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#1559: Apple event speculation, T-Mobile Home Internet, 31 years of TidBITS, exchange old AirPods, manage iPhone apps in bulk

Last week, we marked 31 years of TidBITS with a desire to leave the negativity of 2020 behind and look to a more positive future. That future starts tomorrow, with Apple’s latest event, and in this issue, we speculate on what we might see. iPads? AirTags? New Apple silicon Macs? We’ll know for sure tomorrow. Frustrated by how hard it is to add and remove iPhone apps from the Home screen one at a time? Adam Engst shares two new tips that let you add and remove apps in bulk, thanks to the App Library. Rounding out the issue, Glenn Fleishman shares details on T-Mobile’s new 5G-focused home Internet service, and Jeff Carlson reviews the Podswap service, which lets you exchange old AirPods with weak batteries for less than a new pair would cost. Notable Mac app releases this week include Parallels Desktop 16.5, 1Password 7.8.1, Agenda 13, Default Folder X 5.5.8, and Alfred 4.3.3.

Josh Centers 19 comments

Apple Event Scheduled for 20 April 2021

Apple has announced a virtual event to be held 20 April 2021 at 10 AM PDT. You can add it to your calendar with a click. In email invitations sent to journalists, Apple called it Spring Loaded, so our best tongue-in-cheek guess is that Apple thinks it has finally built a better mousetrap.

Intrepid Apple fans learned of the event before it was announced. By saying “Apple event” to Siri, the virtual assistant would cheerily tell you about the event. Also amusing is the fact that it takes place on 4/20—make your own jokes.

Siri's event leak

What will Apple announce? We have a few ideas:

That’s all just speculation, of course, and we’ll know for sure in a few days. You can find out what Apple has up its sleeve with us by joining the #events channel of our SlackBITS group. To join the group, go to slackbits.herokuapp.com, enter your email address, and agree to the code of conduct. You’ll receive an invitation in email right away.

Adam Engst 32 comments

31 Years of TidBITS Keeping It Real

This week marks the 31st anniversary of when Tonya and I started publishing TidBITS, way back in April 1990. Last year’s anniversary rolled through during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, when we were all struggling to regain equilibrium in a world upended (see “TidBITS Marks Its 30th Anniversary in a Time of Pandemic,” 13 April 2020).

Not to detract from the pandemic’s incalculable human, social, and economic costs, but a year later, it feels as though there is finally a path forward. I just hope we can stay on it until governments can broadly disseminate the astonishing scientific and technological vaccination advancements of the past year across the entire planet. (Tonya and I will be fully vaccinated by the first week of May, with Tristan receiving his second shot two weeks later.)

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you think about what you do and why you do it. I started TidBITS because I genuinely take pleasure in using the Mac and Mac apps, figuring out non-obvious ways of leveraging technology, and sharing what I’ve learned with those who are interested in expanding their knowledge and abilities. The Apple ecosystem has evolved significantly since then, but if I didn’t actively enjoy exploring Apple-related hardware, software, and services, I’d do something else. TidBITS has always been about using technology to improve our lives, and while we criticize where appropriate, we try to ensure that it’s always constructive criticism.

However, it has been hard to stay positive in the past year in general. News from the tech world hasn’t helped, whether it’s Apple’s haphazardly applied App Store policies, Facebook algorithmically participating in election manipulation around the world, or digital advertising companies tracking our every movement online and off. Beyond the news about all the ways that Big Tech is failing society, writing about the creeping crud of security exploits and fixes makes me feel a little dirty. At least we can use such coverage to encourage good computing habits.

The point behind this confessional? Merely to reiterate that when I decide what to publish for you each week, I’m continually evaluating whether the article will be useful, important, or amusing. Regardless of which category an article falls into, I always want it to be thoughtful, detailed, and well-crafted. We’re not perfect, but we try hard. Our authors regularly tell me that TidBITS does more—and more detailed—editing than nearly any other publication out there. It might not be the most lucrative use of our time, but it’s all in the cause of ensuring that what we publish for you is as good as we can make it.

