Issue 5 - April 2016
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FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK / by Jason Snell

Is it June yet?

Jason at WWDC

Last month I wrote this column on an iPad from among the trees and granite monoliths of Yosemite, while this month I’m back at my desk in Mill Valley, typing it right into the 27-inch maw of my iMac. It’s spring here, but in my mind it’s already summer. That’s because this week Apple announced the dates for WWDC, the annual Apple developer conference, this June in San Francisco.

For people who follow Apple closely, every year has a pace to it, and for the past few years, the centerpiece of the year has been WWDC. The reason for that is simple: since the evaporation of Macworld Expo, WWDC is the only event that gathers a critical mass of Apple developers and media in a single place. If you’re going to get together with the people who write apps and record podcasts and the like, in person, this is the place to do it.

It’s a different feel from Macworld Expo, to be sure. That show was cool in that it combined not just members of the press and the developer community, but the general public as well. Most of Macworld Expo’s attendees were from Northern California, though, so it was hardly a representative slice of the user community--though some people did come from far and wide to be at the center of the Mac universe for a week.

With Macworld Expo gone, WWDC week has transformed a bit. On the inside, it’s still the developer conference it always was--though it’s a much more packed venue than it was back in the pre-iPhone days. It’s on the outside, around the Moscone West convention center, that things are different. People come for WWDC week and don’t attend the conference. They come for the event outside the walls of Moscone, the parties and get-togethers that take advantage of the fact that all of these people are in the same city, even if we’re not all inside the event itself. Alternate events have sprung up, too, including AltConf and Layers, to serve audiences that can’t (or don’t want to) get in to the main event.

It’s a weird week for me. I was pointing out to all the people in the Slack chat room we have for hosts of the Relay FM podcast network that, out of their entire group, I’m the only one who actually lives in the Bay Area. Everyone else is excited about coming to San Francisco that week, but I’m already here! (More or less. My house is a 30-minute drive north of the convention center.)

In any event, my thoughts are already turning to June and WWDC. Sometimes there are hardware announcements, but not usually. People always seem disappointed when Apple doesn’t announce new hardware at WWDC, but it’s a developer conference--software is always going to be the main area of interest.

I realize that for many members of the press, the only thing that’s exciting is fresh new Apple hardware... but the announcements Apple makes at WWDC are monumental. These are the announcements that will shape the way Apple’s customers use Apple hardware, old and new, for the next few years.

That’s because WWDC is where we see where Apple’s software platforms are going. What’s the future of Apple Watch? As someone who wears an Apple Watch every day, I have a long list of things that I’d like to see improved (or entirely reconsidered). Where does Apple think that watchOS is lacking? We’ll get an idea when they (presumably) announce watchOS 3 at WWDC.

Of course, the next version of iOS will also be on the agenda, and a new version of OS X as well. We’ll find out how much effort Apple wants to put into iOS features for the iPad Pro. I’ve written and spoken repeatedly about my feelings that Apple needs to ditch the “X” branding and change the name back to Mac OS, and given the trend--watchOS, iOS, tvOS--it seems like it might actually happen.

Branding aside, though, every OS announcement from Apple tells us volumes about Apple’s priorities and where it thinks its products are going. No single day will set the table for Apple’s future direction like June 13. This is the software that we’ll all be living with come fall, and for years to come. It’s exciting! I can’t wait.

[Got a comment about this or something else? Drop me a line at jsnell@sixcolors.com.]

What I Use: Keeping in touch

By Dan Moren

What I Use is a recurring column where we detail the tools we use to get something done, whether it’s make tea or write novels. This month, Dan opens his communication toolchest.

So much of technology is about keeping in touch. Take the technological device we probably use the most: our phone. The device that derives from was fundamentally about communication, and now that use has only expanded to other forms of reaching out to other people. So here’s a short look into what I use to stay in touch with people.

