All posts by Mark Webster

Apple commentator and trainer, history writer, publisher

Tuesday Talk ~ Moan fest


(Image from Apple Insider)

I feel Tuesday Talk has become a moan-fest about what Apple could be, its failings and what the Inc could do better. It didn’t used to be this way – when I used to write about Apple for the New Zealand Herald it was to continuously trumpet Apple’s successes. Apple is still ‘successful’ in that it has a global presence and makes tons of money, of course, but for the last two years Apple seems to have been focussing its energies and resources on … gosh, I don’t know what. Not tech and innovation anyway. At least not visibly.
Apple Watch just turned two, and I was always amazed by this product, mostly because it had serious competitors out there in the market place before it was even actually a product. Rumours of the Apple Watch sparked companies to create smart watches that would be ‘better’ than ‘anything Apple could produce’ … except Apple hadn’t produced anything. That’s pretty incredible power right there.
But was Apple Watch the last really innovative thing Apple did? The Watch is beautifully built, and much more useful than you’d think at first sight. But Apple lost control of the market for a device it hadn’t even released, then had to work to regain the market it had itself created. Apple did, eventually, but this was a bizarre situation that it inadvertently orchestrated for itself.

Since the Watch introduction, Mac lines have languished; iPhone has had some regular updates that haven’t been groundbreaking but definitely very good; iPad has had some regularising updates and its lineup has been refined. But for the rest, Apple now has to do something truly incredible at the World Wide Developers Conference in June on more than one front. The tech world will be focussed on Apple like never before.
But why has Apple been acting this way? That’s what I can’t work out. John Gruber, who I interviewed a few years ago in Wellington, reckons Apple’s team focus has been too much on iPhone.
Sure, under Jobs, Apple would focus its key team members on different projects one after another: a project would get the love, then the love would get moved on to another category. This approach made perfect sense when Apple was lean, a little desperate and lacked resources and power – but now that Apple has resources and power to burn, this approach no longer makes any sense. At all.
Frankly, I’m amazed Apple is still doing this. Indeed, Bryan Chaffin reckons Apple’s Achilles heel is the leadership team’s slavish devotion to maintaining a tiny executive inner circle. This appears to have led to positional nest-feathering and structured, impenetrable ennui. We are supposed to be impressed when Cook, Schiller et al even talk in public, when I’d rather see them releasing new products. I actually don’t care who these people are, they’re not my Apple rock stars. Apple’s products should be.

Even Virtual Reality … sure, I’m excited Apple has set up an AR/VR lab in Wellington, New Zealand. Who wouldn’t be? But really? Google, Microsoft and other big players have been exploring this space for years already. Does Apple really think a white headset with an Apple logo on it at twice the price is all Apple is capable of? All we expect? I really, really hope not. Apple needs to work hard to be a relevant player in this space if it’s going to enter it at all. Apple has been publicly ignoring virtual reality while hiring and acquiring experts at an impressive rate.
Meanwhile, Apple as a gaming platform has had some remarkable successes in iDevices, yet it’s still largely ignored on Mac as it has been for decades. This shouldn’t matter to people who use Macs for anything but gaming, but it does: Macs still have second-rate video cards compared to cheaper PCs largely because it can’t be bothered to attract decent games, which challenge and raise technical specs on PCs. This is galling – yet it has always been galling.
Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed. It’s also galling because virtual reality games will explode.

So I have one message, Apple: please, please get your sh_t together!
I’d much rather be writing positive commentary.

Stylus for any iPad, mobile AR, Samsung problems, Paris transport, Apple Watch turns two


The Pinpoint X-Spring Precision Stylus & Pen is a joy to use — Not everybody has an iPad Pro, but everyone can benefit from using stylus-enabled apps on any iPad. Today’s Apple World Today Deals Shop special is for a combination stylus and pen that you’ll find to be a joy to use. The Pinpoint X-Spring Precision Stylus & Pen from Joy Factory is available for $14.95, 57% off the usual price of $34.95.

