Apple is dealing with two major issues this week: yet another bug that lets particular text characters crash your device and the HomePod’s base leaving rings on fine wood furniture. We also report on two Facebook problems this week: the company’s promotion of a suspicious VPN service it owns and a bug that caused it to send unwanted text messages to those using two-factor authentication. Finally, Josh Centers reviews the YouTube TV service for cord cutters. Notable software releases this week include GraphicConverter 10.5.5, Default Folder X 5.2.2, and Alfred 3.6.
If you have nice wooden furniture that you want to preserve, you know to use a coaster when you set a cold drink down on it. Otherwise, the condensation from the glass seeps into the wood, creating unsightly rings. Some unsuspecting HomePod owners quickly discovered that Apple’s new speaker can also leave rings on wooden furniture. After an online outcry, Apple published a support article explaining the situation and the remedies:
It is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-damping silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces. The marks can be caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the table surface, and will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface. If not, wiping the surface gently with a soft damp or dry cloth may remove the marks. If marks persist, clean the surface with the furniture manufacturer’s recommended cleaning process. If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface.
In essence, the rings are caused by a chemical reaction between the silicone and wood oil, and so should affect only wooden furniture with oiled finishes (as opposed to polyurethane, varnish, shellac, paint, or other nonporous finishes). The rings may disappear on their own, but if not, you may be able to reduce or eliminate them with a bit of wiping. If that doesn’t work, This Old House has some advice for fixing furniture, but in my experience, a little Murphy’s Oil Soap on an oil finish can do wonders. Oil finishes are easy to touch up, since you just need to fill the pores of the wood. I’ve even heard some people suggest mayonnaise as a fix for this
issue, but that’s a bad idea, since it will eventually break down and probably smell terrible.
If your wooden table or desk hasn’t yet suffered any HomePod-based damage, you’d be smart to place something between the speaker and the surface: a doily, coaster, trivet, plate, tax return, or a HomePod sock.
To be fair, the HomePod isn’t the only speaker to suffer this issue — the Sonos One can do the same thing. And Google already provides a solution for this problem with the Google Home in the form of the Google Home Base.
Nonetheless, Apple shouldn’t get a bye on this given how much the company brags about its materials expertise and expensive testing, the HomePod’s delay in hitting the market, and the high price the HomePod commands. Fine wooden furniture, especially if it’s an heirloom, usually means a lot to the owner. At the very least, Apple should have warned people up front in the documentation that comes with the HomePod.
Not everyone lives in a Jony Ive clean room where everything is white on white.
I love the idea behind the Live Photos feature baked into new iOS devices because it lets me capture short videos of my son doing something cute. But when it comes to snapping a photo of an expense receipt or a particularly attractive pot of butter chicken I’ve cooked, it’s hard to justify the extra storage space a Live Photo consumes for the few seconds of extra video. Thankfully, iOS 11 introduced new features to help make it worthwhile to leave Live Photos on.
Apple advertised one such feature heavily in the WWDC keynote. Swipe up on a Live Photo and you see different effects you can apply to it: Live (the default), Loop, Bounce, and Long Exposure. Jeff Carlson wrote about the last one in “Using Long Exposure in iOS 11’s Photos App” (12 October 2017). Long Exposure and the others are neat, but Apple didn’t do much to tell people about what may be the most useful Live Photo feature of iOS 11: choosing a new key photo.
The key photo is the still image you see of a Live Photo in the Photos app. If you tend to take pictures of fast-moving subjects, you have undoubtedly run into this problem: you line up a perfect shot but before you can press the shutter button, your subject moves. That may result in a blurry photo, or one that misses the moment you wanted.
But here’s the thing! In iOS 11, with Live Photos enabled, the Camera app actually captures 1.5 seconds of video before you press the shutter button. So when you choose a new key photo, it’s like editing your photo with a highly precise time machine that can show you every moment of the second and a half before the photo was taken. Here’s how you do it in Photos for iOS, but it works exactly the same in Photos for Mac:
- Choose a Live Photo in the Photos app and tap Edit in the upper-right corner.
- At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see a strip of images that Apple calls the frame viewer.
- On the frame viewer, you’ll see a white square that indicates the current key photo. Tap, hold, and drag that square to move through the frames of the Live Photo until you find a better one. It’s best to do this slowly.
- When you stop and let go of the square, a Make Key Photo popover appears. Tap that to change the key photo to the frame that you’ve selected.
- Choose a Live Photo in the Photos app and tap Edit in the upper-right corner.
Photos marks both the original key photo and the selected frame with a dot. If you have a 3D Touch device, you’ll feel a click when you select one of those dotted images. If you tap Done to finish editing and decide you don’t like the key photo you’ve chosen, you can always go back in and pick another one or tap Revert to undo all edits to that image.
Don’t set your expectations too high. The alternative key photos may not be perfectly sharp either, but you can often make a dramatic improvement and rescue an otherwise terrible photo!
