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Apple Music Replay’s Broken Record

screenshot of the Apple Music interface showing two interface tiles. The first is to open Replay in a browser and the other is to listen to the Replay '23 Playlist.

If there’s one thing about Apple Music I’ll never understand it’s Apple Music Replay. It is once again time for the annual user-experience tire-fire. In the Apple Music app, you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the Listen Now screen, or you find it in your top row somewhere. I guess Apple might still be sending push notifications about it, but I turned that trash off awhile ago.

The tile implores you to “Replay and share your year in music.” In tiny text, seemingly indicating shame or remorse, it says “Go to site”.

You see, the Apple Music app - and iTunes before it - are largely glorified markup viewers, but for whatever reason, the Music app still can’t display Apple Replay in the Apple Music app. Instead the user is shunted off to the web version of the Music app.

Not a big deal, right? Except you have to log in with your Apple ID in your web browser to see the web version of the app you were just in so you can look at text and images with CSS animation. Does the Music app not pass Acid3? For all the crap Apple, and its fans, level at Electron based apps we’re left with this native app’s sweet solution.

What are we doing here, again, where I have to sign in to a second location to participate in what is essentially web marketing?

It is also incredibly fragile web marketing, because if you click, or tap, on that little hamburger menu in the Replay page it will show you “Select a year to see your listening[sic]”. The “‘22” doesn’t work. The text “This is your Replay.” strobes on an endless loop and nothing happens because no one at Apple thought that the page from last November should still work.

Highlights Magazine

Once the user is logged in, they can play a highlight reel, based off of Snapchat, and Instagram Stories vertical “video” format — which looks great on my MacBook, BTW. The thing is just a carousel of animated stuff.

Apple Music Replay Highlight Reels showing the 'anthem' of Padam.
Drag my basic ass, Apple.

It seems to be like something one could upload to a Stories, or other vertical video product to share, but there are no sharing controls in a desktop web browser at all, so you have to go to the site in Safari on iOS, to get a share icon to save a static PNG to send somewhere else. There’s something poetic about failing to do something social well and using the format pronounced “ping”.

It’s like when your parents would buy you those electronic toys that weren’t real video game consoles or computers — Tiger Electronics shit — and you were just supposed to pretend it was a GameGear.

You can’t even share this with the people in your Apple Music social graph. I guess all anyone really needs from their friends is the dreaded Friends Mix, eh, Apple? I mean why would the people I’m following, and who follow me, on Apple Music want to know anything about my Apple Music if I chose to share it? Why not just keep shoving random shit I’ve listened to at them?

Back to the content of this not-social social media reel, which is also underwhelming. This is like a form letter from an actuary. The number of minutes of music I listened to? Wow, insightful. The genre I played the most being “Pop”? No way! I bet no one else has that!

Apple Music Highlight Reels showing the most listened to genre was Pop.

Also whoever was setting this year’s mail merge left the rank number on the “Top” slides. The slides only have one thing on them, and already say “Top” so the enormous “1” in the lower right hand corner adds nothing.

Apple Music Replay web interface showing three milestones represented by completed circles.
Did I requalify for my frequent flyer status? What is this design?

This whole thing feels like someone was very excited to animate things, move album artwork around, and transform data, but no one really gave much thought to what this whole thing is supposed to mean to someone. How it makes someone feel.

Lists Go Sideways

There is actual information once you get out of the Highlights Reel and scroll down, unfortunately it’s in sideways carousels.

That’s how we all like to read lists, right?

For Mac users you can top the “>” and waiting for an animation to slide the four items across the screen. Then tapping “>” again for the next four items. Hopefully you don’t want to go back in the list because then you need to move over to the other side of the carousel and tap “<”. Don’t worry though, you can scroll the list sideways without having to tap, but the page doesn’t load more than four-to-six pieces of album art or auto-playing artist portraits so you need to stop scrolling and wait for the list to finish loading.

On iOS, it’s a slide carousel, with five items listed vertically and you swipe horizontally. You have the share icon, which you do not get on the Mac, but it only saves a PNG of the five currently displayed items, and not the whole list of 15.

This is using the same accursed design metaphors in the Listen Now page in the Apple Music app, here in the web browser, where a list could be anything, even something readable, but it’s not.

I should mention that even though this is all designed to look like Apple Music’s Listen Now interface, you can’t listen now to anything that’s on this page. This is not interactive. (Rubs temples.)


Spotify Wrapped absolutely trounces Apple Music every year when it’s released. In a few days social media will be flooded with happy Spotify customers sharing their Spotify Wrapped with everyone else. It’s a great advertisement for Spotify, and the attention is well-deserved, because Spotify puts far more effort into crafting Wrapped than Apple puts into Replay.

Who knows what new ways Spotify will come up with to absolutely embarrass Apple Music subscribers this year? Even if was just what they did two, or three years ago, it would be more than Apple’s done this year, or is likely to do in the future. Throw money at this problem, Apple. Consider using that Apple Music price-hike to fund it.

2023-11-28 10:45:00

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Going in-depth on iPhone Spatial Video

Last week I wrote a piece for Six Colors Subsribers on Spatial Video as recorded by iPhone 15 Pro models in the iOS 17.2 beta.

It bothers me slightly that Apple has been pretty vague about how it would all work to preserve the magic of it, because I’ve seen more than a few people decide to jump on the beta and start recording all their special moments as Spatial Video. People are not fully informed of what it is they’re committing to, because they have no way to visualize it.

The brief summary is that the Spatial Video is 1920x1080 HD video and it’s stereoscopic 3D video in the old-fashioned sense that there’s a left eye, and a right eye, and there isn’t some immersive holodeck-like experience (which we knew would not be the case, but was in the marketing videos). The interaxial distance between the cameras is so small that you only get useful volume out of something 3-8 feet from camera, and even that will be pretty mild. The big bummer is that nothing is happening to match detail between the left and right eye to make up for the drastic differences between the paired cameras.

Continue to record all your precious moments as you otherwise would, and do some extra recordings on the side in Spatial Video, but don’t put all your eggs in this basket.

