Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Six Colors Staff

Apple announces results later today

Apple will announce its FY22 first quarter results later today, followed by its usual conference call webcast at 2 PT, 5 ET. (Update: The results are here.)

This will be the results from Apple’s holiday quarter just gone by, which is usually the company’s largest quarter. Despite expecting some lost sales due to a lack of inventory due to global supply chain issues, Apple suggested it will likely be the company’s single largest quarter ever.

In a break from tradition, Dan and Jason will also be live streaming after the conference call with a tour through the results and what we gleaned from the call. We expect that live stream to begin around 3:30 PT, 6:30 ET.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: Books

We conclude our 2021 Favorites series with this list of books we loved this year. You might know this about us, but we read a lot. These were the cream of the crop.

Piranesi

My favorite book of the year was Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. It’s not a sequel, not the start of a series. It’s a short, standalone novel about a man called Piranesi who lives in the most unusual of places: a house with an infinite number of rooms, all lined with classical statues. On the lower levels, the sea roars in, sometimes flooding entire sections of the structure. Birds occasionally fly in. Piranesi thought he was the only person in the world, until he met the Other. But there are also the bones of people who have perished in the house, which Piranesi looks after. How did this state of affairs come to be? And who is Piranesi, really? Is this all a metaphor for something, or is it real? All questions are answered, eventually. Sometimes in surprising fashion.—Jason Snell

The Galaxy and the Ground Within

The last installment of Becky Chambers’s loosely connected1 Wayfarers series, The Galaxy and the Ground Within was my favorite of the bunch. Five characters from disparate species who happen to be at the same space pit-stop are stranded together when a disaster hits. What follows is a lovely story of camaraderie, cultural exchange, and friendship forged in the darkest hours. One of Chambers’s strengths is the fully realized characters she creates, and this novel is no exception. You might even find yourself tearing up a bit. I hear.—Dan Moren

Black Sun

I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Roanhorse’s previous books, but Black Sun is the best of the bunch. It’s the first book in a series, and be warned: it doesn’t have an ending so much as a cliffhanger. It’s a fantasy story with lots of Mesoamerican mythological elements about an outlier priest in a sun cult who might just be a patsy for a revolution. Meanwhile, a mother turns her son into a tool to fulfill a prophecy—if he can just get to the sun cult’s city in time for the total solar eclipse. The captain of the ship tasked with taking him there is a lesbian pirate who might just have surprising magic powers. Everything comes together in the inevitably worst way. It’s a heck of a ride. I want the sequel now—but I have to wait until April like everyone else.—J.S.

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands

A fun, fantasy/sci-fi mash-up, with a murder mystery thrown in to boot. K. Eason’s Nightwatch on the Hinterlands continues in the same universe as some of their previous works, but you can get by just fine if you haven’t read any of them. The world was reminiscent to me of the Mass Effect series of video games, with a fun dynamic between the two main characters that feels like many of the cop/not-a-cop TV shows I’ve enjoyed.—D.M.

Divine Cities trilogy

After having Robert Jackson Bennet’s trilogy recommended to me by several of my friends, I used my local library to buy the first book in the series, City of Stairs. I couldn’t put it down, and quickly bought and read the other two books in the series. It’s an urban fantasy set in a crumbling city that was once the apex of civilization—until the people that civilization had subjugated for centuries turned the tables and killed all their gods. Now the tables have turned, and all the magic of those gods is supposed to be gone, but… maybe it isn’t? And what does that mean if your job is to hold an entire defeated empire in check? The whole series is atmospheric and gripping, with so many great characters that three of them take turns as protagonist.—J.S.

The Mask of Mirrors / The Liar’s Knot

Fans of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series will probably enjoy The Rook and The Rose, a fantasy series by M.A. Carrick, set in the complex city of Nadežra. Con woman Ren is infiltrating the wealthy Traementis family, but gets more than she bargained for when she discovers the family has troubles of its own. There’s magic, romance, secret identities, politics, humor, and swashbuckling. The books are long, but so immersive that you’ll quickly lose track of page count. And if you’re skittish about unfinished fantasy epics, don’t fret: The third and final installment is already written and will be released next year.—D.M.

Witness for the Dead

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor was one of my favorite books of the last decade. She decided to revisit that book’s rich steampunky fantasy setting with the standalone novel Witness for the Dead (now apparently the first book in a series!) featuring a minor character from the previous novel. But at its heart, this is… a murder mystery? The main character’s job is to talk to the recently deceased and put them at rest, but when a woman’s body washes up on the side of a canal, he’s duty bound to solve the murder. He’s basically Elf Columbo, aided by visions of the dead.—J.S.

Leviathan Falls

After nine years, nine books, a TV series (now on its final season), and a handful of novellas and short stories, James S.A. Corey’s masterful sci-fi series, The Expanse, came to a close this year. Leviathan Falls wraps up the ongoing plotlines while also providing a satisfactory story in its own right, though the last three books definitely form a trilogy of sorts within the series itself. If you’ve been waiting to see how things shake out for Holden, Naomi, Alex, and everybody’s favorite sociopath, Amos Burton, strap in and turn on the juice; it’s going to be quite a ride. And the epilogue made me laugh out loud in delight.—D.M.

A Desolation Called Peace

Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire was my favorite book of 2020. This year brought its sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, and it delivered. It’s a wide-screen Space Opera about a galaxy-spanning empire—with our main character being an outsider who is close to the empire, but not a part of it. As a good sequel, it follows up on some of the threads left by the first book, while also introducing a new threat—an alien presence that the human empire doesn’t seem to understand. This is modern SF at its best.—J.S.

The Hidden Palace

I thought Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni was one of the best books of the last decade. Its sequel, The Hidden Palace, picks up right where the original left off, and continues the sprawling story of two nigh-immortal supernatural creatures among all the early 20th century immigrant communities in New York City. Since the first book was published, Helene has become a friend, and I was happy to interview her about this book and the process that led to it.—J.S.

The Quiet Americans

How did the CIA come to be what it is today? That’s the story of Scott Anderson’s The Quiet Americans, an exploration of the intelligence agency’s Cold War origins. Lawrence portrays the controversial organization’s rise through the lens of four influential figures in places from the Philippines to Berlin. It’s a collection of fascinating tales from the earliest days of the agency, when things often seemed to be run on a shoestring. I particularly enjoyed one operative in post-war Italy whose cover involved a non-existent movie studio.—D.M.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story

If I’m going to read a story about how messed up the response to the emergence of Covid-19, I want it to be Michael Lewis doing the storytelling. The Premonition is a short book about a complete systemic failure, making it a thematic follow-up to his previous book, The Fifth Risk. Lewis is the best at what he does. All his books are required reading, even—especially?—if the subject is as painful as this one.—J.S.


