When Apple CEO Tim Cook walked on stage for this year’s WWDC keynote, his first words could easily have been, “We are really, really sorry.”
Many of the new features announced in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are aimed at addressing long-standing annoyances, glaring holes, and problems solved on other platforms — Android in particular — that Apple had previously ignored. Here are the top 10 (or more, given all the changes in Messages) fixes that will improve your everyday experience with Apple’s operating systems.
Family Sharing -- Until now, Apple has seemingly viewed families as existing only in cute photos at keynotes. There was a virtual curtain between your iTunes content and apps and those your spouse may have purchased with a separate iTunes account. Fortunately, it’s possible to log in to multiple iTunes accounts, so that has been the standard workaround for sharing content and apps, but that requires sharing passwords, which is a no-go with older kids.
With the announcement of Family Sharing in iOS 8 and Yosemite, these awkward and unnecessary barriers come down, allowing up to six members of the same family to access content and apps purchased by any family member, as long as each person’s iTunes account is linked to the same credit card. (The credit card requirement will trip up some couples who maintain separate finances, but Apple has to draw the line somewhere.)
One person acts as the “family organizer,” and invites up to five other family members, who can accept the invite from any Mac or iOS device, after which the organizer and invitees can access each other’s content.
Family Sharing improves controls for managing spending, since the family organizer is responsible for all charges on those linked accounts, unless the purchaser uses a gift card balance. So what if a child wants to make a purchase? If Ask to Buy is enabled, when a child attempts to make a purchase, a notification is sent to the organizer’s device, and the organizer can approve or decline the purchase request. No more surprise $500 in-app purchase bills!
When Family Sharing is set up, it also creates a shared calendar and set of reminders, which appear automatically on all linked devices. It also automatically lets family members see where everyone else is in Find My Friends and Find My iPhone, though location sharing can be disabled in Family Sharing settings, found in Settings > iCloud. Family Sharing also automatically sets up a Family shared photo stream in the Photos app, where family members can add shared photos.
Should a child go off to college and leave Family Sharing, she immediately loses access to the other family members’ content, apps, photos, calendars, locations, and reminders.
Major Messages Improvements -- Messages may be the most used app in iOS, but it’s also the most annoying, and Apple has improved it in numerous important ways.
A new Details view for each conversation shows all the attachments shared, and lets you delete photos and videos to save space, without deleting the entire conversation. That should let us recover significant space on our iOS devices.
If you don’t want to manage attachments manually, you can go to Settings > Messages > Store Messages and set Messages to delete conversations automatically after 30 days or one year. By default, it keeps them forever.
You can share your location within Messages’ Details view, for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. This is far easier than dropping a pin in Maps and sharing it via Messages now.
Group conversations can now be named, which should reduce accidental sends to the wrong set of people, a confusing and sometimes embarrassing mistake that happens all too often now. This should make ongoing conversations easier to maintain as well — you might have one for co-workers, another for family chats, and a third for college friends.
Apple is eliminating the separation between iMessage and SMS. Now your iPhone will link up with your Mac to integrate messaging (and phone calls, but that’s a completely new feature, not an improvement on existing behavior), so you can message your “green bubble friends” from Messages on the Mac.
Large group conversations should no longer become incessant nags. Currently, if you send an iMessage to a bunch of friends, you could find yourself in an inescapable flood of chatter, since there’s no way to stop, leave, or mute the conversation. (For a funny story about how broken group messages were, see Nick Disabato’s “Have a Very iMessage Holiday.”)
Now, you can leave the conversation, and add and remove people, at any time. You can also turn on Do Not Disturb for a single conversation, so you won’t be annoyed by notifications, but can still dip in to see what people are saying.
Photo Management and Storage -- Increasingly, our iPhones and iPads are becoming our go-to cameras, and managing all of those photos has become untenable. If your device runs out of storage, chances are that photos and videos are to blame, but there’s no simple way to archive them elsewhere while maintaining some access. iCloud Photo Stream sort of works for photos (not videos), but it holds only so many images, and you still must delete photos from your iPhone manually.
Things aren’t much better on the Mac. For one, Photo Stream doesn’t move videos to the Mac, so you have to sync those via USB or a third-party solution like Dropbox. Also, your photo library is still balkanized; edits made on the Mac don’t migrate back to your iPhone unless you sync photos manually, and you can’t edit, tag, and organize photos on your iOS devices after the fact and have that work reflected back on the Mac. It’s a mess.
There’s about to be a better way. In iOS 8, you will have the option to store your photos in iCloud Photo Library, sparing your poor 16 GB iPhone from the weight of innumerable snapshots. Your photos will be accessible from all your iOS devices, and in early 2015, Apple promises to release Photos for Mac, which will be much like the iOS Photos app, complete with access to all of your iCloud photos. Presumably, Photos will replace iPhoto altogether.
The bad news is you will still only have 5 GB of free iCloud storage, and it appears photos and videos will count against that, along with your iCloud backups. In essence, you’re just moving your storage problems from the device to the cloud. (However, Macworld’s Serenity Caldwell reports that you will have the option to use either local storage and Photo Stream or the online iCloud Photo Library.)
The good news is that Apple is making iCloud storage tiers more capacious and less expensive. Currently, iCloud storage maxes out at 50 GB — not even enough to back up a 128 GB iPad. Soon, iCloud will increase that ceiling to 1 TB, though pricing for that tier has yet to be announced. Apple did say that you’ll be able to get 20 GB for $0.99 per month or 200 GB for $3.99 per month. That’s roughly comparable to Google Drive, which offers 100 GB for $1.99 per month, and cheaper than Dropbox, which offers only one personal tier of 100 GB for $9.99 per month.
A Window into iCloud -- From the beginning, iCloud documents and data have been problematic, to put it lightly. Each app’s stuff was trapped inside that app, and you could access it on another platform only with that particular app. Nor could you take a peek at what was in your iCloud account. Developers found iCloud storage equally opaque and problematic, with many choosing instead to develop their own alternatives, or use Dropbox.
Apple is combatting this problem in two ways. The first is iCloud Drive, which makes iCloud documents accessible from the Finder, something none of us expected. But the implications are significant. You’ll soon be able to access iCloud documents directly, and even manipulate them like other files on your drive. We hope this means no more documents that vanish without a trace, as once happened to Josh with Byword.
iCloud will have a new face not only for users (despite Apple’s Eddy Cue recently telling Walt Mossberg, “We’re not trying to make iCloud have a face.”), but also for developers, thanks to the new CloudKit API. In the past, developers have said that trying to use iCloud was a nightmare, since they had to code much of the iCloud interface from scratch. Developers will now have an API for iCloud, and also generous amounts of free storage and bandwidth.
These changes to iCloud should make iCloud significantly more attractive for syncing personal data between your apps and your devices, but it doesn’t seem as though it will provide any sharing of data between people or other platforms, which may give some developers pause.
