Juice is a Bluetooth device manager for the Mac styled to look like Apple's Home app. I didn’t expect to like the utility much because I don’t like the Home app's design. It turns out though that for an app like Juice, Home's mostly monochrome tile UI works and the app does an excellent job consolidating useful bits of Bluetooth functionality that are scattered throughout macOS.
Posts tagged with "bluetooth"
The Touchtype Pro is a clever new accessory created by Salman Sajid that aims to combine the iPad Pro with Apple's Magic Keyboard using a flexible cover case and magnets. Sajid launched a campaign for the product earlier this month on Kickstarter, where you can check out more details about pricing and the design process of the Touchtype Pro. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early production unit before the Kickstarter went live and I've been using the Touchtype Pro with my 2018 12.9" iPad Pro for the past few weeks. After sharing some first impressions on Connected, I wanted to post a few more thoughts here, along with some photos.
AirBuddy by Guilherme Rambo is one of the handiest Mac utilities I’ve tried in a while. AirPods connect almost instantly to iOS devices, but the process of pairing them to a Mac is not as simple, often requiring fiddling with your Mac’s Bluetooth settings from the menu bar or System Preferences. AirBuddy solves that problem, making it as trivially easy to connect AirPods to a Mac as it is to do the same with an iPhone.
The app works with a Mac that supports Bluetooth LE and is running macOS Mojave and any headphones that include Apple’s proprietary W1 chip. That means in addition to AirPods, AirBuddy can also control Beats headphones that have a W1 wireless chip. The app runs in the background as a helper process, so you won’t usually see a window or dock icon while it’s running. Nor is there a menu bar icon. Instead, once you’ve adjusted the app’s handful of settings to your liking, the app appears almost immediately when you open your AirPods case near your Mac or turn on your Beats headphones.
AirBuddy has a few settings that are available by opening the app from the Finder. There are checkboxes for enabling the app to work with AirPods and other W1 headphones and display options for picking where onscreen you want AirBuddy to appear when it detects nearby headphones.
Once you have the app set up, opening your AirPods case near your Mac causes a window to slide down from the top of your screen that looks just like you’d see if you did the same thing in proximity to your iPhone or iPad. For AirPods, you’ll see rotating images of your AirPods and their case with a charge indicator beneath them. The same sort of window appears when you turn on Beats headphones nearby.
AirBuddy doesn’t just provide the status of your AirPods though. It also allows you to connect them to your Mac with a single click. There is a Mac Today widget that provides battery status for your Mac and any headphones or iOS devices you’ve ever connected to your Mac too. It’s easy enough to check the battery of devices sitting nearby without the help of AirBuddy, but it’s nice that I can also see that the battery of my iPad sitting two floors above me is running low and should be plugged in if I want to read in bed tonight.
In the past, I’ve rarely connected my AirPods to my Mac. Instead, I used headphones with my Mac’s 3.5mm audio jack because AirPods weren’t worth the trouble. In my tests of AirBuddy though, the app works as expected every time eliminating the friction from the connection process. AirBuddy is so simple and works so well that it begs the question of why Apple hasn’t built this sort of functionality into macOS. For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t, which is a shame. Perhaps Apple will add a similar feature to macOS in the future, but unless and until that happens, anyone with AirPods and a Mac should download AirBuddy.
Rambo is selling AirBuddy using a ‘name-your-price’ model with a suggested price of $5.
Chris Welch, writing for The Verge on AirPods' advantage over other wireless earbuds:
AirPods are the best truly wireless earbuds available because they nail the essentials like ease of use, reliability, and battery life. There are alternatives that definitely_ sound_ better from Bose, B&O Play, and other. But they often cost more and all of them experience occasional audio dropouts. AirPods don’t. I’d argue they’re maybe the best first-gen product Apple has ever made. Unfortunately, I’m one of the sad souls whose ears just aren’t a match for the AirPods — and I’m a nerd who likes having both an iPhone and Android phone around — so I’ve been searching for the best non-Apple option.
But some 14 months after AirPods shipped, there’s still no clear cut competitor that’s truly better at the important stuff. They all lack the magic sauce that is Apple’s W1 chip, which improves pairing, range, and battery life for the AirPods. At this point I think it’s fair to say that Bluetooth alone isn’t enough to make these gadgets work smoothly. Hopefully the connection will be more sturdy once more earbuds with Bluetooth 5 hit the market. And Qualcomm is also putting in work to help improve reliability.
I haven't tested all the wireless earbuds Welch has, but I have some anecdotal experience here.
A few months ago, I bought the B&O E8 earbuds on Amazon. After getting a 4K HDR TV for Black Friday (the 55-inch LG B7), I realized that I wanted to be able to watch a movie or play videogames while lying in bed without having to put bulky over-ear Bluetooth headphones on. Essentially, I wanted AirPods for my TV, but I didn't want to use the AirPods that were already paired with my iPhone and iPad. I wanted something that I could take out of the case, put on, and be done with. So instead of getting a second pair of AirPods, I decided to try the E8.
I like the way the E8 sound and I'm a fan of the Comply foam tips. The case is elegant (though not as intuitive as the AirPods' case) and the gestures can be confusing. My problem is that, despite sitting 3 meters away from the TV, one of the earbuds constantly drops out. I sometimes have to sit perfectly still to ensure the audio doesn't cut out – quite often, even turning my head causes the audio to drop out in one of the E8. I'm still going to use these because I like the freedom granted by a truly wireless experience and because I've found the ideal position that doesn't cause audio issues, but I'm not a happy customer. Also, it's too late to return them now.
