I know a lot of people who have been monitoring the progress of macOS Monterey and hoping that there might be more changes in store to the Safari interface before the final version ships, possibly as soon as later this month. I’ve been pretty dubious — it’s awfully late in the process for changes, after all.
And then macOS Monterey beta 10 dropped this week, and would you look at this:
Yep, that’s the Safari Favorites Bar, now located above the tabs.
If you don’t use the Favorites Bar, maybe you won’t care. I use the Favorites Bar a lot, and I hated Apple’s decision to move it beneath the tabs. And now… it’s not?
So I’ve got to hand it to all of those people who wanted to believe that the design of Safari 15 on the Mac might still be in flux. I think they may be right, after all!
David Smith is a prolific app developer, and has created several popular apps focused on the Apple Watch. And yet when it came time for him to take an extended backpacking adventure outdoors, he chose a different watch:
For short day trips, the Apple Watch is great. It has done an admirable job tracking various hiking outings for me, and I love being able to see exactly where I went on those adventures.
But its battery life has never allowed for this to be practical for multi-day trips. It needs to be charged after around 7 hours of tracked hiking. Fine for a day trip, but when I head out to environments like this there aren’t an abundance of outlets to be found.
When I read Apple Watch reviews that wish it had longer battery life, I think about how there are key milestones for some features. If an Apple Watch can’t get through a day, it’s too short. But after it can get through a day (and it’s fair to point out that for people who use workout tracking a lot and have the smaller Apple Watch model, it may not be there yet), does it need to get through a day plus a few hours?
It seems to me that once an Apple Watch can make it through a day (and a night’s sleep, if you’re doing sleep tracking), it’s a quantum leap to the next goal. I’m not sure what that goal should be—if I had to remember to charge my Apple Watch every two or three days, I’d lose track of what day it was and end up charging it every day regardless.1
Smith’s post, however, shows another way to calculate that goal. The watch Smith bought for his adventure lasted for nearly two weeks on a single charge. Rumors abound that Apple is thinking of creating a more rugged Apple Watch; I wonder if part of the goals for that project should be a larger battery and some sort of new extended-life mode that would provide extreme power savings and long life.
Maybe, maybe not. But once Apple has plausibly extended the battery life of the Apple Watch to beyond our own diurnal cycle, the next goal becomes a lot less distinct.
[Thanks to Six Colors member Gareth for the link.]
I used to wear a Pebble smartwatch, which had multi-day battery life. Its battery died far more often than my Apple Watch ever has, because I never established a daily routine to charge it. ↩
Over the last several decades, Apple’s success has stemmed from one overriding philosophy: making technology personal. From the computer that sat on your desk, to the notebook you popped open on your lap, to the iPhone that you carry in your pocket and the Apple Watch you wear on your wrist, the company has increasingly fostered that personal connection between us and our devices.
But more recently, that personal connection has also carried with it a degree of insularity, of wrapping ourselves up in technology. In a recent interview with Bustle, Apple CEO Tim Cook commented on the interplay between technology and mental health:
… it’s how we look at the world. We want people to do things with their devices, like the photography exhibit that we both enjoyed, or connecting with family and friends with FaceTime. Not endless, mindless scrolling.
That prioritization does sometimes seem at odds with the very nature of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, these windows into a world that is at time disconnected from our own, even as it connects us with other people. But perhaps it hints that the next evolutionary step for Apple is to find a way to integrate our technology into the world around us.
It’s official: there will be another Apple media event this fall, and it’s Monday, Oct. 18 at 10 Pacific.
New MacBook Pro models are likely to be the star of the show. We’ll have full coverage on Six Colors, as always. Myke Hurley and I will offer post-event coverage after it’s all said and done, live on Relay FM.
Many years ago, the Internet handed around an old Radio Shack newspaper ad and pointed out that the smartphone could now replace nearly every product in the ad. So many gadgets dedicated to individual tasks that have now been rolled up into a device that’s the ultimate multitasker.
My favorite tech unitasker has long been the e-reader. With their black-and-white E Ink screen, long battery life, and laser-focused software, Kindles and Kobos have been my choice even though I have a perfectly good iPhone and iPad on which I can also read books.
