TidBITS#1199/11-Nov-2013

Want a new iPad, but can’t choose between the new iPad Air and the upcoming iPad mini with Retina display? Josh Centers gives a hands-on impression of the iPad Air to help you decide if it’s right for you. Apple has released an update for the Mail app in Mavericks — Josh has the details and Joe Kissell issues his verdict. Michael Cohen looks into metadata messes in both iBooks and with ringtones in iTunes, and Adam Engst shares the fun from MacTech Conference 2013. Have one of the new iPads and want to show it off? Our latest installment of FunBITS looks at Infinity Blade III, which pushes Apple’s mobile devices to their limits. Also this week for TidBITS members is Chapter 3 of Josh’s in-progress ebook, “Take Control of Apple TV,” which is literally about taking control of your Apple TV with the Apple Remote, Remote app for iOS, infrared remote, or Bluetooth keyboard. Notable software releases this week include MacBook Pro Retina EFI Updates 1.2 and 1.3, Marked 2.1, iBooks 1.0.1, and iTunes 11.1.3.
 
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Apple Updates Mail to Address Mavericks Bugs

  by Josh Centers: josh@tidbits.com, @jcenters
  44 comments

Apple has released an update for the Mail app in OS X 10.9 Mavericks to address some of the Gmail issues outlined by Joe Kissell late last month (see “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation,” 22 October 2013).

The 32.46 MB Mail Update for Mavericks, which you can get via Software Update or download from Apple’s Web site, claims to fix the inability to delete, move, and archive messages when using custom Gmail settings; inaccurate unread mail counts; and other unspecified bugs.

It’s clear that Apple intended to make Mail in 10.9 Mavericks work better with Google’s popular email service, but the result for many was a broken mess. It will take time before we know for sure if Apple’s update solves the problems, but since support for the 20-year-old IMAP must by necessity be bolted on to Gmail’s modern architecture, there will always be some disconnect — if not outright incompatibilities — between Gmail and an IMAP client like Mail.

If this update does not resolve the particular problems you’re seeing with Gmail, your best bet may be either to use Mailplane, which encapsulates the Gmail Web app within a native Mac wrapper (to see why TidBITS publisher Adam Engst likes Mailplane, read “Zen and the Art of Gmail, Part 4: Mailplane,” 16 March 2011), or to follow in Joe Kissell’s footsteps and leave Gmail for a more standards-compliant email provider (see “Joe Kissell Says Sayonara to Gmail,” 31 October 2013).

While he can’t offer a concrete recommendation, Joe has now weighed in on the update, in “Mail in Mavericks: Is It Safe Yet?” (11 November 2013). We’ll continue to track the various problems readers are reporting in the comments on all these articles and will share any important solutions we find.

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Mail in Mavericks: Is It Safe Yet?

  by Joe Kissell: joe@tidbits.com, @joekissell
  12 comments

Since I was the one who raised such a ruckus about the original release of Apple Mail in OS X 10.9 Mavericks (see “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation,” 22 October 2013), lots of people have been asking me whether the recent Mail update fixes everything (see “Apple Updates Mail to Address Mavericks Bugs,” 7 November 2013). Is it now safe to upgrade to Mavericks and use Mail with Gmail accounts, and can you now experience at least the same degree of email functionality found in the 10.8 Mountain Lion version of Mail? My official answer is a qualified “Maybe, sorta.”

On the positive side, the update — which leaves Mail’s version number at 7.0 but increases the build number from 1816 to 1822 — appears to address two big problems for most people. The first is that if you have Gmail’s All Mail label hidden, messages you delete or file should no longer reappear in your Inbox. And the second is that Mail should no longer spend extended periods of time out of sync with your Gmail Inbox. I’m glad to see those fixes, as those were probably the two most serious problems.

But you’ll notice I’ve used weasel words like “most” and “should” and “appears,” because some users are still having trouble in these two areas. Anecdotal evidence suggests that you’ll increase your chances of success by deleting your Gmail account from Mail, adding it back, and waiting for all your messages to sync yet again.

Even though the release notes for the update claim it also fixes problems with unread message counts, numerous people are still seeing incorrect behavior there. And, as far as I can tell, all the other problems with Mail in Mavericks are unchanged. Rules and smart mailboxes still have issues, AppleScripts targeting Gmail mailboxes won’t work, Gmail mailboxes can’t be arranged in arbitrary order, you’re still forced to use default locations for Sent and Trash, IMAP accounts must download all messages in their entirety, and the list goes on.

If you were holding off on upgrading to Mavericks because of the Mail problems, all I can say is that it’s safer now than it was at first. I can’t guarantee you a trouble-free experience, and without a doubt, some people upgrading from Mountain Lion will feel the new version of Mail is a distinct downgrade. It all depends on how you use Mail, and as we’ve seen, each person approaches it a bit differently from the next.

As for me, I haven’t had any complaints about Mail in Mavericks since I stopped using Gmail and switched to a conventional IMAP provider, as I discussed in a Macworld article. I don’t know if Mail would be working as well if my 300,000+ messages were still on Gmail’s servers, but I’m certainly not going to move them back there just to find out. For my own needs, Mail in Mavericks is back to usability — and would have been even without the recent update. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

If the Mail update doesn’t cut it for you, your options remain as before. You can do as I did and switch to a different provider if your problems are specific to Gmail. You can switch to a different email client, of which there are many choices. You can use a Web-based mail interface, assuming your provider offers one. Or you can keep waiting and hope for better news in a future update.

