Apple has again silently updated the AirPods firmware, this time from version 3.5.1 to 3.7.2. As with the previous update, there are no public release notes, but the update likely focuses on bug fixes (see “Apple Silently Updates AirPods Firmware to 3.5.1,” 1 February 2017).
First, check to see if you need the firmware update. Connect your AirPods to your iPhone and go to Settings > General > About > AirPods, where you can check your firmware version. If the AirPods menu item doesn’t appear, open the AirPods charging case until the charge status alert appears at the bottom of the screen and then check again. If you still don’t see the AirPods menu item, make sure they’re connected in Settings > Bluetooth.
I had previously reported that you need to connect the Lightning cable to the AirPods charging case to install the update, but that appears not to be true. Once the AirPods are connected to your iPhone for a few minutes, the update will be applied silently and automatically.
Unfortunately, the firmware update has done nothing to fix the VoIP issues Julio Ojeda-Zapata and I experienced during our initial testing, including the awful jackhammer noise when trying to use the AirPods for a Slack call in iOS (see “Apple’s Wireless AirPods Were Worth the Wait,” 20 December 2016). Fingers crossed that the next update finally does the trick!
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The first big announcement from Apple’s WWDC keynote is that the Apple TV will at long last get an Amazon Prime Video app. That’s huge for fans of Amazon-exclusive shows like “Bosch,” “The Man in the High Castle,” and “Transparent.” In a tweet, Amazon confirmed that the new app will also integrate with the TV app in tvOS.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Amazon Prime Video app won’t be available until later this year. Worse, Apple had nothing else to say about the Apple TV until, again, later this year.
This is a bittersweet announcement for Apple TV fans. Amazon Prime Video has been on the top of many users’ wishlists since the debut of tvOS, but it’s disappointing that Apple didn’t show the platform much love at WWDC. Developers haven’t shown much interest in tvOS, in part because users haven’t jumped on the tvOS app bandwagon, which might have dampened Apple’s enthusiasm for talking about tvOS at a developer conference.
We hope that Apple has more in the works for the Apple TV in 2017, such as integration of Netflix in the TV app and two-way integration with the new Siri-enabled HomePod smart speaker that Apple also announced during the WWDC keynote. You should be able to control your Apple TV via Siri through the HomePod, and the HomePod should be able to play audio from the Apple TV, much as Google is doing with its integration of Google Home and Chromecast devices (“Google Aims to Attract Apple Users with Google I/O Announcements,” 22 May 2017).
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With the announcement of the HomePod during the WWDC keynote today, Apple finally put the brakes on the endless speculation about whether the company would release a smart speaker to compete with Amazon’s popular Echo and its Google Home competitor.
However, Apple didn’t just wade into the fray with a me-too product. In fact, during the announcement, the whole “smart” part of the “smart speaker” didn’t warrant mention until near the end. Instead, Apple focused its attention on the “speaker” features of the HomePod.
Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said that Apple has been working for years to reinvent the way we enjoy music in the home, and to that end, the company first designed the HomePod to be a great speaker.
It’s just under 7 inches (17 cm) tall and is covered in a 3-D mesh fabric. It features an array of seven beam-forming tweeters, each with its own driver, and precision acoustic horns that can direct sound in any direction. Bass comes from a 4-inch Apple-designed woofer that faces upward to move a lot of air, and software provides automatic bass equalization to avoid distortion as the volume increases.
All this is powered by Apple’s A8 chip, which the company first used in the iPhone 6. It provides real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, and multi-channel echo cancellation.
Since speakers live in different rooms with radically different acoustic properties, the HomePod has spatial awareness, in that it can detect its surroundings and adjust the music to match. It even knows if there’s a second HomePod in the room, and if so, it changes how it emits sound to provide the best possible listening experience.
Apple is also using the HomePod’s processing capabilities and its array of six microphones to let you control it via Siri. Control what? Music, of course, and Apple assumes that you’ll have an Apple Music subscription. To that end, Apple has expanded Siri’s vocabulary when it comes to music. Plus, the HomePod will connect directly to Apple Music, so you won’t have to play music through another device, although we expect that will be possible as well.
What about all the other stuff that people have become accustomed to asking of the Echo and Google Home smart speakers? Apple got to this at the very end, almost as an afterthought. You’ll be able to ask Siri for news, unit conversion, stock info, weather forecasts, traffic reports, sports scores, and more. You’ll also be able to send messages, make reminders, set alarms and timers, and control HomeKit devices.
Apple emphasized the privacy aspects of the HomePod. Until you say “Hey, Siri,” all recognition happens only locally. Only after you utter that trigger phrase is any data sent to Apple, where it’s associated with an anonymous Siri ID. All communications are end-to-end encrypted.
