Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 31 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals
Show excerpts

#1588: Monterey memory leak, third-generation AirPods vs. Beats Fit Pro, ransomware protection, more OCR tools for text in images

If you’re having trouble with your Mac running out of memory in macOS 12 Monterey, the reason may be a memory leak associated with custom pointers. Read on for the fix. Intrigued by Apple’s third-generation AirPods? Us too, so Josh Centers and Julio Ojeda-Zapata compare notes on the third-generation AirPods to help you decide if they’re right for you. If not, perhaps you’ll agree with Julio when he explains why he thinks the just-released $199 Beats Fit Pro earbuds are a better buy than the $179 AirPods. In his LittleBITS column, Adam Engst solicits help with a rare TidBITS email formatting bug, points to a pair of tools that could help protect against ransomware (while noting that it’s not really a problem on the Mac), and shares additional utilities that can perform OCR on text in images. Notable Mac app releases this week include Keyboard Maestro 10.0, Bookends 14.0.2, Live Home 3D 4.2, Hazel 5.1, EagleFiler 1.9.6, HoudahGeo 6.2, Logic Pro 10.7.1, and Carbon Copy Cloner 6.0.5.

Josh Centers 5 comments

Custom Mouse Pointers Blamed for Monterey Memory Leak

Many users of macOS 12 Monterey are reporting massive memory leaks, as high as 70 GB or more, which causes Macs to run out of memory entirely and require a restart. At his Eclectic Light Company blog, Howard Oakley writes that Mozilla has traced the issue to the custom pointer options in Monterey. Mozilla recommends using a standard pointer size and colors until Apple resolves the bug.

Wait, you didn’t know that Monterey offered options for customizing the pointer size and colors? You’re excused—it’s a little feature hidden away in System Preferences > Accessibility > Display > Pointer that we just heard about recently too. Once it’s working properly, though, it might be a boon for anyone who has trouble finding the tiny black cursor on a large screen Mac.

If you have customized the pointer and are suffering from memory leaks, set the pointer size to Normal and click the Reset button to change the pointer outline and fill colors back to the default.

Pointer settings in Monterey

On 9to5Mac, Ben Lovejoy argues that the custom pointers aren’t the sole cause of memory leaks, although he says resetting the pointer is worth trying. However, Howard Oakley points out that this leak is associated with any pointer change—such as from the arrow to the text insertion bar—so any app with frequent pointer changes, like a Web browser, will suffer from this issue.

For right now, resetting your pointer is the only possible fix apart from frequent restarts. If you haven’t played with this feature yet, we strongly recommend waiting until Apple releases a fix.

Adam Engst 23 comments

LittleBITS: TidBITS Formatting Bug, Ransomware Protections, More OCR in Images

I’ve recently been trying to track down a curious formatting problem in TidBITS issues and could use your help. This installment of LittleBITS also gives me a chance to explain why I haven’t written more about ransomware (while sharing two useful tools for protecting against it if you are worried) and loop back to an article I wrote about utilities that go beyond Live Text in offering OCR for text in images.

Have You Seen the One-Character Column Bug?

Here’s a quirky bug. Now and then, we get a report from a reader whose TidBITS issue has an entire article formatted as a column of text that’s a single character wide. I could tell what happened in at least two cases, but I’m utterly stumped as to what might be causing it. The problem doesn’t appear to originate on our end.

Example of the TidBITS one-character column formatting bug

In one report where the reader forwarded the badly formatted issue to us, the problem stemmed from CSS corruption. The CSS styling for TidBITS email issues uses style="padding: 0.25em" repeatedly, but in one munged article, that had been changed to style="padding:25em". In other words, the characters : 0. were deleted for that article, turning 0.25em into 25em and transforming a slight indent into a massive one. In another example, just the period was deleted, resulting in style="padding: 025em", which was also interpreted as 25em. In both cases, I confirmed that everything was correct in the version I received.

How could such a thing happen? If it were a one-off problem, I’d chalk it up to a communications error somewhere along the way. But we’ve had several reports of it in the last two weeks from different people. One of them said he’d seen it before as well, each time in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and its version of Mail. Another said he saw the same problem with the issue on his iPhone and iPad. It’s hard to imagine a Mail bug affecting so few people, but it’s similarly difficult to imagine cosmic rays zapping that particular CSS attribute more than once.

If you’ve seen this problem, please forward me a corrupted issue and let me know what operating system versions you use, if you rely on Mail or another email client, and who your email service provider is so we can do some tech sleuthing together. Thanks!

RansomWhere and Retrospect Protect against Ransomware

There have been a bunch of high-profile ransomware attacks in 2021, most notably Colonial Pipeline. I have long been thinking about writing more about the trend but couldn’t motivate myself to do a big article for two reasons. First, although ransomware isn’t unknown on the Mac, it’s not a real-world threat to Mac users at this point, with most examples being incomplete or badly coded. It’s easy to say that ransomware attacks could escalate on the Mac (and many publications do) because there’s nowhere to go but up, but I don’t like to encourage paranoia. Second, most ransomware attacks have targeted businesses, not the individuals who comprise the bulk of the TidBITS audience. In other words, why write much of anything in TidBITS about issues important primarily to Windows enterprise users? That said, two Mac apps are doing interesting things in this area.

