What Is 5G, How Does It Work, and How Fast Is It?

While phones supporting the new 5G cellular standard have been available since early 2019, Apple’s recent announcement of the new iPhone 12, which supports 5G, is the biggest step yet toward developing this standard. With any new data protocol, there’s a chicken and egg situation: there needs to be both infrastructure and devices capable of supporting the standard, and the iPhone 12 will accelerate the installation of new compatible hardware.

But what exactly is 5G? Is it much better than 4G? How does it work? And is it really as fast as Apple suggests?

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Apple Watch Band Review: California Poppy Leather Link and Atlantic Blue Braided Solo Loop

I’ve got an Apple Watch band jones. Over the past few years, I’ve found it enjoyable to have a range of bands in different colors and materials. Almost all my bands are original Apple products, because when I’ve tried third-party bands, they just aren’t as good.

Last year, I was quite excited about the Meyer Lemon Leather Loop Band, because I tend to like colors that stand out against my wrist and the watch. I’m not that interested in stodgy colors like black and brown, and my favorite bands are red, blue, and new yellow(ish), though I still like the original Milanese Loop that I bought early in the life of the Apple Watch.

So this year, I have two new bands: one leather, and one of the new solo loop claspless bands. Let’s start with the California Poppy Leather Link. If you look at my review of the Meyer Lemon Leather Loop Band, you’ll note that my initial appreciation of the band was tempered over time as it showed wear. While it’s very comfortable, and easy to adjust, it’s not a leather designed to last.

The new leather link band is different in a couple of ways. The leather itself is more finished; the previous model’s leather was more like suede, and the new leather has a smoother finish. This should wear better over time.

It’s also a lot easier to put on: with the previous model, you had to slip the end of the band through the loop, but now the band is in two parts, and one overlaps magnetically to the other. It’s easy to put on, and easy to adjust, and the magnets are very strong; perhaps they should have called this a MagSafe band.

California poppy

The magnets are much wider than the previous model, which makes this band a bit stiff, though it should probably loosen up over time. It’s also quite heavy: at 44g, it’s almost as heavy as my stainless steel Apple Watch (47g). But it feels good, it has heft, and if you wear it a bit loose like I do, it doesn’t move around as much as a sport band.

And the color is nice: it’s not a bright yellow, but the color is sort of between that of a lemon and an orange; it goes well with my gold stainless steel watch.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Braided Solo Loop. This new type of band has no clasp, and you have to size it correctly. Given the current situation, many people won’t want to go to Apple Stores to try them on, so sizing as difficult. Some people find that after sizing it using Apple’s tool, the band they got was too large, others too small. I initially ordered one that was too tight and returned it, and since I had to go to an Apple Store to pick up my watch, I tried on various sizes, and settled on the right one. (For me, it’s the largest: size 12.)

Again, it depends on how you like to wear a watch band. Some like to wear bands fairly snug, others fairly loose. I’m generally in the latter camp, but with this band, I want it to fit just exactly right. For me, it should not be loose enough so the watch moves around, nor should it be tight enough to leave a mark on my wrist.

Braided solo

If you do get it right, you may find, as I have, that it the most comfortable Apple Watch band I’ve every worn. It’s very light – only 12g in my size – and it breathes, so it’s easy to forget. If you have an aluminum Apple Watch, which weighs 30.5g for the 40mm model and 36.5g for the 44mm model, you’ll barely feel the band and watch. With a heavier, stainless steel watch, this band will make it lighter than an aluminum watch with sport loop. (My M/L sport loops weigh 30g.)

At $99, these bands are both expensive, and one could certainly say that they are overpriced, but I find them nice additions to my collection of Apple bands.

The HomePod mini is Apple’s Cheapest Product that Actually Does Something

Apple’s new HomePod is a very interesting device. But it’s overpriced, and when it sounds good, it’s great; but it doesn’t always sound good.

The HomePod mini is not a mini version of the HomePod, but a different device entirely. At the same time, it’s the cheapest Apple device that works on its own. It needs the cloud for Siri, and for Apple Music, of course, but at $99, it’s the least expensive Apple product that is not an accessory.

It’s worth considering this when thinking about what the HomePod mini is for. It’s not for music; it’s for the smart home. Apple is way behind Amazon in the smart speaker / smart home space, and, even though just about every Apple user has Siri in their pocket or on their wrist, having a device in fixed locations in the home may lead to more use of Siri and specifically smart home products.

Note the four key points that Apple presents on its website for the HomePod mini:

  • Room-filling sound.
  • An intelligent assistant.
  • Control your smart home.
  • Private and secure.

I think it’s safe to discount the first; the HomePod mini is really mini: it’s 3.3″ / 84mm tall. That’s a tad more than 1/2 the height of my iPhone 11. It’s not mini, it’s tiny. It will play music, and sound like an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker, but nothing like the HomePod or other good standalone speakers.

Homepod mini tiny

The second point is just another way of saying that it works with Siri. But everyone with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch already has Siri. Perhaps that’s not enough.

But it’s the third point, “Control your smart home” that is the clincher: this is where Apple is aiming. In the presentation of the HomePod mini, Apple showed a family in a cut-away house on a stage, demonstrating how this device can control the home, and help communicate within the family. (The new Intercom feature is quite interesting.) On the HomePod mini product page, there’s a screenshot of the Home app, with a new Discover tab. This tab is not yet available in the app, and will presumably be added when the HomePod mini is released. It will offer “recommendations on top‑rated accessories that work with HomePod mini, and connect to the Apple Store app for additional details and effortless shopping.”