  1. The books can truly be read in any order.—J.S. 

By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: Movies

It was a weird year for movies. Theaters were closed, open, and sometimes closed again? And not everyone felt comfortable returning to an enclosed space full of other people later in the year. And yet, the move out of theaters also made some films more accessible than they would have been in other years. Most Oscar nominees were available on streaming services before the awards occurred, and one of us (Jason) managed to binge an awful lot of nominees early this year. Some of them made this list! (We’re praising movies we saw in 2021, even if they were made a few years earlier.)

Dune: Part One

I read Frank Herbert’s novel in high school and have been amazed how such a deeply weird book has resonated with so many people for so long. This year, I noticed a bit of an echo to that reaction: I am once again surprised that an enormous audience has watched, and loved, Denis Villaneuve’s new adaptation of the novel. Maybe it’s the delight at seeing such an epic film after a long period of pandemic movie delays and cancellations. Maybe it was the fact that people could watch it on HBO Max over and over and over if they wanted to. I liked it primarily for Villaneuve’s visuals—nobody makes weird stuff hovering in midair look as grand as he does—and the supremely weird soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. The story was familiar, and it’s only the first half, anyway. But I still really liked the film, just for the whole experience of it. It’s a vibe.—Jason Snell

Spider-Man: No Way Home

There have been a perhaps unbelievable nine Spider-Man movies in the last 19 years, but Tom Holland’s incarnation seems to have been among the most well-received, and “No Way Home” continues that trend. It’s the “Avengers: Endgame” of this particular series, wrapping up one chapter of Peter Parker’s story, and packing in so many references, Easter eggs, and callbacks that your head might spin. But it’s still filled with charm and humor amongst the fights and special effects, and it’s hard to not have a good time when the ride is this fun.—Dan Moren

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I have to hand it to Marvel Studios—they have managed to take several B- and C-list heroes from Marvel Comics history and turn them into the stars of blockbuster hit films. Shang-Chi is one such character, designed to cash in on the 70s Kung-Fu craze in America with an origin story that’s just as grimace-worthy as you might expect. But processed by the Marvel Machine, it comes out here as a joyous mix of Marvel superhero film and modern martial arts/action film. Simu Liu is game as Shang-Chi, but Awkwafina steals the portions of the movie left over after Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, and Ben Kingsley steal the bulk of it. The public-transport-themed action scene that starts the film is one of the best ever in a Marvel movie. I look forward to seeing what director Destin Daniel Cretton does next.—J.S.

No Time to Die

I didn’t go into Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond with very high expectations—after 2006’s “Casino Royale”, the franchise has never really passed middling for me—but “No Time to Die” largely surprised me with its swerve away from Bond tropes, especially in regards to its ending and its female characters. (For example, the movie is bookended with scenes from the perspective of Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, in some ways making it more of her story than Bond’s.) But the real gem here is Ana de Armas, Craig’s “Knives Out” co-star, who appears for about 10 minutes, but absolutely steals every single frame she’s in.—D.M.

In & Of Itself

Derek DelGaudio’s “In & of Itself” is a film, directed by Frank Oz, based on a one-man show by a magician. I think I may have said too much already. This is live theater captured on film for those who couldn’t attend, and it’s… oh, I shouldn’t say “magical,” should I? It is funny, riveting, and ultimately quite emotional. Don’t read anything about it going in. It’s better to be unspoiled. But you’ll be thinking about what you saw, what it means, and how it all happened, long after the movie is over.—J.S.

Tenet

I always find Christopher Nolan’s films worth watching, even if the director does at times get somewhat precious about the nature of cinema. “Tenet” is a brain-bender, and absolutely worth watching at home, where you can pause every couple minutes and assess what the hell is going on. It’s a great looking movie with some fantastic action set-pieces, and, above all, it’s a piece of original science-fiction. Robert Pattinson, John David Washington, and Elizabeth Debicki all lend some solid performances to the mix, as does Kenneth Branagh as a scenery-chewing villain..—D.M.

CODA

My favorite Apple TV+ film so far, “CODA” is a story about a young woman with a deaf family who falls in love with music. From that description, you can pretty much imagine what story the movie will tell, and you’d be exactly right. But it’s more than just that log line. The family business is fishing, and the entire industry is struggling, especially the little guys, so there’s a storyline about how fishermen can collectively organize and how a deaf fisherman can get a seat at the table. Ruby’s parents, played by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur, are unforgettable. The end of the movie is, again, exactly what you’d expect—but with the added seasoning the film has added along the way, it’s completely effective.—J.S.

Widows

I’d heard people talk up “Widows”, and as a fan of heist movies, this is a fun twist on the genre (adapted, to my surprise, from an old British TV series from the 1980s). When a crew of thieves is killed mid-robbery, their widows are on the hook for the score, and have to pay it back. Add some Chicago politics into the mix, and you’ve got a taut, interesting crime story. But the real standout here is the cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki (again!) form the key crew, with Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, and Colin Farrell in supporting roles.—D.M.

Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s story of a woman out for revenge years after the death of a medical school colleague is scathing, angry, darkly funny, and ultimately tragic. (As all stories of revenge should probably be.) Carey Mulligan’s been one of the world’s best actors for a while now, and she’s spectacular as Cassie, who is working at a coffee shop when she meets a former classmate in med school who is indisputably a “nice guy”—whatever that means—and the entire plot begins to kick off.—J.S.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This is a movie about a girl in Pennsylvania who gets pregnant and can’t get an abortion. So she steals away with a friend on a bus to New York and try to figure out how to make that work. That’s what the movie is. It’s unflinching. (“Plan B,” a 2021 film with a similar premise and point of view, takes a very different approach—it’s a raunchy road-trip comedy. I liked it, too, just not as much as this one.)—J.S.

Nomadland

It was Best Picture… maybe you’ve heard of it? I loved how quiet and contemplative this film, about an older woman who has been driven by the Great Recession to live in a van and work itinerant jobs among other people who are living the same lives. It’s got beautiful vistas, quiet desperation, camaraderie, and a whole lot of deferred grief. My in-laws, who read the book upon which the film is based, hated it. I haven’t read the book, but as a work of art I find myself more or less in agreement with Oscar on this one, for once.—J.S.

First Cow

Nobody has ever heard of “First Cow,” which was nominated for zero Oscars. But it has stuck with me all year. It’s a quiet, slow story about a period of history that isn’t often seen, namely the west coast of North America in the early 19th century, pre-Gold Rush. Director Kelly Reichardt’s film is set in Oregon Country, and European society is only hesitantly setting up shop. The title cow is the first one to be imported to the region, up from San Francisco, promising milk and butter for those with the money and access. (Or for those who might be able to climb a fence and steal said milk.)—J.S.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: TV


We watch a lot of TV. It’s the platinum era of television—you could watch several hours a day for the entire year and never run out of top-shelf entertainment. But who has the time? So if you’re looking for something to watch, consider these shows, which were our favorites this year.