All the details are available if you subscribe to Six Colors for the full piece, and the very 2D video where I walk through a few example Spatial Video recordings from Jason Snell. You should be a Six Colors subscriber anyway for the member content that I don’t do.

2023-11-27 08:45:00

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Nervous Energy

My number one thing to do with my nervous energy used to be opening Tweetbot, and the Twitter app. Just going back and forth. Bored? Look at Tweets. Want to see news? Look at Tweets. Want to talk to friends? Look at Tweets. Want to see when D-list Apple pundits are talking about? Look at Tweets. Uncomfortable silence in a waiting room? Look at Twitter.

It was a habit for any and all occasions. When I stopped using Twitter, a little over a year ago, I knew there wasn’t a Twitter replacement. I needed to unlearn my habits, and it’s an ongoing process.

Mastodon isn’t Twitter, for better and for worse. I decided early on that it was a place for a specific type of social interaction. I wasn’t going to evangelize the Fediverse like someone with Tux desktop wallpaper talking about FOSS. I was just going to use it for fun, and also not for anything too personal.

Instagram had been converted to a private account long ago. It’s a good way to interact with certain people, but it has its own darkness, obviously. When Threads started up I joined to see what was going on, and it’s been pretty dismal. Optimizing for brands and influencers. It has its whole gross thing about boosting interaction by spamming people to see Casey Newton’s posts all the time. It doesn’t bring me any joy, so it’s relegated to another iOS screen. If it turns into the place where one must be, then I’d probably create another account unlinked from my private Instagram, but I’m in no rush to entertain that.

Slack and Discord are not microblogging platforms, but they fulfill a role in having a place to pop in and be social about certain topics. I’m not a completionist about it, and I don’t want to get invested in arguing with people. It helps that it’s controlled access, through various membership programs, and not a general audience.

As for news, real news, not Kyle Griffin paraphrasing headlines in quote tweets, I’ve tried a few things. I have a Los Angeles Times digital subscription, and their app is shockingly good. They cover all the major global news, and local news. The Food section is pretty good too.

I tried Apple News, and Apple News+, and both suck. Mostly the app is trash. It’s weird to think that LAT, a struggling newspaper, has a better app than one of the most profitable companies to ever exist. Things like forcing you to see stories from publishers you’ve blocked, because of some weird editorial desire to appear objective and fair. Completely irrelevant listicles from third-rate content farms. Also a lot of breaking news from CNN, which is the same as just going to CNN or the CNN lite site. I’m not always in the mood for breaking news.

I also have a couple newsletters through a subscription to Puck, and Lowpass. I wish they just gave me an RSS feed instead of emails, but I’m surviving. It’s lower volume news than the rapid-but-vapid stuff churned out about entertainment, and entertainment-related tech.


I’ve also rediscovered RSS. I was never a Google Reader person, or someone that maintained a curated list of RSS feeds. I tried but it always ended up feeling like another inbox. The trick, it turns out, is subscribing to sites that only post a few times a week, and to have a RSS reader that syncs across all my devices.

Enter NetNewsWire, with all my feeds in iCloud. A handful of bespoke sources, particularly ones that don’t post to Mastodon, and I’m good to go. This also helps with sites that have been junked up, like DPReview, but it’s not a place where I would want the bulk of posts from The Verge.

Nobody Reads Any More

When all else fails, I read books now. It’s true! I’ve read four novels in the past month, and I’m almost done with a fifth. I’m not going to win any reading-speed contents, but that’s not the point.

I noticed that I keep jumping between the apps and news sources when I was lying awake in bed at night, unable to sleep. I was feeling stressed out, and just compulsively opening and closing apps like suddenly there would be a slew of new stuff at 3 AM Pacific. The Kindle app solved that.

I could just be in the app, with it’s dark background and gently glowing white text. Twitter, even in the best of times, wasn’t something for winding-down.

Introspect Yourself

I’m going to keep screwing around to try and get the right balance of social activity, and media. As I’ve said before, I don’t want a Twitter replacement. I don’t want to be disconnected from the world, or the people in it, but I’m not craving a new stress machine. I’ve got enough shit to deal with.

2023-11-08 17:45:00

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Green Initiatives in the Era of Apple Silicon

I will not bury the lede: I’m going to whine about modularity in Apple’s computers.

I greatly appreciate how Apple’s devices are tightly integrated and pack enormous power into very thin enclosures. The downside, as Apple has pushed their hardware in this direction, is that it went from “difficult” to “impossible” to do anything with hardware inside of Apple’s cases. I’m not cynical enough to suggest that Apple has only done this to charge exorbitant prices for their RAM and SSD’s at the time Macs are purchased, though I’m sure that certainly is a perk. It seems to be a very genuine desire to package peak performance.

However, the speed and power trade-off is that Macs are more disposable than ever. Not immediately disposable, heaven’s no, but that shipping configuration will be the same from the time it’s boxed for shipment to the time it’s e-waste. Apple highlights recycling programs, and trade-in programs to mitigate it, but recycling a computer isn’t zero-waste alchemy, and certainly nothing like the impact of upgrading an existing computer. When Apple refers to “longevity” of devices in their environmental reports they’re only talking about the the hardware being durable.

Memory Over Time

Look, I get it, soldering the RAM together with the M-chip gives Apple an incredible performance advantage over moving the RAM to chips that are seated in slots on the motherboard. It’s also not elegant. Savvy nerds would upgrade their RAM with inexpensive (relative to Apple’s prices) DIMMS and sometimes run into problems with the quality of those chips which was a support headache. However, the key thing is that when there were memory problems, that chip could be yoinked right out of there.

The soldered RAM problem also extends to perceptions around how much RAM to buy at the outset, knowing that it can never be changed. If you guess wrong, or had guessed based on conditions that were true at time of purchase, then the only recourse is to trade-in the machine and buy a new one, even if that new one is the same except for the RAM size.

AppleInsider found an interview where Bob Borchers, Apple vice president of worldwide product marketing, said that 8 GB of RAM is really more like having 16 GB on other systems because of how efficiently the Mac uses the RAM. Sure, ~Jan~ Bob. I won’t litigate exactly how much magic RAM certain kinds of customers need, or what the floor is on RAM in Macs, but that Bob is talking about this at all highlights a genuine concern buyers have.

