips hoping that Microsoft would compile Windows to support it. No, these two companies worked together to make it happen. Because of that, Qualcomm gets to enjoy a bit of exclusivity… This is also presumably why Apple Silicon Macs aren’t officially supported for running Windows 11, so hopefully that will change as well.

When this exclusivity window expires, I would be shocked if there weren’t an official way to run Windows on Macs with Apple silicon soon thereafter.

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell

Shortcuts makes my Mac user automations portable

Shortcuts mac sync

This week I’m traveling for Thanksgiving, and I’m using this MacBook Pro review unit before I have to send it back to Apple1.

One of the things I had forgotten in the years where I largely traveled only with an iPad is the frustration of having my home Mac and travel Mac out of sync. These days, it’s less of an issue thanks to syncing services—for instance, all my podcast templates are in Dropbox, and all my BBEdit preferences are in iCloud.

But as I’ve written about here repeatedly, I also rely on a bunch of Automator workflows, saved as Services, to get work done. And those don’t sync, so every time I opened my MacBook Air or this MacBook Pro, I’d find myself running into some Service or other that I didn’t have access to. I could do the work manually, or see if I had archived a copy on a cloud service, or if I was really desperate I could dig into my Time Machine backups on my server at home and see if I could pull the files out.

But on this trip, I realized that there’s another solution. I recently built a bunch of cross-platform shortcuts and a new Shortcuts version of an old AppleScript tool of mine. And Shortcuts syncs its automations via iCloud, automatically.

So when I went to look for my classic Template Gun applet on this Mac and discovered that I never copied it over, I didn’t despair. Instead, I clicked on the Shortcuts menu bar item—and there it was. Since Template Gun uses source files that I store in Dropbox, those files were also already on this Mac. It worked like a charm.

Similarly, I wanted to select some text in Safari and use it to write a post on Six Colors—and when I selected the text and control-clicked to bring up the Service I built to do just that… there it was!2

Yes, Apple could have added iCloud syncing for things like Services years ago, but with the future of Mac automation up in the air for so many years, it wasn’t a priority. Now thanks to Shortcuts, my Mac (and iOS) automations travel with me. It’s just another reason to keep working on getting all my Automator workflows converted to Shortcuts format.

  1. Repeat to myself: I will not buy one, I will not buy one, I will not buy one… 
  2. Unfortunately, it relied on a third-party app I didn’t have installed, so I had to download and install that, at which point it worked. 

Apple’s car project is back in the news, but is the company’s ambition in this area unrealistic? Also: Qualcomm spoils Apple’s modem move, Apple employees get a new date to return to work, and there’s some good news about the repairability of Apple products.

David Smith extends his Apple Watch battery

Following up from his post from last fall, developer David Smith has taken his Apple Watch on a three-day hiking trip and figuring out some strategies for extending its life:

What gives me some excitement about this experience is that it seems clear that an Apple Watch can already make a solid companion for a long backpacking trip. When I set off I was expecting to have to charge it completely every day, but in reality it is more like every third day. Which gets it under my threshold for consideration for use. Especially since bringing it means that I now have a fully programmable computer on my wrist.

Turns out that putting the watch in Theater mode, thereby deactivating the always-on screen, saves a lot of power. Add in Airplane Mode and he was able to keep the watch running for three days, with fitness tracking still running to log his hikes.

Perhaps most importantly, the Apple Watch was able to display live UK Ordnance Survey maps overlaid with a GPS location. (This is similar to a feature I use here in the U.S. via the iPhone app Maplets, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to offer an Apple Watch equivalent.)

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell

Tip: Make Shortcuts into Mac Apps (sort of)

This week, thanks to an article by John Voorhees at MacStories about integrating Shortcuts with the Elgato Stream Deck, I discovered an incredibly useful tip about Shortcuts integration on the Mac.

Shortcuts show up in a few places in macOS Monterey: in the menu bar, in the Services menu, and in Finder Quick Actions. Strangely, while on iOS you can save a shortcut as a home-screen icon, there’s no option on the Mac to save a shortcut into the file system… or is there?

As John wrote (and then expanded on in the latest MacStories Weekly), Shortcuts on Mac also lets you add any shortcut to the Dock. It’s a bit hidden—you need to select or open a shortcut and then choose Add to Dock from the File menu. At that point, not only will the shortcut appear in your Dock, but it will also be saved to ~/Applications.

Now, what most Mac users think of as the Applications folder lives at the top level of your Mac’s boot drive. While there’s also an Applications folder inside your user folder—and in the early days of Mac OS X there was a real debate about where best to install software on a Mac—it’s largely unused.

But that’s where Shortcuts saves a link to your shortcut. (Unlike AppleScript scripts or Automator actions, the actual code of shortcuts doesn’t reside in the file—it’s safe in your Mac’s Shortcuts database.) If you use any app launcher that is capable of indexing ~/Applications, you can save shortcuts there and they’ll be available for quick launching. John’s example uses Alfred, but I was able to add that path to LaunchBar, and it worked too.

