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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+.

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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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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. ↩︎

Beautiful Things for Spatial Computing

I came across this fun website while browsing the Vision Pro community on Reddit: is a curated collection of 3D USDZ files that you can download for free on any Apple device. On the Vision Pro, these models can be freely placed anywhere in your environment alongside other windows, allowing you to inspect up close, say, a Spider-Man model, a Lamborghini, or, should you feel like it, a first-gen iPod classic.

Here is, for instance, a screenshot of a nice-looking Italian pizza and a Hylian shield just floating around my living room:

Pizza and Zelda? Yep, that's me.

Pizza and Zelda? Yep, that’s me.

According to the website’s creator, more than 100,000 items have been uploaded to the site in the past week alone, and the developers are working on a curated daily feed to showcase the best objects you can view on a Vision Pro.

Fun project, well worth a few minutes of your time even just for opening 3D models of stuff you can’t afford in real life. I hope they’ll consider adding a search functionality next.


Is Apple Collaborating with SongShift on Migrating Users to Apple Music?

Speaking of Apple Music, Apple appears to be testing ways to migrate your music library and playlists from other streaming services to its own.

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Mac, reports on the discovery made by users of the Apple Music for Android beta on Reddit:

Now, Apple appears to be testing native integration with SongShift. According to users on Reddit, there is a new prompt in Apple Music for Android that asks users if they want to “add saved music and playlists you made in other music services to your Apple Music library.” There’s also a new option for doing this through Apple Music’s settings on Android.

SongShift is an excellent third-party app that we’ve covered over the years at MacStories. However, I’d be surprised if Apple winds up partnering with a third-party developer for this sort of new user onboarding experience instead of building a similar tool itself. Regardless of the direction Apple decides to take, a migration tool makes a lot of sense for anyone who is deeply invested in another service but is interested in trying Apple Music.


Vision Accessibility on Apple Vision Pro

I have low vision. A kind you can’t really correct for with glasses or contacts. I also bought Apple Vision Pro at launch. Why would I do this? Well because I’m a nerd who wants to see the future, but also because I was fascinated to see how Apple would handle accessibility for this new product. Apple’s track record on accessibility in the past decade has been stellar, in my opinion, with their teams adding powerful options every year and ensuring every new platform has accessibility support built in from the start.

After watching Apple’s WWDC23 session on visionOS accessibility, I knew accessibility on visionOS was an important point for them. But even after consuming as much information on the platform as I could, I knew I had to try it for myself to know the answer to the important question: how well does it work for me?

Terrific overview of the Accessibility features of visionOS and Vision Pro by Zach Knox.

It’s no surprise to learn that Apple’s Accessibility team did some amazing work for this new platform too, but it’s impressive to see that on day one of the Vision Pro there are already dozens of Accessibility features and accommodations in place. And keep in mind that these are Accessibility options that work with Apple apps and third-party ones, right out of the box. This is the kind of ecosystem advantage and platform integration that newfound tech reviewer Zuckerberg probably forgot to mention in his video.

See also: Tom Moore’s story on trying the Vision Pro with one eye only, Peter Saathoff-Harshfield’s Mastodon thread, Shelly Brisbin’s story for Six Colors, and Ryan Hudson Peralta’s fantastic overview (via 9to5Mac) of using the Vision Pro without hands, which I’m embedding below.


AppStories, Episode 371 – Exploring visionOS

This week on AppStories, we move on from hardware to explore visionOS, where it hits, where it misses, and what we’d like to see in the future from the OS.

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On AppStories+, we discuss the developer strap and how it could potentially gain new features in the future, as well as the idea of using a headless Mac as a Vision Pro accessory.

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Sharing a Vision Pro with Someone Else Is Too Hard

Adi Robertson writes for The Verge about the Vision Pro’s lackluster support for multiple users and how hard it is to share the device with someone else:

The Vision Pro is $3,499 and only one person in your household can ever use it fully, which makes no sense at all. The privacy issues are technically there on the Vision Pro — letting anyone else use it without setting restrictions in guest mode grants them access to everything you’ve got on the headset, including your messages. But as my experience demonstrates, they may not even be able to use it well enough to get that far. You can start a guest session by holding the Vision Pro’s left-side hardware button for four seconds, but you can’t store a second user’s information so they can log in quickly next time without calibration. Basically, imagine if every time you passed an iPad to somebody else in your family, they had to spend a minute poking colored dots.

The worst part of using the Vision Pro for the past two weeks has been trying to get someone else in my family to use it. As a novel type of computer that almost demands to be tried by different people in your life, the lack of multi-user support at launch is a major cause of friction for me right now. I’ve been able to get a separate set of light seal and cushion for Silvia and my mom, but the problem is visionOS. There is a guest mode, but every time someone other than me wants to try the Vision Pro, they have to do the eye setup process from scratch. It gets annoying quickly without the ability to save calibrated presets for other people.

In the demos I’ve conducted for people in my family over the past week, I’ve also realized how hard it is to guide someone else through visionOS for the first time. I wish Apple had built a dedicated “demo app” for new users who try the Vision Pro – sort of like a pre-installed (and interactive) version of Apple’s guided tour, which is also very similar to the demo I had at WWDC last year.


Welcome to Weird

Today, Chance Miller reported for 9to5Mac that the progressive web app (PWA) issues iPhone users in the EU have been seeing throughout the iOS 17.4 beta cycle are indeed intentional, breaking changes. The evidence is new developer documentation that added a Q&A section dealing with web apps. As Chance explains:

One change in iOS 17.4 is that the iPhone now supports alternative browser engines in the EU. This allows companies to build browsers that don’t use Apple’s WebKit engine for the first time. Apple says that this change, required by the Digital Markets Act, is why it has been forced to remove Home Screen web apps support in the European Union.

The upshot of Apple’s answer to why PWAs no longer work in the EU is that it would be hard to implement the same thing for other browsers, few people use PWAs, and the Digital Markets Act requires browser feature parity, so they took the feature out of Safari. Each step in that logic may be true, but it doesn’t make the results any more palatable for those who depend on web apps, which have only grown in importance to users in recent years.

For anyone who was there when Steve Jobs declared web apps a ‘Sweet Solution’ when developers clamored for Apple to open up the iPhone’s OS to native apps, taking them away in the face of regulations that force Apple to open up to alternative browser engines carries a heavy dose of irony. It also illustrates that when the motivations behind software design are driven by lawyers and regulators, not market forces, things get weird. And as iOS 17.4 shows, EU-iOS is solidly in weird territory.

PWAs may not be a top 10 feature of Safari, but that’s at least partly the result of the company’s own decisions because it wasn’t until recently that PWAs became viable alternatives to some native apps. Web apps aren’t going anywhere, and choosing to eliminate PWAs from Safari instead of doing the work to extend them to all browsers runs counter to the open web and the momentum of history. I hope Apple reconsiders its decision.