Will the RAM be enough at first, and will it continue to be enough?

I, obviously, don’t have a solution that doesn’t sacrifice performance, but there’s gotta be something greener than this. Do you have socketed M chips with their RAM that can be popped out whole?

I don’t take as much of an issue with storage. It’s easier to figure out your needs based on current usage than it is to guess at RAM usage over a period of time. The prices Apple charges are highway robbery, but it’s the price of doing business. It’s just that sometimes “drives” fail —chips fail. A lot needs to be replaced when that happens on these systems where the NAND is soldered on.


We’re all charmed by all-in-one computers. Well, except for the hideous Molar Mac. They are, however, supremely wasteful when you consider the longevity all-in-one displays, and their enclosures, vs. their computer components.

Jason Snell, in his iMac review, and on his Upgrade podcast with Myke Hurley, lamented that Target Display Mode went away many years ago with the introduction of the Retina iMac. The bandwidth just wasn’t there to drive the panels in the iMac. Now, we absolutely have that bandwidth with Thunderbolt 3 and 4, but no Target Display Mode to turn an old iMac into an excellent monitor. Apple’s preferred solution is that you return the iMac to Apple for a pittance of what you paid for it to apply to the purchase of a new Apple Product.

That’s not that weird until you consider how long Apple uses some of its parts for. The panel Apple uses in its Studio Display is the same one that’s in Jason’s 5K iMac Pro. It’s been the same panel for years and years. The trade-in for that iMac Pro is a maximum of $550, and a Studio Display, with that same panel, is $1599. Why not just use the old display instead of creating a wasteful cycle?

It’s a pretty niche, pretty nerdy concern, I’ll absolutely grant you that. A lot of people would sooner trade in the computer and have a cleaner desk setup, but’s less discuss trading-in in the context of the M1 iMac.

The M1 iMac was introduced in 2020, and three years later there’s the M3 iMac. It is identical in every way to the previous model except for the M3, and the wireless connectivity. It was a refreshing design when it was introduced (some quibbles aside) so there’s no great urgency for it to be overhauled. However, because everything that changed is localized to the logic board, that tiny board could be swapped to make it the latest and greatest iMac. Even with everything soldered to the board.

Instead, if someone had an M1 iMac and wanted an M3 iMac they must trade-in for “up to $460” in credit towards buying a whole new computer.

Look, I’m not saying everyone wants to replace their logic boards, especially not with the unfriendly-to-service design of the iMac, but if the goal is to reduce waste, and emissions, why are we reprocessing and remanufacturing entire machines that are identical except for one thing? Where’s the logic in that? Oh right, it’s on a teeny-tiny PCB!

Why design a computer that has modular manufacturing, like reusing the same display panels, the same cases, the same speakers, the same anodized colors, the same cameras — for years and years — if the end product has none of that modularity?

Trade-in seems like it absolves everyone, but the iMac, as newly designed in 2020, and still manufactured today, contains only 14% recycled or renewable content. The logic board is less than 14% of the iMac’s content. That’s worse than any laptop Apple sells, which a lot of people would assume are pretty wasteful.

If the answer is that people concerned with the environment shouldn’t buy all-in-one computers than why does Apple sell them?

Battery Blues

The other week John Siracusa wrote that he thought Apple should go back to removable batteries. I honestly just furrowed my brow when I started reading it. It didn’t make a lot of sense, or seem all that likely in the context of swapping batteries, like road warriors used to do. We have high performance charging these days. However, in the context of waste, John is right on the money.

Finally, related to that last point, worn-out batteries are an extremely common reason that old tech products are traded in, recycled, or replaced. Removable batteries are an easy way to extend the useful life of a product. This leads to less e-waste, which is perfectly aligned with Apple’s environmental goals as 2030 approaches.

Of course, longer product lifetimes means fewer product sales per unit time, which seems to run counter to Apple’s financial goals. But this is a problem that can be solved using one of Apple’s favorite financial tools: higher product margins. If Apple can actually make products that have a longer useful life, it can charge more money for the extra value they provide.

Back in the day, I could bring my MacBook Pro in to the Apple Store, turn it over, and slide the spring-loaded release to pop out the battery. Then simply pay for the new battery, pop it in, and be on my merry way. Nothing approaching that experience is possible with an Apple product today.

Signifying Nothing

Ultimately, I don’t think any of thins whining means a lot, and how much of my kvetching is rooted in my reluctance to spend large sums of money in shorter spans of time? Probably most of it. Green-wash-concern-trolling, or whatever. That’s me, I suppose.

I don’t foresee a future where Apple optimizes around people upgrading Macs again. Hell, the Mac Pro completely comes apart like a Mr. Potato Head, but for absolutely no real reason at all since anything worth upgrading is soldered on. We’re not going back to daughter cards, or Processor Direct Slots. Nor will we have Apple Stores performing logic board swaps for any reason other than hardware failures.

2023-11-08 13:15:00

Category: text

Videography For Dummies

Tim Cook on set at Apple Park. Image courtesy of Apple.

I wasn’t going to say anything about the “Shot on iPhone” tag at the end of the Apple event yesterday on this blog. There’s nothing to really write about that isn’t covered by Apple’s own words. I made my snarky Apple Event jokes, like they should have shot it on a MacBook’s 1080p FaceTime camera, but that isn’t a complaint about using iPhones to shoot things, and I didn’t think there was anything to say.

Was I ever wrong!

The most popular post on The Verge, two days after the event, is a post insinuating that that Apple isn’t being genuine when it shared their behind the scenes images and videos of the event. The writer seemed to think they caught Apple:

It’s a neat way to promote the recording quality of iPhone cameras, but it’s not like everyday folks can recreate these kinds of results at home unless they happen to own a shedload of ludicrously expensive equipment. The gear shown in the “Scary Fast” behind-the-scenes footage is fairly standard for big studio productions, but Apple’s implication with these so-called “shot on iPhone” promotions is that anyone can do it if only they buy the newest iPhone.

