December is winding down, at least in the business world, and this marks our last email issue of TidBITS for 2017. We’ll be paying attention to industry happenings for the rest of the week and covering those that merit your attention, but after that, we’ll be descending into holiday hibernation through New Year’s Day. I sincerely hope that you have the opportunity to spend this time as you wish, with the people you most enjoy. The next email issue of TidBITS will come out on 8 January 2018.
During our time off, we won’t be publishing TidBITS, but we will be looking both back and forward. 2017 was a year of change for us, with selling Take Control Books (see “Take Control Books Acquired by Joe Kissell,” 1 May 2017) and launching the TidBITS Content Network (“Introducing the TidBITS Content Network for Apple Consultants,” 13 February 2017). And I’m pleased to say that the massive rework of our Internet infrastructure is well underway — last week I got my first look at the staging site, complete with over 27 years’ worth of back content.
One thing we’re completely redoing is the technology underneath our TidBITS membership program, which what makes it possible for us to keep publishing TidBITS today. To everyone who supports our efforts, thank you so much! It means a great deal to us that we get to create practical, helpful information for you rather than chasing rumor and controversy to attract eyeballs. Many of you are renewing now, and that’s great. But if you have any trouble due to expired credit card numbers or the like, feel free to wait until we spin up the new system in January.
Of course, we’re always grateful for our long-term corporate sponsors: Smile, makers of the essential TextExpander and PDFpen utilities, and Backblaze, our favorite Internet backup service.
Tonya and I are also thankful for the highly capable and amiable assistance of Josh Centers, Michael Cohen, Agen Schmitz, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Glenn Fleishman, Rich Mogull, Lauri Reinhardt, and Matt Neuburg. You’re all wonderful people, and while we try to express our appreciation regularly, we wanted to thank you here in public as well.
Funding from TidBITS members enabled us to commission numerous articles again this year, and big thanks to those who helped us to expand our coverage, including Jeff Porten, Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Jeffrey Battersby (yes, having a name that’s a variant of “Jeff” is a plus if you want to write for TidBITS), Mike Matthews, Joe Kissell, Marc Zeedar, Kirk McElhearn, Mark Anbinder, and William Porter.
Our gratitude also goes out to the industrious volunteers who translate TidBITS into Dutch and Japanese each week, to those who comment on articles and participate in SlackBITS and TidBITS Talk, and to everyone who finds time to read what we write.
Thank you, one and all, and may all your holiday wishes come true. See you in 2018!
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After Zac Hall of 9to5Mac discovered a major HomeKit vulnerability, Apple fixed it on the server side, which had the unfortunate side effect of preventing you from granting remote access to your HomeKit devices to other users (see “HomeKit Vulnerability Discovered, Already Patched,” 8 December 2017). Now Apple has released iOS 11.2.1 and tvOS 11.2.1 to address the security flaw while continuing to allow remote access for shared users.
It makes sense that iOS and tvOS were updated together since you can use an iPad, fourth-generation Apple TV, or Apple TV 4K as a HomeKit hub for remote access.
I was curious about the exact nature of the exploit because both Apple and 9to5Mac were intentionally vague. Steve Troughton-Smith revealed on Twitter that it allowed someone to activate a scene remotely with only an email address. As I explained in “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: Core Concepts” (3 November 2016), a scene in HomeKit is like a macro in that it does several things at once, like turn on a set of lights. If you had a HomeKit-enabled lock on your front door and a scene tied to it, an attacker could have unlocked your front door from across the globe!
You can obtain the iOS 11.2.1 update, which weighs in at 60.2 MB on the iPad Pro, either in Settings > General > Software Update or via iTunes. The HomeKit vulnerability was the only one addressed in the update. Likewise, you can install tvOS 11.2.1 by going to Settings > System > Software Updates. Again, the HomeKit vulnerability was all that Apple addressed in the update. If you don’t use HomeKit, there’s no reason we can see to install these updates.
As someone who has written extensively about HomeKit in my “A Prairie HomeKit Companion” series and touted its superior security over other home automation solutions, I’m disappointed but not terribly surprised. Vulnerabilities are inevitable. The good news is that, because Apple is a responsible company, the problem was solved quickly and openly. That said, I’m still leery of securing my house with a HomeKit-enabled lock.
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Congratulations to Frank Carroll at pobox.com, Glenn Gray at yahoo.com, Per F. Christensen at gmail.com, Scribner Messenger at messengerconnection.com, and Warren Bumpus at gmail.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in the last DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of BeLight Software’s print design app Swift Publisher 5. We presume they will all soon have flyers, brochures, and postcards for everyone to see.
Don’t fret if you didn’t win, since BeLight Software is offering a whopping 50 percent discount off Swift Publisher 5 through 25 December 2017, dropping the price from $19.99 to $9.99. To take advantage of this exclusive discount for TidBITS readers, use this link.
Thanks to the 244 people who entered this DealBITS drawing!