First is Patrick Wardle’s free RansomWhere, which takes a mathematical approach to thwart possible future instances of Mac-specific ransomware. Most ransomware works by encrypting your files silently in the background and then demanding that you pay up sometime later. In an effort to detect such behavior, RansomWhere monitors for untrusted processes that start quickly creating files that appear to be encrypted. When it detects one, it displays a dialog and lets you terminate the offending process or allow it to continue if it’s a false alarm. Since I installed it in May 2021, it has flagged some concerning processes, but all were clearly legitimate when I looked at the names and paths reported: Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Reader, Backblaze, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and SuperDuper. RansomWhere is sufficiently unobtrusive that I’m happy to keep it running, even knowing that future Mac ransomware could explicitly avoid its checks.

RansomWhere false positive alerts

Second is the long-standing Retrospect backup app. Backups are the solution to many problems, and ransomware is one of them—if you fall prey to a ransomware attack but can just restore from backup, you won’t need to pay up. To block that approach, ransomware works silently in the background for quite some time to ensure that your backups are full of useless encrypted data. It also often attacks backups directly to prevent restoration.

To protect its backed-up data, Retrospect 18 added support for a cloud storage feature called Cloud Object Lock, informally known as immutable storage. It replicates a type of physical storage called WORM (write once read many)—think CD-R and DVD-R drives. With Cloud Object Lock enabled for Retrospect backups on a compatible cloud storage provider (Amazon S3, Backblaze B2, Google Cloud Storage, Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, MinIO, and Wasabi), you can set a retention policy that specifies for how long a particular backup is locked against changes by any user, including ransomware that may have acquired root-level privileges. Even if ransomware does encrypt your working data and renders backups from that point on useless, the historical backups cannot be deleted, overwritten, or corrupted in any way.

More Text in Image Recognition Utilities

A few months ago, I wrote “Work with Text in Images with TextSniper and Photos Search” (23 August 2021) about a couple of apps that played in the space that was soon to be occupied by Apple’s Live Text feature (which we later covered in “Digitize Any Text with Live Text in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15,” 4 October 2021). TextSniper lets you copy text from images on the Mac, and Photos Search enables you to search for text detected in photos in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. What I hadn’t internalized when I wrote that article is what Bob Stern noted in the comments—that these features were due to Apple making its OCR engine available to developers last year in the Text Recognition part of the Vision framework. Thanks to that support, quite a few other apps have added OCR features, including these:

  • LiveScan: This Mac and iOS app from Gentleman Coders, the company behind the RAW Power photo editing utility for RAW images, lets you capture text from anywhere on your screen, much like TextSniper. It comes with 14 actions, and you can add plug-ins for custom workflows. It’s $9.99 for lifetime access, or you can subscribe for $0.99 per month or $5.99 per year. As with TextSniper, the big win with LiveScan is being able to capture text from any app at any time, such as with slides in videoconferencing. And, of course, it runs in macOS 11 Big Sur, whereas Live Text is limited to macOS 12 Monterey.
  • Orga: As you’d expect from its inclusion in this list, the free Orga can identify text in images for copying and pasting, and it lets you search for text in images. However, it’s more generally billed as a “private photo vault” because its AI image recognition goes beyond text to nudity, letting users employ “customizable nudity detection sensitivity” when scrubbing NSFW images from the Photos app and moving them into Orga. Orga may be fully encrypted and password-protected, but I’d still suggest that public figures refrain from engaging in career-limiting photographic predilections.
  • CleanShot X: While TextSniper and LiveScan are focused on text identification, CleanShot X is a powerful tool for capturing screenshots and videos that recently added text capture as well. Just invoke it, drag a rectangle around the text, and CleanShot X copies it to the clipboard. I’m embarrassed that I failed to notice this feature earlier since CleanShot X is my preferred screenshot utility these days, thanks to its plethora of options and annotation capabilities. It’s $29 and is also available in Setapp.
  • Nisus Writer Pro: One thing I miss about writing and editing Take Control books is the opportunity to use the feature-laden Nisus Writer Pro word processor. To make it even more powerful, an update last year added the capability to perform OCR on imported images. It works much like the other utilities, and it’s particularly convenient to clean up the captured text right in Nisus Writer Pro, with its full-featured PowerFind Pro regular expression searches.
  • TextBuddy: Speaking of cleaning up text, if you’re intimidated by regular expressions in Nisus Writer Pro or BBEdit, the TextBuddy utility encapsulates over 100 common text-manipulation actions. Alongside those actions is the capability to extract text from images or capture text in the viewfinder of your iPhone’s camera. More unusual is a feature that detects text content in audio files—it has to “play” the file internally, so it’s not quick, but it might be a good way to get started on a transcript without subscribing to the impressive but pricey Otter.ai. TextBuddy is free but has optional licenses.

That’s it for this week, and I’ll keep collecting little bits worth sharing.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata Josh Centers 4 comments

First Impressions of the Third-Generation AirPods

When we set out to review Apple’s new third-generation AirPods, we struggled with how best to evaluate such a personal device. Given that the AirPods are the only Apple product (so far) that you actually insert into your body, questions of comfort and sound quality are highly subjective.

As it happens, two of us here at TidBITS decided to get a pair. Julio Ojeda-Zapata keeps close tabs on Apple’s audio gear as a product reviewer and has the monster comparison spreadsheet to prove it. Josh Centers finally decided to replace his aging and ailing first-generation AirPods.

Third-generation AirPods

As Julio and Josh compared notes, they found that their priorities and impressions were very different. While Julio stays in step with the latest and greatest in Apple’s audio technology, Josh made a two-generation jump (three if you count the AirPods Pro). You can use their notes and experiences as a guide to whether or not to drop $179 on the third-generation AirPods.