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Look, a million people have told you to watch Ted Lasso, and there’s a reason for that: it’s great. Season 2 may not be exactly what people wanted after the spectacular first season, but it still delivers on everything I love about the show, and takes it up a notch. In particular, the addition of Doctor Sharon Fieldstone as a foil (and ultimately friend) to Ted, the rich development of supporting characters like Sam, and a heel turn that left many viewers reeling. Plus, let’s not forget a fabulous rom-com pastiche, the utter surreality of the Coach Beard-centric episode, and a redeemed Jamie Tartt. If I’m going to be honest—not now, Jan!—I loved it all.—Dan Moren

Hacks (HBO Max)

Don’t let this one fly under the radar: “Hacks” was the comedy of the year. Starring Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder as comedy professionals at the beginning and end of their careers, it’s a study in contrasts. She’s in her 60s, she’s in her 20s. Deborah’s trying to figure out how to keep her career going, while Ava is struggling to establish herself. Deborah’s got a mansion in Vegas, Ava’s got a condo in L.A. They’ve both got the same agent and screwed-up families.

“Hacks” has things to say about creative struggles, finding your comfort zone, generational conflict, sexism in comedy (and everywhere else), despair, when to compromise and when to stick to your guns, and a whole lot more. It’s funny, but also serious. After all, comedy can be a serious business.—Jason Snell

Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)

Yes, it’s a joke machine that’s specially tuned to those who grew up loving 1990s Star Trek. But somehow it’s also a brilliant show in its own right, with characters who you actually end up loving. While this season may never quite reach the heights of the first, there’s still plenty to enjoy, including a new crew member who’s briefly turned into a puppet, some back story on the ship’s apparently mild-mannered engineer, and a stellar (no pun intended) episode that shows us what lower deck life is like on Klingon and Vulcan starships. Plus, Riker…did we mention Riker?.—D.M.

Loki (Disney+)

For me, “Loki” was the highlight of the first year of Marvel’s Disney+ original series. Every time I thought I knew where it was going, it went somewhere different. The set-up was obvious: Loki and Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius are a mismatched cop/not-a-cop pair who have to travel through time in order to right wrongs and keep things on course for the Time Variance Authority. That set-up doesn’t survive the second episode, and the show kept breaking itself apart and re-forming every week.

I loved the show’s production design. Natalie Holt’s score is the single best piece of soundtrack music I heard in 2021. And while the cast was strong from top to bottom, I have to single out Sophia Di Martino’s great performance as Sylvie. Sure, I liked “WandaVision” and “Hawkeye” too, but “Loki” was the cream of the crop.—J.S.

Mythic Quest (Apple TV+)

The second season of this workplace comedy amps up the conflict between our two main characters, egomaniac Ian and ultra-competitive Poppy, but also manages to maintain its heart. I don’t usually like shows with awful people, but the secret is the characters aren’t really awful—there’s actually something underneath that exterior. Case in point: the season’s standout episode, “Backstory,” which delves into the history of supporting character C.W., who, until that point, has mostly been a caricature. The season’s finale seems to leave most of the characters in a good place, but with some threads untied…which is just as well, seeing as Season 3 and 4 are on their way.—D.M.

What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu)

The third season of this mockumentary series about a group of vampires living on Staten Island wasn’t quite as strong as its first two, but it was still pretty great. “This is Spinal Tap” is one of my favorite movies of all time, and “What We Do In the Shadows” comes closer than anything I’ve ever seen in emulating its hilarious tone.—J.S.

Leverage: Redemption (IMDb TV)

The last couple years have been tough ones, so sometimes you want to sit back and watch something light and fun—and if it involves evil rich people getting their comeuppance, all the better.

I was a fan of the 2008 show Leverage, so the news that it was getting a revival via Amazon’s free IMDb TV was music to my ears. This continuation picks up eight years after the original series’s finale, and though there is at least one significant casting change (the absence of Timothy Hutton’s Nate Ford), the revival manages to deliver on the same campy fun. Simply put: a team of Robin Hood-like outlaws use their skills to con and steal from the rich and powerful people whom the system is rigged to help.

The addition of Aleyse Shannon as Breanna Casey, foster sister of original member Alec Hardison, and ER’s Noah Wyle, as a former dirty-tricks lawyer looking to make good, are both welcome additions. Wyle anchors a lot of the season’s ongoing plot, and he’s a welcome addition as the often-in-over-his-head Harry Wilson. Plus, you’ve got notable guest turns from Reed Diamond, Joey Slotnick, and a corker with LeVar Burton. It’s not the most challenging show you’ll watch, but it’s like wrapping yourself in a cozy warm blanket.—D.M.

For All Mankind (Apple TV+)

Ron Moore’s alt-history story about an extended space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union moved to the 1980s for its second season. Marriages fall apart, international tensions flare at home and on the moon, and a symbolic gesture becomes something deeply meaningful. (Also, pay attention to the vending machine!)—J.S.

Kung Fu (CW)

A reboot of a kinda problematic show from the 1970s as a CW drama doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that’s likely to blow you away, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Kung Fu, which bares basically no resemblance to the old David Carradine vehicle beyond the name. This one focuses on Nicky Shen, a young woman who drops out of school to train in kung fu, and gets embroiled in a search for mythical weapons of untold power.

Fun fight scenes and a talented cast that punches above their weight elevated this series’s first season, and I particularly appreciated the show’s willingness to have more than a few scenes in Mandarin with English subtitles. A special callout to Hollywood legend Tzi Ma who gets a meaty role as the father of the main character.—D.M.

It’s a Sin (HBO Max)

If I describe Russell T. Davies’s “It’s a Sin” as a story about a group of gay men and their friends in London during the height of the AIDS epidemic, you will probably assume that it is a dark, tragic story. And it is, at times. But the magic of “It’s a Sin” is that it’s also joyful. That bittersweet combination—all these young men are finally breaking out of their restrictive families and being who they want to be, forming bonds and building communities and having sex and starting careers… and at the same time, the epidemic that will end so many lives is lurking around every corner.

“It’s a Sin” wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if it were merely joyous or tragic. It’s both at once, in a way that feels true, and only magnifies the tragedy of so many young lives cut so short.—J.S.

Hawkeye (Disney+)

With all respect to my dear friend and colleague, Hawkeye for me is the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe committed to TV this year. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the Disney+ fare, this series’s small stakes, sense of humor, Christmas setting, and tremendously fun fight scenes (that car chase! that office fight!) made it a joy to watch. Anchoring it all is a tremendous performance by Hailee Steinfeld as the enthusiastic and hardly-lacking-in-confidence Kate Bishop, supported by Florence Pugh’s scene-stealing Yelena Belova and, of course, Pizza Dog himself. (I also really enjoyed Christophe Beck & Michael Paraskevas’s score, which feels like the best Mission: Impossible soundtrack never written.)—D.M.

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez make an unlikely trio as they try to solve a murder and start a popular murder-themed podcast—not necessarily in that order. It’s a legitimate murder mystery while also featuring a lot of very funny character moments.—J.S.

Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (Acorn)

The popular Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries may have come to an end, but television execs are never ones to let a good thing go to waste. This year saw the airing of season two of that show’s spin-off, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries in which Phryne Fisher’s great-niece Peregrine takes up the family mystery-solving mantle but this time in the 1960s instead of the original’s 1920s.

