Which reminds me that it’s been nearly five years since I started the Six Colors membership plan and nearly six years since I first decided to do it.
The gap of a year between those two events was entirely of my own making. When the time came to implement the membership system, I made it happen in about two days. The other 364-ish days were me fretting about asking people for money and deciding to push the decision off a while longer.
In the intervening five years, the Six Colors membership has evolved and grown and all of you have helped contribute to my (and Dan’s) ability to remain independent. Six Colors membership is at an all-time high.
AppleScript is an old-school scripting language, but it’s still the standard on the Mac when it comes to user automation. If a Mac app doesn’t support AppleScript, it closes a window of possible uses that could have been made possible by wiring it into user scripts and passing data to other apps.
That’s why it’s such great news that Pixelmator Pro 1.8, just released, adds support for AppleScript:
Almost every part of Pixelmator Pro is now scriptable, so for pretty much anything you can do with the app, you can now script those same tasks. Say you have tens or even hundreds of images. You might need to export and optimize them, or change the color of certain objects in them, or maybe even add annotations, taking the text from a Numbers spreadsheet and automatically placing it in Pixelmator Pro. Thanks to AppleScript support, you can now do all that, plus a whole lot more.
How serious is Pixelmator about this? They got Sal Soghoian, who was Apple’s user automation lead for a couple of decades, to help them build their scripting dictionary and lend his style to an AppleScript tutorial.
I still expect that Apple will eventually replace AppleScript with a Mac version of Shortcuts, but who knows? AppleScript has already survived the transition from Motorola 680×0 to PowerPC, from classic Mac OS to OS X, from PowerPC to Intel, and shortly from Intel to Apple silicon. It’s a survivor. And I’m glad it’s still kicking.
September 24, 2020 2:59 PM PT
Notes on buying an Apple Watch Solo Loop
I bought an Apple Watch band today, which isn’t news. I’ve done it many times in the past. Today it was a new Apple Watch Solo Loop, after I discovered that a color I was interested in (Deep Navy) wasn’t available for weeks via delivery—but was available for in-store pickup at my local Apple Store the next day.
But I haven’t been to my local Apple Store, or the shopping center it’s located in, since February.
So today I went, and while the center was pretty quiet, there were people all around, all following the center’s mask policy. I walked down to the Apple Store and there was a socially-distanced line being managed by multiple Apple employees. It was really more like three lines—so far as I can tell, one to get into the store, one to wait for a pick-up, and an initial line you wait in until they’re ready to put you in one of the other lines.
I waited in the first line for all of a minute, at which point an Apple employee scanned my Apple Wallet bar code and pointed me to a waiting spot outside the doors of the store. After another couple of minutes, another employee emerged with my box and I was on my way.
While I was waiting, I looked into the store and it seemed busy — for a new definition of busy. So far as I could tell, every person in the store was being accompanied by an Apple employee. It was the emptiest I’ve ever seen the store, but in today’s context it was a lot of people sharing an indoor space together. I’m not really planning on going inside the Apple Store anytime soon, but it’s good to know that I don’t have to rely on shipping if I want to make an Apple Store order.
I’m hearing from my sources in Apple Retail that rolling out these bands when few people can go into stores to try them on for size has really backfired. There are a lot of returns. And however much waste Apple is saving by not including a power adapter in the box, it’s being counteracted at least a bit by all the waste that comes from people getting a band, opening the package, finding that it doesn’t fit, and returning the band.
I’m also baffled that Apple didn’t do what John Gruber did and provide a reference that converts the dots on the standard Sport Band to a size for the Solo Loop. For a lot of people, that would’ve saved a lot of heartache.
In any event, I used Gruber’s post to choose my size. The problem is, I use two different notches on my Sport Band! One’s a bit too loose and makes the heart-rate monitor complain; one can be a bit too tight from time to time. I decided to err on the side of tightness, especially since everything I’ve read about the band suggests that people tend to order them too loose, not too tight.
So is the Deep Navy Solo Loop Size 6 the right size for me? Probably, though it’s a little bit tight—but again, I think I’m right to err on the side of tightness rather than having my watch flop around on my wrist thanks to a loose band. And putting the watch on and off by stretching the band like so much taffy is going to take some getting used to. We’ll see how this new band style wears over time, and if it ends up in my drawer with the other watch bands I’ve accumulated over the years, or if it stays on my wrist.
September 23, 2020 3:01 PM PT
iOS 14 customization: A tale as old as time
One of the big features of iOS 14 is the addition of home screen widgets. Combine this with a bunch of new widget apps such as Widgetsmith, designed with lots of options to add decoration or information to an iPhone, and iPhone users now have the ability to radically customize their home screens.
