The Problems with Apple’s HomePods

Apple released the HomePod in February, 2018, and the device has never seemed to catch on. There have been strong rumors recently about a HomePod 2 coming next year. But there are lots of problems with the HomePod, which Apple needs to address.

The HomePod is expensive. At $349, the price at launch, it was overpriced; at $299, its current price, it’s still not a good value. The HomePod costs $100 more than the Sonos One, which is a comparable, and some would say better speaker. (I think the Sonos One sounds better than the HomePod.) Apple was clearly targeting its core market, people willing to pay more for better products, but this isn’t a product that people are willing to pay more for, apparently.

The HomePod doesn’t have a clear use. Is it a Siri device, or is it speaker that provides “consistent high-definition sound?” If it’s the former, then Apple is trying to sell this to people who already have at least one Siri-capable device. If it’s the latter, well, Apple’s crack marketing team came out with lots of great adjectives, but the overall opinion among audiophiles is that it’s meh.

The HomePod doesn’t sound that good. Don’t get me wrong: it sounds fine, but not good enough. It’s better than pretty many Bluetooth speakers, but it doesn’t sound as good as it should for the price. It has a default sound signature that is very bass-heavy, which is not to everyone’s taste. And there are no EQ controls (as you have with Sonos speakers, for example), meaning that you need to adjust the sound on a device that you stream from, such as an iPhone. If you interact directly with the HomePod, then you can’t make any adjustments to the sound. And, one more issue with a stereo pair: you can’t adjust the balance. It’s not always easy to get two speakers positioned exactly where you want them so you are in the sweet spot.

The HomePod’s fancy technology is wasted. Apple touts the HomePod’s ability to adapt to any location. “Equipped with spatial awareness, HomePod automatically tunes itself to give you optimal sound — wherever it’s placed.” This may be true, but it’s a mono speaker; the only adjustments it’s going to make are to the tone of the music, and, perhaps, to the output of the various tweeters (there are seven, in a circle). Apple has an animation on its website showing what the HomePod does, but what does this even mean? It’s a mono speaker.

Homepod

The HomePod is unreliable. To Apple’s credit, the HomePod can hear you say “Hey, Siri,” even with music playing loudly; that’s pretty impressive. But set up HomePods in a stereo pair and be prepared to reset them regularly. After a while, the stereo pair stops working, and music comes out if just one speaker. Sometimes you can simply split the stereo pair and re-create it, but I’ve had to fully reset my two HomePods several times. This could be the fault of the HomePod’s software, or of Apple’s Home app, but it’s not reliable.

The HomePod’s design is mistaken. Who am I to question Jony Ive, right? But think about it: a speaker is generally directional. You point it to where you want the music to be heard. There are exceptions, of course. You may want one in the middle of a room, in which case the HomePod’s seven tweeters in a circle around the base of the device make sense. Sort of. Because you don’t put tweeters at the base of a speaker; ideally, tweeters should be at the level of your ears, because high frequency waves are smaller. Try it at home. Sit next to your speakers, and then stand up; you’ll hear a drop in the high end. In my bedroom, where I have a stereo pair of HomePods, I had to put them on a higher shelf than I would have wanted so I can hear music correctly in bed.

Apple tried to do too much with the HomePod. The company was falling behind in the smart speaker market, but they should have realized that they already have that market cornered: just say “Hey, Siri” to your iPhone (or Apple Watch, or iPad, or Mac…) And while their adaptive audio technology is impressive, it fails by not allowing users to choose the type of sound they want. By prioritizing the bass-heavy sound of rap and hip-hop music – the genre they push most in Apple Music – they created speakers that many people find unpalatable.

And they forgot one thing that might have sold more HomePods: you can’t send audio from a Mac to a stereo pair of HomePods. You can send music from iTunes, but not system audio. So if someone wants to use a pair of HomePods on their desk, as computer speakers, they can’t. Here’s an image from Reddit, showing how it would look:

Imac homepod

There are two problems. The first is that this is only usable with iTunes; you can’t stream audio from, say, QuickTime Player if you want to watch a video, or from Safari if you’re watching or listening to something on YouTube. And see where the tweeters are, there at the bottom of the speakers? That will not sound good in this sort of setup.

Apple should have done the necessary to sell the HomePod as computer speakers, but the design is wrong; even with speaker stands, the tweeters at the bottom mean you would need very tall stands to balanced good sound from that distance.

In any case, the market decides for products like this. The HomePod just seems like it wasn’t thought out for real-world usage. It has powerful technology, which is wasted, and its price is way above what people want to pay.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 97: Do Macs need an antivirus?