If Apple said that the video was shot on an Alexa Mini at the end of the video, or a Sony FX-3, would the writer’s criticism be the same? I’d hazard to say no, it wouldn’t be. That the iPhone can be inserted into the same production workflow Apple would otherwise use for this event is absolutely a normal thing to laud.

Sure, there’s more to post production that I would love to find out about from Apple, but it’s the same as any of their other polished Apple Event videos. They didn’t deepfake Tim Cook and say the iPhone 15 Pro shot that.

People think lights and crews are cheating? Because there’s VFX in places, editing, color-timing? Of course there is? This is a commercial video. It’s not a benchmark of what you, a total novice, can shoot in your backyard. It’s a camera in lieu of another camera. It is not replacing the entire production pipeline of shooting video.

As my friend Todd Vaziri said:

Some people see “Shot on iPhone” and people think it’s just some bumblefuck named Frank standing there all by himself holding the iPhone with his hand and shouting “action!”

In a way this seems so bizarrely evident, that it needs no explanation.

For the sake of well-meaning people, that may have missed the iPhone 15 Pro’s log support, and external video recording, check out what Stu Maschwitz had to say about it after the iPhone 15 Pro was released:

His video completely explains log, and what it’s used for. I assume people check out his stuff? I don’t know why I need to repeat it, which is why I don’t write about it. You follow Stu, right?

The ability to record to external media is why they can shoot for a significant amount of time, because media is huge. You don’t shoot your home movies that way. That’s not for the bad videos of concerts you upload to Instagram. It is, however, not a trick Apple has pulled on you.

Just to be extremely clear: The iPhone footage is still going to have the sensor and lens properties of an iPhone, so if someone wants a certain look, they might want to consider other options that have a flexible array of lenses. Again, not a trick, it’s literally all right there in your hands. That if you needed to “run and gun” in low light without the ability to set up lights, you’d want something with better low light sensitivity. If you wanted dreamy out of focus backgrounds, you’d want a big sensor and big glass. The iPhone won’t replace IMAX, etc.

That’s not up to Apple to make the iPhone 15 Pro serve every situation and every need. Confusing Apple shooting this event on the iPhone with theoretical scenarios not depicted in the video is unhelpful.

This whole kerfuffle is similar to something from only a couple months ago, where people got all worked up about The Creator being shot on the Sony FX-3. The camera, in and of itself, didn’t shoot that movie. The workflows enabled by having a smaller camera, were complemented by the nimble, resourceful team shooting the project. If someone ran out and bought a FX-3 they wouldn’t have The Creator any more than running out and buying an iPhone 15 Pro means you’re going to make an Apple video presentation by yourself.

It should, however, encourage people to think resourcefully about tools at their disposal, and the iPhone 15 Pro is another tool to consider, and potentially reject, based on your specific production needs, along with all other cameras. This is why people do camera tests, for crying out loud.

If you’re not someone creatively inclined to care about any of this, then I invite you to stop arguing on the internet about it like it’s an abstract, unknowable concept, or root for various sides like sports teams.

2023-11-01 12:00:00

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The MacBook Air Gap

The range of default configurations for 15" and 16" Apple MacBooks.

Apple silicon is fantastic. Performance per watt is off the charts (actually it’s very much on Johny Srouji’s charts.) However, I keep putting off upgrading from Intel to an M chip because the cost is eye-watering, and the Apple laptop line-up didn’t seem particularly predictable in its release cadence or feature set.

The MacBook Pro has been refreshed three times so far, twice this year alone. The MacBook Pro 13” finally kicked the bucket, but prices didn’t really come down on any of the models with Pro chips, they still start at $1999, and $2499 for a 16” screen. We finally got the MacBook Air 15” this spring, but it’s only a low-end config. There’s no way to spec a MacBook Air with a M2 Pro or M3 Pro chip.

Why do I care about the “Pro” chip so much? Despite the name the Pro is really the middle chip, but there’s no middle laptop for it. The base M2 and M3 can be configured with more RAM (to a point) but they can’t be configured with extra ports, or even drive more than one external display. They’re not like pokey Centrino chips — they do have the ability to perform — but they are inflexible for certain workflows that require additional connectivity, like dual displays.

It’s pretty easy to argue that dual displays is a high-end feature, and thus demands a $1999 or more computer, but that wasn’t true of Apple’s Intel-based laptops. It has always felt like a regression to me since the introduction of the first M1 chips, and it’s not something apple wanted to correct in the M2 or M3.

I freely admit how important dual external displays are is colored by my need to use them, but then again, this is my blog, so deal with it or close the tab.

I need those displays for my work, and no my employer doesn’t pay for my machine or subsidize it in anyway. I connect to a workstation with remote desktop software and I do the actual performance crunching on that computer. My machine just needs to display things. If the base M chips could work with dual displays in clamshell mode it would be a no-brainer and I would get the 15” MacBook Air.

Intel Pro to M3 Pro

I have a 2018 15” MacBook Pro with 2.6 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7, crap Intel UHD Graphics 630, 16 GB of 2400 MHz DDR4 memory, and a 512 GB SSD. I bought that in 2018 for $2799. I have held on to this machine for an eternity in Apple years because I paid so much money for it. The 15” MacBook Pro I had before this was $1699 (I think, I can’t find the exact receipt) and that was similarly held for 4 years.

The battery performance on the 2018 is shot to hell, but the prospect of going into a store and spending money on the battery isn’t appealing. The revised butterfly keyboard has been mostly fine because I don’t generally use it as a laptop, but now the “o” key sometimes inserts “oo” which is also not a lot of fun.

The price equivalent model, the middle config, is the $2899 M3 Pro 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU, 36 GB of unified memory, 512 GB SSD. The one down, is $2499 and has half the RAM.

Doesn’t seem like we’ve made much headway with storage in 5 years! The build-to-order bump to 1 TB is $200 for either model, which would give me a $2699 or $3099 machine. I’m hovering at 153 GB of free space on my current drive, so despite my efforts at optimizing it does seem likely that I would cross the 512 GB barrier, or dedicate more of my time to file management, offline storage, and fighting cloud services to really please keep that file I used seven days ago.

