18 stories

Cabel Sasser’s First Look at the iMac Pro


Speaking of Twitter threads, here’s a short one from Cabel Sasser, after a few days with the iMac Pro:

Games. Fired up the ol’ Firewatch, to test the iMac Pro (Radeon Pro Vega 64) vs. my current Retina 5K iMac (Radeon R9 M295X). At 2560 × 1440, the iMac topped out at 25 FPS, the iMac Pro at 62 FPS (!).

You have to love the black Lightning cable.

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2182 days ago
I find it amusing that that getting 62fps in Firewatch at 2560x1440 is considered any great achievement.
2179 days ago
Think of all the buttery-smooth walking that can now take place! Kind of. LOL.
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Punish Website Is a Blacklist-Only iOS Content Blocker

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Several weeks ago we got a question from a Club MacStories member wanting to know if any of us had come across a blacklist-only content blocker. We hadn’t. We did some research and still came up empty, which we reported back to MacStories Weekly readers. That prompted developer Salavat Khanov to step in and fill the gap with a new app called Punish Website.

Khanov is the developer behind 1Blocker, a popular iOS content blocker that we’ve covered in the past. However 1Blocker, like its competitors, blocks ads, comments, and other content based on an elaborate system of rules. You can whitelist sites, but the default behavior is to block content unless instructed otherwise. Our reader wanted to come at the problem from the other direction with a content blocker that only blocks elements on blacklisted sites.

That’s exactly what Punish does. It’s primarily an action extension that’s invoked from the system share sheet. When you come across a site that crosses your tolerance line for website clutter, all you need to do is tap the share icon in Safari and pick Punish. The extension UI will appear to confirm you want to add the site to your blacklist. After you tap the Done button, the site reloads free of distractions.

To take a site off your blacklist, simply open the app and swipe left to reveal a delete button or use the Edit button. Managing your list is simple, but I’d also like to see a Cancel button added to the extension for those circumstances where you have second thoughts about invoking the blocker.

I’m glad to see that Khanov developed Punish. It’s easy to paint all websites with the same anti-advertising brush, but the reality is that advertising is still a big part of how sites earn money and there’s a strong case for a more considered and deliberate approach, which Punish enables.

Punish Website is available on the App Store for $2.99.

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2183 days ago
This is exactly what I'd been looking for. Perfect.
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★ Apple Watch Series 3

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When is the right time to ship a product? In particular, a hardware product? The answer, sometimes, is not when it’s done, but rather when it’s useful.

The original Apple Watch was too slow. It was too dependent on being tethered to an iPhone. The user interface was too unfocused. But it was useful in some meaningful ways — primarily fitness tracking and as a convenient display for notifications.

With WatchOS 2 and 3, Apple focused the experience on fitness tracking and notifications. With last year’s Series 2 hardware, performance improved and the screen got much brighter, making it far more legible outdoors.

With the addition of cellular networking in Series 3, Apple Watch gains something essential: independence. It’s not just a cool feature. It’s aimed smack dab in the middle of the two things people like best about Apple Watch: notifications and fitness. When are you separated from your iPhone? When you’re exercising. What do you miss most when you’re away from your phone? Messages and phone calls.

Phone anxiety is a weird, and, for me at least, irrational thing. I know that mankind survived for millennia without the ability to communicate with each other out of ear shot. But once you get used to having your phone with you at all times, you get used to feeling that if anyone needs you, they can get you.

Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular networking completely alleviates this anxiety. It is not a replacement for a phone, and is not supposed to be. But it lets you leave your phone at home when you go for a run, or in your locker while you’re at the gym, or in your hotel while you go to the beach, and not worry in the least that you’re out of touch.

Audio quality for phone calls on the watch is very good. People I called via the watch said I sounded great, and I could hear them loud and clear. And all of my testing of phone calls on the watch took place mid-day on busy city streets — full of traffic and pedestrians — here in Philadelphia. People won’t know you’re calling them from your watch if you don’t tell them.