You can, of course, control your smart home with your iPhone; the HomePod mini is just an interface. But it serves an important purpose: it can be a HomeKit hub, and it is the cheapest device that can serve this purpose. While you don’t need this to control simple smart home devices, you do need it to share your devices across your family, or to control them remotely. Currently, you need either a HomePod, an Apple TV, or an iPad to have a HomeKit hub. The first two devices set themselves up automatically, and you have to turn on specific settings on an iPad for it to work. But the iPad must remain in your home, and not run out of power, in order for it to serve this purpose.

Apple is clearly banking on the smart home as their Next Big Product. While it’s not a “product” as such, and certainly will not rival the iPhone, if Apple can get a large number of users to buy into the smart home idea, there’s lots of money to be made. The smart home needs a killer app to take off; so far, it’s been Amazon’s Alexa, but lots of people don’t trust Amazon. Hence the fourth point: “Private and secure.” I’ve heard from several people already, who are Apple users and have Alexa devices, who are going to buy two or three of these, and ditch Alexa.

Back to the price; $99 is the cost of some of Apple’s watch bands. It’s the cost of the Magic Keyboard. It’s cheaper than the Apple TV. It’s the cheapest product that, on its own, actually does something.

This isn’t to say that it’s cheap; compare it with Amazon’s Echo Dot, which you could get for $19 on Prime Day. That product is a loss-leader to get you into the Alexa platform. Apple would never sell the HomePod mini that cheaply, but perhaps we’ll see it discounted as a bundle with other devices, or why not even for free when you buy, say, a new Mac?

The HomePod mini is a Trojan horse. If Apple succeeds in selling enough of these, they can get a strong foothold in the smart home.

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 35: A Zen Guide to Elections

Without endorsing any particular candidate, Kirk and Jundo talk about how Buddhist values and Precepts should guide the voter in elections in the U.S. and other countries.

Find out more, including show notes for each episode, at the Zen of Everything website and at Treeleaf Zendo.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #157: Apple’s New iPhone 12 and HomePod mini

Josh and Kirk talk about Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 12, and whether they plan to upgrade. They explain the point of the HomePod mini, and discuss what Siri can do with this new home device from Apple. We also look at the new MagSafe charging system on the iPhone 12.

Subscribe to The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Apple Announces iPhone 12 and HomePod mini

Every new iPhone has a marquee feature that Apple focuses on in its new product announcement. In recent years, Apple has repeatedly highlighted improvements to the camera system, spending the majority of time in their new product presentation showing the beautiful photos that the phone can take. While the camera in the iPhone 12 gets a bump, this year‘s marquee feature is a new mobile technology that most people won’t be able to benefit from: 5G.

The iPhone 12 also sports a new design, with narrower bezels, and a new, more robust type of glass, as well as being “the fastest iPhone ever,” which is the case every year. Apple also announced the HomePod mini, which is more of a smart speaker with Siri features than an audio device, like its older sibling.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

The Next Track, Episode #194 – Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein used the lockdown to record an album of music by Philip Glass and Franz Schubert. We discuss how she built her career, how she recorded this album, and talk about Schubert’s wonderful last piano sonata.

Help support The Next Track by making regular donations via Patreon. We’re ad-free and self-sustaining so your support is what keeps us going. Thanks!

Support The Next Track.

Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 78: Everyday Photo Retouching

You may think of “retouching” as a high-end photo skill for professionals—and it is—but there are also many types of retouching that every photographer will run into. In this episode, Jeff covers many of the techniques he uses, from removing dust spots in clear skies to erasing unwanted objects from photos, as well as portrait retouching that’s accessible to anyone. This is an extra-long episode with lots of example images, so don’t forget you can view the photos in some podcast players (like Apple Podcasts or Overcast), and of course you can also view them at PhotoActive.co.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Update to My Take Control of macOS Media Apps Book

Tc media appsPretty soon, macOS Big Sur will be released. There aren’t a lot of changes to the macOS media apps – Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books – but the interface of the operating system has changed. There are some noteworthy changes to the Music app, notably the restoration of the ability to display album artwork in Songs view.

So my updated book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps, has just been released, and there will be a minor update when Big Sur is officially available (probably next week). Here’s what the publisher has to say about it:

When Apple replaced iTunes with four different apps (for different kinds of media) last year, Kirk thoroughly revamped his older book Take Control of iTunes 12: The FAQ to cover all the new ways of doing things, and in the process, it got a new title. This book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps, still tells you all about the Music app (including working with Apple Music and iTunes Match), but also walks you through the major features in the TV and Podcasts apps, and helps you organize and listen to audiobooks in the Books app. This update covers the (mostly small) changes in Big Sur, but most of the text applies equally to the Catalina versions of the apps. Buy Take Control of macOS Media Apps for $14.99 or Learn more about the book.

If you already own the book, click Ebook Extras on the cover for information about getting an update.

How to Set Up a Custom Start Page in Safari 14

It’s useful to have quick access to the websites you visit often, and in Safari 14, you can create a custom Start Page with your favorites, sites you visit often, and much more. Not only can you configure this on your Mac, but your favorites sync via iCloud to your other devices, so you can access the same sites easily on your Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Here’s how you can make your start page really useful in Safari 14.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.