Why didn’t Apple plug the virtual assistant features of the HomePod more? We have a few theories:
It’s possible that Apple’s research shows that what people do most with smart speakers is listen to music. That’s certainly been our experience. Many of the things these smart speakers can do are better done elsewhere or are trivial examples. They’re good at bar trivia questions like who won the Super Bowl in 1956, but how often do you really wonder about such questions?
Although Apple would never admit this, it’s also possible that Siri doesn’t work as well as Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant technologies. Evaluating this would be difficult, and it’s likely that each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
The HomePod will cost $349, which is a lot more than the smart speaker competition. The Amazon Echo Dot is $49.99, the Echo is $179.99, and the Echo Show is $229.99. The Google Home runs $129 but can be found for under $100. Apple instead suggested that we should compare the HomePod against the cost of quality Wi-Fi speakers, which are $300 to $500, plus the $50 to $200 cost of a smart speaker. It’s all about how you frame things.
Regardless of why Apple chose to focus more on the audio quality of the HomePod than its Siri-driven smarts, we won’t be able to evaluate how well it does at either until it ships, which Apple promised for December 2017 in the United States, UK, and Australia. With other companies, that would be too late for the holiday shopping season, but since Apple sells so much directly, early to mid December should still work. Other countries will have to wait a little longer.
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During today’s frenetic keynote for WWDC 2017, iPad Pro news came relatively late in the proceedings, but for those of you wondering what you might buy to replace an old iPad, the news was worth waiting for.
First, though, a short requiem for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which has been discontinued as of today. It was a great device (full disclosure: I own one), and it will be missed.
iPad Pro Hardware -- But most people probably won’t miss it much, for it has been replaced by a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which, along with a refreshed 12.9-inch model, now resides near the upper end of Apple’s iPad lineup.
Most welcome is the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro’s screen real estate: its screen offers 20 percent more area than the 9.7-inch tablet’s screen, with 2224 by 1668 pixels available at 264 pixels per inch (ppi) compared to the 2048 by 1536 pixels available on the discontinued model. (For comparison, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers 2732 by 2048 pixels.) Apple squeezed that display into a package that’s only slightly larger than the previous model by reducing the size of the bezel around the screen.
Those pixels are faster, too. Both the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and its bigger sibling, the refreshed 12.9-inch iPad Pro, boast an impressive 120 Hz refresh rate that should make all motion on the screen smoother and more responsive. It should make using the Apple Pencil even more fluid, since the latency is reduced to a mere 20 milliseconds.
That refresh rate won’t be in play all the time because all those pixels are smarter, too: the new tablets employ a technology that Apple calls ProMotion, which adjusts the refresh rate depending on the content being displayed. High motion video, or scrolling, will ramp up the refresh rate, while static images will be refreshed less often, saving on battery and processing power. The pixels are brighter as well, displaying up to 600 nits; they’re more colorful, using the P3 color gamut; and they’re more legible, with a screen reflectivity of only 1.8 percent.
Driving those pixels is a new processor, Apple’s new 64-bit 6-core A10X Fusion chip that, aided by a 12-core GPU, can handle 4K video and speed up model rendering. Apple claims the A10X provides 30 percent faster processing than the older A9X processor and the new GPU delivers 40 percent faster graphics.
Also taking advantage of these processing capabilities are the cameras in the new iPads, which now match those on the iPhone 7: a 12-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization and a six-element lens on the back and a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera on the front. The rear camera is accompanied by Apple’s True Tone flash.
All this comes in a package that weighs only 1.03 pounds (469 grams) for the 10.5-inch Wi-Fi model (add 8 grams if you want a cellular model), or 1.49 pounds (677 grams) for the Wi-Fi-only 12.9-incher (cellular capability adds a whopping 15 grams — about half an ounce). Each offers an estimated 10 hours of battery life.
Unsurprisingly, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro retains its physical dimensions, so current cases should continue to fit fine. However, even though the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro is similar in size to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro it replaces, and is the same thickness, it’s 10.6 mm taller and 4.6 mm wider, so most of today’s cases for the previous iPad Pro won’t fit.
For those deeply into technical specifications (and who among us isn’t?), you can find many more details on the iPad Pro Tech Specs page.
iPad-specific iOS Features -- But hardware is only half the story, because when iOS 11 comes out (see “iOS 11 Gets Smarter in Small Ways,” 5 June 2017), it will sport a bevy of features designed with the iPad in mind. Not all of these features may work on older iPads, but Apple hasn’t announced details yet. New iPad-specific features include:
A customizable Dock that provides more than the paltry six icons of previous iOS generations. It even features an area at the right side that predicts which apps you might want to use.
A brand new App Switcher that you access by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. It makes moving among apps much more convenient. As a bonus, the App Switcher includes app combinations from multitasking sessions.
Files, a new app that lets users peruse locally stored files, iCloud Drive files, and files stored using third-party services such as Dropbox and Box. It looks and works a lot like the Finder on the Mac.