Going forward, I certainly don’t want to sweep the ills of Big Tech under the rug, but they’re well-publicized elsewhere. Instead, I want TidBITS to focus more on the positive ways we can use technology to improve our lives, improve how we communicate and interact with one another, and improve the world in general. Amplifying the drumbeat of negativity does little to make the world a better place. You can help me in this goal by participating constructively in TidBITS Talk, where I’m continually pleased to see the generosity of spirit embodied in people helping others, purely because they can. Please feel free to both ask and answer questions.

I would be remiss in my duty to our authors if I didn’t note that we can only keep commissioning articles thanks to voluntary contributions from TidBITS members. Modern publishing trends encourage exclusive subscription-only email newsletters and website paywalls, but we’ll continue to help even those who can’t pay as long as we can make ends meet. If you join the TidBITS membership program, you’ll also get discounts on over 90 Mac apps. Apps we’ve added of late include Acorn, Retrobatch, TextSniper, HazeOver, and Timing, and don’t miss all the apps from our sponsors Smile and Rogue Amoeba. Thanks to all our current members, who made it possible for us to ride out 2020 in solid financial shape!

On a final note of both personal and numerological nature, Tonya and I started TidBITS when we were 22 years old. When we were 31, we had our son Tristan (see “Please Welcome Tristan Mackay Engst,” 18 January 1999). He’s now 22, the same year that TidBITS turns 31. And like us, after he graduates from Cornell University in May, he’ll be heading off to the Pacific Northwest. Not to work at Microsoft, as Tonya did in 1991, or to live in Seattle, but to start his PhD in machine learning with a focus on computer vision in a young, energetic department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. What goes around comes around.

Adam Engst 1 comment

Manage iPhone Home Screen Apps in Bulk with iOS 14’s App Library

Last year, when we started covering iOS 14’s App Library, I shared some new-to-me ways of cleaning up my iPhone’s Home screens in “Five Tips for Easier Rearranging of iOS Apps” (22 September 2020). Since then, I’ve discovered two additional techniques that enable you to add or remove apps from your Home screens in bulk, which is a whole lot easier than doing it one-by-one. They build on the technique of assembling a stack of apps and then rely on hidden features of the App Library.

Add Multiple Apps to the Home Screen

Let’s say that you’re taking a trip—hard to imagine these days, I know, but bear with me—and want to create a Home screen that holds a variety of travel-related apps. Follow these steps to add a bunch, all at once:

  1. Swipe left until the App Library appears.
  2. Tap the four tiny icons in a folder to display the apps in that category.
  3. Touch and hold the blank area at the top of the screen to enter jiggle mode.
  4. Start dragging an app with your right thumb. iOS 14 will immediately send you to the last Home screen, creating a new one if necessary.
  5. Continuing to hold the app with your right thumb, use a finger on your left hand to swipe left on the Home screen to return to the App Library.
  6. Still using your left hand, navigate into the desired folder again and tap the apps you want to add to the stack you’re holding with your right thumb.
  7. Once you’ve collected all the desired apps, use your left hand to swipe right to get back to the Home screen.
  8. Lift your right thumb to drop the stack of apps. Voila!
  9. Tap Done to exit jiggle mode.

You can see what I’m doing in this short video.

Remove Multiple Apps from the Home Screen

A similar technique works equally well for removing a collection of apps from the Home screen. Imagine that we’ve returned from our trip, and there’s no need to waste screen real estate on travel apps anymore. Follow these steps to remove them:

  1. Touch and hold a blank area of the Home screen to enter jiggle mode.
  2. Start dragging an app with your right thumb. It’s easiest to move to the bottom-right corner.
  3. Using a finger on your left hand, tap the apps you want to remove from the Home screen to add them to your stack. You can swipe between Home screens if you wish.
  4. Still using your left hand, swipe left to get to the App Library.
  5. Lift your right thumb to drop the stack of apps and remove them from the Home screen. You can think of iOS 14 as automatically placing them back in their pre-specified App Library folders.
  6. Tap Done to exit jiggle mode.

