Musish is Better Than iTunes for Apple Music on Windows, Linux, and macOS

If you use Apple Music, the streaming music service from Apple that gives artists pennies instead of dollars, and want to listen on your computer, Musish is open source, runs in your web browser, and a much better alternative to running the full desktop iTunes instance if you don’t need to listen to a locally-stored collection of music.

Musish appears to log in to your Apple ID via an Apple-supplied authentication system. Very handy, I look forward to using this on Linux, where iTunes isn’t available at all.

Tom Francis & The Egg Controller

Tom Francis is the developer of Heat Signature, games about ant eaters, Gun Point, and he’s made a ton of other stuff. Currently, Francis is working on Tactical Breach Wizards, which I’m very interested in. He’s also recently had to figure out how to solve for making business cards when you need each one to have a different design:

At one point I wanted to get business cards made that would each have a free copy of my game on them. That meant each card needed a different code printed on it. I had 200 codes, and one image with a blank space for the code to be written. The card company would happily take 200 different images, but they couldn’t combine the images and text for me – I had to do that. A solution for this should exist.

It does, actually, there are dozens. But all of them would require me to learn some new scripting language or tool that was far more complex than what I needed. This was a programming problem, and the only programming language I knew was the one I made the game in: it’s called Game Maker.

So, technically, I made a game. It’s a game where the only level is a giant room that looks like my business card, the menu system writes a giant code across it, then it takes a screenshot. Thirty times a second. You win the game by waiting for 7 seconds. Then when you quit, you have a folder full of 200 images, each with a different code on them, which you can send straight to the printers.

But the real point of this is about an Egg Controller, which, you should read the rest of here.

ConEmu is the Terminal Sanity Windows Needs

If you’re a weirdo like me you have about three or four operating systems running on your desk at any time, but your command-line roots run up against the limitations of Windows 10‘s built-in terminals constantly. There has got to be a better way!

Well I’m glad you asked, because there is a better way! Once you’ve got your Windows Subsystem for Linux all set up through Microsoft’s app store or other means it’ll finally be time to run those beautiful Bash terminals in tabs and maybe you’d like to have those bash terminals cooperating in the same window as your cmd.exe and PowerShell terminals. The answer to that all is ConEmu and it’s really just a very powerful, open-source, front-end for all of your terminals. Or consoles, because it’s ConEmu and not TerEmu.

Ben Heck Found a Use for the Neo Geo Mini

Ben Heck left The Ben Heck Show at Element 14 and is back on his own channel. SNK’s cash-in on the mini console wave produced a mostly disappointing miniature arcade machine that doesn’t even wear the red and white color scheme we’ve come to expect. Heck’s first big project post TBHS is tearing down the Neo Geo Mini with his expert commentary and then rebuilding it as a portable, with the correct colors, in these two videos:

Watching Heck work is always fun.

Jason Snell’s 2018 MacBook Air and Mac Mini Reviews

Jason Snell has reviewed the 2018 Mac Mini:

Apple has witnessed how the Mac mini has gone from being the best Mac it could build for $499 to one that’s a vital tool for professional and home users in a variety of contexts. And so, after a long time in the wilderness, the Mac mini has at last been updated—the right way. The last time the Mac mini got updated, Apple took away the highest-end configurations. This time, the Mac mini has been built with those many niche uses in mind.

and the 2018 MacBook Air:

Just when we thought it was dead, after several years of essentially no updates, the MacBook Air has returned with a new version that’s clearly inspired by the classic design. It’s been so long since the last major MacBook Air update, in fact, that most of the “new” features on this device are simply a recap of all the changes Apple has made to other Macs the past few years, finally rolled into this one: a new keyboard, Retina display, Force Touch trackpad, Apple-designed T2 processor, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, “Hey Siri”, and Touch ID.