Season 2 expands to eight episode’s from the first season’s four, and there’s a bit more romantic drama as Peregrine and her partner/foil Detective James Steed try to figure out their relationship. The mysteries are entertaining and often ridiculous, including a pretty great episode set at a pigeon-racing club, and there’s a stewing sub-plot that revolves around Peregrine’s friend Birdie who has a shadowy past.

The show’s light-hearted and fun—despite all the murders!—and well worth a watch for mystery enthusiasts or fans of the earlier show, though I’m still holding out for a future flashback episode where Peregrine must continue a case left off by her aunt.—D.M.

Invincible (Prime Video)

From Robert Kirkman, creator of “The Walking Dead,” comes another TV series based on an excellent comic book. “Invincible” the comic is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s been translated to adult animation without skipping a beat. There’s some grotesque violence, but that was always the point of “Invincible”—to use familiar superhero tropes, but undercut them by taking them seriously. Most importantly: there are no walk-backs or fake-outs. Actions have consequences. By the end of season one, our hero’s life is nothing like what it was when the show started—for better and for worse.—J.S.

Schmigadoon (Apple TV+)

Though it mostly flew under the radar, this six-episode Apple TV+ series about a couple, Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, struggling in their relationship who end up stuck in a musical was delightful. There are more than a few standout musical numbers and the star-studded cast is peppered with Broadway veterans like Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Aaron Tveit, and Ariana DeBose. It’s a cute premise, and a half dozen episodes is just long enough for it not to overstay its welcome.—D.M.

Superman & Lois (The CW)

Though the CW’s superhero shows can often seem a dime-a-dozen, Superman & Lois is clearly where the franchise is going. It’s clearly more expensive than its counterparts, feels more cinematic, and manages not to fall into the same weekly tropes. The focus on family dynamics gives it a lot of heart, but it was one particular twist—which will delight longtime comic fans—that really sold me on the show’s first season. (Also, a brief appearance from the classic Superman suit in the opening episode is worth the price of admission.)—D.M.

Taskmaster (Channel 4, purchase on iTunes/Amazon)

My wife and I took a break from the British panel show for a while this year, but we came back with a vengeance to watch the most recent couple seasons (Series 11 and 12) and have no regrets. I can’t imagine there’s anybody left who’s not familiar with it, but the premise is simple: five comedians compete in a variety of ridiculous tasks set by the eponymous Taskmaster, Greg Davies, and his assistant, (Little) Alex Horne. The show is often hilarious, usually delightful, and always a good escape from the everyday.—D.M.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: Games

We played and enjoyed a lot of games this year. Weird, right? It’s as if we needed to escape. Anyway, here are some of our favorites.

Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City

As I admitted back in July, the endless-sandboarder game Alto’s Odyssey is my favorite iOS game of all time. This year, Team Alto brought an expansion of the game to Apple Arcade, and wouldn’t you know it? Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City is my favorite game of 2021.

If you haven’t played Alto’s Odyssey, you can play the new game from the start and the new levels will just get rolled in. I love the whole game for its beautiful graphics, its soothing soundtrack, and its simple mechanic — you tap to jump, tap and hold to flip, and if you’ve got the Wingsuit extra, use your left hand to fly. The expansion added an additional quest above the main game’s level structure, in which you collect items in order to unlock access to the Lost City, where you’re given a new menu of tasks to perform. The catch is that many of those tasks can only be performed in the Lost City, so you’ll need to keep on boarding to get back to the city and continue the tasks.

I played the whole thing, to the end. If I have any complaints about the Lost City, it’s an insufficient acknowledgement that I’ve maximized every part of the game. I crushed it, Team Alto! How about some fireworks?

These are tiny complaints. I couldn’t love this game more.—Jason Snell

Good Sudoku


I never understood the appeal of Sudoku, or to be honest, most newspaper games. My wife is an inveterate puzzle solver; she’s doing crosswords and playing Spelling Bee and has done some Sudoku in her day. But I never really got it.

One of my favorite iOS developers, Zach Gage, released Good Sudoku last year. One of the app’s stated goals is to teach people how to play Sudoku, with a difficulty level that ramps up as it exposes different solving strategies. It’s also designed to (optionally) remove some of the drudgery of paper-based Sudoku, so if you hate penciling in numbers you can skip that step.

Well, well, well. Guess what? I learned how to play Sudoku. I’m actually… pretty good at it? Not great, but pretty good. I get it now. And that’s all thanks to Good Sudoku.—J.S.

Mini Motorways

Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro is one of the all-time greats, a soothing game of connecting the dots as you build a city’s train system. It pushes all my SimCity buttons, and if you never experienced SimCity back in the day… that’s saying a lot. Only Tetris took more of my computer time in the 1990s than SimCity.

The follow-up to Mini Metro is the Apple Arcade game Mini Motorways, which is also great. You draw roads and highways to connected houses and commercial areas on various city maps. The traffic builds. You toss in a traffic light or a roundabout. It keeps building. It’s the most chill sort of escalating tension you’ll find. It’s strangely soothing.

The initial release of Mini Motorways was frustrating. I wouldn’t call it buggy, but I would say that a lot of the behaviors in the game just didn’t seem to make sense. Over time, Dinosaur Polo Club has ironed out those wrinkles. If you tried it early on and haven’t revisited it, I recommend that you go back. It’s a much better game now. I love it.—J.S.

Oculus Quest 2 games

Eleven Table Tennis.

We got an Oculus Quest 2 for Christmas last year, and I quickly found two favorite games for the VR platform. They’re not at all what I expected.

Beat Saber might be the closest thing to a “killer app” for the Quest. It’s a rhythm game like Rock Band, but you’re using lightsabers to cut flying blocks in time to the music. The game comes with a lot of Polish techno tracks, but you can also buy songs from recognizable artists if you’d rather slash and burn to Imagine Dragons or Panic! At the Disco or Billie Eilish.

Perhaps less cool than Polish techno is Eleven Table Tennis, which is… a virtual-reality table tennis game. I loved playing ping-pong as a kid. Was sort of obsessed with it for a while. Eleven Table Tennis is a spectacularly good simulation. The game’s AI is extremely good, and I was able to quickly find a level where I could win some of the time, but only with enormous effort. I haven’t had as much fun playing a game in a long time. There are also online games (I struggled with lag, alas) if you want to play against a friend or even a random opponent. If you have always loved table tennis and can’t justify buying a table, maybe justify buying a Quest 2 instead?—J.S.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

I’m not quite sure why I got into golf games in the first place, given that my ideal form of golf involves ramps and small windmills. And yet, I’ve enjoyed golf games ever since playing the first Hot Shots Golf on my friend’s original PlayStation.

This year brought Mario Golf: Super Rush for Nintendo Switch, the latest installment in that franchise, which features everyone’s favorite mustachioed plumber relaxing with a little light exercise. There are a few different modes, including an RPG-style campaign that I’ve played through, which sees your avatar travel from course to course, helping the residents and completing mini quests, all culminating in a big boss fight.

