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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Killer apps for AR and VR, video chat etiquette tips, how we’ll use tech differently in 2021, and the advertising and marketing decisions that we’d toss out the window.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

It’s time for the Mac to undergo a product-design renaissance

Just as I wrapped up a series I worked on most of last year about the most notable Macs of all time, I received a comment on Twitter about a specific peculiarity about my list that I’d never considered.

“It’s super interesting to me that only one Intel machine made it on,” wrote Jay Parlar.

I looked and—yep. Despite the Intel Mac era lasting 15 years, the only Mac on my list that originated in that era was the second-generation MacBook Air. I considered several others, but they didn’t make the cut.

I was surprised by Jay’s comment, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. During the 2010s, Apple took a remarkably conservative approach to the Mac—with a few oddball exceptions that prove the rule.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Find active Big Sur windows with HazeOver

I first wrote about HazeOver when Mojave’s Dark Mode debuted. It’s a utility that can change the appearance of your background windows, so in Dark Mode it’ll squelch any windows that are too bright.

With the arrival of Big Sur, of course, there are a lot of complaints that it’s hard to differentiate between active windows. I haven’t had a problem with this, but once again, this is a pretty good use case for HazeOver, since it will dim all the windows that aren’t in the foreground, making the top window pop.

HazeOver is $5 from the Mac App Store and also on SetApp.

[Via David Sparks]

By Stephen Hackett

On Continuity’s Complexity

For several years, Continuity has been a growing set of features that ties macOS to its more mobile cousins. Here’s how Apple describes these features:

When you sign in to your Apple ID on all of your devices, you can use Continuity features that make it seamless to move between your devices. Click a feature below to learn about it, such as how to automatically unlock your Mac when you’re wearing your Apple Watch or how to use your iPad to extend the workspace of your Mac.

Better together, mostly.

Under the Continuity umbrella live several different features:

  • Handoff — Switching to an application or document from one device to another.
  • Universal Clipboard — Copying and pasting content from one device to another.
  • iPhone Cellular Calls — Making and receiving calls on Macs, iPads and iPod touches on the same Wi-Fi as an iPhone.
  • Text Message Forwarding — Sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages on non-iPhone devices.

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

By Jason Snell

20 Macs for 2020: The cutting-room floor

As I filed my final entry in the 20 Macs for 2020 project, I decided to dig around in my document archive to see if I could find when the project really got started.

January 2, 2020 at 11:32 AM

While I had been noodling over the idea in late December of 2019, the moment that the project officially started was when I made a new document in BBEdit and titled it 20 macs. It was January 2, 2020, at 11:32 a.m.

So the project really bracketed the year, though originally my intent was to launch it in the spring. The pandemic derailed my plans, though I kept working on it and launched it with 22 weeks left in the year, giving me a couple weeks of headroom that I would end up needing.

With the project complete, I thought I’d address one of the most common questions I got while I was spooling out my list: “How could you not include [name of computer here]?” Of course, as I explained back in August, my list is based on my ranking of Macs in terms of the squishy category of notability, and is intended to be completely subjective. I’m not ranking the best Macs (because some of the ones I picked are real stinkers!) or even my favorite Macs.

The truth is, my biggest consideration when I picked my final list of 20 Macs in early January (and yes, they appeared in the same order that I chose back then) was if there was a good story to tell about that particular model. Some of the earlier entries were a bit esoteric, but I enjoyed unearthing strange corners of Mac history and using them to tell larger stories about Apple. (For example, my essay about Xserve is really about Apple’s quixotic quest to be a player in server hardware. The Power Computing entry allowed me to write a story about the strange couple of years when Mac clones were for sale.)

My initial list of possible contenders for my top 20 list was much larger—there were more than 40 items. I’m sure I could’ve written essays about each one of them, though I’d probably end up repeating myself a bit—and there’s no way I could’ve written 40 more essays and produced 40 more podcasts and edited 40 more videos. (When I decided 20 Macs for 2020 would be a multimedia extravaganza, I dramatically increased my workload.)

