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ExtraBITS for 12 March 2018

In ExtraBITS this week, we have a tip that could help if you lose your AirPods case, Spike Jonze has directed a stunning HomePod ad, we look at how PDF became a cornerstone of business, you can let Mario guide you in Google Maps for the rest of the week, we learn why Google Fiber didn’t set the world on fire, and Amazon explains why Alexa is laughing at us.

AirPods Tip: Save Your Serial Number — If you lose one of your AirPods, Apple is happy to replace it for $69. And if you lose your charging case, Apple will replace it (again for $69), but only if you can provide your serial number, something for which Apple reportedly isn’t always helpful. So it’s a good idea to make sure you can find that serial number, which may be on your receipt from the Apple Store. For online orders, you may have to log in, view the order, and then choose Print Invoice to find the serial number. Or, find the number now — on the AirPods packaging, under the case lid in the indentation for the left AirPod, or in Settings > General > About > AirPods in iOS — and save it in a secure vault like 1Password or even just in an entry in the Notes app.

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Apple Promotes HomePod with a Stunning Short Film from Spike Jonze — Apple tapped Oscar-winning director Spike Jonze to produce a four-minute short film — it’s an ad, but so far from the usual dreck that passes for advertising that the term barely applies — to promote the HomePod. Adweek provides some additional background on the piece, which features the English musician and dancer FKA twigs and is a tour de force of choreography, set design, and digital effects. Go watch it.

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How PDF Became One of the World’s Most Important File Formats — The Adobe-created PDF file format isn’t particularly sexy these days, but Ernie Smith of Tedium suggests that it has become one of the world’s most important file formats thanks to its role in providing digital versions of paper documents. Smith documents how most people didn’t understand the point of PDF until the U.S. Internal Revenue Service adopted it in the early 1990s in an effort to cut down on mailing about 110 million tax forms every year. By 2001, the IRS had gone all-in on PDF for tax forms, saving millions of dollars in printing and distribution costs.

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Mario Can Guide You in Google Maps This Week — To celebrate MAR10 Day (on March 10th, natch), Google and Nintendo added a “Mario mode” to the latest version of Google Maps for iOS and Android. To try it out, search for a destination and tap the Directions button, but instead of tapping Start, tap the question mark block in the lower-right corner and then tap Let’s-A-Go! when prompted. Google Maps changes your navigation marker to Mario in a go-kart. Mario mode will be available only through 17 March 2018, so check it out soon.

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Why Google Fiber Failed to Fix Broadband — In 2010, Google shook the tech world by announcing that it would get into the ISP business with Google Fiber, deploying gigabit fiber-optic Internet connections in what would become nine metro areas around the United States. Now Google has put the ambitious project on an indefinite “pause” and is even pulling out of Boston. You can likely guess the reasons why Google Fiber has struggled: local politics and the difficulty of installing real-world infrastructure. Despite its challenges, Google Fiber has had a positive effect on the Internet market in the United States by generating discussion about broadband competition. Plus, in markets with Google Fiber, broadband prices have dropped and service speeds have improved radically.

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Alexa Is Laughing at Us — Users of devices with Amazon’s voice assistant are reporting that Alexa is laughing at them randomly, sometimes as an inappropriate response to a query or even with no prompting whatsoever. Amazon says that the issue is caused by Alexa mistakenly hearing the phrase “Alexa, laugh,” and that it’s changing the phrase to “Alexa, can you laugh?” and also changing the response from simple laughter to “Sure, I can laugh.”

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