While a lot has been written and said about how Apple’s chips are more efficient with RAM and storage than Intel, people don’t expect to buy exactly the same storage, or lower, than their current laptop. It’s not user upgradable, so it’s not the kind of thing one can try to use and just adjust later if they guessed 18 GB instead of 36 GB. You’re stuck.

Someone might be asking why I don’t consider the 14” MacBook Pro because it can be had for less than 16” models. It’s display is too small. I do really need a larger display for the times that I take my computer away from my desk. I do not, however, need it to be as beautiful and luxurious as the Liquid Retina XDR display. While that is definitely a wonderful screen to have, it is not essential.

To Air is Human

What I had been really jazzed by, before it was announced, was the 15” MacBook Air. There were rumors it would ship with the M3 chip, so maybe that one chip revision would drive two displays? Naive, of course, for multiple reasons.

The 15” MacBook Air, configured with 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB SSD is $1899, $800 less than a 16” MacBook Pro with similar storage. Without a M2 Pro or M3 Pro chip it’s not much of a discount, because I can’t use it for my work.

Maybe Apple would sell more 15” MacBook Airs if they had a more capable one?

Let’s ignore the 13” and 14” laptop models, because they muddy the pricing, and if someone is shopping for a large screen, they are not considering those. We really only have one configuration of 15” MacBook Air. They do sell two at the Apple Store, but the only difference is 256 GB (shame!) or 512 GB of storage. There is no other M-chip configuration at all.

That means there’s a price umbrella between $1499 (15” M2 MBA 8/512 GB) and $2499 (16” M3 Pro MBA 18/512 GB). A thousand dollars where the only thing that can fill that gap is custom RAM and SSD sizes, no chip variation at all. That money gets you a larger battery, a fan for cooling, a much better display, and more connectivity with HDMI, SD cards, and additional lightning ports. It’s not like it’s $0 for those, but if those are less important to a shopper then they might gravitate towards the Air, if only it had at least one config with a more capable chip.

Honestly, I understand that the Pro chips run hotter than the base M chips, so they need a fan, and there isn’t a fan in the current 15” MacBook Air, but can we under-clock it? Throttle it? Something? Can we turn off some more cores on the Pro chip? Look, I’m not Johny Sirouji, but there has to be some way to have an additional display driver in a laptop under $2499.

Changing the design to disable the internal display in clamshell mode, and use both external display drivers for external monitors, doesn’t seem to have any appeal to Apple, so why not disable a bunch of a cores and charge a bunch of money? You guys like money?

What the 15” MacBook Air is, as it exists, is a good low-end laptop with a middle of the pack price tag. The 16” M3 Pro MacBook Pro is a very good high-end laptop with a high-end price tag, and the 16” M3 Max MacBook Pro is a ludicrous laptop. There’s no real middle, and that price gap shows it.

Some people think the gap is covered by the 14” M3 Pro MacBook Pro, but again, I assert that people are not cross shopping screen sizes like this. We are unlikely to ever get a cheaper 16” MacBook Pro, unless they put the vanilla M3 in it, and I don’t see that solving anyone’s problems at all.

Clock’s Ticking

Eventually, my machine will no longer be able to serve it’s function, either from hardware failing over time, the OS not supporting it, or some accidental damage or loss. Entropy isn’t going to wait for me because I’m cheap.

If I absolutely needed to buy a Mac right now, it would probably be the 16” MacBook Pro with 18 GB of RAM and the upgraded 1 TB storage. Then I would hold on to that for 5-6 years to try and eek out every penny. If I don’t have to upgrade though, then I won’t. As beneficial as it would be, perhaps there’s some configuration around the corner that will be more balanced to my needs, or at the very least, maybe Apple will bump their storage above 512 GB.

2023-10-31 14:15:00

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Apps Are Now Flops, Tabs Are Now Sidebars

They're so different.

Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but I am going to be a little spirited in my criticism of the new Apple TV app. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of anyone working on the new app, but I doubt they read what I write about Apple TV. If they did, they wouldn’t be shipping this.

The issues that I have suggested Apple should resolve:

  1. Unify media and apps into one interface, with the ability to pin favorite apps.
  2. Reduce the amount of Apple TV+ promotion in the interface, particularly for non-subscribers.
  3. Properly personalized recommendations based on viewing habits.
  4. Handle live TV through a unified programming guide, like Amazon does, instead of pretending the only live TV is live sports.

The new interface miraculously resolves none of these things.

Upon upgrading to 17.2, and opening the TV app for the first time, you’re still treated to the same behavior I’ve bemoaned in the past where the TV defaults to showing the Apple TV+ view asking me to”Come back for new Apple Originals” with Jason Sudekis’ mustachioed face right next to it. There’s no more Ted Lasso, fellas. Let it go.

The slide carousel thing quickly flips through the veritable cornucopia of Apple TV+ originals. Under it is the Up Next on Apple TV+ with the last show I was in the process of watching before I let the subscription lapse. That’s all that’s visible there, so you might be forgiven for not knowing that you can swipe/tap down in the interface for it to reveal more pages of round rect tiles.

Apple should do what it does elsewhere and show the cropped off top edges of those round rects so people know they can scroll down. This is not just for Apple TV+ but applies to other Channels & Apps which share this same styling.

The Side Bar

After being accosted by Apple TV+, you can get to the side bar either by tapping the “<” or “Menu” button, or by swiping all the way to the left. The bar shows the current user profile, but it can’t be changed there, that needs to be done in Control Center.

The side bar’s main contents are:

  1. Search
  2. Watch Now
  3. Apple TV+
  4. MLS Season Pass
  5. Sports
  6. Store
  7. Library

It’s all pretty self explanatory and are analogous to what we’re used to from before 17.2, but in a vertical, auto-hiding bar instead of a horizontal pill thing. The big exception being the carve out for MLS Season Pass, which didn’t have it’s own spot, but because Apple would like people to pay them money they elevated it. A cynical person might suspect that a primary motivation for the vertical sidebar is to add more top-level Apple content than what would fit in the horizontal pill-thing.

