Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member and get access to an exclusive weekly podcast, community, newsletter and more.

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.


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.


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s a time for looking back at all the various things that we saw and did over the last twelve months. We’ve gone ahead and picked our favorites of the year, whether they be books, board games, TV shows, music, or otherwise, in order to share them with you, dear readers. (Bear in mind that not all of these things necessarily came out in 2018, but this was at least the year that we experienced them.) And for more picks from Jason and Myke Hurley, be sure to listen to today’s awards episode of Upgrade.

Continue reading “Our favorites of 2018″…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorite books of the year

Dan and Jason read a lot. And both of them keep running into people who say they hear us praising books, and then they go and read them! This is a great responsibility, and not one we take lightly. Here are 14 books we loved this year.

Continue reading “Our favorite books of the year”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: Hardware and gadgets

We like technology. And we like gadgets. It has always been so. As the year comes to a close, we thought we’d share with you some of the favorite gadgets we’ve picked up in the last year.

echodot

Amazon Echo Dot

Yes, I extol the virtues of the Amazon Echo on what seems like a regular basis. But it was my favorite gadget of last year, and I’ve only continued to find it a benefit this year. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the voice-activated assistant pool, it’s hard not to like the second genration of Amazon’s Echo Dot. At just $50, it’s a bargain; it has all the same microphone and intelligence features of the full-size model, lacking only the better speaker. (And yeah, its speaker is really pretty poor.) Fortunately, a built-in aux jack lets you connect an external speaker, or you can pair one over Bluetooth.—DM

Logitech Harmony Hub

My house is a mess of conflicting smart-home technologies and home-entertainment devices. I’m slowly trying to clean it all up, or at least get it all working together. One way that I’ve managed to improve and simplify things is by replacing my old Logitech Harmony universal remote with the Logitech Harmony Hub.

The Harmony Hub is clever because it’s a little pod, including infrared blaster, that’s connected to your home internet. You can use your mobile device as a remote or buy a bundle that includes a physical remote (which I recommend). Now we’ve got a physical remote, with clicky buttons, that doesn’t need to be pointed in exactly the right location in order to turn various devices all and off. (My kids had a terrible habit of waving the remote around when the remote was still blasting out commands, leaving the TV on but the speakers off, or the game console on and the TV off.) The new remote is just sending radio signals to the Harmony Hub, which fires off infrared commands from an out-of-the-way location in view of all the devices it needs to control. (It also comes with remote infrared blasters, if you’ve got devices hidden behind a cabinet door.)

It gets better. My old Harmony remote could only be updated with a janky web app with a Mac app wrapped around it, and required a USB connection to update and reboot the remote. The Harmony Hub is programmable via an iOS app, and updates itself seamlessly as I sit on my couch. And since the Hub is on my local network, it ties in to my other smart home stuff—I can, for example, trigger an action on the Harmony Hub via my Amazon Echo.—JS

Sonos Play:1

I’ve been a fairly new convert to the networked speaker arena, but I picked up a Sonos Play: 1—which is discounted to $169 as of this writing—this year on the news that it would at some point integrate with the aforementioned Echo. I’ve found myself enjoying the Play:1 quite a bit—so much so that I picked up a second one. The sound quality is phenomenal, and Sonos’s integrations with popular music services like Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music make it a friendly and easy-to-use device, though I still wish I could simply have it play music from iTunes or audio from my computer.—DM

black_interface_headon1

Anova Bluetooth Precision Cooker

So it turns out that sous vide cooking—a method by which you cook food in a plastic bag at a constant temperature—is all the rage these days. But you know what? One of the most satisfying gadgets I’ve bought recently is Anova’s immersion cooker.

It comes in a box that is clearly inspired by Apple’s packaging, and the product itself is beautifully designed silver-and-black appliance. The Anova cooker is a cylinder that you attach to the side of one of your pots with an included clamp. Plug it in and dial in your target temperature, and it starts to churn and warm the water in the pot. There’s a Bluetooth feature—and on newer models, even a Wi-Fi feature—that let you connect the cooker to a mediocre iOS app. I wouldn’t bother—the cute little translucent dial lets you easily pick a target temperature.