Surprise! The definitive Mac of the 2010s is going to survive this decade. And while this MacBook Air is dramatically different from previous models in many ways, it’s also got a bunch of familiar touches that make it undeniably a MacBook Air. Like its predecessors, it’s not the computer for everyone… but it will probably be the most popular laptop among the (count ‘em) six models Apple currently offers.

He also has video reviews of both, and it sounds like they’re both good computers, even if they miss out on some features of older models like MagSafe which has saved my laptops many times.

There’s reason to think that Apple’s custom ARM processors, which now outperform many of their Mac computers in some benchmarks, are coming to replace Intel’s chips. These models, and any speed bumps they get in the next few years, might be some of the last Intel-based Apple updates.

Apple Special Event October 2018 Notes

New ipad pros

Last month we had new iPhones, this time Apple has announced a new set of 11″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros, a new Mac Mini, and a new Retina-blessed MacBook Air. This event was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York City.

Tim Cook started out the show by talking about what creative people do with the Mac. A montage played of various well-known folks starting at their Mac laptop screens, notably included were Lin Manuel-Miranda, Paul McCartney, Kermit the Frog, U2, teachers, photographers, and many other people.

The 2018 MacBook Air

Apple’s laptop situation isn’t great. Earlier this year they released new 2018 MacBook Pros that may have allieviated some of the issues with the reliability of 2016/2017 model keyboards. At the same time they also acknowledged the issue and offered extended repairs for three years for anyone who bought those devices.

Last week, the only laptop Apple sold with USB type-A ports was the MacBook Air. It was oddly placed in the product line, because it was actually heavier than some of the other laptop models and was their only device with a screen that wasn’t high-enough of a resolution to be deemed Retina.

Still, starting at $1000, the MacBook Air appeared to be something Apple wanted to keep around way past the due date. They’ve updated it over time with small updates, but Apple has never done a significant redesign of the Air’s body style since it shipped in 2009. This 2018 MacBook Air update is long overdue.

Cook introduced the new Air with this video before handing the device’s introduction off to Apple’s VP of Engineering, Laura Legros:

Finally, finally, the MacBook Air, 2018, has a Retina screen. It also has Touch ID authentication through a single dedicated spot on the keyboard (without the Pro’s Touch Bar,) two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt 3, a new keyboard, Hey Siri hotword detection, and an entirely new body with much thinner bezels around the 13.3″ screen.

Legros said that this was the “greenest Mac Ever” with 100% recycled aluminum, and then introduced this video:

This Air is also more expensive, starting at $1,200 for the base model with 8GB of RAM, a paltry 128GB SSD, and a 1.6 GHz dual-core i5 that can boost to 3.6 Ghz.

If you want 16 gigs of RAM and a 512GB SSD you’re looking at an $1800 MacBook Air. There is even a 1.5TB SSD option that brings the price up to $2,600!

Yow. Legros called this “…the most affordable Retina Mac we’ve ever offered.”

My impression is that this is the laptop that Apple wants to compete with the new 2018 iPad Pro for the future of labor and entertainment.

The 2018 MacBook Air can be purchased online now, or it’ll be in stores on the 7th of November.

The 2017 Air is still for sale, if you want Type-A USB ports and a non-Retina screen at a lower $1000 price.

If I needed to replace my MacBook Pro and wasn’t onboard with the XCode-less iPad, I’d get this Air in a second.

The 2018 Mac Mini

Speaking of overdue updates, it has been four years since the Mac Mini was last updated.

Cook came back out to introduce the 2018 Mac Mini with this sci-fi trailer:

After the video Tom Boger, Apple’s head of Mac Marketing walked onstage to talk about this updated Mini.

Boger specified that the new Mini doesn’t use “mobile parts” but didn’t call the CPU a desktop processor. It’s a 3.6Ghz Quad-Core processor to start.

Spinning disk options are gone in favor of SSD’s, internally. The external design is extremely similar to the old Mac Mini except Apple in 2018 is attacking the the port situation differently. The 2018 Mac Mini has just two USB 3 type-A ports, one HDMI 2.0, four USB type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports, one ethernet port, and one”3.5 mm headphone” jack that looks particularly awkward to access between and just below the USB Type-A ports as reader basscomm points out.