Tractica: mobile AR markets to reach 1.9 billion unique monthly active users — Apple is almost certainly planning to enter the augmented reality (AR) market, and now is a good time. Between 2008 and 2015, augmented reality (AR) was a technology gimmick looking for a market.
Now, according to a new report from Tractica, the expanding use cases for mobile AR will lead to growth from 342.8 million unique monthly active users (MAUs) globally in 2016 to nearly 1.9 billion MAUs by 2022.  During this period, the market intelligence firm forecasts that worldwide mobile AR revenue will rise from $749.0 million to $18.5 billion annually, according to the market research group. [Except Apple use to lead tech, not come lately.]

Samsung’s fix for red-tinted Galaxy S8 screens forces users to self-calibrate — With a growing number of complaints about a red-tinged screen in some owners with the Samsung Galaxy S8, the company is issuing a software patch allowing users expanded options for correcting the problem in software by placing the responsibility for colour accuracy even more in user’s hands – in other words, they’re being told how to colour-calibrate their own handsets.

Apple Maps has added transit directions for Paris, France — The apps, for both iOS and macOS, gained the public transit on the weekend, including both the city’s Metro subway and above-ground train lines like the RER and Transilien networks.
Station entrances are marked clearly, and a tap on any stations shows all connecting lines and information on pending departures. In addition to the train systems, Paris transit directions include buses, Autolib car sharing, and Velib bike sharing.

On its 2nd anniversary, Apple Watch settling into role as fitness & notification wearable with Siri, Apple Pay — Originally pitched as a multitude of things, including an intimate communication tool and new frontier for mobile apps, the Apple Watch has been refined and simplified in the two years since its debut, focusing on what Apple has determined to be the fledgling device’s core strengths.

CloudMounter master password, AR/VR, NASA car engineers


(Image from FXFactory)

Update to CloudMounter adds encryption locked by a master password — Many Mac users find that storing part or all of our data on cloud services is a great way to extend the capabilities of our computers, but sometimes it’s a bit difficult to get data in and out of services like Google Drive, Box, Amazon S3, Microsoft OneDrive and even FTP or WebDAV servers.
Eltima Software’s CloudMounter for macOS (US$29.99) takes care of adding all of these services as mountable ‘drives’ in the macOS Finder, and today the app was updated to provide data encryption as well as a way to ensure that only your instance of CloudMounter can access your data.

Apple hire of plug-in developer shows AR/VR and Pro commitment — Amidst persistent stories about Apple developing an augmented reality headset of some sort and recent moves to shore up the company’s standing with creative professionals, the company has recently hired a developer well-known for writing Final Cut Pro plug-ins. Tim Dashwood has joined Apple – he’s best known for his 360VR Toolbox plugin.

Four ex-NASA engineers on Apple’s list of autonomous car software testers — Among Apple employees involved in testing of Apple’s self-driving car software consist of an ex-NASA researcher who was once tasked to develop an autonomous vehicle to explore one of Jupiter’s moons, and three others who worked for JPL.

iPhone Supercycle, Live Photos API, Guardian drops Apple News, Message stickers, Overcast on Watch


Data suggests tens of millions of iPhone users ready to fuel 2017 ‘supercycle’ — Lending credence to speculation of a coming iPhone ‘supercycle,’ market research firm comScore on Thursday released data showing tens of millions of users who own legacy iPhones are primed to upgrade. [So expect long waits when you’re ready to upgrade …]

Apple debuts Live Photos API, allows for playback on most popular browsers — Apple has developed a JavaScript API for its Live Photos, allowing pictures taken with the iOS feature to be shared on the web.

UK site The Guardian drops Apple News in bid to boost ad & subscription revenues — Prominent UK newspaper The Guardian has pulled out of two major app-based initiatives, Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles, in a bid to reclaim revenue.

Apple’s 2017 Earth Day Challenge for Apple Watch awards iMessage Stickers — In recognition of today’s Earth Day, Apple created Earth Day Challenge to reward reaching 30 minutes of exercise on the day with a special achievement badge in the Activity app, as well as stickers for use within iMessage. [Do people actually get excited about stickers? I looked at them when they first appeared, and never again.]

