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MacStories Unwind: Ripping CDs for a Living

This week on MacStories Unwind, I share my tech discoveries during a visit to a classical music radio station, Federico finally goes for a spider-style gaming Wi-Fi router, and I recommend Criminal Record on Apple TV+.

This episode is sponsored by:

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Automation Academy: My Collection of Advanced Shortcuts for Things

Earlier today, Federico released a series of seven advanced shortcuts for the task manager Things as part of his Automation Academy column, an exclusive perk of Club MacStories+ and Club Premier.

Federico explains in the introduction of the story why he returned to Things a few months ago and has been happy with the decision:

not only does the design of the Things app create a more relaxed environment for me to manage my responsibilities, but Cultured Code’s embrace of Shortcuts automation has allowed me to create dozens of custom enhancements for Things.

It’s the flexibility that Things’ Shortcuts actions offer that allows for such deep customization. The shortcuts shared today include automations to:

  • Automatically move tasks scheduled for a certain time to Things’ Evening section
  • Postponing evening tasks
  • Rescheduling tasks to the next evening
  • Tag selected tasks as active
  • Pin tasks
  • Select from a menu of Things shortcuts
  • Create tasks, an updated version of a previously-shared shortcut

All of the shortcuts are ready to be used immediately and are accompanied by a detailed walk-through of the techniques used to build them and an explanation of how Federico is using them.

Discounts are just one of the many Club MacStories perks.

Discounts are just one of the many Club MacStories perks.

Automation Academy is just one of many perks that Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members enjoy including:

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The Fastest Way to Save RSS Articles to A Read-Later App

Skimming through the day's tech headlines in Reeder.

Skimming through the day’s tech headlines in Reeder.

I follow about 180 RSS feeds, and I skim through all of my tech feeds every day, looking for interesting news, angles, opinions, and inspiration. A lot of what I see is repetitive, but I’ve gotten very good over the years at speed-reading snippets of stories and homing in on the interesting ones. Some stories get read right away because they’re time-sensitive in some way. However, I have other things to do besides read the web, so I rely heavily on read-later apps to save many of my finds.

That context is important because although some of what I save is what I’d classify as ‘leisure reading,’ most of it isn’t. It’s information processing, and given my other obligations, speed is important. As a result, what I value most are:

  • The design of my RSS reader
  • The speed with which I can save stories for later
  • Access to my saved articles for anywhere
  • The tools available in my read-later app for organizing everything

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Vision Pro App Spotlight: Longplay Adds Immersive Album Listening

The music experience on the Apple Vision Pro is excellent. It starts with the device’s built-in headphones and spatial audio, which work hand-in-hand with the visual components of spatial computing. Apple has already shown off the potential for immersive experiences like Alicia Keys: Rehearsal Room, but the music experience goes deeper than that, thanks to third-party developers.

I’ve already covered Juno, Christian Selig’s YouTube player app, which is great for watching music videos and other content, and NowPlaying, which supplements Apple Music with editorial content, lyrics, and more. Today, though, I want to focus on Longplay, Adrian Schönig’s album-oriented playback app for Apple Music.

Longplay 2.0 was released last August. It was a big update that I reviewed at the time and have been enjoying ever since. The app is available on the Vision Pro now too, complete with an immersive mode that I love.

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Looks Like Rain: Visualizing the Weather on a Color-Coded Timeline

I’m always excited when a new weather app is released, especially when it’s a weather app that looks different from most of its counterparts. Looks Like Rain by Thinkbits is beautifully designed, and it certainly looks different, to say the least. The layout of the app is clean, the elements are well-spaced, and the color palette has clearly been composed with care. Most importantly, though, I’m absolutely loving its unique approach to visualizing the weather forecast on a color-coded timeline.

I’ve been using this brand-new weather app for the past few weeks on the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac, and it has already earned a permanent place in the rotation of my favorite weather apps.

Let’s check it out.

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Apple Vision Pro Accessory Roundup: Our Favorites So Far

Slowly but surely, a growing number of accessories are popping up around the Apple Vision Pro. Today, we thought we’d share our favorites so far.

Battery Accessories

Battery Packs

The [Anker Prime 27,650mAh]( power bank.

The Anker Prime 27,650mAh power bank.

John: Apple sells the battery pack that powers the Apple Vision Pro as a separate accessory for $199. However, because the Vision Pro’s battery includes a USB-C port for charging it, there are plenty of cheaper solutions.

One option is simply plugging Apple’s battery into its power adapter as you use it. However, if you want something more portable, I’d suggest a battery pack to charge your Apple battery pack. Any battery pack will do, but we have several listed on our Setups page that Federico and I use and recommend and will do the trick too.