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The Case of the Unsynced Ringtones

  by Michael E. Cohen: mcohen@tidbits.com, @lymond

I don’t go overboard when it comes to ringtones, but I do like to have a few custom ones on hand to personalize my iOS devices so, when I’m hanging out with other iPhone users, I can tell when it’s mine announcing new incoming mail and not someone else’s. There are a number of easy ways to make a custom ringtone, but I tend to use Ambrosia’s inexpensive iToner for the job.

This worked fine for me until I took delivery of a new iPad Air and tried to sync my ringtones to it. That’s when I found that several of my ringtones just wouldn’t sync to my new lightweight tablet. After several tries, I activated the sidebar in iTunes (View > Show Sidebar), selected my iPad, and took a look at the ringtones that iTunes thought were on my device. That’s when I saw that several were marked with a hollow-circle symbol that I’d never seen in iTunes before.

Image

When I looked through my Tones collection in my iTunes library, I discovered something special about the missing ringtones: each of the missing tones had a genre of “Ringtone” assigned to it, and all had been created by iToner. On a hunch, I selected one of the missing melodies, chose File > Get Info, and clicked the Info tab in the window. At the bottom of the window, I selected the text of the Genre field and deleted it. I then attempted another sync with my iPad and the ringtone that I had de-genre-fied synced successfully.


At the time, I didn’t bother to edit the info of any of my other tones that had the Ringtone genre assigned: I had synced the one that I wanted on my iPad the most; the others could wait.

However, since my discovery, Apple released iTunes 11.1.3, which lists, among other improvements, “minor bug fixes” to its predecessor, version 11.1.2. iTunes 11.1.2 was the version I had used that did not like syncing tones with a genre assigned to them. When I synced my new iPad with iTunes 11.1.3, all of my ringtones, including those with a genre applied, had no problems syncing.

So, if you are an iToner user or if you like to assign genres to your ringtones, and you find that some ringtones aren’t syncing with your devices like they used to, the syncing solutions are simple: either delete the genre assignments, or, even better, update to iTunes 11.1.3.

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Managing an iBooks Metadata Mess

  by Michael E. Cohen: mcohen@tidbits.com, @lymond
  17 comments

You’ve downloaded a shiny new EPUB from somewhere that isn’t Apple’s rechristened iBooks Store, and it’s on your Desktop in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. You drop that EPUB file on the iBooks icon, the book opens, and you read it with pleasure. Then, one day, you look at the Categories view in iBooks and you notice that the EPUB is part of an ever-growing category known as Uncategorized. This astonishes you because the same EPUB, when you synced it from your Mac to your iPad through iTunes, shows up categorized as Fiction. What gives? Why is it Uncategorized on your Mac and Fiction on your iPad?


It’s because of an odd bug in iBooks. It all has to do with metadata (embedded information about your ebook), and how iBooks handles that metadata for EPUBs that originate from outside the iBooks Store.

(Things are going to get geeky here, so if that frightens you, skip down to the end of the article where I explain how to work around this bug.)

EPUBs and Metadata -- Some months back I wrote a piece about managing book metadata in iTunes, “Managing Books in iTunes: This Novel Has a Nice Beat,” 14 January 2013. In it, I described two files that, between them, control how iBooks lists a book.

An EPUB is actually a specially constructed .zip archive that contains a bunch of other files. One of the two files that I talked about can be found inside every EPUB: the .opf file. Among other things, the .opf file contains a bunch of metadata statements — that is, specific bits of code that describe the EPUB. One of these (or maybe more than one, but only the first one is recognized by iBooks) describes the EPUB’s subject. For example, a statement like Fiction says that the EPUB is Fiction. Ideally, when the EPUB ends up in iBooks, it will be assigned to the Fiction category.

iBooks, however, doesn’t use the raw metadata in the .opf file for assigning the EPUB to a category. Instead, it uses a special file designed by Apple for use in iBooks (and, as you might guess from its name, in iTunes). This file is named iTunesMetadata.plist. The iTunesMetadata.plist contains a bunch of metadata entries about the EPUB. One of those entries, named “genre”, is the one that iBooks uses to assign an EPUB to a category.

But, you may be thinking, where does that iTunesMetadata.plist come from? Good question. When you buy an EPUB from the iTunes Store, the iTunesMetadata.plist is already inside the EPUB. However, for EPUBs that come from other sources, there is no such file. Before Mavericks, iTunes would make this file when you added the EPUB to your book library in iTunes; what is interesting is that in this bright new shiny iBooks-on-the-Mac era, iTunes still does this job!

When you add an EPUB to iBooks from a source other than the iBooks Store, iBooks sends out a call to iTunes to look into the EPUB’s .opf file, scavenge through the metadata as best it can, and use what it finds to create an iTunesMetadata.plist for the EPUB and fill it with data. So, if the EPUB contains the statement Fiction in its .opf file, the “Fiction” part of the statement becomes the “genre” in the iTunesMetadata.plist file that iTunes creates for the EPUB.

Great! Except for that bug I mentioned. And here it is: iBooks apparently assigns a newly added EPUB to a category before iTunes has a chance to create the iTunesMetadata.plist file and let iBooks know about it. And, since the EPUB has no iTunesMetadata.plist, and hence no “genre” entry, at the time the EPUB is assigned to a category, it ends up being categorized as Uncategorized.