There are no end to the sous vide cookbooks and websites out there, so all I’ll say is that with the Anova cooker I can make chicken that is guaranteed to not be overcooked—very hard to do on the grill or in the oven—and beef that is exactly at the level of doneness that I desire, every time. Brian Chen’s sous vide explainer in the New York Times led me to buy a $14 chuck roast that, after a day of immersion cooking, turned into eight tender steaks. Eight steaks for $14! Amazing.—JS

Bose QC-35s

Noise-canceling headphones have always struck me as a bit of a luxury, but with several multi-hour flights in the past few months, I decided to treat myself to a pair of the $349 Bose QuietComfort 35s. Most reviewers seem to agree that even if Bose models don’t always have the best sound, their noise-cancelation is second to none, and I’d have to agree. Putting on the headphones and flipping on the noise-cancelation feels like a curtain dropping around you. They’re particularly brilliant in places with constant noise, like a plane or train. I found I could hear my music or watch a TV show without hearing any background noise. The Bluetooth version works pretty well, pairing with two devices simultaneously, and featuring a quoted 20-hour battery life, a backup cord for wired use, an airline adapter, and a very nice hardshell carrying case.—DM

The Amazon Kindle Oasis (left) with the Kobo Aura One.

Kobo Aura One and Kindle Oasis

Look, if you want to buy a Kindle you should buy a Paperwhite. But I love Kindles and the new high-end super-premium Kindle Oasis is pretty great. It’s got physical page-turn buttons, is ridiculously thin and light, and comes with a leather case that offers not just protection, but battery recharging.

If you’re outside the Amazon ecosystem, it’s worth looking at the Kobo Aura One, which is a great piece of hardware. It’s got a big screen that makes it feel like you’re reading a hardcover book, and it’s waterproof, to boot.

I can’t decide which one I’m going to take on my upcoming vacation. The Aura One’s waterproof but the Oasis is so light! Oh well—either way, I can’t go wrong.—JS


By Six Colors Staff

Our Favorites: iOS apps

The iPhone may be approaching its tenth birthday, but it often seems as though the iOS app scene is doing anything but slowing down. That said, the huge preponderance of apps has made it trickier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Still, we soldier on, testing new apps as they arrive, and where necessary, pitting them against old favorites. We’ve combed through both recent and more longstanding apps for the ones that have stood out for us.

Continue reading “Our Favorites: iOS apps”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: iOS/Mac Games

All work and no play make all of us more than a little bit dull. Great games abound on Apple’s platforms, and you shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about indulging in them. After all, sometimes the brain does its best work when it’s distracted. At least, that’s totally what we keep telling ourselves.

Continue reading “Our favorites: iOS/Mac Games”…


By Six Colors Staff

Apple Q3 2016 financial results

Today Apple released its quarterly financial results. We covered the event live via the Talkshow app.

You can read our commentary in a separate window.


By Six Colors Staff

Scrivener for iOS Review

A few years ago, Literature and Latte announced that it would be developing an iOS version of its popular and powerful writing app Scrivener, but the project kept getting delayed and derailed until L&L founder Keith Blount took the project on himself. Scrivener for iOS has now arrived in the App Store for $20. We’ve both been using the beta version of the app for a while now, and we’ve come away impressed.

Scrivener gives you access to detailed data via the Inspector (left), and provides a row of extra buttons above the keyboard.

Jason’s Take

I love Scrivener on the Mac. I’ve been using it for years, and have written the bulk of three novels and numerous extended-length product reviews using it. But the more I used my iPad and iPhone, the more I found myself wishing that I could view, edit, and even write my Scrivener projects on iOS devices—and that wasn’t really possible without some frustrating and limited workarounds.

scrivener-dropbox
Syncing happens via Dropbox, and is modal.

Scrivener is a tool built for writers working on large projects, and it shows. As on the Mac (and presumably on Windows—but I haven’t used that version), the iOS version is organized around the concept of projects, each containing a large number of items. For a novel project, that might be a manuscript folder full of chapters, a research folder full of notes and clippings, and even a folder full of characters.

Scrivener doubles as an organization tool, one of the things that drew me to the Mac version in the first place. I used a separate outliner and text editor to write the first half of my first novel; Scrivener allowed me to merge the two, so that the items of my outline contained the chapters they were describing.

Scrivener for iOS doesn’t have all the features of its Mac equivalent, which is perhaps unsurprising given that this is version 1.0 of the app. But I’m surprised at how much the iOS version does contain. Users of Scrivener will not be left feeling that they’re purchased a rudimentary shell with file-format compatibility with their desktop writing tool; this is absolutely Scrivener, with a whole lot of complexity hidden behind gestures and buttons.

scrivener-beta-iphone
Scrivener on an iPhone.

Recognizing that writing on a software keyboard isn’t an ideal situation, Scrivener for iOS offers a few sets of extra keys just above the standard keyboard, and you can swipe through different ones depending on your needs. There are tools for quote marks, arrow keys, and even a quick-selection tool. If you’re working on a hardware keyboard, Scrivener gets that stuff out of your way and gives you an array of keyboard shortcuts to get the job done.