While I read novels on a Kobo, I still do a lot of reading—newsletters, RSS, newspapers, links from Twitter, you name it—on my iPad. That stuff’s just not available, or readily available, on devices with E Ink screens.
But what if it was? What if someone built a tablet that could run a wider selection of apps but still had the crisp, clear look of an E Ink screen?
In fact, a few companies have been trying to marry E Ink with Android for a while now. Recently I got a chance to spend a lot of time with the Boox Nova Air, a $389 Android tablet with an E Ink display, just as I was also spending time with Apple’s $499 iPad mini. These devices, combined with my ongoing use of the $170 Kobo Libra H2O, made me think a lot more about what I really want out of a digital reading device.
Jeff Verkoeyen, staff engineering lead for Google Design on Apple platforms, on Twitter now:
This year my team shifted the open source Material components libraries for iOS into maintenance mode…
The time we’re saving not building custom code is now invested in the long tail of UX details that really make products feel great on Apple platforms. To paraphrase Lucas Pope, we’re “swimming in a sea of minor things”, and I couldn’t be more excited about this new direction.
One year at the XOXO conference I was buttonholed (in the nicest way) by someone who worked on iOS apps at Google, who wanted to understand why I was so hostile about Google’s apps not respecting iOS conventions and instead forcing Android conventions on iOS users.
I felt that Google arrogantly believed that people were first and foremost users of Google’s platforms, and benefited from consistency across those platforms, when the truth was that people who use iPads and iPhones expect apps to behave like every other app on the platform.1
Over the years Google has unified its design language and moved its work forward in a lot of ways that are admirable. But as Verkoeyen’s Twitter thread points out, it also takes a lot of effort to reinvent your own design language when the platform provides its own for free. It’s easier to be a standard iOS app on iOS.
This is good news. It’s good for Google’s developers, who no longer have to build that custom code. And more importantly, it’s good for people who use Google’s apps on iOS, because with any luck they’ll be updated faster, work better, and feel more like proper iOS apps, not invaders from some other platform.
Back in August, we passed the 10th anniversary of Tim Cook being named CEO of Apple, and of course, this week marks ten years since the passing of Steve Jobs.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge in the decade since, and in my mind, there are three major inflection points when it comes to Apple under Tim Cook.
Announced in the fall of 2014, many say the Apple Watch is the first new product to materialize under Tim Cook. While the exact timeline isn’t known, I think it’s clear that the Apple Watch is a very Tim Cook product with its focus on health and fitness.
The Apple Watch has come a long way in the years since its introduction, but looking back at the original announcement and the first set of models, it is surprising how muddied things were. Apple didn’t quite seem to know what the Apple Watch was for yet, so it threw a lot of stuff at the wall.…
Many years ago, when I first started writing about Apple on the MacUser blog, one of my first recurring features was a series I called “Under the Gavel”, in which I rounded up legal challenges to Apple.
Those challenges haven’t abated over the last several years—if anything, they’ve intensified. In fact, just in the last day or two, there have been several new places where Apple has found itself on the receiving ends of government investigations or legal actions. So, if you’ll allow me to indulge in a bit of a trip down nostalgia lane, I’m briefly dusting off the old gavel to break down these latest developments.
Can’t tap, won’t tap
Reuters reports that the European Union is preparing to bring antitrust charges against Apple over the locking down of the Near-Field Communications (NFC) chip in the iPhone. That’s the wireless radio that powers things like Apple Pay—which is precisely what’s dragged the company into the EU’s crosshairs.
At issue is the fact that while Apple uses the iPhone and Apple Watch’s NFC chips for Apple Pay, it doesn’t allow third-party developers to take advantage of the hardware for the same purpose. Therefore, companies like Square or Venmo can’t leverage the technology for tap-to-pay features in their own apps without using Apple Pay—of which Apple, of course, gets a cut.
These charges stem from an investigation that started last year into Apple Pay more broadly, and will likely not be issued until next year. One possible consequence could be a fine of up to 10 percent of Apple’s global revenue, which, while it wouldn’t sink the company, would still be painful.