However, when iTunes finishes its iTunesMetadata.plist construction project, the EPUB in your iBooks library on the Mac does have the file. Consequently, the next time you sync your Mac’s iBooks library with your iPad (and you do that via iTunes, so, even if iTunes wasn’t running when you added your EPUB to iBooks, it can build the file when you sync), the EPUB that you sync to your iPad contains the iTunesMetadata.plist file, and the book shows up on your iPad categorized as Fiction.

And that’s why your EPUB is Uncategorized on your Mac but is Fiction on your iPad.

The Workaround -- Because iBooks 1.0 on Mavericks lacks the Get Info command that iTunes has, you have no way of editing the “genre” for the book to fix it. However, here’s what you can do to make iBooks on your Mac display the EPUB in the proper category.

First, make sure that iTunes is running. Next, open the new EPUB in iBooks. This causes iBooks to make a copy of the EPUB, store it deep inside your ~/Library folder, and to ask iTunes to add an iTunesMetadata.plist file to the book.

Next, drag the EPUB from the iBooks Library window to your Desktop. This causes iBooks to make another copy of the EPUB that it just created and put it on your Desktop. At this point you have three copies of the book: the original (with no iTunesMetadata.plist file), the copy inside of your ~/Library folder (with its new iTunesMetadata.plist file), and a new copy on your Desktop (also with an iTunesMetadata.plist file inside).

Now for the switcheroo: Select the EPUB in iBooks (make sure you are looking at All Books view), and choose Edit > Delete (or just press the Delete key). iBooks asks you if you are sure you want to delete the book from your Mac. You are, so click Delete.

Finally, drag the copy of the EPUB that iBooks created on your Desktop back into iBooks. When you look at the EPUB’s category in iBooks it now reflects the “genre” entry in the iTunesMetadata.plist file.

(You might think you could edit the “genre” statement in an EPUB’s iTunesMetadata.plist file directly, using a text editor like BBEdit or Xcode’s Property List Editor, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, it’s harder than just exporting and reimporting, since iBooks hides your EPUBs deep within your Home directory’s Library; you can find them here: ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService/Data/Documents/iBooks/Books. However, iBooks also expands each EPUB file into a folder, and names that folder with a unique string of essentially random characters, so good luck figuring out which book goes with which folder!)

This is a silly workaround for a silly but incredibly annoying bug, but what can you do? Wait for Apple to bring back Get Info in iBooks? It may be a while…

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MacTech Conference 2013 Abounds with Networking and Fun

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst

It’s almost a trope that online communications will be the death of the conference. Why spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to fly about the world and stay in an expensive hotel when you could instead interact with colleagues via email, instant messaging, or the social media craze du jour? Don’t get me wrong — there’s a place for all that digital flitting about, and I certainly do my share.

But a role remains for the traditional conference, and while some muddle along with the never-quite-comfortable rows of chairs, earnest speakers, and inevitable salmon-and-rice dinner, MacTech Conference transcends the genre.

What sets MacTech apart is its attention to detail, from the double-sided name tags that never obscure your identity and obsessive focus on making the Wi-Fi network fly, to a relationship with the hotel that results in executive functionaries overseeing meal service personally. Sponsors are given constant exposure and appreciation without pandering, the conference organizers circulate among and chat with attendees at all times, and the whole thing gathers an air of summer camp by the end.

Leaving is a little hard. You feel like you need to say goodbye to too many people — the guy who brings a stuffed rhino with him on all trips so he can send home pictures of it to his family, the woman who does IT support for Disney and has a custom Alice in Wonderland desktop, the man you met at breakfast one day who happens to work with an old college friend of yours, and so on. And often, that final conversation closes with a jaunty, “See you next year!”

It shouldn’t be surprising. Yes, MacTech has numerous sessions for Apple-oriented developers and IT professionals, mostly given by members of the community. A few presentations were a little rough, since the conference prides itself on bringing new voices to the stage, but the information conveyed was generally high quality and useful. There were also thoughtful opening and closing sessions, by Ars Technica editor Jacqui Cheng and the inimitable Andy Ihnatko.

But the real value of MacTech lies in the informal networking, which Neil Ticktin and the MacTech staff support by feeding the attendees repeatedly (14 meals in all) to encourage mealtime mingling and by scheduling numerous breaks at which people discuss the session they just left, or segue from it to another topic. For me and Tonya, the conference was worthwhile just for the unexpected time we ended up spending with representatives from eSellerate, the Digital River subsidiary that handles our Take Control shopping cart.

The networking aspects certainly help bring people together, but what cements those bonds are MacTech’s special events. This year brought a day of test drives of the Tesla Model S that were so popular that when my turn rolled around, I had a full back seat with Tonya, Andy Ihnatko, and our eSellerate buddy Jon Tewes. Speaking as an expert product reviewer, I recommend you buy one immediately, assuming you have between $60,000 and $120,000 burning a hole in your pocket.


Then there was the gleeful geeking out over the actual bridge from the Enterprise-D from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Lovingly restored by the non-profit organization New Starship, it’s huge fun, and the first step in what the group hopes will culminate in the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum, where the bridge will be outfitted with live touch screens so kids can play at Star Trek while learning about science and engineering. It’s a worthy cause, and the organization’s founder, who was far from being a Mac geek, was overwhelmed by the level of interest.


In a jump from the fictional to the real, the first evening event was a reception underneath the surprisingly large Space Shuttle Endeavor, housed at the California Science Center. With conversations bolstered by docents who had worked on the engines, visiting scientists from Jet Propulsion Laboratory who talked about their projects, and a rover from Wolfgang Fink of the University of Arizona’s Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, it was an evening the numerous space geeks among the attendees will likely never forget. The second evening’s event wasn’t so geeky — a night of In-n-Out burgers, go cart racing, batting cages, rock wall climbing, miniature golf, and laser tag — but still vastly more fun than an awkward industry party with drinks and finger food.