Extensibility Promises Browser Extensions in iOS -- One of the most decried “features” in iOS was the way apps were sandboxed away from each other for security reasons. Secure yes, but it prevented apps from working together to make a whole that was greater than the parts. With iOS 8, Apple isn’t tearing down the walls of the walled garden, but it is adding more doors, and one of the first places you’ll see this is in the form of extensions to Safari in iOS, just as are supported on the Mac.
As an example on stage, Apple showed off both a Bing Translate extension that translated a Japanese Web page into English and a Pinterest extension that made pinning an image part of the sharing interface. (Also visible in the sharing interface were document provider services Box and Microsoft OneDrive — though Dropbox didn’t appear, it seems that better Dropbox integration throughout iOS is likely.)
Also, apps won’t have to build in their own Web browsers for basic functionality. The prime example here is 1Password, which should be able to work right within Safari, just as it does on the Mac.
There’s another feature that 1Password users should be excited about…
Touch ID for Third-Party Apps -- In iOS 8, developers other than Apple will finally be given access to Touch ID for authentication. This means you should be able to log in to all of your favorite apps with the press of a finger… if you have an iPhone 5S. We expect to see Touch ID appear throughout the iPhone and iPad line eventually, and we’re looking forward to not having to type as many passwords on the clumsy iOS keyboard.
Duck You, Autocorrect -- Autocorrect helps make touchscreen typing possible, but it has also been the butt of endless jokes. Apple is apparently tired of your mockery, because it lifted two capabilities straight out of Android — predictive text and third-party keyboards — just to get you to stop complaining.
The default keyboard in iOS 8 will look a lot like Android’s, with a bar of suggested words and phrases appearing on top as you type. Just tap a word to insert it. That should help most people type faster and more accurately.
More surprising was the announcement that Apple will finally allow third-party keyboards like Swype, Fleksy, and SwiftKey at a system level in iOS 8. Soon, you’ll be able to type words by drawing on your keyboard, have custom macros, and more. That should satisfy the power users in the audience.
Interact with Notifications -- In iOS 7 and earlier, if you received a message from a friend at the lock screen or as a notification alert, you had to swipe or tap it to open the Messages app before replying. Again taking a page from the Android playbook, Apple will let you reply to messages straight from the notification in iOS 8.
Happily, those notification actions aren’t limited to Apple’s own built-in apps. For example, you’ll be able to like or comment on Facebook notifications directly, without having to load the Facebook app (and potentially get sucked in by other posts).
That Stupid Mail Compose Window -- You know how, when you’re composing a message in Mail on the iPad, the compose window prevents you from seeing the rest of your email? That’s annoying as sin if you need to look something up or copy text from another message. Now you can dock the compose window — simply slide it down to the bottom of the screen — work in other messages in Mail, and return to your draft when you’re ready.
Easier Hotspots -- Since iOS 4.3, the Personal Hotspot feature has enabled you to tether your Mac or Wi-Fi-only iPad to your iPhone’s data connection — if your carrier allows it and you subscribe to the service, that is. But this required first turning on Personal Hotspot on the device, then manually entering a randomly generated password on your Mac or iPad.
With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple promises that you’ll be able to activate Personal Hotspot without touching your iPhone. You’ll be able to select your iPhone from the Wi-Fi device list on your Mac or iPad, and connect with one action, even if your iPhone is in your pocket or across the room.
It’s not earth-shattering, but it makes a useful feature more convenient.
A New Apple -- To a certain extent, this year’s WWDC keynote marked the start of a whole new Apple. Tim Cook has hit his stride as CEO and is charting a new, more open direction for Apple’s operating systems. It’s also clear that Apple has been listening to user complaints, and while it’s not Apple’s way to acknowledge anything before releasing a solution, it turns out those solutions have been underway all along.
No matter what you think about Apple’s announcements or its purchase of Beats, one thing is for sure: the company isn’t as predictable as it once was.
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If you’ve been following along in Charles Edge’s streaming book, “Take Control of OS X Server,” you have OS X Server installed and running at a basic level. In Chapter 4, “Directory Services,” Charles turns his attention to directory services, so you can set up users and groups before you enable additional services.
I’m not complaining, but frankly, we had more trouble editing this chapter than nearly anything else in Take Control’s history, since understanding what readers need to know about Open Directory has been mind-bending. It’s a topic that’s often taught in a 3-day workshop, and it could easily occupy its own book. Luckily, at the level of setting up a single server in a small home or office network, Open Directory isn’t too hard, and we’ve tried hard to keep the book on that track to avoid getting lost in the weeds. In particular, Charles focuses on setting up an Open Directory master and then creating users and groups.
As before, everyone is welcome to read Chapter 1, “Introducing OS X Server” and Chapter 2, “Choosing Server Hardware,” to see where the book will be going, but Chapter 3, “Preparation and Installation,” and this new chapter are available only to TidBITS members — if you have already joined the TidBITS membership program, log in to the TidBITS site using the email address from which you joined. The full ebook of “Take Control of OS X Server” 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 just one of the ways we thank TidBITS members for their support. We hope it encourages those of you who have been reading TidBITS for free for years to help us continue to bring you more of the professionally written and edited articles you’ve become accustomed to each week. For more details on what the membership program means to us, see “Support TidBITS in 2014 via the TidBITS Membership Program” (9 December 2013).
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It has been nearly a decade since I used a desktop word processor or spreadsheet program to any serious degree. I ditched Microsoft’s Word and Excel software long ago, and threw my lot in with Google’s free Web equivalents.
Google Docs, as the apps were then collectively known, were initially crude and feature-poor, but I was hooked on having my documents in the cloud so I could get to them on any Internet-connected computer, and collaborate on them with far-flung editors and co-authors. I’ve tried out many productivity app alternatives since then but I keep coming back to Google’s versions.
I did have one big problem early on: Google Docs worked abysmally on mobile devices. I could edit my documents in the iPad’s Safari browser, but the Google Docs mobile editing mode was appallingly primitive, and the full Web version of its word processor would not function properly.
Matters have improved in recent years. Google moved to a native app approach, integrating its word processing and spreadsheet editing into the free Google Drive app for iOS, which, as the name implies, also provides access to any files stored in Google’s Dropbox-like cloud-storage service.
Now Google is making another big – if confusing – move. Last month, it stripped the Google Drive app of editing functions and moved those capabilities to new, separate Google Docs and Google Sheets apps, both of which are also free. “Google Docs” now refers just to Google’s word processor; for the purpose of this article, I’ll drop the Google prefix from all the names.
The Drive app hasn’t gone away, but it’s now mostly a file viewing and organizing app like the apps for Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive.
Google has made an identical move in the Android realm, with the Drive app there also spawning Docs and Sheets apps.
I was among those feeling puzzled over this disjointed situation. Why not keep everything integrated instead of cluttering up Home screens with multiple app icons? Drive had a Slides presentation-making function, too, but that was also taken out. Google says a Slides app is coming. Adding to the chaos is Google’s Quickoffice, an app for opening and editing Microsoft Office files (I’ll talk more about this app shortly).
