“Spring ahead, fall new iPhone.” I think that’s what they say. Like clockwork now since 2014 and the release of the iPhone 4S, Apple this week announced the latest model of the iPhone along with other new products and services.
Eschewing the Roman numeral naming for the device, this one goes to 11. (I know, it’s a cliché, and fortunately, Apple didn’t use it.) The iPhone 11 comes in two models: standard and Pro (three models, if you count the Pro Max separately). This is the first time that Apple has used the term Pro for the iPhone—a term that has been used for Macs and iPads for many years—and the Pro models (in regular size and Max) now come with three rear-facing cameras instead of two.
The iPhone 11 (without the “Pro” modifier) is the replacement for last year’s iPhone XR. Coming in at $699 for the base model with 64 GB storage, this iPhone comes in six colors, and features two cameras. Unlike last year’s iPhone XS models, these cameras come with wide and ultra-wide lenses. (The two-camera versions of the iPhone X and later had wide and telephoto lenses.) This is an interesting choice, since the ultra-wide angle lens doesn’t seem like something that many people would be interested in. It’s great for expansive landscape shots, or interior photos if you want to show a whole room, but it’s not very versatile.
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. (To quote Chris Connaker, from his review on Audiophile Style: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is an audiophile product. It’s a me too voice control product that happens to play audio.”)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Technology has always been a huge part of my life, but I recently was forced to find out what happens when the technology you’ve built your life around is suddenly taken away from you.
A few months ago, I purchased an iTunes gift card off of a popular discount website. This is something I’ve done for years to manage my spending on the platform—it also helps my partner and me buy things for one shared iTunes account. I’ve been buying gift cards every so often, particularly during sale periods, when retailers sell iTunes and App Store gift cards at a discount.
When I received the card and loaded it into my iTunes account, I purchased some music over the next few days, as I’ve often done since my first iTunes purchase in 2005. I bought a few songs, streamed a new movie, and marveled at the magic of Apple’s seamless integration of hardware and services. Or so I thought.
About a week after I redeemed the gift card, I noticed my iTunes account wasn’t working. When I tried to log in, it said my account was locked. I searched online for help, but I couldn’t find a solution. I called up Apple support. As soon as I got an agent on the phone I was immediately shuffled off to a senior representative, which is a bit unusual. I’ve worked with Apple support countless times both for work and for personal devices, and normally you’re only escalated to a senior rep when the first line of defense can’t resolve your issue. The senior agent informed me my account had been locked because I’d used a fraudulent gift card.
Ive reportedly wanted to position the watch as a fashion accessory, but some Apple leaders envisioned it as an extension of the iPhone. Eventually a compromise was agreed, and the $349 watch was tethered to the iPhone, with Apple creating a $17,000 gold version and partnering with Hermès.
I don’t have a WSJ subscription, so I’m liking to MacRumors’ article about this. This jibes with what I’ve been saying about the Apple Watch from the beginning. It always seemed that the Apple Watch was a vanity project for Jony Ive, given his interest in watches, and the fact that a disgustingly priced gold model was released. I still remember the look on Tim Cook’s face when he announced the price of the gold model.
The company sold about 10 million units in the first year, a quarter of what Apple forecast, a person familiar with the matter told WSJ. Thousands of the gold version are said to have gone unsold.
I’m surprised that Apple forecast 40 million units, because, if I recall, the rollout to different countries didn’t occur very quickly. However, I’m sure Apple is satisfied at how the Apple Watch turned out.
I find this bit interesting:
According to sources who spoke to WSJ, Ive pushed for the Apple Watch to be made despite disagreements from some executives, who questioned if a device so small could have a killer app that would compel people to buy it.
That is certainly the weakness of the Apple Watch, or at least it was at the beginning. It’s a new product category, but it has been clear over the years – especially the first few models and watchOS versions – that Apple did not have a clear vision for the device, but was just trying to see what worked.
Even now, the Apple Watch is a bit of an odd device. While it is very useful, and I wear one, it doesn’t have any “wow” factor. Sure, I can get notifications, unlock my Macs with it, even make calls without my phone handy (I have the cellular model), but it is still just an extension of the iPhone that, if I didn’t write about this stuff, I probably wouldn’t use.
There’s been a lot of Mac malware appearing lately, and Intego has been discovering many serious new threats. We look at some of these malware, discuss an interesting new OneDrive feature, then talk about installing and using Apple’s public betas for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
When I saw this on Twitter last night, I let out a very loud “Wow!” and surprised my partner who was reading in bed next to me. Jony Ive is leaving Apple after 30 years with the company, and after having designed all of Apple’s iconic products from the iMac to the iPhone, from the MacBook Air to the Apple Watch.
This began after the release of the Apple Watch, and was solidified when “Ive was named Apple’s Chief Design Officer, a role that shifted day-to-day responsibility of the hardware and software design teams to a pair of executives, Alan Dye and Richard Howarth.”
Ive was also named Chancellor of the Royal College of Art in London, and his tenure began in July 2017. The Chancellor is an honorary role, but Ive has participated in many activities at the RCA. And this brought him back to his home country, England.
Ive’s crowning glory is certainly Apple Park, the new spaceship campus in Cupertino, and it’s understandable that he has perhaps gotten bored with the quotidian task of designing the most popular computing device ever made.