My biggest complaint about Scrivener for iOS is probably that while its cloud-syncing system (which uses Dropbox) absolutely works, it seems to require some care. There’s no automatic syncing—you need to tap a sync button or, if you’re using a hardware keyboard, type command-shift-S—and while it’s syncing you can’t do anything but watch the progress bar slide on by.

Still, this is a banner day. I can write and edit my novels when I’m traveling with only my iPad, and even make notes or edit outlines while sitting in a waiting room. (Though I doubt you’d write the Great American Novel on your iPhone, Scrivener is a Universal app and works on the iPhone too, albeit in a simplified interface that’s a bit of a tight fit.)

Dan’s Take

Like Jason, I’m an avid Scrivener user. There are only a few apps I consider really critical to my work: I mean, end of the day, you can type in anything that has a text box.1 But when it comes to writing fiction, I swear by Scrivener.

Scrivener
The contents of a novel project.

The addition of Scrivener for iOS is huge for me, personally. As long as Apple has offered support for Bluetooth keyboards on the iPad, I’ve wanted to be able to go down to the local coffee shop, or even on a short trip, with nothing but my iPad. But one of the few things I found I couldn’t do was work on my fiction projects—not without some workaround that involved writing in another text editor on my iPad, saving that in Dropbox, and then copying and pasting it into my Scrivener project when I got back to my Mac. Hardly seamless.

scrivener-wordcount
Keep track of your writing targets.

I’ve been using Scrivener for iOS during its beta period over the last few months, and I’ve found it to be just as solid and capable as I’d hoped. There’s a split-screen Quick Reference capability, support for multitasking on the iPad, word counts and targets, labeling and statuses, and Scrivener’s iconic corkboard (which I love the idea of, but never seem to use effectively). Much as on the Mac version, Scrivener for iOS has a surfeit of features that I may or may not ever take full advantage of—but everybody’s process is different, and they’re there if you want them.

There are, of course, some places where the iOS version is not as full-featured as its desktop counterpart—if you’re looking to compile an ePub or Kindle book of your project, you’ll still need to turn back to the Mac—but it does a perfect job of exactly what I want: the ability to jump right into a project I’m currently working on, and then have that progress in sync when I go back to my Mac. (As Jason said, I wish the syncing was a little more seamless, but a Scrivener project is definitely more complex than a flat text file.) Everything else is, at least as far as my writing process goes, secondary.

My debut novel, which comes out next year, was also the first book I wrote entirely in Scrivener on my Mac—my most recent first draft, finished just last week, was in no small part written on my iPad. Who knows? Maybe in the not too distant future, I’ll write a book from start to finish entirely in Scrivener on my iPad. If nothing else, that’s definitely a possibility now.

Bottom Line

Scrivener users who have been aching for an iOS version will consider this $20 purchase well worth it. It was a long time getting to this point, but our patience has been rewarded.


  1. Though I’d suggest maybe not writing your next novel in the text field of Messages. 

By Six Colors Staff

WWDC 2016 Wish List: Apple TV

The fourth-generation Apple TV is a frustrating device. That’s because it’s a good device—good enough to wrest my TV watching habits away from the Fire TV for the most part—but it’s not a great device. Despite its much-welcomed addition of an App Store and third-party apps, the set-top box has largely proved to be a case of “meet the new Apple TV…same as the old Apple TV.”

While I doubt that Apple has any major overhaul plans for the box at WWDC, given that it hasn’t even been on the market for a full year yet, I’m hopeful that it will show the same dedication to detail and attention that it has to its other platforms, like the Mac and iOS.

Our good friend Joe Steel has produced an excellent wish list of items for tvOS, and I don’t want to spend too much time repeating what he said—I agree with pretty much all of it.

But there are a few other things I’d like to see Apple take into account in a tvOS update. In particular, along Joe’s line of an interactive programming guide, I’d like to see a Watchlist application that I can use to track which shows I’m following, and get alerted to new episodes when they’re available, as well as tracking where I am in a show. Right now I use Television Time to track my (many and varied) TV series, but having a feature like that integrated into the Apple TV experience would be a big improvement.1

I’d also like to see better use of the top marquee section of the Apple TV’s interface, though this is more up to developers. Plex does a great job actually showing you content you might want to see when it’s in the top row of apps; Netflix and Hulu could both learn a lot from that, rather than simply trying to push me on what’s popular.