Luckily, I recovered from my mild bafflement quickly, because little has actually changed. Apart from needing to launch individual apps, creating Google documents and spreadsheets, and editing existing ones, works much as it did before.
Some are unhappy with Docs and Sheets because of their spartan feature sets. These apps have been compared to Microsoft’s new Word and Excel apps for the iPad (see “Office for iPad: A Deep Look”) and found wanting.
But this is hardly new. Google text and spreadsheet editing have always been minimalist on mobile devices compared to many of the commercial alternatives. Docs and Sheets on mobile platforms aren’t meant to be primary productivity solutions, after all. For most users, they are secondary ways to access existing documents and spreadsheets created and edited predominantly in the full Web browser versions.
That is pretty much my modus operandi. I mostly work in Google Docs in a Web browser on my Mac, though I’ll sometimes get quite productive on a mobile device. For instance, I wrote this article largely in Docs on an iPad with an add-on wireless keyboard.
A Lean Writing Machine -- Google’s new Docs app, as I’ve noted, is simpler than the desktop version, though similar enough in look and functionality that longtime Google users should feel right at home.
It starts with a document index that has list and grid views, just like on the desktop. It shows only files, so if you’ve spent a lot of time organizing your documents into folders, it will be more confusing than Drive, which does show such folders.
Clicking one of the items, or clicking the plus sign on the upper right to create a new document, pulls up the editing interface. This is a mostly empty window with just a few formatting, collaboration and management capabilities in a simple toolbar. The app’s focus is on text – unlike other apps, such as Word for iPad and Apple’s Pages, that emphasize graphics and page layout.
Docs provides controls for font, text size, text color, indentation, alignment, and lists, but little more. I could find no way to add images to new documents I created – but old documents that already have images display them fine.
Simple search and replace is available within documents. A general search field in the document index lets you search across multiple documents.
Google Apps has always emphasized collaboration, and the Docs app delivers in this regard. I write all my Pioneer Press articles using Google’s word processing apps, and when I recently finished one such story on my iPad, I shared it with my editor as I always do. This is a little clunky in Docs for iOS – I had to save my document by tapping a blue checkmark icon before I could tap an i button to access a Details pane and add my editor as a collaborator.
The Details pane also is where you delete, rename, star, or print – via Google’s Cloud Print or Apple’s AirPrint – as well as get a document Web link to share with others.
There’s also an offline or “Keep on device” toggle for designating documents that are to remain available and editing-ready in the absence of an Internet connection.
Docs for iOS builds in commenting, just like its Web-based sibling – but comments are organized differently, via a centralized drop-down menu. That is where you can create a generalized comment, or a comment specific to a word or passage. In the latter case, you highlight that text, tap the dialog balloon in the upper right collection of icons, and then tap the pencil icon to create a new comment.
The Docs app, oddly, lacks rulers, real-time spell checking, and a word-counting option (a feature near and dear to journalists). Nor can you file a document into a Drive folder from within Docs, which is a pain. To do that, you must leave Docs and search within the Drive app for the same document in order to move it. This is done within a Drive Details pane for that document, so why isn’t this also available within a Docs Details pane?
Drive Details panes have another unique capability, an Open In button for handing off a document to another app, like Evernote. You can’t do this in Docs, either, which is annoying.
To sum up, Docs is a decent word processor for the right kind of user, though with minor flaws and a few notable omissions. It would be nice if more of the features from the Web version eventually migrated to the app. But, as I’ve noted, most users won’t regard it as a primary editing tool but just as one to turn to when a small amount of work needs to be done and an iPad or iPhone is all that’s at hand. In this regard, Docs is pretty much fine as designed.
Sheets Is Simple, Too -- The new Google Sheets app for iOS fits into roughly the same category. It too has far fewer features than the Web-based Sheets, and will appear absurdly primitive to those who have experienced the feature-festooned splendor that is Microsoft’s Excel for the iPad. But, again, Google’s emphasis here is on minimalism and collaboration, not feature parity.
I’m a lightweight when it comes to using spreadsheets, so Excel and Apple’s Numbers are overkill. The Web version of Google Sheets has plenty of power and flexibility for my modest needs, and when I go mobile I’m OK with a still leaner feature set.
The basic design of the Sheets app resembles that of Docs. Users see nothing but a grid of rectangles until selecting one or more cells, which makes a spare toolbar appear.
Along with simple text-formatting controls as in Docs, Sheets has a basic set of cell-formatting controls. You can make borders, wrap text, merge cells, adjust cells’ contents horizontally and vertically, and apply standard text or numerical formats. Tabs for accessing different worksheets within the document are found at the bottom.
You can also enter and apply formulas, but you need to know what you’re doing because Sheets offers no hinting, pop-ups, or autocomplete to help you. Those in search of these and other sophisticated spreadsheet features will come up empty and are better off with Numbers or Excel for iPad.
Sheets replicates the collaboration and document management features from Docs, providing the same options to print, rename, star, delete, link, and save a spreadsheet for offline access. As with Docs, you must switch out to the Drive app to move a spreadsheet or open it in another app, such as Polaris Office. Strangely, neither Microsoft’s Excel nor Apple’s Numbers show up as open-in options.
Google Apps Everywhere -- Though minimalist almost to a fault, Google’s mobile productivity apps have one big advantage: broad mobile support.
They are essentially the same on both iOS and Android, and work fine on smartphones as well as tablets. (There are no versions for Windows Phone.) Apple offers no variations of its Pages and Numbers for Android. Nor does Microsoft have Android versions of its Office apps, though it has said they’re in development.
Docs and Sheets for Android have no major differences (aesthetics aside) from the iOS versions. At a business with a mix of iOS and Android devices, deploying Docs and Sheets would therefore make sense. That goes double if it has a mix of Macs and Windows PCs, since the Web versions of Google’s apps are fully platform agnostic.
Collaboration is another Google strong suit. This has long been the case on the desktop, and it has migrated nicely to mobile. Working on a document in Docs on my iPad while displaying the same document on my Mac or a Windows PC, for instance, I see edits reflected almost instantly on all screens, with the moving cursor on my tablet replicated ghost-like on the desktop computers. Others with editing access can work on the documents at the same time, with their cursors also appearing (in different colors) and moving magically on all screens.
When I opened a Docs document on an Android tablet one night, I found myself editing it alongside my wife, who was working on a Windows notebook. No marital strife ensued, and we worked together to finish the document while swapping endearments via the chat function.
This works so well because Google takes a fundamentally Web-based approach to collaboration. Microsoft and Apple have a bit more difficulty with this because they cannot completely shed their desktop roots.
Collaboration is integrated into Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription service – to be used across multiple Macs, Windows PCs, and iOS devices sharing a single Office 365 identity – but isn’t as elegant. When I edit a Word document on one machine, changes show up on the others, but this isn’t instantaneous and requires manual refreshes at times. Also, I must take care that Word documents created on the Mac or PC desktop are put in Microsoft’s OneNote cloud locker so they’ll show up elsewhere – a Word file on my Mac or PC desktop won’t.