(iOS 14 isn’t quite the whole story here—users were previously able to use Shortcuts to create app-launching apps with custom names and icons, but the new ability to hide pages on the home screen makes those icons truly disappear.)
The result, starting immediately upon iOS 14’s release, has been a viral avalanche of home-screen customization tips, driven mostly by young people on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
So now comes the backlash—people complaining about other people having fun doing things to their iPhones.
I’d like to say I’m surprised, but this is the most predictable thing ever. People were jerks about Memojis, and Animojis, and emojis in general! Sticker shamers exist. People who hate flashy iPhone cases. Why wouldn’t people be jerks about this thing, too?
Some people can’t step outside their own point of view and imagine why someone else might want to do something they don’t. And some of those people react by denigrating the people who are having fun.
What’s worse, I’d imagine that many of these assassins of joy are old enough to remember when they enthusiastically customized their own devices!
The Mac has a long history of customization. When I became a Mac user in the early 90s, it was de rigueur to give your Mac hard drive a name and a custom icon. Ideally, you had a custom wallpaper pattern or image, too. Apps like SoundMaster let you set custom sounds for various actions. The list went on and on. Your Mac felt like home—and like no one else’s.1
What’s more surprising is that Apple was so slow in bringing real customization to the iPhone home screen.2 If adding widgets to iOS 14 has caused enormous burst of creativity, it’s only because all that desire had built up over years and years with very little outlet.
This is not a surprise. This is not the effect of young whippersnappers raised on social media wanting to do goofy things with their phones. Users of computer platforms have wanted to customize and personalize for decades.
David Smith, the developer of Widgetsmith, has watched his app rocket to the top of the App Store charts as a part of this trend. I’m sure his road map for new features has changed dramatically since discovering what people wanted to use it for.
Apple should be getting the message, loud and clear. The company realized a while back that new emojis and animoji characters and memoji designs and the like can help convince people to update the operating system on their devices. Surely it’s clear that iPhone users desperately want more tools to customize their home screens. If more customization features aren’t shooting up Apple’s priority list for iOS 15 (or before), something’s really wrong.
So party on, home screen designers. Don’t let the curmudgeons bring you down. You’re just the latest in a proud line of people who have wanted to do the natural thing and make their technology more personal.
Every time I ejected a disk from my Mac SE, William Shatner shouted, “And she’s gone!!!!!” My college girlfriend’s Mac shut down to HAL 9000 saying, “My mind is going…” ↩
And you still can’t arbitrarily place icons on the screen, a la Android! ↩
Fix watchOS upgrade battery problems by unpairing and re-pairing
Last Wednesday I updated my Apple Watch Series 5 to watchOS 7. And immediately the device’s battery life dropped precipitously.
I’d estimate that in the 11 months since I bought the Series 5, I’d failed to get to the end of the day with battery remaining maybe one time. But every one of the three days after I upgraded to watchOS 7 ended in an early-to-mid-evening demand for Battery Reserve mode from a depleted device.
After complaining about it on Twitter, I received a bunch of suggestions about what to do, most of which I’d categorize as the tech version of folk medicine. Turn off hand washing, or sacrifice a chicken, or stop using sleep tracking (which I hadn’t started using!), or draw a chalk circle around the Apple Watch and hope the spirits went away.
Lots of ideas, but nothing definitive. And then a signal came through the noise—from several people, the suggestion that unpairing the Apple Watch from my iPhone and then re-pairing might solve the issue. Some people reported this solving a similar problem last year, and others said it worked for them this year.
Unpairing and re-pairing is a pain. You have to remove your watch from the list of devices in the Watch app—fortunately, you don’t need to remove the cellular plan from the device and go through that hassle—and then wait as it wipes itself and reboots. Then you have to add it back as if it’s a newly-bought device, and restore it from the backup the Watch app made before un-pairing. It can take quite a while.
But I gave it a go, and you know what? This particular flavor of folk medicine completely worked for me. My Apple Watch is back to normal battery life, running watchOS 7.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes—I suspect that some sort of data sync between the iPhone and the Apple Watch is failing, and retrying, and failing, endlessly. Apple needs to look into it. This doesn’t seem like it’s an isolated issue, but I have no idea how widespread it is. Apple wants its users to stay up to date in terms of device operating systems; a bug like this will do a great job of dissuading a lot of users from ever upgrading again.
Six years in, the Apple Watch is at a bit of a crossroads. After a few years of explosive growth in terms of improving the hardware, Apple seems to have hit a bit of a lull. Last year’s Apple Watch Series 5 only added a single major feature, the always-on display, but it was a huge milestone.
