Early Thoughts on DirecTV Now ➝

Eric Schwarz:

I sort of see the product as a public beta right now. It’s mostly complete, but with the amount of excitement and emphasis that AT&T is putting on it, they’d be morons not to tweak it a bit these first few months. By offering a discounted rate and free devices to early adopters, the risk is pretty low.

The thought of paying $35 or more each month for a streaming media service seems outrageous to me. Between the WWE Network and Hulu, I currently only pay $23 a month. What has me interested in the service, though, is the free devices they offer. The way I see it, if I pre-pay for three months of DirecTV Now, I’m essentially paying $105 for an Apple TV and getting the service for free. That’s a great deal even if I never launch the DirecTV app and cancel before it auto-renews.

Seagate’s New Amazon Cloud-Syncing Portable Hard Drive ➝

A neat new hard drive from Seagate that automatically uploads backup copies of everything stored on it to Amazon Drive. This seems like the perfect backup solution — offering local and offsite backups in a single product.

Counterfeit Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests ➝

BBC News:

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test.

Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an “unknown entity”.

Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks.

This problem has been around for quite some time, but it seems to have gotten a lot worse recently.

The ‘Twist’ ➝

A great tip by Joe Cieplinski on how to prevent your cables from fraying prematurely. I don’t experience this problem as frequently as other people do — my cables tend to last for several years, even the ones I use every day. But I’ll probably give the twist a shot anyway.

Twelve South Compass Comparison ➝

Ben Brooks:

One of the best products Twelve South has ever made is the Compass. A collapsible stand for iPads which can hold it at two angles, but really you just use it to hold it at an easel like angle. I’ve had one, off and on for years, and swear by them.

However, at some point Twelve South revised the design and launched the Compass 2. The new design looks very much the same, but is worse in just about every aspect (I’m being generous here, because I honestly can’t think of a way that it is better). I hate it.

I couldn’t agree more. The original Compass was great, and I continue to use it regularly, but the Compass 2 is a real stinker.

The front feet don’t sit wide enough to keep your iPad stable and it’s almost impossible to tap anything in the top corners without knocking your tablet over. Luckily, Amazon still has the original Compass available if you’re looking for one, but they’re almost out of stock. And I don’t expect they’ll be getting any more once those are gone.

I’ll continue clinging to my Compass 1 until it’s completely unusable, but I sure hope Twelve South does another redesign and fixes these problems.

Tim Cook Expects AirPods to Ship Within ‘Next Few Weeks’ ➝

Here we are, two months after Apple proclaimed that wireless is the future of audio. Their solution still hasn’t hit the market and their ability to communicate with customers about why that is or when we should expect them has been absolutely terrible.

Netflix Announces Offline Viewing ➝

Netflix:

Netflix members worldwide can now download in addition to stream great series and films at no extra cost.

While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited. Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection.

I wonder how long these videos are available once you go offline. Are they watchable indefinitely or does the app have to hit Netflix’s servers once a month? If not, could you take a bunch of videos offline, cancel your subscription, and continue to watch them as long as the app isn’t able to check with the server?

Amazon Developing an Echo Speaker With Touchscreen ➝

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Amazon.com Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Based on what I’ve heard from Echo owners, the kitchen is where these devices really shine. I wonder if Amazon will position this touchscreen model as the ultimate kitchen computer, with cook books from the Kindle Store and food shows from Amazon Video.

Holiday Gift Guide

This is typically the week when I start my holiday gift shopping each year. It’s also when I start getting emails from friends and family asking me what I’d like to receive for the holidays. Most years, it’s incredibly difficult for me to make my list — I tend to purchase the things I want throughout the year. But, for whatever reason, it felt easy this year.

I’ve decided to share my wishlist with all of you alongside a handful of my favorite products that I’ve recently purchased. Hopefully this will take a little of the stress out of shopping, allowing you to simply enjoy the time with your loved ones.