How the Third-Generation AirPods Fit in the Lineup

Julio’s comparison chart dissects all of the earbuds and headphones released by Apple and its Beats subsidiary, but here’s a quick rundown of the third-generation AirPods:

  • $179 price tag
  • Support for Dolby Atmos and spatial audio
  • Adaptive EQ
  • No active noise cancellation
  • No custom ear tips
  • Charging case with Qi wireless charging and MagSafe positioning
  • IP4X water resistance
  • Support for HD voice (through the AAC-ELD codec) and spatial audio in FaceTime calls
  • Force sensors in the stems for controls instead of tapping the buds
  • Up to 6 hours of battery life on a charge, with up to 30 hours with the charging case
  • Automatic connection and device switching
  • Improved ear detection courtesy of a skin detection sensor
  • Always-on “Hey Siri” support
  • Find My directional finding

Design and Comfort

Since you wear the AirPods in your ears, comfort is key. Also important is how well they stay in your ears.

Julio: It makes sense that Apple didn’t mess with the basic industrial design of the AirPods: rounded buds that hang snugly from the ear, a downward-pointing microphone stem, and such. This design works well, which is why it’s so popular.

Josh: The first thing I noticed about the new AirPods is how much bigger the buds are. While the original AirPods were a perfect fit for my ears, the new ones are a bit uncomfortable because they’re so large. My wife found even the original AirPods painful, so she declined my offer to try the new ones.

AirPods Pro, Third-generation AirPods, Second-generation AirPods
From left to right: AirPods Pro, third-generation AirPods, second-generation AirPods

Julio: I won’t say much about the comfort issue because it’s different for every user. For what it’s worth, though, I like how both the second- and third-generation AirPods feel.

Though I have a variety of review unit earbuds and headphones in my home office, when I’m not specifically testing something, I have most often reached for my second-generation AirPods for use around the house because they’re simple and satisfying. That has also been true of the third-generation AirPods. I also like the shorter stems that make them look more like the AirPods Pro.

But the third-generation AirPods lack silicone ear tips for creating an ear-canal seal; as with the second-generation AirPods, not having that seal makes them next to useless in noisier environments, such as on a bus or train. I would never use them for travel. That’s why I’ve gravitated towards the just-released Beats Fit Pro, which have both silicone ear tips similar to those on the AirPods Pro and active noise cancellation.

Josh: I can’t stand anything in my ear canals, so even though the third-generation AirPods are a little snug, I prefer that to having tips in my ears. I considered buying the AirPods Pro over the third-generation AirPods—they’re often on sale for the same price—but the tips dissuaded me.

Julio: Apple appears to be positioning the AirPods more as sports buds now that they have moisture resistance. That much makes sense, but I would never use them for outdoor athletics because I’d worry about them falling out of my ears. There are no over-ear loops or in-ear wingtips to keep them in place. Again, that points me back to the Beats Fit Pro, which have wingtips that hold the buds in the ear better. But indoors, when using a stationary bike or a cross country ski machine, the third-generation AirPods are great. I never exercised with the earlier generations due to the lack of moisture protection, so I’m delighted that’s no longer an issue.

Josh: I’ve used the first-generation AirPods for running, and they never fell out. Maybe I just have small ears. However, if I fell asleep wearing them, they would end up scattered about the bed. I’ve fallen asleep with the third-generation AirPods in my ears and woke up with them still in place, so the larger buds have an upside.

MagSafe Charging Case

AirPods are slippery and hard to extract from their charging cases. Has that improved with the third-generation AirPods? Plus, new with the third-generation AirPods is a MagSafe-compatible wireless charging case.

Josh: To accommodate the shorter mic stems and larger buds of the third-generation AirPods, Apple rotated the new charging case 90 degrees, increasing its size only a millimeter or two and keeping the weight the same. The buds face outward instead of inward like the original AirPods, making them easier to put in the case. Unfortunately, that also seems to make them easier for me to drop as I’m pulling them out.

Julio: I hate how hard it is to fish the first- and second-generation AirPods out of their cases. They’re difficult to grab onto. I find it easier to snag the third-generation AirPods due in part to their different shape.

Josh: I stubbornly cling to my iPhone 11 Pro, so I don’t have any MagSafe accessories, and I don’t care about this feature. I do use Qi chargers, but only the vertical stand kind, not flat pads. I tried putting the AirPods case on the Qi charging stand by my bed, but it did no good since the actual charging portion is a couple of inches above the ledge, so the AirPods case doesn’t reach it.

Julio: I’m weirdly excited about this even though it isn’t a tentpole feature. I have Apple MagSafe pucks (along with a Nomad magnetic charging pad) scattered around the house, and I get a little thrill when the AirPods case just snaps into position.

I’m a little OCD (like the bad boss in The Incredibles who has to line up his pencils just so), and having the case position itself perfectly is cathartic. Magnetic positioning isn’t necessary since it’s easy enough to position the case on a non-magnetic charging pad, but it would be helpful when the magnetic surface is angled (like on desktop charging stands or car dashboard chargers). I tried it with an angled Nomad stand that has a cutout for a MagSafe puck, and it worked great.

Controls

How do the controls for the new AirPods compare against previous generations?

Josh: You controlled older AirPods by tapping them. That was cool since it looked like a move from a sci-fi movie, but all too often, you felt as though you were tapping directly on your eardrum. For the third-generation AirPods, Apple replaced the tap with a press of the mic stem that mimics how the AirPods Pro work. Apple also shortened the stem to be similar to the AirPods Pro.