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As publishers of Take Control Books, we’ve participated in the annual WinterFest sale put on by a group of small Mac developers for the last few years. That’s no longer our call, but Joe Kissell tells us that Take Control will once again be among the companies making their products available at a 25 percent discount throughout WinterFest. That will include a passel of new books, such as Tonya Engst’s “Take Control of Mac Basics,” Jeff Carlson’s “Take Control of Lightroom CC,” Jason Snell’s “Photos: A Take Control Crash Course,” Kirk McElhearn’s “Take Control of Scrivener 3,” and Joe’s own best-seller, “Take Control of iCloud, Sixth Edition.”
This time around, WinterFest is due to start on 20 December 2017 and run at least through 9 January 2018. The pages aren’t quite ready, but if you can wait a day or two, you’ll find discounts on all sorts of great Mac apps. New this year is the Panorama X database, the latest version of yet another app that was essential to our business in the Take Control days. It joins a crowd of other essential bits of hand-crafted software, including Aeon Timeline, Bookends, DEVONthink Pro and Pro Office, HoudahSpot, Nisus Writer Pro, Storyspace, TaskPaper, TextExpander, and Tinderbox. Be sure to give WinterFest a look if you’re in need of any Take Control books or Mac tools!
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As promised, Apple released the iMac Pro before the end of 2017, quietly showing the date orders would start on its Web page a few days early and taking purchases as of 14 December 2017. We wrote a bit about the first impressions from a few YouTubers and others who Apple seeded with early units in “The iMac Pro Arrives on December 14th” (12 December 2017), but more details have since been revealed.
Specs and Options -- Most notably, the iMac Pro will seem expensive, with the base model starting at $4999. For that you get a machine with the following specs:
One fascinating addition is the iMac Pro’s ARM-based T2 chip, which manages encryption and security throughout the system, among much else. It can provide a secure boot option in which the T2 processor validates every aspect of the boot process to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. We hope to have more in-depth analysis of the T2 processor in the future.
You can spend more to soup up the iMac Pro even further. Here are your CPU options, although the 14-core and 18-core models aren’t shipping for 6–8 weeks.
And your RAM options:
Although you cannot upgrade the iMac Pro in any way yourself, Rene Ritchie of iMore noted that you can have more RAM installed later by taking it to an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider.
Those hoping for a user-upgradable professional machine will have to hold out for the promised modular Mac Pro redesign, which Apple said would appear sometime after 2017. The company has given no hints as to what it will look like, how much it will cost, or what its specs might be. However, Rene Ritchie says that it will be accompanied by Pro Displays — yay!
If you want more solid-state storage space, you can get it, but brace yourself on the pricing:
There’s only one option for a video upgrade:
The iMac Pro comes with a space gray Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, as well as a space gray Magic Mouse 2. However, the space gray Magic Trackpad is a $50 add-on. Since you cannot buy the space gray accessories separately, you might want to consider spending $149 to get both the Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Trackpad 2. There’s also a VESA Mount Adapter Kit for iMac Pro available, which will set you back $79 if you want to attach the iMac Pro to a desk or a wall.
About That Price -- Fully maxed out, the iMac Pro will set you back a whopping $13,348. Some are reporting a top price closer to $14,000, but that’s including a VESA Mount Adapter Kit and pre-installed copies of Final Cut Pro X ($299.99) and Logic Pro X ($199.99). AppleCare+ for the iMac Pro remains priced at $169.
That’s undoubtedly a lot of money, but in general, if you think it’s too expensive, you’re not in the target audience. Apple is aiming the iMac Pro at the sort of people — video editors, audio professionals, engineers, and developers — for whom time translates directly into money. If you can turn an edit around or compile a complex app sufficiently faster, you’ll soon make up the cost of the iMac Pro in increased productivity.
There’s still no reason to spend money unnecessarily. Developer Marco Arment recommends ordering through the business rep at your local Apple Store (assuming you’ll be using this machine for business) to get a 5 to 15 percent discount and looking at state sales tax exemptions like New York’s ST121.3 exemption for computer system hardware used by programmers and Web developers (who knew?).
Early Coverage -- Some of the first coverage to appear came from YouTuber Marques Brownlee, who Apple seeded with an early-access unit. His video is a pretty good analysis of how the iMac Pro works for video production with the latest version of Final Cut Pro X.
London-based video editor Thomas Carter wrote up his initial impressions for Randi Altman’s postPerspective. In short: “These tests really blew me away. They aren’t necessarily going to be everyday scenarios for most people, or even me, but they make it possible to imagine editing workflows in which you’re working at close to the highest quality possible throughout the entire process. … While I really haven’t had enough time to do a deep dive, it’s clearly the best Mac I’ve ever used — it’s stupidly powerful and great to work on.”
At least one developer received an early iMac Pro: Craig A. Hunter of Hunter Research and Technology, who tested the iMac Pro with some NASA tools for aerodynamic design and development. He summed up his review with:
There’s an old saying about money burning a hole in one’s pocket. Every once in a while, a product comes along that has a similar but reverse effect on me — it’s a product that’s so compelling, so exciting, so gorgeous to look at, that it causes my wallet to heat up and maybe even burst into flames. The new iMac Pro is one of those products.