Apple TV

Apple TV 32GB

Apple’s media box has been the centerpiece of my living room entertainment setup for nearly a decade. I’ve owned every model and this latest iteration — with third-party apps and the Siri Remote — has been a tremendous upgrade over the previous generation. It’s more expensive than other streaming boxes on the market, but I think the fit and finish is more than worth the extra cost.

I’ve had the latest model since January of this year and I’m finally ready to upgrade the third-generation Apple TV in my bedroom. I’ve grown accustomed to using the Siri Remote to control the other components in my living room and I’ve transitioned to using Plex for media hosting on our Mac mini. I want all of this functionality on my bedroom setup as well, but for that, I’ll need the latest Apple TV.

SteelSeries Nimbus

SteelSeries Nimbus Gaming Controller

I haven’t spent a lot of time playing games on the Apple TV. The biggest hurdle for me is the Siri Remote. Despite it being one of the best remotes I’ve ever used for controlling media playback, it’s an absolutely dreadful experience to use it for playing games. I’ve done bit of research over the past few days and it looks like the SteelSeries Nimbus is just about the best MFi controller on the market.

The controller is also available in black from Apple and Amazon, but I prefer the white variant, which is only available from Apple. It has a much cleaner look that stands out amongst the crowd of black consumer electronics in my living room.

Here’s a handful of the games I’m most excited about playing once I get my hands on the Nimbus:

As an added bonus, I might try my hand at getting Provenence installed and playing some classic games on tvOS.

Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods

I’m tired of my headphone wires getting caught on things while I’m wearing them. The feeling of having your earbuds abruptly ripped out isn’t pleasant. The only problem is, they’re not available yet. And Apple hasn’t exactly announced when they will be. But I’m ready to go all-in on wireless audio and these look like the best solution for the job.

Apple Watch Sport Band

Apple Watch Sport Band

I still have the white Sport Band that came with my Apple Watch. I wear it every work day and, although it’s easy to clean, it does tend to get a bit dingy after a day or two. I’d like to expand my band collection with an additional Sport Band in a darker color — probably Ocean Blue — that I can use to mix up my Watch’s look and will hide some of the dirt and dust that it accumulates throughout the day.

Lifefactory Water Bottle

Lifefactory Water Bottle

I’ve been using these water bottles for years and they’re absolutely fantastic. They’re biggest draw is that they’re made out of glass, which won’t influence the taste of your beverage. Whenever I tell someone that my water bottle is made out of glass, they always ask whether I’m worried about it breaking. I am not. The bottles are made out of thick, durable glass that’s wrapped in a silicon sleeve for a splash of color and to help prevent breaking. I’ve dropped these bottles on concrete floors and they’ve always made it through unscathed.

Lifefactory recently released a new cap design that I’ve been looking forward to trying out. The Active Flip Cap is similar in design to their existing Flip Cap, but features a wider opening and a stainless steel hinge to further prevent leaking. I’ve been a huge fan of the original Flip Cap and this one looks like a strict upgrade.

Yoga Mat

Yoga Accessories Deluxe Yoga Mat

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed my recent interest in Yoga. I’ve been looking for a way to get some exercise in my daily routine that was low impact and easy on my joints — I have really bad knees. Yoga seemed like the natural solution. I’ve done over thirty minutes of Yoga each day for about two weeks and I’ve loved it so far.

Upon the recommendation of The Sweet Home, I decided to pick up the Yoga Accessories Deluxe Yoga Mat to give me a little more floor-grip during my sessions. This was their budget pick and, although I can see room for improvement, I’ve been very happy with it so far. I expect I’ll upgrade to a more high-end mat in the future, but I need to make sure Yoga will remain in my daily routine before I spend $60 on something nicer.

Gaiam Yoga Block

Gaiam Yoga Block

When I first decided to try Yoga, I downloaded a handful of apps for the Apple TV. Most of them were garbage, but YogaGlo was the exception. — the app was surprisingly delightful to use. It’s a little expensive ($17.99 a month), but features classes for people of all skill levels in an easy to navigate and well-designed interface.

