Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 100: Apple’s New iPhone, and More

Josh and Kirk celebrate episode 100 of the Intego Mac Podcast with special guest Dave Hamilton and discuss Apple’s new iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+. And we discuss changes to Apple’s AppleCare extended warranty and insurance plan.

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.

Why Is It So Difficult to Listen to Audiobooks on the Apple Watch?

I listen to audiobooks often, and sometimes I would like to be able to listen to them on my Apple Watch, via AirPods, rather than have to have my iPhone with me when I go walking. Audible’s app for the Apple Watch is pathetically bad; not only is it nearly impossible to sync audiobooks to the device (I discuss that in this article), but if do you manage to do so, it doesn’t correctly sync its position, so if you go back to another device to listen, you lose your place. (See this Reddit thread.)

In watchOS 6, which will be released on September 19, and for which the golden master (the final version released to developers) is now available, there is a new Audiobooks app. But this app can only play audiobooks you’ve purchased from Apple. Even if you sync audiobooks from Audible or audiobooks you may have ripped from CDs, you cannot sync them to the Apple Watch.

I would think that most regular audiobook listeners are Audible subscribers, since their subscription model makes books much cheaper than what Apple charges. Since you can sync them to the Books app on the iPhone, it’s odd that you cannot put them on the Apple Watch. This might have something to do with the different DRM that is used for Audible content, but if Apple can play these books in their app on iOS, it shouldn’t be any different on watchOS. It’s worth noting that the Audible app on iOS can see and play books in the Books app, if they are from Audible.

The new Audiobooks app says it syncs up to five hours of a book to the Apple Watch, which is problematic. I understand that most people won’t be listening to, say, an eight-hour audiobook on their watch, but some might want to, such as if they’re on a long flight. Since the new Apple Watch contains 32 GB storage, it should be able to hold more than this. (The Series 4 which I have currently has 16 GB.)

Audiobooks are just audio content, and should be easy enough to sync to the Apple Watch. Apple has had a long relationship with Audible; not only is the company the only one – other than Apple – whose DRM-protected content is playable in iTunes, but Audible also provides Apple with the audiobooks that the latter company sells. Granted, Apple wants people to buy audiobooks from them rather than Audible, if possible, but preventing people from listening to audiobooks they haven’t purchased from Apple seems unfair.

Are Camera Sales Really Falling Off a Cliff?

Analyst Om Malik recently published an article saying Camera sales are falling sharply (or, as his first sentence says, “falling off a cliff”). He has charts to prove it. For example:

Chart1

This chart shows the sales of cameras with built-in lenses versus those with interchangeable lenses. The former category is being eaten up by smartphones, which, when you think about it, is normal. If you have a smartphone with a good enough camera, then a fixed-lens camera won’t do much more for you (unless you want a good zoom lens). This said, there are very good fixed lens cameras, such as the Fujifilm X100F, a number of Ricoh cameras, and full-sized bridge cameras; I’m not sure in which category they are included.

Even interchangeable camera sales are seeing a drop, from a peak in 2012 at 20 million units to only 11 million last year. However, in another chart in the article, which takes a longer view, it doesn’t look quite so bad.

Chart2

Interchangeable camera sales plummeted in the early 1990s, but took off in the mid-2000s, when digital cameras started having good enough resolution at affordable prices. If you look at the rise from 2003 to 2012, this is a phenomenal level of growth, one that would be hard to sustain. Yet interchangeable camera sales are still much higher than they were at their previous peak in 1981. It actually looks a lot like a chart of music sales showing the introduction of CDs, to replace vinyl records, then the falloff as people had replaced their music libraries. (I know, it’s not exactly the same, but looking at a short-lived peak thinking it is normal is always a mistake.)

But also look at lens sales in the above chart. They rose steadily in the mid-2000s, and haven’t dropped much since 2012. This suggests that there is still a core group of camera buyers who continue to buy additional lenses, as camera companies improve the quality of their optics.

There are two ways to look at this landscape, and I think it’s pretty similar to the music business. Let’s say that 80% of people just listen to music as wallpaper; and that 20% of people provide the real music sales revenue. With cameras, it’s 80% of people (perhaps even 90%) that just take photos now and then, shooting selfies, photographing meals, and posting to Instagram. They are well served by smartphones. But the other 10 or 20%, either pros or enthusiasts, continue to buy cameras, and especially lenses, and will continue to do so.

There are a few points to consider, however. The first is the fact that camera technology is plateauing as it confronts the laws of physics. You can’t easily but a larger sensor in a camera without needing different lenses. And even then, new features in cameras are incremental, with improvements in, perhaps, auto-focus, video capture, etc., but many of these features are not enough to get people to replace their existing cameras.