In any event, as the project rolled along, there were a few Macs that people asked me about that just missed making the list. Limiting myself to 20 meant that some of them were left on the outside looking in.

The 12″ PowerBook G4 was my favorite Mac of all time for a long time. Until the MacBook Air hit the scene, it was the ultimate small Apple laptop. And its edge-to-edge keyboard wouldn’t really be replicated until the 12-inch MacBook hit the scene.

2006’s original MacBook wasn’t quite as small as the 12″ PowerBook G4, but it was the smallest Intel-based Mac laptop for quite a while, and introduced the chiclet-style laptop keyboard that remains on Apple keyboards to this day. And yes, even though you had to pay a $150 “black tax” to get it, the matte black MacBook was a thing of beauty.

The 12-inch MacBook would be an interesting computer to write about, not only because of its status as the most aggressively tiny Mac laptop ever, but because it introduced the hated butterfly keyboard and also seemed to be a preview of what ARM-powered Macs might look like. (Wrongly, it turned out.)

A strong case can be made for the Mac Plus, Mac Classic, and plain ol’ Mac SE, but I rolled them into my coverage of the original Mac and the SE/30. (I also thought about cheekily including the Lisa, which I also covered in the essay about the original Mac.)

I considered the iMac Pro and the 2013 Mac Pro for inclusion because they would both allow me to tell the story of how the Mac lost its way in the middle of the 2010s. It felt like ground I’ve covered an awful lot at Six Colors already, though. If this were 25 Macs for 2025 I’d definitely make space for one or both.

(This is also one reason why most of the Macs on my list are of an older vintage. You need a little bit of historical perspective before deciding if a particular Mac model is notable—and if my goal is to tell some interesting stories about the grand sweep of Apple history, it’s probably wise to allow some time to pass before doing so.)

I strongly considered writing about the Centris 610/Power Mac 6100 pizza box—a boring yet omnipresent mid-90s Apple design, and also about the Power Mac G3 product line, which might be the apotheosis of boring Mac design, released just before the revolution came.

The project was well underway when Apple released the three first M1 Macs, and many people asked if they would make an appearance near the top of my list. That was never going to happen—as I wrote earlier, my list was locked in January 2020. Regardless, we don’t know what the story of Apple silicon Macs will actually be. These M1 Macs are impressive for what they are on the inside, and what they represent, but they’re also just Apple silicon versions of extremely familiar Mac designs.

I have a lot of hope that Apple will use its transition to Apple silicon to create some dramatically new and interesting Macs that will go down in history as some of the most notable Macs of all time. But those Macs are yet to come. Sure, the M1 MacBook Air might go down in history—but I’m inclined to believe it’ll just be a footnote. We’ll have to wait and see.

Finally, is there a 21-item list coming from me in 2021? Back in 2020 I definitely had a few ideas about what a follow-up project might look like. But after spending a couple of very intense months writing essays, writing and editing podcasts, and editing videos, I am not in a mental state where I am willing to commit to another longform project. We’ll see if that changes as the year goes on.

In any event, I am grateful to everyone who sent in positive feedback about the essays (thanks to Scholle McFarland for copy editing them), podcasts (thanks to Brian Hamilton for smoothing out my edits), and videos (thanks to Stephen Hackett for collaborating and co-hosting). I hoped 20 Macs for 2020 would be a fun project that would spur some fun discussion, and it was! I’m happy with the quality of the work, it gave the shape to my 2020 work life that I was seeking, and writing and editing a scripted podcast provided a unique creative challenge.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

2021 has arrived, so it’s time for Jason to predict what he thinks Apple will do this year. But it’s also time for Myke to look back on his 2020 predictions and judge how well those came out. Also, DC joins Marvel in amplifying streaming-service programming plans.

By Dan Moren for Macworld

Three Apple battles to watch in 2021

Here’s the thing about being one of the most prominent—and, by some measurements most valuable—companies in the world: it paints a heck of a target on your back. Apple’s long found itself on the receiving end of attacks from competitors, smaller challengers, and the government, and that hasn’t changed in recent years.