(Yes, there’s also a LaunchBar Action by Christian Bender that will automatically add a Run Shortcut action to LaunchBar—and it automatically indexes your list of shortcuts, so every single one is available without needing to add it to the Dock.)

Bit by bit, it’s exciting to see ways that Shortcuts is starting to reach out into how I use my Mac. It’s still early days, but the progress so far has been impressive.

By Jason Snell

Nuphy Air75: A low-profile keyboard that feels a bit cramped

As someone who’s enthusiastic about mechanical keyboards, I was interested in reviewing a prerelease version of the $110 Nuphy Air75. It’s a 75 percent keyboard (a size that’s right up my alley) with low-profile switches and thin, low-profile PBT keycaps.

The result is a portable Bluetooth/USB-C keyboard that’s thin and light and slips much more easily in a bag (a $19 foldable case/stand similar to the Studio Neat Canopy is an add-on option) than thicker, heaver keyboards. I’ve never tried low-profile Gateron switches before, but they were clicky and responsive in a way that modern Apple keyboards aren’t. (In fact, one of Nuphy’s sample photos indicates that they’re hoping people will place the keyboard atop their MacBook keyboards when in use. Unfortunately, the feet on the Air75 don’t quite fit over the keyboard of the new 14-inch MacBook Pro.)

The keyboard I used came with Mac keycaps preinstalled, including an f-key row that also highlights media controls. (There’s a switch on the back that lets you put the keyboard in Windows or Mac mode, and of course it works with iPad, too—in fact, most of the time I used it with my iPad.)

If I have a complaint about the Air75, it’s that the keycaps aren’t just low profile, they’re very flat. That means that there’s very little empty space between the tops of each keycap. That makes it very easy for a keypress to accidentally press neighbor keys. And unfortunately, that’s what happened when I used the Air75. It’s not that different of a profile from Apple’s Magic Keyboards—the top is a little smaller and the base is a little wider—so if you’re used to Apple’s laptop keyboards, this will feel like a more mechanical version, clickier and with more travel. Me, I prefer a profile with a little more separation between the tops of the keycaps in my mechanical keyboards.

Speaking of tight fits, the arrow key layout on the Air75 places the full-sized arrow keys right up against other keys, making it very easy to type End or Control when you’re just trying to move your cursor. I wish more keyboards would leave space around the arrow keys to avoid just this issue.

The Air75 also has LED “side lights” on the top of the keyboard, next to the top left and right keys. Mechanical keyboards often have gratuitous backlights, but these are gratuitous lights just hanging out on either side of the keyboard. They were distracting and I found that every time I turned on the keyboard, I had to turn them off. (Maybe I just don’t like fun.)

In the end, while I appreciate Nuphy’s commitment to building a compact mechanical keyboard that fits in the footprint of a Mac laptop keyboard, it’s not one that I’ll be traveling with myself. But I can see how it might hit the spot for people who want to travel with a mechanical keyboard that’s relatively thin and light.

November 19, 2021

Apple Cars without steering wheels and Apple-branded pentalobe screwdrivers. What a world.

(The podcast will be off next week for Thanksgiving. Back in two weeks.)

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By Jason Snell

A HomePod mini on my desk

A few months ago I decided to unplug the iPod Hi-Fi I was using as an external speaker for my iMac Pro, and replace it with a stereo pair of $199 Sonos One SL speakers. I’m using my iPad Pro’s internal speakers for podcast editing and other general noises; the Sonos speakers are meant for playing music. I listen to music all day long as I work, and I decided I wanted to get the iPod Hi-Fi off my desktop and get something that sounded a bit better.

The Sonos Ones do sound better than the iPod Hi-Fi, not only fuller but with more stereo separation, considering that they’re on opposite sides of my office from one another. Unfortunately, what I’ve discovered is that using AirPlay from Music on a Mac is not particularly reliable. Music often pauses for a moment. One speaker will start playing and the other will only step in after a moment. And worst of all, sometimes when you pause a song and attempt to start it again later, Music completely loses track of where the audio is playing and refuses to play or plays it out of the wrong speakers.

What I’ve found, in short, is that while AirPlaying music from an iOS device is pretty solid—not perfect, but solid—it’s a lot rougher on macOS. But is it the fault of AirPlay, macOS, or perhaps Sonos’s implementation of AirPlay?

Recently Apple released new colorful versions of the $99 HomePod mini. I already had a single HomePod mini in Space Gray, but when Apple sent me an orange one to try out, I decided to set them on my desk and see how a stereo pair of HomePods sounded.

The result? They sound pretty good. The Sonos speakers do sound better, but they’re twice the price. Are they twice as good? I’d have to say no. In fact, I regret buying the Sonos speakers now that I’ve tried the HomePod mini. If I used Sonos’s software things might be different, but the bottom line is that I’m just using my Mac to play via the Music app. The HomePod minis are also much smaller than the Sonos Ones, which is nice.

However, to get the HomePod minis to sound right, I needed to place them equidistant from my ears, on the back of my desk. (Unlike the Sonos speakers, there’s no way to balance the pair to account for one being slightly further away than the other.)

