How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri

For most of us, Siri is merely a momentary diversion. But for some, it’s more. My son’s practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him that I’ve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory. I can promise you that for most of my beautiful son’s 13 years of existence, that has not been the case.

Beautiful story by Judith Newman for The New York Times.

It's easy to dismiss tech companies as “greedy corporations that only strive to make money”, and in many cases that's the simple truth. But in other cases, what they make truly has a positive impact on human lives that is far away from mere financial returns. This story about Siri and an autistic boy is a great example.

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iStat Mini

Bjango's iStat Menus has been one of my must-have Mac apps for the past four years, but I have to admit that I don't use all of its features. I don't need iStat Menus' comprehensive set of tools to monitor my CPU, fan temperature, or network usage – mostly because I don't understand that data and just want to know how much free memory and storage I have.

iStat Mini, released last week on the Mac App Store, takes iStat Menus' most popular features and puts them in Yosemite's Today view with a compact widget that's always a swipe away. iStat Mini will show you CPU, memory, and disk usage, with two smaller network indicators at the bottom for downloads and uploads. And that's it.

If you've always been interested in iStat's monitoring capabilities without the full power of iStat Menus, iStat Mini is a handy widget that covers the basics with a compact layout in Notification Center. Adopters of the app will likely ask for more features, and Bjango will have to balance requests for more options with the simplicity of the widget. A little more customization would be nice, but I wouldn't want to see iStat Mini become as complex as iStat Menus.

iStat Mini is $1.99 on the Mac App Store.


Rdio Launches High-Quality Streams, Interactive Notifications on iOS 8

Last week, Rdio addressed one of my longstanding criticisms of the service by launching high-quality AAC streams with a 320 kbps option for Unlimited users:

Today we’re happy to announce we’ve converted our entire catalog of over 30 million songs to high-quality AAC audio. Listeners around the world now have four sound quality settings to choose from across iOS, Android, and the web. All Rdio users can choose between data-efficient 64 kbps all the way up to 192 kbps. Rdio Unlimited subscribers now also have the option of listening in pristine-quality 320 kbps. Plus individually select your audio settings for a variety of uses, whether you’re using Wi-Fi or cellular streaming or listening to offline downloads.

Rdio is late to the 320 kbps party, but better late than never. I like how the updated iOS app has individual settings for streaming and download quality over WiFi and Cellular connections.

And speaking of the iOS app, it was also updated with new iOS 8 features and support for CarPlay. I couldn't test the latter as I don't have a CarPlay receiver, and the fact that Rdio is now optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is pretty much a given with app updates at this point.

The use of interactive notifications by Rdio is clever: if someone shares a song or album with you, you can swipe down on the Rdio notification to view it or start playing it. The Play button has to launch the Rdio app first, but it's still a nice shortcut that should remove some friction from sharing with other Rdio users.

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Apple Pay in Australia

Beau Giles figured out a way to use Apple Pay, currently limited to the US, in Australia. Essentially, given the right settings and card, Apple Pay will treat the user as an American tourist in another country, with an obvious consequence:

Unfortunately, as you’re essentially paying with a card from the US, you’ll be paying currency conversion fees for anything you buy in Australia with Apple Pay.

I have tried this myself, and I could show the Apple Pay setup screen in Italy, but I don't have a compatible American credit card. It's too bad, because the MasterCard Nearby app shows plenty of Contactless-enabled stores in my area.

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iTunes 12′s New Interface

I find iTunes 12 to be one of the most confusing UIs Apple has ever shipped (it's up there with the Health app for iOS 8). I don't listen to all my music in iTunes, but I like to think that I'm not completely ignorant about the app either. I use it for iTunes Match, I am a regular iTunes Radio listener, and, of course, I have a huge library of apps in it. Lately, I've even been using it to listen to podcasts because I wanted to try iCloud sync.

I don't understand most of the changes that went into the iTunes 12 interface: from the lack of a sidebar to the new tabs for navigation and separation of media types and iTunes Store, I feel completely lost using the new iTunes.

Thankfully, Agen G. N. Schmitz has a good overview of the changes over at TidBITS. He calls the iTunes interface “cleaned-up”, but when I read stuff like this…

Sidebar purists (such as myself) might be a little cheesed off by the starkness of the My Music view, but you can easily return to the sidebar by clicking the Playlists text button placed in the top middle of each media type view. This selection is sticky, so if you choose to view Playlists in Music, and then head over to view the Movies media type, you’ll return to Playlists once you select Music again. However, the iTunes Store view (available in all the media types, save for Tones and Internet Radio) trumps this stickiness. If you select iTunes Store while in Movies and then choose the Music media type, you’ll find yourself still in the iTunes Store — only switched to the Music section.