First of all, communication is a continuum, and even more so these days. Our conversations range from private one-on-one, to private amongst groups of friends and colleagues, to public with the world at large. And all of those uses ask for different tools.

Messages

For private communication, I tend to stick to the standbys. There are a lot of popular chat applications, but Apple’s built-in Messages app on both iOS and OS X remains my primary way to talk directly with friends, colleagues, and even family. (When even my mom has started texting me, it’s time to concede that it’s the new lingua franca.) That’s been helped along by the fact that most—though not all—of my contacts use iOS devices. (It wasn’t so long ago that I was on a strict text messaging regimen, thanks to a limit on how many I could send a month—boy am I glad to be out from under that one.) I used to use instant messaging quite a bit, back in the day with Adium, and more recently with Messages, but I found myself thinking the other day that I’ve largely shifted away from that, with the exception of a few friends who still use Gchat, which I use via Messages. Perhaps it’s time to finally let go of that screenname I started using in 1994.

Email, of course, is inescapable. Despite the perennial claims of email killing promised by communications app, a ton of my work and personal correspondance are still handled by email. And for me, that means iOS and OS X’s built-in Mail clients. Why not use some of the more popular third-party clients? Frankly, Mail—despite its shortcomings and occasionally glitchiness—is comfortable and familiar, has most of the features that I want out of a mail client, and simply put has the best integration with other apps on both iOS and OS X. With the amount of time I spend in my mail client, it would be nice to have one I love, but for the moment, it helps that Mail generally doesn’t explode at me on a daily basis—despite the 72,000+ messages in my Inbox. (Sorry, Merlin!) Sometimes the tool that works is the right one for the job.

Slack

The middle ground that’s emerged more recently is the private/public space, perhaps best exemplified by Slack. I’ve been using Slack—via the iOS and OS X apps—daily for more than a year now, and in that time, I’ve found myself accumulating them a bit like extra socks from the dryer: you never quite know when you’ll find another odd one. I have seven distinct Slacks now, ranging from those that we use to coordinate activities here at Six Colors to those for the podcast networks I’m a part of to a few private ones that I set up. Most of those have several channels, not to mention private conversations with other users of those Slacks. While I’ve seen some shift away from using email thanks to some of those Slack rooms, more often than not there’s a Slack that works in conjunction with an email list to help schedule events (whether they be podcasts or Destiny raids). But Slack has also proved to be a fascinating water-cooler for me, letting me stay in touch with the communities I’m a part of and providing me with some much needed socializing in an otherwise solitary line of work.

Which brings me to the public realm: social media. I’ve been on Twitter for almost a decade now, and I still believe that it’s a great way to interact with folks that I might otherwise not chance to meet. But I’ve also dialed back my usage of it, going from obsessively reading every single tweet in my timeline to skipping large swaths of it, especially over weekends. But it still keeps me connected to a bigger world than I experience in any of those other venues. It’s also great for publicizing projects I’m working on and getting feedback from people. That said, there’s an overwhelming tone problem of combativeness and straight-up abuse that can also make Twitter an unpleasant experience—not unlike Internet comments, its anonymity and lack of consequences can make it a downright hostile place, especially for communities that are already targeted with a large amount of abuse. But I’ve refused to give up on it yet because I still see Twitter’s potential, and because it still appeals to me in a way that its biggest rival, Facebook, doesn’t. And rare is the day where Twitter doesn’t make laugh at least once.

So that’s how I use technology to keep in touch—oh, I almost forgot the phone itself! Nah, I’m just kidding. Who uses that, anyway?

By Request: Dreams of iOS Podcasting

By Jason Snell

iOS podcasting

You may have noticed that I do a lot of podcasting. Subscriber Aaron certainly noticed, because he asked me about some of the stuff I use to do podcasting on iOS. Most recently, I traveled to visit my mother in Arizona and didn’t bring my MacBook Air with me--meaning that both of the podcasts I recorded down there were done entirely on iOS devices.