For more helpful iOS tips, check out my book, “Take Control of iOS 11,” and thanks for making it my best-selling book yet!
In case you ever doubted Facebook’s commitment to hoovering up as much information about you as it can, the company has come under fire for a change in the Facebook app for iOS in the United States. In the last few days, users have discovered a new option when you tap the hamburger button to access your pages, shortcuts, and settings. In that screen is a section called Explore that lets you get to a vast number of Facebook services, such as On This Day, Crisis Response, Live Videos, Find Wi-Fi, and Device Requests. There are so many, in fact, that the last one is Show More, and tapping that displays another
11, including the reassuringly named Protect.
However, tapping Protect takes you to the App Store and displays an app called Onavo Protect — VPN Security. It is indeed a VPN — a virtual private network — that securely tunnels all your traffic through Onavo’s servers. The problem is that, as you might expect from the link source, Onavo is owned by Facebook. If you were to stumble on Onavo Protect in the App Store, you’d have to tap More and read the full description to discover that. If you read all the way to the end, you’d learn that Onavo Protect
“directs all of your network communications through Onavo’s servers,” and that, “as part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic.”
Clearly, that menu item in the Facebook app should be labeled “Collect” instead of “Protect.”
Even if Onavo Protect is nominally legitimate, albeit a massive privacy violation, quite a number of its reviews seem fake, which is also troubling. Since there are no iPhone viruses, I can only assume that these are paid-for reviews. (The alternative is to assume that there are a lot of users who think all the icons wiggling on the screen indicates a virus infection, not an errant finger press.)
Despite its recent appearance in the iOS Facebook app, Onavo Protect isn’t new, and was a source of controversy last year when the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook used Onavo-sourced data to determine that usage of the competing Snapchat app was slowing months before Snap announced that fact. Plus, Facebook linked to the Onavo
Protect app in the UK version of the Facebook app (on both iOS and Android) starting in 2016, though there was little reporting on that fact then. TechCrunch reports that about 62 percent of Onavo Protect’s 33 million installs come from Google Play (for Android), suggesting that about 12.5 million iOS users have installed Onavo Protect. The lower uptake rate in iOS might account for why Facebook is now promoting Onavo Protect in its iOS app in the United States — and possibly in other locations.
It’s bad enough when some unknown company provides a free VPN service in order to collect data about its users. It’s another thing when the company in question is part of Facebook, and that data can be combined with both any data you’ve allowed Facebook to have and any data about you that people you know have inadvertently provided to Facebook.
Our recommendation: If you use the Facebook app on your iPhone or iPad, don’t get suckered into installing Onavo Protect. And if you have installed Onavo Protect already for some reason, delete it unless you like revealing everything you do on your device to Facebook.
For those who are tired of paying a cable or satellite company for TV, there’s yet another skinny bundle Internet TV package, Google’s YouTube TV, which joins the likes of Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue. It costs $35 per month now, and will be going up to $40 per month soon, but if you sign up before 13 March 2018, Google says you’ll be grandfathered into the $35 price indefinitely.
Make sure to sign up via the Web site and not from the iOS app, because Google charges $39 instead of $35 from within the app. (Presumably to make up for Apple’s cut of the in-app purchase, but it’s still shady.)
YouTube TV isn’t at all new. In fact, it’s about a year old. But only recently did Google release the YouTube TV app for the Apple TV, which brought it above the bar necessary for us to cover in TidBITS. So far, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen. Unfortunately, to subscribe to YouTube TV you must live in one of its viewing areas, all of which are in the United States. Sorry, international readers.
In addition to the Apple TV app, YouTube TV is also available for iOS, Chrome, Android, Chromecast, and a handful of other platforms. It’s also integrated into the Google Home line of smart speakers, so if you have one of those and a Chromecast-connected TV, you can say stuff like “OK Google, play CNN” to watch the news.
Channel Lineup — Although all the Internet TV services are roughly similar, they do differ somewhat in what channels they offer and what features or design elements they emphasize. YouTube TV focuses on simplicity. While Sling TV offers lots of packages (see “Sling TV, a Cord Cutter’s Delight, Arrives on Apple TV,” 6 July 2016), YouTube TV offers just a single plan, though you can also subscribe to a few premium channels: Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, and Sundance Now. There’s no HBO, but that’s what HBO Now is for.
Along with most of the channels you’d expect, such as ESPN, Fox News, and MSBNC, YouTube TV has just added Turner networks, including Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. It will also soon offer NBA TV and MLB Network.
Which channels you want is highly personal, but here are a few notable channels that are missing: BET, Food Network, Hallmark, MTV, and Nickelodeon. If you’d like to watch those, look elsewhere for now. Personally, I subscribe to a service like YouTube TV purely for live news and live sports. I can watch scripted content on services like Hulu and Netflix later.