Ive will be launching a new company, LoveFrom, together with designer Marc Newson, and their first client will be Apple. They probably won’t do much work for Apple, but this is a soft landing that will not hit Apple’s share price too much.
Ive is one of the iconic designers of computing products, even though his overly minimalist approach can be criticized at times. (Such as removing all traces of color from the macOS Finder, making it drab and utilitarian.) But his influence will live on.
With macOS 10.15 Catalina, and the splitting of iTunes into three apps (Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV), media files will be handled a bit differently. Here’s where the various files will be located.
Music: By default, these files will be stored in ~/Music . (~ is a shortcut for your home folder, the one with the house icon and your user name.)
Apple TV: For TV shows and movies, the default location is ~/Movies . Music Videos, however, will stay in the Music app.
Podcasts: Podcasts are stored in a cache folder in ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts . This is not designed to be user accessible, and the podcast files do not display the original file names. You can, however, drag podcast files from the Podcasts app to the Desktop or to a folder.
Books: Since Apple spun off the Books app, ebooks have been stored in a folder in your Library folder: com.apple.BKAgentService. This folder will contain both ebooks and audiobooks. As with podcasts, you’re not intended to visit this folder, and ebook files do not have their original names, though audiobooks do display their names. However, if you select a file and press the space bar to view it in Quick Look, you will see its cover. (This is not currently the case with podcasts; using Quick Look on a podcast file lets you listen to it, but there is no album artwork attached.)
When you upgrade from macOS Mojave, both the Music and Apple TV apps will remember the location of your existing media, if you are using a different folder than the default. And each of these apps has an Advanced preference allowing you to choose a location for its media folder. This means that you can store your music on one volume and your movies and TV shows on another volume, which can be practical for many people with large libraries.
Note that macOS Catalina is just a beta, and this information is subject to change.
It’s been a week since Apple announced their new “cheese-grater” Mac Pro, the first non-iMac desktop computer in more than five years. Many Mac users have been griping about the price – it starts at $6,000, but, with lots of RAM and extras, could cost upwards of $35,000 – with an odd sense of entitlement. These people are complaining about a computer that’s not for them, but are acting as if it should be.
Part of the problem is Apple’s use of the term “Pro” in its product names. This new Mac Pro is really a computer for pros, for a very small niche of pros: high-end (movie) video editors, music producers, etc. It’s not for some Mac user in their bedroom, study, or basement. The price tag is not excessive for the target demographic.
But Apple has used “Pro” to market other devices. I have two of them: a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro. Does this make me a pro? I guess in some ways I am. I use my Macs and iOS devices for professional work, but as a writer, the processing power I need is limited. The only work I do that stresses my processors is photo editing, and, to be fair, I find that with my current iMac, I move Lightroom sliders, and I don’t see the changes in real time, so I could use a bit more power. But I don’t need the new Mac Pro. (I did own two of the previous Mac Pros: one cheese grater and one trashcan.)
Apple originally used the “Pro” term to distinguish a higher level of functionality than the standard models. It makes sense to brand devices, such as the iPad, in such a way. It’s a lot better than just having an iPad with three different levels of specs. Same with the MacBook Pro, which was born back when the MacBook was the plastic Apple laptop. The Pro device came with a metal body, faster processors, better video, and more. But then the MacBook (plastic) was retired, and some years later, the MacBook (aluminium) was introduced (alongside the MacBook Air). It’s fair to say that Apple branded itself into a corner.
So we now have a real Pro desktop Mac again, at a price that is really for pros. And this confuses people, because they had come to believe that, with a MacBook Pro or iPad Pro, they were pros.
Maybe Apple should have called the new computer the Mac Pro+.
Apple made some interesting announcements at their Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday. Here are three points to keep in mind.
It’s not for you.
Not every Apple product is for you. Just as the iPod touch, which was recently updated, isn’t for everyone (it’s widely used in industry), the new Mac Pro isn’t for everyone. So don’t gripe about the price (okay, you can gripe about the $1,000 stand for the display, but only because it’s a bit ridiculous; however, it’s a nice stand). Don’t drool over it, any more than you’d drool over, say, a Leica or Hasselblad camera to take vacation photos.
But keep in mind that perhaps Apple will introduce a less expensive Mac based on the new Mac Pro at some point in the future.
It’s just a beta.
I have an Apple developer account, allowing me to access beta software; I need this to be able to write about it as we approach release date. Lots of Apple websites are already writing about the betas of iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. But remember, these are very early betas, so any missing features shouldn’t be written off yet. There will be plenty of changes as the software matures over the summer.
It’s not dead.
In spite of what much of the press is saying, iTunes is not dead. First, the app has been renamed, but the iTunes name isn’t gone. You still buy music from the iTunes Store, accessible from the new Music app. Second, you can still buy music from the iTunes Store. I a journalist heard on the BBC news claim, on Tuesday morning, that Apple had killed off their music download service. Third, iTunes has been split into three apps, retaining nearly all the functionality of the current iTunes. Fourth, iTunes isn’t bloated. And, fifth and finally, iTunes on Windows – which represents perhaps 90% of iTunes users – isn’t changing.
Don’t expect Apple to retire the iTunes Store name any time soon. That brand is much too valuable.