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CES 2024: ASUS Rules CES, A Grab Bag of Other Announcements, Plus More Weird and Wonderful Gadget Finds

Source: CES.

Source: CES.

We’re only two days into CES 2024, and something occurred to me in the aftermath of ASUS’s packed presentation. We’re in a new golden age of gadgets, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. The world seems ready for something new after spending more than a decade cramming everything imaginable into our phones. An awful lot of companies seem to think the next big thing will be powered by artificial intelligence. Perhaps it will be, but even if it isn’t, we’re seeing a breadth and depth of gadget innovation at CES that’s exciting.

Yesterday, the gadget that stuck with me the most was the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 5 Hybrid. I love the flexibility and modularity it promises. ASUS’s ROG Phone 8 line of mobile phones was a close second with its beefy, game-friendly specs. But neither captured my imagination quite like one of the accessories ASUS saved for yesterday’s presentation.

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Mona: A Unique Mix of Customization Options and Features You Won’t Find in Any Other Mastodon App

Mona is a brand new, highly customizable Mastodon client from Junyu Kuang, the developer of Spring, which is one of the few remaining third-party Twitter clients that still works and pioneered many of the features found in Mona. Mona, which is available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is a power-user app through and through. The app has a dizzying array of settings for customizing the entire Mastodon experience. If, like me, you enjoy the sort of tinkering that Mona enables, you’ll absolutely love this app.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Discord, Photos, Finder and Files, Tot, Weather Forecasts, and More

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

It’s the final week of Automation April, and before we get into the details of the final batch of 10 shortcuts I’ve prepared for this week, I just want to express my gratitude toward all readers – old and new – who checked out MacStories this month, entered the contest, or signed up for Club MacStories. The response to Automation April has exceeded our most optimistic expectations: we received over 200 shortcut submissions for the contest, which is why we’re taking a few extra days to sift through all of them before; look for an official announcement of all the winners next week.

For this final group of 10 shortcuts, I’ve assembled another pretty diverse list of utilities for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that integrate with different parts of Apple’s operating systems. There’s a shortcut that automatically deletes old files from Finder or the Files app; another that finds the unique identifier of a specific task in the Reminders app; there’s a shortcut that gives you a weather report for the location of an upcoming event in your calendar. In case you missed the previous collections of shortcuts, you can find them here and here.

So, with Automation April coming to a close, let’s dive in one last time and check out the details of the shortcuts I’m sharing this week.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Apple Translate, Live Text, Finder Images, Pixelmator Pro, and More

Shortcuts I've prepared for Automation April.

Shortcuts I’ve prepared for Automation April.

It’s Week 1 of Automation April, and as I announced last week, alongside the several initiatives we’ve prepared for this month-long automation event, I’ve been working on 30 shortcuts to share with everyone for free on MacStories this month.

Today, I’m pleased to share the first group of 10 shortcuts that will join the other 250 on the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. These shortcuts are a diverse collection of utilities that have been specifically optimized for the latest versions of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS Monterey. Below, you’ll find shortcuts that take advantage of new actions for Translate and Live Text; there are Mac-only shortcuts that integrate with Finder and AppleScript; there’s even a shortcut that helps you speed up multitasking and window control on macOS.

As always, all the shortcuts I’m sharing as part of Automation April have been tested across all Apple devices and you can install them via the iCloud download links in this story. So grab a good cup of espresso, take a break from the Automation April contest, and let’s have a look.

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Apple Releases a Statement on Its Efforts to Deter The Misuse of AirTag and the Find My Network

Apple has released a statement about its efforts to prevent unwanted tracking using AirTags. The company’s statement outlines its cooperation with law enforcement to apprehend people who have misused AirTags and details the steps it is taking to improve AirTags and the Find My network, including:

  • New privacy warnings when AirTags are set up
  • Making it clear when AirPods have caused a Find My network alert
  • Expansion of AirTag and Find My network support documentation
  • A new Precision Finding feature for the iPhone 11 and later that will make it easier to locate a nearby AirTag
  • On-device alerts to accompany audible alerts that an AirTag is with you
  • Refinements to the logic used to decide when to alert users of unwanted tracking
  • Adjustments to the sounds played by an AirTag traveling with you

It’s good to see Apple open up about the steps it’s taking to address the misuse of AirTags. As I said last month:

This is also a topic where some added transparency about what Apple is doing to address concerns about stalking would help observers decide whether it’s enough instead of having only anecdotal news reports to go on.

Today’s statement is exactly the sort of increased transparency I was hoping we’d see from Apple. I’ll leave it to people with expertise in personal safety to comment on whether these steps go far enough. I’m just glad that those experts’ opinions can now be based on facts instead of speculation.