When people do replace cameras, the second-hand market is thriving, so it’s relatively easy to buy a used unit of last year’s model at a deep discount. There are many companies that specialize in buying and selling used camera gear, and you can generally trust that what you buy is in good condition.

Of course, the well known malady known as gear-acquisition syndrome (GAS) is prevalent in the photo world, and this is keeping camera companies afloat. If enthusiast photographers all decided to not buy any new gear for a year, the industry would probably fail, so it’s important for these companies to continue to cater to a market where a lot of their income is derived from people buying gear they don’t use very much. That’s probably why lens sales remain so high.

It’s obvious that no smartphone will ever replace a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. But they’re not intended to. I think the market is going to shake itself out soon, with perhaps some of the smaller companies giving up on camera sales. But you also need to remember that hardly any of these companies only make cameras. The big four – Sony, Fuji, Canon, and Nikon – all make many other products, notably high-end optical gear, among others. Canon has about $32 billion in sales, Fujifilm has dozens of subsidiaries making everything from cameras to medical imaging equipment. And Sony is, well, Sony; they sell pretty much everything that uses electricity. So none of these companies are necessarily dependent on selling these cameras.

If anything, it’s Leica, the company that makes the camera that Om Malik loves so much, that is teetering on the brink. While Leica’s are excellent cameras – and I still lust after the Leica M Monochrom – they are status symbols. The company caters to collectors, issuing limited editions of their camera regularly. With revenue of only about $400 million, they are a luxury brand, not a real camera brand. But Leica is making a lot of money through their partnerships with other companies, supplying lenses to Huawei, Panasonic, and others. And the company’s biggest growth market is China, which makes their future somewhat risky, given the fickleness of the Chinese toward foreign brands, especially after the company released this ad.

So, as often, it’s not easy to say that a specific market is “falling off a cliff,” but it is interesting to look deeper into statistics. There is a downward trend from an artificial peak, but it may be leveling off.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 99: Twitter and Deepfakes

Twitter’s boss had his Twitter account hacked, and Twitter has disabled a feature from its earliest days that let you tweet via SMS. Firefox’s new update blocks trackers and crypto miners. And we take a look at audio and video deepfakes.

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.

Apple Music Now Available from a Web Browser

Apple has launched a web version of Apple Music. Available in a beta version at beta.music.apple.com, this provides much of the Apple Music experience.

Apple music beta

It’s not hard for Apple to provide web access: Apple Music pages in iTunes are just HTML – or web pages – displayed in that app. The web version is more limited than iTunes. Not everything is available: you cannot create or delete playlists, you cannot view smart playlists that you have created in iTunes, and you cannot use Genius to get suggestions and to start Genius playlists. But you can play music, add music to your iCloud Music Library, love and dislike music, and more.

You can access For You, you can browse Apple Music, and you can use Apple Music Radio. There are four ways to view your library: Recently Added, Artists, Albums, and Songs.

The question is why is Apple doing this? I don’t think the goal is to provide a fully functional player, but rather to provide a way for people who don’t have Apple Music to follow a link they see on social media, or an artist websites, even if they are not on an Apple device. But if you do want to use Apple Music without iTunes, and your needs are limited, this is a good way to do so.

(A friend pointed out that Linux users are happy about this, since there is obviously no iTunes on Linux. As this is going to be the year of Linux on the desktop, this is a Very Good Thing.)

Apple Removes Black and White Photo Conversion Tool in iOS

Black and white photography has a long history, and black and white conversion is one of the powerful tools available to photographers to create striking photos. Monochrome photos have a great deal of meaning, and offer a way of showing a reality that is present, but that we do not see.

In the beta versions of Apple’s iOS 13 – and we are nearing release, so the current versions are nearly finished – the Photos app has a new set of editing tools, but there is no black and white tool. Currently in iOS, if you select a photo, tap Edit, then tap the adjust button, you have access to a black and white adjustment tool, as you can see below.

Ios bw

The slider below the photo lets you choose how Photos converts the photo to black and white, making certain tones in the photo darker or lighter.

In iOS 13, the only option you will have is to fully desaturate your photo, then work with adjustments such as shadows, highlights, contrast, and black point. While I sometimes use these adjustments to create monochrome versions of my photos, the color-based conversion is a standard tool, and is often ideal to find the appropriate contrast.

iOS 13 has also removed the global Light adjustment, which lets you change the appearance of a photo by dragging one slider, which then affects the brilliance, brightness, exposure, shadows, highlights, and more. This uses an algorithm that ensures that when you want a photo to be “brighter,” that brightness is balanced, because, for example, more exposure in a photo often requires more contrast to compensate for the additional light. That one-drag adjustment is very easy, and ideal for those who don’t understand the more arcane adjustments available.