We were happy to contribute to the entertainment as well. To celebrate Take Control’s tenth anniversary in the flesh (see “Celebrating Ten Years of Take Control,” 28 October 2013), Tonya and I put together the Take Control Tech Up, a quiz show event for the 350 attendees. Wonderfully emceed by Andy Ihnatko, we challenged the attendees with a set of difficult trivia questions pulled from our 23+ years of experience covering Apple for TidBITS and amassing a catalog of over 125 ebooks.

We started with a selection round, where everyone stood up and raised red or blue cards to answer A/B-type questions; those who answered wrong had to sit down. After five or ten of those questions, we had winnowed it down to nine contestants who came up on stage for an elimination round, where they had to come up with the correct answers — no A/B or multiple choice! — to another 50 questions.

When one contestant answered wrong, the next person was given a chance, on down the line, and if no one got the answer right, we opened it up to shouts from the audience. A correct answer, or a wrong one that elicited enough laughs from the audience, garnered a point, and at the end of 50 questions, we awarded the seven lowest scorers full access to all Take Control titles, leaving freelance coder Gwynne Raskind and Mac consultant Allister Banks on stage for the final prize round — Gwynne had dominated the elimination round with correct answers while Allister supplemented his right answers with a number of laugh points.

They then went head-to-head with another 11 questions in the same format, competing for the somewhat absurd choice between a scrumptious lemon Bundt cake and a new iPad mini, both also packaged with the entire Take Control library. Gwynne continued her streak of correct answers and didn’t hesitate to pick the iPad as her prize, leaving Allister with the cake to eat while he read from his Take Control library.

Timing was our main worry going in: did we have enough questions, would the audience stay engaged the entire time, and so on. Overall, it went extremely well, though if we were to do it again — perhaps next year at MacTech — we’d start the selection round with easier questions that get progressively harder; our selection questions knocked out a lot of people a bit too quickly. In the end, the event lasted about an hour, and could have been shortened with fewer questions in the elimination round. If anyone is interested in replicating the Tech Up for another event and has questions, I’m happy to answer them.

I’m also researching interesting ways to put our questions online for everyone to test their Apple knowledge against (no turning to Google for help!). If you know of a particularly good quiz site, let me know.

In the end, MacTech Conference was again a hit (for my write-up of the previous installment, see “MacTech Conference 2012 Opens Mental Doors,” 22 October 2012), and see you next year, where the main question is what Neil Ticktin and crew will come up with to top a visit to the Endeavor.

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Chapter 3 of “Take Control of Apple TV” Available

  by Adam C. Engst: ace@tidbits.com, @adamengst

We’re back with the latest chapter in “Take Control of Apple TV.” With setup complete, author Josh Centers turns his attention in Chapter 3, “Control Your Apple TV,” to teaching you all the different ways to make your Apple TV do your bidding. The obvious approach is with the included Apple Remote, but Josh also explains how you can use Apple’s free Remote app for iOS, any random infrared remote you may have, or even a Bluetooth keyboard.

Why might you want to go beyond the Apple Remote? As Josh explains, the Apple Remote is small and easily lost, and its hunt-and-peck approach to entering text is painful. The just-updated Remote app makes typing easier, and offers direct control over content (so you can play or pause a movie from your iPhone, rather than mess about on the TV screen). But when you do need to use the Apple TV’s normal interface, the gestures in the Remote app are a bit slippery. Apart from typing, teaching your Apple TV to respond to a standard infrared remote is a surprisingly good option, especially if you can map Apple TV functions to unused keys on your TV’s remote, as I’ve done. And while a Bluetooth keyboard (or a Mac running Type2Phone; see “Type2Phone: Use Your Mac as a Keyboard for iOS Devices,” 10 April 2013) may seem like overkill, it actually works well, particularly if you do a lot of searching, such as for videos in the Apple TV’s YouTube app. And please, keep those comments and questions coming!

As with Chapter 2, “Set Up Your Apple TV,” this chapter is available for free, but only to TidBITS members; everyone is welcome to read Chapter 1, “Introducing Apple TV,” to see what Josh plans to cover. The full ebook will be available for purchase by everyone in PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle) formats once it’s complete.

Publishing this book in its entirety for TidBITS members as it’s being written is one of the ways we thank TidBITS members for their support. We also hope it encourages those of you who have been reading TidBITS for free for years to help us continue to bring you carefully considered, professionally written and edited articles each week (for more details, see “TidBITS Needs Your Support in 2013: Join Our Membership Program,” 17 December 2012).

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Is the iPad Air Right for You?

  by Josh Centers: josh@tidbits.com, @jcenters
  4 comments

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. But after a year of intriguing apps appearing from iOS developers and the release of the iPad 2 — lighter, thinner, and faster than the original — I decided to get one for myself.

My patience paid off, because not only is Apple still supporting the iPad 2 with iOS 7, they’re still selling it two years later! In some ways, the iPad 2 was superior to its third- and fourth-generation offerings. Despite lacking a Retina display, the iPad 2 was lighter, thinner, and cooler. I tried a friend’s third-generation iPad and was unimpressed with the heat and heft. But while the iPad 2 was the lightest full-size iPad available, it was still heavier than I would have liked, and I was never a fan of its low-resolution screen. Apple had addressed the second problem while exacerbating the first.

