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Samsung and Dell Take Aim at the Mac Monitor Market

Dell's upcoming 6K UltraSharp display. Source: Dell.

Dell’s upcoming 6K UltraSharp display. Source: Dell.

Dan Seifert writing for The Verge explains why this year’s CES has been such an exciting one for Mac users:

Though there have been many monitors marketed toward MacBook owners over the years, with features such as USB-C connectivity, high-wattage charging, and nicer than average designs, they’ve typically all had traditional 4K panels and sub-par pixel densities, as opposed to the higher-resolution displays that Apple puts in its devices. There was always a compromise required with one of those other monitors if you hooked a MacBook up to it.

Other than LG’s UltraFine displays, which had quality-control issues over the years, Mac users had no display options that matched the resolutions found on MacBook Pros or the 5K iMac. That changed with Apple’s Pro Display XDR and the Studio display, but both displays arrived with extremely high price tags.

That’s why monitors announced by Samsung and Dell at CES this week are so encouraging. Prices haven’t been set yet, but it’s a safe bet that they will be competitive with Apple’s.

The Samsung ViewFinity S9. Source: Samsung.

The Samsung ViewFinity S9. Source: Samsung.

Both displays promise functionality not found in Apple’s displays too. Samsung’s 5K ViewFinity S9 goes toe-to-toe with the Studio Display’s specs and adds a bunch of ports not available on Apple’s display.

Dell seems to be aiming directly at the Pro Display XDR. As Seifert explains:

Perhaps more interesting is the new Dell UltraSharp 32, the first monitor I’m aware of that matches the Pro Display XDR’s 32-inch size and 6K resolution. It doesn’t have the same HDR-capable local dimming display technology as the XDR, instead using an IPS Black panel sourced from LG, but it comes with integrated speakers, microphones, and a beefy 4K webcam, all of which are lacking from Apple’s high-end option. The UltraSharp 32 may be best described as a bigger version of the Studio Display, as it provides all of the necessary desk peripherals most people need but with a larger — just as sharp — panel. The Dell also tops out at 600 nits of brightness (the same as the Studio Display and Samsung’s S9) and comes with a whole litany of ports, including two Thunderbolt 4 (with up to 140W of power delivery), HDMI 2.1, ethernet, and four USB-A ports. It’s basically a complete Thunderbolt dock built into the back of the display.

I’m a big fan of Apple’s Studio Display, but its price was a hard pill to swallow and a factor that I’m sure has limited its appeal significantly. It remains to be seen how Samsung and Dell will price their monitors, but it’s good to see choice and competition comes to the high-resolution monitors that so many Mac users have wanted for so long.


CES 2023: Odds, Ends, and Weird CES

I was a metaverse skeptic until CES covered my eyes and mouth to the possibilities. Source: Shiftall.

I was a metaverse skeptic until CES covered my eyes and mouth to the possibilities. Source: Shiftall.

Today, I bring you Weird CES, a collection of wacky and wonderful announcements from the past week. But first, I have a few odds and ends that were announced in between my previous two stories and are worth mentioning.

Odds and Ends

The Razer Blade 18. Source: Razer.

The Razer Blade 18. Source: Razer.

There was a lot of laptop news at CES this year, much of which made my eyes glaze over in its sameness. However, there are some notable exceptions:

Source: Stellantis.

Source: Stellantis.

Also yesterday, Stellantis unveiled a concept EV muscle truck called the RAM 1500 Rev., which will follow its owner around like a puppy on command.

Weird CES

During the global pandemic, CES was held online, and there were far fewer strange and wonderful gadgets announced. I’m pleased to report that Weird CES is back in full force. Here are my favorite oddities of 2023:

Source: Blok.

Source: Blok.

You probably didn’t realize that what your kitchen cutting board is missing is a removable, rechargeable screen, so you can watch cooking videos while you cut stuff. The Blok is exactly that, complete with a docking station for watching cooking videos when you’re not chopping and an app for the not-so-low price of $699, plus a $390/year subscription for video cooking classes. I think I’ll stick with my old-school wood-only cutting board with an iPad propped up nearby.