This year’s Series 6, though? It’s clear that even Apple knew how incremental this update was. An oxygen sensor is good, but since it’s not approved as a medical device, Apple’s implementation feels a little bit weak. A brighter always-on screen? Great, but the very definition of incremental. You know an update is feeling a little bit lackluster when Apple throws in a bunch of new colors to stir some excitement.
In six years, the Apple Watch has done incredibly well. Greeted by a skeptical industry, it’s defined and dominated the smartwatch category, become the most popular watch in the world, and driven growth in Apple’s red-hot wearables category.
So let’s consider year seven. Where does the Apple Watch go from here?
Has Apple set off an iPhone home screen aesthetics revolution with iOS 14? We talk about our favorite widgets, Widgetsmith’s journey to the top of the App Store charts, home-screen customization, and what this might mean for Apple’s iOS feature priorities. Also, Myke evaluates new watchOS faces, Jason seeks home remedies to fix his terrible Apple Watch battery life, and we both speculate about whether Apple might sneak a Touch ID sensor into the iPhone 12 after all.
The original Macintosh was a squat, cute beige box with a little black-and-white screen and tiny keyboard. For a couple of decades, It was immortalized in the icon, designed by Susan Kare, that appeared when you turned on any Mac.
Almost nobody remembers the sequel. But there was one, a computer called the Macintosh II. It was unveiled three years after the original Mac, and it was a traditional PC in a whole lot of ways the original Mac wasn’t. Instead of a cute, compact, and closed single box, it was an enormous slab of a computer that you could open up and stick expansion cards into. You had to attach an external monitor—a color monitor, even.
(Although color support came to the Mac early in its lifespan, the Mac was very clearly a system designed for monochrome. If you used a color Mac in the late 80s or early 90s, the appearance of color anywhere tended to come as a shock. Color effects in classic Mac OS felt like they were painted over the original, black-and-white interface. Though color kept seeping in over the years, it wasn’t until the Aqua interface of Mac OS X that it felt like an essential part of the interface.)
The Mac II was huge—nearly 19 inches wide, 14.5 inches deep, and 5.5 inches high, weighing in at 24 pounds. And so, in 1989, Apple unveiled a much smaller box (shaving off seven inches of width and more than ten pounds) that still had room for internal expansion and supported external monitors. It was the Mac IIcx. In the fall of that year I started working at my college newspaper, and the paper’s IIcx was the Mac that everyone coveted. Three of us would lay out pages in Aldus PageMaker on Mac SEs outfitted with external full-page portrait displays. It was slow going, and unless you were zoomed in all the way, you couldn’t even read the text of your articles—it was just lines of gray rectangles, in order to speed up the graphics.
But the fourth editor, the lucky one who had managed to commandeer the Mac IIcx, got to navigate a two-page display powered by that magical little gray box. You could read the text without zooming in incredibly far. It was also the only Mac hooked up to our printer, so if you wanted to print your page for proofing, you had to load your PageMaker file onto a floppy disk, walk it over to the Mac IIcx1, insert it, and then print. (Within six months I had convinced the paper’s business manager to buy a bunch of adapters and some software so we could put every Mac in the office on a LocalTalk network. Then we could share files and print from any Mac in the office. And play NetTrek, too, sure.)
In time, we got more Mac II’s in the office. A Mac IIfx, the same enormous slab as the original Mac II, made its appearance. A curvy Mac IIsi with a color monitor arrived my senior year. But I never lost my love for that Mac IIcx design.
A few years later, I was working at MacUser, and the company was selling off excess equipment to employees at dramatic discounts. Since I switched to a PowerBook, my parents had been using my Mac SE to do the books for their business in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I had set up for them. (It’s basically the only thing my father ever did on a computer in his entire life. He knew exactly which cells to click on and what to input there.) But something had gone wrong with the SE—it was spontaneously rebooting at random intervals, which is bad if you haven’t saved your spreadsheet.
And sitting there on the conference room table was a Mac IIci, that same adorable little boxy computer I had fallen in love with in 1989. I spent some ridiculously small sum of money on it—$50 maybe, including monitor?—and set it up for my parents. Until they sold the house, retired, and moved into a motorhome, it served them well—word processing for my mother and Excel for my father.
The IIcx/IIci design stuck around for a long time. It was so well balanced that you could stick it up on its side to save some desk space, or lay it flat and pop a small monitor on top of it. The final iteration of the design, the Quadra 700, actually displayed its name and Apple logo with the assumption that you’d use it as a tiny upright tower rather than laying it flat.
In the Power Mac era, Mac desktops devolved into larger towers or flatter “pizza box” style designs. But I’ll always consider the Mac IIcx and IIci as the pinnacle of early Mac desktop design.
I’ll be back next week with number 12.