Drag-and-drop capability between apps so you can drag text, images, and files from one app to another using the improved multitasking in iOS 11.
A new document scanning feature in Notes that can handle multi-page documents and employs image processing to straighten and sharpen scanned images.
In addition, iOS 11 offers additional goodies for iPad Pro users who also have an Apple Pencil. Aside from the general snappiness increase courtesy of the new processors, the Apple Pencil learns a few new tricks in iOS 11:
A new Instant Notes feature so you can compose notes instantly by tapping the Pencil on the lock screen
Markup capability in Notes, Mail, PDFs, and on screenshots
Inline drawing in Notes and Mail
Handwritten text recognition — no, not the Newton handwriting recognition of yore, but recognition that leaves your handwritten notes looking as you wrote them but that makes them searchable
Pricing and Availability -- The new iPad Pro models are available for pre-order now, and will begin shipping by 12 June 2017 in the United States as well as in 37 other countries. The base model iPad Pros ship with 64 GB of storage but can be ordered with up to 512 GB, a nice jump from the previous 256 GB max. They come in silver, space gray, and gold, and Apple added a rose gold color for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
How much would you pay to own one of these bits of future kit? The 64 GB 10.5-inch iPad Pro with Wi-Fi model costs $649; jumping to 256 GB increases the price to $749, and going to 512 GB raises it to $949. For the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a 64 GB configuration starts at $799, with 256 GB at $899 and 512 GB at $1099. Add $130 to any configuration to get cellular connectivity as well.
For the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, those prices may seem to be $50 more than the previous 9.7-inch iPad Pro storage configurations. If you look closely, though, the only storage configuration that matches is the 256 GB size, and the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro is actually $50 cheaper there.
Although Apple’s iPad sales have been nothing to cheer about lately, these new Pro models may well reinvigorate this stagnating backwater in Apple’s hardware lineup.
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If you’re Apple, and you’re looking for a name for your new version of macOS, which is aimed at being a refinement to the previous version, what do you do? Name it High Sierra and make stoner jokes about how it’s fully baked.
For film buffs, like our own Michael Cohen, Apple could instead have gone with a quote from the 1941 flick “High Sierra,” in which a character named Big Mac says, “Times have sure changed.”
The rest of us might identify with Humphrey Bogart’s character, Roy Earle, who replies, saying “Yeah, ain’t they? You know, Mac, sometimes I feel like I don’t know what it’s all about anymore.”
Under the hood, macOS 10.13 High Sierra will usher in the new APFS file system, H.265 HEVC video, and Metal 2 graphics. These changes will upgrade the Mac to a modern file system, bring a new industry standard for video compression to the Mac, and provide significantly enhanced graphics processing. They show that Apple is serious about the Mac’s future and about making necessary upgrades for Mac users in graphics-intensive creative fields like animation and virtual reality. Apple also announced a few welcome tweaks to its core apps.
Apple developers can access the High Sierra developer preview now, and a public beta should be available later in June. Apple expects to release High Sierra to the general public this fall (expect September or October). The upgrade will be free and run on all systems that support macOS 10.12 Sierra.
It’s All About Speed -- The new 64-bit file system, called APFS, stands for Apple File System, and it’s not just for the Mac — it’s already in iOS 10.3 and will become part of tvOS and watchOS. Because APFS is decades newer than the HFS+ file system that the Mac uses currently, it was designed with modern-day concerns in mind, such as how to best work with solid-state drives.
APFS won’t make the Finder look different, but it should provide better performance: tasks like displaying the size of a folder or duplicating a large file should go far more quickly. You can also look forward to features such as native encryption, faster backups, and better behavior in the case of power outages or system freezes (see “What Apple’s Forthcoming APFS File System Means to You,” 24 June 2016).
The new HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding, also known as H.265) provides 40 percent better video compression for 4K video than the previous H.264 standard, as well as hardware acceleration when used on certain newer Macs and with Apple’s Pro tools. In essence, in High Sierra, video should take up less space and stream better.
Metal 2 replaces the previous Metal API and is a big deal for developers — and by extension for anyone who wants the Mac be taken seriously as a high-end creative platform. Apple’s description of Metal 2 lists the goodies expected in Metal 2, including GPU-driven pipelines, enhanced machine learning, and support for virtual reality rendering on external GPUs. Apple also announced an External Graphics Developer Kit, but details are still fuzzy. We’re still bummed that Apple passed on the opportunity to call it Heavy Metal.
App Enhancements -- Apps that will see improvements in High Sierra include Safari, Mail, and Photos.
The Safari Web browser will, to be blunt, show Web pages that look and sound less trashy. Safari’s Reader view is enabled automatically for every Web article that supports it, removing ads, navigation, and distractions. Autoplay Blocking will stop media playback from occurring when you open a page — Macworld, we’re looking at you! Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention will remove tracking data that allows third parties to access your browsing history. In addition to enhancing your privacy, this feature may cause you to see fewer ads based on products you’ve researched or purchased in the past.