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

But it really feels like a big difference that Siri now talks back to you. The non-talking Siri on previous Apple Watches now feels half-baked to me. (And, at least here in the U.S., you get the new improved Siri voice that also ships with iOS 11.)

The only thing I don’t like about the addition of cellular networking to Apple Watch is out of Apple’s hands: the monthly price to add it to a cellular plan. AT&T and Verizon are both charging $10 a month per watch. I don’t expect it to be free, but $120 a year feels like too much for a device that I’m using instead of the iPhone I’m already paying (a lot) for. With our Verizon family plan, it also costs $10 a month to add an iPad. But an iPad is a device we use in addition to our phones, not instead of. I think $5 per month is the right price. (And DF readers in Canada and Australia report that that’s about what it costs from the carriers in those countries — this is perhaps a U.S. problem, not a worldwide one.)

Battery life has been fine. “All day” is about right — charging at night, using it all day, and I’ve had plenty left in the tank when I went to bed again. That said, I’ve been testing a 42mm watch. I can’t speak to the battery life of the 38mm models. This is what I expected, but it’s kind of exciting when you think about it. Apple turned Apple Watch into a goddamn cell phone, without making the device thicker1 or heavier, and it still lasts all day.

It’s worth thinking about that. Apple is a company that is driven to make its devices thinner and thinner. To the consternation of many users, when Apple creates more efficient chips, they tend to keep battery life the same while making the devices thinner, rather than keep the devices the same size and extend battery life with bigger batteries. But in the early years of a new product line, they don’t do that. iPhone stayed the same basic thickness until the iPhone 4. In those early generations, it was more important to add essential missing features, like 3G networking, a better camera, and a faster processor, than to make it thinner. Apple Watch might stay the same size for a few more years.

There’s no way to review this watch without mentioning the red dot on the digital crown. Every cellular equipped Series 3 watch, including all the stainless steel models, the ceramic Edition models, and the Hermès models, have this red dot. I don’t get it. It’s not that it looks bad in and of itself, but it draws unnecessary attention to itself. I would much prefer this watch if it were black. Also, red doesn’t go with everything, and a huge part of the fun of Apple Watch is swapping bands. Apple sells a lot of watch bands that clash with the red dot.2

The Future

My two big wishes for future generations of Apple Watch: a camera and some form of always-on display.

A camera is the one thing I miss when I leave my iPhone at home and go for a run. I have no idea how a camera could work ergonomically on a watch. Maybe it’s just not feasible. But it is mildly frustrating when I’m out on a run and see something interesting that I’d like to photograph. In the same way that always carrying a phone gets you used to always being in contact with friends, family, and colleagues, always carrying a camera gets you used to always being able to take a photo.

Raise-to-wake works about as well as I could hope it to, but as someone who regularly wears mechanical watches, trust me, it’s no substitution for always being able to glance at your wrist for the time. I don’t know what the answer is, technologically, but I feel like Apple has to be working on this, and that it’s coming in some future model.

WatchOS 4

This is not a full review of everything new in WatchOS 4, but there are two features I want to point out.

First, I love the new option to show the app screen as a simple vertically scrolling list of apps, sorted alphabetically. The honeycomb design — which is still the default in WatchOS 4 — has frustrated me ever since the original Watch. It’s a bad design in several ways:

  • The icons are unlabeled, and at a small size, many of them look very similar. At a glance the Stopwatch and Timer apps are practically identical.
  • The arrangement is seemingly random. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” trying to find a specific app.
  • The tap targets are way too small and packed too close to each other. Even when you find the app you’re looking for, it’s all to easy to accidentally launch a neighboring one.
  • It suggests that the Apple Watch is like an iPhone, with a home screen. It’s not. The “home” screen on Apple Watch is your watch face.

The new simple scrolling list of named apps solves all of these problems. I’d go so far as to say that Apple should have made this the default. The honeycomb design is a violation of the adage that design is how it works. The honeycomb looks cool, especially when you pan around, but it works like shit.

