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By Jason Snell
July 9, 2020 10:33 AM PT
First Look: iOS 14 Public Beta
As always, you should think twice before installing any beta operating system on a device you rely on. Not only will there be annoying bugs, but many of your favorite App Store apps will not have been tested on the new software, let alone updated to take advantage of any new features. Running iOS betas can be fun, but it can also be frustrating, so only give it a try if you are willing to trade some stability and serenity for the sweet taste of running this fall’s iPhone OS this summer.
And there are so many tastes to be had in iOS 14, which is a surprisingly expansive update. There’s a huge overhaul to the home screen and a few other areas that change how the iPhone looks in some fundamental ways. And of course, there are a host of app and feature updates, too. Here’s a guide to some of the biggest features to look for when you’re considering an update.
By Jason Snell for Macworld
The arrival of Macs running Apple silicon isn’t just about faster, more power efficient processors. It’s also an opportunity for Apple to reinvent Mac hardware using lessons learned from the iPhone and iPad.
Apple can take this time to also reconsider some Mac hardware decisions of the past decade, most notably the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. While some users swear by it, the Touch Bar generally seems to have been received with indifference or scorn. Updates over the years have done almost nothing to improve it, making me wonder if even Apple has truly embraced the thing.
By the end of this year, Apple will begin rolling out those new Macs. Sooner or later, the Intel MacBook Pro will be replaced with a model running on Apple silicon. Here’s the big question: Does that laptop have a Touch Bar at all? And if so, will it be the same… or different?
Apple’s services are in the spotlight, as Apple TV+ adds material, Apple News gets kicked to the curb by the New York Times, and Apple Arcade grapples with finding the right kind of games to publish. In other streaming news, we touch on Quibi and CBS before diving into Disney+—most specifically, Myke at the Matinee featuring “Hamilton.”
By Jason Snell
July 3, 2020 4:49 PM PT
What changes might be coming to new Mac hardware?
This week on Upgrade, Myke Hurley and I had some fun envisioning what features Apple might have been waiting to add to Macs until the switch to Apple-designed processors.
When the Intel transition happened, Apple was extremely restrained. The first Intel Macs were more or less the existing PowerPC Macs, but with Intel processors inside. The message was clear: Steady as she goes, no need to be concerned, these Macs are the same ones you loved, but with a different kind of chip inside.
I suppose Apple could play that game again with this transition, but I don’t think it will. Part of it is my guess that Apple’s been champing at the bit to roll all sorts of iOS features into the Mac for years, but has been limited by Intel’s architecture. What the Mac has gotten is the stuff that was enabled by the T2 chip—biometric ID, better camera control, secure storage, and security features. But there are plenty of features that haven’t come over from the iPhone and iPad, and now might be the time.
Then there’s macOS Big Sur. If Apple intended to send a message that this fall is all part of a simple, orderly transition that won’t affect users and will keep the Mac we all know and love chugging away, it would release a boring OS update with some new features and some bug fixes. Big Sur is the opposite. It’s a new interface design, and on Macs with Apple silicon, it will be paired with the ability to run unmodified iPad and iPhone apps.
Take a look at Big Sur’s rounded corners, spaced-out menus, and expanded Control Center and tell me that there isn’t going to be some dramatic new Apple hardware to go with this dramatic new operating-system release. I can’t see it. Big Sur is the start of a new Mac era, and the hardware designed to run on it will be new and exciting and different, at least a little bit.
Myke and I ended up coming up with nine features that Apple could bring over from iPhone and iPad to next-generation Macs. Here they are, in a rough order of most likely to least likely of appearing on a Mac in 2020:
By Jason Snell
July 1, 2020 9:00 AM PT
Command Performance: URL powerhouses
URLs make the world go round. In their simplest form, of course, they load web pages. But there’s hidden complexity beneath the humble URL. As many people who build web pages already know, they can carry enormous amounts of data from place to place, all by tacking on extra stuff in the query portion at the end of the URL—that’s the stuff that follows the question mark symbol.
So, for example,
https://my.example/?name=Jason contacts a web server and passes across the field name containing the name Jason.…
This is a post limited to Six Colors members.
By Jason Snell for Macworld
The 2010s were kind of a rough era for the Mac. Apple was busily improving the iPhone and iPad, while Mac models spent years between updates. There was a real question about whether the Mac was being readied for retirement, a legacy platform that would fade away as Apple shifted to its shiny new devices.
Last week’s announcements suggest that Apple has something else in mind for the Mac in the 2020s. First there was the word that the entire platform is moving to the same Apple-designed processor architecture that powers the iPhone and iPad. Then came the news that those Macs will run iOS and iPadOS apps as well as Mac apps. That means the Mac is no longer going to be an outlier. In contrast, it will become the center of Apple’s computing universe, where all of its platforms come together.