Most of the sessions I’ve done have been from the Yoga for Beginners collection and the teachers often suggest using a Yoga block to help maintain your balance by bringing the floor up to your hand. This block by Gaiam is inexpensive and highly rated on Amazon.

Fit Spirit Yoga Strap

Fit Spirit Yoga Strap

Another essential Yoga accessory that helps with stretching. The Fit Spirit Yoga Strap was highly rated on Amazon, inexpensive, and comes in a handful of colors and lengths.

Seagate Backup Plus Slim

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Hard Drive

This is The Wirecutter’s previous pick as the best portable hard drive. They continue to recommend it as their runner-up because of its competitive transfer speeds, size, and weight. I prefer it to their current pick — the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim — because I’m not fond of the color offerings and design of the Ultra Slim model.

This drive would serve a very specific purpose in my setup — housing my entire Plex library. My Mac mini’s internal hard drive isn’t large enough to store all of my media and I don’t own a single external drive that can either. The Seagate Backup Plus offers enough storage for my current library and will allow a bit of breathing room for the media I acquire in the future.

Anker PowerLine

Anker PowerLine 10ft Lightning Cable

Apple’s included Lightning cables are great, but they tend to come up a bit short in some situations. My wife and I charge our iPhones on our bedside tables throughout the night and often find ourselves checking Twitter or replying to messages before we fall asleep. But Apple’s included cable is just too short to remain plugged in while we’re sitting up in bed.

We are left having to either unplug our iPhones during use or roll uncomfortably onto the edge of the bed to give Tweetbot one last refresh. These 10-foot Lightning cables from Anker are long enough that we’ll be able declutter our bedsides. We’ll no longer need to have extension cords with Apple power adapters plugged into them sitting in front of our nightstands. We could consolidate to a single, multi-port charger that can be hidden rom view under our bed.

Anker Power Strip

Anker Power Strip with USB Ports

I currently have three power strips in my house with USB adapters plugged into them. It’s madness. The vast majority of the devices I interact with on a daily basis charge over USB and there’s no reason to have an additional intermediary between the device’s charging cable and the power strip.

I’m very tempted to replace all of the power strips in my house with these. With so many of my devices charging over USB, its more convenient to have USB ports available than it is to have standard wall outlets.

Pioneer Bookshelf Speakers

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Speakers

I’ve had a 5.1 audio setup in my living room for years and just recently removed the rear speakers and center channel. I haven’t missed them much and it’s drastically reduced the clutter in our living room.

With this change, I thought it would also be a good opportunity to upgrade the mediocre left and right speakers that came with my crappy home-theater-in-a-box system that I bought several years ago. I don’t know much about speakers, but I trust The Wirecutter’s judgement in this case. This Pioneer set is the publication’s budget pick for best bookshelf speakers.

Herschel Supply iPad Sleeve

Herschel Supply Co. iPad Sleeve

I’ve written about this sleeve in the past and my opinion of it still stands. It’s a very simple sleeve made out of quality materials with an attractive aesthetic. It doesn’t have any fancy accessory pockets or nifty features. It’s designed to protect your iPad within another bag and it does so perfectly.

Griffin iTrip Bluetooth

Griffin iTrip Bluetooth Aux

I purchased this car Bluetooth adapter last month and it’s been absolutely fantastic. It doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles of its competitors, but I prefer it that way. I don’t need playback controls or a microphone that I have to mount on my dashboard, I just want something simple that will receive an audio signal from my iPhone.

During the month-and-a-half that it’s been installed in my car, I’ve only experienced pairing and audio playback issues a small handful of times — I haven’t kept track but it’s definitely less than five instances. That may not sound like a raving review, but based on what I’ve heard from others about Bluetooth, that’s an incredible success rate.

Anker CD Smartphone Mount

Anker CD Slot Phone Mount

There’s plenty of options on the market for smartphone car mounts. These days, most of them attach to your car’s air vents or are suction-cupped to the windshield. I’ve tried windshield mounts before and, although they’ve improved over the years, I still can’t get over the fact that they obstruct my view while driving. Air vent mounts seem like a logical solution, but of course, they block the air vent they’re attached to, which make them less than ideal in climates that reach extreme temperatures.