For what is perhaps the most interesting article, though, turn to Ars Technica, for whom writer Samuel Axon profiles professional uses of the iMac Pro already underway. He said, “There’s no question that the performance on display here is cutting edge — especially for an all-in-one. Creative professionals who are entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem will probably be delighted to have such a powerful machine to work with, even if it may not be as adaptable as the promised Mac Pro update we’re still waiting for.”
We won’t be ordering an iMac Pro for anyone at TidBITS because nothing we do requires such power, but if you get one, we’re curious to hear how its performance enhances your productivity.
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I now have an iPhone X and have returned my iPhone 7 Plus, thus completing one full cycle of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, and I thought I’d share my impressions and answer any questions you may have.
For those out of the loop on the iPhone Upgrade Program, here’s a quick refresher. In the United States, cell phones used to be sold by carriers on a two-year contract. You’d get the phone at a low, subsidized price, usually $200 or so, and would pay off the rest of the phone’s cost as part of the service fee for the next two years.
Carriers tired of this approach, and after T-Mobile successfully implemented an installment plan for buying the iPhone 5 in 2013, the industry began phasing out subsidized phones and contract service.
Some pundits, like Jay Yarrow, formerly of Business Insider, claimed that this would doom Apple. But as we now know, that was far from reality, because Apple adapted to the new environment.
Many people don’t want to cough up the $649 to $1348 for a new iPhone all at once, so carriers started offering installment plans that let customers pay the phone off over 24 months. Most of these plans let you trade in a phone after a year or so for a new one, assuming the phone is in decent condition. Apart from activation fees, this installment approach costs you nothing extra beyond perpetual device payments. If you pay off a phone instead of trading it in, it’s yours to keep.
Apple, seeing a market opportunity, launched its own installment program, the iPhone Upgrade Program, which is essentially the same as the carrier installment plans, except that it includes AppleCare+, which explains why its monthly fee is higher than plans from the carriers.
(I got a chance to use AppleCare+ with my iPhone 7 Plus since I stupidly broke the screen while on vacation just days after acquiring it. Getting it fixed required a typical Apple Store visit with the two-hour drive, two-hour wait in the snooty mall with no food, followed by a two-hour drive home. However, I paid only $29 plus $2.68 in sales tax for the repair instead of the usual $149 fee. You get two screen replacements with AppleCare+ at that price before you have to start paying full price to fix a cracked screen.)
Now, to take some of the mystique out of all of this: the iPhone Upgrade Program is actually an interest-free loan administered by Citizens One. Every year, when you order a new iPhone through the program, Citizens One checks your credit (a “hard pull,” which can negatively affect your credit score) and issues you a new loan if you’re approved.
Despite being administered by a third party, the iPhone Upgrade Program has some uniquely Apple pros and cons.
iPhone Upgrade Program: Hands-On Experience -- My first impression of the iPhone Upgrade Program in 2016 was not great. It was the middle of the night, and not only was I sleepily fumbling to order an iPhone 7 Plus quickly, I also had to fill out a loan form. It wasn’t onerous, but when you’re fighting the rush and unstable servers, every second counts. Everything went through, but the extra paperwork prevented me from getting the iPhone 7 Plus on day one — it arrived a week after launch.
I know, that’s the very definition of a first-world problem, but because I do this for a living, I’m under pressure to get Apple products as soon as possible so I can tell you about them. Also, it stands to reason that iPhone Upgrade Program customers are Apple’s most loyal and want each new iPhone right away.
(One note for American iPhone customers. While Apple sells you an unlocked phone via the iPhone Upgrade Program — another upside of the program, especially for international travelers — that’s only true if you’re a customer of one of the four major carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Apple will not sell you an unlocked phone with no plan, nor will it sell you a phone that works with Virgin Mobile, even though Virgin Mobile is an iPhone-exclusive carrier. Also, the iPhone Upgrade Program only offers the latest iPhones, so you can’t use it to buy last year’s model.)
After you place your order, there’s no way to know if Citizens One has approved you until you receive an approval email. That could take hours or even days, so if you’re trying to beat a rush, it adds extra stress. And if you entered something incorrectly, which is easy to do in the middle of the night, you’re set for an even longer delay. I hope Apple improves this onboarding process in the future.
However, Apple made up for it this year, when it came time to order the iPhone X. Several days before pre-orders began, I was prompted to open the Apple Store app, choose my model, and work through the approval process beforehand. When pre-order madness hit in the middle of the night, it took only a couple of taps on my iPhone to complete my upgrade. Some iPhone Upgrade Program customers didn’t receive their iPhones on the first possible day, but it seemed to give us better odds. As it should, since we’re giving money directly to Apple instead of a third-party seller.
Once you’re in the program, everything is automatic. The credit card you supplied when you signed up is charged automatically every month. And yes, that’s another catch — you must have a credit card to sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program. Debit cards are not allowed.