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CES 2023: Smart Home Devices, EVs, and Gaming

I’ve been through dozens of additional press releases and stories from CES and have collected all of the smart home, electric vehicle, and gaming news that has caught my eye since yesterday’s story on displays and TVs.

Smart Home

Source: Nanoleaf.

Source: Nanoleaf.

Nanoleaf, which introduced some of the first Thread-compatible lightbulbs I’ve tried, made several announcements at CES this week. Nanoleaf is jumping into synchronized TV backlighting with the Nanoleaf 4D, a camera-based setup that synchronizes the colors displayed on your TV with light strips attached to its back. Unlike Philips Hue, which offers a similar system powered by its separate Play HDMI Sync Box, the Nanoleaf’s camera sits on top of your TV, where it picks up the colors of whatever is playing. Nanoleaf 4D is expected to ship in Q2 2023 and start at $99.99, according to The Verge.

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Apple Books Begins Offering AI-Based Book Narration

The Guardian reported today that audiobooks ‘Narrated by Apple Books’ have begun showing up in the Apple Books store. The audiobooks are narrated by AI-generated voices that Apple has picked to complement the genre of the books.

As 9to5Mac points out in its coverage, the feature was first announced last month on the Apple Books for Authors website, which offers details about the process for generating an AI-narrated audiobook. The website also explains that Apple is working with two outside publishers to produce the audiobooks. Currently, the program is limited to fiction and romance novels, plus a limited number of nonfiction and self-development titles. Samples of the voices available for each genre are linked on the site and are worth trying. Although the voices are clearly artificial, they’re some of the best I’ve heard from any service.

Although the narration used for the new ‘Narrated by Apple Books’ is synthesized using artificial intelligence, the production of a book is far from automated, with very specific criteria for eligible books and a one to two-month turnaround time. Still, it will be interesting to see how ‘Narrated by Apple Books’ affects the broader audiobook market. Audiobooks are expensive to produce, so I expect Apple’s new program will open up the option to more authors than before. However, as with other AI services, Apple’s could put voice actors out of work as its quality improves.


Apple Contributes Magnetic Coupling Tech to the Qi Charging Standard

Sean Hollister of The Verge reports that Apple is contributing aspects of its MagSafe charging technology to the Qi wireless charging standard, which will bring magnetic coupling to Qi2-compatible mobile phones, including Android phones. According to Hollister’s interview with Paul Golden, a spokesperson for the Wireless Power Consortium:

There’s no reason to think a future Qi2 charger wouldn’t work seamlessly and identically with both Android and iPhones, Golden says when I ask. That’s because Apple, a WPC “steering member” (and chair of the board of directors) is contributing essentially the same “magnetic power profile” as MagSafe to the new Qi2 standard.

Hollister also reports that faster charging speeds are next on the Wireless Power Consortium’s to-do list:

That’s not all the WPC is working on, either! While the Qi2.0 release is largely just about adding magnets — it’s still primarily for phones, still tops out at 15 watts, still has the same foreign object detection, etc — the WPC intends to take advantage of guaranteed magnetic coupling to give us faster charging speeds, too. “When we finish with the spec for Qi2, we’ll immediately start working on a significantly higher power profile level for the next version of Qi2,” says Golden.

I’m glad to see Apple contributing to the Qi standard. Very few third-party manufacturers are using the official MagSafe standard, which usually means they charge more slowly. By standardizing the underlying magnetic connection and focusing next on charging speeds, we’ll hopefully see broader adoption of faster wireless charging across mobile phone accessories.