At least for my car’s setup, the CD slot is the perfect location for a smartphone mount. It’s centrally located in my dashboard, easy to reach from the driver’s side, and doesn’t obstruct a feature that I interact with regularly. I do use the CD player in my car, but only with MP3 CDs. And I can continue to use the CD with the mount installed — it only gets in the way when I need to swap CDs, which only happens a few times each year.

Anker PowerCore 13000

Anker PowerCore 13000

This portable battery packs quite a bit of power into a very compact size. It’s about the same dimensions as a portable hard drive, but is capable of recharging an iPhone about five times or an iPad once. It even features two USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices simultaneously.

Blokus

Blokus

I purchased this one shortly after Christmas last year and it’s been a favorite ever since. My wife and her parents usually get together for games once or twice a month and Blokus has been in heavy rotation the whole year. The object of the game is to play as many of your tiles as you can with each of your pieces touching corner-to-corner. It’s almost like a four-player game of Tetris.

Qwirkle

Qwirkle

My wife and I only started playing this game a few months ago, but it’s the best board game we’ve played all year. Each player has a hand of six tiles and you take turns placing them on the board in rows — connecting to tiles that have already been played. The tiles in each row must match by color or shape and there can’t be any more than one unique tile on the same line.

You get points for the tiles you place and bonus points when you complete a row — called a Qwirkle. The game has great pacing and is easy to learn. It’s perfect for game groups with a wide variety of ages.

Hands-on With ‘Designed by Apple in California’ ➝

If you don’t have two hundred dollars laying around, DetroitBORG walks through the entire Designed by Apple in California book.

Fake News ➝

Ben Thompson:

There are even more fundamental problems, though: how do you decide what is fake and what isn’t? Where is the line? And, perhaps most critically, who decides? To argue that the existence of some number of fake news items amongst an ocean of other content ought to result in active editing of Facebook content is not simply a logistical nightmare but, at least when it comes to the potential of bad outcomes, far more fraught than it appears.

This is the biggest concern I have with this fake new debate: who decides what is and isn’t fake and could that position be abused?

Best Backup Plan for Your Mac ➝

Peter Cohen and Lory Gil, writing for iMore:

If you’re using any one, individual technique to make sure your Mac is backed up, you may be wondering why you have to combine strategies at all. The main reason is redundancy: You don’t want a single point of failure in the system to keep you from gaining access to the files that you need.

My current backup system includes all of my Macs running Time Machine pointed at our Time Capsule and myself occasionally making clones with SuperDuper. I know it’s not as comprehensive as it should be. Here are the two main problems:

  • I don’t have an offsite backup.
  • There’s no system in place for regular SuperDuper clones — I do them when I think about it, which is less frequently than I should.

What I hope to do in the future is sign up for BackBlaze, which will give me an offsite solution, and setup a reminder system for cloning.

What to Do With That Old iPhoto Library ➝

Glenn Fleishman, writing for Macworld:

Deleting a hard link in one place leaves all the other references intact. When the number of hard links drops to just one, you’ve just got a file! No hard links at all. And deleting that one reference, the file itself, truly does throw the file in the trash. Thus, delete your iPhoto Library, and—ostensibly—you won’t delete any files shared by Photos through hard links.

Having said all that, please make a complete backup of both your iPhoto and Photos libraries before deleting the iPhoto Library. You should be able to toss it and lose nothing, but I’m not so blithe as to suggest you whistle while you’re emptying the trash and assume all is well.

A great tip for anyone who has fully transitioned from iPhoto to Photos on the Mac.

Apple Halving Fees for Subscription Streaming Services That Integrate With TV App ➝

Lucas Shaw and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Some video partners have already been paying 15 percent of monthly subscription fees to Apple. The company is now extending the rate to all subscription video services as long as they are integrated with Apple’s new TV app, said the people who asked not to be identified because the changes aren’t public.