Then comes the real question: Is AirPlay more reliable on the HomePod mini than on the Sonos One? After a couple of weeks, I have no clear answer. It seems to me that while the HomePod mini might be a bit more stable at playing music via AirPlay, it’s got all the same issues that the Sonos Ones have. Sometimes Music will just refuse to see or play to an AirPlay target, paused music won’t consistently resume, and one speaker starts playing music a fraction of a second before the other kicks in.

In the end, my choice to move the iPod Hi-Fi off the desk wasn’t as clear a winning move as I had hoped it was. I’ve reclaimed that desk space, and the wider stereo separation is nice, but when I was routing all my audio via a headphone cable from my iMac to the iPod Hi-Fi, the connection was foolproof. Now AirPlay is inconsistent and occasionally frustrating.

That said, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how good two HomePod minis sound as a stereo pair. For listen to music at my desk while I work, they really hit the spot. And the orange model fits the color scheme of my office perfectly.

‘Letterman Bumpers’

Marc Karzen shot the amazing, award-winning bumpers used going into and out of every commercial break on “Late Night with David Letterman,” one of my favorite television shows of all time. Now he’s got a book collecting the photos, with an introduction by Letterman himself, with a website to show it all off.

Every single one of these images immediately shoots me back to the mid-1980s. The photos are evocative, playful, sometimes kitschy and sometimes silly, and always containing the phrase “Late Night with David Letterman.” Letterman video archiver Don Giller compiled a brief video montage to celebrate the release of the book.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Car: Nobody’s at the wheel?

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that Apple’s focusing on a fully autonomous car for release as early as 2025:

Apple’s ideal car would have no steering wheel and pedals, and its interior would be designed around hands-off driving…. Though the company is pushing to not have a standard steering wheel, Apple has discussed equipping the car with an emergency takeover mode.

The idea of releasing a self-driving car isn’t new, or novel. Companies like Tesla and Waymo have been trying it for a while. But the idea of being so confident in your self-driving technology that you design the interior to not have driving controls at all? That’s beyond the beyond.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m tempted to call it a “moon shot”—a seemingly impossible task that can actually be accomplished with an enormous amount of investment, effort, and intelligence. But I’ll point out that one of the people trying to make a self-driving car is literally building a rocket to take people to the moon, and that effort seems more likely to succeed this decade than building a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel.

You can’t deny Apple’s ambition here. They seem to be of the opinion that if they can’t make a revolutionary car, they shouldn’t bother. Fair enough. Let’s see if it pays off for them.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Disney+ came out of the gate strong, but its growth is waning. What does it need to do to reach a broader audience? It’s all about the ‘Hamiltons.’ Also, ViacomCBS pulls the rug out from underneath international Star Trek fans.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

How the first year of Apple silicon changed the Mac forever

A year ago this week the era of Apple silicon truly began, as the first reviews of M1 Macs arrived, followed shortly thereafter by M1 Macs arriving in Apple Stores and in the hands of Mac users everywhere.

We had hope that the future would be brighter with Apple-designed processors, but that optimism was tempered by Apple’s recent Mac missteps. There were also a lot of questions about a processor that had only really seen success in iPhones and iPads. Would there be unexpected pitfalls of abandoning Intel? Could Apple pull off its latest Mac chip transition with the same skill that it showed during the two previous transitions?

Twelve months later, the answers are much clear: We’re in the brightest timeline.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Qualcomm expects to lose Apple’s business

Qualcomm, a company with no real interest in trying to appease Apple, told the world today that Apple will probably be shipping Apple-made cellular chips in devices at scale by 2023:

At an investor conference in New York, Qualcomm executives said they expect to supply only 20% of Apple’s modem chips by the launch of the iPhone in 2023. Qualcomm Chief Financial Officer Akash Palkhiwala expects Apple to make up a “low single-digit” percentage of the company’s chip sales by the end of fiscal 2024.

We learned back in 2019 that Apple was buying Intel’s modem business and settling its lawsuits with Qualcomm. Clearly the next step was for Apple’s silicon team to build its own cellular chips—the only question was when.

Sounds like the answer is 2023—or maybe 2022, it’s hard to say. Apple sells older iPhones for a while, so Qualcomm chips will be in Apple products for quite some time to come. Does Qualcomm’s 20% figure (dropping throughout 2024) mean they’ll still own a segment of Apple’s business, or is that just referring to older models? And what exactly does “by the launch of the iPhone in 2023” mean? Fiscal years, extrapolations, it’s all a little murky.

But nobody knows better than Qualcomm how many chip orders it’s gotten from Apple for 2023, and the answer seems to be “not many.” The era of Apple-built cellular radios is coming. If it doesn’t begin next year, it will certainly be in full swing two years from now.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Apple’s done releasing products for the year, but that hasn’t stopped the company from revising a child-protection feature, trying to avoid letting developers add links to their apps, launching a new service targeted at small businesses, and welcoming a new Netflix game catalog to the App Store. If you like that sort of thing.

November 12, 2021

Shortcuts, services, and self-promotion.

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