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Apple Announces HomePod Available to Order This Friday, In Stores on February 9

Today in a press release, Apple announced that its HomePod device will be available to order beginning this Friday (January 26) for the previously announced price of $349, and will ship for a release date of Friday, February 9. HomePod will be available in two color options: White and Space Grey.

HomePod was first unveiled last June during Apple's WWDC keynote, with an announced ship date of December. It wasn't able to make that date, receiving a new 'Early 2018' estimated release in mid-November. Historically, that kind of designation has meant anytime up through April is possible. Fortunately, prospective HomePod buyers won't have to wait quite that long.

As Apple's first entry into the smart speaker market, HomePod is the company's answer to popular products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Unlike those other devices, however, HomePod is being marketed more as a premium-quality speaker, primed for music playback, than as a digital assistant hub. Siri is certainly an important component of the device, but at least for now, its role is being somewhat downplayed. At WWDC Phil Schiller announced that at launch, the HomePod's version of Siri will only support a limited number of domains.

While these domains cover the majority of Siri's normal functionality on iOS devices, some notable categories missing that would make sense for the HomePod include calendars, audiobook playback using iBooks, and Notes. With the HomePod's release so early in the year, it's possible we'll receive word on additional domains at WWDC this June. Until then, what you're getting with HomePod is exactly what Apple announced onstage: a powerful home speaker with Apple Music integration, which also happens to be a HomeKit hub that includes Siri, but in limited capacity.

One standout piece of news in today's announcement is that the HomePod's multi-room audio capabilities won't be available at launch, but instead will come later through a software update. This seemingly supports previous rumors that AirPlay 2's development may have been what led to HomePod's initial delay.

Update: The HomePod page on Apple's website confirms that not only is AirPlay 2's multi-room support delayed until later this year, but so is the previously demoed capability to have two HomePods pair together for offering stereo sound.


No Cutting Corners on the iPhone X

Brad Ellis on the very special corners of the iPhone X:

Here’s where the nerd part comes in, iPhone X rounded screen corners don’t use the classic rounding method where you move in a straight line and then arc using a single quadrant of a circle. Instead, the math is a bit more complicated. Commonly called a squircle, the slope starts sooner, but is more gentle.

And:

Now let’s talk about the notch itself. The left and right sides have two rounded corners. Because of the curve falloff, one curve doesn’t complete before the next one starts — they blend seamlessly into each other. As a result, no tangent line on this edge actually hits a perfect vertical.

I love this type of design details. Almost three months later, sometimes I still stop and stare at the screen on my iPhone X to realize what a marvelous feat of industrial design and engineering it is.

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Apple Rolls Out Beta of ‘Apple Music For Artists’ Analytics Dashboard

Speaking of music services, Billboard's Melinda Newman reports on today's beta launch of Apple Music For Artists, a dashboard to provide artists with hundreds of data points about their fans' listening habits.

The initial beta rollout involves a few thousand artists who will test the product and see what adjustments and expansions, if any, should be made before Apple Music for Artists opens in the Spring to the several million artists with content on the iTunes and Apple Music platforms. Later plans call for a mobile app.

The easily navigable dashboard’s home page provides artists with their current number of plays, spins, song purchases and album purchases. The user can specify the time period ranging from the past 24 hours to the 2015 launch of Apple Music.

Other services have offered similar analytics products for years, but Billboard notes that Apple's take features more depth and a cleaner user interface for artists.

In addition to broad strokes, artists can drill down on a granular level in myriad ways. A global map allows musicians to click on any of the 115 countries in which Apple Music/iTunes is available and find out what’s happening with their music. They can select individual cities and see how many plays and sales they have in each market, as well as look at their top songs in every city. They may further examine the listener demographics per city, for example, calling up how many times females ages 16-24 in Los Angeles have listened to a particular song.
[...]
Additionally, artists can view all Apple-curated playlists on which they appear, see how many plays they receive and how they are trending over time.

If you're an artist offering content on Apple Music, this sounds like a pretty cool addition to the service, especially because you can inspect data going back to Apple Music's launch over two years ago.

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Spotify’s Playlists as Musical Events

Victor Luckerson, writing at The Ringer, makes a good point about how Spotify's algorithmic playlists have turned into the cultural phenomenon that Apple wanted to build around Apple Music:

Spotify is in much the same position right now. With its regularly refreshing playlists, which rearrange artists’ music into a new kind of original content, Spotify has become a beloved musical destination rather than just a tool. It’s an iPod and a radio and a BuzzFeedWhich Drake Album Matches Your Personality?” quiz at the same time. Taylor Swift may have a legion of fans, but Discover Weekly does as well. Those always-updating playlists are now the must-attend musical events that Apple was trying to create around exclusive albums and radio shows.