Second, there’s a new feature in WatchOS called “Auto-launch Audio Apps”. It’s in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, in the General: Wake Screen section. What happens with this is that when you initiate audio playback on your iPhone, if there’s a corresponding WatchOS app on your watch, when you raise your wrist that app is what you see, instead of your watch face. This was on by default with my review unit, which I set up as a new watch, and I noticed it while listening to podcasts in Overcast. Because I wasn’t expecting it, I was irritated at first, and thought about disabling it. But now that I know it’s there, I really like it. I don’t know how much of this to attribute to WatchOS 4, and how much to attribute to the performance improvements in Series 3, but there is zero lag involved. No spinner while the app launches or anything like that. When I play podcasts from my iPhone, my watch just automatically turns into a remote control for the audio playback. It’s nice.

  1. To be pedantic, as Jeff Williams pointed out on stage at the event last week, the casing for Series 3 watches is unchanged in size, but the covering on the back of the watch (ceramic on all cellular models, composite on non-cellular ones) is 0.2mm thicker. Not 2mm thicker — 0.2. As Williams described it, that’s “two sheets of paper”. Side-by-side it is indistinguishable in thickness compared to a Series 2, but I admire Apple’s exactitude. ↩︎

  2. While I’m talking about aesthetics, allow me to plop in an unrelated suggestion: try the “Bold Text” option in the Brightness & Text Size section of Settings. When you toggle this, the watch warns you that it will need to restart. That warning kept me from trying this option for a long time, because it takes Apple Watch so long to restart. I was worried that if I didn’t like the way Bold Text looked, I’d have to wait for two reboot cycles to get back to the default setting. But it’s not really a full reboot. WatchOS just needs to restart it’s presentation layer, much like on iOS when you switch to zoomed mode. And I really like the way Bold Text looks. Small text in complications just looks cooler, more like the way I’d expect small text to be printed on a nice mechanical watch. Seriously, give it a try. ↩︎︎

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2266 days ago
I disagree with Gruber about both the honeycomb design - it's much better than a list if you customise it. You get 6 large and 10 smaller icons you can immediately tap on to open those apps and you can choose which they are. With the list, unless you want the first 4 apps in the alphabet you've got to scroll.

...and also about the Auto-audio. It's kinda nice I suppose if you don't use audio a lot, but when I use my phone to listen to audio for many hours a day it gets turned off right away. I want to see my setup Watch face and complications when I look at my watch, not the audio app!
2265 days ago
+1000 to the auto-audio. It pops up when my phone is playing music via my car and its completely redundant to my car's display. If I look at the watch I want the face.
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America the plum blossoms are falling


It is five in the morning. After a little over four hours of restless sleep, I got out of bed before my tossing and turning woke up Anne. I’m not sleeping much recently, and what sleep I do get is plagued by nightmares.

It’s been raining all night, which I realize isn’t something worth mentioning for most people, but it hasn’t rained here in Los Angeles since 1856, so it’s kind of a big deal. Back in the old days, when it rained a few times a year, before the myth of climate change tricked us all into believing that we’re having a terrible drought that apparently doesn’t really exist, we would sleep with the window open on rainy nights, so we could hear and smell the rain.

My dogs looked at me with confusion when I got out of bed, then did the dog equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and burying themselves back into the covers. My cat wants me to let him out, stop the rain, dry off the patio, and then let him back in. And then back out. And then back in again because he’s a cat.

So. Let’s get to it: we’re fucked. Nothing matters, everything is terrible, and we’re living in a nightmare that hasn’t even begun to hint at how bad it’s going to get. I’ve been spending a lot of time going through the stages of grief, and though it’s mostly a lot of anger, I’m bargaining: maybe the Electoral College will step in and prevent this fucking catastrophe from happening. Maybe the vote will be audited in some of these states where the devil won by just barely over one percent, which is honestly kind of suspicious. Maybe the Democrats in Congress will be joined by a few principled Republicans (they exist, right? They have to exist, don’t they?) and the white nationalist cabinet this president elect wants to install won’t be confirmed.