MacStories Unwind: Halide’s Macro Mode, the AirPods Find My Update, and a Safari 15 Extension to Identify the Active Tab

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Sponsored by: Firstseed Calendar – Best Calendar, Best Widgets

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico rethinks personal task management with Due and a new shortcut
    • John reviews the Roomba j7
    • Peter Zarko-Flynn’s desk setup
  • MacStories Unplugged
    • Federico and John discuss how they advise friends and family about hardware updates, speculate about when the next Apple event will be and what the company might announce, and consider the impact Shortcuts bugs could have on automation across all of Apple’s platforms.

AppStories

Unwind


Hands On with AirPods’ New Find My Support

Yesterday, an AirPods firmware update was released, enabling new Find My features for Apple’s wireless headphones. Before the update, you could use Find My to see the last spot they were used, but that wasn’t always helpful if you carried them around for a while without opening the case before losing them.

With the firmware update, it’s easier to find misplaced AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. From Find My, choose your AirPods, and tap on the Find button. The app will begin searching for a signal and will suggest moving to a different location if it can’t find anything. In my tests, the time it took to locate the signal of my AirPods Pro varied from around 30-60 seconds when they were nearby.

Once Find My detects a signal, it will tell you whether your AirPods are nearby or far away, allowing you to move around to pinpoint the location. There’s also an option to play a sound through your AirPods to help locate them, which is handy once you’re close to them. However, with my AirPods Pro in their case, the sound playing from my AirPods Pro was understandably a little hard to hear. Also, you don’t have the benefit of the directional arrows you get when searching for an AirTag.

The feature worked well sitting at my desk with my iPhone and AirPods Pro sitting within sight of each other, but that’s not a realistic scenario. To get a better sense of the process, I put my AirPods under a pillow and blanket on our couch in another room on the same floor of our house. I went back to my office, opened Find My, and waited to see if it could pick up the signal roughly 10 meters away in a different room.

After about 30 seconds, Find My picked up a weak signal reporting that my AirPods Pro were far away. I began slowly walking through the house, watching Find My as it updated the distance to my AirPods from far to near and eventually ‘here.’ As I walked around and Find My updated, it provided haptic feedback with increasing frequency as I got closer to my AirPods Pro. I tried playing a sound on the AirPods Pro, but the pillow and blanket made the sound impossible to hear. However, the sound wasn’t really necessary because by the time Find My reported my AirPods as ‘here,’ I was right on top of them anyway, and they were easy to locate.

Found outside. Fortunately, my neighbors are used to my 5 AM experiments.

Found outside. Fortunately, my neighbors are used to my 5 AM experiments.

I also tried putting my AirPods Pro just outside my back door. Find My took a little longer to find a signal, and I had to be a little closer to the AirPods, but even though more walls, Find My picked up a signal.

I’ve only tested the new Find My feature in contrived scenarios so far, but I was impressed with the process. The feature isn’t going to pick up a signal if your AirPods are far away, but more often than not, I’ve simply misplaced my AirPods somewhere at home, and Find My should be perfect for that.


Hook: Find Without Searching [Sponsor]

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Our thanks to Hook for sponsoring MacStories this week.


iOS and iPadOS 14.6 Released with Apple Card Family, Podcasts Subscriptions, Updates to AirTags and Find My, and More

Apple has released iOS and iPadOS 14.6 today with a handful of new features, including Apple Card Family and Podcasts Subscriptions, along with Updates to AirTags and the Find My app.

Announced during Apple’s spring event, Apple Card Family is now available in iOS 14.6. Up to five people over the age of 13 can share an Apple Card, allowing them to track expenses and manage spending. All family members on an Apple Card will build credit histories, and parents can set spending limits for their children too.

iOS and iPadOS 14.6 also includes Podcasts Subscriptions, which allows podcasters to offer paid versions of their shows. Shows can be offered as paid-only subscriptions or enhanced versions of free shows that add a combination of bonus features like extended, ad-free, and early-release episodes. The new subscription service is baked directly into the Podcasts app, allowing users to access paid subscriptions alongside free shows.

One of the features of AirTags at launch was the ability to add a phone number to call if a tagged item was lost somewhere. With iOS and iPadOS 14.6, users can add an email address. Also, Apple release notes say that when an AirTag is tapped with an NFC-compatible device, it will show a partially masked phone number.

Apple has also added the ability to unlock an iPhone for the first time after a restart using their voice, which is a Voice Control feature.

Not released with the update today is anything related to Spatial Audio or Lossless streaming of Apple Music content, which is not unexpected since Apple previously said the feature is coming in June.