It’s a bit better with Apple and its iCloud approach. I love how content stays in sync in the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps on my Macs and iOS devices, but on Windows PCs I’m relegated to the browser-based iWork for iCloud (which isn’t bad but is not a full substitute for native apps). In the Chrome browser on Android hardware, I get only a “your browser is not currently supported” message. And collaborating with others just isn’t nearly as fluid as with Google’s apps.
Whither Quickoffice? -- As if the splitting of Drive into an app trio (assuming a Slides app appears soon) weren’t bewildering enough, there’s also Google’s Quickoffice. It also supports document editing and spreadsheet work, but in a different way. Quickoffice is essentially a Microsoft Office alternative, like Polaris Office and Documents To Go, and exists mainly to open and modify Office files.
That is fine, but average users would be forgiven for looking at Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Quickoffice, and becoming puzzled about which app does what.
It doesn’t help that Quickoffice can show the contents of Google Drive, thus displaying the same files that you’ll see in Drive and, by extension, Sheets and Docs. When you tap a Google-generated Docs or Sheets file in Quickoffice (as opposed to an actual Office document), it relays you to the Drive app, which in turn hands you off to Docs or Sheets.
In summary, for the moment anyway, the Drive app lists both files and Web-based documents, Docs and Sheets enable you to create and edit those Web-based documents, and Quickoffice remains on hand for dealing with Office files stored in Google Drive.
It’s all a bit much, and I won’t be surprised if Google changes course at some point and decides an integrated approach for its mobile productivity tools is the wisest way to go, after all. But for the moment, it’s entirely functional, not to mention familiar and comfortable for Google fans.
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As the author of “Take Control of Apple TV,” waking up to read about the Fire TV (see “Amazon Fire TV Turns Up the Heat on Apple TV,” 2 April 2014) jolted me out of bed in a panic. Amazon’s new set-top box had more power, voice search, an app store, and even video games — everything on my Apple TV wish list (see “The Future of Apple TV,” 21 February 2014).
After I had a chance to calm down and assess the situation, I was curious to see what Amazon’s box could do, so I asked the company for a review unit of both the $99 Fire TV and the $39.99 Fire Game Controller. I disconnected the Apple TV from our living room TV and replaced it with the Fire TV for two weeks.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note a few goodies Amazon provided. First, the game controller comes with 1,000 Amazon Coins (more on that later) — a $16.99 value — and a free copy of the Amazon-produced game Sev Zero. Both of these are included in the controller’s purchase price.
Second, Amazon gave me a generous $50 credit to order content for the device, though in theory I could use it on anything I wanted at Amazon. Presumably, other reviewers got this deal as well. Adam and I decided that the ethical thing to do was to use the money strictly for Fire TV movie rentals and app purchases, which led to a Brewster’s Millions-esque situation where I had to spend a lot of money without keeping anything. Here’s what I spent the money on (including sales tax):
A total of $54.61 a smidgen over my allowance. Other than a few device-specific apps, I’m keeping nothing that Amazon has provided, including the Fire TV and controller, which I’m shipping back as soon as possible (though I’ve been unable to reach Amazon’s PR firm to arrange it). Also, as a reviewer, I was supposed to be given access to Prime Instant Video, but for whatever reason, it never went through.
With that out of the way, as the guy who wrote the book on the Apple TV, here are my impressions of the Fire TV, organized to parallel the chapters in my book.
Set Up Fire TV -- Physically, the Apple TV and Fire TV have a lot in common. They’re both small, square black boxes. The Fire TV is 0.7 inches (1.8 cm) longer and wider than the Apple TV, but 0.2 inches (0.5 cm) thinner. Like the Apple TV, the Fire TV features HDMI, Ethernet, USB, and optical audio ports. As such, connecting it to your TV works the same as with the Apple TV: plug in the HDMI cable (my unit came with one), plug in the power, plug in the optical audio cable if required, and you’re off to the races.
Let me stop here to point out my first major annoyance with the Fire TV: the power adapter is huge and takes up two plugs’ worth of space on my surge protector. For that reason, I had to unplug not just my Apple TV, but my Playstation 3 as well. By comparison, the Apple TV’s svelte power connector plays nicely with everything else. In the picture below, I sat the Apple TV plug on top of the Fire TV’s to demonstrate the difference.
Setup was a nondescript process, but you notice right away just how much faster the Fire TV is than the Apple TV. Enter your Wi-Fi password (slowly, painfully, with the remote), if required. Your Fire TV will likely be associated with your account by default, much like Amazon’s Kindles are, but if it’s not, you must either log into your Amazon account or create one. Fortunately, the on-screen keyboard provides shortcuts for the most common email services, like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL.
The next annoyance is that you’re forced to sit through a long cartoon where a man describes the features of the Fire TV — something you were hopefully aware of before plunking down $99. You can’t skip the cartoon, and if you back out to the previous setup screen, you have to start the cartoon over. And if for some reason, you ever have to reset the device and start from scratch, you’re forced to sit through the video again. For me, it was a good time to make a cup of coffee. You can rewatch the video at any time, along with other help videos, in the Settings menu, so even if you could skip it accidentally, it wouldn’t be a huge loss.
After the cartoon is finished mansplaining the Fire TV, you’re prompted to sign up for Amazon Prime, and then to set up parental controls.
Amazon and Apple clearly have different priorities. From the Apple TV’s first setup screen, you’re given the option to enable VoiceOver for the visually impaired, but there isn’t an equivalent option on the Fire TV. And while the Apple TV has similar parental controls, you have to find them yourself in Settings.
Amazon’s parental controls, like Apple’s, are based around a PIN, and you can set that PIN to be required for purchases, Amazon Instant Video, and blocking certain content types.
Control Fire TV -- The Apple TV offers four control methods: the included Apple Remote, a third-party infrared remote, a Bluetooth keyboard, or the iOS Remote app. Amazon offers only one: the Amazon Fire TV Remote, which is included. A replacement can be purchased for $27.99.
The layout of the Fire TV Remote is similar to the Apple Remote. Both have a circular ring for navigation with a Select button in the center, a Play/Pause Button, and a Menu button.
But the Fire TV Remote offers a few more capabilities. It offers dedicated Rewind and Fast Forward buttons, a Back button to return to the previous menu, and a Home button to return to the home screen. And of course, the crown jewel: a Voice Search button.
Press and hold that button, tell your remote what you would like to watch, and a list of shows and movies matching what the Fire TV thinks you said will appear on the screen. Select the one you want, and the Fire TV will search Amazon’s store for that content.
The Fire TV’s Voice Search can also search for Vevo music videos. Unfortunately, it can’t yet search other services like Netflix and Hulu. However, Voice Search support for both of those services, as well as Crackle and Showtime Anytime, should appear this year.