But as we flip our calendars over to 2021, there are already a handful of battles in progress that could have marked effects on Apple’s business in both the short and long terms. Of course, a company with as many resources as Apple may be able to weather the occasional squall, but every once in a while you get a perfect storm that’s harder to fend off.

Let’s take a look at these three brewing fights and how they might force Apple to batten down its hatches in the year ahead.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Apple 2021

Good morning! We’re so glad you could join us today, here at Apple Park. We’ve got a lot of exciting announcements to share with you, but before we get started, I want to take a moment to look back at everything Apple has achieved in 2020.

Even in the face of a global pandemic, Apple continued to deliver products to surprise and delight its customers, who remain trapped in their own homes with their glowing screens as the only comprany they have. Here at Apple, our employees have worked tirelessly to help make sure that you can stay safe by having food delivered to your door, providing a non-stop slew of content to binge, and enabling you to keep endlessly doomscrolling, even as the world dissolves into chaos around you. Also, we released five new iPhones!

We’re glad that we’ve been able to do our part to get people through this tough time…but we think we can do better.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

It was the late 90s and Apple was on the ropes. Steve Jobs knew the company needed a lifeline, fast. And 10 months after Jobs took back control of the company, he announced the product that would fund Apple’s resurgence and change its future forever.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

2021 iOS predictions: New iPad Pros, less drama

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Okay, for most of us 2020 wasn’t the best of times. But on the iOS front, Apple definitely seemed to be in a feast-or-famine mode.

The company released five new iPhone models (did you forget the second-generation iPhone SE?), and there was a major iPad Air revision that basically turned it into a low-end iPad Pro. The iPad Pro got an underwhelming update—but an amazing new accessory in the Magic Keyboard for iPad!

There was more to cheer than boo in the iPhone and iPad world in 2020, and that puts it pretty much ahead of most of the world. But can 2021 deliver something better? It’s time for some predictions.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Jason Snell for Macworld

2021 Mac predictions: Bigger iMacs and MacBooks, and more Apple silicon

2020 was a big year for the Mac—and we shouldn’t take that for granted. The first year I started predicting things in this column, I felt a little optimism about 2016, and it turned out to be an almost vacant year for the Mac. The last few years show that Apple has become more attentive to the Mac, culminating in a year that might not have been as revolutionary as I was expecting, but still a landmark in Mac history.

So with the M1 processor here and Apple in the midst of a major processor transition, there’s no doubt that 2021 will be an interesting one for the Mac! Change will abound! The question is… what form will that change take?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Jason Snell for Macworld

2020 predictions in review

Call me Nostradamus.

Every year in this space I make a slew of predictions for the coming year, a combination of analysis and wishcasting that can be a fun exercise in gauging our expectations and understanding what Apple might be planning. And a year ago, I got it right!

2020 didn’t go quite the way we all planned, but I predicted that 2020 would bring the first Macs powered by Apple-designed chips, and I got it right!

I’ll grant you, it was something like the third straight year that I have made that prediction. But this time Lucy didn’t pull the football away from me! Truly, if you persevere and keep predicting the inevitable, you will eventually be right.

As for the rest of the predictions… okay, maybe don’t call me Nostradamus after all.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Restoring Apple silicon Macs

Macs running on Apple silicon are pretty great. But whenever there’s a major hardware transition, many wise people point out that it’s safer to wait rather than rushing in, because there are always growing pains.

In the case of the M1 Macs, the growing pains seem awfully mild, but there’s one area where they are being felt: wiping and restoring. It’s not surprising, really, given that Apple built a new boot process based on the one found on iOS, but adapted for all of the needs of the Mac.