Apparently I wasn’t alone, because not only did Apple keep the iPad 2 around, the non-Retina iPad mini, itself a miniaturized iPad 2, was a smash hit. The iPad mini ended up being my wife’s first iPad. For her, like many people, speed and screen resolution are secondary to portability.

Apple paid attention, and with the iPad Air, the company has pulled off a remarkable feat of engineering: making it 0.05 inches (1.3 mm) thinner than the iPad 2, almost a third lighter (469 versus 662 grams) than the fourth-generation iPad, and 0.63 inches (16.2 mm) skinnier than any previous full-size iPad while maintaining a 9.7-inch Retina display — with no sacrifice in battery life. Users seem to appreciate Apple’s little miracle, since T-Mobile and AT&T are selling them in droves.

The iPad Air is the iPad I’ve been waiting for. But Apple complicated the decision with an embarrassment of riches. Later this month, it will release a second-generation iPad mini with Retina display. Unlike the original, this iPad mini isn’t made from leftovers — it features the same powerful A7 chip that powers the iPad Air. On the flip side, it’s also 0.05 pounds (23 grams) heavier, 0.01 inches (0.3 mm) thicker, and $70 more expensive than the original iPad mini, bringing it closer to the iPad Air’s weight and price.

The similarities have paralyzed some of Apple’s customers. Most folks already know if they’re going to buy one of the new iPads, the question is, “Which one?” Apple has narrowed the gap between the two devices. The iPad Air is only 0.3 pounds (138 grams) heavier than the upcoming iPad mini, and both are 0.3 inches (7.5 mm) thick. Is the extra screen size worth $100 and slightly more size and weight? I too had this dilemma, and after a few days with the iPad Air, I’d like to help you make your decision as well.

How Light Is Light? -- Among the numerous iPad Air reviews, no one can agree on just how heavy — or light — the iPad Air is. Sure, we all agree on the objective weight of a hair over 1 pound (469 grams), but how does that affect the way we use the device? After all, there’s a big difference between a 1-pound boot and a 1-pound wristwatch.

The simplest answer is that it feels heavier than the first-generation iPad mini, but much lighter than any previous full-size iPad. But you probably already guessed that.

Picking up the iPad Air is notably easier than the iPad 2. I can easily grab it with one hand and be off. I could do that with the iPad 2, but the weight always caused me to ask if I wanted to bring the iPad with me wherever. Often, that answer was “no,” but with the iPad Air, I’m finding myself saying “yes” more often.

For grabbing and going, the iPad Air is light as a feather. Where I start to feel the heft is when I hold it unsupported for extended periods. Nevertheless, I find myself being able to hold on for much longer than I did with my iPad 2. As a test, I tried out the iPad version of the game Grand Theft Auto III. With the iPad 2, I could hold it for only a few minutes before my RSI-hampered wrists began to give out. But with the iPad Air, I was able to complete a few missions before needing a break — about 20 to 30 minutes.

For bedtime reading, where I prop my elbows on the bed and the iPad on my chest, the difference is night and day. The iPad Air feels more like a magazine and less like a dinner plate. While I barely tolerated the iPad 2’s weight while reading in bed, the iPad Air doesn’t bother me at all. And when it’s time to put it on the nightstand and drift off to sleep, I can put it away with one hand easily, whereas setting aside the iPad 2 was often a clumsy, two-handed affair.

What About Typing? -- One of the biggest distinctions between the full-size iPad and the iPad mini is typing style. If you’re a thumb typist, like MacStories’ Federico Viticci, the iPad mini is superior due to its lighter weight and 1.37 inches (34.8 mm) less width. But, if you prefer landscape orientation, a full-size iPad is better for the larger keyboard space.

That basic distinction remains unchanged with the new models. But, with the iPad Air, Apple has moved toward the iPad mini’s design. The iPad Air is now 0.64 inches (16.2 mm) skinnier than its predecessors, meaning that portrait typing is much improved over the original design (the below picture demonstrates the decreased width, with the iPad 2 on bottom and the iPad Air on top). I wouldn’t want to type an entire article in portrait orientation on the iPad Air, but it’s fine for email, text messages, and Internet searches.


Perhaps my favorite aspect of the iPad Air is the thinner side bezels. It not only makes typing in portrait orientation easier, but it makes it easier to prop in my lap in landscape orientation, to pick up, and to hold.

Content Creation vs. Content Consumption -- Since the dawn of the iPad in 2010, a silly debate keeps emerging: is the iPad a content creation device or a content consumption device? Let me make something clear: the iPad is both. For that matter, so is the iPhone, a fact which no one ever seems to bring up. On either device, I can take and edit photos, write text, compose music, edit video, watch movies, and read books. The only pure content consumption device Apple makes is the Apple TV.

But, having cleared that up, I think most customers buy the iPad with consumption in mind, so let’s start there. The iPad you choose depends on the type of media you enjoy on it. Either screen size is fine for video. The iPad Air’s larger screen is better for viewing, but the iPad mini’s size and weight make it easier to hold throughout a two-hour movie.

For readers, the choice comes down to what you like to read. The new iPad mini will have the same 2048-by-1536 resolution screen as the larger Air, which actually makes for a theoretically sharper screen, since it will pack in 62 more pixels per inch (PPI). In practice, I’m not sure you’ll notice. If you prefer novels, I think the iPad mini will be the way to go, due to the higher PPI (326) screen and smaller size. But if what you read is heavy on images, like magazines and comics, then I’d recommend the iPad Air. Comic books on the iPad Air’s display are fantastic.