Overcast 3.1 update puts podcasts directly on Apple Watch — Popular iOS podcast app Overcast has updated with the ability to sync episodes directly to an Apple Watch, letting runners and others leave home without an iPhone in tow.

Earth power, Chinese censorship, private Epic Browser, iCloud cancellation bug, Music Up Next


Apple is powering 96% of its operations with renewable energy — Apple has announced that it’s now powering 96% of its operations with renewable energy in the company’s offices, retail stores, and product distribution centers. The company says it’s now 100% renewable in 24 countries, including all of its data centres. Apple’s upcoming Danish data centre will help warm area homes, and Apple uploaded four videos to its YouTube channel ahead of Earth Day (April 22) featuring Apple employees and executives explaining the company’s environmental initiatives.

Apple runs up against state censorship in China, again — Apple is once again running into issues with state censorship in China, according to Xinhua. Two different agencies will call Apple into their offices to demand tighter controls over streaming apps in the App Store.

For the most private browsing experience, think Epic Browser — In the browser war, most of the emphasis is placed on the Big Three: Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox are the most well known, and each offers ways to protect your privacy and security. None of them are perfect, unfortunately, as we saw last week with the Punycode phishing attack. One lesser-known browser is better at privacy and security, though – Epic Privacy Browser, built on Chromium, the open-source project forming the basis for the Google Chrome browser.
Epic Privacy Browser is available for Mac (and Windows) and costs nothing. On top of browser choice, you should also think carefully about doing a security checkup on your Mac.

Apple apologises to users for mistakenly saying their paid iCloud subscription was cancelled — Days after an error led to false iCloud cancellation emails sent to subscribers, Apple has followed up with another note apologising for the bug, and reassuring them that their plan remains in good standing.

Apple Music launches ‘Up Next’ monthly feature with Zane Lowe to highlight new artists — Apple announced last week Thursday that new feature Up Next has been added to Apple Music, a new video documentary series that promises to feature a new artist every month.

The Apocalypticon ~ Asteroid killers, aliens don’t care, NASA on ice, sinking a carrier, right-wing meme militias, VR holocaust and Olympian f-wit


NASA has been surveying our ice caps …

The ways large asteroids could kill us — Large asteroids definitely present one of the most colourful and chaotic possible apocalypses. Such an impact would cause quite a cinematic conclusion, combining a plague of wind, tsunamis, heat, and other terrors into a horrible death-fest.

Aliens don’t seem to really care about us — Well, nor do our ‘leaders’, but in the largest survey of its kind, astronomers scanned 5600 stars in search of these optical signals — and they found… absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Here’s what that means to SETI and the ongoing hunt for alien intelligence.

NASA on the ice — Tama, a Getty photographer, spent a week last month with a NASA crew during Operation IceBridge, the agency’s campaign to measure changes in the planet’s ice sheets and glaciers. NASA spends 10 weeks each spring in the Arctic and six weeks each fall in the Antarctic when ice levels are the highest. The Arctic crew used a pair of laser altimeters to measure the elevation of the ice, and three radars to measure the snow (one of them can reach 300 feet down to bedrock). Last month, the NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest point ever in 38 years.

Sinking a US carrier — Sinking an aircraft carrier is difficult, but not impossible. The key is what it’s used for, and who it’s used against. But if you wanted to sink one, here’s what you’d have to do, and what you’d be up against.

Meme armies turning into militias — As political discourse in the US has become more polarized and contentious, so too has its symbology. Pepe the Frog and Expendables posters have given way to images of actual violence that political extremists spread and celebrate: 4chan, trading on a popular videogame meme, refers to Damigo as ‘The Falcon Punch at Berkeley.’ Much of it resembles military propaganda. The meme warriors, it seems, have become a militia.

The urgent power of remembering the holocaust in VR — Pinchas Gutter has returned to Majdanek at least a dozen times, but this trip is his final one to the onetime Nazi concentration camp. His first was one he was 11, when he was taken to Majdanek; now he’s 85 years old, and this is the last time he’ll come here to tell people what the Nazis did to his family. As he rides up to the shuttered camp in the backseat of a chauffeured sedan, he talks about why he’s told his story so many times. His trip to Majdanek, and the horrific experiences he recounts in the camp’s barracks and crematorium, are being preserved with virtual reality thanks to the USC Shoah Foundation.