Belkin Battery Holder

Federico: I never thought I’d become the sort of person who casually holsters a tech accessory in his daily routine, and yet here we are thanks to the Vision Pro. I decided to get the Belkin battery holder upon ordering the Vision Pro, and I’m glad I did. Not only does the clip on the case make it easier to walk around the house while wearing the Vision Pro (putting the battery in my pocket causes too much tension on the cable and I don’t like it), but it also provides a nice degree of protection for the battery itself. I genuinely recommend getting this if you plan on moving around a lot while using the Vision Pro.

Keyboard and Trackpad Accessories

John: The Apple Vision Pro’s built-in keyboard and dictation are fine for entering short bits of text when you’re using the device, but for anything more than a few words, you’ll want a keyboard. The Apple Magic Keyboard works best with the Vision Pro because it integrates tightly with visionOS, displaying a preview of what you’re typing that floats just above the keyboard. Plus, Magic Trackpad is the only trackpad that I am aware of that works with the Vision Pro.

The MagicBridge or a Lap Desk

The trouble is finding a way to use the Magic Keyboard and Trackpad when you’re away from your desk or a tabletop because both are small and can be hard to balance in your lap. There are a few options here, depending on your preferences. Twelve South’s MagicBridge joins the Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad using a plastic frame that holds the two together side-by-side. It works much better in the lap that way, but it’s also wide and can feel unbalanced when the keyboard is directly in front of you, and the trackpad is hanging off to the side.

Since my initial experiments with the MagicBridge, I’ve gravitated to a lap desk for those times that I’m sitting on the couch. There are a million of these on Amazon and elsewhere. However, I like the simplicity of the 30.5” Wood Curved Lap Desk Table Tray, which is a simple curved piece of wood without any notches for iPhones or ridges to hold a laptop in place to get in my way.

Hazevaiy Acrylic Magic Keyboard and Trackpad Support Stand

Federico: After some research and asking on Mastodon, I discovered that accessory manufacturers have been making for quite some time what is, effectively, the opposite of a MagicBridge: a tray where the Magic Trackpad and Keyboard are held in a laptop-like configuration, with the keyboard above the trackpad. I got a couple from Amazon, and I like the transparent one better than others I’ve seen thanks to its slimmer profile. (Plus, let’s face it – anything looks better when it’s made of transparent plastic.) These accessories all lack the sort of palm rejection features that are typically found on Mac laptops, so if you can get used to avoiding the trackpad with your palm or wrist when typing, I think you should consider this as a lap-friendly alternative to the MagicBridge.

A Smaller Case – Syntech Hard Carrying Case

John: By all accounts Apple’s Vision Pro case is very nice, but I wasn’t interested because it’s so bulky and expensive. Instead, I went with one Federico discovered on Reddit by Syntech that was originally made for the Meta Quest. It’s not small, but it fits in a backpack better than Apple’s case ever will. Inside, there’s a velcro strap for securing your Vision Pro in place and enough spare room to stow your battery and polishing cloth. Best of all, the Syntech case is less than $30.

Protecting the Vision Pro’s Lenses - KIWI design Lens Protector Cover

John: My most recent accessory find for the Vision Pro is the KIWI Lens Protector Cover. It’s another accessory originally designed for the Meta Quest, but it works perfectly with the Vision Pro too. There’s not much to say about the KIWI other than it’s a soft microfiber pillow that you stuff into the inside of your Vision Pro headset against the lenses to protect them. With a USB-C cable and other items in the same case as the Vision Pro, I feel better knowing that there’s a soft barrier between its lenses and everything else in my bag.

That’s it for now, but keep an eye on our MacStories Setups page for updates on the accessories we use with our Apple Vision Pros and other gear.

iMessage Is Preparing for a Post-Quantum Computing World

Yesterday, Apple’s Security Research website published a report on a cryptographic security upgrade coming to iMessage with the release of iOS 17.4, iPadOS 17.4, macOS 14.4, and watchOS 10.4 called PQ3. It’s a forward-looking, preemptive upgrade that anticipates a future where quantum computers will be able to defeat today’s cryptographic security with ease. That day isn’t here yet, but PQ3 is rolling out with the next series of Apple’s OS updates to protect against a scenario known as Harvest Now, Decrypt Later where bad actors collect vast amounts of encrypted data today, anticipating a future where it can be decrypted by quantum computers.