Speaking of apps, there’s also no earthly reason I should have to log in to each individually, using the cumbersome process of tapping out my username and password on the remote. (I don’t even bother with the Remote app anymore, because finding it, launching the app, connecting to my Apple TV, and so on…well, it’s actually faster to use the remote, a lot of times.) Dictation is an improvement, but this all just seems so antiquated when we’ve got iCloud Keychain—why are we still entering passwords?2

My fingers are crossed that the rumored focus on Siri will bleed over to the Apple TV. As it is, I rarely use the voice-activated search right now (in large part because I use a universal remote that has no microphone on it). Offering an API that allows third-party developers to hook into it and potentially provide deeper functionality would be welcome. For example, I could say “play the next episode of Deadwood” and have Siri know that I was watching the show on HBO and can automatically cue up where I was.

Overall, though, if I have one wish for the Apple TV it’s this: that Apple start treating tvOS like its own thing, instead of just a different flavor of iOS. The way we interact with a set-top box is different from what we do on our smartphone or tablet, and shoehorning it into the same interaction model feels incongruent at best. The Apple TV doesn’t have to do everything that an iPhone or an iPad does. There was a time when Apple was comfortable making a device that did one thing, but did it exceedingly well. Perhaps the Apple TV should take a cue from the iPod of yesteryear and focus on making its set-top box the best entertainment device it can be.—Dan Moren

Jason’s take

After Dan and Joe have had their say, there’s not a lot left for me to do but agree with them. I will, however, reinforce the point that’s been made a few times already: The Apple TV should know things about your current television status. If you’re a cable TV subscriber, you should be able to log in with your cable information and then never, ever get stopped by a cable login screen again. If you’re a cable cutter, you should be able to specify that and then not be bothered by stuff that requires a cable subscription.

And I’ll also second Dan’s championing of a watchlist. If my Apple TV could keep track of what I wanted to watch across various services, that would make me more likely to stick with the Apple TV for viewing shows. I realize individual services offer their own watch-list features, but they’re scattered—and it should be the job of tvOS to aggregate all of that information in one convenient place.—Jason Snell


  1. Failing that, if the Television Time folks want to make a tvOS version, that would also be pretty sweet. 
  2. If security is really an issue—and I don’t think it is in this case—I think a remote with Touch ID on it would be cool, but probably not worth it in the long run. 

By Six Colors Staff

WWDC Wish List: Apple Watch

Tim Cook gives an Apple Watch update in 2014.

The Apple Watch has been out for more than a year, and it’s been 21 months since it was announced. In that time, the hardware has remained the same and the software driving it has seen one major update, watchOS 2, announced at WWDC last year.

Up to now, what we’ve really seen is a first take on the Apple Watch; in terms of both hardware and software, today’s Apple Watch isn’t very much different from the one described on stage nearly two years ago. And in the intervening time, the limitations of that original approach have become clear.

As someone who has worn an Apple Watch every day since the day it shipped, I feel confident in saying this:

The Apple Watch’s app model doesn’t work. The large screen of circular app icons is hard to navigate, and most apps aren’t worth the trouble, often because they’re slow and unreliable. Glances are interesting, but often too limited. The sole button is dedicated to a feature—bringing up a wheel of friends so you can send them texts and Digital Touch sketches—that’s not remotely core to the experience of using the device. There aren’t enough watch face options, and the ones that do exist aren’t particularly customizable. Fitness features are erratic and require too much user interaction.

But hey, like I said, this is all a first take. The big question is, what comes next? Have the people who shaped the initial conception of the Apple Watch gotten a good idea of what’s working and what’s not working with the device? And are they willing to chuck out ideas that seemed good at the time, but just haven’t proven to be very good over the long haul? Will they be willing to backtrack on some of the choices they made?

All will be revealed, presumably, when watchOS 3 is announced at WWDC. And my wish for the Apple Watch, above any other, is that watchOS 3 be unflinching at throwing out stuff that just didn’t work in the previous version of watchOS. This is far too early in the life cycle of this product for Apple to be afraid of shaking things up or making big changes; the Apple Watch needs to be better, and watchOS 3 can make that happen by better focusing the product.

The watch isn’t an iPhone, so it doesn’t need apps like the iPhone has apps. It does need support for third-party apps of a sort, but the current app launch screen is unnecessary. A simple list would suffice, combined with launching apps from complications and glances. Perhaps Glances could be upgraded to be more fully functional, reducing the need for “full apps” even more. Bottom line: If there’s anything Apple can do to make Watch apps launch reliably and quickly on the existing Apple Watch hardware, it should make that happen, even at the expense of app functionality. It doesn’t matter how powerful watch apps can theoretically be if nobody ever opens them because they’re unreliable.

I’d like to see at least an option to map the watch’s button to an action other than bringing up a list of favorite friends. More watch faces are also on my wish list, and while I’d like to see third-party watch faces, I’d trade that for Apple-designed faces that are more flexible about how (and when) they display information, including support for complications that appear only in certain contexts.