What impressed me about YouTube Now’s lineup is that it provides all the major local network channels in the Nashville area: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and the CW. YouTube TV is the only one of these services that does so well in this part of the world. Your mileage will likely vary. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to check which channels are available in your area until you sign up for service. You can cancel before finishing the signup process, and there is a 7-day free trial in any case.
Because the TV industry is a legal minefield, there can be some weird exclusions. For instance, you may not be able to watch NFL games on Fox:
FOX has not secured the rights to NFL games on its national feed, FOXNet. Users in Albuquerque, Austin, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, Greenville (South Carolina), Harrisburg, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Norfolk, Portland, Raleigh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, and West Palm Beach will not see NFL games on FOX.
You also can’t view NFL games on mobile devices due to the NFL’s deal with Verizon Wireless. But otherwise, I’m pleased with the sports lineup, since it has the Fox Sports channels that are essential for Atlanta Braves baseball and SEC Network to watch University of Tennessee football. Again, your desires will likely differ. But if you’re looking for some speed skating or luge in the Olympics, YouTube TV has everything you need for that: NBC, CNBC, NBC Sports, NBC SN, and the Olympic Channel.
YouTube TV also has an exclusive benefit, in that it lets you watch YouTube Red original shows for no additional charge. Frankly, I don’t care and you probably don’t either, but it’s there if you want it. One thing I don’t understand is why YouTube doesn’t bundle YouTube Red — which combines ad-free YouTube, background audio, Google Play Music, and other features in one monthly fee — with YouTube TV. It seems like a missed opportunity.
Interface — First impressions count, and YouTube TV does it right on the big screen by directing you to visit a URL on a computer or phone to activate the app. That’s vastly preferable to trying to type in a (long and random) password on the TV screen with a Siri Remote. In iOS, it’s even easier if you’re already signed into another Google app — just choose the account you want to use and you’re done.
What’s most striking about YouTube TV is how clean it is. If you’re used to bad cable and satellite box interfaces, YouTube TV is a revelation. It has just three screens: Home, Live, and Library.
The Home screen displays programs Google thinks you’ll like, along with popular shows in different categories.
The Live screen, as you’d expect, provides a program guide to what’s currently airing.
Finally, the Library screen holds your saved content and DVR recordings.
Overall, YouTube TV’s interface is uncluttered while still being both functional and attractive. The Home screen shows live video previews of what’s on. The Web version of the Live screen offers nice, big pictures of each channel, and on the iPad, the Live screen displays a grid with live video previews.
Some have complained that the YouTube TV interface isn’t optimized for each device, which baffles me. Check out the screenshot of the Library screen on the Apple TV below and note that, while it’s showing the same information as the iPad screenshot from above, it’s optimized for the Apple TV interface. I’ve tried YouTube TV on an Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and even an Android TV, and while it’s a little different on each platform, never so much so that it’s confusing.
In summary, it feels like YouTube TV’s user interface is working with you, rather than forcing you to fight with it every step of the way. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since Google undoubtedly has a large design team, whereas most other TV services — Internet or traditional — have long employed color-blind marmosets to design their interfaces.
Features — YouTube TV is more than just a pretty face — it’s also one of the most capable of the Internet TV services.
YouTube TV features a cloud DVR to record programs with no storage limits — YouTube TV stores your recorded programs for up to 9 months. You can record as many programs as you like at the same time, and you’re also free to skip ads on recorded content. Amazingly, cloud-based DVR isn’t yet standard for all of these services, and it often isn’t as well implemented as what Google has done.
It should come as no surprise that YouTube TV, being owned by Google, has the best search of any of these services. And it’s not just about finding programs, but what you can do with them. For instance, if you search for a sports team and add it to your Library, YouTube TV will automatically record every game and suggest it in your Home screen, as it has done with the Atlanta Braves below.
Another especially welcome aspect of YouTube TV is that, much like regular YouTube, it lets you browse content while continuing to watch your current show. More services should do this.
Finale — Overall, YouTube TV looks and performs well. Even on my slow Sony TV running Android TV, it performed admirably. However, it is missing some key channels. Nor does it support Apple’s single sign-on feature, which lets you authenticate multiple TV provider apps at once. However, in my experience, that feature often doesn’t work like it should.
Sadly, I think I’ll be without YouTube TV for a while, as I couldn’t resist an offer from DirecTV Now that promised a free $179 Apple TV 4K if I prepaid for three months of service, which was just $115 after taxes and fees. I hadn’t previously used DirecTV Now, so I was filled with almost instant buyer’s remorse when I saw how slow, frustrating, and outdated its interface is, despite offering a larger lineup of channels. In fact, it’s so disappointing that I may pay up for YouTube TV anyway and write off my DirecTV Now subscription as a cheap Apple TV.
But what’s wonderful about living in the this era is that you’re no longer locked to cable and satellite giants like Comcast, Dish, and DirecTV — at least as long as you have a decent Internet connect. There are a slew of TV services now, competition is fierce, and you can jump between them as you please.