None of those elements can be hidden, moved, or otherwise edited.

The lower portion of the bar was very interesting, when I first saw the screenshot posted by Sigmund Judge, but then I saw it in action, and said, “Oh no.”

Apple had a problem with overlap between Channels and Apps for many years. Mostly, the TV app interface had a row of Channels that were promoted that would contain things you were subscribed to as apps, like Paramount+ and the rest. Other anomalies too because the ones that had Channels often had apps that integrated with the TV app. That seems to be consolidated now. The Channels and Apps for me shows the apps I subscribe to that integrate video on demand offerings with the TV app. For me, that happens to be:

  1. Disney+
  2. Hulu
  3. Max
  4. Paramount+
  5. PBS Video
  6. Prime Video

This is not a comprehensive list of the apps and services that I use, of course, because Apple is still insisting on TV app integration. Even apps that integrate with the Apple TV app for Up Next (DirecTV) don’t appear here.

The side bar should work as a launcher for any app that doesn’t integrate with TV app, and this punitive measure of sending people to the Home Screen is not going to result in Netflix budging, or ever make any sense for YouTube. Particularly when developers, and users find out how limited this integration is.

It will also get less useful in my household as several of those supported channels will have their subscriptions lapse next month. Your mileage may vary depending on what your subscribed to.

If there is a Channels & Apps element that you don’t want to see, you can long-press on it to hide the element, a courtesy we don’t get for MLS Season Pass.

There is also no way to organize Channels & Apps in the side bar. Hopefully the services that you subscribe to are of alphabetical importance to you.

I’ll discuss my thoughts on Channels and Apps a little more, and then we’ll pivot back to “Up Next”.

Channels & Apps

Amazon Prime Video without the cruft, and also without most of Amazon Prime Video.

Let’s kick it off with Prime Video, specifically, because a lot of people have it. I would venture that a lot of people are also pretty unhappy with the Prime Video app’s interface. What if I told you that the C&A view of Prime Video didn’t really help a lot?

There’s the Carousel of promoted stuff, and then under it the Up Next row that is specific to the last titles the Apple TV app is aware that I watched in Prime Video (this is important if you watch Prime Video on non-Apple hardware, like an Amazon Fire TV device, or browser.) If there’s nothing in Up Next, it’ll show you the next row under it, Amazon Originals: Highlights. Then several rows of Originals for Movies, Series, Kids, before getting to “Movies” with licensed content, etc. The bottom is “Sports” with those tiles for live games.

Curiously, the popularity-based rows are missing, and if you’re at all familiar with the Prime Video app this will seem positively spartan.

None of this is personalized for me in any way like it is in the Amazon app. These rows are for some generic human that could be anyone else using the service in the United States.

Similar de-personalized blocks of round rects can be found under the other Channels & Apps, but some do have the popularity rows and some don’t. They’re all very utilitarian, and depersonalized.

Since all of the companies with a presence in C&A also build their own apps, and all of those apps are much more personally relevant to users, and also more relevant to the companies’ own interests, I fail to see how a spreadsheet of general audience promos is going to steer consumer behavior, or budge any corporation into putting in effort here.

While a lot of people decry the buggy, laggy third party apps, and their un-Apple-like interfaces, this the total opposite, shoehorning generic stuff into generic rows of generic boxes. In the abstract it sounds simpler, but it’s also at the expense of usefulness.

Something like this interface is quietly buried in the current version of the TV app. On the Watch Now page scroll all the way down to “Streaming Apps” and click on any of those app tiles for an app you have installed, like Prime Video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about without having to install a beta.

Watch Now

The Watch Now interface is largely unchanged in the current dev beta from what’s shipping. That’s not encouraging, because Watch Now is so overrun with Apple TV+ promotion that it is virtually useless to someone that isn’t an active Apple TV+ subscriber. The most useful part of the whole interface is the Up Next row, which still shows you what you were in the process of watching, and displaying new episodes of a series you were watching.

Other than checking in on the TV app to see if Apple’s changed anything, I haven’t used the TV app much at all over the last year. Instead, I’ve optimized things so I can get to Up Next when I want to without having to open the app at all. Fortunately, those settings still work just fine in the developer beta. The settings for anyone interested:

  1. Move the TV app to the Top Shelf (top row) of the Home Screen interface, if it isn’t there already.
  2. Settings -> Apps -> App Settings -> TV -> Up Next Display -> Poster Art (helps to avoid spoilers in preview images)
  3. Settings -> Apps -> App Settings -> TV -> Top Shelf -> Up Next (What to Watch is just a video billboard for Apple TV+)
  4. Back on the home screen, when hovering over the TV app icon in the Top Shelf, you’ll now have direct access to your Up Next shows.

To remove auto-playing videos as well, you have to go to Settings -> Accessibility -> Motion -> Auto-Play Video Previews.

I suppose I should thank someone on the TV dev team for leaving these workarounds in place, but I’m frustrated that I still feel compelled to use them. That What to Watch is so optimized to juice conversions, and boost hours in Apple TV+ undercuts it being used for anything else.

It’s great if there’s someone that only wants to watch exactly what’s in that carousel, but even those people probably don’t want to see the same shows repeatedly advertised to them because there’s no personalization in what’s recommended.

Recommendations still live 20,000 leagues under the Apple TV+ shows. Long-pressing for options still only reveals “Go to Show” and “Add to Up Next” with no option to mark a show, or movie, as watched, or to tell Apple that you never want Real Time With Bill Maher recommended to you.

Frankly, given the lack of personalization everywhere else in this interface it’s baffling to take what little of it there is and hide it waaaaaaay down here. Especially if Apple ever does anything with the user profiles where content recommendations could be seen to visibly change based on the profile being used. No one has any hope of knowing something way down there changed when the profile was toggled. Is someone supposed to use this or not?

Does Anyone At Apple Use the Apple TV?

I know Apple has a research team, and they’ve surely conducted focus groups, and surveys about the Apple TV, and the Apple TV app. I also know that I’m not the only person complaining about this stuff. I might be pickier than most, but I don’t hear people clamoring for more carousels of generic feature films and TV shows.