Dark Sky Predicts Its Last Storm

With the turn of the New Year, Apple closed down Dark Sky for good. Apple acquired the app in 2020 and left it up and running until January 1st as it incorporated the app’s radar and real-time forecast features into its own Weather app. Dark Sky’s API, which was used by many third-party weather apps, was discontinued at the end of 2021 and was subsumed within Apple’s own WeatherKit API, which debuted last fall.

Over the holidays, Slate took a look at the app’s indie success story, which began with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011 that raised $40,000. One thing that I didn’t realize about Dark Sky is that its short-term precipitation forecasts were based solely on analysis of radar images, which didn’t win it fans among meteorologists:

Indeed, Dark Sky’s big innovation wasn’t simply that its map was gorgeous and user-friendly: The radar map was the forecast. Instead of pulling information about air pressure and humidity and temperature and calculating all of the messy variables that contribute to the weather—a multi-hundred-billion-dollars-a-year international enterprise of satellites, weather stations, balloons, buoys, and an army of scientists working in tandem around the world (see Blum’s book)—Dark Sky simply monitored changes to the shape, size, speed, and direction of shapes on a radar map and fast-forwarded those images. “It wasn’t meteorology,” Blum said. “It was just graphics practice.”

I hadn’t used Dark Sky in years when Apple bought it, except as a data source in other weather apps. Its forecasts may not have been as nuanced or accurate as a meteorologist’s, but there’s no denying its cultural impact on the world of apps, which is why I’ll be tucking this story away in my app history archives.


The CES 2023 Pre-Game Show: Computer Displays and TVs

Source: CES.

Source: CES.

I love the spectacle of CES. It’s a relentless firehose of ‘new’ that’s full of over-the-top ideas, vaporware, creepy robots, bizarre gadgets, and, best of all, legit previews of tech that’s just around the corner.

CES 2023 hasn’t disappointed, even though it doesn’t officially start until tomorrow. The show has a little bit of everything this year. As in recent years, though, there are a couple of categories that stand out already. The first category, which I’ll cover today, is displays, both computer monitors and TVs, which have become a pillar of CES. So much so that the confetti and champagne bottles of New Year’s Eve were barely cleaned up before the press releases began arriving. CES may not start until January 5th, but the days leading up to it have become a sort of pre-game show for the main event.

The other big story beginning to emerge from CES 2023 is devices compatible with the Matter smart-home standard. Matter 1.0 debuted last fall with a lot of promise but a small collection of new devices and updates to existing gadgets. Whether manufacturers can deliver more devices this year remains to be seen, but judging from what’s been introduced at CES so far, 2023 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the smart home.

Of course, there are many other interesting stories coming out of CES too. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll be splitting our coverage up, starting with desktop displays and TVs. We’ll have more on smart home devices, other gadgets, and what I affectionately call ‘weird CES’ soon.

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WinterFest 2022: The Winter Festival Of Artisanal Software [Sponsor]

WinterFest 2022: The Festival of Artisanal Software is back with a fantastic collection of carefully-crafted software for writing, research, thinking, and more at tremendous prices. As in past years, software artisans from around the globe come together to offer discounts direct to you on 19 carefully-crafted apps and a book collection to assist you with everyday knowledge work:

  • Aeon Timeline: The timeline tool for creative thinking
  • BBEdit: The leading text and code editor for the Mac
  • Bookends: The reference manager you’ve been looking for
  • DEVONagent Pro: Your smart research assistant
  • DEVONthink: Your powerful information and knowledge manager
  • Easy Data Transform: Merge, clean, reformat data without coding
  • Hookmark: Supplies the missing links
  • HoudahGeo: Photo geotagging for Mac
  • HoudahSpot: Powerful file search
  • HyperPlan: Flexible visual planner
  • ImageFramer Pro: Add creative borders and frames to photos
  • Panorama X: Collect, organize, and understand your data
  • Scapple: Quickly capture and connect ideas
  • Scrivener: Your complete writing studio
  • SmallCubed Mail Suite: Manage mail like a maven
  • Take Control Books: eBooks from top authors that help you navigate the latest Apple tech and apps
  • Tinderbox: Visualize and organize your notes, plans, and ideas
  • Trickster: Your recently used files, at your fingertips
  • Yojimbo: The Mac app that empowers users to effortlessly and securely manage the onslaught of information

There are no gimmicks, no bundles, no gotchas – just saving of hundreds of dollars on great software from thoughtful developers. 