Just like the Air, you can order a Mini today and they’ll be generally available on the 7th. They start at $800, the configuration I’d go with is the 3.2GHz i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That configuration is $1700.

The most expensive configuration you could do is the same CPU with 64GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD, 10 Gigabyte ethernet instead of Gigabit, and that is $4,200!

Yow.

The cheapest iMac Pro is $800 more at $5000, but it starts with a much more reasonable 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. That is a machine that could last ten years or more.

This mini is also supposed to be made of 100% recycled aluminum.

Retail Updates

Angela Ahrendts spoke about retail Apple Stores, and specifically the Today at Apple series of classes for people to learn how to create with Apple devices. Ahrendts introduced new classes, and talked about the renewable energy resources that power the stores.

The 2018 iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″

Cook returned to talk about iPad sales, and showed this chart to demonstrate how Apple had sold more iPads in 2017 than “…the entire notebook lineup of all of the biggest notebook manufacturers.” Look at this chart, it has one notable exception missing from it:

More ipads than notebooks

Cook went on to boast that “…this makes iPad not only the most popular tablet, but the most popular computer in the world.”

Heavily rumored, and now proven to be correct, there is a new iPad Pro in two sizes: 11″ and 12.9″. They have no lightning ports, instead there is one USB Type-C port and a new “Smart Connector” that works with a new Apple keyboard case as well as a new Pencil stylus. Here’s the video that Cook used to introduce the new iPad:

The new iPad Pro tablets have a much smaller bezel, with Face ID that works in both landscape and portrait orientations. Just like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, the home button has been replaced with gestures. The new iPad Pro still has an LCD screen, but it also has curved edges like the iPhone XR. Apple’s John Ternus reintroduced this concept, again calling it Liquid Retina.

The 11″ iPad Pro has the same physical width and height as the old 10.5″ garbage iPad Pro that can now be safely disposed of in the nearest fire before you upgrade. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is a smaller package than the old 12.9″, because of the edge-to-edge-ish design of the new Pro’s. The new 12.9″ iPad Pro is also a full millimeter thinner than the older 12.9″ design.

Both new iPad Pros have a look on the sides that resembles my favorite iPhone design, the 4S’s solid edges. They also both have an A12X system-on-a-chip instead of the A10X that last year’s design had.

The AnnX chips are supposed to focus on graphics performance, Ternus compared the new iPad to the equivilent of a portable Xbox One S.

Dropping the lightning port for USB type-C allows the iPad Pro to connect to other USB devices and external displays. No support was expressed for USB peripherals like mice, keyboards, or external storage options. Instead, it was demonstrated almost solely as a camera connector and for charging your iPhone which still ships with a type-A cable that can’t plug into any of the current generation of Apple laptops.

The Pencil stylus is particularly interesting, it magnetically anchors to the side of the iPad Pro and it also has contact charging. The 2018 Pencil has a new action accessible by double-tapping its side. The new Apple Pencil stylus is $130.

I’m curious about the usability of Apple’s new folio keyboard for the iPad Pro. They specifically called out that it could switch between two angles. One for use at a desk, and one for use on your lap. That functionality is exactly what I’ve been looking at third-party keyboards for, replacing all laptop usage scenarios. The new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Folio is $180 for the 11″ iPad Pro, and $200 for the 12.9″. That is a lot. To compare, the Brydge keyboard that turns the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9″ into a clamshell-style laptop while supportting way more angles of operation is $150.

Apple showed off a free-to-play game from Ubisoft called Assassin’s Creed Rebellion and said it was at 120 frames-per-second. Then they said that it was something that “no console could deliver.” That is sort of true in the sense that the game looks like Ubisoft’s take on Fallout Shelter and TV displays don’t really exist to take advantage of higher frame-rates from consoles as far as I know.