You’ll be able to customize all these features on a per-site basis, and the same applies to page zoom, location services, notifications, and content blockers.
Search in the Mail app will be faster and feature a Top Hits area in the results that will attempt to display the “most relevant” results. This feature is designed to learn from your actions, so the more you use it, the better the results should get. Mail will also have a new full-screen split view that puts the compose window next to your messages and better message compression, allowing it to consume less disk space.
Photos receives important tweaks that should interest many types of users. The interface will include a persistent sidebar and a redesigned Edit view. Facial recognition training you perform on one device will now appear on all your devices, the Memories feature has new categories, and new editing tools will help with fine-tuning and color saturation.
In the fun department, you’ll be able to edit Live Photos like the mini-movies that they are, with looping, reversing, trimming, and picking a key frame. You’ll also be able to turn a Live Photo into a long exposure to blur movement.
Photos will also finally bring back integration with external editors such as Photoshop and Pixelmator that was last seen in iPhoto. It will support third-party extensions so you can export projects to non-Apple printing services, such as Animoto and Shutterfly.
Other changes that Apple announced include more natural voices for Siri, simple tables in Notes, flight information in Spotlight, Siri music recommendations in Apple Music, and the capability to share a link to a file stored in iCloud Drive with anyone. The last feature noted on Apple’s Web page about High Sierra mentions iCloud storage plans for a family; presumably more details will be forthcoming.
Tripping to High Sierra -- Perhaps we at TidBITS can be accused of inhaling, but reactions to High Sierra were generally positive. We’re always in favor of Apple refining existing features that seem, well, half-baked.
In the end, High Sierra adds timely improvements that will make every day use of apps like Safari and Photos more enjoyable while simultaneously adding foundational enhancements to enable previously unimaginable capabilities on the upcoming iMac Pro and promised Mac Pros. Apple even demoed some of this during the keynote by showing off a real-time virtual reality creation environment that was used to create a Star Wars experience. It may or may not have been the sort of thing anyone could do, but it was impressive.
Right now the future looks groovy for macOS.
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If you were hoping for massive changes to iOS, such as a redesigned Home screen, iOS 11 will disappoint you, at least on the iPhone. While the iPad will receive many terrific (and much-needed) big-screen features (see “iPad Pro Gets More Professional,” 5 June 2017), the rest of iOS 11 focuses on UI refinement, artificial intelligence, and developer capabilities. Regardless, some big changes are coming when iOS 11 is released this fall.
Control Center and Lock Screen -- Whenever you install iOS 11, the first big thing you’ll likely notice immediately is the new Control Center, which had ballooned to up to three pages in iOS 10. For iOS 11, Apple has compressed it back down to one page, in a grid that takes up more of the screen.
Despite being squeezed into a single page, Control Center will offer more options than before. You’ll be able to 3D Touch a Control Center “platter,” as Apple called them, or presumably long-press it on devices that don’t support 3D Touch, to pop open a panel with more options.
The other big front-facing change is that Notification Center is going away in iOS 11. Instead, you’ll be able to scroll through all of your notifications on the Lock screen. It wasn’t quite clear how you’d be able to see your older notifications without locking the device.
Messages -- In iOS 11, Apple is finally fixing Messages with Messages in iCloud. Your messages will be synced across devices via iCloud, so you won’t have unsynced or jumbled messages. If you delete a message on one device, it disappears on all devices. Also, your older messages will be stored in iCloud so they won’t hog precious storage space on your devices. Of course, your messages will still be end-to-end encrypted to ensure your privacy.
Apple is also redesigning the Message app drawer for iOS 11. The company introduced Message apps in iOS 10, but they’ve been underwhelming so far. A better-designed app drawer may make these mini-apps more accessible. That will also be key for a new feature coming to Apple Pay…
Apple Pay -- Apple is becoming a financial services company of sorts, since Apple Pay will support person-to-person payments in iOS 11. To store the money you receive, you’ll have an Apple Cash Card in Wallet, and you can transfer money from it to your bank.
Apple was a bit skimpy on details, but it seems that the primary way of making person-to-person transactions will be with a Message app that can send money via iMessage.
Siri -- Siri will receive some major enhancements in iOS 11. In addition to new, more natural voices and a new look, Siri will now sync the data it knows about you between devices to better help personalize your queries.
Siri is also getting smarter. Thanks to what Apple calls Siri Intelligence, Siri will better understand your interests and the contexts in which you are speaking. For instance, if you search for Iceland in Safari, Apple News will recommend articles about Iceland, and the keyboard will intelligently suggest related terms if you’re talking about Iceland.