Some other early reviews gave mixed opinions about this feature, but in my experience, it worked like a charm just about every time. If it could search across all apps, it would be a killer feature.
Back to the remote itself, it’s three times as thick as the Apple Remote, but it’s not the huge wedge of cheese that it looks like in Amazon’s product pictures. The remote has a good hand feel, with a rubberized surface for a nice grip.
Unlike the nearly flush Apple Remote buttons, the Fire TV Remote’s buttons protrude from the remote’s surface. This makes them easier to click, but at the same time, it’s also easy to click buttons accidentally.
Another key feature of Amazon’s remote is that it uses Bluetooth instead of infrared, so you don’t have to point it at the Fire TV. I like this feature better than I thought I would, but it can be a problem if the remote slips between your couch cushions. When I lose my Apple Remote in the couch, it just doesn’t work, and I have to switch to the Remote app until I take the time to root out the remote. When the Fire TV Remote works its way into the couch, my living room turns into a scene from a Chevy Chase movie, with things happening on the screen every time I shift the cushion.
While the Apple Remote takes a CR2032 button battery, the Fire TV Remote accepts two standard AAA batteries. However, due to Bluetooth, I’ll hazard a guess that the Fire TV Remote won’t have nearly as long of a battery life as the Apple Remote. It took two years before I exhausted my first Apple Remote battery.
What’s on Offer -- The Fire TV has a drastically different main menu than the Apple TV. While the Apple TV’s main menu is arranged in an iOS-style grid of icons, the Fire TV’s interface is split into sections, listed in a left-hand sidebar, with each section’s options on the right.
While Movies, TV Shows, and Music are fixed icons that you can’t ignore on the Apple TV, Amazon takes the Fire TV’s interface to a whole new level of “Buy from me!” You literally cannot get to Netflix, Hulu, or any games without crossing the Amazon river of content, though there is a Recent section under Home that shows recently opened apps and videos. The Fire TV makes no bones about being a vehicle to push Amazon’s digital content.
Despite making Amazon content front and center, there isn’t a category for Prime Instant Video content. There’s a “Recently Added to Prime” category under the Movies and TV sections, but if you want to browse everything you can watch as part of your $99 Prime subscription, you’re out of luck. Amazon has said that it will include this in a future update.
Fortunately, the interface is much snappier than the Apple TV’s, thanks to its quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM (the Apple TV has 512 MB). It makes the Apple TV feel downright sluggish by comparison.
One thing the Fire TV has that the Apple TV desperately lacks is an app store, from which you can install mainstays like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and ESPN, as well as channels unavailable on the Apple TV, like Huffington Post Live, Pandora, TWiT, and iHeart Radio. I counted over 50 available channels, not counting games, and that number promises to grow over time. Meanwhile, the Apple TV has about 40 channels now.
Of course, the big thing Fire TV lacks is HBO GO, and my wife and I missed it dearly during our test drive. But Amazon promises that it’s coming, and on top of that, Prime Instant Video is getting exclusive streaming rights to older HBO shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” which is an enormous coup over Netflix.
Speaking of Netflix, its Fire TV app is terrible. Despite the Fire TV’s overall better performance, the Netflix app is painfully slow, slower even than the Apple TV’s. The browsing interface doesn’t help — content descriptions and the wasteful top bar take up a significant chunk of screen real estate, cramping the navigation. Also, content doesn’t load nearly as smoothly as it does on the Apple TV, due to Netflix having a special arrangement that provides a separate stream just for Apple TV devices. However, one feature that every other Netflix app has that the Apple TV does not is auto-playing of TV episodes. It’s a nice feature on the Fire TV, and I wish Apple would add it already.
The Apple TV uses templates for all of its apps, so they all look and work the same. That’s stultifying if you’re staring at it 8 hours a day while writing a book about the Apple TV, but as a user, the consistency is fantastic. As with the Roku, the Fire TV’s apps do not use a single template, so it’s a mishmash of different interfaces and even keyboards. It didn’t hamper my usage, but I can see how it could be irritating for normal viewers.
One capability the Apple TV has that the Fire TV does not is a built-in way to access media over a local network. However, there is a paid option to do so that I’ll get to later.
Fire TV at the Movies -- When it comes to watching movies and TV shows, the Fire TV is entirely pleasant. Amazon’s content loads quickly, and the picture and audio quality are both excellent.
One feature I absolutely adore is that you can press left and right on the Navigation ring to skip back or forward by 10 seconds. So when Matthew McConaughey mumbles something in a thick Southern drawl, I can go back with a click of a button to hear what he said. Doing that on the Apple TV with the Apple Remote or Remote app is tricky, and I often miss my mark. (The Apple TV actually has this feature, but you have to program a third-party remote to use it.)
As on the Apple TV, you can press up or down on the Navigation ring while watching video to view the timeline. But, unlike the Apple TV, the Fire TV doesn’t offer a chapter skip or a quick way to view information about a program while viewing it. Also, you can’t quickly dismiss the timeline display by pressing the opposite direction; you have to wait for it to disappear on its own, which is irritating.
Pressing the Menu button while viewing an Amazon video brings up subtitle options. They’re not as detailed as the Apple TV’s, but they’re sufficient. There are four presets: white text on a black background, white text on a clear background, yellow text on a black background, and black text on a clear background. There are also five font size choices. While the Fire TV doesn’t offer as many options as the Apple TV, how you enable subtitles is easier to discover, and it takes fewer clicks to do so.
Well, on Amazon videos, that is. It’s different for every app. While watching a Netflix video, the Menu button does nothing — you have to turn on subtitles before playing the video. Pressing Menu while watching a Crackle video brings up subtitle options, but they’re completely different from those Amazon’s videos present.
One thing I vastly prefer about Amazon’s store over iTunes is that many rentals last for 48 hours instead of just 24. I would rent many more movies from iTunes if I had the option to finish a movie over a weekend.
Rock Out (or Not) with Fire TV -- There is one huge, gaping hole in the Fire TV’s content lineup: Amazon MP3. That’s right, a box designed to feed you a constant stream of Amazon-provided content does not support Amazon’s own cloud-based music service. The mind boggles.
As of this writing, these are your music choices: Pandora streaming radio, iHeartRadio, Vevo music videos, and Qello concert videos. That’s it.
I can only guess that Amazon MP3 was pushed to the side in the rush to market, but whenever the Fire TV finally gets it (and we should see it soon), it will make for a powerful little music box, especially since it features an optical audio port that makes it easy to connect to just about any audio receiver.
Meanwhile, here’s another disappointment: there’s no option to connect to wireless speakers. No Bluetooth headphones, no AirPlay (obviously) speakers. The Apple TV supports AirPlay output and some Roku models feature a headphone jack in the remote, so this is one place where the Fire TV misfires.
If you’re a music fan, skip the Fire TV for now.
View Photos & Home Movies -- While the Fire TV stinks at music, it rocks for photos and home movies. It integrates with Amazon Cloud Drive, which lets you upload photos and videos from a Mac or iOS device.