Also note that you’re charged the full amount of sales tax up front, in addition to your first monthly payment. Be aware of that if you’re on a tight budget.
The process of returning my iPhone 7 Plus was easy. A few days after my iPhone X arrived, I received a nondescript cardboard box containing a bag, a SIM removal tool, two pieces of tape, and instructions. All I had to do was reset the iPhone 7 Plus, pop out its SIM card and replace the empty tray, drop it in the bag, put the bag in the box, tape up the box, tear away the shipping label to expose the return label, and hand it to the FedEx guy when he next delivered a package. It’s almost as painless as Apple could make it; if you’ve ever sent a device to Apple for repair, that’s a similar experience.
A few days later, I received an email from Apple letting me know that my trade-in was complete and that my loan had been closed. That was a relief, because my iPhone 7 Plus had a gouge in the back. If Apple had been dissatisfied with its condition, I could have been charged a repair fee. Fortunately, Apple doesn’t seem to be that particular, although I presume a cracked screen would require repair.
Where the iPhone Upgrade Program Fails -- Apple products are like rides at Disney World: they work great as long as you’re behaving as expected, but the second you go off the rails, things get messy. The iPhone Upgrade Program is no different.
As long as you stick to the plan, the iPhone Upgrade Program works flawlessly. But if you need to change a payment method, want to pay off a device early, or need to make up a payment, you have to deal with Citizens One, because Apple handles none of that. And dealing with Citizens One requires creating an account with them, which you otherwise don’t have to do.
Happily, I had no problems and only created an account while researching this article. Which is good, because the process is agonizing. I didn’t keep count, but it probably took 30 to 40 attempts to create a username/password combo that Citizens One would accept. Check the screenshot for the inane list of password requirements.
Once I logged in, there wasn’t much the Citizens One Web site would let me do. You can change the payment method, and that’s about it. I dug around until I found a link about paying off my iPhone early, and it told me to call them. Ugh.
That said, in my experience, Verizon, from which we bought my wife’s iPhone, isn’t any better. Although the Verizon site offered a large, red, PAY OFF YOUR DEVICE button, I couldn’t get it to work, and I ended up paying off my wife’s iPhone via customer support chat. I’ve been told that AT&T makes it easy to pay a phone off early from its Web site, but it only lets you pay off the full amount, not make multiple early payments.
Ideally, I should be able to make early payments or pay off an iPhone entirely from the Web site, without having to have a conversation with anyone. I suspect that Apple and the carriers don’t want to make this easy, because they want you paying in perpetuity.
If you’re an iPhone X user on the iPhone Upgrade Program, you might find yourself dealing with a hassle in 2018, especially if you want the latest iPhone immediately. The iPhone X arrived a month after the iPhone 8, but if Apple releases the next top-tier iPhone in less than 12 months — the minimum number of payments Apple requires before you can trade up — you may have to wait until you have made the equivalent of 12 payments:
You will still be eligible to upgrade next year. However, your new upgrade eligibility date will be determined by the start date of your new iPhone Upgrade Program loan. Please note that you are eligible to upgrade after six months in the program, as long as you have made the equivalent of at least 12 payments.
Other iPhone Upgrade Program members have told me that if you attempt an early upgrade via Apple’s Web site, you’re prompted to pay the remaining amount to equal 12 payments directly to Apple. So if you’ve had your iPhone for only 10 months and you pay $45 per month for it, you’ll be required to pay another $90 to upgrade right away.
The most annoying part about the required cycle is that if you have to wait even a week to order a new iPhone, you may end up waiting much longer to receive it as shipping times slip further and further out.
I’ll withhold judgment until next year, but if the iPhone Upgrade Program makes me wait a long time for the next iPhone or pay an outrageous fee to get it on time, I’ll seriously consider alternatives.
Is the iPhone Upgrade Program Right for You? -- When the iPhone Upgrade Program debuted, you had to go to an Apple Store to purchase or trade in an iPhone. It was hard to endorse then, but now that you can complete the entire cycle remotely, it’s a lot easier to recommend.
The iPhone Upgrade Program is probably the best bet for dedicated iPhone enthusiasts who always want the latest device but don’t want to pay all at once. And if you tend to be rough on your devices, AppleCare+ is a far better deal than the insurance offered by the carriers.
Here are two questions to ask before signing up:
Do you need or want AppleCare+? For iPhones with exorbitant repair costs, like the iPhone X, AppleCare+ is a good idea. But if you don’t have an Apple Store nearby, AppleCare+ may not be your best bet for insurance.
Are you tempted by non-Apple phones? If you’re considering an Android phone, you may not want to be locked into Apple’s program. (However, perusing Apple’s fine print, it appears that you can get out of your commitment a year early by upgrading to a new iPhone and then returning it. Your mileage may vary.)
For many iPhone users, I think the iPhone Upgrade Program is a financial win because you don’t have to pay for AppleCare+ up front. You can keep the iPhone if you wish, but if you want to switch, you can do so after 12 payments. It offers more flexibility than buying it outright. And if you buy one outright every year, unless you have the hustle to sell your old phone each time, you’re going to end up paying more than you would through the iPhone Upgrade Program.