That’s a somewhat unfortunate combination because the short stem is a bit hard to pinch between your fingers. There is supposed to be a Force Touch feedback component when you squeeze, but it’s not as convincing as it is on the Apple Watch and Magic Trackpad. It’s more like a click you hear in your ear as you squeeze.

By default, you squeeze the stem to play or pause and squeeze and hold the stem for a few seconds to activate Siri. That works well, even when they’re paired with a Mac.

Julio: Unlike Josh, I like the shortened mic stem because I found the older, longer stem to look dorky. To this day, I can’t remember how the tap controls on the first- and second-generation AirPods work, and using them always felt awkward. In contrast, I found the force sensor on the AirPods Pro to be much more intuitive and comfortable to use, so I’m delighted it has migrated to the third-generation AirPods.

Spatial Audio

One of the big upgrades going from the first- to third-generation AirPods is spatial audio. The idea behind spatial audio is to simulate surround sound systems that employ multiple independent speakers to envelop you in sound from all directions, like in a movie theater.

Julio declined to test this aspect because he didn’t feel his hearing is good enough to detect much difference, though he generally likes how the third-generation AirPods sound. Here are Josh’s impressions.

Josh: Apple claims spatial audio simulates surround sound. In my testing against a 5.1 Vizio soundbar with two rear speakers and a subwoofer, the results were mixed.

Without spatial audio enabled, music quality sounds about the same as the original AirPods. When I enable spatial audio, the main thing I notice is that the volume noticeably decreases. There are two ways to listen to spatial audio: with or without head tracking. You can set your spatial audio preference in Control Center on the iPhone by pressing and holding the volume slider.

I’m not a big fan of head tracking for music. On some tracks, especially those originally recorded in mono, like the Beatles catalog, it sounds like there is a speaker somewhere in front of me, and as I tilt my head, I hear sound in one ear but not the other. It makes me overly conscious of how I’m rotating my head, which is distracting. Spatial audio works better on newer tracks recorded with more advanced equipment, but it doesn’t move me one way or the other.

The equation changes with movies. The first movie I tested was Dennis Villeneuve’s new adaptation of Dune, which has been praised for its visuals but may deserve even more credit for its immersive sound design (even if Hans Zimmer’s otherwise-excellent score doesn’t approach the haunting epicness of Toto’s 1984 theme). The sound in the new Dune was almost as good through my third-generation AirPods as it was through my Vizio soundbar. The only thing lacking was the sheer bassy force that only a subwoofer can provide.

The other movie I tested with was The Matrix—specifically, the lobby shootout scene that I’ve used to test sound systems for over 20 years. If you’re not gun-shy, it’s a perfect test of a surround sound system because there is so much going on: gunfire from all directions in all sorts of calibers, the high-pitched “tink” of shell casings hitting the floor, blaring alarms, and swishes and thumps as the heroes resort to martial arts when they’re out of ammo, all backed by the driving bass of The Propellerheads’ song “Spybreak!” A lot is going on audibly in that scene, and it puts any surround sound system to the test.

The sound through the third-generation AirPods with spatial audio enabled was quite good, excellent, even, but I wasn’t fooled into thinking I was listening to surround sound. Don’t take that as a knock against the AirPods, perhaps just as a comment on the physical limits of earbuds.

You may not get the same experience on the Mac. Only M1-based Macs support spatial audio, and even then, spatial audio works only in Apple’s TV and Music apps. That limitation seems artificial, but perhaps there’s some sort of dedicated signal processor in Apple silicon that makes it all possible.

One last comment on sound quality: while I seldom use my AirPods for calls, I tried them in a FaceTime call with Adam Engst while testing SharePlay for an article. I was impressed by how clear the AirPods made him sound, presumably thanks to the built-in AAC-ELD codec for HD voice quality. It was especially noticeable when we were playing movies or music on the call. His voice was crisp and clear over the background noise.

Automatic Device Switching

Automatic device switching moves your AirPods connection between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac depending on which device you’re using. Both Josh and Julio found that it doesn’t live up to its promise.

Josh: In theory, this feature sounds great. In reality, it’s awful, and I hate it. It should work like this:

  1. I’m listening to something on my Mac.
  2. I start playing a video clip on my iPhone.
  3. Playback on the Mac stops, and the AirPods switch from my Mac to my iPhone.
  4. I stop playback on the iPhone and resume playback on my Mac, and the AirPods notice and switch back from the iPhone to my Mac.

However, what I find is that it actually works like this:

  1. I’m listening to something on my Mac.
  2. I start playing a video clip on my iPhone.
  3. Playback on the Mac stops, and the AirPods switch from my Mac to my iPhone.
  4. I stop playback on the iPhone and resume playback on my Mac. The audio plays through my speakers, which is not what I want. Here is where things start to go wrong.
  5. In theory, a notification should appear on my Mac when the AirPods move to the iPhone, with a Connect button that lets me reconnect them to my Mac. However, it’s easy to miss and stays on screen for only about 20 seconds.
    Moved to iPhone notification
  6. Instead, I click the Volume icon in the menu bar and choose my AirPods manually. Ideally, that should be all that’s necessary (and it was for Adam Engst when he tried to reproduce my steps).
  7. However, I see a spinning icon next to the AirPods item in the Volume menu, and sound continues to play through my speakers.
    Mac audio output selector with the AirPods icon spinning
  8. Thinking that perhaps I need to get the iPhone to release the AirPods, I return to my iPhone and switch the output from the AirPods back to the iPhone speakers.
  9. I then try to select my AirPods on the Mac again, but the icon is still spinning.
  10. From the Bluetooth item in the menu bar, I disconnect from my AirPods and then reconnect, after which Mac playback finally works on my AirPods again.