Greg Thomas from Take Two’s 2k Sports division talked about NBA 2k Mobile on the new iPad Pro while his underling demonstrated it. Thomas said it runs at 60 fps at the full retina resolution with no upscaling, it didn’t look that great to me.

Adobe’s VP of design Jamie Myrold and Chantelle (no last name or title given) demonstrated the new version of Photoshop, they repeatedly insisted that this was “the real Photoshop” on the new iPad. It isn’t available yet, but it was clearly frustrating to work with for an on-stage demonstration. Chantelle eventually swapped the same image she was working on to an augmented reality experience with depth between the layers in a separate program they’re calling “Project Arrow.” Both products are supposed to be available in 2019.

Phil Schiller narrated this other video introducing the new iPad Pro tablets:

If I were going to swap my laptop for an iPad I would get a Mac Mini to handle the desktop computing tasks that the iPad can’t.

The new iPad Pro’s are up for order today with general availability on the 7th.

 

Guess where all the recycled aluminum for the Macs comes from? The runoff from iPads and iPhones. As a Philadelphian I will now refer to these new Macs made with recycled aluminum as “Scrapple Macs.”

Overall

I’m disappointed that the Macs on display here have 128GB SSDs by default. I believe that many people will need more storage, and then they’ll have to use an external disk.

Apple’s folks talked up the capabilities of the new MacBook Air for expansion through devices like external GPU kits to bring actual graphics acceleration capabilities, those external enclosures are expensive as-heck and they oddly didn’t mention them for the Mini.

The iMac, MacBook, and Mac Pro are now the most out of date Macs according to the Mac Rumors Buyer’s Guide at 512 days since the last update for the iMac and MacBook, and a whopping 1777 days since the Mac Pro was updated in 2013.

The iPad Mini hasn’t really been updated since 2015! It was rumored to receive an update at this event, but didn’t end up getting one. That size is still interesting to me, although now I would be more likely to use a 12.9″ iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

These custom ARM chips that Apple is developing really make me wish for a smaller Mac single-board-computer targeted towards the hobbyists that originally made the first Apple computers. I believe that Apple’s A-series would be perfect for these applications and would outclass the competition in build quality and ease-of-use, even though they would certainly not be cheaper.

I have felt the urge to switch to an iPad for all of my photography and writing needs for some time, I sold my iPad Mini earlier this year and regretted that decision because there hasn’t been a good device to replace it with. All of these devices are great, but they are also far out of reach of everyone. I hope that more of the new iPad Pro features make their way to a new iPad Cheap next year.

The Deal With The iPhone XR

That iPhone XR came out and it has almost the exact trade-offs we discussed before.

The XR is like the XS and XS Max in many ways, except the XR is missing the 2nd telephoto camera system of the X and previous Plus-sized devices which can be useful for composing shots or getting superior “portrait mode” photos in daylight. I specify daylight, because the telephoto (zoom) camera system makes portrait shots almost unusable at night on the XS and XS Max. The telephoto system used for portraits on the XS and XS Max captures less light (f2.4) than the “wide-angle” (default, non-zoomed, f1.8) lens.

Ben Sandofsky has way more information about the depth system in these phones, the pros and cons of each, and specifically the upgrades he made to the Halide camera app to support taking “portrait mode” style photos on the iPhone XR of more than humans. The built-in iPhone XR camera app will currently refuse to take portrait photos of non-human objects and beings because it uses a neural network that was trained to detect people so that it can separate them from the background.

There are some other differences between the XR and XS/XS Max, they’re important, but the camera situation is probably the biggest technical difference for most people.

