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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell for Macworld

How to fix the M1 Macs’ most disappointing feature: iOS apps

If there’s a single disappointment in the release of Apple’s first wave of M1 Macs, it’s the lackluster launch of iOS apps running inside of macOS. What should be an amazing unification of Apple’s platforms and a massive expansion of the Mac software base is, instead… kind of a non-event.

Running iOS apps on the Mac can be a little weird, it’s true. But it can sometimes be good. Unfortunately, a lot of interesting iOS apps just aren’t available at all, because their developers have removed them from the Mac side of the iOS App Store.

It’s not a great situation. It needs to get better. Here are some ways that might happen.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Rogue Amoeba’s apps updated for M1–with a catch

I love Rogue Amoeba’s audio apps and rely on them every day. Audio Hijack is the best. Loopback is a vital tool when I’m streaming video live.

This year, though, Apple made some major changes to how audio on macOS is handled, and that required major changes to ACE, the engine that enables most of Rogue Amoeba’s apps. The company managed to get versions supporting Big Sur out just before the official release of the operating system, and today it posted beta versions that work with M1 Macs.

There is one big caveat, however, and it’s all down to Apple’s increased focus on security. To install an app like ACE, which requires a system extension to function in Big Sur, you have to reboot. That’s not great—rebooting to install software feels very 1990s to me—but at least it’s palatable.

On M1 Macs, though, the situation intensifies. Before you can reboot to enable ACE, you first have to reboot into Recovery Mode in order to tell the system to allow extensions. Then you have to change a setting from “Full Security” to “Reduced Security,” and check a box allowing kernel extensions from identified developers.

The good news for Rogue Amoeba’s customers is that their stuff works, and once you do the reboot two-step, you shouldn’t need to do it again. It’s a multi-step process, but it’s over fast and then you can get on with your work.

But it really shouldn’t work this way, and that’s on Apple. One reboot is bad, but two is ridiculous. Surely there’s a way, at the very least, to pre-approve an extension before rebooting to adjust the security setting? I know that Apple is trying to protect users from bad actors, but when a list of instructions like these are required to install Mac software, something’s really gone wrong.

But at least Rogue Amoeba’s apps are now available. They’re indispensible. If I had to choose between upgrading my Mac or continuing to use Audio Hijack, I would choose Audio Hijack every time1.

  1. I’ve been using a Mac mini running macOS Mojave to record all my podcasts since I started using the Big Sur beta this summer. It’s uncomfortable to have a Mac without Audio Hijack installed. 

Myke and Jason have spent a week running Big Sur on M1 Macs and are here to report back on what the future feels like. Also, HBO Max gives up and plans a streaming release of “Wonder Woman 1984” so everyone but Myke can see it, and Apple pulls a PR move that gives a raise to small developers while enraging its loudest critics.

Joz, Federighi, and Srouji talk M1

Samuel Axon has a really nice interview with three Apple execs about the M1 processor. Here’s Craig Federighi:

The M1 is essentially a superset, if you want to think of it relative to A14. Because as we set out to build a Mac chip, there were many differences from what we otherwise would have had in a corresponding, say, A14X or something.

Worth reading.

November 20, 2020

Don’t listen to them, they’re evil! Also, this is a M1 MacBook Air enthusiast podcast now.

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What’s the best Mac of all time? It’s an impossible question to answer. Yet three well-known Mac commentators all have the same answer.

By Jason Snell

The joy(?) of moving to a new Mac

Migration Assistant, and cat.

One of my favorite episodes of Upgrade is from early in the show’s run, when we spent time critiquing the experience of buying and setting up a new iPhone. I keep coming back to something we said in that episode: Buying a new Apple product should be a day of joy and excitement. (Apple might even call it a “magical experience,” though I wouldn’t.) If you’re paying hundreds of dollars for a new gadget, one you might only buy every two or three years, you really should end the day feeling like a kid on Christmas morning—not someone waiting at the dentist’s office.