In any event, in certain cases the act of wiping and restoring an M1 Mac can get complicated, as this article from Mr. Macintosh points out:

Order of that you should follow for reinstalling macOS on Apple Silicon.
1. macOS Recovery
2. System Recovery – (Will boot automatically if macOS Recovery is unavailable)
3. macOS Big Sur USB Installer Drive – (External boot for macOS Installers is enabled by default on Apple Silicon)
4. Apple Configurator 2 REVIVE option – This option will reinstall macOS Recovery (retains user data on the SSD hard drive)
5. Apple Configurator 2 RESTORE option – This option will Reinstall macOS Recovery, ERASE
your SSD hard drive and reinstall macOS

It’s a change, and a little messy, but things are slowly resolving. And Apple has posted numerous tech notes about the issues. It’s worth bookmarking all of this just in case you end up in a situation where you need to recover your M1 Mac—or the M1 Mac of someone you know.

Tech we’re looking forward to in 2021, our schedules for buying M1 Macs, favorite gadgets of 2020, and holiday tech gifts.

As the year comes to an end, it’s time for the Seventh Annual Upgradies! Myke and Jason discuss their favorites of 2020, take the input of many Upgradians, and hand out awards in numerous categories! Only the finest will walk away with the most coveted of titles: Upgradies Winner.

By Jason Snell

20 Macs for 2020: #1 – iMac G3

You can divide Mac history in a bunch of different ways. But perhaps the clearest line of demarcation is the mid-1998 release of the original iMac.

The first era of the Mac, begun in 1984, was ending as Steve Jobs returned to Apple. The Apple of the mid-1990s licensed the Mac to clonemakers and even allowed them to invent key technology. Its product design lab created wild and creative prototypes that occasionally escaped, but most shipping products were so beige they were begging for reinvention.

The Mac OS itself was also foundering. It needed to be replaced, and the arrival of Windows 95 had accelerated the Mac’s rapid fade into oblivion. But Apple had failed in multiple attempts to reinvent Mac OS, and ultimately had to turn to outside companies to provide it with an answer. Imagine that sad state of affairs: Apple, a company that prided itself on an expert fusion of hardware and software engineering, was talking to Microsoft about licensing the Windows NT kernel, or to former employee Jean-Louis Gasseé about buying his upstart BeOS, or (in the most unlikely and yet dramatically obvious move) founder Steve Jobs about buying his post-Apple company. Meanwhile, it was being stalked by other tech companies, with a serious report suggesting that Sun Microsystems was close to swallowing Apple whole.

In the end, as we all know, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and brought NextStep with him. That operating system became the foundation of the Mac’s renaissance and the basis of the iPhone, as well.

But Mac OS X wouldn’t ship for another two years, and it would be a painful years-long transition away from the classic Mac OS. In the meantime Apple needed to start making money again, needed that infusion of cash that would allow Jobs to turn over the Mac product line and let Mac OS X come to fruition. Sure, what it really needed was stability, but a hit wouldn’t hurt.

And a hit is exactly what Apple got.

Throw it all away

USB port

A lot of the technical pieces that would become the iMac G3 were floating around Apple for a while. You don’t invent an entirely new computer in a matter of months—and it was only ten months between Jobs replacing Gil Amelio as Apple CEO and the announcement of the iMac. (You think Steve Jobs didn’t understand the urgency of Apple’s situation?)

What Jobs did was set Jonathan Ive and the rest of the design team loose to provide a new take on the original concept of the Macintosh as an all-in-one “Computer For the Rest Of Us.” And it’s clear from the result that both Ive’s team and the engineering group were told that there were no sacred cows. Jobs expected something completely different, and was willing to question every assumption about what made a computer a Mac to get it.

Beyond the iconic and influential design, the iMac was a technical reset for the Mac. Apple Desktop Bus, the venerable connection standard that debuted on the Apple IIGS and had been on every Mac since 1987, would not make it on the iMac. Mac Serial, which debuted on the Mac Plus in 1986 and was the standard way to connect a Mac to printers and modems for a decade, would meet the same fate. SCSI, the high-speed peripheral bus that similarly had been a Mac standard since the Plus, was also a goner.