Fitness tracking should happen automatically, without user interaction; earlier today I took a three-mile walk with my dog, but I forgot to launch the Activity app and tell the watch that I was going on a walk, so it failed to measure that event properly.

I realize that the current Apple Watch hardware is most definitely a first-generation model that’s going to be far slower and less capable than the next one. As such, watchOS 3 is going to be limited in what it’s going to be able to do. But I think it could be dramatically improved with some serious changes to the watchOS software—and I hope Apple feels that way, too.—Jason Snell

Dan’s Take

The biggest problem with the Apple Watch is that it’s sloooooow. The second biggest problem is that it’s sloooooooooooooooow. There’s only so much software can do to fix those problems without a commensurate hardware update, but there are improvements that can be made so that we spend less time waiting for our Apple Watch.

A lot of that has to do with prioritizing the kinds of things we do with our watches, and making those things take fewer steps. Glances were an interesting idea for getting to the heart of information we wanted available, yes, at a glance, but the problem is that they too often display stale data, and the idea simply doesn’t scale. When you have 17 Glances, trying to find just the one you want is an exercise in frustration—and not the kind of exercise that the Apple Watch tracks. There’s no Rage circle to close every day.

Complications are a step in the right direction, especially now that third-party developers can make their own, but we’re still beholden to the Apple-design watch faces. Apple clearly has a vested interest in keeping the watch face attractive, but more often than not, it’s at the cost of utility. There’s nothing wrong with having a watch be attractive and eye-catching, but this is a smartwatch: if we were focused solely on looks, we’d just buy a normal watch. There’s a reason Apple didn’t spend a lot of time emulating dumb cell phones when it developed the iPhone. My hope is that Apple will give developers and users a little more leeway in customizing and creating their own personalized watch faces.

We also need to talk about buttons. The secondary button is most useful when double-clicking it to bring up Apple Pay, but that single-click mode that provides a wheel of contacts? No. Look, I hardly ever initiate contact from my Apple Watch. Either I’m replying to someone who’s sent me a message or, on the rare circumstance where I am going to decide to text someone from my Watch (not call—never call), I’m going to use Siri. Ditch the contacts ring. Cute as drawing little messages or sending your heartbeat was when the Watch first came out, it was a novelty, a gimmick. There’s no staying power there. Repurposing that interface for Glances would hardly be the worst idea, but I’m sure Apple can come up with something even better.

Finally, Siri. The virtual assistant (and its attendant dictation features) makes a lot of sense on the Apple Watch, because you want to minimize the amount of time you’re dealing with the interface. But it’s slow, often stalls out, and seems to have trouble understanding me. I’m hopeful that the theoretical Siri improvements coming to the rest of Apple’s platform will bleed over to the Apple Watch and provide not only better comprehension, but more capabilities for both built-in and third-party apps.

Again, Apple can’t patch all the issues with the Apple Watch with a software update, but what it can do is show that it’s willing to evolve its thinking, and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. That way, when new hardware does eventually come around, users will be primed to jump at a faster, better version of an experience they’ve already come to love.—Dan Moren


By Six Colors Staff

WWDC Wish List: iOS

Apple’s Greg Joswiak discusses iOS 9 at an event earlier this year.

It’s a big birthday for Apple’s mobile operating system this year: version 10. That’s a pretty significant milestone—I mean, the Mac’s been around for more than 30 years, and it’s still on version 10. iOS has expanded a lot since the days that it was just the iPhone OS, and in that time, most of the low-hanging fruit has been picked off. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still plenty of improvements to be made. In fact, now that we’ve been using our iOS devices for nigh-on a decade, I think we have a better handle on the kind of capabilities that we value.

There likely won’t be any major iOS hardware announcements at WWDC: a new iPhone isn’t likely to arrive until the fall, the current iPad line-up is still pretty new, and the iPod touch…well, let’s just say it hasn’t been getting a lot of love, but a developer conference isn’t the place for it. But that’s fine, because there’s a lot more that can be brought to our existing devices with a new operating system update. Here are a few things we’d like to see in iOS 10.

Siri API

Like Hansel, voice-based intelligent agents are so hot right now. Apple’s in a weird position with Siri, in that it was the first major tech company to bake the intelligent agent right in to its mobile operating system, but since Siri’s release, it’s only made modest improvements to the feature. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google, as well as third-party companies like Viv, appear to be pushing hard into the same space.

Hence rumors that Apple is working on a Siri API to roll out next week, which would provide third-party developers a framework for letting their apps work with the intelligent agent. That’d not only give users more options for features, but it would also take some of the onus off of Apple to provide that functionality. And it would go a long way towards bringing Siri up to date and providing stiffer competition with offerings from the likes of Amazon. Not to mention that the Siri API on iOS would also be a boon for Siri appearing on the Mac.