To Apple’s credit, the iPhone upgrade experience has improved a whole lot in the last five years. I’ve transferred data to all four of my review iPhone models in the last few weeks and it was smooth sailing. I know that people like to talk about doing a “clean install” and leaving the past behind, as if it was some sort of juice cleanse, but I’m not sure that ever made sense and I really don’t think it makes sense now.…

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By Jason Snell for Macworld

With M1 Macs, memory isn’t what it used to be

The first Macs powered by Apple-designed processors are finally here. And from the outside, they’re almost dead ringers for the Intel-based Macs they’re replacing.

But on the inside, they’re not like other computers. Apple has brought its approach to system design, learned through years of iteration on the iPhone and iPad, to the Mac for the first time.

Those of us who are used to thinking of personal computers in certain terms are going to need to adjust to this new reality. It’s a world in which Apple sells three different Mac models without even disclosing the clock speed of the processor inside. (It doesn’t do it for the iPhone or iPad, after all.)

But perhaps the item on the spec sheet that will require the biggest diversion from the old way of thinking is system memory. It’s a feature that’s already frequently misunderstood (and frequently confused with storage size), and now Macs with Apple silicon are using it in an entirely different way.

The old way of thinking of RAM is dead. Welcome to the world of the Unified Memory Architecture.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

In this special, extra-packed episode we’ve got an interview with Apple’s Tim Millet and Tom Boger about Apple’s new M1 Macs, followed by Jason’s review of the new Macs after spending nearly a week with all three models. Plus, Myke and Jason review the iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini!

By Jason Snell

M1 Macs review: The Next Generation

It slowly became clear that one day Apple’s processors would come for Intel.

As Apple’s skill in building chips for the iPhone and iPad became increasingly apparent, Intel struggled. Doubts about Apple’s mobile chips being powerful enough for a traditional computer like the Mac eroded with each new generation. New Intel chips were often delayed and offered only small improvements over previous generations.

In October 2018, it became clear that it was only a matter of time before Apple made the move. The company announced a new iPad Pro, powered by Apple’s eight-core A12X processor, and made the claim that it was “faster than 92 percent of all portable PCs sold between June 2017 and June 2018.” Apple was now directly comparing its chips to Intel’s, and declaring itself the victor.

Two years later, it’s finally happened. Apple has released the first three Mac models that are powered by an Apple-designed system on a chip. The decision to abandon Intel, seemingly risky when we all first contemplated it a few years ago, has become blindingly obvious in hindsight.

These new relatively low-end Mac models, all powered by the M1 chip, are faster than all but the very highest-end Intel Macs. The laptops offer a huge leap in battery life over their predecessors. By almost every measure, the move to Apple silicon is the biggest leap forward in Mac hardware in at least a decade.

Continue reading “M1 Macs review: The Next Generation”…

By Jason Snell

20 Macs for 2020: #6 – Macintosh SE/30

Mac SE
Photo by Stephen Hackett.

What is the best Mac ever?

It’s a nigh-unanswerable question, because it begs for qualifiers. The best one ever made up to now? The one that lasted the longest? The one that towered the furthest above the other Macs that existed when it was released? The one you loved the most?

There’s a reason this series ranks its Macs in order of notability, because it’s very hard to pick a “best” Mac that isn’t one of the current generation, thanks to the relentless advance of technology. What would I rather do my work on today, a Mac from 2020 or one from 1990? Nostalgia is great, but I’ll take today’s wireless networking, fast processors, massive storage, and on and on.

But if you leave the march of technology out of it and try to equalize the playing field, as you might if you were in the business of comparing baseball players from different eras, you might well end up deciding that the best Mac ever was released in 1989. And while it looked like every other unassuming compact Mac of the era, the Macintosh SE/30 was much more than that.

Continue reading “20 Macs for 2020: #6 – Macintosh SE/30″…

November 13, 2020

Low-end Macs at the high end of performance. Apple’s performance marketing. Oh, and we both bought M1 MacBook Airs.

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After a lot of speculation, Steve Jobs finally filled in the Mac’s fourth product quadrant with a consumer laptop that was one of a kind. But what’s a “consumer laptop,” really?

By Jason Snell

macOS Big Sur Review: Third age of Mac

Mac running Big Sur

Mac OS X was no less than a rebirth of the Mac, 16 years after it first appeared on the scene. The code it originated with, and many of the software managers and programmers who built it, came to Apple in the same transaction that brought Steve Jobs back to the company. We remember the G3 iMac and the iPod and ultimately the iPhone as the products that brought Apple from the edge of failure to being one of the biggest companies in the world, but it wouldn’t have happened without Mac OS X.