Again, a short video shows the steps live.

These tips won’t kill the coronavirus or promote world peace, but they make managing iPhone Home screens faster and easier.

Jeff Carlson 9 comments

Refresh Your Old AirPods with a Podswap

I knew the honeymoon with my AirPods was ending when I discovered I could watch only part of a movie before I had to pause and recharge the wireless earbuds. To be fair, that honeymoon lasted three years, so I can’t complain much that a pair of minuscule rechargeable batteries would no longer hold a charge after nearly daily use over that time.

Everything else about the AirPods worked fine, but with the battery lasting 30 minutes or less, there wasn’t much point in using them.

I had assumed the AirPods would join my old iSight camera in the Drawer of Dead Tech until I learned about Podswap, a women-owned business that refurbishes old AirPods with new batteries and sells them for less than a new set. Since I was already waiting for a sale on a new pair of AirPods, I decided to try Podswap instead.

Here’s how it works: for $59.99, you order a pair of reconditioned, Apple-genuine AirPods that match the model you own. It’s just the earbuds themselves, not the charger, which you keep. The company doesn’t yet offer swaps for the AirPods Pro but is looking into that for the future. If you lost an AirPod at some point, you can pay $89.99 to return your one straggler and receive a replacement pair. If your AirPods have other issues, such as water damage or audio crackling, that prevent them from being fixed by a battery swap, Podswap can recycle them for you for a $4.99 shipping cost.

AirPodsI ordered a replacement pair on 19 March 2021 and, to my surprise, had them in hand mid-day on 22 March. The box was larger than I would have expected from a company that’s touting its service as a way to reduce waste, but it’s going right back to them, and I suspect that size may be easier to ship than a smaller package.

Podswap boxThe AirPods themselves were tucked into two bubble wrap pouches and enclosed in plastic-sealed tubes, with barcodes for Podswap’s tracking.

AirPods in tubesThe new AirPods didn’t have much charge to them, so I placed them into my charger case and left them overnight. The delivery notification email from Podswap notes that it “can take 3–4 charging cycles in your case to reach full battery performance.”

Once charged, I paired them to my iPhone and listened to music and podcasts for 3 hours, just like when my AirPods were new, and they still had 70% battery life left.

Once the replacements arrive, you have 5 days to pop your set into the mail using the same packaging with a prepaid label. If you miss that 5-day window, you’ll be charged $49.99.

To be clear, Podswap doesn’t actually recondition and return your particular AirPods—that would take longer and require additional tracking. Instead, you receive someone else’s old pair with a new set of batteries. In writing about the service, iFixIt made a special request to get the same set back to verify the company’s claims that it’s actually replacing batteries and not just swapping units; Podswap made an exception for them. (And yes, the battery swapping involves “specialized equipment and precision robotics,” in a “somewhat automated process.”)

Podswap makes it clear that the set you receive might have minor scratches or wear and tear, but the company also points out that every pair undergoes “ultrasonic micro-removal suction of dirt and organic debris, medical-grade solution treatment, and industrial-grade low temperature sterilization.” In other words, you’re not sharing someone else’s earwax.

Overall, I’m delighted by the Podswap experience and happy I can get new life out of my original investment, even if it requires two different physical units. My ears won’t know the difference, but I’ll appreciate not having to interrupt the next movie I watch.

Glenn Fleishman 14 comments

T-Mobile Offers Unlimited 5G Home Broadband Service

Thirty million US households just received another option for affordable, high-speed home broadband. T-Mobile Home Internet covers that many households, 10 million of which are in rural areas. The company promises an average of 100 Mbps in most areas via its 5G network. Service should average no less than 50 Mbps for any household, including those that are only within reach of T-Mobile’s 4G LTE towers.