By Jason Snell
June 30, 2020 12:41 PM PT
What’s with all the purple posts?
Earlier this month, the entire Six Colors web infrastructure cut over from Movable Type to WordPress. You might not have noticed. That’s because I have spent the past few months learning the ins and outs of WordPress and rebuilding the site’s design, created by the talented Christa Mrgan, in an entirely new system. It was an experience.
Now that we’re on this new platform, which is slightly more actively developed than Movable Type, I can begin to add features that were impossible before. For example, we can now post items to Six Colors that were previously available only in our monthly membership newsletter. This means that members who prefer to read Six Colors on the web or via RSS can now see all those items there rather than in email. (Members, log in to your member page to get a link to a members-only content RSS feed.)
This week we’re putting out our June issue of the newsletter, so you’ll be seeing these posts on the site every day. (On the web, they’re marked in purple.) But this is the last time that the volume will be like this. Going forward, there will be an average of one members-only post on the site per week.
In addition, the Six Colors Podcast is also being posted to the website now. If you’re not a member, you may not know that another member benefit is an exclusive weekly podcast featuring me and Dan Moren chatting about the news of the week in a casual format for about 30 minutes. That podcast will now play right in the browser for logged-in members, and there’s also a member-specific podcast feed available from the Member Center.
Six Colors memberships help us navigate the complicated waters of being independent writers and podcasters. As you may have noticed, we very rarely have advertising on the site anymore—that source of revenue has dried up over the past couple of years. Today Six Colors is almost entirely supported by members.
If you’re not currently supporting the site, I hope you will consider doing so in the future. But I have no plans to turn Six Colors into a membership-only site. We’ll still be posting all the same stories and links here regularly, as we’ve done for more than five years. Only those weekly members-only pieces and weekly podcast posts will be limited.
Thanks for reading Six Colors! If you have any questions, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week we welcome Apple’s Bob Borchers and Ronak Shah to the show to discuss macOS Big Sur, including all the new features in Safari. There’s also an awful lot of follow-up from the busy WWDC week that was, and we discuss the possible features of new Macs running Apple silicon.
By Jason Snell
June 25, 2020 4:25 PM PT
WWDC 2020 Thursday: Giving a few pointers
If you’ve ever wanted a longform explanation of how Apple built pointer support into iPadOS, and the challenges involved in re-inventing the pointer interface for a device that’s primarily touch oriented, Design for the iPadOS pointer is the session for you.
The Mac’s arrow pointer was designed for pixel-level precision, but of course in most contexts iPad software was designed for fingertip-level precision—in other words, a lot less of it. This is why the iPad’s default pointer is a fingertip-sized circle, because that’s the level of precision that most apps expect.
However, in some contexts, pixel-perfect precision can be just what is required. So the iPadOS designers focused on a pointer with “adaptive precision,” that could switch contexts (and shapes) to become more precise when necessary. The obvious example is in text editing, where the iPad’s beam cursor is extremely precise horizontally (to allow you to select exactly the characters you want, or place that insertion point right in the middle of a word), while being quite imprecise vertically (it snaps to each line of text). In a calendar app, the pointer can adapt again, snapping in 15-minute increments to indicate that by default, the app assumes calendar events don’t begin at odd times.
Precision is also the reason that iPad pointers morph into shapes when they’re selecting individual buttons1. This way, it’s crystal clear which button you’ve currently got selected. If you were using a more precise pointer, you might find yourself right between buttons and not know what would happen if you clicked. The iPad’s approach eliminates this as a possibility.
As you move the pointer, the system is making some guesses about what target you’re trying to reach. The Magnetism feature analyzes the direction in which you pushed the cursor and finds a nearby interface element that you were most likely targeting, and snaps the cursor to it. It’s a subtle thing that makes the system intuit what the user’s intent was, even if their finger swipe across the trackpad wouldn’t normally be quite enough to get there.
The session also picked up on a theme I’ve seen repeated several times this week regarding the iPad. We talk a lot about how the iPad can be used with touch, or an Apple Pencil, or a keyboard, or a pointing device. But this week we’ve been reminded, again and again, that you can also mix and match these input methods, and developers should remember that. Hold down a modifier key and tap with the Apple Pencil or your finger, and the right thing should happen.
After watching the session, I have to be honest: I fully expect Apple to bring an adapted version of the iPad’s approach to pointers to macOS in a future release. Now is not the time, because there is a level of precision assumed by most macOS apps that is way beyond what’s assumed by most iPad apps. But the Mac would absolutely benefit by a more adaptive pointing system than the one it’s currently got, which (let’s be honest) is largely unchanged since 1984. Maybe next year?
