Tag: Apple

How we could get FaceTime on our TVs

I’m envious of the technology in Facebook’s Portal; I walked past a demo unit at a Best Buy last year and was so delighted to see the camera follow me wherever I walked. It may have zoomed as well? I don’t remember, but it’s a far cry from the experience on the Amazon Echo Show I was gifted earlier this year, which is angled upward by default and therefore perpetually propped up on a coaster and whose use usually involves crouching and contorting my whole body uncomfortably for 15 minutes while video chatting.

I don’t want to invite Facebook into my life any more than it already is, or require my friends and family to invite it into theirs (for hundreds of dollars) so we can video chat more comfortably. On the other hand, most people I know already own some Apple product that is capable of FaceTime, making it our go-to video chat software during the pandemic.

I’m lucky enough to have a gooseneck phone mount, which, when clipped to the coffee table, makes these FaceTime sessions at least somewhat more comfortable, but the size of the screen and speakers leaves a lot to be desired.

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Game Center switching on tvOS 14: Who’s doing this?

Here’s a small thing that nobody cares about but me, because nobody “games” on the Apple TV:

tvOS 14 promised Game Center switching for when you have multiple Apple TV users, so different users’ progress can be saved and loaded separately. What I didn’t know until running the beta is that games have to opt in to this, so games don’t have it by default.

I would expect that Apple Arcade games would all support this flagship feature of tvOS 14 (insofar as tvOS can have “flagship features”), but none of them that I have seems to support it yet. Are they all just going to drop updates today to support Game Center switching?

If so, that’s kind of crazy and weird last-minute timing. If not, that means Apple’s subscription gaming service won’t support one of the most important gaming features on Apple TV.

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How to have Siri read articles to you

On a drive recently and wanting to listen to a longform article over BlueTooth, I considered my options.

Apple News has a great new human-read audio service, but only for select articles.

There have been a half dozen human-read news apps that came to (and sometimes went from) the App Store in the last few years, but their library of content is often small — Noa and Listle, to name a couple.

Instapaper and Pocket can “read” articles with generated speech, but the quality of the speech isn’t great.

I remembered the impressive demo of the new Siri voice at the iOS 13 keynote and thought it’d be cool if Siri could read an article to me. I said, “Hey Siri, read this article to me,” with no luck.

But there’s an unobtrusive accessibility setting you can activate that will allow you to trigger Siri reading any web content.

In “Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content,” turn on “Speak Screen.” Then in “Voices,” download one of the “Siri” voices, which should be better than the default “Samantha.”

Now, when you’re viewing an article in Safari, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen, and Siri will start reading the article, even with variable speed. It’s not perfect, but it’s better and even easier than the third-party options I’ve found.

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Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video

I love these videos, where Apple showcases its fantasies for what a fully Apple-ified life looks like. (I’m reminded of this Martin Scorcese/Siri commercial from 2012.) I’m also fascinated by production design and the small easter eggs hidden in stuff like this. And I like watching people…be productive? It’s weird I know.

I imagine the purpose is to pull all of Apple’s devices and features out of the abstract and into something resembling a real-life context, so that you can more easily say, “Oh that would make things easier/better/faster/cooler for me.”

So here’s some stuff I noticed:

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What if the iPad trackpad is for focus, too?

I’ve been thinking about the rumored iPad trackpad lately, and find myself having thoughts along the same lines as Dieter Bohn, namely that adding a cursor to the iPad would be a step backwards. Not only would it inherently invalidate and derail the current path of the touch computing paradigm, it could lead to lazy development of iPad apps that employ “touch targets” that are at too fine a scale for actual touch. Slapping an arrow cursor onto the iPad is a cop out. The addition of mouse support for accessibility is great, for accessibility, and importantly that addition doesn’t mimic a traditional cursor.

Bohn suggests that the trackpad would be useful even if just for text manipulation, but I think it could go further. Multi-finger gestures, of course, for accessing slideover and expose, for instance; but as I heard Federico Viticci point out that there is no “focus engine” in iPadOS as there is in tvOS, it occurred to me that maybe the trackpad could perform this function, too. Apps on the Apple TV can’t respond to touch, of course, so everything is handled with the remote’s touchpad moving focus around. Would this be a useful addition to iPadOS, giving users the ability to “tap” touch targets without removing their hands from the keyboard?