T-Mobile Home Internet costs $60 per month for unlimited use, with no long-term commitment. There’s also no separate fee for the necessary hardware, which is designed for self-installation. For T-Mobile cellular customers who have a phone plan that includes taxes and other fees as part of the plan’s flat monthly rate, the broadband service adds just $60 per month. Potential customers can also switch to a qualifying plan to obtain that deal. However, no T-Mobile cellular service plan is required, and for those without an eligible plan, the price can be 20%–30% higher, depending on local taxes and surcharges. There’s also an extra $5-per-month fee if you don’t set up automatic billing.

T-Mobile began offering a 4G-only version of the service last year for $50 per month, and that test service had a footprint of 20 million households by November 2020. T-Mobile has neither published a coverage map nor revealed its future expansion plans in detail. You can use an availability checker to see if you can order the service in your area. (Not all people who signed up for the 4G-only service will be eligible to upgrade to 5G right now, T-Mobile noted in its FAQ.)

To use the service, you receive a sophisticated 4G/5G gateway that acts as the broadband modem and that you manage via a smartphone app. You can plug the device into an existing network—just like any broadband modem—or use it exclusively via its Wi-Fi 6 router.

The gateway lets you set up four virtual Wi-Fi networks for separation of devices, with an optional guest network. That could be useful for security for those working from home who want to keep corporate data separate from home traffic. It sports two LAN Ethernet ports, and its Wi-Fi access point has three separate radios—one for 2.4 GHz connections and separate radios for low- and high-band 5 GHz—to allow connections from up to 64 devices (for more on the bands, see “The iPhone Gets 5G, but What’s It Like in Real-World Use?,” 19 November 2020). For security, it supports WPA/WPA2 (for backward compatibility) through WPA3, the most up-to-date Wi-Fi security standard.

There’s no business flavor of T-Mobile Home Internet yet per se, but T-Mobile has bowed to the reality of home-based work by explicitly noting that a sole proprietorship at a home address can sign up for the service. Remote workers for a corporation paying for service in their own name and home won’t be screened out, either.

T-Mobile Home Internet is philosophically similar to the [email protected] cell extenders that T-Mobile pioneered back in 2007. [email protected] connected a tiny cell receiver to existing wired broadband connections to provide higher-quality indoor voice calls (and potentially convince customers to shed their landline service). Now, it’s the reverse: T-Mobile Home Internet lets devices connect via Wi-Fi to a cellular data hotspot for backhaul.

Unsurprisingly, T-Mobile has some restrictions on what it calls “unlimited,” but they’re seemingly well-defined and reasonable, and cover all the company’s unlimited services. You mostly can’t use T-Mobile Home Internet for server-like purposes or apps that “automatically consume unreasonable amounts of available network capacity.” I take that to include software that, for instance, continuously downloads massive video files to archive for personal use. “Unattended” uses are also disallowed, so I wonder if uploading gigabytes of data to hosted backup services each month would be banned?

T-Mobile used to be known for a limited coverage map that leaned on the compatible AT&T GSM network to flesh out missing parts. Over the last several years, T-Mobile has slashed prices and added services to its cell plans, which forced lower prices across the industry. To make its reach as big as its ambitions, the company also aggressively built out its 3G and 4G networks, and it was early in pushing the lower tier of 5G into service across the country. T-Mobile claims it covers nearly 300 million people with basic 5G and that 125 million people live in areas with its “Ultra Capacity” 5G that provides average speeds of 300 Mbps with peak rates up to 1 Gbps.

As I noted in “Understanding 5G, and Why It’s the Future (Not Present) for Mobile Communications” (11 November 2020), one of the touted benefits of 5G networks is that they are so much more efficient—and thus cost-effective—in delivering high data rates that rural areas might benefit from Internet service delivered via 5G. I was more bearish with regard to suburban and urban 5G Internet service:

I pay $85 per month for unlimited gigabit Internet in Seattle; it’s hard to imagine a wireless provider offering even 100 Mbps at that price for residential-scale video and other use in the US.