Also on the topic of payment, the Netherlands has taken aim at Apple’s in-app payment system, perhaps the company’s most popular punching bag at the moment. A story in Reuters says that Dutch antitrust regulators are accusing Apple of abusing its market power by forcing app developers to use its in-app payment system. The official decision is expected to become public later this year, but it seems as though rather than fining the company, the Dutch regulator is expected to insist on changes of the system.
It’s unlikely that the Netherlands will be the last country to take umbrage at Apple’s business practices, raising the question of whether the company intends to make country-by-country exceptions to its App Store, or get ahead of the matter with more sweeping, global policy changes.
(Too) Big in Japan
Having settled one antitrust matter with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC)—which led to a global policy change about “reader” apps—Apple may have thought itself out of the spotlight in that country. But now the JFTC has launched a new investigation, this time into Apple’s dominance of the OS market, according to Nikkei Asia.
Apple reportedly controls almost 70 percent of the mobile operating system market in Japan, with Android making up the other 30 percent. The JFTC will thus be investigating how that market dominance comes into play, and whether or not Apple and Google are using their positions to limit competition. (It will also look into related markets like wearables.)
The investigation is, of course, not guaranteed to yield charges against Apple. At the moment, it’s merely a study that will talk to app developers, users, and the companies themselves, culminating in a report detailing any anticompetitive practices. This is likely to be a bit of a slower burn than the other cases, which expect decisions more imminently, but it’s also casting a much wider net, which could mean a higher probability that the JFTC takes action on something.
Just the beginning
As I wrote over at Macworld a few months back, Apple’s position as one of the biggest companies in the world has not only painted a target on its back, but also means that its biggest threats come not from competitors, but from government regulation and legislation. While the stock market often looks for growth at all costs, it’s not without risk: the bigger you get, the more scrutiny you receive from everybody, including governments around the world. Because when your company is the size of a country, the only thing that poses a threat to you is other countries.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
“Squid Game” and Netflix’s international strategy, the difference between a hit and a franchise, “Law & Order” and TV network brand extensions, successes and failures at the box office, and the best streaming services for scary movies.
Our paper document approach, our thoughts on Facebook and whether we think it will change its ways, the single-purpose robot we’d have in our homes, and the rate at which we replace and/or upgrade our smart watches and smart phones.
The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini aren’t for everybody. Apple’s higher-end iPhone Pro line offers a high-refresh-rate display and a telephoto camera and a few other features that make those phones the ne plus ultra of smartphones, and if you really want the best the smartphone world has to offer at any price, they’re a great choice.
But the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini are for everybody else.
They’re cheaper. They have most of the same advantages as the higher-end iPhones do. They’re a huge improvement over most upgraders’ current phones. The iPhone 13 mini is the rare modern iPhone to come in a manageable size. And at least to my eyes, the iPhone 13 design just looks better than the iPhone 13 Pro.
Don’t want to spent $1000 on a new iPhone? Don’t sweat it. Apple’s lower-priced iPhones are anything but second rate.
Best deal, best look
What I find remarkable about the iPhone 13 (and the iPhone 12) is that they appeal to me more aesthetically than the iPhone 13 Pro (and iPhone 12 Pro) models. The shiny glass back, especially when dressed in a bright color, is bold and interesting where the iPhone 13 Pro back is frosted and muted. The anodized aluminum ring around the sides of the iPhone 13 case also appeals to me more than the ultra-shiny, fingerprint-magnet stainless steel on the Pro models.
Everyone’s tastes vary. But I always expect the more expensive iPhone to be the one that’s more covetable in every way. I’m not suggesting that Apple make its cheaper phones dull, but I am suggesting that this generation of iPhone makes it a lot easier to opt for a cheaper phone—because they look (and feel, because that shiny glass back also has a bit of tackiness to it that I love) so good.
That said, after a brief break where I was thrilled by Apple’s decision to present the new 24-inch iMac in big, bold colors, I’m back to being frustrated by Apple’s incredibly conservative choices when it comes to coloring its products. Leaving aside the limited choices of the Pro models, even the bright, colorful iPhones we saw with the iPhone 12 models have been drained of a lot of their color for the iPhone 13. Sure, the blue and red models still sparkle, but the others—starlight, midnight, and pink—are boring.