Also, if you’re wondering: yes, you can buy more than one iPhone through the iPhone Upgrade Program. The trick is, when you come to the choice of “I’d like to enroll” or “I’m already part of the program,” choose “enroll.” That lets you set up a second Citizens One loan.
Despite some small caveats, Apple has rewarded my faith at every step. I originally signed up for the iPhone Upgrade Program with the hope that the company would allow trade-ins by mail the following year, and that came to pass. Over the next few years, I anticipate the iPhone Upgrade Program will become Apple’s preferred way to sell iPhones, and those customers will be incentivized to buy directly from Apple. For serious Apple fans who want the latest iPhone every year without a large up-front payment, it’s a good choice.
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Whenever new photo software appears, it triggers a round of evaluation for photographers. Should you investigate the new app, or is what you’re using now working well enough for your needs? I suspect many Mac users are using the Photos app in macOS and iOS, along with iCloud Photo Library for syncing among multiple devices. (I’m sure there are plenty of people still using Aperture and iPhoto too, but if that’s you, think seriously about switching to something that’s supported before it gets too hard.)
Adobe recently made a significant shift in its Lightroom ecosystem that’s worth considering. “Lightroom” now exists as two separate applications: Lightroom CC is an entirely new app that Adobe built around cloud synchronization, whereas Lightroom Classic CC is the new name of the photo editor and organizer that recently marked its 10th year on the market. (If you’re confused, it’s not you: Lightroom Classic was previously named Lightroom CC.) This move has implications for both existing Lightroom users and those looking to step up their photography without jumping into the pro end of editing and organizing images.
Especially for the latter group, Lightroom CC deserves a look. In fact, I believe Adobe’s change is so significant that I just wrote an entire book about the new app. The 133-page “Take Control of Lightroom CC” goes into detail about how to import, edit, and synchronize your photo library in Lightroom CC. It also includes a chapter devoted to making Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic work together, for folks who currently use Lightroom Classic and want to give Lightroom CC a try.
A Modern Approach -- We’ve seen this before. Apple developed Photos for Mac because it needed an application that put iCloud Photo Library at its center and made it possible to access one’s entire photo library on any Apple device. iPhoto wasn’t designed for that, so the company chose to start over rather than bolt on its iCloud vision.
The difference in Adobe’s approach is that Lightroom users aren’t faced with an all-or-nothing choice going forward. Apple not only stopped work on iPhoto, it also abandoned its pro-level tool, Aperture. Since many Aperture users switched over to Lightroom, Adobe learned from Apple’s unpopular move. Lightroom Classic remains the full-featured, pro version of Lightroom, and Adobe is still actively developing it. Lightroom CC includes most of Lightroom Classic’s core features and is designed to be able to access your entire library from any device.
I’ve used Lightroom Classic for years, but I have to admit that Lightroom CC is less intimidating. For example, one of the features I love about Lightroom Classic is its capability to apply metadata during import, because it can save a lot of time later. You can also rename files, make backup copies, and apply edits (and save all of those options in dedicated presets) during the same operation. But cramming all of that into the Import window makes some photographers wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into. Lightroom CC focuses just on selecting which photos to import, with the option to put them into an album at import. It’s less capable than Lightroom Classic but much more friendly to people who aren’t looking for power features.
Or consider some of the modules in Lightroom Classic, which enable you to create sophisticated slideshows, Web sites, and book layouts. Those are great features, but how many people really take advantage of them?
Lightroom CC is a streamlined appeal to the sort of people who use Apple’s Photos (and Google Photos): those who want to store and edit their photos with a minimum amount of friction.
Of course, the term “streamlined” is often used to mask shortcomings. “This car isn’t missing wheels; it’s just streamlined!” And Lightroom CC is starting out at version 1.0 with some holes to fill. It cannot print. It can currently share only to Facebook or by exporting images. The search feature, which is powered by Adobe Sensei technology, employs machine learning to identify objects and scenes in photos; however, it’s entirely server-based, so you need an Internet connection to perform a search of your photo library. Adobe has said it’s working on incorporating features such as the HDR and panorama merge tools found in Lightroom Classic, so I suspect others will also appear as the application moves beyond its initial release.
Adobe is already starting to fill those holes. Lightroom CC 1.1 added a Tone Curve editing control, a Split Toning tool, and improved the Auto feature by basing it on Adobe Sensei neural network technology.
So what does Lightroom CC bring to the game for someone taking stock of their photo system? I see two main areas that are appealing: the capability to perform local adjustments within an image and the way Adobe has built the cloud synchronization.
Photo Editing Advantages -- When you edit an image in Apple’s Photos, the adjustments you make apply to the entire photo. Increasing the exposure, for instance, makes everything in the image brighter, not just objects in the foreground. Sometimes that’s what you want, but it can also mean the sky becomes entirely white and loses definition as a consequence.