Apple has spread this intelligence throughout iOS 11. For instance, Calendar can now extract events from Safari. This is one of those features that’s difficult to demo or describe, so we’re anxious to get our hands on it to see how it works in reality.
Unhappy with the results Siri usually gives you? In iOS 11, Siri will offer alternative answers that you can choose by tapping the screen. Presumably, Apple will use this to tailor its recommendations.
Perhaps the coolest new feature coming to Siri is translation. You’ll be able to say something like “How do you say what the most popular dishes in your restaurant in Chinese,” and Siri will speak what you said in Chinese. Apple emphasized that this is a beta feature, so we don’t quite have the Babel fish from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” yet.
Finally, the SiriKit API for developers is gaining some new features, such as photo search, car controls, task management, and banking. That should mean that we’ll be able to use Siri to control many more apps than in iOS 10.
App Store -- Apple is totally revamping the App Store in iOS 11. The old top charts seem to be gone. Instead, there are tabs for daily featured apps, games, and apps.
Apple seems to be moving toward curating the App Store more. Apps featured in the Today tab will include short articles and how-to videos. Likewise, the other new tabs will feature highlighted apps every day. The idea seems to be to get users to check in with the App Store every day to see what’s new. That may be great for developers, but we’re horrified that Apple seems to think you should waste vast amounts of time browsing the App Store for new apps daily.
Developers will appreciate the App Store’s new “phased releases,” which roll out a new or updated app slowly instead of all at once. That’ll be especially welcome for developers whose apps require a lot of server resources.
Camera -- Have you noticed that the file sizes for photos are growing with each new iPhone model? Apple is tackling that with two new technologies: HEVC H.265 video compression and a new image format called HEIF. Apple claims that HEVC compression can cut the size of videos by half. HEIF, or High Efficiency Image File Format, is a new standardized file format that will replace JPEG for iOS photos. Apple claims that images in HEIF will be easy to share with others, but we’re waiting to see how well that pans out.
Portrait Mode for the iPhone 7 Plus is also getting some much-needed enhancements: improved image quality, better low-light performance, and optical image stabilization.
Photos -- The Memories feature that Apple introduced in iOS 10 is getting smarter and better able to identify different objects and people, but the change you’re most likely to notice is that Memories in iOS 11 will be able to switch from landscape to portrait orientation.
But the most impressive new stuff coming to Photos in iOS 11 are all the things you’ll be able to do with Live Photos. You’ll be able to trim and edit Live Photos, pick a different key photo, and create loops. You’ll even be able to reverse the directions of loops if you want a bounce effect. But perhaps the coolest new feature with Live Photos is being able to combine all the frames together to form a long exposure shot.
Maps -- As always, Apple’s Maps is playing catchup. Maps in iOS 11 will inform you of speed limits and offer lane guidance — standard features on most standalone GPS units.
However, more interesting is that Maps will begin offering indoor maps of large places like malls and airports. Support will be limited to a small number of major cities at first, but that will hopefully grow over time.
CarPlay for the Rest of Us -- Even Apple admits that CarPlay hasn’t been widely adopted, so that’s why the most interesting new automotive feature will be available to all iOS 11 devices: Do Not Disturb While Driving. When your iPhone detects, either via Bluetooth or the Wi-Fi Doppler effect, that you are in a car, it will shut off notifications to your phone. You’ll be able to set an auto-reply text message in case anyone messages you, which the sender can break through by stating that the message is urgent. You can also turn off Do Not Disturb While Driving if you’re riding in a car instead of driving. We strongly hope this feature will help cut down on the number of accidents caused by texting and inappropriate iPhone use while driving.
HomeKit -- Apple’s home automation platform will gain some more capabilities, but the key thing Apple wanted to discuss is the new AirPlay 2 protocol and its integration with HomeKit. If you have multiple AirPlay 2 enhanced speakers, you’ll be able to use the Home app to broadcast music throughout your house. A number of manufacturers have signed on to produce AirPlay 2-compatible speakers, and we presume Apple’s own HomePod will do so as well. Apple TVs running tvOS will also be able to act as AirPlay 2 receivers.
I hope this musical HomeKit integration will let me do things like play a song in response to an event or even sync my lights to music.
Apple Music -- Remember Ping? Or Apple Music Connect? Well, Apple just won’t give up on the dream of a social music experience, so Apple Music in iOS 11 will let you see what your friends are listening to. We hope you can turn that feature off; there’s a reason each of Apple’s previous attempts in this area has failed.
Apple is also offering developers an API for Apple Music, so developers of apps like Shazam can tie into Apple Music. It will be interesting to see what developers do with that.
Behind the Curtain -- WWDC being a developer conference, Apple announced some new technologies that could lead to new, exciting apps. The two most interesting ones for end users are Core ML and ARKit.