I think gamers will be better off with an iPad mini, because it’ll be easier to hold for extended periods, and the smaller screen will mean that onscreen controls won’t demand as much thumb stretching. But, when iOS 7’s promised MFi game controllers start to hit the market, they may tip the scales toward the iPad Air’s larger screen.

Music lovers will be thrilled by this overlooked tidbit: the iPad Air features stereo speakers — it’s the first full-size iPad to have them. While I’m no audiophile, they sound fantastic. I fired up Lorde’s hit song, “Royals,” and I could hear hints of the rich bass in the song’s opening notes. While nowhere near as deep as my Sony MDR-V6 headphones, it sounded better than the tinny speakers in my MacBook Pro.

For those who not only consume, but produce, content on their iPads, the lighter weight, sleeker profile, and fast A7 processor are wins all around. If you were already productive on the iPad, the iPad Air can only be an improvement.

For me, the limitations of the iPad for getting things done haven’t been hardware, but software. The iPad 2’s A5 chip was more than powerful enough for writing text, Web browsing, and light image editing. No amount of CPU power, of course, is going to magically install a full-featured SVN client or Nisus Writer Pro on my iPad — though it might make the developers more likely to create them. While the iPad has some innovative apps like Pythonista for automation and Editorial for writing, software remains the iPad’s productivity weak point.

I’m with John Gruber on this — until the iPad has tools with the power of the two-decade-old BBEdit, it can’t be my primary work machine. Not to mention that for many office workers, a workstation is a no-go without spreadsheet software as powerful as Microsoft Excel. Sure, Numbers is nice on the iPad, but it’s no Excel. Nor is Documents to Go, though it tries hard. Spreadsheets may not be important to you, but corporate America runs on Excel, and millions of people depend on it to make a living. Yes, it’s old, it’s ugly, and it’s a pain to use, but it has capabilities that no other spreadsheet application can match.

That being said, it’s not impossible for me to work on the iPad. As I write this, I’ve spent a whole day working with the iPad Air from my couch. I browsed headlines, sent and read email, posted a link to ExtraBITS, and even wrote the first draft of this review in Nebulous Notes (see “Nebulous Notes for iOS Makes Markdown Easy,” 25 January 2013). And yes, I probably need to switch over to Editorial, but I already had the necessary macros set up in Nebulous Notes.

The Smart Cover -- I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the latest Smart Cover, which I purchased for $39. Unlike earlier iterations, it’s available only in polyurethane plastic. If you want leather, you’ll have to shell out $79 for the Smart Case, which I’m not a fan of. Yes, it protects the iPad’s rear panel whereas the Smart Cover does not, but it’s as expensive as nicer, and more functional, keyboard cases. Plus, it’s harder to remove than the Smart Cover.

You might be disappointed to learn that the iPad Air Smart Cover borrows the design of the iPad mini Smart Cover. Four panels have been reduced to three, and the metal hinge has been replaced with plastic. While it makes the Smart Cover feel cheaper than its predecessors, in practice it’s an improvement. While the old Smart Cover added a surprising amount of weight, the new Smart Cover is lighter and thinner, and thus less intrusive. The metal hinge scratched the side of my iPad 2 — an annoyance the new plastic hinge should alleviate. The new three-panel design provides sharper angles when folded into a triangle, which makes it easier to type on the iPad while it rests in my lap.

I recommend the iPad Air Smart Cover. It’s less obtrusive than before, reduces screen smudges, and — at last — comes in black polyurethane. The black Smart Cover looks especially nice with the space gray rear panel.

Airing the Finale -- The iPad Air is the best full-size iPad to date. Unlike the two previous iPad updates, which I found uninspiring apart from the Retina display, it fixes most common complaints. This is the iPad many of us have been waiting for.

As a bonus, despite apparently brisk sales, there are still plenty in stock. The new iPad mini, by Apple CEO Tim Cook’s own admission (see “Apple Q4 2013 Results See Lower Profits Again,” 28 October 2013), will have constrained supplies and incredibly high demand — something to bear in mind if you want to purchase one as a holiday gift.

If you’ve decided on an iPad Air, you might be asking, “But which one to get?” Personally, I went with the 32 GB Wi-Fi model in space gray. Storage capacity is an intensely personal choice, but if you’re unsure, 32 GB is a safe bet. Even with my heavy usage, I rarely find myself bumping against the limit. But if you’re like TidBITS senior editor Jeff Carlson and plan to use your iPad for heavy photo and video work, then 128 GB might not be a bad investment.

Is LTE worth it? If you’re on the fence, this is the year to drop the extra $129. T-Mobile is offering 200 MB of data per month — for the life of the iPad. Reports indicate that you only have to pay $10 for a SIM card. Nor do you have to purchase a T-Mobile-specific iPad, as all models come unlocked. If I had gone this route, I would have bought a Verizon iPad and picked up a T-Mobile SIM card for the free data. However, I don’t leave the house enough to justify the expense, and my iPhone plan includes tethering if I need it. However, another point to consider is that the iPad Air can last up to 24 hours as an LTE hotspot.

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong, since all the new iPad models are fantastic updates to Apple’s market-changing tablet. (Just don’t bother with an iPad 2 at this point in time.) As with the MacBook, it comes down to your screen-size preference. It’s not hard to see why Tim Cook thinks it’ll be an iPad Christmas — Apple has outdone itself this time.