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If it’s not an RSS feed, it’s not a podcast

Recently a podcast I like “moved to Spotify,” which is the only place it can now be heard. A couple weeks ago I was recommended a podcast that sounded interesting, but it turned out to be exclusive to the Luminary “podcast network.”

These are not podcasts. It’s not a matter of being behind a paywall (though Spotify’s aren’t, as far as I know); subscription fees aren’t antithetical to podcasting (though they may be technically challenging).

A podcast is a text file, an XML or JSON outline, that points a podcast player to a list of episodes. The podcast is indifferent to the thing downloading it, and the player is indifferent to the thing hosting it. Anything else isn’t a podcast — it’s just an audio show.

The term “podcast” has long outgrown its etymology as “something you play on your iPod,” but it’s nevertheless notable that these new “podcasts” cannot even be played on an iPod, other than an iPod Touch with a WiFi connection.

If I can’t listen to it on my iPod Nano, it’s not a podcast.

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The Problem with Apple as Creator and Curator

I haven’t watched much at all of Apple TV+’s content, so this isn’t about whether their shows are good or not. Hell, they’re winning Emmys after all.

One thing I used to love about the Roku is that it had no incentive to make you watch one thing over another. There was no “Roku store,” so its makers weren’t motivated to put paid content front-and-center in the UI.

I gave that up once I switched to Apple TV, but I knew that, although Apple was incentivized to encourage me to watch things that I could buy or rent through them, at least it wasn’t directing me toward specific things for that reason; Apple doesn’t care whether I rent Barton Fink or Transformers, as long as I rent it from Apple (and their library is extensive).

I love the TV app for its “Up Next” section, reminding me what I want to watch and where I left off. I even like the remaining rows, highlighting content that is either being talked about (recent award winners, for instance, or big shows that are ending soon), or that is positively reviewed, or that is similar to things I’ve expressed interest in in the past. With so much to watch these days, it’s nice to have different ways for content to be surfaced.

On the other hand are Amazon’s and Netflix’s UIs, which lately seem to almost exclusively show you content produced by them, to encourage you to stay in their ecosystems. The “home page” of the Netflix app has got to be one of the most valuable advertising spaces on earth, and they take advantage of that. (See: Birdbox.)

But unfortunately what has tainted the Amazon and Netflix UIs is now a problem on Apple TV, for two reasons: Apple TV Channels and Apple TV+.

Because Apple TV Channels is limited to a small handful of networks — CBS, AMC, HBO, etc. — Apple is strongly incentivized to promote shows from those networks to encourage me to subscribe to them through Apple. And with original content being produced for Apple TV+, they’re also incentivized to recommend their own shows to me, sometimes with an entire row of content in the UI.

This destroys what trust I once had in the content curation. It would be naive to think the recommendations weren’t at all previously motivated by sales, but now when I see an Apple TV+ or CBS show highlighted, I know it’s effectively no different from an ad. They would recommend “The Morning Show” to me whether or not it was good.

I almost wish they had an “editorial department” who curated the contents of the TV app and were not beholden to the other teams at Apple whatsoever.

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Apple Arcade: Games That Won’t Piss You Off

This holiday I’ve been traveling to spend the week visiting some of my family, including four of my nieces and nephews. My youngest niece is 10 and I thought she’d like sitting on the couch solving some kind of puzzle-y iPad game with me. I went to Apple Arcade and downloaded Tint, which I’d never played before.

The experience of playing Tint really made apparent the difference in playing an Apple Arcade game versus virtually any other game on the App Store. Playing it was almost uncanny — the genre it represents as a geometry-based puzzle game is the kind of thing that absolutely floods the App Store and shows you unskippable 30-second ads for tower defense games between levels. Even games within this genre that do cost a buck or two up front will likely have some forms of in-app purchases, for rubies, gems, in-game hints, extra levels, etc. I kept expecting the gameplay to be interrupted by something ugly, loud, or obnoxious, but it never happened.

There are plenty of poor Apple Arcade games, but they’re poor in ways that other games in the App Store aren’t — in a shortcoming of gameplay design, artwork, or execution, rather than in a disrespect for the value of customers’ time and money. These games feel as though they were made by people, not by cheap puzzle-generating algorithms, copycats, or fly-by-night App Store flooding.

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