Core ML is a developer framework to make machine learning readily available to developers. Developers can use it to handle things like face detection and tracking, text detection, object tracking, palm rejection, and barcode scanning. Apple claims that with Core ML, iOS image recognition will be six times faster than with Google’s Pixel phone.
ARKit is a framework to help develop apps using augmented reality, which mixes the real and virtual worlds. The example most people are probably familiar with is Pokémon Go, which lets players capture and battle with pocket monsters around the world (see “What the Heck Is Pokémon Go?,” 17 July 2016). Apple even demonstrated how ARKit will make Pokémon Go better by showing that a thrown pokéball will bounce around on a real-life sidewalk.
Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi also showed how an ARKit app lets him place virtual objects on a table.
And Alasdair Coull, head of director Peter Jackson’s Wingnut AR studio, showed off an entire battle overlaid over the auditorium.
AR is an interesting technology, but it has yet to find a killer app. Pokémon Go seemed to be the app, but its luster has quickly faded. However, if Apple ever did develop a car, AR could be an essential technology.
Where is iOS Going? -- iOS 11 has no marquee feature, but that’s not really a problem. As with many recent iOS releases, iOS 11 instead provides a series of refinements, many of which should improve the user experience in real ways. We’ll be poring over the beta releases in the next few months to find and share the most useful of these changes.
If there is one central thread, it’s that of artificial intelligence, as Siri becomes more robust and better integrated throughout iOS and independent apps. It’s clear that, for Apple, this is a year to establish the building blocks necessary for whatever comes next in technology.
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watchOS is in its infancy compared to Apple’s more mature operating systems, which gives Apple more leeway to change even core behavior. At its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, Apple announced a bunch of new features for watchOS 4, due this fall and slated to run on all models of the Apple Watch.
While none appeared revolutionary, the changes should nudge the Apple Watch forward in substantive and useful ways. These refinements include improvements to the Apple Watch as an information console, fitness tracker, music player, and payment maker. Plus, the Apple Watch will be more fun to wear and show off thanks to new faces and bands.
Information Flow -- One knock against the Apple Watch is its awkwardness in delivering information users need in ways that are simple and convenient.
Apple is taking another swing at this issue with the new Siri watch face, which blends the company’s intelligent assistant with its highly customizable watch interface.
With the raise of your wrist, you’ll be fed information that is relevant based on time of day, regular activities, and data generated by the watch’s various apps, such as Activity, Alarms, Calendar, Maps, Reminders, and Wallet.
Similarly, the Apple Watch will regularly display news headlines from Apple News with an emphasis on your interests. You’ll able to tap any story for a summary, or to save the full article for later iPhone reading.
This approach bears a striking resemblance to Google Now, which feeds a similar information stream to iPhone and Android smartphone owners, as well as Android Wear smartwatch users. If the Siri watch face proves at least somewhat comparable to Google Now in how it unearths relevant, actionable information, Apple Watch users are in for a pleasant surprise.
Music Machine -- As a music-control device, the Apple Watch has mostly been an awkward remote control for an iPhone. With watchOS 4, Apple is hoping to improve the experience a bit.
An updated Music app on the Apple Watch will sync over from the iPhone your most-listened music. If you subscribe to Apple Music, you’ll also get your My Chill Mix, My New Music Mix, and My Favorites Mix. Apple hopes this will make it easier for Apple Watch owners to leave their iPhones behind — as when working out — and rely directly on AirPods for listening to music.
Intelligent Coach -- Fitness tracking may be the Apple Watch’s most popular feature, so it made sense for Apple to give its watchOS Activity app serious attention.
For instance, Apple wants to help you fill your activity rings with more consistency. To do this, it will now send morning notifications to suggest how you can match the previous day’s activity levels, or pull off particular Achievements.
It will nudge you again in the evening as a reminder to close your circles, if you are tantalizingly close to doing so. You will receive monthly challenges that are unique to your exercise circumstances, as well. You’ll even be rewarded with the digital equivalent of pinwheel fireworks when you nail your fitness goals.
The Workout app got some attention, too, and may be more interesting to athletes than in the past. Updates include an option for pool athletes to track sets and rests, pace for each set, and distance for each stroke type.
Apple also has added motion and heart-rate algorithms for those engaged in High Intensity Interval Training workouts.
Similarly, those doing back-to-back workouts or training for triathlons can easily switch from one workout type to another, and then combine that data into one session to better analyze calorie and time measurements.
Workouts users also can designate a favorite workout type and later access it with just a tap. There’s a Do Not Disturb option for distraction-free workouts, too.
Gym-equipment manufacturers are joining the Apple Watch party, as well. At properly equipped health clubs, Apple Watch users will be able to pair their watches to treadmills, ellipticals, indoor bikes, or stair steppers from vendors such as Cybex, Life Fitness, Matrix, Schwinn, StairMaster, Star Trac, and TechnoGym.