Lightroom CC includes a trio of tools that let you apply settings to specific areas. The Linear Gradient tool defines a broad area where you can apply adjustments. Do you wish the colors in a sunset photo looked more like the moody hues you remember? Creating a linear gradient over the sky gives you a canvas on which to boost saturation, clarity, contrast and the other editing tools; since it’s a graduated selection, the effect fades gently into the rest of the image.
The Radial Gradient tool does the same thing but within an oval shape. If a person’s face is dark in an image, you can add a radial gradient that increases the exposure and shadows values to brighten it, with the effect blended into the surrounding pixels so it doesn’t pop unnaturally from the overall photo. I often add radial gradients to subjects’ eyes to subtly brighten them and enhance the saturation.
If you need more precision, the Brush tool lets you paint adjustments to individual areas.
The Brush also paints or erases areas of gradients, such as when you want to add contrast to a sky, but want to exclude foreground elements like boat masts or distant hills that stick up into the linear gradient area.
For still other adjustments, you can send any Lightroom CC photo to Adobe Photoshop, which excels at more complicated edits. The Healing Brush in Lightroom is pretty good, for instance, but Photoshop’s healing tools are much better.
If you use Photos, these types of local adjustments aren’t built in, but they also aren’t entirely out of reach. The editing extensions framework in Photos allows you to open images in third-party apps. And in macOS 10.13 High Sierra, Photos now includes an Edit With command that doesn’t depend on the extensions. That means you can hand off a photo to be edited in Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Pixelmator, RAW Power, or other apps. When you’re done there, the edited version appears in the Photos library.
Photos Everywhere -- In 2015, shortly after Apple released Photos and Adobe released Lightroom CC 2015, I noted, “What may seem a minor convenience — look, you can take a picture with your iPhone and it appears on your Mac! — is the start of a notable shift in how we treat digital photos” (see “Photos Everywhere with Lightroom CC and Photos for OS X,” 11 May 2015). Lightroom CC’s very existence is the result of that realignment.
When you import photos into Lightroom CC, it uploads your originals to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, where they become available to your devices running Lightroom Mobile or Lightroom CC on one other computer (you can use Lightroom CC on two computers at once). That multi-device support also includes Android phones and tablets, and Windows computers, platforms that Photos ignores.
Lightroom Classic can also sync with Creative Cloud, but it’s limited to just those collections that you mark for syncing, leaving you to deal with the particulars of creating or choosing collections and enabling them for Lightroom Mobile.
What about photos you capture using your iPhone or iPad? Apple’s advantage in owning the default Photos app removes the friction of importing photos as a separate step. Lightroom can do that, too. Lightroom Mobile offers an option to auto-import images from the Camera Roll. Lightroom Mobile even has an advantage here, because its built-in camera feature can capture raw images, something that iOS allows for third-party apps but Apple hasn’t implemented in the Camera app.
I also want to spotlight the way Lightroom CC handles the image files in a library. Like Photos, the default approach on the Mac is to create a package file, which is actually a folder, and store everything there. Our disks are filling up quickly, however, especially with large photo files. A decent-sized photo library quickly gets too big for 256 GB or 512 GB of laptop storage, for instance.
Apple’s solution is to use iCloud Photo Library and give you the Optimize Mac Storage option in Photos, which replaces large original files with small thumbnails to conserve space. Photos then downloads full-sized images from iCloud as needed. If you have a large internal hard disk, that’s usually not an issue.
However, if you have a smaller drive, such as found in a MacBook or MacBook Pro, or if your photo library is particularly large, this option becomes a limitation: you have no local copy of your originals. You could choose to store your Photos library on an external disk, but when that disk isn’t connected — such as when you’re traveling — you lose access to those photos. Plus, relying on just iCloud itself isn’t a solid backup plan. My workaround is to run Photos on an old Mac mini with a large external disk attached, and with the option to Download Originals to This Mac turned on. But that’s not feasible for a lot of people.
Lightroom CC’s approach is more sensible. Like Apple, Adobe considers the Creative Cloud copy of your images as a backup, so Lightroom CC will delete image files in the background to free up space; when you need to work on one, it’s re-downloaded. But, again, that’s not a reliable local backup.
To work around this issue, Lightroom CC lets you specify an external hard disk as the location to store the original photo files, while the database that Lightroom CC uses to keep track of everything remains on your computer’s internal drive. When that external drive is unavailable — such as when you’ve taken your MacBook Pro on a trip — Lightroom CC downloads any shots you need to edit, even if the original file isn’t available locally.
New images you import are stored on the internal disk. Once the Mac is reunited with the external disk containing the local originals, Lightroom CC automatically moves all the new files to the external location. With this setup, it’s easy to maintain a separate backup of the external drive and your photo library stored on it.
If you’re concerned that you’ll end up in a situation where you need to edit photos in your library and won’t have the Internet access required to download originals on the fly, Lightroom CC 1.1 added an option to store a copy of the images as Smart Previews — lower-resolution versions that are fully editable.