I love Amazon Cloud Drive. On the Mac, it works much like Dropbox, keeping your files in a traditional folder structure. The free Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app can automatically upload photos and videos, placing them in a sub-folder. You get 5 GB of storage for free, with 20 GB for $10 a year, 50 GB for $25 a year, 100 GB for $50 a year, on up to a full 1,000 GB for $500 a year. The prices are more reasonable than Dropbox’s, and Amazon doesn’t try to lock your photos up in some proprietary scheme. I could see myself adopting it for my cloud photo needs, but that’s another article.
The interface for viewing your photos on the Fire TV might look familiar, and that’s because it’s almost identical to the iCloud Photos app on the Apple TV. Just as in Apple TV photos, there are rectangular buttons available in each album to view the photos as a slideshow, and you can set a photo album as a screen saver.
To change screen saver settings, navigate to Settings > System > Screen Saver. From there, you can change the source pictures, how long until the screen saver starts, and other settings. There aren’t nearly as many screen saver styles as on the Apple TV, only three: Pan & Zoom, Dissolve, and Mosaic.
The default screen saver is called the Amazon Collection, and features over 100 outdoor shots. It’s not as nice as the National Geographic pictures on the Apple TV, but is still pretty.
Playing with Fire -- Gaming is one area where the Fire TV puts the Apple TV to shame. While “playing” games on the Apple TV consists of AirPlaying iOS games to your Apple TV, the Fire TV has an app store with honest-to-goodness games that you can play on your TV with a controller.
So what can you play on the Fire TV? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Like the Kindle Fire tablets, the Fire TV runs Android underneath, making porting existing games easy for developers. In fact, most Fire TV games are cross-platform, so if I buy a game on the Fire TV, there’s a good chance I could download it from Amazon and play it on my Nexus 7.
Perhaps most noteworthy of the Fire TV’s launch titles is Minecraft: Pocket Edition, which is a port of the incredibly popular sandbox game. But frankly, I’d skip it. It’s an impressive port… of the Pocket Edition. While the full game is eight times larger than the Earth itself, you can walk across the pocket Minecraft world in under two minutes, and that’s with rough terrain.
Fortunately, there are better things to spend your money on. Sega has a large presence on the Fire TV, offering classics like Sonic, Virtua Tennis, and Crazy Taxi. Also available is former FunBITS pick Badland (see “FunBITS: Badland for iOS,” 21 June 2013), and it’s even more beautiful on the big screen than it was on the iPhone. Developer Gameloft is on board as well, offering the free-to-play Asphalt 8: Airborne, which is quite a bit of fun. You also have other great stuff like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Ski Safari, Deus Ex: The Fall, Terraria, Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame, Double Dragon Trilogy, and Cannabalt. In other words, many of your favorite mobile games on your TV.
A number of reviewers have bashed gaming on the Fire TV, and all I can think is, “Why?” I mean, really, what did you expect? It’s a $99 box that happens to play Android games, and unlike the Ouya, which is positioned primarily as a gaming device, the game controller doesn’t fall apart in your hands. I like these little casual games, and I’m willing to bet that they’ll be popular with Fire TV users. As a bonus, you don’t have to mess with discs.
Ah, but how do you control them? A surprising number of titles can be played with the included Fire TV Remote, if you’re a masochist. The Navigation ring and Select button are way too stiff to control even simple games like Badland properly, and you’d likely give yourself a nasty repetitive stress injury in the process.
To make up for that, Amazon offers the $39.99 Amazon Fire Game Controller. And you know what? It’s not bad, and better than I thought it would be. It’s solidly constructed, responsive, and comfortable. It’s based heavily on the Xbox’s controller design, and while it’s not as refined as Microsoft’s, it’s fine for casual gaming.
Given that Microsoft’s Xbox One controller costs around $50, Amazon’s controller seems a bit pricey, but to sweeten the deal, they give you 1,000 Amazon Coins and a copy of the Amazon-produced Sev Zero, a $6.99 value.
Sev Zero is a lot of fun. It’s a cross between a tower defense game and a third-person shooter. Each level is set out like a maze, with an objective you have to defend in the center. You have fixed positions where you can buy and install turrets, which automatically shoot at enemies. Once the game starts, enemies stream in from the sides, traversing your maze on the way to destroy your macguffin in the middle.
That’s a typical tower defense game. But where things get interesting is that you can teleport onto the field (crushing a baddie if you land right on top of him) and engage with the enemy directly.
Some reviewers have compared Sev Zero to Halo, rather unfavorably. But that misses the point. The Halo games cost $60, take several hours to beat, and include involved multiplayer elements. Sev Zero is the sort of game you play for 10–15 minutes at a time, and in that context, it’s a lot of fun.
But what about the Amazon Coins you get with the controller, what do you do with those? They’re used to buy apps and games, but not movies or TV shows. Basically, they’re Amazon credits, but as an incentive to use them, Amazon gives you a variable number of coins back on select purchases. Of course, you can still use real money, but you’ll pay more. When buying games from Amazon, Coins are the way to go, and the 1,000 you get with the controller can go pretty far. You can buy more at an exchange rate of about $1 per 100 coins, though Amazon sells them at a slight discount.
Overall, I enjoy gaming on the Fire TV. It’s clearly a side attraction, but that’s fine. It’s perfect for a quick session after my wife falls asleep during a movie, and it’s exactly what I’ve been wishing Apple would bring to the Apple TV.
Do More with Fire TV -- In the final chapter of “Take Control of Apple TV,” I covered three neat “hacks” you can do with the Apple TV:
As for the first “hack”, it’s not a hack on the Fire TV. Plex is available for $4.99 (or 499 Amazon Coins) in the app store. I could write an entire book on Plex by itself, but it adds a number of capabilities to the Fire TV, most notably access to videos, music, and photos from a local computer.
To use Plex, you first have to install and set up Plex Media Server on your Mac. As for the Fire TV’s Plex interface, it works just fine, though it might choke on HD movies if the server is still scanning your library.
While it’s cool that Plex is available on the Fire TV without any weird hacks, I also feel like Amazon’s leaning on it for features that should be built in, like music playback and playing local videos. Users shouldn’t have to pay $4.99 and run a server to do those things.
As for the second hack, Unblockus requires you to change your DNS servers, which you cannot do on the Fire TV. Instead, you need to change the DNS server on your router itself, which affects every device on your network, and may be undesirable.
Finally, as for recording content with the EyeTV HD, it works just fine, thanks to Plex. Instead of exporting recordings to iTunes, export them to the relevant Plex folder. In my experience, videos transcoded to work on the third-generation Apple TV play just fine on the Fire TV.
AirPlay or Lack Thereof -- In the book, I covered how to use AirPlay — Apple’s technology that lets you beam content from your iOS device to an Apple TV. The Fire TV doesn’t have that, but if you own a Fire HDX tablet, then you can mirror the display from there.