Some of the modes are a little too intense for me, in particular the game’s fixation on timed golf rounds. If I wanted tension and adrenaline, I’d play something other than golf, thanks. But it’s a charming game with a surprising degree of complexity and, of course, the usual humor that Mario games involve. (Late appearances by a particular dastardly duo provide a particularly welcome bit of comic relief.)—Dan Moren

Titanfall 2

Sometimes you don’t immediately run out to get a game, but the accumulation of whispers and recommendations over the years eventually leads to a tipping point. So it was with Respawn’s Titanfall 2, an FPS for PCs and consoles that came out back in 2016. Having never played the original Titanfall, which forwent a single-player campaign for an exclusively multiplayer experience, the sequel wasn’t high on my list, but over the last five years I’ve continually heard good things about it.

But a couple months back I was looking for a new game to play and noticed Titanfall 2 had made its way to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, removing any last excuses, and I’m here to tell you that the acclaim is warranted.

It’s hard to point to exactly what makes this game so good: at first, the storyline is fairly standard (you’re a soldier in a futuristic war who ends up having to pilot a giant robot) and the characters don’t immediately stand out, but the whole concept is just executed to a T. In particular, the shooter mechanics are extremely solid and there are multiple ways to complete your objectives in a given level, with a combination of stealth, combat, and puzzle solving.

But the moment that really blew me away comes later on when the game introduces a particular mechanic for a level that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a fun “holy crap” moment that makes you laugh out loud in delight even as you’re trying to stay alive. To say much more would spoil the surprise. If you play shooters at all, give Titanfall 2 a chance—trust me.—D.M.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: Hardware

As we reach the end of the year, it’s time for us to share some of the stuff that we liked this year. Here are our picks for our favorite hardware of the year. Some are obvious… some less so.

24-inch iMac

The iMac kept the same design for most of the 2010s. It was a design built for processors and disk drives of a very different era, and with each late-2010s revision, I kept waiting for it to be replaced. But the old design soldiered on.

It took the transition to Apple silicon to finally force Apple’s hand and release the 24-inch iMac, an entirely new computer for the era of SSDs and power-efficient Apple-built processors.

But while the 24-inch iMac more or less performed like the other M1-based Macs that preceded it, those other systems were visually unchanged from their Intel versions. The new iMac is visibly different, offered in six eye-popping colors (plus good ol’ silver) that suggest this iMac is meant to stand out, not blend in. It’s the first iMac with bright colors since the original G3 models.

The tiny details also suggest a new direction for Mac desktop hardware design, from the magnetic power cord to the detached power supply (with optional Ethernet jack) to the color-matched braided accessory cables. The iMac has a new lease on life for the 2020s.—Jason Snell

14-inch MacBook Pro

After a rough five or so years for Apple’s laptop designs, is all forgiven? The new MacBook Pro models introduced two new processors that provide Mac Pro-level performance, and that’s incredibly exciting. But while MacBook Pro users need processing power to do their jobs, what makes them happy is often the day-to-day stuff around the edges.

The keyboard was addressed beginning in late 2019. But the rest of it… The new MacBook Pro brings back an SD card slot and an HDMI port and a MagSafe charging connector. Pro laptops are tools—they need to be fast and flexible, and the new MacBook Pro obliges.

Then there’s the screen, which so often gets missed, either because everyone’s focused on that M1 Pro/Max processor, or because it’s got a camera notch in it. But the screen might be the most impressive feature of the whole laptop, thanks to its bright, high-dynamic-range mini-LED backlighting and its ProMotion high refresh rate.

After years of misunderstanding what its pro laptop users really want, Apple proved this year that the company gets it. It found the plot. We might not forget, but forgive? I think it’s time.—J.S.

ScanSnap ix1600

A scanner might seem like the height of late 20th century technology, but this is not your parents’ janky flatbed model. No, the ScanSnap ix1600, like much of the rest of Fujitsu’s well-regarded product line, is designed for one thing and one thing only: consuming documents at an amazing pace. A couple days ago I popped in 30 pages of car maintenance records and it not only chewed through them, but used optical character recognition to digitize all the text, creating a massive PDF with searchable contents. The kicker? It took less than a minute.

At $399, the ScanSnap isn’t cheap, but as someone who has boxes of old paper documents that need digitizing and shredding, it’d be a steal at twice the price. It’s fast, efficient, works wirelessly, and even folds up to not take up too much space.

Sure, the ScanSnap software is a little bit on the cumbersome side, but once you’ve set up the shortcuts to quickly scan to the folder of your choice, you rarely have to spend much time futzing with it. I’ve had it just drop those files into iCloud, where they’re saved and easy for me to find. Other than the occasional paper feed issue (easily fixed), I’ve found the ScanSnap experience good enough that I almost want to spend time feeding documents in.

Almost.—Dan Moren

iPad mini

The 2021 iPad mini is a little miracle. It’s a thoroughly modern iPad, integrating loads of iPad Pro technology into a very small body.

While it is a smaller iPad, it’s not a lesser iPad. I was able to edit a podcast with eight separate audio tracks using Ferrite Recording Studio and an Apple Pencil, and it didn’t skip a beat.

Most people probably won’t use the iPad mini to write using an external keyboard or edit a podcast or video. Fortunately, its small size makes it a much more manageable device for using Safari or various reading apps or social media or email. It does it all—and fits in all sorts of use cases that might cramp the style of larger iPads.—J.S.

Kobo Libra

Kobo Libra 2

As a writer, I unsurprisingly read quite a bit. Over the last couple years, I’ve increasingly shifted to ebooks, thanks in large part to the instant gratification aspect. While I’ve owned a few different Kindles, I found myself wondering what else was out there, so when Jason wrote up the first-generation Kobo Libra, it seemed like a good time to take a step into a larger world.

I like everything about the Libra, from its variable backlighting (including the very handy gesture of swiping up and down on the left side of the screen to adjust the intensity) to its waterproof nature. The latest Paperwhite has adopted many of these features, but the Libra still comes out ahead, thanks to its superior typography, better library integration, and yes, physical page-turning buttons. My 10th-generation Kindle Paperwhite looks positively antiquated by comparison.

At $180, the latest version of the Libra is a little more expensive than the Paperwhite (though if you opt for the ad-free version of the Paperwhite, not that much more), but it’s still $80 cheaper than the only Amazon option with physical page-turn buttons, the high-end Kindle Oasis.

The Libra has become my go-to e-reader, but it’s not just about all those features: for me, the Libra gets closer than any Kindle has to make me feel like I’m reading a real book. And you can’t put a price tag on that.—D.M.

Stream Deck

I was absolutely a Stream Deck skeptic when I first heard about it. I have a keyboard, full of keys and modifiers! Why do I need more keys when I already have an impossible number of combinations ready to be assigned to macros, obscure commands, whatever.