As much as I would like Apple to unify this interface I’m content to leave it separate, because I’d rather hopscotch around all my streaming apps then go bobbing in and out of the TV app for some things, and the Home Screen for other things. It is preposterous that Apple thinks this problem was solved by switching from a horizontal pill, to a vertical sidebar so they could show the barest handful of apps, with the barest handful of those apps films and shows, not directed at the user in any kind of way at all.

Apple can’t ignore Netflix. It is not going anywhere. It can’t ignore YouTube, or non-sports live TV. It can’t pretend that the universe revolves around Apple TV+ and consider all other streamers as ancillary add-ons. These were problems before the app was redesigned, and they all remain problems in this developer beta. What are we trying to fix here?

2023-10-30 14:15:00

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Downstream 55: It’s Netflix 2013 again ►

Jason Snell and Julia Alexander had another great discussion, of their great podcast, and it just so happens to be about the same stuff I was talking about in my post yesterday.

2023-10-20 11:30:00

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Please Pay For a Year of Nothing

This morning, two emails came in from Apple. The first was about the upcoming renewal of my yearly subscription to Disney+ and the second email was about the price increase of my Disney+ subscription from $79.99 to $109.99. It took me all of 10 seconds to think about it, but I canceled my subscription. It’s not really about the $30 price increase, which is outrageous, but mostly because there won’t be 12 months of TV show and movies to watch, in no small part thanks to the actions of Disney’s CEO.

I’m affected by the ongoing strikes, where the studios have once again walked away from the negotiating table. Almost all entertainment production has ground to a halt. The recent resolution of the WGA strike was celebrated, but it was a long, and painful process. All of our hopes, as workers in this industry, were pinned on the SAG-AFTRA dispute coming to a close. Instead, the studios decided to do what they did months ago in the WGA strike and take their case to the Hollywood trade publications owned by Penske Media in the hopes that they could gin up dissent in the union to push the union negotiators. It didn’t work with the WGA membership, and I don’t think anyone other than studio brass expects it to work on SAG-AFTRA either. There can be no resolution external to negotiation, so this just delays everything.

Films and shows that were slated to come out this year have been spread out, some pushing to next year. You can only spread things out so far, and that is particularly true of all the studio streamers that got into this game late.

When Disney+ first premiered it was criticized for only having The Mandalorian and WandaVision which were both over in the blink of an eye. Marvel, for me, has had diminishing returns since then, and I would not subscribe to Disney+ to exclusively watch anything from Marvel at this point.

Star Wars, unfortunately, is also on the bubble with several disappointments, including the most recent Star Wars: Ahsoka where I watched 50 minutes of space whales doing space whale stuff. Stretching Star Wars: Skeleton Key and Star Wars: The Acolyte out into next year, with both unlikely to be as inspired as Star Wars: Andor doesn’t convince me that $109.99 needs to leave my bank account right this very minute. If anything I can always dip in if it’s good, or wait until it’s over and binge. A year of, basically nothing, isn’t a year I need to pay for.

How Did We Get Here?

Disney, and everyone else, sold streaming licensing rights to Netflix for many years. It was like selling the broadcast rights for a film to appear on an old-fashioned TV channel. Audiences were trained to expect streaming media. Bob Iger, infamously, compared this to arms dealing, in a metaphor that no one really thought he should be making. Then Disney’s contract with Netflix ended and they went direct to consumer with Disney+.

I still remember the live-streamed shareholder meeting where Disney+ was first announced and Christine McCarthy (former CFO) outlined how the company’s low introductory price, and small number of territories, meant that it would be unprofitable for many, many years. Disney expected the stock market to treat Disney like they treated Netflix, which at the time was operating on a growth model. Everything was upended by the pandemic halting production, starving new services of new entertainment, and then by the Netflix Correction, where interest rates were up and shareholders wanted to see revenue off those subscribers, not just growth. That was not something Disney was prepared for, at any level of the company.

Bob Iger’s plans for Disney+ had blown up spectacularly and his hand-picked successor was ousted, by himself, so he could fix his own plans. Unfortunately, he’s been one of the people chiefly responsible for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA issues this year. A lot of the assumptions based on the finances of streaming have to do with taking advantage of labor contracts that didn’t cover streaming well. The AI likeness issue is a huge deal for Disney, not just the money, and they would very much like to treat actors like ageless property that can be applied to their sprawling connected universes.

Not a Boycott

Neither the writers, nor the actors, called for boycotts of the streaming services. They want to work, and they want to be paid, which means people need to pay the studios. That’s the how the system is supposed to work.

Hell, I have absolutely nothing to gain by people canceling their subscriptions. The only way I get paid is by the studios hiring VFX houses. Actors and writers don’t pay me.

Having said that, I absolutely do not need to pay studios a yearly subscription for 2024. They haven’t earned that from me on a personal level. Also none of these streaming price hikes translate into any benefit for me, the pressure is still on cutting costs in producing content.

What services every person choses to pay for are deeply personal, based on all kinds of factors, so there will be people for whom Disney+ is still essential, even without new content. Or they might be willing to step down to an ad-supported plan (I’m not). Disney+ does have an extensive library.

Same goes for Warner Brothers Discovery’s Max, which has been rightfully criticized along the way because of David Zaslav’s bumbling, and attempts to stuff the service with lower-cost unscripted fare from Discovery.

Smaller streamers are faced with these same problems, because they did what the big studios did, but they don’t have the libraries, IP, cash, or really anything to compete with the big studios. That’s why they’re small studios. It’s not that hard to understand, but it’s why Paramount+ following along has really hurt Paramount Global. While Comcast is huge, the part that’s a studio, isn’t (NBCUniversal).

Outside Money

However, things get a little more interesting with Netflix and Prime Video. My opinion of these services is not especially high. In the past month, Prime Video announced it was going to include ads in its previously ad-free entertainment, which was already intermingled with FreeVee ad-supported content. An extra recurring subscription can be paid to watch without ads. Amazon keeps tacking on all these fees onto a product that was supposed to be an all-inclusive affair. Like, that’s supposed to be their whole thing, you know? Their shows are generally expensive, and seemingly don’t do much to motivate any meaningful internal metrics for Amazon. It still pays to license some high quality TV shows and movies from others. That’s really its core value, that I’m not sure Amazon entirely understands.