Olympian f__kwit declares dystopian states like North Korea are the best at avoiding obesity … yes, thanks to mass starvation — James Cracknell is a British athlete and two-time gold medal Olympian. But now he has his sights set on politics. His pet issue? Tackling obesity. But wait until you hear what he believes are model countries for battling the obesity epidemic. [God help us.]

Futurology ~ Life planet, Enceladus life, 3D printed Mars dust, airless tyres, sound dryer, Wozniak future, car-jet, frog flu, Wilma Flintstone


If we could 3D-print tools from Martian dust, it might help colony plans

Another new planet that might favour life — t seems like every week, there’s a new contender for Coolest Planet Where There Are Definitely Aliens. For those of us who want to believe, this is an emotionally exhausting cycle, as we’re built up and let down time and again. At the risk of screwing with our fragile hearts even more, it’s worth mentioning that a recently discovered exoplanet 39 light-years from Earth might actually give the current favourites Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1 system a run for their money.
~ Not that long ago, we thought Earth was pretty good. 

Life on Enceladus — According to NASA, molecular hydrogen has been found in Enceladus’ subterranean ocean, which bolsters the idea that the icy moon could host extraterrestrial microbes. Despite Enceladus’ frigid exterior, this ocean is thought to be extremely warm at the bottom – roughly 90C.
~ This is exciting because it makes fairly-close-to-us aliens possible. 

3D-printed Mars dust — We’ve had a hard time coming up with reasons as to why everyone needs a 3D printer here on Earth, but on Mars the machines could be used to manufacture tools, spare parts, even entire structures, habitats and vehicles, given there’s no hardware stores for astronauts to visit if we eventually send humans on the 54.6 million km journey.
But 3D printers don’t make things out of thin air. so scientists at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering have developed a way to turn extraterrestrial materials, like Lunar and Martian dust, into a 3D printing material.
~ Besides, Mars doesn’t even have thin air. 

Bridgestone’s airless tyres — They use a series of rigid plastic resin spokes (above) to help a wheel keep its shape as it rolls, instead of an inflatable inner tube that can puncture and leak. Military vehicles and ATVs have been some of the first vehicles to adopt the unorthodox design, but Bridgestone will soon be making a version of its airless tyres for use on bicycles.
~ And if they take off, airless-tyred cars could become more fuel efficient too because they don’t change shape. 

Clothes dryers uses sound — Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have developed a dryer that could make doing laundry much quicker. The ultrasonic dryer is expected to be up to five times more energy-efficient than most conventional dryers and able dry a large load of clothes in about half the time. Instead of using heat the way most dryers do, the ultrasonic dryer relies on high-frequency vibrations. Devices called green transducers convert electricity into vibrations, shaking the water from clothes.
~ But will you need ear muffs?

Wozniak on the future — Woz predicted portable laptops back in 1982, and now says that by 2075, we could also see new cities built from scratch in the deserts, with people wearing special suits to protect them from the heat. AI will be ubiquitous in all cities, as consumers interact with smart walls to communicate, and to shop, while home medical devices will allow self-diagnosis and doctor-free prescriptions. Now he projects further ahead …
~ Yeah, Woz, but only for the very rich like you. 

Lilium the Flying Car — You wouldn’t think the Lilium Jet could fly. It looks more like a computer mouse than an aircraft, and its 36 small propellers run on electricity, not jet fuel. But this funky airplane (above) just proved it can take to the sky, and might finally be the flying car we’ve been waiting for. There will be years of flight testing, but the German startup has backing from the European Space Agency and millions in funding.
~ I like it. 

South Indian frog flu cure — From the slimy backs of a South Indian frog comes a new way to blast influenza viruses. A compound in the frog’s mucus, long known to have germ-killing properties, can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity.
~ Let’s hope those Immunity reporters carry on reporting with impunity. 