But here we are, at the end. Mac OS X, having been rebranded twice and reconstituted to run on Intel processors over its two-decade run, is shucking off its cocoon and emerging as something new. It’s macOS 11.0 Big Sur, which takes the familiar OS X and transforms it by importing a bunch of features from its long-lost relatives, iOS and iPadOS, including support for Apple-designed processors.

Last year’s macOS Catalina felt like a release designed to settle old scores and clear the field for future advancement. It broke a lot of old software, frustrated a lot of users, and generally had the worst reputation of any macOS update since Mac OS X Lion in 2011. Did Apple use Catalina as a patsy so that Big Sur wouldn’t be blamed for all the changes required for the transition to Apple silicon? That’s probably a conspiracy theory too far, but I will say this: Good Cop macOS Big Sur fills me with excitement about the future of the Mac in a way Bad Cop Catalina never did.

The OS X era is over. Now here’s macOS Big Sur, getting ready to ring in the dawn of the third age of Mac.

Continue reading “macOS Big Sur Review: Third age of Mac”…

AirBuddy 2 improves the Mac AirPods experience

Gui Rambo’s $10 Mac utility AirBuddy has been updated to version 2 today. I love AirBuddy because it’s very much the sort of AirPods integration that should be baked into macOS, but for some reason isn’t.

AirBuddy will show you AirPods or Beats headsets when they’re near your Mac, just like iOS does. You can connect with a click, change listening mode of AirPods Pro with a trackpad swipe, and even set up custom connection modes for different devices, so a pair of AirPods can be set to always come up in Transparency mode with the microphone set as an input, while a set of Beats can always come up with noise cancellation on.

If you use AirPods on your Mac, AirBuddy can be a solid enhancement to the experience. Check it out.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

First things first: Why the M1 starts at Apple’s low end

The era of Macs running Apple silicon has begun. Or at least, it will begin next week with the arrival of the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini models running on Apple’s M1 chip.

It’s important to remember that Apple didn’t reveal its entire strategy during its event on Tuesday. This is just the first step in a two-year transition for the entire Mac product line. And it started where you might expect: at the low end of the company’s product line.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Bad air? Air Lookout 2 will check

When smoke blew into my region from some nearby forest fires, I needed to pay attention to local air quality in order to decide when I could go outside safely.

Geof Crowl’s helpful Air Lookout app, which just got an update to version 2, is an iOS app that lets you quickly check local air quality. This new version’s got support for widgets and, in addition to EPA-managed air quality data, also optionally reads data from hyperlocal PurpleAir stations.

I spent a long time hacking away at a JavaScript widget to do the same thing, but Air Lookout is a real app, which is nicer!

A version for macOS 11 is also about to be released.

‘Why 5G is the Future (Not the Present)’

Glenn Fleishman has a sensible overview of 5G at TidBITS:

5G won’t be transformative for most people or purposes. Its advantages primarily accrue to cellular carriers, even more so than 3G or 4G, which offered significant boosts in throughput and allowed higher rates over broader areas. 5G will let carriers charge more for service in some cases, handle more customers simultaneously, break into new markets that require higher throughput or low latency, and equip more kinds of devices with ubiquitous high-speed cellular data connections.

This gets it exactly right. 5G really will transform wireless communication over time, and it is important. But it’s not something most consumers need to care about today. Or even tomorrow. Just someday.

By Jason Snell

Enter the M1 – Notes on Tuesday’s big event

Tim Cook can sit anywhere he wants.

Picking up where Dan left off and before I clock out for the night, here are some other quick thoughts about the day’s events.

A first step. Apple said it themselves in their video event Tuesday: The M1 is a “first step” into a “family of chips” that will power future Mac models. This really is the performance floor of the Apple silicon on Mac story. To start the transition Apple has chosen low-end models that can squeak by with a maximum of 16 GB of RAM, only two Thunderbolt ports, no support for discrete graphics or external GPUs, and any number of other features that are lacking from the M1.