That’s one way to encourage these companies to integrate iOS and tvOS’s new features into their apps. I just hope it will entice Amazon to bring their video service to the Apple TV.

Designed by Apple in California ➝

From Apple’s press release:

Apple today announced the release of a new hardbound book chronicling 20 years of Apple’s design, expressed through 450 photographs of past and current Apple products. “Designed by Apple in California,” which covers products from 1998’s iMac to 2015’s Apple Pencil, also documents the materials and techniques used by Apple’s design team over two decades of innovation. […]

“Designed by Apple in California” is available in two sizes and printed on specially milled, custom-dyed paper with gilded matte silver edges, using eight color separations and low-ghost ink. This linen-bound, hardcover volume was developed over an eight-year period. It is published by Apple.

I wonder if Apple realizes how bad it looks for them to release a book amidst all of the complaints about their Mac lineup. Not that I believe this project kept them from developing their products — I don’t expect many of the people that produced this book are the same people who work on Mac hardware. But any effort Apple spends on unnecessary products leaves them open to ridicule — “why didn’t they put their effort into working on the Mac mini, Mac Pro, or iMac instead?”

Don’t get me wrong, I want this book. I don’t think I’ll ever buy one given its price point, but as a huge fan of Apple for over a decade, I love stuff like this. It is an odd product, though. I never would have expected Apple — of all companies — to release something like this.

I guess this book would have been more palatable if Apple produced it for employees and sold it to the public exclusively in their company store in Cupertino. But in that scenario, we’d probably be reading headlines like: “Apple made the most amazing design book that you can’t buy.”

PhotoScan ➝

A neat new app from Google that helps you digitize old, analog photographs. I sent the link to my wife, Becky, as soon as I heard about it. I expect she’ll give it a try sometime this weekend.

A few months ago, Becky came across hundreds of photos from her childhood that she’s been looking for a good way to digitize. My hope is that it’ll work as well as Google claims it does in their promo video. But if the folks in my Twitter timeline are to be believed, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

Apple Begins App Store Purge ➝

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

Earlier this year, Apple promised it would clean up its iOS App Store by removing outdated, abandoned apps, including those that no longer meet current guidelines or don’t function as intended. That great App Store purge now appears to be underway, according to new data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The company found that app removals increased by 238 percent in October 2016, with mobile games seeing the most deletions.

It’s now far less likely that you’ll encounter broken apps when browsing the App Store. And that sounds great to me.

My Dream Setup, Revised

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my dream setup. It’s a discussion that commonly occurs in tech circles and is often accompanied by the debate between a laptop as your only machine or a desktop as a primary machine alongside a thin and light notebook. Things have become a little bit more complicated, though. With the increased power and versatility of iOS devices and the inconsistent upgrade cycle of the Mac, a dream setup has never been more difficult for me to devise.

My idea of a dream setup has been in flux ever since Apple released the new MacBook Pro. If you were to ask me what Mac I would buy a couple weeks ago, I would have gone with the MacBook. But it wouldn’t be an easy decision.

With the purchase of a MacBook, it would have taken the responsibility as my primary machine — housing my iTunes and photo libraries, but I would have continued running Plex on the Mac mini. It would be a great setup — and fits in with the desktop machine plus thin and light notebook ideology — but I’m not too keen on managing two Macs anymore and I need the always-on Mac mini for media hosting.

My revised dream setup is more simple and would require less overhead to manage. A single Mac that serves all my macOS needs alongside an iPad that fills the role of the thin and light computer.

My current dream setup:

  • 21.5-inch, 4K iMac
  • Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
  • Magic Mouse 2
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPhone 7

My dream setup started to solidify after I installed Snow Leopard on my old iMac and spent a few days using the machine. I was amazed at how nice it was to use a desktop Mac. It had a much larger screen that sat at a reasonable distance, a spacious keyboard that felt great to type on, and a mouse — something I haven’t used with any of my personal computers in years. It felt comfortable.