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FunBITS: Show Off Your New iPad with Infinity Blade III

  by Josh Centers: josh@tidbits.com, @jcenters

So you just dropped $499 or more on a new iPad Air, or maybe you’re looking to buy a new iPad mini later this month. (Can’t decide between the two? Check out “Is the iPad Air Right for You?,” 6 November 2013.) But who wants to buy a new, expensive device without something to demo? No one ever says, “Hey, I got a new iPad, check out these sweet PDFs!” The gold standard for demonstrating the power of Apple’s mobile devices has long been the Infinity Blade series, and Infinity Blade III ($6.99 in the App Store), first announced at this year’s iPhone event, carries on the tradition. The trailer gives you a taste of just how far the game pushes the limits of iOS.

If you’re new to the Infinity Blade series, here’s the story: you play a big dude in armor who moves from fighting one giant monster to the next, defeating each in one-on-one combat until you challenge some quasi-immortal armored guy, whom you must beat to win the game. This time around, you can also play as a lady in armor, who is equally adept at smacking around big bads.

OK, there’s more to it than that. Much more. But, it’s not terribly important, and more to the point, by now the story is a convoluted mix of fantasy and post-apocalyptic sci-fi that requires you to play the two previous games and read a couple of novellas to understand. If you’re that curious about the story, some helpful folks on YouTube have compiled a one-minute summary.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t matter because the game is all about graphics and gameplay. In Infinity Blade III, you walk a mostly fixed path, from one foe to the next, picking up items along the way. Unlike many games, there are no small monsters to slay, or “trash mobs” as World of Warcraft players might call them. Everything’s bigger in the world of Infinity Blade.


Once you reach a baddie, you engage in a one-on-one duel that requires carefully timed touch gestures. Since everything you fight is much bigger than you, the idea is to dodge, parry, or block your enemies’ attacks until they’re tired and vulnerable, then beat the snot out of them until they leap back into action. The more effectively you counter, the more damage you can do. Lather, rinse, repeat.


In fact, one could say that lather, rinse, repeat, is the core mechanic of Infinity Blade. You’re going to die. A lot. If you die when fighting a “regular” monster, you get to try again, but if you die against a boss, you have to start over from square one.

But don’t worry, that’s the idea. As you defeat baddies, you garner power levels and new items that make the fights easier. You also earn skill points with your weapons, so you get better at using them. You keep these as you die and are “awakened” to fight once more. Chances are, the first fight will be rough, but as you keep revisiting it, you’ll eventually blow right through it.


If you’re a veteran gamer, you might think that this game sounds an awful lot like Nintendo’s Punch-Out!!, mixed with Diablo and a smattering of Shadow of the Colossus. You would be right, and if you’re a fan of Nintendo’s classic boxing franchise, you’ll love the gameplay of Infinity Blade III.

For those familiar with Infinity Blade, the third installment greatly expands the game. While the first two chapters were confined to just one area, Infinity Blade III has a whopping eight areas. In addition to that, you can now craft potions and new weapons. While the first two titles felt like glorified tech demos, the third is a full-blown adventure. But that comes at a cost — 1.56 GB of storage space.


However, for those who have already played the first two titles in the series, there may not be enough on offer to bring you back. Yes, there is much more content, but the gameplay is identical to the first two games. If you’re burnt out on those, Infinity Blade III is skippable.

A side effect of greatly expanding the Infinity Blade franchise is that the third game wants to nickel-and-dime you for everything. You’ve always been able to purchase in-game currency, but now there’s a second form of currency — battle chips — that you amass through completing goals and challenges, and, of course, in-app purchases. In the previous games, you still gained experience points for new levels even after mastering your weapons. In this installment, you stop gaining experience points when your weapons do, so you feel constant pressure to buy new ones. If that weren’t bad enough, there’s a new merchant character that appears every now and again with rare items that you must buy immediately, or else they disappear forever. I feel like the game is constantly screaming, “BUY! BUY NOW! BUY MORE! GIVE US MONEY! BUY, BUY, BUY!”

Ugh. Look, guys, if you need more than $6.99 for Infinity Blade III, just charge more. Don’t undercharge for a $20 game and then constantly hound me to pay you more. Unfortunately, it looks like the paid app, as Instapaper creator Marco Arment has claimed, is a dying breed, so things like this will only get worse with time.

That major annoyance aside, Infinity Blade III is a fantastic demonstration of the power of the A7 chip inside Apple’s new iPhones and iPads. The graphics are as good as anything you’ll find in the outgoing generation of consoles. Better, in some ways, since they’ve been optimized for Apple’s high-resolution Retina displays. Meanwhile, even some games for the new Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles will display at a relatively blurry 720p resolution.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the game’s content, but in extended play sessions, I never noticed any lag or noticeable heat from my iPad Air. While I’m too busy writing “Take Control of Your Apple TV,” (to learn how you can read it now, see “‘Take Control of Apple TV’ Streaming in TidBITS,” 4 November 2013) to delve into the smash hit Grand Theft Auto V, I can see myself playing my way through Infinity Blade III in some stolen moments (clearly I must test how Infinity Blade III works via AirPlay to the Apple TV!). It’s just the sort of game I like: lots of content that can be played in short bursts.