Even without what is presumably some sort of Bluetooth failure specific to me, this automatic device switching is terrible. It never automatically switches from the iPhone to the Mac; at best, I see that temporary notification with a Connect button.

The overall experience leaves a lot to be desired. I would like a confirmation prompt when I switch devices. It’s infuriating when this switch happens when I’m listening to a live stream and macOS automatically pauses it. That happened to me when following Apple’s recent investor call.

I will say that automatic device switching seems to have improved in the days since I first got my AirPods. I’m not sure if it’s due to some machine learning or subconscious changes in how I use my devices. In any case, I hope the feature improves because I switch between my Mac and iPhone so often.

Julio: I’m with you, Josh. The automatic device switching is a pain. I’m also too much of a control freak to tolerate Apple making this decision for me haphazardly, so I make sure to deactivate this feature everywhere.

Other Features and Considerations

Josh on the microphones: Based on everything I’ve heard, including Rene Ritchie’s comparison, the microphones sound the same as they have across all AirPods generations. They’re fine for calls, but I wouldn’t record a podcast or video with them unless I were in a pinch.

Julio on the microphones: Calls with my loved ones on AirPods—even the third-generation AirPods—are hit-and-miss because I sometimes get complaints that people can’t hear me clearly enough. Other times it’s fine. This is why I keep old sets of Lightning EarPods around—they always work well.

Josh on Hey Siri: If your AirPods are connected to an iPhone or iPad, you can trigger Siri with the “Hey Siri” phrase. That also works on the Mac, but only if you go to System Preferences > Siri and enable “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’ on headphones.”

Julio on Hey Siri: This feature is great, in theory, but I don’t find Siri particularly useful, at least in a mobile capacity, so I never want to summon Siri on my AirPods.

Josh on notification announcements: Another possibly new-to-you feature is notification announcements, which Apple introduced with the second-generation AirPods. When you’re wearing your AirPods and get a notification, Siri reads the message through the AirPods. It works pretty well but can get annoying if you get a stream of notifications. However, it’s a big win for accessibility. (Adam tells me if you get enough notifications in quick succession, your iPhone will ask if you want to turn off the feature temporarily, but I haven’t experienced that yet.)

Julio on notification announcements: I receive a veritable tsunami of notifications every day, so there’s no way I’d be able to tolerate this announcement feature. I much prefer scrolling through recent announcements on my iPhone screen at a time of my choosing.

Josh on noise cancellation: One big downside of the third-generation AirPods is they don’t have the active noise cancellation of the AirPods Pro. I have three young children, so I would love to cancel some noise. But for me, their lower price and lack of tips in my ears outweighed the lack of noise cancellation.

Julio on noise cancellation: The third-generation AirPods lack active noise cancellation and the complementary transparency mode. It makes sense that Apple left these out for product differentiation for people like Josh, but the only-slightly-more-expensive Beats Fit Pro have ANC/transparency. Why wouldn’t I just buy those, since they’re also Apple-focused buds with an H1 chip? That said, I don’t think the ANC/transparency in the AirPods Pro and the Beats Fit Pro is all that great. It’s much better on the AirPods Max, but those headphones are super bulky and expensive.

Josh on Find My support: Even though I seldom lose my AirPods, I appreciate this feature. The one time I legitimately lost my AirPods—by dropping them on my in-laws’ couch—the rudimentary Find My support in the first-generation AirPods was good enough to help me figure out where I’d left them. However, if I misplace them in my house, that feature is practically useless. With the third-generation AirPods, I can open Find My and get a rough bead on where they are nearby.

Tracking AirPods with Find My

Julio on Find My support: I lose my AirPods all the time, so thank heavens for being able to make them beep in order to home in on them. Locating the beeps takes trial and error, though, so I’m glad Find My network support has migrated over from the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Nearby Apple devices can detect the third-generation AirPods when they’re out of my Bluetooth range (if I dropped them at a bus stop, say) so they appear on a map, as AirTags would. When they’re somewhere in the house, Find My’s proximity view on my iPhone 13 Pro Max guides me to an errant earbud, as it would to an AirTag. And I’ve set up separation alerts in case I leave my AirPods behind.

Josh on ear detection: AirPods automatically pause audio when I take them out and resume playback when I put them back in. Apple pretty much nailed this feature from the start, but I do notice a quicker response on the new AirPods thanks to the aforementioned skin detection sensor combined with an accelerometer. It’s not a major difference, but it’s noticeable.

Julio on ear detection: Ear detection has worked reliably for me, so I haven’t been pining for improvement, but Apple is providing it all the same. Skin detection helps the AirPods figure out whether they are in my ears or in my pockets so they can more accurately toggle playback off and on. Fair enough, but I haven’t noticed a significant improvement in an already good system.

Josh’s Longevity Concerns

I hesitated before spending $179 to upgrade my AirPods. Not so much because of the price, but out of concerns over longevity and lack of repairability. While I loved my original AirPods, they started to degrade after about a year, both in battery life and connection reliability. I managed to nurse them along with regular cleaning (see “Fix Apple Hardware Problems with Deep Cleaning,” 3 July 2019), but after five years, they’re practically dead.

Dirty first-generation AirPods
Forget Apple’s slick marketing; this is how AirPods really look after a few years.