There’s a question we get asked often: do Macs really need an antivirus? Many people think that Macs are immune to malware, or that security software companies even create malware to sell their products. We give a balanced answer to the question of whether you need to protect your Mac with an antivirus.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Do Macs need antivirus software?

One of the most common questions Intego receives is whether Macs need antivirus software. Naturally, it’s fair for you to assume that our opinion may be a bit biased—not just because Intego offers antivirus software as well as a full security suite to protect Macs, but also because our malware researchers are at the front line, and regularly discover new malware that targets the Mac.

But if you want to make your own informed decision about whether Macs need antivirus software, you’ll need to examine the facts. Let’s explore such topics as what built-in protection macOS offers, what types of threats it can and cannot stop, and several common myths about antivirus software.

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

Some Thoughts on The App Formerly Known as iTunes and macOS Catalina

Many iTunes users on Mac are aware that TAFKAI (The App Formerly Known as iTunes) is undergoing big changes next month, with the release of macOS Catalina. While iTunes isn’t really “dead,” there are a number of changes coming, notably the following:

  • Music that you’ve imported or purchased will be in the new Apple Music app.
  • Music playlists and smart playlists that you’ve created in iTunes will be in the new Apple Music app.
  • The iTunes Store will still be available to buy music on Mac, iOS, PC, and Apple TV.
  • iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes credits will be maintained and can be used with the new apps and the App Store.
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod backup, restore, and syncing will move to Finder.
  • Movies and TV shows that you purchased or rented from iTunes will be in the new Apple TV app.
  • Use the Apple TV app for Mac for future movie and TV purchases or rentals.
  • Podcasts that you subscribed to or added to iTunes will now be in the new Apple Podcasts app.
  • Audiobooks that you purchased from iTunes will now be in the updated Apple Books app.
  • Use the Apple Books app for Mac for future audiobook purchases.

There are some other changes to note. Media files will be stored in different locations, with music and videos stored in easily accessible folders, and audiobooks and podcasts hidden. If you store your media library on an external drive, you should be aware of this.

There are also changes to the iTunes Store that are worth noting, though, in essence, all that really happens is that it has been split by media kind, which can make it more difficult to find things across different types of media.

And there is a very good change to the way Home Sharing works; it is now turned on globally on the Mac, and works even if the Music and TV apps aren’t running.

I’m currently going through the manuscript of my Take Control of iTunes book, preparing a new book covering the new app landscape, and, as I do this, I have been looking at the details of the Music app in particular. I find a lot of the changes to be positive, notably the simplification of navigation. I was never a fan of the multiple navigational tools in iTunes 12: the Media Picker above the sidebar, then the tabs at the top of the window, which changed by media kind. In some ways, having music on its own makes the Music app a much better tool for those who only used iTunes for managing and playing music.

As I dig deeper, I find that a lot has been simplified. There are tasks I had described in my book that had multiple steps that are simpler, and there were often several ways to do something, whereas, now, there is generally just one. I find myself cutting large sections of my book’s content because of this simplification.

I will miss the column browser; I used this tool constantly to navigate my library by Genre, then Artist, then Album. With Artist, Album, and Genres view, it’s hard to get the big picture. If you have, say, 135 Grateful Dead albums, you need to scroll through the Grateful Dead entry to find the one you want, whereas in the column browser, I could quickly scan a concise list. Or when I wanted to listen to Kind of Blue, it took a few clicks, a quick scan, and I found the album.

Blue itunes

The other feature I’ll miss is that in Songs view – that’s the one where you see items in a list – you can no longer display album artwork. I used that extensively, together with the column browser, as you can see above, because it’s a quick way to scan content to find what I want.

The “replacement” for these tools is search; but search has always been a problem. Sure, when I looked for Kind of Blue this morning on my Mac running Catalina, it was easy to find, but what if I want to quickly scan my 1973 Grateful Dead recordings, my Schubert lieder albums, or my shakuhachi recording collection? Without these tools that give you the big picture, you won’t be able to navigate a large library as easily. The display is certainly attractive, but it took me more than one minute to narrow down Kind of Blue starting from the Genres view.

Blue

Naturally, I can search for an album when I know what I want to listen to, but iTunes with the column browser was great for when I didn’t know what I wanted to listen to, but had a vague idea. Say I wanted to listen to a Bill Evans album; there are dozens. It’s not easy to choose, and I could scan my collection to find the one that suited my mood.

So as with all changes, some are good and some not so good. I think many people will find the changes to the Music app – and the other fragments of the late iTunes – to be positive. But I think users with large media collections will be a bit disappointed in what’s coming.

Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled – The Guardian

Amazon has been criticised by environmental groups and customers after introducing a range of plastic packaging that cannot be recycled in the UK.