  • The iPhone XR screen is bigger than the XS, X, and all prior phones, but not as big as the Max,
  • The XR has better battery life than any other iPhone
  • Way more color options for the chassis you’ll never see unless you’re a rich person who doesn’t put an iPhone with a glass back and glass front in a case.
  • The LCD screen has a lower resolution and is mostly worse than the XS and XS Max’s OLED screen, but still good.
  • The XR is less water resistant than the XS and XS Max.
  • The XR has less RAM than the XS and XS Max. The XR has 3 GB vs the XS and XS Max’s 4 GB.
  • The XR has different price tiers for storage, it’s “just” $50 to bump it from 64GB to 128GB. It’s $100 to bump the XS and XS Max from 64GB to 256GB.
  • The XR has no 3D Touch, instead you can “long press” to get 3D Touch actions in situations where long-pressing didn’t do anything before. For example, on previous iPhones you could tap and hold an icon on the home screen to make them start jiggling to be able to delete or move apps and put them into folders. iPhones that have 3D Touch also let you press forcefully on icons to bring up a small menu of quick actions for that app, like jumping straight into a selfie mode with the camera. The XR can’t 3D Touch and will only switch into the jiggling icons mode, it won’t let you open up the quick action menu for each app.
  • The XS and XS Max have better cellular radios that can handle faster speeds (“Gigabit-class LTE”)
  • The XR has slightly bigger borders around the screen.
  • The glass on the back of the XR’s is less durable than the glass on the back of the XS and XS Max.

Here’s what is the same

  • Same camera array on the front with the same Face ID system that doesn’t work in landscape mode
  • Same A12 system-on-a-chip
  • Similar goofy notch at the top which either doesn’t bother you at all, stops bothering you within a few days, or will constantly haunt you because you can’t let anything go.
  • Still more expensive than the previous generation of devices were when they were released
  • Same Qi “Wireless” (contact) charging
  • Same shitty 5-watt charger in the box

Overall, I would recommend the XR to anyone who wants to save money and is coming from a non Plus-sized 6/7/8 or earlier iPhone. The situation for people who had a Plus-sized iPhone is a little bit more difficult. The iPhone 6/7/8 Plus’ have two cameras for portrait and zoom, and a higher resolution “Retina” LCD (1920×1080) than the iPhone XR’s “Liquid Retina” screen (1792×828).

Specs aren’t everything, the XR’s screen is by all accounts fine, and not everyone would choose to pay a base price of $1000 over the XR’s $750 just to get the extra camera, worse battery life, fewer color options, and a shinier chassis (the XR has an aluminum band of metal around the edges instead of steel). Joanna Stern can’t even think of many people to recommend the XS and XS Max to over the XR. I’m really, really, into photography and it’s complicated even for me because I love taking good photos at night and the XR takes better portrait photos at night.

Still, still, these new iPhones are too expensive. Nick Heer:

But there is one thing eating at me with this new iPhone lineup: the starting price for a current model year iPhone is now $50 more than last year, and $100 more than two years’ prior. It’s as though they’ve dropped the entry-level model and are starting at what was previously Plus model pricing. In Canada, the difference is even more pronounced — for the first time, you cannot get a current model year iPhone for under $1,000. The iPhone XR might be the least-expensive iPhone Apple launched this year, but it is by no means a budget device.

It might be the right business strategy for Apple to keep raising their iPhone prices but it’s bad for the people buying them.

PSN Account Hijackers

Patrick Klepek has a terrific read up on Waypoint about his investigation into Sony’s incompetent security practices around user accounts, and the social engineering crews that steal them:

$1,200. That’s how much someone is asking for a PlayStation Network account I’ve been investigating for the past few weeks. “Secure,” the person calls it, claiming the account will “never be touched” by the original owner again. “He won’t be getting it back,” they claim. More than a thousand dollars? That’s a little rich for my blood, and so I counteroffer: $700.

He also has a few updates on twitter for after you’ve read the article.

Siri & Shortcuts in iOS 12

Easily the most impressive feature of iOS 12 is the integration of Workflow into the operating system as the recently-rebranded Siri Shortcuts. Apple’s on-stage demos of Siri Shortcuts have consisted of people explaining a half-dozen different actions these shortcuts perform, as funneled through one simple command. However, Siri shortcuts are also tremendously helpful at drilling down into an application to complete one task without opening that application when it would be inconvenient to do so.