Wilma Flintstone and the Palaeolithic — Recreations of Palaeolithic people at the museum usually look like the typical pop culture caveman. Famed Otzi the Iceman, for example, has the face of someone who’d be fun to disembowel a moose with, but whose conversation might be just a little gauche. A new facial reconstruction of a Stone Age woman who lived in Thailand roughly 13,600 years presents the pleasant and probably more accurate visage.
~ Certainly pretty good for someone 13,600 years old. 

Five Tip Friday ~ Five for iOS


1/ Print to PDF from any app from iPhone and iPad — This trick relies upon a hidden feature of the Share Sheet. To print from any app, such as Safari, you begin by tapping the Share icon. Next, tap the Print icon from the bottom row of the Share Sheet. Depending on what you’ve enabled, you might have to scroll to the right to find it. Now, to access the PDF view, simply 3D Touch (or pinch together two fingers to zoom out, in no0n-3D Touch devices) in the preview area of the PDF.
With that done, you should be in a PDF view of your document, web page, or whatever. Your next step is to share it. Just tap the Share icon, and choose where you want to send your PDF. You can share it via Messages or Mail, or any other app that supports the Share Sheet extensions.

Another great option is iBooks, if you want to keep all of your PDFs together, but there’s often a Share Sheet icon there to do that directly. But you can even save the PDF file to your iCloud drive or Dropbox.
Saving the web pages you’ve visited to PDF is a great way to keep notes when you’re researching. Other options for where to save those PDF files include Evernote and even the built-in Notes app.

2/ Use the Remote app to control your iTunes library in macOS Sierra with your iDevice — If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch you can use the Apple Remote app — free from the Apple App Store — to control your Mac’s iTunes library from a distance.
First, pair the app with the iTunes library (or libraries) you want to control. Your device and your computer must be on the same wireless network.
If you have Remote 2.0 (or later) and Home Sharing is turned on, you can set Remote to pair automatically with any of the iTunes libraries on your Home Sharing network. You can also pair Remote directly with iTunes libraries that aren’t in your Home Sharing network. To pair the Remote with an iTunes library: Tap Remote on your device’s Home screen.
Tap Add an iTunes Library.
A 4-digit code appears.
Open iTunes on your computer and click the Remote button .
Type the 4-digit code in the iTunes window.
iTunes pairs the library on your computer with the Remote app on your device.
Pair Remote with your Home Sharing network.
To use Remote 2.0 (or later) with Home Sharing, every iTunes library you want to control must have Home Sharing turned on.
Tap Remote on your device’s Home screen.
Tap Settings.
Tap to turn Home Sharing on.
Type your Apple ID and password, and tap Done.
Tap the iTunes library or Apple TV you want to control.

3/ Use Home Sharing to import items from another iTunes library — You can use Home Sharing to import items from up to five iTunes libraries on other computers on your home network? You can (assuming you have an Apple ID).
When you use your Mac on your Home Sharing network to download an item from the iTunes Store, you can have the item download automatically to other computers on your Home Sharing network.
Turn on Home Sharing. Choose File > Home Sharing > Turn On Home Sharing.
Type in your Apple ID and password, and click Turn On Home Sharing.
If you don’t have an Apple ID, click “Don’t have an Apple ID?” and follow the onscreen instructions.
To import items from other libraries using Home Sharing, choose a computer on your Home Sharing network from the Library pop-up menu. The library loads and a list of categories appears.
Choose a category (Music, for example). In the Show menu at the bottom of the iTunes window, choose “Items not in my library.” Select the items you want to import, and click Import.
To automatically import new iTunes Stores purchases from another computer, choose a computer on your Home Sharing network from the Library pop-up menu. Choose a category (Music, for example).
Click Settings at the bottom of the window. In the window that appears, select “Automatically transfer new purchases from Library Name.” Select the types of items you want to import. Click OK.
To turn off Home Sharing, on each computer, choose File > Home Sharing > Turn Off Home Sharing. If a shared computer doesn’t appear when Home Sharing is on, turn Home Sharing off, and then turn it on again.