The point of this exercise: gym-equipment and Apple Watch workout data like calories, distance, speed, incline, pace, and floors climbed will be kept in sync. Apple claims that 80 percent of gym equipment already supports this capability, although we suspect that’s overly optimistic given the cost of replacing gym machines.
Person-to-Person Payments -- The Apple Watch has long served as means for making purchases at brick-and-mortar retail outlets via touch-to-pay terminals that support Apple Pay.
Now Apple is offering more Apple Pay options, including person-to-person payments within Messages or using Siri. If you get paid in this fashion, you can see that money added to your new Apple Pay Cash account. You can then use that moolah for Apple Pay retail purchases and person-to-person payments, or transfer it to a bank account.
Person-to-person payments will be available only in the United States, at first, and will work on iOS devices as old as the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3.
More Faces, New Bands -- In addition to the highly utilitarian Siri face, Apple is providing more whimsical faces. Pixar characters Woody, Jessie, and Buzz Lightyear are joining veteran Mickey Mouse and recent arrival Minnie Mouse.
A different watch face dubbed Kaleidoscope is exactly that – an endless series of static images transformed into mesmerizing patterns.
Lovers of complications get some goodies, as well. New options include Now Playing and Apple News.
Apple also (big surprise) has a batch of new bands. These include Sports Bands in new colors, a bright yellow Classic Buckle, and Nike Sport Band options that color-coordinate with the company’s athletic footwear. And, “as a celebration of diversity and inclusion,” Apple is now making publicly available a rainbow-colored Pride Edition Woven Nylon band that used to be an option only for Apple employees.
The bands are available in Apple’s online store now, and in brick-and-mortar outlets by next week.
Core Bluetooth -- Last, but certainly not uninteresting, was Apple’s announcement that watchOS 4 would support Core Bluetooth. That means that you’ll be able to connect more Bluetooth devices directly to the Apple Watch without having to go through the iPhone.
Apple suggested that this might be useful for continuous glucose monitoring, analyzing your tennis swing via a sensor on a tennis racket, or recording wave height and calorie burn via a sensor on your surfboard. Yeah, I don’t have a sensor-enabled surfboard either.
Incremental but Solid -- The announced updates to watchOS 4 are only half of the story. New Apple Watch models, possibly due within just a few months, could prove more dramatic than this week’s incremental announcements. Even so, Apple Watch users wanting evidence that their beloved gizmos will see regular improvement via software updates have reason to cheer.
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Evernote 6.11.1 -- Evernote has released version 6.11.1 of its eponymous information management app to fix several issues with formatting notes. The update resolves a problem that prevented some notes created in Evernote for Mac from rendering after syncing, fixes a bug that caused tables to lose formatting after updating to Evernote 6.11, corrects the addition of a second line break after pasting a line of text, and fixes a bug that caused some styles to go missing from pasted content. (Free from Evernote or the Mac App Store, 55.9 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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Quicken 2017 for Mac 4.5.6 -- Quicken Inc. has released version 4.5.6 of its Quicken 2017 for Mac financial management app to improve the loan details screen and add the capability to pay from an investment account. The update also fixes an issue where quotes would start downloading after clicking Pay Now using Online Bill Pay, resolves a rounding error that could cause online bill payments to be off by a penny, and fixes a data integrity issue that changed transaction totals to match an incorrect single split amount (resulting in an incorrect account balance). ($74.99 new from Quicken Web site and Mac App Store, free update from Quicken 2017, release notes, 10.10+)
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Fantastical 2.3.8 -- Flexibits has issued Fantastical 2.3.8, a small but important update to the popular calendar app. Starting 15 June 2017, iCloud will require two-factor authentication and an app-specific password, and Fantastical will stop syncing your iCloud accounts if you do not take action. This update contains instructions for setting up two-factor authentication and generating an app-specific password. ($49.99 new from Flexibits and the Mac App Store, free update, 14.0 MB, release notes, 10.11+)
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DEVONagent 3.9.7 -- DEVONtechnologies has updated all three editions of its DEVONagent research software (Lite, Express, and Pro) to version 3.9.7, ensuring that all search requests sent to Google or Bing now use secure connections (HTTPS). The Express and Pro editions receive updated Macintosh News (Latest/More) search sets. The Pro edition also gains a new contextual menu option that returns more precise see-also results for selected text, and it fixes a bug that caused automatic naming of files to fail (such as when dragging results to the Desktop). (All updates are free. DEVONagent Lite, free, release notes; DEVONagent Express, $4.95 new, release notes; DEVONagent Pro, $49.95 new with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS members, release notes. 10.7.5+)
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DEVONthink/DEVONnote 2.9.12 -- DEVONtechnologies has updated all three editions of DEVONthink (Personal, Pro, and Pro Office) and DEVONnote to version 2.9.12. The three editions of DEVONthink now render PDF files internally to fix display glitches and flickering in macOS 10.12 Sierra and let Markdown documents use absolute paths to reference internal documents. The updates also add support for flat OmniOutliner 5 files, improve the use of trackpad gestures to zoom and rotate images, smooth out graphical glitches when zooming images, save reading positions more often, and optimize indexing of Tinderbox documents. The Pro and Pro Office editions enable Markdown documents to reference images located in other databases using item links.