While I wasn’t able to test this feature, I presume it would allow you to do all the things you would typically do with AirPlay, such as display presentations on your TV via an Android app. Unfortunately, if you’re an iOS user, you’ll never know.
How Apple TV Stands Next to the Fire -- After this exhaustive comparison, I still have the same opinion of the Fire TV as I did in my original overview. If you’re heavily tied to iTunes Store content and AirPlay, there’s no replacing the Apple TV. But if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, the Fire TV is a device worth checking out.
Sadly, in today’s tech landscape, buying choices are shaped less by specs or features than by ecosystems — more to the point, which ecosystem you’re locked into. Apple, Google, and Amazon all want to own you, to get you to sell your soul to the company store. It’s not enough to just encourage you to buy a single product, they want you to buy all their products, buy from their content systems, and never stray to a competing ecosystem.
When I told my wife that our Fire TV experiment was over, she exclaimed, “Thank God.” While the Fire TV was a perfectly fine living room device, we had both missed the ubiquity of AirPlay, though she noted that she’ll miss having Pandora built into the TV.
AirPlay, HBO GO, iTunes, and Netflix are enough to make us happy to return to the Apple TV, but my time with the Fire TV has been a revelation. As Tim Cook has noted, the Apple TV has become a billion-dollar business, and if Apple wants to keep and grow that market, the Apple TV would benefit from:
A faster processor. The third-generation’s single-core A5 is starting to show its age.
A Bluetooth remote. However, it’d be nice if a fourth-generation Apple TV also had an infrared receiver to maintain compatibility with universal remotes.
An App Store. It’s long overdue.
Gaming. The potential market is too large for Apple to ignore.
Siri search. Voice Search may be the Fire TV feature I miss the most, and I think Apple could take it to a whole new level.
Quick skip buttons. I shouldn’t have to program another remote to be able to easily skip back a few seconds in a video.
Lengthier iTunes rentals.
While the Fire TV has a few annoyances, most could be fixed with software updates. I think for Apple to remain competitive, it will need a new piece of hardware and soon.
But at the same time, I think Apple has a real opportunity here. Amazon made the classic mistake of skating to where the puck is. Sure, the Fire TV has a few advantages over the current Apple TV, but now Apple has a clear opening to take TV to the next level.
That said, Amazon won’t rest on its laurels. It’s clearly competing for the living room. For instance, Amazon is currently offering a financing deal on the Fire TV; pay 20 percent at checkout, and the rest over the course of four months. The company clearly wants to get a Fire TV into every living room in America.
I often hear from “Take Control of Apple TV” readers who haven’t yet bought an Apple TV, asking if they should go ahead and buy the current model or wait. My typical response has been to go for it if the current model suits their needs.
But I now recommend waiting. I can’t know if the Fire TV is right for you, but the current Apple TV feels dated, and I have to think Apple will be releasing an update soon — in time for the Christmas buying season at the latest.
If you already have an Apple TV, I see no reason to rush out and buy a Fire TV, unless you want easier access to Amazon content. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from having both a Fire TV and an Apple TV, if they’re within your budget and you have enough TV/receiver inputs.
In the end, I think the most important thing to realize about the Fire TV, and something that most reviews have missed, is that the Fire TV is merely Amazon’s opening salvo. It’s going to evolve, and quickly. I expect Amazon to fine tune the software and add more content channels in the near future, and use Fire TV as a way of making it ever easier to shop on Amazon — perhaps for physical items as well as digital media. That, after all, is Amazon’s overriding goal.
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As always, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference introduced new technologies for game developers, and Apple recognized some great games and other amusements in the annual Apple Design Awards. Let’s take a look at this year’s highlights.
New Technologies for Gamers -- Apple introduced a few new game development technologies at WWDC, and while they won’t change the Apple gaming experience overnight, they give game developers powerful new tools.
The first is Metal, which is a new API for game development that bypasses OpenGL entirely, allowing access to the “bare metal” of the A7 processor. Apple claims that Metal will increase draw call rates by 10 times, making more graphically elaborate games possible on iOS.
Apple has been working with game engine developers like EA, which makes the Frostbite engine that powers the Battlefield games, and Epic Games, which produces the popular Unreal engine. EA demoed a Metal-powered version of Frostbite with the upcoming “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare” that displayed an impressive 1.3 million triangles on screen at once. In turn, Epic showed off a demo called “Zen Garden” that boasted a number of impressive effects, such as drawing 3,500 individual butterflies on screen simultaneously. (Zen Garden will be available for free on the App Store after iOS 8 is released.)
Game developer Brianna Wu, writing for Cult of Mac, expressed her excitement, saying that Metal should bring a number of console-level graphic capabilities to iOS that weren’t possible before, such as specular maps (which can create effects like glistening rocks), transparency, and more onscreen enemies.
Apple is also bringing the SceneKit developer tool to iOS. SceneKit makes it easier for developers to put 3D elements into their games, and they will be able to use it alongside SpriteKit to create 2D games with 3D elements.
But perhaps the most interesting new option for developers is something called Controller Forwarding, which will let a player control a game on an iPad or Mac with an iPhone inside a game controller case (like the Logitech PowerShell), using both the controller’s buttons and the iPhone’s touchscreen and sensors to play the game.
Controller Forwarding allows for some interesting possibilities, but I’m skeptical that developers will take it seriously. There are too many variables involved to be worth implementing.
As a side note, as an Apple TV enthusiast, I’m excited for the possibilities that Metal may bring to Apple TV gaming — if and when games ever arrive on the Apple TV.
Apple Design Awards -- This year, Apple gave its illustrious Apple Design Awards to 12 apps for the Mac and iOS, a couple of which we’ve covered here in FunBITS in the past. Interestingly, most of the award winners were leisure-oriented apps, with not much in the way of productivity. Here’s the full list:
Sky Guide: An astronomy app that’s reminiscent of Star Walk (see “FunBITS: Star Walk for iPhone and iPad,” 5 July 2013), Sky Guide adds further polish to the astronomical app genre. ($1.99, 104 MB, iOS 6+)
Cinemagraph Pro: A Mac tool for creating “living photos,” Cinemagraph Pro can create an otherwise still photograph with some moving parts, such as a fluttering dress, starting from a video (watch the demo!). ($199.99 but currently on sale for $24.99, 5.9 MB, 10.9+)
Storehouse: Storehouse is a visual storytelling tool for the iPad that lets you combine photos, videos, and text, and share them with your friends. (Free, 35.5 MB, iOS 7+)
Monument Valley: A previous FunBITS pick (see “FunBITS: Monument Valley for iPhone and iPad,” 25 April 2014), Monument Valley is a short but stylish puzzle game. ($3.99, 147 MB, iOS 6+)
Threes! — Another FunBITS entry (see “FunBITS: Threes Is Good Company for iPhone and iPad,” 21 February 2014), Threes is a stylish tile-based puzzle game for the iPad and iPhone. Don’t settle for imitations! ($1.99, 48.8 MB, iOS 6+)
DEVICE 6 — A unique, surreal blend of a novel and a game, DEVICE 6 is a 1960s-style thriller that will keep you guessing. ($3.99, 137 MB, iOS 5.1+)
Blek — A game in which you draw moving lines in order to collect colored circles, the best-selling Blek is a calligraphic challenge. ($2.99, 28 MB, iOS 6+)
Leo’s Fortune — One of iOS’s most graphically impressive games, Leo’s Fortune is a platform game where you play a mustachioed, inflatable furball in search of the thief who stole his fortune. ($2.99, 97.6 MB, iOS 7+)
Day One — A journaling app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Day One can automatically import information such as the day’s weather and location, and even publish your journal entries as Web pages. (Mac: $9.99, 13 MB, 10.7.4+. iOS: $4.99, 24.4 MB, iOS 7+.)