I don’t spend too much time using a Mac these days — I’m almost exclusively on iOS — but when I do, I want it to be as comfortable as my old iMac was. And that’s why I’d go with Apple’s old-style, wired keyboard (with the numeric keypad) alongside the Magic Mouse 2. That’s the same keyboard that my iMac shipped with in 2008. And to this day, its my favorite keyboard of all time. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I spent any length of time with Apple’s older mechanical keyboards, but I came to the Mac during this keyboard’s era and I don’t expect to find something better anytime soon.

As for the iMac itself, I wouldn’t go too crazy with build-to-order options. I’d go with the base model, only upgrading the hard drive to a 512GB SSD. The rest of the iMac’s hardware is more than suitable for my needs — light photo editing, media hosting, and basic web development.

I’d use the internal SSD to store my applications, iTunes music, and photo library, but I’d also purchase an external drive and a TwelveSouth BackPack for Plex. That way I’d have all the benefits of solid state in my day-to-day, but enough storage for all of my video files.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 7 were the easy decisions in my dream setup. I love the iPad and use it for the vast majority of my computing, hence the desire for the higher-end, Pro model. I could see myself being interested in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but at the moment I value the portability of the smaller model so highly that it outweighs any of the benefits I’d get from the bigger screen.

And for many iPad owners, their device lives inside of a keyboard case. I don’t expect I’ll ever do that with mine. I prefer keeping my iPad bare and setting it on TwelveSouth’s Compass — the original model, specifically — alongside Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard when I plan on doing a lot of writing. I can certainly crank out a couple-thousand words on the software keyboard if I need to — and have countless times in the past — but it’s always much more comfortable to write with a hardware keyboard.

I’d also stick with the smaller, 4.7-inch iPhone. The extra screen real estate could come in handy, but I like being able to use my iPhone with one hand and that’s not feasible on the larger screen. I am envious of the dual-camera system from the Plus model. And not just because of portrait mode. Having access to 2x optical zoom is a huge deal. It opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to take crisp photos at a distance that wouldn’t have been possible without it. I hope that this camera system makes its way into the smaller iPhone at some point, but again, it’s not worth the trade offs that come with the larger form factor. I’d rather have a slightly worse camera than have to deal with a giant iPhone.

This certainly isn’t the most extravagant dream setup. It’s reasonable and obtainable, which is how I’d prefer it to be. I could buy everything — the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPad — for just under $3,500. That may seem expensive at first glance, but I’m willing to bet this sits at the lower end of the pricing spectrum — at least when compared to other dream setups.

Using the iPad for Web Development ➝

Matt Gemmell:

Responsive testing, though, is something you actually can do on the iPad, up to a point, with Web Tools. It lets you resize the viewport, or choose from a set of popular device sizes, and it also has a rudimentary built-in web inspector with DOM tree and editable CSS attributes (and a JavaScript console, as an in-app purchase). It’s basic, but you can readily use it to see how your site responds as the browser window resizes, or on different screen sizes than your own.

I hadn’t heard about Web Tools until reading this piece, but it looks like a great app. I’ll have to give it a try next time I’m in front of my iPad with some time to kill.

‘The iPhone 7 Plus Is My Only Computer’ ➝

Justin Blanton:

I’ve long wanted to get to this point, and being (mostly) here now feels pretty damn good.

Much of what makes this possible is that I can delegate in one way or another most of what I think of, and can get away with being extremely terse in my emails. At this stage of my career my day-to-day job requires minimal work-product; if I was coding all day, designing websites, or researching, I probably wouldn’t be able to leverage my pocket computer the way I do, but I wouldn’t want to either.

There are a lot of people who just don’t need traditional computers anymore. Delegating tasks, checking on projects, discussing ideas — communicating — is the kind of work that smartphones excel at. There’s no reason to add the unnecessary cruft that comes along with desktop operating systems when you have everything you need on your pocket computer.

(Via Eric Schwarz.)