Home/lock screen makeovers

I swear, they’ve been on the list for as long as I can remember. But to this day, iOS’s lock and home screens remain largely unchanged from their earliest days. If I want to see any information at a glance that isn’t in a notification, I have to either pull down the Today view of Notification Center (and then wait for it to refresh), or actually go into my phone, and then open the relevant app.

I get it: these kinds of widgets and easy, glanceable information are exactly what Apple’s trying to offer with the Apple Watch. But not everybody’s going to buy the Watch (and that device has its own set of challenges), so why not bring those complications from watchOS back over to iOS, and let developers create widgets of discrete functionality for the lock and home screens? I’d love to have easier access to the current weather or a quick glance at my current step count.

We spend a lot of time navigating through the lock and home screens on our iOS devices, and rather than them just being way stations for us to pass through en route to our apps, it’d be great if they offered a little more utility along the way.

Text editing

Cut, copy, paste and text selection was missing for a long time on the iPhone. Those text-handling features didn’t arrive until iOS 3, but they’ve remained largely unchanged since then. The problem is that they’ve become increasingly finicky. Trying to select just the portion of a web page I want to copy has turned into a battle for me, trying to seize one of those blue text-selector handles and not having it snap away because the software thinks it knows what I want.

Thanks to the improvements Apple made last year to iOS on the iPad, text selection is far easier with a hardware keyboard. In a lot of places, text selection via a hardware keyboard works just as it does on the Mac: you can use the Shift key to extend a selection, the Option and Command keys to jump to select by word and line, respectively. Thumbs up to all of that.

But on the iPhone in particular—and I’m talking the 6s, which isn’t exactly small—you can sometimes end up with some wacky selection artifacts. I’m not sure if there’s a better solution out there: though I like the 3D Touch additions Apple has made for moving the cursor, it’s certainly not the most obvious of mechanisms.

Autocorrect

I don’t know what’s going on with autocorrect. In the early days of the iPhone it seemed to adroitly compensate for this novel experience of thumb-typing on a touchscreen keyboard, but lately—whether because we have gotten better at said typing or because its algorithm has gotten worse—it’s gone from providing useful and handy nudges here and there to flagrantly changing what we want to say into either awkward miscommunications or outright garbage.

Sure, we could all turn autocorrect off and see how much worse our typing is then, but I’d hope there’s somewhat of a middle ground there. Perhaps autocorrect could expand its dictionary to include more words (there are certainly more words in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Apple’s philosophy), or perhaps it could simply be a little less aggressive about swapping in its own substitutions—especially, and I can’t believe how often I see this, inserting substitutions that aren’t words for ones that are.

This, that, and the other

There are plenty more improvements that could be made here and there in iOS 10. Just off the top of my head, an improved dictionary interface, better GIF support, a version of Preview for iOS, and Handoff for Music and iTunes. I’m interested to see if Apple continues expanding the use of 3D Touch, perhaps adding some implementation in Control Center, and I’d welcome an overhaul and rethink of Notification Center. Not all of this is going to get done this year, or perhaps ever, but Apple certainly has its choice of what to focus on for iOS 10. Let’s just all agree that the company needs to make finding emoji on iOS way easier. —Dan Moren

Jason’s take

As an iPad Pro user, I’m on the record as requesting lots of iPad Pro-related improvements in this, the first major iOS release to happen after the release of the iPad Pro. Support for external keyboards needs to improve, including the ability to set different settings (such as autocorrect and auto-capitalize) for hardware keyboards and the software keyboard. On-screen multitasking in iOS 9 is a first draft—the next version needs a better app picker, and the ability to pair apps so that they launch together in split-screen mode. The ability to run the same app twice in Split View (hello, Safari!) would be great, too. And of course, some sort of drag-and-drop gesture would be amazing.

It would be pretty great if Apple found a way to bring Split View and Slide Over to the iPhone, though (based on Google’s demo of the feature in Android) I’m skeptical if there’s room even on an iPhone 6S Plus for a split view. Slide Over actually feels like a better fit for the iPhone, since it doesn’t take up extra space on the screen but lets you temporarily peek at another app. Still, I’m going to be of an open mind here: If Apple can find a way to make Split View work on the iPhone, it should do it.

iOS needs to handle files better, specifically on external drives. I should be able to attach an SD card (or even a USB hard drive) full of files to my iPad Pro and import the files I need; right now, if it’s not a video or audio file, I’m out of luck. As a podcaster, I want more sophisticated audio support, including the ability for more than one app to easily use the microphone and speaker at once, and the ability for an app to record system or microphone audio directly, no matter what other apps are running.