T-Mobile was apparently thinking along the same lines; hence the aggressive $60 pricing and the proportionately heavy rural footprint of its initial rollout—one-third of potential customers. The company obviously plans to pick up some gross revenue and higher margins from customers who also shift their cellular phone service to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Home Internet isn’t a game-changer, but it’s a game-expander. Many people live in areas served by only one ISP that offers downstream rates of no more than 100 Mbps or so and upstream rates that might be as little as 5 Mbps. In suburbs and some cities, that “fast” broadband company is often the local cable provider, which charges a premium for unbundled Internet in an attempt to drive customers toward packages of high-margin voice, cable TV, premium channels, and Internet service. In rural areas, people may be dependent on a wireline company offering outdated or slow DSL, a satellite Internet company, or an existing cellular-based offering. In both rural and urban environments, the best option for Internet access may be slower, more expensive, or have more constraints (equipment fees or yearly contracts) than T-Mobile Home Internet.

T-Mobile likes to look like a maverick, but the company usually follows through on its claims. This new service could be an excellent option for millions of people either priced out of or left behind in the broadband revolution.

Watchlist

Parallels Desktop 16.5 6 comments

Parallels Desktop 16.5

Parallels has released version 16.5 of its Parallels Desktop for Mac virtualization software, bringing full native support for Macs with Apple’s M1 chip. For M1-based Macs, the release also resolves an issue with virtual machines having no Internet connection when they are configured to use the Shared Network setting, addresses a problem with the mouse pointer becoming sluggish, and fixes a bug that prevented the Ubuntu 21.04 virtual machine from booting after updating the kernel to 5.11.0. For Intel-based Macs, Parallels Desktop 16.5 adds support for Linux kernel version 5.11, resolves an issue with failing to start a Boot Camp-based virtual machine, addresses a problem with incorrect identification of a virtual machine operating in the Bridged Networking mode, and fixes a bug where the Internet Information Services app displayed an error. A free 14-day full-featured trial is available. ($79.99 annual subscription for standard edition, $99.99 annual subscription for Pro Editions, 1.4 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13.6+)

1Password 7.8.1 8 comments

1Password 7.8.1

AgileBits has issued 1Password 7.8.1, a maintenance release with bug fixes and improvements for the password manager. The update resolves an issue that would cause re-authentication to fail when regenerating your secret key on 1Password.com, enables you to opt your devices into the Universal Clipboard when copying information, fixes a bug with the Quick Look plugin that broke it and Spotlight integration, fixes a bug with item linking from detached windows, ensures sync conflict data on items will no longer be auto-filled, and fixes a bug that prevented the default field label for phone fields from being displayed. ($64.99 standalone app from AgileBits or the Mac App Store or a $2.99- or $4.99-per-month subscription (TidBITS members setting up new accounts receive 6 months free), free update, 71.5 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Agenda 13 No comments

Agenda 13

Momenta has released version 13 of its Agenda date-focused note-taking app, providing faster navigation through menus and calendars thanks to added keyboard navigation and filtering support. The update also now lets you easily duplicate, merge, or split notes (as well as move or copy selected text to a new note); improves performance in notes with attachments; adds an option to expand a date filter to apply to all projects; enables filtering of notes marked or unmarked as Done by tapping the dot next to the search field; allows reordering of pinned notes and footnotes; fixes a bug that could leave notes in an inconsistent state after being moved; and resolves an issue where an incorrect date format could break date and time insertion. (Free with $24.99 in-app premium feature purchase, free update, 65.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12+)

Default Folder X 5.5.8 No comments

Default Folder X 5.5.8

St. Clair Software has published Default Folder X 5.5.8 with bug fixes and improvements for the Open/Save dialog enhancement utility. The release fixes a bug that could result in the Finder-click feature switching to the wrong folder when clicking on Path Finder windows, improves tracking of Path Finder and ForkLift windows, corrects errors that could result in the Favorites menu not correctly enabling or disabling its commands for managing default folders, resolves an issue that could cause default folders to fail if they required matching a saved file’s filename extension, and enables you to drag apps into the Exclusion list in Default Folder X > Preferences > Options. ($34.95 new, TidBITS members save $10 on new copies and $5 on upgrades, in Setapp, 15.5 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