- The translucent shape is located behind the button icon, preventing the icon’s color from being distorted by a pointer overlay. A subtle touch. ↩
By Jason Snell
June 24, 2020 9:44 PM PT
WWDC 2020 Wednesday: Session Impressions
How is it only Wednesday? It turns out that the WWDC time warp even happens when all of us are at our homes. Anyway, I watched a bunch more WWDC sessions today, and here are some observations from today’s binge. (Side note: Did Apple provide hairstylists for all of their presenters? Lucky ducks.)
In iOS and iPadOS 14, Apple is rethinking some of its previous design decisions—and in doing so, it’s introducing interface elements that might seem a bit more familiar to Mac users. This is, at least in part, because a lot of those decisions were made when iPhones were really small—and they’re not anymore.
So Apple’s rolling out drop-down menus that appear next to where you tapped to bring them up (often a round button with three ellipsis dots inside), rather than sliding up a modal list at the bottom of the screen. That way, your finger doesn’t have to move as far to finish the thought and complete an action. These menus behave very much like Mac menus do: if you tap and hold, and slide your finger, then lifting your finger will select an item. If you tap and lift your finger, the menu remains open until you tap on an item within the menu. Tapping outside of the menu dismisses it. The menu items themselves are also a lot more compact than the old slide-up options were, and feature not just text, but icons.
These menus can also be used to ask the user for more specific information. For example, the plus icon in Photos means to add something, obviously—but if you tap on it, you’ll be asked specifically what you want to add, in the form of a menu. When you tap to add an image in notes, a menu appears so you can choose exactly what kind of image you want to add. They can also be used for navigation: In Safari, tapping and hold the back button will reveal a list of previously browsed pages, and in iOS 14 this uses the new menu design.
One of Apple’s big goals is to reduce the density of elements on the visible part of the app interface by hiding those items—generally actions that must be offered but aren’t important enough to be displayed prominently—in a menu hidden behind one of those white three-dot more buttons.
Speaking of design decisions that haven’t worn that well, you won’t have the iOS spinning date and time picker to kick around anymore—or at least not nearly as much as you have up until now. The wheels have been replaced by new pickers that display a calendar with a month worth of dates. Tap to select a different month or year, and yes, the wheels will reappear—until you choose the new month and year, at which point the month view will return. Entering a time doesn’t require you to spin your wheels at all—you just type it in.
Finally, rejoice at the sight of the first unified color picker for iOS. You can choose a few different color-picking methods, sample images right from elsewhere on your device’s screen, and save colors to a palette that is consistent across all apps on your device.
Of course, iOS apps will need to be updated to take advantages of these new features. Users should expect to see them begin to appear when iOS 14 ships this fall.
I covered a lot of this interesting session about what Macs will look like when they’re running Apple-designed processors in an earlier piece, but the session was so jam-packed that I focused on the new boot system and left the rest of it on the cutting room floor.
Among the additional benefits of switching to an Apple-designed System on a Chip (SoC) is a unified memory architecture, shared across the CPU and the GPU. This means that graphics resources can be shared without any overhead—there’s no need to copy anything across the PCIe bus, because the CPU and GPU are pulling from the same memory. The SoC also picks up a bunch of other features that have been around on iPad and iPhone for a while, but will be new to the Mac: dedicated video encoding and decoding1, and support for fast machine-learning via the Neural Engine.
One of the biggest changes in the new Mac architecture, though, is asymmetric multiprocessing, or AMP. Mac software developers will need to set a “quality of service” property for the work that they’re dispatching to the processors, suggesting how that work should be prioritized. Does it need to be done as fast as possible, or is it okay to slow it down and keep things power efficient? Modern Apple-designed processors have separate performance-focused and efficiency-focused cores, so different cores will be better for different jobs.
The session provided a bit more detail about how Rosetta, the technology that translates code meant for Intel processors into instructions that Apple’s processors will understand, works. When you download an Intel-only app from the Mac App Store or install it using Apple’s Installer utility, Rosetta will automatically be triggered and will do the work up front of translating the app’s code. If the app gets on your system by a different means, the translation happens when you first launch the app—which means it’ll launch slowly the first time. (Also, operating-system updates can affect Rosetta, so Rosetta’s translations will be refreshed when the operating system is updated.)
And just as Macs with T2 processors have all had always-on encryption of their disks, so too will Macs with Apple-designed processors. But there is one added security bonus: secure hibernation. When one of these Macs goes into a deep sleep, all the contents of memory—not just disk—are protected.
Some apps are nosy. We all know it. No matter what App Store rules exist, no matter how many scandals emerge from apps abusing user data, there are still places where your personal information can leak out and an unscrupulous app can do something with it without us knowing.