But I’ve come around. The Stream Deck is transformative because it’s got a programmable LCD display under its keys, allowing you to program actions and visually represent them with an icon. And if you need more buttons, just add more pages, or set a page full of buttons to appear automatically in particular apps.

What makes Stream Deck take flight is that it’s got fantastic app integration. Owing to its origins as a game streamer utility, it’s well integrated with OBS, Streamlabs, Wirecast, and Ecamm Live. But the game-changer for me was its two integrations with Keyboard Maestro. Once Keyboard Maestro is involved, you can wire up almost anything on your Mac to a custom button with an icon.

How fast did I turn around on Stream Deck? After buying a six-button $80 Stream Deck Mini and using it for a few months, I upgraded to the $150 15-button Stream Deck. (I got it used, from my friend Stephen Hackett… because he upgraded to the $250 32-button Stream Deck XL.)

Sure, you could assign an automation to command-control-shift-1. Or you could pop it on a Stream Deck button with a memorable icon behind it. It’s better.—J.S.

Sonos Arc

For a long time, my home theater audio setup relied upon the same stereo receiver and bookshelf speakers that my dad gave me back in the mid-90s. This year, however, I decided to make the switch and replace that venerable equipment with a Sonos Arc sound bar.

The Arc was my choice for a few reasons: its sound was well-regarded, it supports the ARC protocol that lets me reduce the number of remotes floating around, and it works with both AirPlay and my other existing Sonos speakers, including the two Play:1s that I repurposed as rear surround speakers. The result has been a tremendous upgrade to my home theater that brings real presence to TV, movies, and games.

The Arc isn’t cheap: at $899, you’re best off using a discount code or waiting until it goes on sale. It’s also quite large, so make sure you have room for it. (From what I’ve heard, the second-generation Sonos Beam, the company’s less expensive soundbar, has many of the same features and is much more compact, for about half the price.) But it’s hard to argue that you don’t get some bang—and some bass—for your buck.—D.M.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: iOS Apps

Here are six iOS apps that stood out for us this year, but weren’t part of the old standbys list. They’re not all new, but they’re ones we used a lot more this year.

Noir

I use Dark Mode in iOS all the time, especially on my iPad at night. And there’s not much more frustrating than tapping a hyperlink while reading in dim or no light and having my retinas blasted with a bright white webpage. Sure, conscientious sites (like this one) have updated their designs to support a dark-mode color scheme, but some sites refuse to get with the program!

Thanks to the $3 Noir, one of the new generation of Safari extensions that runs on iOS 15, my retinas are saved from blasting. Noir scans a site’s stylesheet, and if it doesn’t provide a dark mode, it creates one on the fly. You can set, on a per-site basis, whether to enable or disable Noir, and even give it the option of overriding a site’s own dark mode with a Noir version.—Jason Snell

NetNewsWire

I rediscovered NetNewsWire because of newsletters. I was getting a lot of newsletters in my email inbox, which is not actually where I wanted to read them. I wanted a dedicated reading app—and my RSS feed service, FeedBin, offers an email-to-FeedBin gateway.

To use as my reader, I chose NetNewsWire, the venerable open-source RSS reader that arrived on iOS a couple of years ago. It’s a solid, simple feed reader that works the way I want it to.

I started reading my newsletters in NetNewsWire every day. And of course, once you’ve got an RSS reader in your life, you start to add RSS feeds, and one thing leads to another, and now reading newsletters and RSS feeds in the morning has become part of my daily routine.

NetNewsWire even works well for sites I subscribe to that don’t offer full-content RSS feeds; the app’s Reader view can load some page content directly into view, but for subscriber-only sites, one tap opens the story in a web view within NetNewsWire. My only complaint is that some of the sites that I subscribe to don’t offer RSS versions of their content. (Looking at you, San Francisco Chronicle.)—J.S.

Streaks


If there was a theme for me this year, it was about trying to motivate myself to be more consistent with some of my habits, and Streaks ($5) has been a big part of that. It’s a simple, highly customizable app that lets you create lists for all those things you mean to do every day (or every week, or every few days). I use it for everything from making sure I keep my crossword streak alive to ensuring that I’ve done my physical therapy exercises. I particularly appreciate its integration with other iOS features, such as the Health app (more on which in my next entry), and the fact that it comes with lots of built-in options for common habits. While I’ve been happy with the degree I’ve set it up, I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of its capabilities.—Dan Moren

Taio

Taio is a promising iOS Markdown text editor. I’m always on the lookout for those, and this one’s impressive, with its own clipboard manager and Shortcuts-style actions system, plus JavaScript-based scripting support. I’m not quite ready to switch to it yet from 1Writer and Drafts, but I’m keeping an eye on it and its rapid development.—J.S.

WaterMinder

Like I said, I’ve been trying to improve some of my habits this year, and one of them is making sure I drink enough water. For that I’ve turned to WaterMinder ($5), which lets you set a goal for hydration each day and log your progress as you go. I like that WaterMinder lets me keep track of different things that I drink (water, tea, seltzer and, yes, the occasional beer) and that it integrates with the Health app and, through that, my hydration goal in Streaks. There’s also an excellent Apple Watch app with a nice complication that lets you quickly log a drink even if you’re nowhere near your phone. If I have one wish for improvement, it’s that WaterMinder reform its notification system to be a little smarter: there’s nothing more annoying than getting a reminder to drink more water after I’ve just downed a full pint glass.—D.M.

Pushover

Not all apps are beautiful. The $5 Pushover is not much to look at, but it solved a very specific problem for me. I wanted a push notification, on my phone and my Apple Watch, every time someone uploaded a podcast file for me via my Dropbox File Request.

Pushover is an app that essentially lets you create your own push notifications for whatever you want, either via Pushover’s API or via an email gateway. That’s the path I chose. I created a filter in Gmail that forwards the email Dropbox sends to me every time someone uploads a file to my Pushover email address.

And that’s all it took. Now my watch buzzes when that upload has finally arrived, signalling that it’s time for me to get to editing.-J.S.


By Six Colors Staff

2021 Favorites: Mac Apps

As we reach the end of the year, it’s time for us to share some of the stuff that we liked this year. We’ll start with a category that is surprisingly robust: Mac apps. Some of these are new, and others are old favorites that got nice updates in recent months.

Mimestream

Mimestream

After a decade-plus of using Gmail through the Mac-amplified interface of Mailplane, I had to find a replacement after that app was discontinued. My dissatisfaction with Apple Mail’s slow operation and unreliable search was what drove me to Mailplane to begin with, and I wasn’t willing to go back there. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. Neil Jhaveri’s Mimestream is an Apple Mail-style client for Gmail. Its search is proper Gmail search, fast and reliable. And it supports Mac interface conventions. I’ve switched to Mimestream and couldn’t be happier about it. The app is free during the beta period; I have no idea what it’ll cost when it goes final, but whatever it is, it’ll be worth it.—Jason Snell

Bartender 4

I’m not quite sure why I avoided Bartender for so long, but this year the overwhelming number of menu bar icons finally got to me, and I wholeheartedly embraced the $15 menu bar management utility. The latest version added the ability to hover over your menu bar to see your hidden icons, as well as a handy Quick Search to access those widgets via the keyboard, and triggers that make icons show up when something relevant happens. Now I’ve got just the information I need, without any clutter.—Dan Moren

HomeControl Menu

HomeControl Menu

One of my favorite discoveries of this year is the $10 HomeControl Menu for HomeKit, which provides quick access to HomeKit devices from the Mac menu bar—and, via a clever set of automation URLs, quick access to HomeKit from Shortcuts, scripts, and macropads like Stream Deck and Loupedeck.—J.S.