In their place was a new connection standard that had been introduced on the PC side, but not yet embraced: the Universal Serial Bus, or USB. To be fair, while Apple killed off three ports that had defined the Mac for more than a decade, it replaced them with a standard that’s still kicking more than two decades later. (Marvel for a moment about the fact that I can take an original iMac keyboard and plug it into an M1 Mac Mini and… it’ll just work!)

cd drive

Jobs also canned the floppy disk, a standard on most Macs (barring a few laptop outliers) since the very beginning. The popularity of the 100MB Zip Drive showed that 1MB floppies were really a relic of a bygone era—but for reasons of compatibility and intertia, they continued kicking around. This was a shocking break, made even more shocking by the fact that a CD-ROM drive was the only removable media on the device. It meant that there was no way for the iMac to write files to a removable device without an add-on, which was a big gamble that presumed most people would either transfer files online or via an office network. In 1998 that was quite a presumption; online transfers were slow at best and sometimes you needed to hand off files to someone who wasn’t on your local network. Eventually the USB keychain drive would solve this problem, but back in those days a lot of people bought USB floppy drives or Zip Drives to get by.

The rest of the computer was the combination of a couple of ultimately failed projects. There was Columbus, a Mac “thin client” that was meant to be attached to a network and booted via the network. And there was CHRP, a reference platform built by IBM and Apple to create a standard for PowerPC-based computers including Mac clones. Apple fused the work of these projects together into a relatively low-cost Mac that could be built around the frame of a 15-inch CRT display.

Rhymes with ‘bullseye’

The iMac was wrapped in translucent plastic. Jonathan Ive had been experimenting with it in his Apple designs for a while—the Newton-based eMate laptop was made of the stuff; the ultra-beige Power Mac G3 tower had a little green plastic tab peeking out; and the iMac’s spiritual predecessor, the molar-shaped Power Mac G3 All-in-One, had a semi-transparent molded plastic top.

In an era that was populated with beige boxes, the greenish-blue iMac—colored “Bondi blue,” a shade inspired by the waters off Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach—looked like nothing else on the planet.

At least, momentarily.

People who didn’t live through it might not believe it, but the iMac took the product-design world by storm. Over the next few years, there would be very few consumer electronic products that had not offered a special, iMac-inspired translucent plastic edition. It started with USB accessories for the iMac, as printer and floppy-disk vendors quickly placed orders for translucent colored plastic pieces to replace their opaque beige ones. But it just kept going and going. Telephones. Toys. And my personal favorite, the George Foreman iGrill.

Yes, appending “i” in front of a product name is also the responsibility of the original iMac. It was a similar fad, though Apple’s lawyers slowed the spread of this one.

There’s no step three

Today, many people don’t realize that the “i” in iMac stands for Internet. The iMac didn’t become a hit just based on its looks—it had timing on its side. In the late 90s, the Web and Internet were hitting the mainstream, and the general public was feeling pressure to get online, check their email, and surf the web.

Throughout the 90s the Mac had suffered because it was not a PC, and there was a perception that if you used a PC at work, you should probably use a PC at home, for compatibility reasons. It wasn’t entirely logical—unless you were working regularly from home, did it matter? But it was just another reason for people not to buy a Mac.

The rise of the Internet gave Apple a huge opening. Surfing the web and doing email were mostly platform-neutral tasks. Apple positioned the iMac as, essentially, an appliance for connecting to the Internet and doing… Internet things. (Many of which were yet to be imagined, but coming fast.)

Perhaps Apple’s best commercial of all time is the one in which Jeff Goldblum explains how you set up an iMac to get online:

Presenting three easy steps to the Internet. Step one: Plug in. Step two: Get connected. Step three… there’s no step three. There’s no step three!

Steve Jobs’s belief in the value of a simple, streamlined all-in-one computer, Jony Ive’s eye-catching design, and a moment in time when people wanted to explore the Internet, was all wrapped together. It was the right product at the right time. And it was a hit.