So here’s a sketch of the iOS podcast production process as of now, keeping in mind that there are still a bunch of issues to be worked out before iOS is the perfect vehicle for recording and editing a podcast.

For my trip to Arizona, I brought my mobile recording rig, which includes a Shure XLR microphone and the Sound Devices USBPre 2 mixer that’s usually velcroed to the underside of my desk here at home. Thanks to the new Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter, I can use a USB mixer or microphone with my iPad or iPhone while powering both devices simultaneously.

I recorded my audio on my iPhone 6S in Ferrite Recording Studio, an excellent iOS audio editing app. Separately, I plugged my headphones into my iPad Pro and used Skype to talk to the other people on my podcast while also looking at our show outline in Google Docs and even checking on the live chat room with the Colloquy IRC client app. (I have to use two devices because iOS doesn’t currently support two apps accessing the microphone simultaneously--the moment I started a Skype call, Ferrite’s recording would stop.)

In both cases in Arizona, someone else edited the podcasts. So all I had to do when we were done was stop my recording in Ferrite and use the Share command to save the file to a shared folder in my Dropbox account. The files showed up instantly in the Dropbox folders of my co-hosts, and my job was done.

However, I could have also edited those podcasts--and have edited other podcasts on my iPad, using Ferrite. Ferrite supports importing audio files from Dropbox, and I’ve got a Dropbox file submission set up so that people can upload files directly into my Dropbox account. Once I’ve got all the files I need, I can edit using Ferrite, which I find roughly as efficient as editing in Logic on my Mac.

The last stage in the process is generating an MP3 file--and iOS has some issues here. The MP3 format is patented, and the most relevant patents don’t expire until late 2017--as a result, most iOS apps (including Ferrite) don’t include MP3 encoders. To get around this, I actually save an AAC file of my final edit to Dropbox, and then use the web app Auphonic to suck in the file from Dropbox, process the audio, add chapter markers if necessary, and upload the final MP3 to my server for distribution. I’d rather do all of that stuff from my iPad, but Auphonic does the job, and does it well.

All in all, it was a successful experiment. I was able to travel without a third device to go with my iPhone and iPad, and still do my job as a podcaster. iOS keeps improving in this area, and I’m hopeful that we might see more improvement when iOS 10 comes out this fall. Crossing fingers!

[Do you have a request for an article in Six Colors Magazine? Send it to jsnell@sixcolors.com and we'll consider it for the next issue.]

Secrets of the Subscriber Podcast

By Jason Snell

One of your subscriber benefits is access to the weekly(ish) Six Colors Secret Subscriber Podcast, in which Dan and I talk for a half an hour about whatever we’re working on. Reaction to the podcast has been great--people seem to like the tone and topical nature of it. We appreciate the positive feedback, because that means it’s a subscriber benefit that many subscribers are appreciating!

In the past month we talked about Apple’s new hardware, Amazon Echo and smart devices, how our phones collect personal data, and most recently the Apple Car.

Subscribers can add the feed to their podcast app of choice by putting this URL into that app: https://sixcolors.com/6cssp/feed.rss

The Back Page / by Dan Moren

Apple events: The darker side

Word on the street is that Apple is finally ready to get into the original content game. To this, I say “Hallelujah!” Maybe some fear that we’re already approaching Peak TV and it’s too late for Apple to get into the business of producing its own shows, but I say that bringing the trademark Apple aesthetic to television is just more great news for all of us fans of serialized content.

Most of all, though, I’m happy that there’s now some space for me to make a few pitches that I’ve been saving up for just such an eventuality. So if you please, Apple, consider a few series that I think need to be included among the debut slate of shows for your original content:

Sunsetted

You can’t have a network without a cop show of some variety—preferably with an odd-couple pairing. In this case it’s Detective Maggie Kravitz, a hard-bitten homicide cop with a dark past as the founder of a failed tech startup, whose latest case sees her investigating the murder of a ride-sharing driver. That brings her to the driver’s last passenger, app developer Katie Lee, who uses her knowledge of the sharing economy, network architecture, and, of course, emojis to help Kravitz solve crimes...and come to terms with her former life.