Hazel

Hazel

While I used to be a devotee of Hazel, Noodlesoft’s folder automation tool, I’d fallen out of using it in the last few years. But this year, I jumped back in when I realized I actually had a good use for it: automatically transferring my hefty podcast files archived to my NAS. Version 5 of the $42 utility has added a schmancy new interface, support for lists and tables, and more. Since then, I’ve been wondering what other tasks it might be able to help me with—maybe it’s time to finally get that Downloads folder sorted.—D.M.

Broadcasts

Broadcasts

I frequently listen to live streams of podcasts from Relay FM, The Incomparable, and Accidental Tech Podcast. My app of choice on Mac, iOS, and watchOS is Broadcasts. It’s free for a few stations and a $6 in-app purchase to unlock all functionality. I’ve created bookmarks for my favorite podcasts and now it’s easy to tune them in live at my desk, in the shower, or when I’m running. (Broadcast’s presets sync across all devices via iCloud.)—J.S.

SwiftBar

SwiftBar

A few years ago my go-to utility for putting glanceable information in my menu bar, BitBar, was abandoned by its developer. (It has since been revived as xBar.) Fortunately, Alex Mazanov stepped up a year ago and created SwiftBar, which was a drop-in replacement and has added some fun additional features over the last year. Both Dan and I have written some new plug-ins for SwiftBar this year, joining some old standbys.—J.S.

Shortcuts

I have a million complaints about Apple’s new Shortcuts app for iOS. I said it was “like something from another solar system—or maybe operating system,” and the app is weird. But after begging for Shortcuts on the Mac, I have to admit that I am already integrating it into my Mac life on a regular basis. Things are still shaky—Apple would’ve done well to call it a beta—but they’re improving rapidly, and there are workarounds for many of the biggest issues. The Shortcuts app needs a lot of work, but I can’t deny its power and utility.—J.S.

Safari Keyword Search

Safari Keyword Search

The improvements Apple brought to its Safari Extension framework this year opened some big doors in terms of functionality, most notably reviving my favorite extension, Arne Martin Aurlien’s Safari Keyword Search. Not only back from the dead, it was revised to version 2.0, which also made the jump to iOS and iPadOS for the first time. I love being able to search a variety of sites right from the Safari address bar, from IMDb to Wikipedia to, yep, Six Colors. Also, it’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose in trying it out. You might just love it as much as I do.—D.M.

BBEdit 14’s Language Server Protocol

In July, venerable Mac text utility BBEdit ($50) was updated to version 14, which features support for the Language Server Protocol. Coincidentally, I’ve spent a lot of time this year learning to write scripts in Python. BBEdit has turned into an amazing home for that work, with the Jedi language server providing me with live error checking and autocompletion as I work. Yet another reason for me to love BBEdit.—J.S.

Calibre

With my switch to Kobo e-readers earlier this year, I’ve needed to convert some books I bought on the Kindle store to make them usable on the Kobo. That’s just one of the many jobs the free, open-source utility Calibre can do. I’ve also amassed a large collection of downloaded ebooks over the years; Calibre provides an iTunes-like library for them, and lets me convert and copy them to my e-reader of choice with a couple of clicks. No, it’s not the most Mac-friendly app ever—it’s cross-platform open-source software, and looks the part—but I can’t argue with the price or with the results.—J.S.


So it all comes down to this. We review the season finale of “For All Mankind,” which puts the fate of the world in the crucible and makes us ponder the power of individual decisions when great systems seem intent on destroying one another. Onward to season three!


As the season builds to its climax, there’s an awful lot to process. A real-life tragedy intervenes in Ellen’s story. Margo needs to communicate information from another tragic event that didn’t happen in the world of “For All Mankind.” A mysterious Soviet engineer comes bearing gifts for Dani. The Vending Machine of Fate beckons to Aleida! And Karen is having a crisis. Meanwhile, on the moon, is someone singing?


At last, the Soviets. We loved this whole episode, from the pointed conversation about Laika to the docking system designed out of coasters. Who makes Houston’s best borscht? Who cares! Let’s have burgers and Jack Daniels! Just don’t tell the KGB.


Wake up Elvis and get The Band back together—we’re here to take a load for free and talk about the latest episode of “For All Mankind.” We cover Tracy’s rough introduction to Jamestown, Gordo’s pool adventures, Molly’s new job, the death of Spock, and a very momentous book reading. Put the load right on us!


Turns out that the Soviets are America’s annoying moon roommates, moving their stuff without asking—and it might trigger a lunar conflict. Also, Tracy and Gordo continue to be messed up, Margo provides toilet paper and a job offer, Gordo’s VCR is on the blink, and the Baldwin family finally brings its issues to the surface.


Not every episode of “For All Mankind” needs to have the drama of a solar storm.


“For All Mankind” has returned for a second season on Apple TV+, and this season Jason Snell and Dan Moren will be reviewing every episode! In the premiere, we get a time jump accompanied by a montage full of alternate-history easter eggs, some good vibes on the edge of Shackleton crater, a very busy Margo coordinating flight operations at NASA, a surprising new career direction for both Ed and Karen, and oh yeah—a potential lunar disaster that forces Molly to make a difficult decision. Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing!



By Six Colors Staff

WWDC 2020 Friday: Session Impressions

And so WWDC comes to a close for another year. We have to admit: We’ve probably watched more session videos this year than all of the prior years put together. The virtual format has been a real change, but a lot of the way the event has adapted is to the positive, including the ability to make all of this information easily accessible to anybody who’s interested. So, with that said, let’s wrap up a few last videos.

AutoFill Everywhere

AutoFill
AutoFill can be faster and more secure in many places.

I love AutoFill—it’s one of my favorite features. On the Mac, I don’t mind typing things, but on the iPhone, having forms automatically filled out for you can be a huge time saver.

But, as it turns out, there are other benefits too. For example, privacy. As keyboard engineer Zeheng Chen points out, when you have an app where you want to send something to one of your contacts, you might choose to use a contact picker UI instead of granting access to your contacts, in order to minimize the amount of information that the app can see. But a contact picker UI might be slower than autofilling a contact address as you start to type it, and the autofill option still prevents the app from getting any data but what you type into the field. Plus, developers don’t have to create a user interface, since it’s already built-in.

Starting in macOS Big Sur, AppKit—the native APIs for building Mac apps—will now have access to AutoFill. And third-party password management apps will be available as sources for AutoFill, as they have been on iOS and iPadOS, making those programs even more useful.