Finally, I also commend to you Federico Viticci’s wish list and concept video and Serenity Caldwell’s iPad Pro wish list. —Jason Snell


By Six Colors Staff

WWDC Wish List: The Mac

Craig Federighi (and helmeted friend) unveil Mac features at WWDC 2012.

Mac news comes in fits and starts these days. With so much talk about iOS and newer platforms like the Apple TV and Apple Watch, sometimes there’s not a lot of oxygen left in the room for the Mac. But WWDC 2016 is shaping up to be a huge event for the Mac.

Mac OS/OS X

Will there be a new version of OS X introduced next week, to ship this coming fall? Well, duh, that always happens. What’s a little more interesting is what it will be called. With iOS, tvOS, and watchOS already here, can macOS be far behind?

Reverting back to calling the Mac operating system “Mac OS” is high on my wish list. I’d prefer that particular style to some newfangled “macOS”, but I’ll take that if it’s the only way to get the Mac back in the name of the operating system that powers it. I’d like the “X” consigned to the ash heap of history. I’m okay with the idea of place names continuing as the monikers for Mac OS releases, but I’d prefer Apple just go to sequential numbering as it has with its other platforms—starting with Mac OS 11 this fall.

In terms of new OS X features, lately there hasn’t been much that hasn’t been about keeping the Mac more or less in lockstep with Apple’s other platforms and its cloud services. That’s fine, but when Apple does build features that are bridges to the other platforms, I’d like it to implement them on the Mac in ways that takes advantage of the Mac’s unique strengths.

Siri on the Mac is an obvious addition, and it’s been rumored for a while now. I’d love to see Siri tie in with the Mac’s existing automation infrastructure—including Automator—so that I can use voice control to perform complex tasks on my Mac. If Siri on the Mac is a black box that can’t be extended by the richness and power of the Mac platform, what’s the point?

I’m hoping Mac OS will pick up some of the other ease-of-use features of iOS, such as the ability to more easily set up a new Mac with all of your apps (at least from the Mac App Store) and cloud data intact. And since the Mac App Store is pretty slow, how about loosening the restrictions on app developers so more cool and useful Mac apps can sell their wares via Apple and take advantage of features like automatic updating and cloud restoration?

Here’s an unrealistic dream, but since this is my wish list, I’m going to make it: I’d like to see the Mac become capable of running iOS apps, perhaps in a Notification Center-style sidebar or Dashboard-style overlay. There are so many great iOS apps out there that just aren’t replicated on the Mac, except maybe with a lackluster web equivalent. Between the keyboard and mouse, the Mac should prove capable of driving many iOS apps, especially simple ones.

Probably as unrealistic, I’d like to see an entirely new and simplified version of iTunes for Mac, perhaps multiple apps. iTunes can become the hub for Apple’s media sales, as it is on iOS. A new Music app will need to support Apple Music as well as local music files. And as for syncing, updating and configuring iOS devices, let’s move all of that to a new iOS Sync app that’s completely separate. Break up the iTunes monopoly—it’s way past time.

Finally, I’d like to see some fresh updates to the software that comes bundled with Mac OS. Photos is a little more than a year old, and it would be nice to see some major feature improvements. Apple Mail needs to take cues from other mail apps and become better at processing messages and assigning them as tasks, with due dates. And it would really help if Safari supported WebRTC, a new standard that lets browsers become more capable of multimedia actions, including recording podcasts.

Speaking of podcasting, I’d also like to see an update to GarageBand that does a better job of supporting podcasting. All the tools are there—GarageBand is based on Logic Pro, after all—and with just a few feature additions it could be a fantastic tool for making podcasts. —Jason Snell

New Mac hardware?

You’ve probably heard the warning: Don’t expect new hardware at WWDC. And while it’s true that Apple’s annual developer conference is uniquely focused on software—most specifically, the next generation of Apple’s growing number of operating systems—it’s also true that Apple has announced plenty of hardware during WWDC.

Apple events these days unfold in front of an audience of press, VIPs, and Apple employees. The WWDC keynote is pretty much the only event to which a member of the public can buy a ticket: In this case, an expensive developer-conference pass available only via lottery. But still, the WWDC audience is an audience of developers—and today, every single Apple developer has to use a Mac.

So would an announcement of new Macs, especially ones with the word “Pro” in the name, be met with appreciation by a crowd of professional Apple developers? You bet it would.