Alfred 4.3.3 2 comments

Alfred 4.3.3

Running with Crayons has published Alfred 4.3.3 with improvements to the Alfred Remote iOS app for the Mac-based keyboard-driven launcher. Alfred Remote lets you control Alfred on your Mac and keep frequently used actions at your fingertips via handy icons on your iOS device. Version 1.5 of Alfred Remote adds new grid options, enables button labels to be hidden, and ensures an installed Alfred Remote page is correctly removed when deleting a workflow. Alfred 4.3.3 also fixes calculator floating point accuracy issues in macOS 11 Big Sur, ensures that Alfred is correctly hidden when using Return to open folders in Finder from Alfred’s File System Navigation, and fixes image saving throughout Alfred’s Preferences. (Free for basic functionality, £29 for Powerpack, 4.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+)

ExtraBITS

1 comment

Apple Fitness+ Adds Workouts for Older Adults and Pregnant Women

Apple has announced that it’s adding new workouts to its Fitness+ service for older adults and pregnant women to make it easier for them to work out. Apple is also adding more beginner workouts for high-intensity interval training, strength training, and yoga. (We’ve heard from some people that the current Apple Fitness+ workouts were way too hard, so these changes will be welcome.) Additionally, Apple is adding Jonelle Lewis as a new trainer for yoga and “mindful cooldown,” and is putting out a special episode of Time to Walk with Jane Fonda for Earth Day. All of these new things will be available starting 19 April 2021.

Have you tried Apple Fitness+, and if so, have you stuck with it? Will these new offerings do more to interest you in the service?

5 comments

Beware the Mac Chimes of Death

Warning: Some people may find the sounds in the linked article alarming, or even traumatizing. Please prepare yourself emotionally by remembering that, even when Macs made these sounds, no actual hardware damage occurred. If you feel your heart racing and your stomach sinking, well, that’s to be expected.

I’ve never had occasion to write a trigger warning for a TidBITS article before, much less an ExtraBIT that points to someone else’s article, but Stephen Hackett’s Mac Chimes of Death piece on 512 Pixels deserves one. It provides clips of the sounds that various classic Mac models played when they were unable to boot. I didn’t think much about it when I played the first one, but by the end—and thanks particularly to the terrifying car crash sound made by the Power Mac 6100—my heart was palpitating. That said, I quite liked the ominous Performa chime of death, which I had never heard before. These clips may start you on a simple walk down memory lane, but watch out for the flashbacks.

15 comments

Adobe Co-Founder Charles Geschke Dead at 81

Dr. Charles Geschke, co-founder of Adobe and a pioneer of the desktop publishing revolution, passed away on 16 April 2021 at the age of 81. In the early 1980s, Geschke worked at Xerox PARC with fellow Adobe co-founder Dr. John Warnock, and the two developed Interpress, a language that described page layouts so they could be created, viewed, and printed with the same fidelity. Xerox, ever consistent in its inability to recognize and commercialize tremendous opportunities, passed on the idea. Geschke and Warnock left to found Adobe, where they developed PostScript. Of course, Xerox PARC also developed many graphical computing concepts that eventually inspired the Macintosh.

PostScript was the key that made desktop publishing possible. Steve Jobs licensed PostScript from Adobe to use in laser printers, and the original Apple LaserWriter was the first such PostScript printer to ship. Adobe went on to create or purchase apps in pretty much every category of graphical creative software, making the company a force in image editing, graphic design, publishing, illustration, animation, video, and much more.

Geschke was active in Adobe’s day-to-day affairs from its founding in 1982 to his retirement as president in 2000. He was co-chairman of the board with Warnock from 1997 through 2017 and remained a board member until April 2020. Despite the huge changes in design and creativity he and Warnock unleashed upon the world, Geschke led a life out of the spotlight often claimed by massively successful tech entrepreneurs.