The future is promised to nobody, but it seems premature to assume that just because the M1 doesn’t support your favorite higher-end Mac feature, it’s been canned. Presumably this transition story ends with an Apple silicon-based Mac Pro, so Apple is going to be ramping up. These are the baby steps.

Look for the Intel Macs. If you are about to get angry about Apple releasing a substandard, low-powered Apple silicon model of your favorite Mac, slow your roll and see if Apple’s still selling an Intel version. For instance, the new Mac mini has some limitations that the old high-end Intel Mac mini models didn’t, but that Intel Mac mini is still available. I think that’s a sign that Apple knows there’s a use case that the M1-based Macs just can’t support.

Memory isn’t what it used to be. That’s not the lament of someone who just turned 50—it’s the cold, hard fact about how Apple has built its processors. The days of separate banks of memory for RAM and video are over, at least for now. There’s a single pool of memory that the M1 allots for all uses, including its integrated graphics system. While in the olden days computer memory was something that was often swappable and upgradeable, these M1 Macs suggest we’ve entered iPhone/iPad territory—you can choose how much memory your device has, but once you’ve chosen, that’s it. Right now it’s 8GB or 16GB, so choose wisely.

Two the core. It’s going to be fascinating to use a Mac with two separate banks of processor cores. Of course, the iPhone and iPad have been doing this for a few years, but now it’s coming to the Mac. The system controller will intelligently guide tasks to the performance and efficiency cores, and users will be none the wiser. But the computer nerd side of me is almost giddy about the change, which is about as big a deal as when the Mac first supported multiprocessing and, later, multi-core processors.

Apple’s claims are strong. When Apple announced the Mac was moving to Apple-designed processors, it was obvious that the company knew the results would impress. Still, the speed and battery-life boosts Apple is claiming are extremely impressive. While Apple doesn’t cook the books, it does carefully pick the test results that put its best foot forward.

I’m excited about getting my hands on M1-based systems and getting a better sense of how they work, but if it’s anything close to what Apple is claiming, this is the kind of performance leap from one generation to the next that happens rarely, if ever. (And you know Intel has to be wincing at Apple’s slide illustrating the slow pace of Mac speed improvements over the past few years.)

Instant wake from sleep. Most memeable moment in the event: Craig Federighi’s loving look into the screen of a just-awoken MacBook. But if the claim that the Mac now wakes up instantly, like an iPad, sounds familiar, that’s because Apple has claimed this before. Steve Jobs famously complained to Mac engineers that the Mac took forever to wake up, and at various times Apple has tried to eliminate the awkward few moments where your Mac is awake, but hasn’t quite rubbed the sleep out of its eyes. Maybe this time it’ll be for real.

Fans = speed. The M1 in all of these computers is the same M1, other than the fact that low-end MacBook Air models will only have seven GPU cores rather than eight. There are no other hardware differences, and so far as I can tell, no speed differences—at least innately.

But there’s one huge speed difference that will manifest itself during extended workloads. When a chip gets too hot, it will slow itself down to keep cool. On the MacBook Air, there’s no fan to speed the cooling process—which makes for a very pleasant, silent experience, but also means that if the MacBook Air’s M1 processor is cranking away at full speed for long enough, it’ll need to slow down to cool itself.

Compare that to the MacBook Pro and Mac mini, both of which have cooling fans. They’ll be able to execute faster on those extended workloads, because they’ll crank up their fans and keep their chips from throttling down.

This isn’t unique to Apple silicon, of course. Even the most recent MacBook Air model suffered from performance issues when compared to the most recent 13-inch MacBook Pro model, because it wasn’t able to cool itself effectively. But we should see that effect pretty clearly with the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro.

iOS on Mac. Mentioned in passing once again was the fact that iOS apps will run on these Macs. How is that going to work? It seems like work made to make apps functional in the iPad’s cursor mode will apply to how well the apps work on Mac, but the proof is in the pudding. How foreign will iOS apps feel on Mac? They will have a menu bar, a window, support for keyboard shortcuts, and cursor support—but that’s a checklist that won’t preclude them from feeling weird.

The second-level question: What iOS apps will work best on the Mac? Will media-player apps end up feeling natural and productivity apps weird, or vice versa? Will there be performance differences between native Mac apps and iOS apps? We just don’t know. And Apple hasn’t given us much of a look yet.

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