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.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 50 – Creative Black and White Photography with Harold Davis

Artist, photographer, and writer Harold Davis joins us to discuss his new book Creative Black & White, 2nd Edition, and we talk about the photographer as artist, and how to see the world in monochrome.

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.

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.

The Next Track, Episode #157 – Fake Fur-Covered Streams: Everything About CD Packaging

Andy Doe joins us to discuss CD packaging. The types of packages used, such as jewel cases and digipacks, and the marketing behind those Big Classical Box Sets.

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

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.

Safari, Chrome, Firefox: Which is the most private browser for Mac?

Everyone needs a web browser, and while Safari comes pre-installed on Macs, many people choose to use a different browser. You may want to do this for compatibility reasons—there may be sites or services you use that Safari doesn’t handle correctly—or because you use a different browser at work; if you want to be able to sync bookmarks and history from your work browser to your personal browser, then it can be useful to use the same app on your computers in both locations.

But another thing to consider is web browser 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, we’ll discuss the three main web browsers for macOS—Safari, Chrome, and Firefox—and look at several alternatives, from a privacy and security perspective.

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

In Praise of the iTunes Column Browser

I’ve been writing recently about “The App Formerly Known as iTunes,” and how the split into four apps (on macOS) will change the way people manage their media libraries. One big change is the demise of the column browser, a unique tool in iTunes that lets you quickly scan and browse your library, and pick music to play.

For those who aren’t familiar with this tool, the best way to use it is in Songs view, and with artwork displayed (that, too, is going away). Press Command-B to display the column browser. It displays at the top of the window.

Column browser

In the above, I’ve selected my Dead genre (all my music by the Grateful Dead and related bands), I’ve then selected Grateful Dead in the Artist column, and I can see a list of albums. I click one to view it in the bottom pane, and I can start playing it easily. I can use the arrow keys to move back and forth, similar to the way you can browse in Column View in the Finder.

What’s really useful is that I can see, at a glance, what albums I have. The list is compact and easy to parse. Note that I’ve shrunk the iTunes window a bit for this screenshot; usually, I see more columns horizontally in the bottom pane.

There are a number of options for displaying the column browser in the View menu. You can choose which columns to display, and you can group compilations and use album artists instead of artists in the Artists column.

Column browser view

Alas, this is going away, and the closest view I can use in the Catalina Music app is Albums view. With this, you can see up to 24 albums, because their artwork increases in size as the window size increases. (On my 13″ MacBook Pro, running Catalina, I see 15 albums, though the bottom row is cut off so I can’t see the titles and artists. On my 21″ iMac, using the current iTunes, I see 45 albums, but the bottom row is about half cut off.)

The screenshot below is from a friend who tried the Music app on a 27″ iMac. Look at that wasted space on the sides…

Music albums view big

While viewing the album artwork can be helpful, it’s not very efficient. In many cases, I want to see the names of albums, such as for my classical music, where I have the names of performers in the album title.

I’ll miss this tool, which dates back to the first version of iTunes. (For screenshots, see this review of iTunes 1.0 on ATPM. One interesting quote from the review: “It may be noteworthy that the iTunes library can only hold 32,000 songs, though that should be plenty of room for most uses.”)

I hope iTunes users will let Apple know how important the column browser is. Send an email on Apple’s feedback page.

The HomePod Is a Mono Speaker

Stereophonic sound uses two speakers to deliver two very different sound channels (depending on how the music was recorded) to deliver sound that approximates what we hear when we hear music live. It uses two channels, because we have two ears. The HomePod is a mono speaker. It uses a ring of seven tweeters to adjust the volume of the mono sound it sends out in an attempt to provide balanced sound anywhere in a room. It does not create any form of stereophonic sound reproduction.

I’m correcting a statement that Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider posted in a rebuttal to my recent article about the HomePod. While I’m happy to disagree on some points, he makes the statement below about the HomePod not being a mono speaker, which is simply incorrect.

He also makes the bizarre claim that “it’s a mono speaker.” HomePod is not a mono speaker. A mono speaker is a single speaker that can only deliver a single channel of audio, resulting in its sound clearly appearing to come from one source. Stereophonic sound uses multiple speakers to deliver at least two slightly different sound channels to create a wider soundscape. HomePod is a stereo speaker. It uses a ring of seven tweeters to send out stereo sound that creates a wide, surrounding sense of stereophonic sound reproduction.

Also, “a mono speaker is a single speaker” is not correct. A mono speaker can have multiple “speakers” – aka drivers – such as a woofer, midrange, and tweeter. Or use one floor standing speaker, that may have four or five drivers, for mono sound. At a minimum, most – though not all – speakers that aren’t portable have two drivers, a woofer and a tweeter.