One Ouroboros Circle

Every network needs its flagship drama: its Breaking Bad or The Wire or Will & Grace. I’m thinking there’s an opportunity here to patch things up with Aaron Sorkin after the somewhat mixed-response to last year’s Steve Jobs. So here we go: a behind-the-scenes drama at a multi-billion-dollar technology company? There’s the affable, avuncular CEO who dispenses pearls of wisdom, his harried veteran deputy, the spunky and savvy head of public relations--ah, crap, that’s just The West Wing, isn’t it? Okay, well, let’s just have him revive that and call it even.

Life is Viral

A one-camera situation comedy about generational differences. Kim and Cal are teenage twins growing up with older parents who don’t know a Snapchat from an Instagram. But everything changes when mother Sarah’s private equity firm acquires faltering social network FriendSpace. Now the kids need to give mom a crash course in online life and find a way to make the site succeed again. (Note: With its in-depth discussions of venture capital, investing, and corporate management, this can double as educational programming.)

So Hero. Much Strong. Wow

After an overexposure to cat videos and animated GIFs, mild-mannered Gil Garson is transformed into the mighty superhero MemeMaster! Just as some other popular superhero that we’re not allowed to compare him to for legal reasons derives his power from Earth’s yellow sun, Garson draws his strength, speed, and ability fo fly from memes, enabling him to fight crime...as long as he can haz cheezburgers. And there’s plenty of crime to be fought, thanks to the cruel supervillain Epic Fail, who will not stop terrorizing Ermahgerd City until all of its base belongs to him.

NCIS: Cupertino

Instant ratings. Would also accept Law & Order: Silicon Valley.

[Dan writes novels, not TV shows. You can reach him at dan@sixcolors.com.]

Stories you may have missed

Here are links to some of the more notable Six Colors stories from the last month.

The big reviews

9.7-inch iPad Pro Review: Chocolate or vanilla?

Jason reviews the new "baby pro" iPad.

iPhone SE review: Smaller can be better

Jason embraces his inner iPhone 5S user and reviews the iPhone SE.

Review: Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro

Shockingly decent!

Amazon Echo Dot: Small size, same features

Alexa, what if you were smaller?

Apple event stuff

Tea and scones in Cupertino: The “Loop You In” Apple event

Jason's recap of the Apple Media Event.

Apple’s Town Hall: A look back

From the original iPod to the iPhone SE, all the events at Apple's Town Hall conference center.

Recording the Upgrade in-car podcast

How to record a podcast in your car without really trying.

Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 adapter brings iPad podcasting one step closer

That new adapter is pretty interesting...

A few Lightning USB 3 Adapter follow-ups

...but it's quirky!

iPad Pro accessory odds and ends

Jason uses a kitchen scale to weigh iPad accessories.

And the rest!

Typing test: The 12.9-inch iPad Pro advantage

Turns out, smaller keyboards are slower.

Quick Tip: A keyboard shortcut to bring up the emoji keyboard on iOS

[insert smiley emoji here]

Screens 4 brings one-touch passwords, groups, redesign

A pretty great screen-sharing iOS app.

Amazon’s new Kindle Oasis goes for the thick end of the wedge

A new, thinner Kindle is coming! But at a price.

A travel database in my photo library

Jason figures out the last time he and his family went on an airplane, using... Photos?

Password-protecting Notes in iOS 9.3 and OS X 10.11.4

Keep those notes secure.

Thus ends the April 2016 issue of Six Colors Magazine. Send your feedback to jsnell@sixcolors.com. Feel free to pass this issue on to a friend or two if you like. If you're not a Six Colors subscriber and you're reading this, please subscribe!