Remember when every Apple device had an “i” in front of its name? Many still exist: the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, for example.
Now, Pro is the new i.
I would argue that in a couple of those areas, there really is a difference: the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro. But the MacBook Pro isn’t really that “pro,” and the AirPods, well, that’s just weird marketing.
So why don’t we have an Apple TV Pro? Or a Mac mini Pro? How about an Apple Watch Pro? (I know, they have the Apple Watch Edition, which, instead of meaning “better” means “expensive.” I don’t know much about the vocabulary of the fashion world, but I find the use of the word “edition” to be a bit odd.)
The problem is that Apple has diluted the meaning of the word “pro” to simply mean a device with higher specs. And they’ve proed themselves into a corner: after the pro modifier gets tired, where can they go next?
We discuss Apple’s new 16″ MacBook Pro with a redesigned keyboard; two new entrants in the video streaming market, Apple TV+ and Disney+; a bug in Facebook’s app; Google’s Pixel 4’s face unlock; and more.
I find it interesting to see how many websites that cover Apple’s products – computers, phones, etc. – now also present TV series criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I have many colleagues who skillfully review books, movies, and TV series in addition to writing about technology. But the fact that Apple has now launched its streaming service means that many websites will spend a lot of time writing about these new series; at least when there’s no other news to cover.
I’m not going to do that. While I do review culture on this site – books, music, theater, etc. – I’m not going to write about Apple’s TV series just because they are coming from Apple. I will, however, give some first impressions of Apple TV+ as a service.
Of the half dozen series available at launch, there are only two that interest me: The Morning Show and For All Mankind, both of which are available with three episodes at launch. The former is a mish-mash of of Aaron Sorkinisms and A Star is Born, and I find it interesting to see a mixture of rave reviews and take-downs (five stars from The Guardian; two stars from the BBC), which is generally quite rare with a TV series. It makes one wonder if the journalists writing about these series have some sort of agenda that goes beyond television. For example, the BBC’s Will Gompertz takes nearly 300 words of his 1,500-word review to discuss Apple and its failures in his review of the series, and says things such as:
The opening episode is as bad as anything I’ve seen since we entered this golden age of telly, which, arguably, started in 1994 with Friends (still the most popular show on Netflix).
The other series that I’ve watched is For All Mankind, an interesting alternate history about the space program. In both cases, I won’t give my opinion, because better critics than I will be writing about these series, but it’s the latter that I will follow as new episodes become available.
However, I would like to opine a bit on the Apple TV+ service itself. With a free one-year subscription, because of my recent purchase of a new iPhone, I’m willing to check out some of these offerings, but is this service worth $5 a month to anyone? With no back catalog, and only a limited number of offerings – and, so far, only TV series; no movies – it seems absurd to pay that price. Yes, I know, it’s the same as a cup of coffee, yadda yadda, but with the increased subscription fatigue, and too much to watch already (and with my partner and I both being people who greatly prefer books to TV and movies), there’s little incentive to want to pay for such an offer. Even by the end of the year, how many series can there be, and how much can one expect to see on Apple TV+? Unless Apple licenses some big swathe of back catalog content, Apple TV+ will never rival Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon (whose Prime Video is available as a part of their broader Prime subscription, which I pay for anyway to get next-day delivery to my rural home). Apple TV+ will not be a destination if you are just looking for something to watch; it will only be there if you want to try out a specific new series or are already following one or more series.
Apple could be playing the long game, investing in prestigious actors and directors to create content that they might be able to monetize later, through rentals and sales in the iTunes Store, or even DVD/Blu-Ray releases. But at $15 million an episode for The Morning Show – with two seasons planned – they’ve put $300 million into a vanity project. All told, it seems that Apple has earmarked $6 billion for content for this service, though it’s not clear how many years this budget will cover, so the company is clearly betting big on this content.
Like any streaming service that produces original content, there will be a few series that stand out, a lot of duds, and some that float a bit above the tide of mediocrity. Perhaps Apple has attracted enough creators to do better than average; or perhaps many of the creators will just be blinded by bigger budgets and end up making a mess of their series. It’s a crap shoot in this business.
Apple is clearly hoping to expand further into content creation as part of their push to increase the company’s services revenue, which was $12.5 billion in the company’s latest reported quarter. Apple is remaking itself, to not depend so much on one or two products, and services are now 20% of the company’s income.
But the risk is that in throwing money at TV series – and potentially movies as well – that their content is no better than that of any other service, without any clear differentiation between Apple TV+ and any premium cable channel. Will they succeed? Who knows; I certainly don’t. And don’t listen to anyone who thinks they can predict how all this is going to turn out.
I’ve always liked having lyrics available when I listen to music. I don’t look at them often, but there are times when I want to know exactly what the words of a song are. Sometimes when I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row, and want to be precise. (I still haven’t memorized all the lyrics; but it’s more than ten minutes long.)
A nifty new feature in the iOS Music app is Timed Lyrics. When a song offers this, you see the lyrics, each line highlighted as it is sung.
You’ll probably see this in the Music app the first time you play a song that offers the feature, if you have your iOS device’s screen on with the Music app up front.
Tap the Lyrics button at the bottom of the Music window and enjoy.
Then Apple Arcade dropped during the iOS 13 beta, letting me check out what was on offer. Immediately, the selection of games was overwhelming. When iOS 13 proper landed, it was the kind of launch line-up other systems would kill for. There were 71 titles in all, from tiny indie delicacies that would find it hard to survive as standalone titles, through to new releases from giants like Capcom. Since that first moment, I’ve been working my way through every game, to play every one at least a little, and therefore get an idea as to who Apple Arcade is aimed at, and whether it’s worth subscribing to.
Craig Grannell writes about games on iOS and on Mac, so he’s the guy who really understands this stuff. I’m not a gamer, so the whole Apple Arcade thing doesn’t interest me, even though I tried.
Apple has concluded a deal with TuneIn, the internet radio service, to ” offer listeners access to TuneIn’s more than 100,000 global radio stations on all Siri-enabled devices and Apple Music. This collaboration comes on the heels of Apple’s release of iOS 13, which introduces a new radio experience to Apple devices – including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, CarPlay and HomePod.”
It’s not clear how this is going to work; you’ll be able to launch radio stations via Siri, but will these radio stations show up in the Radio tab of iTunes and the new Music app on macOS Catalina? This would explain why the new Music app no longer supports internet radio stations, which have been part of iTunes for a long time.
And it’s not clear whether these radio stations will be available to people who don’t subscribe to Apple Music, but it’s good to see that internet radio will not be forgotten in the new, split-up iTunes.
“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.