This is what “sneakernet” means, folks. Using shoe leather to move files from point A to point B. ↩
Above all, Roger Angell is best known as the bard of baseball; he was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, in 2014—alongside his pal and source, Joe Torre. He had a long career in the press box. Around the time the Beatles were still playing the Cavern Club, Roger set off for Florida to cover his first spring training. In those days, the players and managers were willing to spend hours explaining the intricacies of the game to a sympathetic listener. And that is what Roger did—at Fenway and Shea, in the Bronx and Chavez Ravine: he listened. And Roger, a person as complicated as any other, created a fan’s voice, a joyous voice, full of exclamation and wonder. He has always been an ace describer who could portray the great Red Sox starter Luis Tiant “wheeling and rotating on the mound like a figure in a Bavarian clock tower.”
Two visionary lawyers, the leftist feminist Dorothy Kenyon and the queer Black theorist Pauli Murray, had long argued that gender discrimination violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which had previously only applied to race. The Supreme Court had never agreed. It hadn’t budged much from its ruling a century earlier barring a woman from practicing law because, per one justice, “The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.” In her second brief to the Supreme Court, 1973’s Frontiero v. Richardson, Ginsburg would coolly observe that “the method of communication between the Creator and the jurist is never disclosed.”
The popularity of the iPod led Apple to create a Mac designed specifically to tempt people to switch from Windows. It didn’t go as planned, but the result was a Mac model that’s been with us for fifteen years and counting.
This month Relay FM is raising money for St. Jude, a remarkable organization that is both a hospital that provides free medical care for kids with cancer, and a research institution that’s committed to finding ways to fight that cancer.
Right now as I write this, Myke and Stephen of Relay FM are in the midst of a six-hour podcastathon stream in support of St. Jude. (If you miss it, check it out on the Relay YouTube channel later.) Among the highlights is a game show co-hosted by me and Dan.
My thanks to Mobi for sponsoring Six Colors this week.
Mobi has been around since 2005 as the regional wireless carrier for Hawaiʻi, but is now bringing its rethought approach to wireless to the mainland U.S. Mobi is app focused, provides customer care through Apple Business Chat in iMessage (as well as the usual channels—phone, email, text, and more), and focused on affordability—with no gimmicks.
You can switch using the Mobi app and even use Apple Pay to set up your account. Mobi’s unlimited talk and text plan is $9.99, including 1GB of data, and there are flexible data options. eSIM, iPad, and Apple Watch support are coming soon. (And yes, there’s an Android app as well.)
Service Station: An Apple announcement that saves me money
Good news! Apple just announced a service that might actually save you money. Or you could just ignore it, and that’s fine too. It’s AppleOne, the new bundle of a bunch of existing Apple services that can, depending on how you look at it, either save you money or get you an Apple subscription service you’re lukewarm on for cheap or free.
Let’s consider the shape of this bundle.
Apple Music: This is the core of the bundle, if you ask me. If you’re someone who prefers Spotify to Apple Music, I don’t think any of Apple’s bundles will satisfy you. If you don’t care, or prefer Apple Music, Apple’s bundle might make it worth your while to switch.
iCloud: You should be backing up your iOS devices. iCloud storage space lets you do that, and that’s why it’s worth paying for. Apple doesn’t provide users with enough free iCloud space, so bundling in iCloud storage is a good idea—you should probably be paying for some regardless.…
As smoke from wildfires chokes the West Coast, social media has been flooded with crowdsourced maps providing near-real time updates on just how horrendous the air really is. Much of the data are from relatively inexpensive sensors from a company called PurpleAir. They’ve only been available for the past few years, but they’re already changing everything from government maps of air quality to how communities are watching out for each other — and keeping track of the air they breathe.
This is a great story about the value that low-cost air sensors provide, namely that they allow a level of coverage detail that would otherwise be impossible.
I discovered this when we were suffering from terrible air quality but our closest official sensor said things were fine. I bought a PurpleAir sensor of my own (which a neighbor discovered the day I got it and correctly intuited was mine) and am using their network to get a clearer idea about just how bad the air quality is outside.
The immediate timing of the releases might seem like a positive for consumers who were clamoring for new features, but it’s been highly disruptive to developers…. But with the timing of these launches, developers had less than a full day with the golden master before the public release, leading to many late nights, delayed releases, and vocalfrustration.
Amidst the chaos, Apple published a note to its developer portal yesterday imploring developers to “Make sure your apps are ready when iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 become available to customers worldwide.” That note came with no acknowledgement that, for many, that would be nigh impossible given the timeframe.
I’d really love to know why Apple ended up releasing the software in this fashion. I want to believe that it was just an unfortunate chain of events that forced this timing. Clearly the App Review team was prepared for an onslaught of app submissions from surprised developers, so someone at Apple knew this was coming.
This is yet another event from 2020 that I hope is never repeated.