Netflix’s mediocre filler piles up more and more every day. Like a machine that only knows how to spit out half-packaged products. It’s biggest asset is its size. I wouldn’t say it’s too big to fail, but it’s too ubiquitous to ever fail quickly. Which is why they can continue to generally fuck up a lot, and do stupid shit. Shareholders have calmed down since The Netflix Correction, and they’re generally content. There are no concerns about Netflix ever ratcheting up it’s fees too high, the concerns are about the slow growth of their ad-supported tier to bring in more price-conscious consumers.

The most recent stumble for Netflix has been in kid-focused animated entertainment. Their history was mostly with buying up stuff from outside companies (Mitchells vs the Machines is frequently cited as a Netflix film, but it’s a Sony Pictures Animation film that Sony sold off in the pandemic), until they started their own internal division. Then last week they announced they were killing projects and cutting staff. Then this week they announced they were going to be taking over Apple’s end of their deal with Skydance Animation. The animation company owned by nepo baby David Ellison, and headed up by the disgraced John Lasseter. David proved to the world that it was worth it to hire John by releasing Luck, a film that at best, was fine but not a critical or financial success for Apple.

Netflix’s flailing with making their own films and TV shows kind of doesn’t matter because they’re so big that they can turn licensed library material into a phenomenon. The most recent example being the craze over Suits which originally aired on USA Network, owned by Comcast Universal. Comcast Universal can’t turn anything into a success because it entered the market late with Peacock, and no one could think of a reason to subscribe to it if they weren’t already a Comcast customer.

This ability to turn something that could be a small success, and large financial loss, into a big hit by virtue of its ubiquity is what Netflix does best. To circle back to animation, this is also why the plug was pulled on the Paramount+ and Nickelodeon show Star Trek: Prodigy and it found a home on Netflix. Paramount Global will get money for something that wasn’t working for them, because Paramount+ isn’t ubiquitous.

Netlfix has also licensed a bunch of HBO shows, which is hugely damaging to Max, because it trains customers to expect HBO shows eventually coming to Netflix, but does help Netflix with their quality problem.

So Netflix increasing their prices to nearly cable-package prices? It’s not something I like at all, but it’s working for them because they’re basically a cable package of licensed stuff again, like they were before the studios panicked and tried to start their own streamers.

They can weather anything 2024 throws at them because there will always be studios desperate enough to sell shows to them, even if that excludes Disney. The SAG-AFTRA dispute could go on for another year and they’d buy their way through it. As repulsive as that thought is, it’s true.

The Lost Year

There is, unfortunately, the very real possibility that nothing gets resolved before the winter holidays — or even if it does, productions won’t start ramping up until next January or February. When it resumes, it’s not like turning on a light switch. The entertainment industry works with overlapping schedules. This production starts while this one wraps, this is shooting while this is in post. You just can’t do everything in parallel all at the same time. That means we’re also going to get a trickle of finished TV shows and films. Even lowering the standards, and “putting a rush” on it doesn’t bypass everyone else doing exactly the same thing.

That means that even if people aren’t anticipating the drop in stuff to watch, they will eventually realize that there’s not much new. It’s going to be much harder to get those people to resubscribe, at high prices, than it was to get them to subscribe the first time.

I’m not sure what’s going to get me to reactivate Disney+, maybe it’ll be whenever the second season of Andor comes out towards the end of 2024 or early 2025, but it’ll just be the two months the show runs, and then I’m out again like the Falcon leaving the Death Star. Disney has lost yearly subscription rights in this household. A brand is a promise and the only promise I’m interested in from Disney is a single TV show, on a calendar far, far away.

2023-10-19 14:25:00

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Apple is destroying the Mac by trying to make it safer ►

Jason Snell writing for Macworld (but also on Six Colors if you’re a subscriber) writes about recently having to set up all his stuff from scratch on the Mac, and it’s a total pain in the ass.

Every time I opened an app on my Mac after starting from scratch or migrating or installing a major OS update, I was barraged with security warnings. This is because Mac apps can’t do much of anything (outside a very constrained sandbox) unless they ask the user for permission. So, if an app wants to read files on my Desktop, there’s a permission request. Documents folder? Another permission request? Use my microphone or video camera? Permission request. Reading random files and folders? Reading the disk? Using accessibility features? Using automation? Yep, yep, yep.

I don’t want to do what Jason’s had to do. I use very few applications, but I can’t even remember what the hell I’ve agreed to over the years. I have to deal with enough of this bologna just doing stuff on a system that’s not a scratch setup. Just yesterday, I downloaded NetNewsWire to test the RSS feed of this site and got the usual warning:

Modal dialog in macOS for NetNewsWire warning that the application was downloaded from the internet but contains no malicious code

I paused, and I read that a few times to make sure I was comprehending the warning. I was warned that the application was downloaded from the internet (I downloaded) and asked “Are you sure you want to open it?” because I had double-clicked on it to open it. Both of those things were definitely true, so what does the little gray text mean? Oh, it wants to tell me the time it was downloaded by Safari, which I guess I could put in my personal journal, but most importantly that Apple checked it for malicious software and none was detected.

Are you sure you wanted to do the thing that you told the computer to do even though it’s safe?!

I’m sure, that there are circumstances where someone could be tricked into doing all of these things, but even if I was tricked into doing it, doesn’t the fact that there’s no malicious code negate the warning? Shouldn’t I be prompted only if something seems suspicious, and not just because I’m, you know, using a computer? If I agree to open it and it has malicious code Apple didn’t detect then I guess that would be bad, but wouldn’t we all have bigger problems if that were the case?

It’s such a small thing, especially when compared to the volume of dialogs Jason’s dealing with, but it’s the kind of thing that just happens out of nowhere when I’m using a computer and derails my thought process for a minute. Minor inconveniences do add up over time, especially when you have to repeat all those inconveniences because you have to rebuild your digital life in a matter of days.

2023-10-12 15:15:00

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