…I'm baffled by Apple's choices. This used to be simple: there was a sidebar with a Store button and you clicked the button and then you changed sections in the Store. Now, you have to account for “stickiness”.

I look at the screenshots of the new iTunes, I try to use the app, and I don't know what's going on. Maybe I'm the problem because I'm not “committed” to learning iTunes enough – but that's not supposed to happen with good interface design.

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Igloo: An intranet that actually works on your phone [Sponsor]

Work doesn’t stop when you leave your desk (although most intranet software will have you believe that).
 
With Igloo’s responsive design, your intranet can be fully optimized for almost any device you’re using. Manage tasks, share status updates, download documents — almost everything you can do on your desktop, you can do on your tablet or phone. It will even work on your new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Boom.
 
Plus, when you design your Igloo, any change you make to the look and feel carries across all devices.
 
Igloo is free to use with up to ten people. Sign up now to start building your mobile-friendly intranet.

Our thanks to Igloo for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Apple Pay FAQ and Apps

Earlier today, Apple posted two support documents detailing frequently asked questions about Apple Pay and the security and privacy of the service.

From the FAQ:

When I’m paying in a store using my debit card in Apple Pay, should I choose Credit or Debit on the terminal?

When presented with this choice, we recommend you to choose “Credit” to get the most consistent Apple Pay experience. Choosing “Debit” may not always work successfully with some older merchant payment terminals and backend systems.

And about security:

When you pay using Apple Pay in stores

Paying in stores that accept contactless payments with Apple Pay uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology between your device and the payment terminal. NFC is an industry-standard contactless technology designed to work only across short distances. If your iPhone 6 is on and it detects an NFC field, it will present you with your default credit or debit card. To send your payment information, you must authenticate using Touch ID or your passcode. No payment information is sent without your authentication.

MacRumors has a list of the retail stores that have begun accepting Apple Pay in the US today. Apple has also launched an Apple Pay section (currently on the front page of the US iPhone App Store) showcasing iOS apps that have been updated with Apple Pay support, including the Apple Store app.

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Apple Pay Demos

Apple Pay, the company's new payment system for iPhones and iPads, rolled out in the US today with iOS 8.1, and Kyle Russell has a nice demo video of the feature in action:

Holding my thumb to Touch ID and my phone to the payment terminal, it took about a second and a half to register at Walgreens and the same amount of time at McDonald’s. Don’t expect it to change the entire experience however: you still have to sign for the amount shown at the drug store and get a receipt to show to the cashier when picking up your order at a fast food joint.

Jason Snell shared a similar experience at Six Colors:

I pulled the iPhone 6 out of my pocket and before I could even move it closer to the payment terminal—newly festooned with a Now Accepting Apple Pay tag—Apple Pay appeared on my phone and asked me to verify my purchase via Touch ID.

Below, a few demo videos from YouTube as well, showing the simplicity of Apple Pay with contactless payments.

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Apple Q4 2014 Results: $42.1 Billion Revenue, 39.3 Million iPhones, 12.3 Million iPads Sold

Apple has published their Q4 2014 financial results for the quarter that ended September 27, 2014. The company posted revenue of $42.1 billion. The company sold 12.3 million iPads, 39.3 million iPhones, and 5.5 million Macs, earning a quarterly net profit of $8.5 billion.

“Our fiscal 2014 was one for the record books, including the biggest iPhone launch ever with iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With amazing innovations in our new iPhones, iPads and Macs, as well as iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, we are heading into the holidays with Apple’s strongest product lineup ever. We are also incredibly excited about Apple Watch and other great products and services in the pipeline for 2015.”

A new 'Other' category for Apple Watch in 2015

As noted by Bloomberg, starting next year, Apple will create a new 'Other' category for their financial results which will combine the sales of the new Apple Watch, iPod, Apple TV, Beats products and other accessories. The move will make it difficult to break out exact sales figures for the Apple Watch and is also different to how Apple treated the iPhone and iPad which from the first quarter received their own category.

“This gives Apple cover for the early months of Apple Watch sales at least,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of Jackdaw Research. “If they’re low, the results will be buried with other product sales and hard for analysts to back out. But if they’re good, then Apple can still crow about them and split out results on an ad-hoc basis.” (via Bloomberg)

 

Notably, Apple's gross margin was slightly higher at 38%, compared to 37% in the year-ago quarter. International sales also accounted for 60% of all Apple's revenue. You can see all our usual earnings call charts below.

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