As I wrote many times here on MacStories, I'd love for Apple to consider more smart playlist features akin to Spotify's Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes.

This is also interesting:

Netflix used its power as an entertainment destination to nudge its users to watch its own original programming. Now instead of being indebted to Hollywood, the tech company seems to run it. Spotify isn’t there yet, and successfully making the Netflix pivot will be tougher because music isn’t as valuable to investors as video. Its attempts to diversify with original content have so far been nonstarters, and despite persistent rumors, the company hasn’t yet tried to establish its own record label.

Given Jimmy Iovine's recent comments on music services and original content ("Guess how much original content streaming has: zero!"), I wonder if the future of music may indeed veer towards the current TV streaming model, with albums made exclusively for specific music streaming services (and as a heavy music listener, this possibility scares me).

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What I Wish the iPad Would Gain from the Mac

The iPad is finally starting to grow up.

Despite the device becoming an instant sales phenomenon upon launch, iPad in its earlier years of life was never a legitimate PC replacement – nor was it meant to be. From birth the iPad existed not to cannibalize the Mac, but to supplement it. Steve Jobs called it a "third category" of device, fitting snugly in the space between a laptop and smartphone.

In recent years, however, the iPad has gone through a stark transition. If you want an iPad to supplement your iPhone and Mac, you can still get one in the $329 "just call me iPad" model introduced last spring. But the bulk of Apple's iPad efforts of late have centered on making the device a capable replacement for the traditional computer. The iPad Pro and iOS 11 represent a new vision for the iPad. This vision puts the iPad not next to the Mac, but instead squarely in its place. It's a vision embodied by the question, "What's a computer?"

I made the iPad Pro my primary computer when it first launched in late 2015. The transition pains from Mac to iPad were minimal, and the device has grown even more capable since that time thanks to improvements in iOS. My need for a Mac is now extremely rare.

My desire for a Mac, however, still exists in a few specific use cases. There are things the Mac has to offer that I wish my iPad could replicate.

Now that the modern iPad has many basics of computing covered, here are the things I think it needs to take iPad-as-PC to the next level.

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Jamf Now: Easily Set Up, Manage, and Protect Your Apple Devices [Sponsor]

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Thanks to Jamf Now for supporting MacStories this week.


Installing tvOS Betas Over-the-Air from iOS with iCab and Dropbox

I was trying to update my two Apple TVs (a 4K model and a 4th generation one) to the latest tvOS 11.2.5 beta earlier today to test AirPlay 2 (more on this soon) and, because I remembered there was a way to install tvOS betas without a USB-C cable, I was attempting to download Apple's tvOS beta configuration profile using Safari on iOS. However, as soon as I tapped the Download button on Apple's developer website, I got this message instead of a new tab showing the downloaded configuration file:

I don't know when Apple changed this behavior, but I recalled that Safari wouldn't try to install tvOS configuration profiles on an iOS device. Without a way to manually fetch the .mobileconfig file and save it to my Dropbox, I was going to unplug my TVs and connect them to my MacBook Pro (which usually sits in the closet until it's recording day for AppStories or Relay) to finish the process.

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iOS 11’s Lower Adoption Rate

Rene Ritchie shared a comparison of iOS adoption rates over the years (starting with iOS 7 in January 2014) and, so far, iOS 11 has the lowest adoption of all major updates, four months after their public release.

Looking at the numbers, you can see a decline in the transition from iOS 7 to 8 (iOS 7's troubled rollout affected millions of users for months), a stabilization with iOS 9 and iOS 10, and another decrease with iOS 11 this year.

I see two potential reasons for this. With iOS 11's 32-bit cut-off, it's very likely that a good percentage of users who would have updated simply couldn't because they were on older hardware not supported by iOS 11. More importantly though, the widespread perception that software updates make Apple devices slower isn't helping adoption rates. This time, Apple itself had to confirm that iOS 11 did, in fact, throttle iPhone performance to compensate for aging batteries (a perfectly fine motivation, terribly communicated to customers from a software design and PR perspective).

A couple of weeks ago in our 2018 Apple predictions episode on Connected, I mentioned that I believe iOS 12 will have a focus on speed and performance as a tentpole feature, specifically called out at WWDC as an important effort by Apple's engineering teams. This is just my personal theory, but I don't think new emoji and Animoji will be enough to convince reluctant users to update their iPhones later this year. If Apple wants to counter the narrative surrounding iOS 11 and see these adoption rates pick up again, I think they'll have to demonstrate – not merely promise – that their next software update will have practical, tangible benefits on the everyday usage of an iOS device.

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Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:

The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.

There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.

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