For example, when I’m playing Clash Royale, which has been filling a strategic hole in my heart for some time, I often want to skip Overcast to the next chapter of the podcast I’m listening to. You can only take so many SquareSpace ads.

Before iOS 12, this meant flipping over to Overcast in the multitasking switcher, expanding the current podcast to fill the whole screen, and then tapping the next chapter arrow. Finally, I’d flip back to the game to see that I had lost one or all of my towers and the game was probably over.

In iOS 12, with Overcast 5, you can configure a list of shortcuts within the app to handle practically any function of the app from changing the playback speed to skipping the current chapter. That changes the scenario to one step, “Hey Siri, Overcast next chapter.” Siri isn’t always fast, but she is definitely faster than swapping to Overcast app and attempting to do the same thing.

There is a lot more functionality in Shortcuts that I haven’t even tried yet, and this example was only simplifying one task into one command instead of several tasks, but it feels obvious at this point that these programmable actions can alleviate some of the burden placed on users to adapt to iOS.

My main gripe with the Shortcuts functionality as it exists today, and with Siri in general, is that Siri takes over the whole screen when it isn’t necessary to do so. Many Siri activities that aren’t even shortcuts only necessitate a small confirmation that the requested action took place. The iPhone 6 Plus-sized devices (and especially the XS Max) cry out for a small window of the screen to pop-up a Siri response, then nobody will miss out on their game of Clash Royale just to skip a podcast ad.

Part of the problem that causes Apple to dedicate the entire screen to Siri may be the low confidence we all have in Siri to hear us correctly. Even today I couldn’t get my (Series 1) Apple Watch to understand a simple request for a timer (CW: misogynistic slur in text). The misunderstanding turned the request for a timer into a nasty message that I was surprised to read, then a few tries later it became a request for information about a movie I don’t want to see. Finally, I gave up and set the timer myself. On the iPhone a full-screen Siri response gives you the ability to see and edit the request if it was misunderstood like my 20 minute timer was on the Watch.

Once Apple’s confidence in Siri is higher, we may get that partial-screen response to our requests. I recommend keeping up with Shortcuts via MacStories.

I Miss WebOS and Windows Phone

After I hit publish on that last article a friend asked a question that I’ve been thinking about: What do you do if you don’t want to use a phone with iOS or Android?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good option today. WebOS from the now defunct Palm and Windows Phone from Microsoft were the only two big alternatives.

WebOS had a tremendously different design from today’s iOS and Android, but it has now changed hands between Palm, then HP, and now LG.

Windows Phone… well it looked and felt like an evolution of the Zune’s operating system, but I liked some things about that style. I had hoped that Microsoft would keep at it until they hit it out of the park with a winner, but it’s been forever since there was life in that platform.

Abhishek Prakash has a list of open-source mobile operating systems, but they’re all either already failed, Samsung garbage, or still “in development.”

If there were a complete mobile operating system that could compete with Android and iOS on the user experience level, and somehow had a ton of support from app and game developers, it would also need a strong hardware partner to develop an amazing pocket computer. I don’t see that happening.

Even Amazon’s Fire Phone got cancelled, and Amazon already had a strong competitor to Google’s app store.

Microsoft might come back with a Surface Phone but even Thurott said: “But a Surface phone? That makes no sense.” That quote is from late 2016. I think Microsoft might be able to have a better shot today if they could get some kind of branding right for once, which they seem terminally incapable of doing. A few weeks later Thurott wrote that there might be some life in the idea of a Surface Phone yet, and ended with the hilarious:

…I now believe it more likely than not that the software giant will in fact someday sell a Surface phone.

God help us all.

Still, that was in 2016 and here we are, two years later, and Microsoft’s leadership must not feel like they have the right device or the right distance from Windows Phone’s failure to even tease a return.