While supermarkets and other retailers have been reducing their use of single use plastics, the world’s biggest online retailer has started sending small items in plastic envelopes, seemingly to allow more parcels to be loaded on to each delivery truck.

This started a few weeks ago. I’ve had several deliveries in these non-recyclable envelopes, most of them for items that barely fill one-tenth of the available space. I’ve decided that I will refuse delivery of any such package from Amazon in the future.

Source: Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled – The Guardian

How Home Sharing Works in macOS Catalina

For years, iTunes has had a Home Sharing feature, that allowed you to share your library across a network. Users in your home, dorm, or office could listen to your music, and even copy it to their computers. They could stream videos from your library, and this was a good way to maintain a movie and TV show library on a Mac and stream content locally to an Apple TV.

Perusing macOS Catalina I was initially worried that Home Sharing had been removed, because there was nothing about it in the Music app, but I found that they feature had been shunted to a new location: the Sharing pane of System Preferences.

Media sharing2

This makes a lot of sense. With iTunes split into four apps, you wouldn’t want to have to turn it on for each app. But this centralized media sharing has a great advantage: you don’t need to launch any of the apps to be able to share their content. As long as the computer hosting the media is running, you can load its content on another computer, an Apple TV, or on iOS (in the Music or TV apps). And if you have Wake for Network Access checked in the Energy Saver preferences, your library is accessible even if the host Mac is asleep. (On a laptop, this only works if it’s connected to power.)

This is a great change to the Home Sharing feature, and it will make it a lot easier to set up a master library to use on multiple devices.

The Fate of the iTunes Store in macOS Catalina

With the new Music app in macOS Catalina, which retains most of the music functions of iTunes, but sloughs off the other media kinds that the previous app managed, there is a change in the way the iTunes Store is handled. In some cases, users won’t even see the iTunes Store.

In early betas of macOS Catalina, the iTunes Store was visible, but in recent betas it did not show up in the sidebar of the Music app if the user was signed into Apple Music. That seems to be the default now: if a user has an Apple Music account, they won’t see the iTunes Store. You can display it, if you wish, in the Music app’s Preferences, on the General pane, but if you’re a streamer, you won’t see it by default.

You’ll note that in the screenshots on Apple’s macOS Catalina preview pages, the iTunes Store is not visible.

Music app

The iTunes Store is certainly not going away, but Apple is considering that streamers don’t want to buy music. This isn’t the case with the TV app, which retains the tabbed navigation bar of iTunes, to show one tab for Library, and four other tabs to entire users to find new content. Granted, the way we consume music is different from movies and TV shows, but this is a clear sign that Apple is betting on streaming for music, and rentals and purchases for video content.

Tv app

It’s interesting that, while Apple has made the interfaces of the four apps that replace iTunes (Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books) very similar, two of these apps retain the tabbed navigation bar: TV and Books. And these are both apps where there is more content to purchase than to stream. (Obviously, all podcasts are free, so there’s no need to have a marketplace in that app.)

In the Books app, I think the tabs don’t make sense. There is one for your library, which is logical, but there are two store tabs: Book and Audiobooks. I think it would be better to have a single store, because there are a lot of people who buy both ebooks and audiobooks, and splitting them can make it harder to find which options you have.

As for the TV app, that has the potential of quickly becoming bloated. There are tabs for your library, then for Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, and Kids. The problem with the TV app is that it aggregates not just your own content, but potentially channels, networks, and services that you subscribe to. And that leads too bloat. But the very nature of these disparate services makes it hard to do otherwise.

Update: Commenters have asked about searching with the iTunes Store disabled. When you search in the Music app, the search results show three tabs: Apple Music, Your Library, and iTunes Store. If the iTunes Store is disabled, then you only see the first two tabs; if you don’t have an Apple Music subscription, then you only see Your Library.

You can, however, go from Apple Music to the iTunes Store, even if the latter is disabled, by clicking the … button next to any item and choosing Show in iTunes Store. However, searching only Apple Music will not find items that are for sale in the iTunes Store and not available to stream.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 49: Creating Panoramas

You want to capture a wide-angle shot, but what if your widest lens isn’t wide enough? In this episode, Jeff and Kirk talk about creating panoramas, from the ingenious Pano mode in the iPhone’s Camera app to stitching many images from traditional cameras or drones.

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.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 96: Hacker Conventions

Summer is when hackers get together to present and discuss malware, vulnerabilities, and exploits. Two big hacker conventions – Black Hat and DEF CON – were held recently, and we discuss some of the Mac-related discoveries. We also look at some interesting news, including certain Macs being banned by the FCC, and answer a listener question about ransomware and files on a Mac.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.