Boring is fine—some people want their phones to be understated, and that’s understandable. (And yes, I accept that many people will wrap their iPhone in a case and never see anything but the merest hint of color around the sides and on the camera bump.) But some people want… more from their iPhones. Apple itself made a big stink about releasing a bright purple iPhone 12 last May—but there’s no equivalent purple iPhone 13. It’s almost criminal to only offer two bold colors on these phones.
The most important single feature in any smartphone is its camera. As you might expect, the iPhone 13 delivers some incremental improvements over last year’s models, and if you’re upgrading from an older model those incremental upgrades accumulate into an even more impressive jump.
Apple says that improved the standard camera in the iPhone 13, and added sensor-shift optical image stabilization for even better performance in low-light scenarios. It’s very, very hard for me to tell the difference in performance from the iPhone 12, but I’m sure I will encounter some low-light scenarios that will generate better photos because of the new features.
A more obvious improvement is the introduction of Photographic Styles, a feature that lets you adjust the target image that Apple’s image-capture pipeline is solving for. Every photo you shoot on the iPhone is the product of computational photography; the camera’s shooting multiple frames, analyzing them to pick the best one(s), and often merging them together in order to expand dynamic range or enhance detail. The JPEG or HEIF image you get out of a standard iPhone photo is anything but raw (for that, you’ll want to shoot… in RAW format). It’s a complex bit of software that’s trying to make what Apple thinks is the best-looking photo possible.
But just as with phone colors, everyone’s tastes vary when it comes to what the ideal photo should look like. Apple’s philosophy has always been to depict reality as accurately as possible. Other phonemakers have amped up the color in order to make the results eye-popping. There’s no correct answer to this question. It literally is a matter of taste. And with Photographic Styles, you can tell Apple’s image-capture pipeline to shoot for something different—something warmer, or cooler, or richer, with more or less contrast.
In contrast with a filter, which is adjusting an entire image after the fact, Photographic Styles hook into Apple’s complex image-processing system, so your preferences aren’t applied globally, but added to the capture process in appropriate ways, in appropriate areas of your shot. For example, I prefer a warmer image—but Photographic Styles will try to maintain a realistic skin tone on the people in my shot, regardless. It looks great, and as someone who prefers richer, warmer shots, I’ve set up Photographic Styles with those settings and have been really happy with the results. I’m glad Apple has broken the seal on its imaging pipeline and accepted that reasonable people can differ when it comes to what images they want their phones to produce.
The other major photographic upgrade on the iPhone 13 is Cinematic Mode, which is essentially a Portrait Mode for video. But calling it that undersells the amount of intense computing effort involved—it’s building a depth map and calculating out what parts of the image it’s going to blur with a photographic effect 30 times a second. That’s impressive.
So let me get all my criticisms about Cinematic Mode out: Like Portrait mode, it’s phony, not based on real optics, which means that if the software fails to properly detect depth, you end up with not-quite-right effects. Edges are fuzzy. Glasses look wrong. The triangle of open space between an arm and a chest becomes a window of sharp focus in what should be a blurred background. If you look at Cinematic Mode with a critical eye, you will find that it’s full of faults.
And now let me tell you, I don’t think it matters. No professional is going to want to use this feature, no matter who Apple featured in their video event that launched it. But as for the rest of us? Yeah, regular people are going to use it, and they’re going to love it—because it’s fun. It is an enormous kick to flip into Cinematic Mode and shoot video with everything artfully fuzzed out in the background. Yes, it’s only 1080p30 video—but again, who cares? The hike I took with my dog through the redwoods looks inescapably film-like. Fun!
And since the whole thing is synthetic, you can change the focus choices later—or turn them off entirely, which means you can shoot in Cinematic Mode without worrying that if it screws things up you’ll lose that important moment that you’ll never have a second chance to catch.
Cinematic Mode is flawed and if you are someone who notices its flaws, you should turn it off. My guess is that most people won’t, and will find it an incredibly fun feature on their new iPhone.
Let’s get small
I’ll leave the detailed battery tests to others, but I can corroborate that Apple has lifted the battery life of both iPhone 13 models when compared with the iPhone 12. While Apple has eked out even more battery savings on the iPhone 13 Pro models owing to the variable-refresh-rate screen, the physically expanded battery and more power-efficient A15 processor still contribute a lot.