Me, I’m all for less typing! —Dan Moren

Create quick interactions with Shortcuts on watchOS

Shortcuts complications
You can launch specific Shortcuts actions right from a complication.

Apple’s Shortcuts utility started its life as a third-party app called Workflow that offered an Apple Watch app. It’s taken awhile, but Apple Watch support has now arrived in Shortcuts. Not only is there a Shortcuts app on the watch, but you can launch specific shortcuts directly from watch-face complication slots. (To designate a specific shortcut for sync with the Apple Watch, you mark it as such within the Shortcuts app on your iPhone.)

Depending on how developers implement their Shortcuts support, shortcuts may run specifically on the Apple Watch without ever going back to the iPhone. But to do this, the parent app must have its associated Apple Watch app installed, too. While this is the ideal experience, there’s also the capability for a shortcut on Apple Watch to phone home to the iPhone and run the necessary automation there. It’ll just be a lot slower. —Jason Snell

Capture and stream apps on the Mac with ReplayKit

ReplayKit
I like a presenter with good taste in microphones.

Also starting in Big Sur, Mac apps will for the first time get access to ReplayKit, Apple’s API for recording, capturing, and broadcasting content from within your app. So if you’ve got, say, a Mac game, you can automatically build in features to not only do screen recordings, but also to broadcast your gameplay—and even provide an in-app editor or add overlays and other effects.

ReplayKit has been available on iOS and iPadOS for a couple years, but it’s a great addition to the Mac. Game streaming has become more and more common, and in our current world environment, there are lots of other instances in which being able to record and broadcast your app may be useful, such as during meetings.

In terms of gaming, Apple has also added support for triggering a screen recording via a button on an external PlayStation or Xbox controller, which is handy for when you want to record something that just happened without having to switch to a different input device. (On their respective game consoles, this functionality is generally accessed via controllers.)

I’m curious to see what the limits of ReplayKit are on the Mac. I’ve started spending more time streaming video for various types of entertainment, such as the shows we do at Total Party Kill and our occasional Jackbox games at The Incomparable. I’m not sure how applicable these features will be, but it certainly seems like it could simplify matters. —DM

Design great widgets

Weather widget
The weather widget can change based on context. In this example, it’s switched to a precipitation forecast.

Widgets are the big story in iOS 14, and this session details the tools developers can use to design great widgets for their apps. It focuses primarily on the decisions Apple made in creating its own widgets for iOS 14.

Widgets can adjust their display based on context. For example, the Weather widget might normally show an extended forecast, but if there’s precipitation in the area it can shift to a precipitation forecast, showing you when the rain’s expected to start or stop. The Maps widget has spatial awareness, noticing when you’re not home and offering up the travel time to get back there.

Editing widgets is adorable, and takes a page out of the old Mac Dashboard manual: You tap and hold on a widget while in jiggle mode, choose Edit, and then the whole thing flips over to present a settings interface that’s stored on the reverse side of the widget.

Users can also add multiple copies of a single widget, too—for example, you can create Weather widgets for different locations, and display them side by side—or create a Widget Stack and then flip between them. —JS

SF Symbols 2

SF Symbols
SF Symbols offers multicolor variants.

Last year Apple introduced SF Symbols, a library of more than 1500 icons meant to be used to unify the iconography of apps running on iOS and iPadOS. Developers can use SF Symbols to ensure that their toolbars and menus feel very much like they’re part of a unified system design.

This year, Apple has added more than 750 new symbols to the library, and the entire SF Symbols collection is also available on macOS Big Sur, bringing the visual design of all of Apple’s platforms closer together. There are also more localized symbols, so the iconography an app uses can shift based on what country or language preferences a user has.

SF Symbols also has support for multicolor variants of its symbols, for cases where a monochrome appearance isn’t ideal. For example, weather-related symbols showing a shining sun could be displayed in a weather app with the sun colored yellow. —JS

Miscellaneous

Apple TV Search
The Apple TV’s search field can now support suggestions.

Apple TV has a refined search interface and will start to offer suggestions as you type.

You’ll be able to use the Health app to assign shortcuts to the new Wind Down feature that gets you ready to go sleep. Apps can register certain types of behavior to allow suggestions of their shortcuts—so, for example, a meditation app could suggest a shortcut, or a journaling app. There will be a smart Sleep Mode collection in the Shortcuts app.

While you can now share watchfaces via your Apple Watch, iPhone, or website, Nike and Hermes faces won’t work except on those specific types of hardware. —DM


by Six Colors Staff

Virtual WWDC 2020 to kick off June 22

Apple’s doing things differently this year. The company is making its annual developer conference virtual, and also pushing back the date from the usual first-week-of-June start. It announced on Tuesday that WWDC will begin June 22:

Apple today announced it will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference virtually, beginning June 22, in the Apple Developer app and on the Apple Developer website for free for all developers. The company also announced the Swift Student Challenge, an opportunity for student developers to showcase their love of coding by creating their own Swift playground.

The later date makes sense, as the company’s no doubt been working on transitioning the whole event online. Apple previously announced that the event would be virtual and start in June. Apple’s press release on Tuesday included a statement from exec Phil Schiller promising that Apple would share further details about the event “as we get closer” to the start date.

—Linked by Six Colors Staff

By Six Colors Staff

Apple tweaks laptop lineup with cheaper Air; MacBook disappears

Time for a game of laptop musical chairs. Apple made some adjustments to its portable line-up this morning, with a cheaper price point for the MacBook Air and improvements to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. But the 12-inch MacBook? It’s gone, baby, gone.

In addition to its new $1,099 ($999 for college students) price tag—which cuts $100 off the old price, and $150 off for college students—the MacBook Air now features True Tone capability on its display and the new keyboard materials introduced in other MacBook Pro models back in May. Other than that, the model is basically unchanged from the one we declared the best Mac to buy for a student.

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, which was originally the one MacBook Pro model without a Touch Bar, is no longer quite so much of an outlier. It’s also gained new quad-core processors to replace its old dual-core options, True Tone, the T2 chip, and Touch ID, meaning we can bid adieu to the “MacBook Escape” sobriquet given to it when it was the only MacBook Pro model to have a physical escape key. It does, however, retain its status as the only MacBook Pro model with only two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Its price point is unchanged at $1,299, but college students can get $100 off.

(This update was timed to coincide with Apple’s annual Back to School promotion, which offers a pair of Beats Studio 3 headphones with purchase of a qualifying Mac.)

But it’s not all about give—the 12-inch MacBook has been removed from Apple’s website (though refurbished versions are still available). That device was always a contentious one, with some loving its small footprint and weight, while others were frustrated by its underpowered nature and lack of more than one USB-C port. There’s always the possibility that Apple might design another ultralight laptop, of course, especially if a rumored transition to ARM processors is in the wings, but for now it seems clear that the MacBook Air is the consumer-focused Mac laptop in Apple’s line-up.



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