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

If you’ve heard the term quantum computing thrown around in the past and don’t know what it is, I highly recommend a couple of explainer articles by the MIT Technology Review that cover both quantum computers and post-quantum cryptography.1 But if the details don’t interest you, the bottom line is that PQ3 is being added to iMessage today in anticipation of a day in the future where today’s end-to-end encryption techniques don’t work anymore. Here’s how Apple’s paper explains it:

Historically, messaging platforms have used classical public key cryptography, such as RSA, Elliptic Curve signatures, and Diffie-Hellman key exchange, to establish secure end-to-end encrypted connections between devices. All these algorithms are based on difficult mathematical problems that have long been considered too computationally intensive for computers to solve, even when accounting for Moore’s law. However, the rise of quantum computing threatens to change the equation. A sufficiently powerful quantum computer could solve these classical mathematical problems in fundamentally different ways, and therefore — in theory — do so fast enough to threaten the security of end-to-end encrypted communications.

Although quantum computers with this capability don’t exist yet, extremely well-resourced attackers can already prepare for their possible arrival by taking advantage of the steep decrease in modern data storage costs. The premise is simple: such attackers can collect large amounts of today’s encrypted data and file it all away for future reference. Even though they can’t decrypt any of this data today, they can retain it until they acquire a quantum computer that can decrypt it in the future, an attack scenario known as Harvest Now, Decrypt Later.

PQ3 protects against a post-quantum world by setting up an iMessage conversation with a new post-quantum public key system and then periodically updating the keys so that if the keys are compromised, it won’t compromise the entire conversation. The system also uses existing cryptographic algorithms for portions of the encryption process that aren’t vulnerable to a Harvest Now, Decrypt Later scenario.

There is a lot of additional detail in Apple’s report, as you can imagine, including information about the review process that the new system has undergone and the way it is applied to iMessage in particular, which explains the design considerations that were necessary to apply these cryptographic techniques at the scale of iMessage in a way that doesn’t compromise users’ experience.

There’s more to be done to ramp up iMessage’s security even further as we approach a world where quantum computers are a threat to traditional cryptography. However, as Apple’s report concludes, with the imminent OS updates, iMessage will be “the global state of the art for protecting messages against Harvest Now, Decrypt Later attacks and future quantum computers.”

I’ve heard iMessage security get thrown under the bus a lot lately as an excuse Apple uses to protect its market dominance. There’s no reason that protecting customer communications and market-share can’t both be true. However, I think you’d be hard-pressed to read a report like this one and not come away believing that customer privacy and security are also a sincere goals at Apple.

  1. Yes, these are the sorts of articles I save in my read-later app. It’s a fascinating topic that also helps me fall asleep at night, so it’s a win all around. ↩︎

Apple Says a 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Film is ‘Coming Soon’ to the Vision Pro

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

This morning, I was listening to the latest episode of Dithering, when John Gruber wondered something I’d noticed too. At WWDC and subsequent press demos of the Vision Pro, Apple showed off sports footage, including a sequence from a Boston Red Sox game, but none of that shipped with the device.

However, over the weekend, there was news that the NBA All-Star Game’s slam dunk contest had been filmed in spatial video. John speculated that perhaps Apple would do something similar with other sports but focused on highlights instead of live footage. It looks like that was a good call because today, Apple announced that:

…soon, all Apple Vision Pro users can experience the best of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs with the first-ever sports film captured in Apple Immersive Video. Viewers will feel every heart-pounding moment in 8K 3D with a 180-degree field of view and Spatial Audio that transports them to each match.

No other details about the upcoming film have been released, but it sounds a lot like what John imagined and the sort of thing that could show off the Vision Pro’s capabilities well. I’m not an MLS fan, but I’ll be checking it out just to get a better sense of what the Vision Pro could offer sports fans.

Apple Launches Free Sports App in the US, UK, and Canada

Today, Apple introduced a new iPhone-only app called Apple Sports. The free app is available to download from the App Store in the US, UK, and Canada, and, as Apple describes it in its press release:

gives sports fans access to real-time scores, stats, and more. Designed for speed and simplicity, the app’s personalized experience puts users’ favorite leagues and teams front and center, featuring an easy-to-use interface designed by Apple.

Apple’s senior vice president of Services, Eddy Cue said:

We created Apple Sports to give sports fans what they want — an app that delivers incredibly fast access to scores and stats. Apple Sports is available for free in the App Store, and makes it easy for users to stay up to date with their favorite teams and leagues.

Go Devils!

Go Devils!

The app includes a long list of leagues that can be tracked by sports fans:

  • MLS
  • NBA
  • NCAA basketball (men’s and women’s)
  • NHL
  • Bundesliga
  • LaLiga
  • Liga MX
  • Ligue 1
  • Premier League
  • Serie A

Apple says others will be added over time as their seasons begin, including MLB, NFL, NCAAF, NWSL, and WNBA.

I’ve taken a quick look at Apple Sports, and the design is great. There’s a lot of information but it’s all easily accessible and laid out in an easy-to-understand way. The app also syncs with the My Teams feature of Apple News and Apple TV, pulling my Duke Blue Devils directly from those apps into the Sports app without me having to do anything, which is nice.