Yahoo News Digest — Delivering a digest of the day’s top stories twice a day to your iPhone, Yahoo News Digest is a slick news app that draws in information, quotes, and pictures from a variety of sources. (Free, 19.2 MB, iOS 7+)
Teachley: Addimal Adventure — A student-designed educational game for the iPad, Addimal Adventure teaches basic math skills with cartoon animals. (Free, 129 MB, iOS 6+)
PanoPerfect — Another student winner, PanoPerfect is a social network designed to share panoramic photos on the iPhone. (Free, 3.5 MB, iOS 7+)
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Keyboard Maestro 6.4.3 -- Peter Lewis of Stairways Software has released Keyboard Maestro 6.4.3, a small update that solves a problem with the macro editor eating too many CPU cycles — especially with Google Chrome actions. The release now updates only visible actions in the editor window, and it fixes incorrect text in the non-edit mode display of Quit/Hide Applications. ($36 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 24.8 MB, release notes, 10.8+)
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Tinderbox 6.0 -- Eastgate Systems has released Tinderbox 6.0, a major update to the personal content assistant that helps you store and organize your notes, plans, and ideas (first reviewed in TidBITS in 2002 — see “Light Your Fire with Tinderbox,” 14 October 2002). The rewritten and re-imagined Tinderbox adds an Attribute Browser with multiple ways of examining a document (any section of it, or in entirety), tabbed windows that enable you to switch amongst different views, new mapping shapes and badges, and a flexible Get Info popover. Tinderbox also adds support for addresses and ISBNs to anticipate your needs when working with places and books, and assigns agents their own processor to quicken updates. You can upgrade to Tinderbox 6.0 for free if you purchased or upgraded Tinderbox in the past year (on or after 29 May, 2013). Any license purchased before that date can upgrade to Tinderbox 6.0 for $98. ($249 new, free update, 37.5 MB, 10.8+)
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BBEdit 10.5.11 and TextWrangler 4.5.9 -- Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit 10.5.11 and TextWrangler 4.5.9, with both updates fixing a crash that would occasionally occur when trying to balance delimiters, as well as another occasional crash at startup. The two text editors also work around some “elusive” behavior that caused incorrect change notifications to be sent for watched folders, which would in turn cause inappropriate refreshes of Scripts, Text Filters, Stationery, and/or Clippings menus. BBEdit 10.5.11 fixes a bug in OS X 10.8 Mountain
Lion that broke the running-browser detection, ensures Dropbox is discovered for accessing content (after a change to the on-disk format of
~/.dropbox/), and fixes a couple of other instances of crashes. ($49.99 for BBEdit, free update, 13 MB, release notes; free for TextWrangler, 9.5 MB, release notes)
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Fission 2.2.1 -- Rogue Amoeba has released Fission 2.2.1 with a fix for incompatible ALAC files generated by non-Apple applications (such as doubleTwist’s AirPlay Recorder). The audio editor also improves the way that ringtones are saved for better compatibility, though Mac App Store users may experience duplicate files depending on iTunes import preferences. Rogue Amoeba now ensures that all of its apps offer the same bit rate options for consistency. Fission also does away with unnecessary gaps at the beginning of files when exporting FLAC or ALAC files and can now open GSM, MS IMA, QT IMA, and CAF formats. ($32 new from Rogue Amoeba with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 14.5 MB, release notes, 10.7+)
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1Password 4.4.1 -- AgileBits has released 1Password 4.4.1, which now keeps one backup of your 1Password database from each month for up to two years. The password manager continues to run a daily backup (if data is changed), but now rolls over to the single monthly backup after 30 daily backups. It also adds support for WhiteHat Aviator, a free Web browser developed by WhiteHat Security that turns on private browsing, ad blocking, and Do Not Track functionality by default. The update also improves the Password Generator in 1Password mini so it can generate passwords up to 50 characters, makes the last date that Watchtower was updated visible (Preferences > Watchtower), shortens delays in displaying the mini details view popover, fixes a sync issue that caused CPU usage to spike in conjunction with 1Password mini, reduces log file sizes (following introduction of a bug in version 4.4 that increased their size), and updates translations. ($49.99 new with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS members when purchased from AgileBits, also available from the Mac App Store, free update, 38.9 MB, release notes, 10.8+)
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In this week’s ExtraBITS, Josh Centers talked about WWDC on The Tech Night Owl podcast; our own Tonya Engst, Michael Cohen, and Glenn Fleishman discussed digital publishing; HBO’s John Oliver crashed the FCC’s commenting system; and Apple turns out to have a powerful ally in the battle for the quantified self.
Josh Centers Discusses WWDC Announcements on The Tech Night Owl -- Managing Editor Josh Centers joined host Gene Steinberg on The Tech Night Owl podcast to discuss the flood of new products and features Apple announced at this year’s WWDC, including OS X Yosemite, iOS 8, iCloud Drive, and Swift.
The Ins and Outs of Digital Publishing Discussed -- Digital publisher and podcaster Glenn Fleishman has a new podcast, The Periodicalist, and its second episode (though the first to be recorded) features our own Tonya Engst and Michael Cohen, and Macworld’s Serenity Caldwell discussing how you go about making digital books these days. Insights and war stories sprinkle the conversation as it ranges over all the things you need to know and do to be an epublisher.
John Oliver Crashes the FCC for Net Neutrality -- Daily Show alumnus John Oliver, who now hosts HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” crashed the FCC’s comment system after encouraging viewers to pelt the commission with comments about its latest “net neutrality” proposal, which would enable “fast lanes” for content providers who pay ISPs. The FCC’s comment system was down for much of the day on 2 June 2014, but still managed to log 1,414 comments about the proposed regulations. Be sure to follow the link in the article for Oliver’s hilarious (though explicit — this is HBO, after all) video explaining net neutrality.
Apple’s New Health App Could be Epic -- During this year’s WWDC keynote, Apple announced Health, a new app in iOS 8 that will aggregate data from various health trackers like the Fitbit in one place. But the real trick up Apple’s sleeve might be its partnership with Epic Systems, the leading electronic health records company in the United States, holding about 40 percent of U.S. health records. The Health app will be able to interface directly with Epic’s health records.