A five-year lifespan wouldn’t be bad for tech gear, but my AirPods spent several of those years sitting on the shelf because they haven’t been worth using for a while. While I expect the battery to decay over time, I’m hoping the third-generation AirPods remain reliable for longer. I’m hopeful they will for a couple of reasons:

  • I no longer frequent a blacksmith shop. My first-generation AirPods accumulated a ton of metal shavings thanks to their built-in magnets. If you work in a similar environment, I recommend leaving the AirPods at home.
  • The third-generation AirPods have better waterproofing. I’m sure my originals absorbed some moisture from my pocket, so hopefully, the new ones hold up better.

Still, I would be happier if I could replace the battery in both the earbuds and the case. Given Apple’s emphasis on environmental issues, you’d think the company would be more interested in making this possible. Apple managed to make the AirTag both water-resistant and have an easily replaceable battery.

When the battery life in this pair of third-generation AirPods starts to fade, I may try out Podswap, which trades and refurbishes AirPods to keep them out of landfills (see “Refresh Your Old AirPods with a Podswap,” 16 April 2021).

Are the Third-Generation AirPods Worth Buying?

Let’s get to brass tacks: do Josh and Julio think the third-generation AirPods are worth the money?

Josh: I bought these AirPods with my own money, and I considered returning them because the larger buds were so uncomfortable. I’m still not happy about how much larger the buds are, but I appreciate having AirPods again for times when I want to listen to a video or podcast without stirring up my kids. Thanks to the audio improvements, they’re also good for the rare occasions when I enjoy a movie by myself.

Granted, $179 is a lot, and you can buy some excellent earbuds and headphones for much less. But with the third-generation AirPods, you get all the benefits of the Apple integration, and they’re a good product in themselves. If I can get these AirPods to work consistently for five years, I’ll be satisfied. But if they have the shorter lifespan of my first-generation AirPods, I’ll be much less happy.

On the other hand, I still use a pair of Sony MDR-V6 headphones that I bought for $75 back in 2007, although I did have to replace the pads and cable a few years ago. But that’s an apples-and-oranges comparison since the MDR-V6 has a thick cable that makes it too unwieldy to use in bed or on the go.

Julio: I love the third-generation AirPods for what they are: iconic Apple earbuds that are fun and effortless to use. I have long reached for my second-generation AirPods as my in-the-home defaults even though I have other options since they work so well, and the new AirPods slot well into that role.

But their limitations bother me. This is why I find myself gravitating towards the Beats Fit Pro earbuds, which have Apple-grade software features such as active noise cancellation and physical features such as wingtips for workouts.

So while I have loved playing with my review units, I can’t see myself spending $179 of my own money on the third-generation AirPods since the Fit Pro buds cost only $20 more. See “Beats Fit Pro Are Good Alternatives to Third-Gen AirPods” (14 November 2021).

It’s nice to have options.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata 8 comments

Beats Fit Pro Are Good Alternatives to Third-Generation AirPods

New AirPods are met with fanfare, but new releases from earbud and headphone maker Beats By Dre tend to garner less attention even though the company is an Apple subsidiary (see “The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Apple/Beats Audio Gear,” 19 July 2021).

So I’ll understand if you haven’t heard about the Beats Fit Pro earbuds, which came out just a week after Apple’s third-generation AirPods (see “Apple Unveils Third-Generation AirPods, Tweaks HomePod mini and Apple Music,” 18 October 2021 and “First Impressions of the Third-Generation AirPods,” 14 November 2021).

But it is time to focus up (as Ted Lasso would say) because there are good reasons that the $199 Beats Fit Pro, not the $179 AirPods, may be your next Apple earbuds.

Beats Fit Pro

For an up-to-date comprehensive overview of the Apple earbud landscape, consult a mega-chart I created to compare features found on Apple and Beats audio products (including recently discontinued ones of historical interest).

AirPods Under the Hood

With the Beats Fit Pro, you won’t get the iconic AirPods look. They have a more understated appearance, similar to that of the Beats Studio Buds, released in June 2021.

But the Fit Pro buds are essentially AirPods under the hood, more so than the Studio Buds, which used an oddball MediaTek TWS chip that limited their Apple-centric capabilities. The Fit Pro buds use the H1 chip that is standard on all AirPods models, enabling such features as audio sharing, one-touch pairing, auto-switching among Apple devices, and hands-free Siri access.

The Fit Pro buds also boast other advanced AirPods features, including:

  • Adaptive EQ to fine-tune playback based on how the earbuds are positioned in the ear
  • Spatial audio with head tracking
  • A new skin-detection feature from the third-generation AirPods that improves how playback automatically pauses and restarts when the earbuds are removed and reinserted

Physical Design

The Fit Pro buds depart from the AirPods aesthetic in obvious ways. They’re available in purple, gray, white, and black, for one thing.

Beats Fit Pro colors

They also dispense with the AirPods classic downward-pointing microphone stem, incorporating a subtler bulge similar to that on the Studio Buds. That’s where you’ll find a physical button to deal with phone calls and music playback, as with the Studio Buds. This button is quite different from the force sensor squeeze controls found on the third-generation AirPods’ stem (and on the older, pricier AirPods Pro). I love the force sensor, and I find the Beats button a bit clunky and too easy to engage accidentally, but I’m getting used to it.

That stem absence makes the Fit Pro buds incredibly compact (and thereby easier to lose, so be careful). Beats claims to provide its “smallest enclosure ever” even though the Fit Pro cram in 30% more components. The charging case is reasonably sized but a bit bigger than that of the third-generation AirPods.