DEVONnote and all three editions of DEVONthink ensure that Web views remember the last-used zoom factor, slightly revise the status bar of selected documents, improve database verification, and fix numerous bugs. (All updates are free. DEVONthink Pro Office, $149.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Professional, $79.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Personal, $49.95 new, release notes; DEVONnote, $24.95 new, release notes; 25 percent discount for TidBITS members on all editions of DEVONthink and DEVONnote. 10.9+)
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Caboodle 2.0.3 -- Before Dawn Solutions has released Caboodle 2.0, a major new release for the snippet keeper app that’s now under new ownership. Before its acquisition, Caboodle was developed by Dejal Systems.
In addition to a redesign to give the app a more modern look, Caboodle 2 now supports multiple documents, enables files to be saved on and shared from Dropbox and iCloud Drive, adds draggable custom fields, brings Spotlight system-wide searching, and improves data format storage (using a package containing standard rich text documents). The release also reimplements the auto-launch preference to work with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and later and adds a text format bar below the window toolbar that includes font, styles, colors, lists, and more.
Shortly after the 2.0 release, Before Dawn Solutions issued Caboodle 2.0.1 to resolve issues with the updater and fix a bug that prevented files from being opened from the Finder (including the license file). Then a quick 2.0.3 release fixed the Print to Caboodle” workflow for other apps and added drag-and-drop support for PDF, RTF, HTML, and text files.
Caboodle 2 will open existing data from Dejal’s Caboodle 1. Regularly priced at $19.99, Caboodle 2 is available via the Mac App Store at a special upgrade price of $12.99 for a limited time. Plus, a free 14-day trial is available from the Before Dawn Solutions Web site. ($19.99 new, 6.7 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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iMovie 10.1.6 -- Apple has released iMovie 10.1.6, improving stability when updating libraries created with earlier versions of iMovie and addressing an issue that could lower the volume of clips after transitions. Note that Apple recently made current iLife and iWork apps entirely free for all users (including iMovie; see “iLife and iWork Apps Now Free for Everyone,” 20 April 2017). (Free from the Mac App Store, 2.15 GB, 10.11.2+)
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BBEdit 11.6.6 -- Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit 11.6.6 with bug fixes and refinements for the long-standing text editor. The update works around a crash that could occur when starting up after a macOS update, deals with a macOS performance problem that could slow application startup, fixes a bug where the Open File in BBEdit service would “inappropriately refuse to do so,” and resolves an issue where the desired default formatting for video tags was not applied by the Pretty Print formatting option. ($49.99, free update, 14.0 MB, release notes, 10.9.5+)
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HoudahGeo 5.1.9 -- Houdah Software has released HoudahGeo 5.1.9, updating the photo geotagging app to the new Dropbox API to publish Google Earth KML files to Dropbox (the previous API will be discontinued in June 2017). The release also fixes a bug that prevented altitude values from being read in images edited in Photoshop and ensures that EXIF/XMP export no longer changes letter case on the .xmp extension of existing sidecar files. ($39 new with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 22.7 MB, release notes, 10.11.5+)
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In ExtraBITS this week, Walt Mossberg pens his last weekly column and patent trolls have been dealt a major blow in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Walt Mossberg Signs Off -- Veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg has penned what he calls “the last weekly column I plan to write anywhere” for Recode. To wrap up his career, he looks back to his first Wall Street Journal column from 1991, which started with “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn’t your fault.” 25 years later, he has updated that to: “Personal technology is usually pretty easy to use, and, if it’s not, it’s not your fault.” Mossberg laments the current lull in tech, but he’s optimistic that it’s merely a pause before reaching greater heights, to the point where computers will fade into the background of our lives.
Supreme Court Decision Deals a Blow to Patent Trolls -- Since the 1990s, the Eastern District of Texas has been the preferred hunting ground for patent trolls. Judges in that district have been friendly to those who hold patents they never intend to use outside of litigation, so nearly 45 percent of patent infringement suits were filed there in 2015. But thanks to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Eastern District of Texas’s time in the patent litigation limelight may be coming to an end. In TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, the Supreme Court ruled that defendants should face patent litigation in the state in which they’re incorporated. For instance, if you wanted to sue Apple or many other tech companies for patent infringement, you’d have to do so in California. Courts in other states won’t be as friendly to patent trolls, so this Supreme Court decision may have the side effect of reducing frivolous patent lawsuits.