Visit the WinterFest website now for links to these amazing deals or use the coupon code Winterfest2022 at checkout.

Also, in mid-January, the WinterFest folks are organizing an online symposium about the art and craft of software. There will be interviews and panel discussions with leading designers and thinkers, tackling the big issues in software design, including:

  • Interlinked systems 
  • Tiny methods, tiny objects
  • Software ecologies
  • AI, agents, and self-organizing documents
  • Test-driven development and Improvisatory architecture
  • Community and synergy
  • Digital humanities

Stay tuned for more information soon.

Our thanks to WinterFest 2022 for its support of MacStories this week.

Apple Arcade Has Carved Out a Unique Niche in the Videogame Market, but Is It Sustainable?

With the introduction of the App Store, mobile gaming took off, quickly becoming the number one driver of revenue for the store. By the time Apple Arcade was released, more than a decade later, mobile games were dominated by free-to-play titles supported with ads or In-App-Purchases, virtual toll booths designed to interrupt the fun until the player paid with their time or money to continue.

This week, in an interview with CNET’s Shelby Brown, Matt Fischer, Apple’s vice president of the App Store, explained that Apple Arcade was created to eliminate those toll booths:

…many users are also looking for game experiences they can enjoy without interruptions, [and] without having to pay up-front for each title. So we saw an opportunity to bring an exceptional set of games together for players who want unlimited access to an evolving catalog of great games, all for a low monthly price, all without in-game ads or in-app purchases.

That perspective fits well with Eddy Cue’s comments to BuzzFeed in 2015 about gaming on the Apple TV, four years before Apple Arcade launched:

When we first announced the iPhone, we didn’t tout it as a gaming device. But games became a huge part of iPhone, because it turns out that a lot more people than just hardcore gamers love games. We expanded the market. I think the vast majority of people around the world probably aren’t looking to buy an Xbox or PlayStation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy playing games. I think Apple TV expands the gaming market to those people.

Those two quotes are about as good an explanation of Apple’s approach to Arcade as any I’ve seen. The $4.99 per month subscription is designed to appeal to people who like videogames but aren’t likely to play console or desktop games and who would rather pay a monthly fee than be interrupted by ads or In-App Purchases.

That’s not to say that Arcade isn’t testing new ideas, though. A good example is Dead Cells, a big hit before it debuted on the App Store in 2019. Dead Cells has always been a paid-up-front title, with paid DLC that was released periodically in the years that followed. Now, it, too, is available on Apple Arcade as Dead Cells+, a version that collects the original game and all DLC for subscribers.

Apple has also expanded its Arcade catalog with App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, which, unlike Arcade Originals, don’t always support the Mac or Apple TV. According to Fischer:

Over time, something we heard consistently from players was that they wanted more casual titles, along with many of the richer Arcade Originals in the catalog. So we saw another great opportunity to offer our subscribers a collection of classic games along with award-winning titles from the App Store, but with all the benefits that players love about the service. In April 2021, we introduced two new categories of games, App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, to expand the catalog.

Those titles, along with Originals and others, have grown Apple Arcade into a much more diverse and interesting service than it was when it debuted in 2019. However, games that were previously only available on consoles and desktop computers are increasingly coming to handheld devices like the Steam Deck. Arcade has some titles that rival console releases, but the selection is limited. With more competitors’ devices handling everything from casual games to console and desktop releases, both locally and via game streaming services, I won’t be surprised if competitors start chipping away at the position Apple has carved out for itself in the videogame industry. How Apple reacts will be one of the stories worth keeping an eye on in 2023.