A couple of days ago, I was doing chores around the house. I usually listen to podcasts with my AirPods on if it's early and my girlfriend is still sleeping, which means I leave my iPhone in the kitchen and move around wearing AirPods. At one point, I needed to check out something outside (we have a very spacious terrace – large enough for the dogs to run around) and I just walked out while listening to a podcast.
A couple of minutes later, the audio started cutting out. My first thought was that something in Overcast was broken. It took me a solid minute to realize that I had walked too far away from the iPhone inside the house. I'm so used to the incredible reliability and simplicity of my AirPods, it didn't even occur to me that I shouldn't have left my iPhone 15 meters and two rooms away.
Steffen Reich ran some tests to determine range differences between AirPods, W1-equipped Beats headphones, and older Beats models:
Much has been said about the virtues of the W1 chip Apple started baking into their latest wireless Beats line-up and of course the AirPods. By now we know for sure that W1 facilitates a much faster pairing process, as do we know that the chip significantly amplifies both battery life and conservation techniques. What’s less prominently talked about – at least from official sides – is the operating range of these wireless headphones and the presumed effect the W1 chip addition has had on that benchmark.
Obviously, walking a straight line in a park is no replacement for the kind of wireless interference you'd have on a train, in a crowded street, or in an office with walls and other Bluetooth devices nearby. Also, the AirPods are a new category altogether – I'm not sure how relevant a comparison to non-wireless Bluetooth buds can be.
However, these base results are in line with the excellent range I also experienced with the Beats Solo3, which makes me wonder how impressive (range-wise) future Studio Wireless headphones will be.
I keep wishing Apple would license the W1 chip to third-parties – especially on large headphones, it makes pairing and range performance so much better than regular Bluetooth.
Apple seems to get that eliminating the headphone jack will be a tough sell in some quarters. In a packed keynote, Phil Schiller spent a fair amount of time laying out Apple’s case for why switching to the lightning connector for wired headphones and moving to wireless AirPods is the right thing to do. But Apple also spoke to BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski to add context and the detail that couldn’t fit into the keynote.
Apple’s Dan Riccio explained the challenge this way:
”We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space,” he says.
Eliminating the headphone jack helped enable the iPhone 7’s new camera, waterproofing, and better battery life. As Paczkowski explains:
The 3.5-millimeter audio jack has been headed to its inevitable fate for some time now. If it wasn’t the iPhone 7, it might have been the iPhone 8 (or, for that matter, the iPhone 6). In the end, it was simple math that did the audio jack in, a cost-benefit analysis that sorely disfavored a single-purpose Very Old Port against a wireless audio future, some slick new cameras, and the kind of water resistance that anyone who has ever dropped an iPhone in the toilet has long wished for.
Anyone who has used Bluetooth headphones knows that they promise freedom, but at the price of friction – charging, spotty connectivity, and poor audio quality. Apple’s answer to those headaches comes in the form of its new W1 chip that adds a layer of ‘secret sauce’ to its newly announced wireless AirPods that promises to eliminate the pain points.
According to John Ternus, vice president of Mac, iPad, ecosystem, and audio engineering at Apple:
“As you can imagine, by developing our own Bluetooth chip and controlling both ends of the pairing process there’s a lot of magic we can do,”
I was sold on wireless headphones a long time ago despite their limitations. That said, I hope Apple’s secret sauce is every bit as magical as claimed because the issues with Bluetooth are real and fixing them is a challenge that no other headphone manufacturer has fully conquered.
According to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, Bluetooth headphone revenue overtook non-Bluetooth for the first time in June accounting for 54 percent of headphone dollar sales and 17 percent of unit sales in the U.S.
Beats and LG have led the Bluetooth headphone market throughout the first half of the year, accounting for approximately 65 percent of dollar sales.
Not necessarily a direct indication of decline in wired headphones, but a sign that, as average prices of Bluetooth headphones go down, consumers may prefer wireless.
Removing the headphone jack from the next iPhone will be annoying; at the same time, limitations notwithstanding, I can't deny how nice it is not to deal with wires anymore.
For me, the closest thing to achieving the convenience of Touch ID on the Mac is Knock a/k/a “Knock To Unlock.” It’s not all the way there yet for example, it can’t unlock 1Password on my Mac), but let me explain why it has such a place in my heart.
Chrome for iOS has been updated today with support for Physical Web, an initiative aimed at interacting with beacons based on the new Eddystone protocol through webpages instead of apps. Now, Chrome's Today widget on iOS (previously used to open tabs and voice searches) can scan beacons broadcasting URLs nearby and offer to open them in Chrome directly.
From the blog post:
When users who have enabled the Physical Web open the Today view, the Chrome widget scans for broadcasted URLs and displays these results, using estimated proximity of the beacons to rank the content. You can learn more about the types of user experiences that the Physical Web enables by visiting our cookbook and joining the open source community on GitHub.
This is Google's attempt at improving upon one of the biggest shortcomings of Apple's iBeacon: app discoverability. iBeacons can achieve great utility if an associated/compatible app is already installed on a user's device and sends a notification, but iOS doesn't have a simple, consistent way to browse nearby beacons and start interacting with them right away. With Eddystone and Physical Web, Google is hoping that the transition from OS to discovered beacon and beacon functionality (for the smart device) can be smoother thanks to the web. Here's how they explain it:
The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device - a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car - and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.
Essentially, Google wants to give every smart device a web address that doesn't require an app store. This plays in favor of Google's strengths and, potentially, core business model, but it also sounds like a superior solution for some cases if the overhead of app discovery is out of the equation altogether (for more on the differences between iBeacon and Physical Web, see this). The Physical Web implementation in Chrome for iOS looks clever and well done, and I'm hoping that I'll get to play with it at some point. Seems crazy that all this is available in an iOS widget.