As someone who has spent the last year using an iPhone 12 mini, I can tell you that the extra battery life is appreciated. The mini’s greatest weakness is that, owing to its small size, it has the least battery life of any modern iPhone. The iPhone 13 mini isn’t going to win any awards for battery life, but it’s noticeably better than the previous model, and that’s a good thing.
Which brings me to a painful section of this review: I don’t come to bury the iPhone mini, but to praise it. I couldn’t love this little phone more. It’s got a big enough screen for me to do just about anything, but fits well in my hand and is light in my pocket. I’ve got iPads and Macs to do the heavy lifting, but when I’m out and about I love that my iPhone isn’t weighing me down but still gives me access to all the information I need.
Apparently I am part of a small group of people who feel this way, because according to fairly authoritative reports, iPhone 12 mini sales were so poor that Apple has no plans to release an iPhone 14 mini next year. Apple reportedly plans to replace the mini with a lower-priced Max model instead. I get it, lots of people like big phones. Some of us don’t. And using the mini’s slot to sell Yet Another Huge Phone is the unkindest cut of all.
This may be the end of the line. But I don’t care, I’m going to use my blue iPhone 13 mini with reckless abandon. I’ll shoot Cinematic Video like nobody’s looking. And I’ll dream of a scenario that causes Apple to build another iPhone with a sub-six-inch screen.
Next year, I’ll be prepared to complain vociferously. But for this year, I will celebrate the existence of the iPhone 13 mini.
What you don’t get
If you opt not to spent money on the iPhone 13 Pro, what do you lose? The biggest loss is the telephoto lens. I’d like to say that I never missed that lens in my year of using an iPhone 12 mini, but that wouldn’t be entirely truthful. I did miss it, occasionally—but much less often than I expected to.
The iPhone 13 Pro also offers a photographic Macro mode that’s fantastic. Basically, if you’re frequently tempted to take super-close-up shots, or shots of things that are far away, you should give the iPhone 13 Pro another look.
And then there’s the ProMotion display, which is a very nice feature—but reasonable people can differ on just how nice. The iPhone 13 Pro models have displays that refresh 120 times per second, as opposed to 60 on other iPhones. (Apple introduced ProMotion on the iPad Pro a few years ago; this is its first appearance on an iPhone.)
With ProMotion, everything is smoother. Animations are smooth and fast. You can scroll text while you’re reading it, and the text never breaks up—if you’re an inveterate read-while-scrolling person, you are the target audience for ProMotion. It’s a really nice effect.
For me, the test was simple: After I spent a few days with an iPhone 13 Pro, could I go back to the iPhone 13’s display without feeling as if my eyes were slumming it at 60 frames per second? (To me, that was the true test of the importance of Retina displays: Once I saw a Retina display I could never go back to life without one.)
The truth is, while I noticed the lack of ProMotion on the iPhone 13, it didn’t gnaw at me. Don’t get me wrong—I look forward to the day when every iPhone has a ProMotion display, because it’s a better experience. But it wasn’t noticeable enough to offset my other preferences—namely for a smaller, lighter, cheaper phone. Your mileage may vary. If you can see an iPhone 13 Pro in person, you should give it a look. For some people, ProMotion will be reason enough to upgrade. (For others it’ll be that telephoto lens.) For me, it just isn’t.
I have to commend Apple for the job it did with the iPhone 13, and last year with the iPhone 12. These are the less-expensive iPhone models, but they don’t feel cheap. They feel like the base-model, standard, everyone-should-have-one iPhone. The iPhone 13 Pro models feel like an upgrade, but the iPhone 13 doesn’t feel like a downgrade. It’s probably the right iPhone model for most people—and if you like a smaller iPhone, grab the iPhone 13 mini while you can.
Time rolls forward, the past recedes, and it all starts to fade, doesn’t it? Ten years ago, Steve Jobs died, and at the time I pondered how he’d be remembered. In the intervening years, his most notable product–Apple itself–has risen to unimaginable levels of power and influence.