4/ Disable homescreen rotation on Apple’s Plus-series iPhones — By default, Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, 6s Plus, and 7 Plus add an auto-rotating home screen to iOS, rearranging icons and the dock whenever a device is tilted sideways.
Aside from the Control Center orientation lock, here’s an indirect way of achieving the same result:
Within the Settings app, tap on Display & Brightness, then on “View” under the Display Zoomcategory towards the very bottom. Nominally this option just makes it easier to browse and tap on icons. As a consequence of using it, however, the home screen will no longer rotate.
To make the switch, tap on ‘Zoomed,’ then on ‘Set.’ Technically an iPhone has to reset to apply the change, but unlike a normal reboot this should only take several seconds.
That’s it — to reverse course, go back to the Display Zoom menu and select ‘Standard’ instead. The above method works in iOS 9 and 10.
Note that at least some apps, like Apple Messages, will continue to rotate their own interfaces even with Display Zoom on, and there may be no way of disabling this within an app’s settings. [From AppleInsider.]

5/ Using 3D Touch — If you have iPhone 6s or later, you may not be using 3D Touch, a more pressured press on the screen that releases a wealth of extra possibilities, for example when you are typing:
The first time you 3D Touch anywhere on the keyboard, you can start dragging the cursor around to place it in a specific spot. It’s a great way to get exact placement without fidgeting with your finger.
But, if you don’t lift your finger after that first 3D Touch and do it again, you’ll select the adjacent full word. 3D Touch one more time without lifting, and you’ll select the entire sentence surrounding the cursor. These extra actions take a little practice, but they’re darn handy once you get them down. [Here are a whole lot more handy 3D Touch features, from the Mac Observer.]

 

SearchAds to include New Zealand, Augmented Reality glasses interface


New Zealand will get SearchAds on ANZAC Day

Apple to expand Search Ads to three international markets, debuts new management tools — Apple on Wednesday announced Search Ads will arrive in three new countries on April 25 (our ANZAC Day), the service’s first expansion since a launch in September, and introduced a few ad management tools to streamline the process for developers.
Search Ads allow developers to purchase promotional ads that show up in iOS App Store searches. Available on devices running iOS 10, the feature uses special algorithms to ensure promoted apps relate to consumer queries, thus boosting app discoverability. Apple’s upcoming expansion delivers the service to users in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Apple’s Augmented Reality plans may include iPhone 8 Smart Connector for special glasses — Apple’s iPhone 8 will reportedly include an iPad Pro-like smart connector that may be the link up for augmented reality and virtual reality headsets. The report is tenuous, but the idea that Apple is ready to introduce its augmented reality platform this fall is interesting. [You know what? Apple’s future devices might include anything.]

Xeon iMacs, 100% green, Earth Day, Chinese porn concerns, Setapp search


Why Apple will be using Xeon CPUs in this fall’s ‘pro’ iMac — Recently, we learned that Apple may be seriously considering the use of a Xeon CPU in its so-called ‘server-grade’ iMac planned for later this year. There are good technical reasons why the use of the Xeon has entered the discussion in what has traditionally been considered a consumer iMac, in contrast to the Mac Pro which has had Xeons all along.

Apple promises future products to be made from 100% recycled materials — Apple is on the cusp of launching a new initiative, pledging to use 100% recycled materials in a closed supply loop for fabrication of its devices, but how Apple intends to do so isn’t clear: “We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson, told VICE News in an interview.

Apple publishes new Earth Day videos explaining company’s environmental efforts — Apple has published a set of new videos commemorating Earth Day that explain clean energy technologies, Apple’s own environmental protection efforts, and feature Apple employees and executives narrating and explaining the concepts behind the programs. Apple has also installed special signage into Stores.

Apple meets with Chinese government over App Store oversight because of porn streamers — More information has emerged about the Chinese government demand that Apple crack down on streaming apps, with a new report circulating claiming that porn streamers are the government’s major concern.

Macpaw’s Setapp adds an inbuilt app search and discovery tool — Setapp, Macpaw’s app subscription service, has launched a user interface enhancement: an inbuilt app search and discovery tool. In response to the top requested feature by current customers, it offers quick access to the collection of all the apps in a single window by introducing an in-built App Discovery tool.