Bargaining. I know it isn’t going to happen. I know we’re fucked.

Twenty-five percent of eligible voters elected a racist demagogue who has never held a single elected office in his life, a seventy year-old man who has the temperament of a child. I still can’t believe it. When I hear the news say “President Elect Trump” it turns my stomach. It’s such an affront to the country, to the office of the presidency, it feels like it isn’t real.

Hate crimes are happening all over the country. White supremacists, anti-semites, and the absolute worst of humanity feels validated by this election, and they are boldly and fearlessly attacking people, declaring that this election — votes cast by one in four eligible voters — endorses their hateful, bigoted, regressive world view.

Anger. This never should have happened.

How can so many people, even if they are a statistical minority, have no problem supporting a racist for president? What are these fucking idiots going to do when all the things he promised them don’t happen? They say they were voting against corruption and lobbyists and Establishment Washington, but one look at the men this narcissistic sociopath wants in the highest positions of government reveals that none of those things will be reflected in his administration. They won’t get their jobs, they won’t get their draining of the swamp, but we’re all going to get the racism, bigotry, ignorance, and white supremacy they had no problem voting for.

Denial. Somehow, someone is going to do something to stop this from happening. He’s breaking all sorts of ethical rules. He’s breaking diplomatic norms. He doesn’t even want to live in the fucking White House! He doesn’t want the job, he just wants the attention. This can’t be happening.

And back to Anger. And then more Bargaining.

And Depression. So much Depression.

Paul Ryan is going to destroy Medicare, just because he can. Because he is a selfish, evil, despicable man. For the first time in the history of the nation, the Senate refused to confirm a Supreme Court justice (and apparently even the fucking Democrats who we’re supposed to count on to fight back are fine with it) and now our nation will deal with a regressive, right-wing majority on the court for the rest of my life. The Republicans are going to roll back and undo and destroy as much of the social progress of the last 40 years as they can, and in the richest country in the world, our citizens will suffer needlessly, because people like Paul Ryan subscribe to a selfish, hateful, myopic philosophy created by an asshole who never had to experience the consequences of her bullshit.

All of this, and more, because of twenty-five percent of voters.

Oh, there’s Anger again.

And so it goes, this cycle of grief, for my country, for the freedom and hope and opportunity I’ve always believed is fundamental to the American identity, for my fellow humans who are going to suffer now and in the future.

All because twenty-five percent of voters looked at this despicable, hateful, ignorant liar, and voted for him and everything he represents.

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2567 days ago
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Images of New MacBook Pro With Magic Toolbar Leaked in MacOS Sierra 10.12.1

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Something something doubling down on secrecy.

Noteworthy: there is no hardware Esc key.

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2595 days ago
As a daily vim user, the lack of a hardware escape key makes me very sad.
2595 days ago
Dealing with that on the iPad pro has prevented me from using it daily; which basically makes it a really fantastic media consuming device (and sketchpad.)
2595 days ago
2595 days ago
10.12.1 apparently allows you to set any of the modifier keys or caps lock to act as escape. Of course, apps like terminal might just present you with an esc button on the "Magic Toolbar" in the same palce you expect it.
2595 days ago
Remapping is in no way a suitable replacement, since it's the muscle memory of hitting the Esc key in the top left corner that's built in. Just like some laptop keyboards that put a different key to the left of Escape are similarly troublesome. Configurable toolbar is certainly the only thing that can redeem this removal, but I'm concerned how user-accessable that will be. I'm sure there will be cases I would prefer to have access to the Esc key and the developer will think they know better.
2595 days ago
That's completely fair. Hopefully there'll be some global configuration for the user, not just control given to apps. There are other buttons like volume or brightness users may want available at all times too.
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★ On iMessage’s Stickiness


Lauren Goode, writing for The Verge a few weeks ago, “iMessage Is the Glue That Keeps Me Stuck to the iPhone”:

As someone who vacillates between iOS and Android fairly often, but who considers a lightly cracked iPhone 6S her daily driver, I’m also considering whether the Pixel phone is the next phone to buy. All of the software I use now is available on Android: all of my top email, calendar, music, fitness, photography, task-based, work collaboration, and social networking apps are there.