The fact that so much of Apple’s growth has happened since Jobs’s departure hasn’t reduced him at all. It would be relatively easy to argue that the success of Tim Cook’s Apple suggests that, despite everyone’s concern in the late days of 2011, the company actually could go on without Jobs at the helm. But that’s not what anyone thinks. Instead, Jobs is credited for putting Apple on the path that led to it becoming what it is today.
Apple’s initial vague presentation of the new A15 improvements could either have resulted in disappointment, or simply a more hidden shift towards power efficiency rather than pure performance. In our extensive testing, we’re elated to see that it was actually mostly an efficiency focus this year, with the new performance cores showcasing adequate performance improvements, while at the same time reducing power consumption, as well as significantly improving energy efficiency.
The efficiency cores of the A15 have also seen massive gains, this time around with Apple mostly investing them back into performance, with the new cores showcasing +23-28% absolute performance improvements, something that isn’t easily identified by popular benchmarking. This large performance increase further helps the SoC improve energy efficiency, and our initial battery life figures of the new 13 series showcase that the chip has a very large part into the vastly longer longevity of the new devices.
In the GPU side, Apple’s peak performance improvements are off the charts, with a combination of a new larger GPU, new architecture, and the larger system cache that helps both performance as well as efficiency.
There’s an enormous amount of detail in this article, so if you’re interested in the specifics of what Apple has done in this year’s chip architecture, dig in. The power Apple gets from its efficiency cores was the most mind-blowing thing for me. (I am also left wondering how Apple’s strategy is changing now that the Mac is part of the mix.)
The iPhone 13 and iPad mini are out and MacBook Pros may be on the way shortly, so it’s time for us to answer your questions! It’s an extended #askupgrade covering new hardware, how to use the iPad mini, and the value of ProMotion.
A couple weeks back, while I was in the throes of working on my iOS 15 review, I noticed a weird bug: my phone was no longer responding to “Hey Siri” requests. If I held the home button down, Siri seemed to work just fine, but if my phone was, say, sitting on a table, it would remain blithely unaware, no matter how much I pled, yelled, or swore.
I’ve come to rely on Siri, which is now the only voice assistant in our home, and as our new house is larger than our old one-bedroom apartment, I’m not always within hailing distance of a HomePod.1 I’d fallen back to using my Apple Watch, but more than anything, the issue simply amped up my frustration.
After doing some research, I tried all the Apple-recommended fixes, and more than a few other suggestions of questionable usefulness that I found around the web. I turned Hey Siri off and on about a half dozen times. I deleted my Siri History. I disabled Dictation. I restarted, I reset, I experimented with every permutation of Siri permissions and switch positions possible. Nothing seemed to work.
I turned to Twitter a couple of times, hoping I might reach somebody on the Siri team at Apple, but mostly receiving advice that retreaded the ground I’d already covered. However, the second time I posted, I got a pointed question from follower Hunter:
Do you by chance have the iOS 15 Accessibility > Sound Recognition feature turned on? It disables Hey Siri.
Sound Recognition, in case you aren’t familiar, is a feature that debuted in iOS 14 that listens for certain types of noises—appliances, doorbells, dogs barking, et cetera—and pops up a notification. It’s a clever feature (if one that suffers from a high degree of false positives in my experience), and I’d been playing around with it again while going through iOS 15 features.2
Here’s the thing: While Sound Recognition absolutely does warn you that Hey Siri will be disabled if you turn it on, once it’s been enabled there’s no indication to remind you of this. The “Hey Siri” toggle in Settings > Siri & Search remains on, even though it doesn’t work, and if you turn it off and on again—as I did multiple times during my troubleshooting—there’s no notice that anything else might be interfering with it.
Once I disabled Sound Recognition, all was back to normal. But it’s disappointing these two features don’t work more in concert. I can imagine that some people who would benefit from the Sound Recognition feature might take advantage of Hey Siri from time to time as well. But if nothing else, Apple should make it even clearer that these two features don’t play well together, if only to save others from tearing their hair out trying to figure out why Siri doesn’t listen anymore.
Be careful: you’re never more than six feet from a HomePod! ↩
Again because, with a larger house, I don’t always hear appliances like my tea robot going off in the kitchen. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]