Apple sells the HomePod as having “room-filling sound.” But they never suggest that it’s stereo. It’s not hard to test it: put on I Saw Her Standing There, on The Beatles’ 1963 album Please, Please Me. Paul’s voice is on the right channel, and the main guitar and the drums are on the left. This was common practice in the early days of stereo.

Listen to that song on a single HomePod and you’ll quickly understand that it’s not stereo. The two channels are in a single stream, and you don’t hear the voice on one side and the guitar and drums on the other. It’s logical: how would the HomePod know where the listener is to know how to separate channels? This would be possible; they could have, say, an iPhone emit a tone that the HomePod could identify, but aside from that, it’s just guesswork. In fact, go to your favorite streaming service and find the stereo and mono versions of this song. Listen to both of them on the HomePod: skip back-and-forth from one track to another. With the exception of the fact that the mono version is a bit louder, you will note that the sound is exactly the same.

In addition, Mr Dilger seems to ignore that stereo sound requires separation. There are plenty of “stereo” speakers that aren’t really stereo, because their two speakers (generally two tweeters; a single woofer can be used in such cases) are too close together. So even if the HomePod was an actual stereo speaker, with different audio coming out of the left and right sides, it wouldn’t sound like stereo, because there would be no separation. You’d get a sort of spatial effect if you were far enough away, but only if there are walls close enough to the HomePod for the different channels to reflect off.

Discussing my presentation of two HomePods on either side of an iMac – it’s not just “someone on Reddit” who imagined this; a lot of people hoped they could do this – he says:

This is purely ridiculous, as one HomePod delivers far more than enough sound to be placed within an arm’s reach of a seated computer user. Placing one on either side of an iMac to deliver “stereo” is simply a dumb idea, based on the misconception that HomePod is a “mono speaker” and that a Mac user would need to have two of them.

So he’s suggesting that one put the HomePod in front of the iMac to get a stereo effect…?

I’m not looking to get into an argument, but sometimes there are facts that can’t be explained away by fanciful marketing.

Source: Editorial: After taking the premium tier, HomePod will expand in markets Amazon and Google can’t

One more thing. I think what is confusing people about this is what Apple says about the HomePod:

HomePod combines Apple-engineered audio technology and advanced software to set a new audio quality standard for a small speaker, delivering high-fidelity sound and a wide soundstage. Featuring a large, Apple-designed woofer for deep, clean bass, a custom array of seven beamforming tweeters that provide pure high frequency acoustics with incredible directional control and powerful technologies built right in, HomePod is able to preserve the richness and intent of the original recordings.

The section I have put in italics is what makes some people think that the HomePod is actually a sort-of-stereo device. All it is doing with this “incredible directional control” is compensating for the shape of the HomePod. Most speakers point in a specific direction; the HomePod is omnidirectional. What it does, using its microphones and multiple tweeters, is modulate the volume from each tweeter according to the proximity of walls or other objects in rooms. And, using time delays and reverb, it can create a more spacious sound from a single speaker than one that is just pointing in one direction.

Look at this still from Apple’s animation about the HomePod:

You can see that two of the mauve circles point forward, and are larger than the two smaller ones that seem to reflect off the back wall. With these multiple tweeters, the HomePod can produce sound that can develop resonance if it is timed correctly according to the distance of walls. The blue circles are the bass, which, perhaps, also has a bit of delay. What is deceptive in this photo is that there are two pairs of mauve circles, suggesting that it might be stereo. It’s not, but the volume of each tweeter is adjusted using the “incredible directional control.” Hence the spatial impression that can make music sound less flat.

However, this fails totally when the HomePod is in the center of the room, but, in that case, the HomePod is far superior to a directional speaker, because it can send music in all directions. I would guess there is probably not much difference in volume when the HomePod detects that it’s far from walls, because the goal there is to fill the room completely. This is, in fact, the ideal use case for a single HomePod: in a central location, with people in many positions around it. Set it up on a table in the middle of a room when you have a party.

Apple continues:

With two HomePod speakers set up as a stereo pair, this soundstage gets even wider, delivering room-filling sound that is more spacious than a traditional stereo pair from a speaker that’s just under 7-inches tall. Using spatial awareness to sense their location in the room, each HomePod automatically adjusts the audio to sound great wherever it is placed and sound great together, using an Apple-designed wireless peer-to-peer direct link to communicate with each other and play music completely in sync.

This suggests that the “spatial awareness” is used to control which tweeters send audio. The HomePod knows it’s, say, a foot from a wall, and can tell that the other HomePod is at a certain direction, allowing it to figure out which way is intended to be the front. This probably doesn’t work if you set two HomePods, say, at ends of a table in the center of a room.

Note: some of this is educated guesses, based on what Apple has said, and the way the device is constructed (ie, seven tweeters and six microphones). For more details about this, watch Phil Schiller presenting the HomePod in 2017. Of course, you need to take with a grain of salt what he says about things like “ambient audio, the backing vocals and reverb.”