But one app is not, and that’s iMessage.

There is a lot of truth here, especially for people who are largely in the Google ecosystem for email, calendaring, photos, etc. A lot of them use iPhones with Google apps, not Android phones. I know several people who think iPhones are better client devices for Google’s ecosystem than Android devices running Google’s own operating system. In particular, I think this is very common in Silicon Valley. I notice it frequently when I see the homescreens on iPhones used by members of the press who cover the wider industry (as opposed to those who focus more on Apple). That’s who I think Google’s Pixel phones are aimed at: not the mass market, per se, but the technical elite who are currently using a lot of Google services on iPhones. Another way to put it: if the Pixels don’t get Google employees who use iPhones to switch, nothing will.

See, for example, this year-old BuzzFeed column by Charlie Warzel, “Apple’s Junk Drawer Problem”:

There’s a folder on the homescreen of my iPhone affectionately labeled “Apple Crap.” Inside, a colony of flattened, painstakingly designed app icons gather dust. With the exception of the Health and Podcast apps, I’ve become accustomed to relegating Apple’s (undeletable) native apps to the junk drawer. The containment strategy started back in 2012, when Apple Maps suggested I head to a work meeting in the middle of the Hudson River, and I’ve never looked back. An informal office poll also concluded that I’m not alone. We’ll wait hours in line in the cold/heat/rain/snow for a shiny new piece of Apple hardware — but once we get it, the first thing we do is fill it with third-party services, leaving Apple’s proprietary apps tucked away in lonely folders on third or fourth screens.

That doesn’t sound like a typical iPhone user, who is likely to use all or most of Apple’s built-in apps. Apple Maps, for example, is far more popular on iOS than Google Maps. But Warzel’s description sounds exactly like the sort of iPhone users who might be tempted by the Pixel. There’s a split between iPhone users who are primarily part of the Apple ecosystem (iCloud, Safari, Apple Mail, …) and those who are part of the Google ecosystem (Google Drive, Google Calendar, Chrome, Gmail, …).

iMessage is an exception. With iMessage you get to connect both with iPhone users in the Google ecosystem and iPhone users in the Apple ecosystem. For a lot of us here in the U.S., that’s just about everyone we know. It’s no coincidence that two of Google’s major Android initiatives this year are Allo and Duo, their answers to iMessage and FaceTime. I don’t think it’s going to work. iPhone users on the Google ecosystem might install Duo and Allo, and those who switch to Pixel phones will have them installed by default. But I don’t see why iPhone users on the Apple ecosystem will install either Duo or Allo in large enough numbers to make a difference. Anyone who switches to a Pixel phone from an iPhone is still going to miss iMessage and FaceTime.

iMessage and FaceTime are tied to the same Apple ID system, but there’s a subtle difference between their rises in popularity. iMessage gained traction by replacing SMS — you just did what you used to do before iMessage existed and the messages went over iMessage instead of SMS if both people were signed into iCloud. The way Apple usurped SMS for their own users and let SMS remain as a fallback for texting with everyone else was simply genius.

FaceTime, on the other hand, introduced something new: low-latency, high-quality video chat. FaceTime wasn’t the first video chat to exist, but it was the first one to matter in the mass market. I’ve lost track of the TV shows and movies where I’ve seen characters using FaceTime, often mentioning it by name. FaceTime is a meaningful part of the lives of millions of families.