Cloud Costs -- Price, of course, is a factor. Lightroom CC requires one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription plans, which start at $10 a month. Apple includes Photos in macOS, which is free.
The next consideration is cloud storage, since in both ecosystems, you’re going to end up paying for additional storage as you add more digital photos to your library. Here’s a breakdown of Adobe’s subscription plans and associated storage:
Surprisingly, Apple’s storage upgrades are a better deal, though you don’t get Adobe’s applications as part of the mix (note that these are U.S. prices; Apple gives worldwide pricing on its Web site):
I’d like to see Adobe reduce their prices to be more competitive.
Unfortunately, these are separate clouds floating on their own wind currents. I would love to see an option where I could store Lightroom’s library at iCloud (or Dropbox, or elsewhere) and not have to pay more for Creative Cloud storage tiers. However, with a lot of the machine learning and services being hosted on Adobe’s cloud infrastructure, I don’t see that happening.
Looking at Now to Prepare for the Future -- Regardless of how serious of a photographer you are, it’s good to reevaluate how you manage our photo libraries every so often because we’re dealing with memories, not just files. What you don’t want to do is hang on to something too long and then discover an abrupt shift is needed. Aperture and iPhoto users, for example, are living on borrowed time. If you find Photos to be sufficient for your needs, carry on, and we’ll likely chat about this again next year.
But if you wish you had more editing control over your photos, or if you’re already in the Creative Cloud ecosystem because you use another Adobe product, I suggest you give Lightroom CC a try. Although I still use Lightroom Classic, I now open it far less often than I used to, because I’ve been using Lightroom CC instead. It’s fast, uncluttered, and is working well for the types of photography I’ve been doing lately, which includes nearly 3000 images shot during a workshop and two family photo shoots.
And if you do take Lightroom CC for a spin, I hope you’ll consider doing so with my book at your side. “Take Control of Lightroom CC” is available now for just $15. And if, despite everything I’ve just said, you plan to stick with Photos, I’d encourage you to pick up Jason Snell’s just-updated “Photos: A Take Control Crash Course.”
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Final Cut Pro X 10.4, Compressor 4.4, and Motion 5.4 -- Updating in sync with the release of the new iMac Pro (see “Apple Releases the iMac Pro,” 15 December 2017), Apple has released Final Cut Pro X 10.4, Compressor 4.4, and Motion 5.4 with a focus on 360-degree VR video support. You can now import and edit equirectangular video from a wide range of formats and frame sizes (including monoscopic and stereoscopic formats) into Final Cut Pro and Compressor, plus send 360-degree video output to a connected VR headset from Final Cut Pro and Motion.
From Final Cut Pro, you’ll be able to monitor headset and equirectangular views simultaneously while editing from the 360-degree viewer, use the Horizon overlay to change a video’s orientation, and utilize a patch to remove cameras and rigs from the scene. Both Final Cut Pro and Motion enable you to place, reposition, and resize any graphic, still, or video in a 360-degree video project; apply effects such as blurs and glows to 360-degree video; and share videos directly to YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo. Compressor adds support for exporting 360-degree video files with embedded industry-standard spherical metadata.
Apple’s professional video editing apps also boast a long list of new features and improvements, plus important bug fixes.
Final Cut Pro X 10.4 adds new tools for color grading, with a dedicated color tab in the inspector that collects all color controls. New color wheels improve upon traditional wheels with integrated sliders to adjust hue, saturation, and brightness, while color curves provide ultra-fine adjustments and hue/saturation curves let you make brightness adjustments while leaving other parts of the image unchanged.
Beyond color grading, here are some highlights from Final Cut Pro’s other improvements and fixes:
Adds support for importing, editing, and playing of High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) video clips and High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF) photos
Directly import an iMovie for iOS project for advanced editing, audio work, and finishing
Import, grade, and deliver High Dynamic Range (HDR) video as Rec. 2020 HLG or Rec. 2020 PQ for HDR10
Import and export WAV files greater than 4 GB as RF64 when using macOS 10.13 High Sierra
Fixes a stability issue that occurred when using Final Cut Pro on High Sierra with a laptop in closed-display mode and attached to an external monitor
In version 4.4, the video conversion and output tool Compressor also adds support for HEVC files, compacting file sizes up to 40 percent smaller than H.264 with the same video quality. It also provides controls for color space conversions and metadata for HDR video, and enables you to convert HDR to Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) video. Other highlights include:
Adds support for encoding MXF files with compatibility for a wide range of codecs and parameters
Correctly identifies frame rates for iPhone movies
Addresses an issue with Panasonic GH5 MP4 files exported to ProRes that produced three green frames at the beginning of a file
Finally, the motion graphics tool Motion 5.4 now enables you to convert between a Motion project, Final Cut Pro generator, Final Cut Pro title, Final Cut Pro effect, or Final Cut Pro transition at any time. In addition to adding support for HEVC videos and HEIF photos, the update also brings these changes:
Send to Compressor to export motion graphics projects in the HEVC format
Improves speed and quality of Optical Flow analysis using Metal
New Overshoot behavior creates realistic spring-loaded animations without the need for keyframes