In a nod to athletes, Beats added flexible, curved “wingtips” to the earbuds so they stay firmly seated during even frenetic workouts. My tips delicately fit within the cupped areas of my ears called the cymba conchae, adjacent to the ear canal, and no amount of head-shaking could dislodge them.

A woman with Beats Fit Pro in her ears
This is not a self-portrait.

Beats could have offered interchangeable wingtips in various sizes, as other earbud makers have done. Instead, it made them one-size-fits-all and incorporated them into the button bulge. The company claims to “deliver the optimal flexibility for earbud stability and comfort on any ear shape or size.” We’ll see if that’s true now that Fit Pro buds are broadly available.

Squeezing Beats Fit Pro wingtips

I find the wingtips to be a bit uncomfortable, but I think I will get used to them.

The Fit Pro buds stay firmly wedged in my ears for another reason: they include silicone ear-canal tips similar to those on the Studio Buds and AirPods Pro for creating a good seal and passive noise cancellation. As with the other models, the Fit Pro buds include three ear tip sets in several sizes for the best fit. The H1 chip enables the now-familiar ear tip test to ensure a good fit. The third-generation AirPods have none of this.

Audio Features

Certain Fit Pro audio features borrowed from the AirPods Pro also give them an advantage over the third-generation AirPods.

These include active noise cancellation for blocking out external sounds in tandem with the passive cancellation provided by the silicone ear tips and the complementary transparency mode for letting in external audio so you’re more aware of your surroundings. You activate these modes with long presses on either mechanical button. When neither mode is enabled, the Fit Pro buds default to Adaptive EQ.

Transparency mode works pretty well, but I find the Fit Pro’s active noise cancellation mediocre. It doesn’t really cancel out background noise, such as the running water from the kitchen faucet as I wash the dishes or the loud hum inside the family car when I’m riding shotgun as my wife drives. Such background noise just becomes more subdued.

But the Fit Pro’s active noise cancellation is better than nothing and thus better than the third-generation AirPods. It lets me use the Fit Pro buds in noisy surroundings, such as on a bus or train, where the AirPods would be all but worthless.

AirPods Advantage

It’s also worthwhile to highlight categories in which the third-generation AirPods have an edge.

MagSafe is one example. The charging case for the third-generation AirPods adds magnetic adhesion to the previous wireless charging capability. The Fit Pro’s charging case lacks wireless charging, forcing you to charge via a USB-C port built into the case.

Moisture protection is another. The Fit Pro buds boast an IPX4 rating to shield against sweat and water splashes, as do the third-generation AirPods. However, the Fit Pro’s charging case lacks this protection, while the third-generation AirPods case can withstand moisture.

Plus, there’s Find My support. As with other Apple-manufactured audio products, you can make the Fit Pro buds beep if you misplace them. You can also pinpoint them on a map with their current position if they are turned on and within Bluetooth range, or their last-known position if they are out of range or their batteries are dead.

But the third-generation AirPods support the more sophisticated Find My network features that have trickled down from higher-end AirPods products. Nearby Apple devices can help locate them, like an AirTag, so they are easier to retrieve. A proximity view on the iPhone screen does a more precise job of guiding you toward an errant earbud. And you can set up separation alerts in case you leave your AirPods behind. (That said, I’ve struggled to get the proximity view working reliably on my iPhone 13 Pro Max, which hasn’t been a problem for me when tracking down AirTags.)

The Beats Go On

If deviating from the iconic AirPods aesthetic isn’t a dealbreaker, there is a strong case to be made for the Fit Pro earbuds. Exterior appearances aside, the Fit Pro buds feel like Apple products through and through, thanks to the H1 chip found in all AirPods models. Their wingtip design ensures they’ll stay in your ears during workouts, and while their charging case lacks moisture protection and MagSafe, neither of those is a dealbreaker. They include customizable ear tips and provide both active noise cancellation and transparency mode.

At $199, they’re only $20 more than the third-generation AirPods, which are less capable in many ways. In fact, the Fit Pro buds come close to feature parity with the AirPods Pro—for $50 less.

So if you have been planning to plunk down money for either the third-generation AirPods or the AirPods Pro, give the Beats Fit Pro a hard look first. You might find them to be a better option.

Watchlist

Keyboard Maestro 10.0 19 comments

Keyboard Maestro 10.0

Peter Lewis of Stairways Software has released Keyboard Maestro 10, a substantial update to the popular automation and clipboard utility. The new version makes sweeping changes, adding the capability to display information and custom menus in the menu bar, improving the macro editor with numerous interface tweaks and menu commands, and adding support for subroutines. New triggers can execute macros when the Mac unlocks, connects or disconnects from a power supply, or changes its system appearance (so you can trigger macros based on switching to or from Dark mode). New actions include Paste by Name (enabling Spotlight-like searches of the clipboard history), Prompt for Screen Rectangle or Location (for user selection of a portion of the screen), Display Progress for long tasks, Pause Until Change (which waits for some aspect of the system to change), and more. There are also numerous new filters, tokens, and functions that provide significantly more power without needing AppleScript or shell scripts, plus various minor changes and bug fixes, including the drily amusing, “Fixed a bug enabling the Send button in the Report Bugs form (irony).” Keyboard Maestro 10 is compatible with macOS 12 Monterey and runs natively on M1-based Macs. Upgrades from previous versions cost $25, or $18 for version 9 owners upgrading before 15 December 2021. Those who have purchased since 1 March 2021 will receive a free upgrade. ($36 new with a 20% discount for TidBITS members, $25 upgrade, 34.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Bookends 14.0.2 No comments