More importantly, it’s way past time for both the Mac Pro and the MacBook Pro to receive updates. The Mac Pro hasn’t been updated in ages, to the point where it’s actually embarrassing that Apple’s still charging full price for such old technology. (Presumably not very many people are buying it these days.) There’s a lot of hope out there, especially among developers, for a new update to the Mac Pro that adds support for Thunderbolt 3, as well as the latest high-speed graphics processors and Intel CPUs.

The Mac Pro should be the top-of-the-line Mac, the smart (albeit expensive) choice of those who need to get the most out of their Macs. And yet I know several Mac power users who have traded in their Mac Pros for 5K iMacs, and have even heard tales of game developers opting for the old “cheese grater” style of Mac Pro, because it’s powerful and upgradeable. The Mac Pro needs to get its mojo back.

On the laptop side, the MacBook Pro is similarly in need of an update. The laptop line got a speed boost and a new Force Touch Trackpad last spring, but are otherwise largely the same design as the third-generation Retina model introduced at WWDC in 2012. Four years later, it’s time for the MacBook Pro to get thinner and lighter while also taking advantage of state-of-the-art processors. Again, adding support for Thunderbolt 3 (which is also port-compatible with USB-C) is high on my wish list.

Rumors suggest that the MacBook Pro will feature a touchscreen above the keyboard offering contextual information and commands. I’m not sure I’d put a feature like this on my wish list, but I like the idea that Apple’s trying to find a way to introduce the advantages of a touchscreen to the Mac without abandoning its belief that reaching up to touch a pane of glass perpendicular to your keyboard is not good ergonomically.

As someone who navigates my keyboard by feel, though, I’m skeptical about a touchscreen that requires me to look down to navigate it. And will it be truly useful, or more of a gimmick? Yeah. You can have this one on your wish you list if you like—I’m leaving it off of mine. —Jason Snell

Dan’s Take: Touch ID

Of all the things I’d like most to see make its way to the Mac platform, the idea of Touch ID is perhaps the most interesting. I’ve long made sure that all of my Macs have long, secure passwords, and while it’s not quite as annoying to type them out on an actual physical keyboard, the idea of being able to simply press a finger against the touchpad (or a Touch ID reader elsewhere) is definitely attractive.

Even more so if Apple opens it up to third-party developers in the same way that it’s done on iOS. Creating different, strong usernames and passwords for all your accounts is tired, even with the help of Apple’s Keychain or other tools like 1Password. Thanks to Touch ID, logging in to my bank account on my phone is actually way faster than doing so on my Mac, where I have to go look up my two-factor authentication code.

In most cases, that would probably require new hardware, but even just setting up a system whereby I could use my iPhone or iPad’s Touch ID sensor and a wireless connection between that device and my Mac to authenticate would be a welcome workaround until I end up refreshing my current Macs. —Dan Moren


By Six Colors Staff

Apple’s Town Hall: A look back

By Jason Snell and Stephen Hackett

Tim Cook said goodbye to Town Hall on March 21.

Located at 4 Infinite Loop on Apple’s main campus, the Town Hall conference center was probably designed more for in-company meetings than for major events covered by worldwide media. And yet on numerous occasions over the years, it’s been exactly that.

The March 21 event in Town Hall could very well be the last hurrah for the old 300-seat venue, given that Apple is constructing a 1,000-seat auditorium in its new campus, due to open next year. Before it goes, here’s a look back at key public events in Town Hall, starting in late 2001.

Continue reading “Apple’s Town Hall: A look back”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorite things: iOS apps

From quick-check iPhone apps to super-deep ones for the iPad Pro, there’s a broad spectrum of iOS apps out there, and a bunch that we love. Here’s a look at 18 of our favorite iOS apps of 2015.

Continue reading “Our favorite things: iOS apps”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: Mac apps

Even as the iPad gets more and more capable, the Mac remains the beast of burden for much of our days. Whether it’s a MacBook or an iMac, we spend a fair amount of our days behind a keyboard and trackpad. And, more importantly, to get that work done, we need apps—lots of apps. Here are a few of the ones without which we simply can’t get things done.

Continue reading “Our favorites: Mac apps”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: Services and stuff

Hardware and software are great, but services are the gifts that keep on giving. Sure, subscribing to a service can often be pricey, but the returns you get are often well worth it. So here are a few of our favorite services that might make a good gift for someone—or even a treat for yourself.

Continue reading “Our favorites: Services and stuff”…


By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: Board and card games

Tear the kids1 away from the video games and gather round the kitchen table for some honest-to-goodness real life gaming. Board games are a great way to get some family togetherness time, and always a good excuse to get some friends together. Here are a few of our favorites, if you’re not sure where to start or what to get next.

Continue reading “Our favorites: Board and card games”…