Resolves issues with the Time Date Text Generator 24-hour clock
Trailing punctuation in a text sequence now animates correctly
All three video apps now require a minimum of OS X 10.12.4 Sierra. (Free updates. Otherwise, Final Cut Pro X, $299.99 new, 3.02 GB, release notes, 10.11.4+; Compressor, $49.99 new, 393 MB, release notes, 10.11.4+; Motion, $49.99 new, 2.38 GB, release notes, 10.12.4+)
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Logic Pro X 10.3.3 -- Apple has released Logic Pro X 10.3.3 with support for up to 36 cores and optimizing Sculpture and Amp Designer for the newly released iMac Pro (see “Apple Releases the iMac Pro,” 15 December 2017). These changes boost performance up to 12 times compared to previous versions. The professional audio app makes Loops, Channel Strip settings, and other content available again on Macs using APFS volumes; adds a new high-definition mode to Sculpture; fixes latency compensation with plug-ins inserted as Dual Mono or Multichannel; ensures the VoiceOver cursor remains functional when shortening a region at all zoom levels; and fixes a lengthy list of crashes. ($199.99 new in the Mac App Store, free update, 1.35 GB, release notes, 10.11+)
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Mellel 4.0.3 -- RedleX has issued Mellel 4.0.3, a maintenance release aimed at fixing bugs in the word processor built for long-form writing. The update resolves several issues related to larger documents that caused sluggish performance, plugs a couple of memory leaks, fixes several crashes, addresses problems applying markers to outline items via the Markers palette, and fixes a bug that caused URLs entered into a hyperlink URL field to produce broken links if the pasted URL was not URL-encoded. ($59 new from RedleX and the Mac App Store, $29 upgrade, free update, 92.4 MB, release notes, 10.6+)
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Moneydance 2017.6 -- The Infinite Kind has released Moneydance 2017.6 with an improved investment portfolio screen layout and streamlined online banking setup process. The personal finance manager also fixes the translate currencies tool window, mutes Dropbox notifications when writing sync files unless the debug flag is set, improves the online transaction confirmation options, works around a macOS 10.13 High Sierra bug that caused a crash when certain file chooser windows were invoked, and fixes a bug preventing the correct entry of share values for securities with 10 or more digits. ($49.99 new from The Infinite Kind with a 40 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 102 MB, release notes, 10.7+)
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AirPort Base Station Firmware Updates 7.6.9 and 7.7.9 -- Apple has released firmware updates for the current AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule base stations with 802.11ac Wi-Fi (these tower-like models receive Firmware Update 7.7.9), as well as older AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule models with 802.11n Wi-Fi (Firmware Update 7.6.9). Both updates patch the KRACK exploits (see “Wi-Fi Security Flaw Not As Bad As It’s KRACKed Up To Be,” 17 October 2017), improving the handling of state transitions to prevent reusing a nonce (aka, Number ONCE, an arbitrary number that can only be used once) in WPA multicast/GTK clients. Update 7.7.9 also addresses a memory corruption issue that enabled an attacker within range to execute arbitrary code on the Wi-Fi chip. You must update your AirPort base station using AirPort Utility on your Mac or an iOS device with Apple’s AirPort Utility app installed. (Free, release notes for 7.6.9, release notes for 7.7.9)
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In ExtraBITS this week, we learn that credit card signatures are going away soon, the FCC has voted to eradicate net neutrality, and another former executive has spoken out against Facebook.
Credit Card Signatures Going Away in 2018 -- According to the Verge, credit card companies Discover, Mastercard, and American Express have announced plans to stop requiring signatures for purchases in April 2018, which will make Apple Pay even easier. (American Express is eliminating the need for signatures worldwide, whereas the other two are changing policies only in the United States for now.) Signatures are theoretically a fraud-prevention requirement, since they can be compared to the signature on the back of a credit card and verified later. However, cashiers almost never check them, there’s no signature to compare against with contactless payment systems, lots of people sign illegibly, and many transactions are online anyway. Visa has not announced a similar change.
FCC Votes to Abolish Net Neutrality -- It should come as no surprise that Ajit Pai’s FCC has voted to eliminate Obama-era net neutrality rules that prevented Internet service providers from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing Internet traffic, among much else. At Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin outlines what happened, how we got here, and what comes next. Given the overwhelming and bipartisan support for net neutrality from most Americans, the FCC’s move will likely draw challenges both in the courts and in Congress.
Former Exec: Facebook Is Ripping the Social Fabric of Society -- Chamath Palihapitiya is the latest former Facebook executive to call the company out, saying at a recent Stanford appearance: “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” and expressing “tremendous guilt” for his participation. Palihapitiya certainly doesn’t mince words: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works… No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.” Palihapitiya, who rose to the position of vice president for user growth at Facebook, appears to have struck a nerve, since the company made the rare move of defending itself, saying “When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realised how our responsibilities have grown too.” It’s interesting that Facebook doesn’t deny Palihapitiya’s criticisms!