It is surprising that Apple has removed these two adjustment tools. For the first, because black and white photos are an essential type of photo, and for the second, because the simplicity of this single slider makes it very easy for anyone to make adjustments to the brightness of their photos. Both of these tools remain in the Mac version of Photos, and, while Apple has added more adjustment tools to Photos for iOS, it’s odd that they would remove these two.

Again, iOS 13 is still a beta, and it’s possible that these tools will be restored, but given that it is nearly ready to ship, I doubt they will be. This is a big loss for those who want to edit their photos on iPhones or iPads.

Internet Radio Stations Are Demoted in the Post-iTunes World

I’ve been writing lately about changes to iTunes, and how the apps that replace iTunes are missing certain features that were in the app for a long time. I discussed the demise of the column browser, which dates back to iTunes 1.0, and which has always been one of the best ways to navigate a large library. I’ve also mentioned other changes, such as in this article, where I pointed out that Songs view no longer allows you to display album artwork. Again, this was a useful navigational feature that allowed you to scan a list of music and see artwork to identify it more easily.

Another feature that dates back to version 1.0 and that is going away is internet radio. These are radio stations that stream and that you can listen to from the Library section in the iTunes sidebar.

Internet radio

There are about twenty genres of internet radio stations, and you can browse the list and find a wide range of eclectic styles of music, news and talk radio, and more. iTunes currently lists about 4,000 such stations.

You’ll be able to launch a specific internet radio station in the new Music app by choosing File > Open Stream URL, but you won’t have the library to search for internet radio stations any more. I assume that these weren’t widely used – admit it, most of you didn’t even know that this existed – and all these stations stream from their websites anyway, so you can still listen to them, just in a different way.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 98: Everyone Is Listening!

There’s a recurring theme in security and privacy news lately, and that is the fact that everyone is listening. If you use Alexa, OK Google, or Siri, the companies behind these services listen to some of your requests (and sometimes when you don’t explicitly ask their devices anything). There’s news this week about companies listening and watching, along with some Apple updates, clickjacking scripts on websites, and all the stuff that Facebook knows about you. And we answer a couple of listener questions.

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.

How to Manage Audiobooks in a Post-iTunes World

With the split of iTunes into four apps, the way audiobooks are managed is different. If you have audiobooks from Audible or from the iTunes Store – technically the Books Store – you have no choice: they can only be stored in the books app. But if you have a collection of audiobooks that you have ripped, or downloaded without DRM, then you have two options for managing audiobooks in a post-iTunes world.

You can move your audiobooks to the Books app, which offers a number of features for playback that are more appropriate for listening to spoken word. For example, you click buttons to skip ahead or back by 15 seconds, set a sleep timer, and more. However, these files are stored on your startup disk, and you may simply not have enough space on this disk, so if you have a large audiobooks library and want all your audiobooks in the Books app, I recommend only adding those to the app when you want to listen to them. At other times, store them on an external disk. (Audiobooks will be stored in a folder in the Library folder of your home folder: ~/Library/com.apple.BKAgentService.)

Or you can keep your audiobooks in your Music library. If you rip audiobook CDs, their files can stay in your Music library, and you can listen to them in the Music app, sync them to an iOS device, and even put them in your iCloud Music Library, if the bit rate is 96 kbps or above. This allows you to store the audiobook files on an external drive, if you don’t have enough space on your Mac’s startup drive.

Note that when you now go to rip new audiobooks, you must do this in the Music app; there is no such option in the Books app. But you can move these audiobook files to the Books app, and each file name shows up as an individual chapter, allowing you to navigate in your audiobooks more easily.

If you do want to keep them in the Music app, you no longer have to change the media kind to Audiobook for them to show up in the Audiobooks library, because that will be gone. You just leave them as music files, and they will show up in your Music library. It’s a good idea to set the genre to something like Spoken Word so you can find them easily.

So, if you do have a large audiobook library, make plans before upgrading to macOS Catalina.

Is Safari the most private browser for iPhone and iPad?

If there’s one app that just about everyone uses on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, it’s a web browser. You use your browser to get information, to shop, and for entertainment. iOS devices come with Apple’s Safari browser pre-installed, but you can use a different browser if you wish. Unfortunately, on iOS you can’t set a different browser as the default, so when you tap links in emails or messages, Safari will open them—but most apps let you lightly tap-and-hold on links to copy the address so you can paste it into an alternative browser of your choice.

If you choose a different web browser, you should its consider security and privacy. Not all browsers handle your data optimally, and few are developed with privacy and security as a primary focus. In this article, I’m going to discuss the default Safari web browser for iOS, and look at some popular mobile alternatives such as Chrome, Firefox, and others.

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