Back to Goode:

Back in June, when Apple showed off a bunch of new iMessage features and said it would be opening up iMessage to third-party app developers, some people wondered whether the company would go even a step further and bring iMessage to Android phones. It was a valid question in the “who-really-knows-what-Apple-will-do” sense, but still, the idea made little sense to me. Of course Apple wasn’t going to allow iMessage to function on Android: iMessage is the glue that keeps people stuck to their iPhones and Macs.

The iMessage-for-Android rumor was started by MacDailyNews, and while I wouldn’t have bet on it, I wasn’t entirely dismissive. I still think it might happen sooner or later. Here’s what I wrote in June:

It’s a little surprising if true, but remember that Apple is now boasting about its prowess as a services company. Messaging is a service. And it makes even more sense if, as rumored, there’s a payments component coming to iMessage.

I’ve heard from little birdies that mockups of iMessage for Android have circulated within the company, with varying UI styles ranging from looking like the iOS Messages app to pure Material Design.1 iMessage for Android may never see the light of day, but the existence of detailed mockups strongly suggests that there’s no “of course not” to it.

As an iOS/MacOS exclusive, iMessage is a glue that “keeps people stuck to their iPhones and Macs”, not the glue. iMessage for Android would surely sure lead some number of iPhone users to switch to Android, but I think that number is small enough to be a rounding error for Apple. Apple wins by creating devices and experiences that people want to use, not that they have to use. Apple creates desire, not obligation. If the iPhone isn’t thriving simply by being the best, then Apple is already in deep trouble. I would argue that in some ways Apple might be better off releasing iMessage for Android, simply to remove a crutch.2

But for a company that has failed at most attempts to create social networks, Apple has inadvertently built one with all of those little blue bubbles.

There’s nothing inadvertent about iMessage’s success.

  1. Apple Music for Android, for example, is very Material Design-y. It uses Android’s system font, the Android standard hamburger menu for the sidebar, Android’s sharing menu icon, Android-style navigation controller transition animations, and more. I may not be well-enough attuned to idiomatic Android UI design to notice where Apple Music is iOS-y, but I can categorically state that Apple Music for Android is far more Android-y than any of Google’s iOS apps are iOS-y. ↩︎

  2. Every time I bring up FaceTime, at least one reader will pipe up asking about Steve Jobs’s on-stage promise at its premiere in 2010 to release FaceTime as an “open standard”. That went wrong two ways. First, the story I’ve been told is that releasing FaceTime as an open standard was a decision Jobs made unilaterally while working on the 2010 WWDC keynote. The FaceTime engineering team learned about it when we did — when Jobs promised it on stage. It wasn’t designed or engineered from the outset to be by open, and so even under the best of circumstances, it might have taken years for FaceTime to go open. But even worse, Apple lost a patent lawsuit over FaceTime that required them to change FaceTime’s architecture.

    So I don’t think we’re ever actually going to see FaceTime as an open standard. But I think the sentiment that drove Jobs to want it to be an open standard applies to the idea of releasing iMessage for Android. Apple doesn’t need to rely on platform-exclusive lock-in. ↩︎︎

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2596 days ago
I like iMessage, but in the UK I don't see (or hear of) it as anything more than a simple SMS replacement. It's just that when I text someone, sometimes there's some other options. I don't think there is any of this supposed 'glue' that makes people stick with iOS.
2596 days ago
I think the main thing is that you can use imessage from any apple device on your account. On an android phone, there are no sms syncing services so you always have to pick up your phone to text someone.
2596 days ago
Actually, I think that the best thing about iMessage is that it is anti-sticky. Since it works both as its own protocol and a simple SMS client, switching from iMessage to an Android messaging app doesn't mean losing all of your contacts. If you leave any other service, you have to figure out anew how to talk to that same set of people again. Assuming that they are even on the new service. The relative ease of moving between iMessage and normal texting is the best thing about it.
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2595 days ago
Of course does iMessage hold a candle to the dominance of Whatsapp outside the US?
New York, NY
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