Apple knows it, too, and it keeps tightening the screws where it can. This year it’s making a big move when it comes to access to your photo library. The new Photos Picker interface is meant to be used by most apps who need you to pick a photo or three from your library for use within the app. It runs in an entire separate process, and the app requesting can’t see anything about your photo library. While you’re in the photo picker, you can select multiple photos and even search your library. When you’ve selected what you want, then those items are passed to the app—and nothing more. A sneaky app can’t even take a screen shot of the contents of that picker and use that later. Sneaky.
If an app really does need access to the photo library, there’s a new set of permissions for that. Apple’s introducing a new “limited mode.” When an app asks a user for permission to read the photo library, you can choose full access or a limited mode—where you pick the photos you want to share, and that’s it. Those photos are all the app can see, until you go to the security settings and make a change.
Or as the presenter in one of these sessions put it to developers, “Consider if your app even needs library access.” The fact is, most apps don’t. The new photos picker is functional enough to do the job—and keep an app from being able to snoop on every single item in your library.
It’s only a matter of time before our phones replace car keys. Given the pace in automotive innovation and the rate at which I replace my cars, it will probably be a while for me—but I’ll be happy when it finally happens.
With its announcement of Car Keys, Apple is now on the path—that leads to a parking lot where you can unlock your car with an iPhone. This WWDC session was directed at auto manufacturers, but I found it pretty interesting in terms of some details of how Car Key works.
First off, it’s meant to be a radio-technology-agnostic technology. The first cars to use this tech, as announced, will use the same NFC technology you find in Apple Pay. This requires you to get very close to the reader—essentially, you’ll need to tap your phone on the door to open it. The NFC implementation actually requires two separate NFC readers—one to unlock the door, and one to start the car. The car will only start when a phone containing CarKey is laying on the NFC reader in the dash.
Things get more interesting with the second wave of Car Key tech, which uses Ultra Wideband and the U1 chip introduced in the iPhone 11. Ultra Wideband will be the best possible solution for using your phone as a car key, because its precise positioning capability and solid range will allow you to use it with your iPhone in a bag or pocket. The current Car Connectivity Consortium standard, version 2.0, covers NFC—which is why it’ll be first. But version 3.0 is on the horizon, and it’s the one that brings in the extra flexibility of Ultra Wideband.
Behind the scenes, CarKey works through a complex series of cryptographic transactions that authenticate your ownership of the car, allow the iPhone to securely pair with your car, and then allow you as the owner to distribute keys to other people. The initial setup requires Internet connectivity to the back-end systems of the car dealer and to Apple, but once a key is set up on your phone, no connectivity is required and Apple has no awareness of how you use your key—it’s all stored in the iPhone’s Secure Element, locked up tight. (And it works even if your phone runs out of battery, because it works with the trace amount of power left in the battery in Power Reserve mode.)
To share a key with a friend, you use Messages to send them a pass. From the perspective of the people making the key exchange, it’s a simple transaction. Behind the scenes, however, the two phones are doing a careful cryptographic dance that ends up with the friend’s phone having both a key and an “attestation”—basically a signed document that indicates the owner of the car vouches for them as a valid user of the car. If you lose your phone and put it in “lost mode”, the keys are suspended temporarily, and you can revoke a key from your iPhone or from the car’s own interface.
Depending on the implementation by the car maker, keys can potentially be limited. For example, you could let your kids drive the car, but not exceed a certain speed. But that’s all on a per-car basis, and many cars probably won’t provide that level of granularity.
Car Keys are stored in the Wallet app, and since they’re part of Apple’s enhanced contactless protocol (the same one used on some transit systems), you don’t need to authenticate to use them. Tap, and it works. (This also means that while your automaker may want you to download their app, it won’t actually be necessary for Car Key—all the important data is in Wallet.)
This is turning into the cycle of sweeping out old design notions that Apple’s now regretting. For Apple Watch, it’s the entire concept of Force Touch—pressing down hard on the watch in order to generate a contextual menu. Apple has decided that it’s too hidden a gesture to be of much use—and presumably also engineered the next Apple Watch to eliminate the feature in order to save space, just as it did with the iPhone 11 series.
So it’s out with Force Touch and in with more hierarchical navigation elements at the top of the screen, buttons at the top and bottom of menus, and swipe actions (where you swipe on an element to reveal a delete button, for example)—common on the iPhone and iPad, less so up until now on the Apple Watch. You’ll also see more floating buttons, indicating that you can tap to see more options.
It seems like after five years, Apple is ready to throw a bunch of Apple Watch interface assumptions in the bin and double down on the ones that actually work.
- I believe the iMac Pro and Mac Pro are already using this feature via their Apple-designed T2 chips, because Intel’s Xeon chips lack some built-in video encode/decode features. ↩