The Mac itself

The iMac wasn’t made to impress the Mac’s installed base. Hard-core Mac users criticized the lack of a floppy drive and familiar ports, but also the 233MHz PowerPC G3 processor, which was slower than other G3s. But it was $1299—it was aggressively priced for a general consumer audience. And it sold. (It would be years before the iMac would be powerful enough to appeal to the hardest-core Mac users; that’s fine, Apple sold a ton of them and expanded the Mac market accordingly.)

There were some quirks in the original model. Former Apple engineer Bruce Gee released the Stealth Serial Port, which would return a legacy port by attaching a small board to an unused portion of the iMac’s motherboard that was a vestige of when the iMac’s motherboard had still had a serial port on it. The Bondi iMac’s mysterious Mezzanine slot, a hidden slot on the back side of the motherboard, generated a few spin-off products as well.

As the iMac became a hit, Apple revised the product quickly, addressing its weaknesses while keeping it fresh. New colors continually rotated in, the G3 processor slowly got better, FireWire ports arrived for high-speed storage, and the optical drive evolved so that it could both read and write discs.

It was a good run. The original iMac survived until 2003, at which point the CRT upon which the iMac was built had become obsolete, replaced by flat-panel displays. The education market so embraced the iMac that Apple actually created a rare G4 successor, the eMac, that kicked around until 2005.

The Mac that saved Apple

At Apple’s most vulnerable moment, the iMac swooped in and saved the day. It was a hit product when Apple desperately needed a lifeline. And the success of the iMac gave Apple the momentum to finish Mac OS X and redesign the rest of the Mac product line in the iMac’s image.

The iMac also positioned Apple well for another trend in the late ’90s—digital music. The iMac swapped its CD-ROM drive for a writeable model, and Apple introduced iTunes and the ability to burn mix CDs based on your digital library. The later FireWire-based iMacs allowed for connections to early digital camcorders, leading to the creation of iMovie—and providing a high-speed data connection for peripherals, including a weird digital-music spin-off device called the iPod that also helped launch Apple’s second run of success.

And then there’s the iMac’s final legacy—the lowercase letter ‘i’. It was such a hit that Apple began sticking it in front of every product it made. Some of them survive to this day. But does the i in the iPad, iPhone, and iPod really stand for ‘Internet?’

Of course not. It stands for iMac. The product that saved Apple.

(iMac photos courtesy of Stephen Hackett.)

The 20 Macs for 2020 Series

  1. iMac G3
  2. PowerBook 140/170
  3. Macintosh 128K
  4. MacBook Air (2nd generation)
  5. Titanium PowerBook G4
  6. Macintosh SE/30
  7. iBook
  8. Power Mac G4 Cube
  9. iMac G4
  10. Power Computing clones
  11. Macintosh Portable
  12. Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh
  13. Mac IIcx and IIci
  14. Mac mini
  15. DayStar Genesis MP
  16. Blue-and-White Power Mac G3
  17. PowerBook 500 & 5300
  18. Xserve
  19. PowerBook Duo
  20. Power Mac G5

Thanks to Scholle McFarland for copy editing the series, and for Stephen Hackett for supplying product photography throughout. And thanks to you for reading to the end!

By Dan Moren for Macworld

What to expect from Apple in 2021

The last 12 months haven’t been the year anybody expected, but as we forge ahead into 2021, we’ve all got our collective fingers crossed for a brighter future. This was a year of major moves for the company, some of which set the stage for more big announcements in the year ahead.

Let’s set aside the past for a moment and project ourselves forward. While 2021 still isn’t going to be “normal”—whatever that means now—Apple has proven that it can continue to put out the high-quality, innovative products that we’ve come to expect from it, even amid a global pandemic. What might be coming down the company’s pipeline?

As usual, there’s little more than speculation at this point, but that’s not going to stop me from peering deep into the leaves of my third cup of tea to see what might be in store.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

December 24, 2020

The year in review—and can you believe we’re talking about Apple and cars again?

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