Bookends 14.0.2

Sonny Software has issued Bookends 14.0.2, a maintenance release that introduces a new PDF annotation popover. After selecting text in a PDF, a small floating window enables you to set highlight color, underline or copy text, create a new notecard or PDF note, and copy text as a quote. The reference management tool also improves the interface for setting PDF highlight colors, adds a keyboard shortcut for Make Note in the PDF viewer, enables automatic retrieval of PDFs from PubMed Central, issues a sync warning if your library is stored in iCloud Drive even if it is not in the Bookends iOS sync folder, ensures that editing PDF file tags works correctly in macOS 12 Monterey, and fixes a bug in the concise views where the name of file tags could be colored incorrectly. ($59.99 new with a 25% discount for TidBITS members, 98.8 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Live Home 3D 4.2 No comments

Live Home 3D 4.2

BeLight Software has published version 4.2 of its Live Home 3D home design software, a maintenance release that adds 100 in-app Christmas decorations (free for Standard and Pro editions). The release also adds compatibility with macOS 12 Monterey, adds snow materials to the Material Library, provides a new collection of 2D representations of plants, fixes sporadic crashes caused by the import of 3D models in OBJ file format, resolves an issue with the export to OBJ file format for some projects, and addresses a problem with the camera’s export to 3DS format. ($29.99 new from BeLight and the Mac App Store, free update, 443 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

Hazel 5.1 No comments

Hazel 5.1

Noodlesoft has released Hazel 5.1, adding support for running Shortcuts in macOS 12 Monterey. You can also now use AppleScript to control Hazel’s run status as well as the active status of any rules. In addition, the update to the file automation tool adds support for ecdsa and ed25509 keys for SFTP, ensures the Date Taken (Hazel) attribute works with videos files in addition to images, resolves crashes in preview and rule status when there’s a rule evaluation error, and fixes a bug with help pop-ups not triggering. ($42 new or $65 for a five-member family pack, free update, 20.8 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

EagleFiler 1.9.6 1 comment

EagleFiler 1.9.6

Michael Tsai of C-Command Software has issued EagleFiler 1.9.6, working around a problem where a Mail error in macOS 12 Monterey could prevent the capture key from working. The document organization and archiving app now preserves the IMAP keywords of the selected messages as tags in EagleFiler, improves the display of email messages that lack a plain text part, reports a better error when a message in Gmail’s All Mail mailbox can’t be imported due to the Mail app’s optimized storage, updates the crash reporter for Monterey, fixes a bug that could cause a crash when dragging and dropping to the records list, and declares notch compatibility for the new MacBook Pros. ($40 new with a 20% discount for TidBITS members from C-Command Software or the Mac App Store, free update, 31.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12+)

HoudahGeo 6.2 No comments

HoudahGeo 6.2

Houdah Software has issued HoudahGeo 6.2, adding support for macOS 12 Monterey and Adobe Lightroom Classic 11 (see “Lightroom Classic 11,” 30 October 2021). The photo geotagging app is also updated to use the latest version of Apple’s Maps and improves responsiveness when clicking track logs in both Apple and Mapbox maps. Once you select a location on a track, you can assign it to photos or use it to match camera clock settings to the track for automatic geocoding. ($39 new with a 25% discount for TidBITS members, free update, 27.2 MB, release notes, 10.14+)

Logic Pro 10.7.1 No comments

Logic Pro 10.7.1

Apple has issued Logic Pro 10.7.1, a maintenance release with bug fixes and improvements following its recent big update. The professional audio app resolves several hangs and crashes that occurred when projects were loading, ensures that opening or closing a Track Stack no longer causes audio dropouts when playing a Spatial Audio project, displays the top channels in the Dolby Atmos plug-in after changing the bed track format to 5.1 or 7.1, ensures that all Touch Tracks trigger modes work reliably, and maintains visibility of search results when navigating among found items in the Sound Library. ($199.99 new in the Mac App Store, free update, 1.1 GB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Carbon Copy Cloner 6.0.5 No comments

Carbon Copy Cloner 6.0.5

Bombich Software has issued Carbon Copy Cloner 6.0.5 (CCC) with a new macOS Downgrade Assistant feature, which can assess a backup volume’s compatibility with Migration Assistant and create macOS Installer media using a specified volume and installer application. The drive-cloning and backup utility now lets you hold down the Option key when selecting a network volume source or destination to reveal a Switch to AFP or Switch to SMB menu item in the Source and Destination selectors. The update also brings back manual rearrangement of tasks in the sidebar, improves performance when writing large files to a rotational destination, fixes a display issue in the Legacy Bootable Backup Assistant, and resolves an issue in macOS 12 Monterey that caused failures when trying to configure new Remote Macintosh tasks. ($39.99 new, free update, 19.0 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

ExtraBITS

8 comments

Disk Utility in macOS 12 Monterey Manages APFS Snapshots

Howard Oakley at the Eclectic Light Company points out that macOS 12 Monterey’s version of Disk Utility now supports viewing and managing APFS snapshots. APFS snapshots provide rolling copies of a drive’s state so you can easily restore in case something goes horribly wrong (see “What APFS Does for You, and What You Can Do with APFS,” 23 July 2018). Those snapshots are handy but haven’t been easy to work with in previous versions of macOS (see “How to Work with and Restore APFS Snapshots,” 9 May 2019). With Disk Utility in Monterey, you can mount a snapshot like an external drive and copy data from it, or even delete previous snapshots to save disk space. Oakley also points out some new command-line options for working with APFS snapshots.

Disk Utility in Monterey