If you’re new to the series, Infinity Blade III is a good place to start, and a great way to show your friends and family just what your new iPad can do. If you’re an Infinity Blade veteran, then this third act could be a yawner, but may be worth it for the visual effects alone.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 11 November 2013

  by TidBITS Staff: editors@tidbits.com

MacBook Pro Retina EFI Updates 1.2 and 1.3 -- Apple has released two EFI firmware updates that provide targeted fixes for specific models of the recently released lineup of the MacBook Pro with Retina display (see “New Retina MacBook Pro Models Thinner, Lighter, and Cheaper,” 22 October 2013). EFI Update 1.2 is aimed at the high-end version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro model with Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics, addressing a rare problem that limits the performance of the Nvidia graphics processor after a system wake or boot. EFI Update 1.3 is directed at 13-inch models to fix an issue where the built-in keyboard and trackpad could become unresponsive. As always with firmware updates, we recommend relying on Software Update to ensure you get the firmware update for your specific model, and be careful not to interrupt the update process. (Free, 5.22/4.64 MB)

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Marked 2.1 -- Developer Brett Terpstra has released Marked 2.1 to address issues brought up in our initial review (see “Marked 2: A Must-Have for Markdown Writers,” 1 November 2013). Its major addition is the capability to choose words to be ignored by the Visualize Word Repetition feature. Option-click a highlighted word to ignore repetitions in a single document, or Shift-Option-Click to ignore repetitions in all documents. The list can be managed in Preferences > Proofing > Ignore Repeats. The Export and Keyword Highlight drawers have been redesigned with a more modern look that sheds the dark linen background. Finally, Terpstra has included a fix for issues viewing Scrivener documents, with more Scrivener-related updates promised soon. ($11.99 new, free update, 22.5 MB, release notes)


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iBooks 1.0.1 -- Apple has released an update for iBooks on OS X 10.9 Mavericks, with version 1.0.1 claiming the usual unspecified “bug fixes and improvements to performance and stability.” We did notice, however, that the update does not fix the category assignment bug we examined in “Managing an iBooks Metadata Mess” (6 November 2013). The update is available via Software Update. (Free, 14.7 MB)

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iTunes 11.1.3 -- If you have a large iTunes library that’s been bouncing too many spinning beach balls of late, iTunes 11.1.3 aims to solve your woes. Apple’s release notes promise that the update will improve performance when switching views within large iTunes libraries, as well as fix an issue with the equalizer. It also turns out to solve a problem syncing some ringtones (see “The Case of the Unsynced Ringtones,” 11 November 2013). iTunes 11.1.3 is available as a direct download from Apple’s iTunes Web page or via Software Update. (Free, 221 MB)

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ExtraBITS for 11 November 2013

  by TidBITS Staff: editors@tidbits.com

This week in ExtraBITS, Federico Viticci starts tracking new keyboard shortcuts in iOS 7, Jeff Carlson weighs in on the iPad Air on the MacJury podcast, and Macworld details how Adam Engst and other experts use their Macs. In Apple news, the company has promised the return of missing features in the new iWork suite, released a report on government information requests, and announced that it’s building a new solar-powered factory in Arizona.

New Keyboard Shortcuts in iOS 7 -- In iOS 7, Apple quietly added new keyboard shortcuts to some of its apps and gave developers the capability to add their own. So if you use a Bluetooth keyboard with your iOS 7 device, be sure to bookmark this list of shortcuts that Federico Viticci is working on. Since there is no official documentation from Apple, Viticci is learning them by trial and error, as well as from reader submissions, and he will update the list as he learns more.

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Jeff Carlson Joins the MacJury to Evaluate the iPad Air -- Our own Jeff Carlson joined host Chuck Joiner and David Chartier of Finer Things in Tech on the MacVoices podcast to discuss his first impressions of the new iPad Air, including the buying experience, device speed, and camera improvements.

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Apple Promises Restored iWork Features -- When Apple overhauled its iWork apps last month, power users were outraged by the loss of features like AppleScript support and custom toolbars. In a rare move, Apple has released a support document promising to restore many of these features within the next six months. If you rely on any of the capabilities Apple removed, hang tight with the previous iWork apps until the new ones catch up. Fortunately, Apple’s support document also explains how to revert documents in the new iWork format to the iWork ’09 format for use with the older software.

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Apple Reports on Government Information Requests -- Apple has released a detailed report on government information requests about its users. In the 7-page PDF, Apple laments not being able to legally report the number of national security requests in the United States, but says that it’s doing everything short of a lawsuit to liberate that information. Apple says that most of the requests are “device requests” related to stolen devices, which numbered 3,542 in the United States between 1 January 2013 and 30 June 2013. Apple also received 1,000–2,000 “account requests,” covering things like iCloud, iTunes, and Game Center from U.S. law enforcement in the same period. The company mentions several times in the report that it does not profit from the personal data of its users, stores as little as possible, and encrypts everything to the best of its ability.

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Apple to Open New Factory in Arizona -- The state of Arizona has announced that Apple will build a new solar-powered manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona, bringing 2,000 jobs to the state. This is part of Apple’s effort to bring manufacturing back to the United States, spearheaded by the upcoming Mac Pro, which will be assembled in Texas. Apple supplier GT Advanced Technologies has announced that the Arizona facility will be used to manufacture industrial sapphire, which Apple uses to protect camera lenses and Touch ID sensors, prompting speculation that it could be used to protect future displays instead of Corning’s Gorilla Glass.

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How Adam Engst and Other Experts Use Their Macs -- At Macworld, former TidBITS staff writer Lex Friedman surveyed Mac experts such as TidBITS publisher Adam Engst, Instapaper creator Marco Arment, The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple, Faith Korpi of the IRL Talk podcast, and Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software about how they use their Macs. Read on for ideas about how to set up your own Mac and to learn Adam’s strong opinions about window placement.

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