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Posts tagged with "mac"

Front and Center, a Mac Utility from John Siracusa and Lee Fyock

John Siracusa writes on Hypercritical about the new Mac utility he just released in partnership with Lee Fyock. Following the release of macOS Catalina and its lack of support for 32-bit apps, such as DragThing, Siracusa needed a new solution for restoring a classic Mac OS behavior that he didn’t want to lose.

In classic, when you click on a window that belongs to an application that’s not currently active, all the windows that belong to that application come to the front. In Mac OS X (and macOS), only the window that you clicked comes to the front.
[…]
I tried to get used to it, but I could not.

Front and Center is the name of Siracusa and Fyock’s creation. It’s a tiny app that re-enables the classic behavior mentioned above, while also providing the option of using shift-click to engage the modern default of selecting the clicked window only. With Front and Center, long-time Mac users can have both the classic Mac OS behavior they enjoy, and the benefits of macOS’ modern approach, all at once.

Front and Center is available on the Mac App Store for $2.99.

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NoiseBuddy: Control Noise Cancellation and Transparency Modes of AirPods Pro on a Mac

Earlier this week, Guilherme Rambo released a new Mac utility called NoiseBuddy that toggles between the noise cancellation and Transparency modes of AirPods Pro and the Beats Solo Pro headphones when they’re connected to a Mac. The app can place an icon in your Mac’s menu bar or on the Touch Bar and uses the same noise cancellation and Transparency iconography found in Control Center on iOS and iPadOS. The app’s settings allow you to run NoiseBuddy in the menu bar, on the Touch Bar, or in both places. To switch modes, simply click the icon in the menu bar or tap the Touch Bar button.

The Touch Bar in transparency mode.

The Touch Bar in transparency mode.

This isn’t Rambo’s first time working with Bluetooth headphones and the Mac. He also created AirBuddy, which we covered previously. AirBuddy is a Mac utility that displays the charge status of AirPods and Beats headphones that use Apple’s proprietary wireless chips. The app also allows users to connect those headphones to their Macs via Bluetooth with a single click.

NoiseBuddy’s menu bar app in transparency mode.

NoiseBuddy’s menu bar app in transparency mode.

NoiseBuddy is the kind of Mac utility that I love. It takes overly fiddly aspect of interacting with macOS and makes it dead simple. The free app is available from Rambo’s GitHub repo, where it can be downloaded as a ZIP archive and then dragged into your Applications folder.


Apple Announces New 16” MacBook Pro with Redesigned Keyboard, Thinner Display Bezels, and Updated Processors

Apple has announced a new 16-inch model of the MacBook Pro that features a redesigned keyboard with keys that use a scissor mechanism, a larger screen with thinner bezels, and 9th generation Intel Core i7 and i9 processors. The new model replaces the existing 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Rumored since early this year, the new laptop is almost identical in size to the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which is 0.61 inches (1.55 cm) tall, 13.75 inches (34.93 cm) wide, and 9.48 inches (24.07 cm) deep. In contrast, the new 16-inch model is 0.64 inches (1.62 cm) tall, 14.09 inches (35.79 cm) wide, and 9.68 inches (24.59 cm) deep. The new MacBook Pro is also heavier, weighing in at 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg) compared to the 15-inch laptop, which is 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg).

The slight increase in size is thanks primarily to the reduction of the new MacBook Pro’s display bezels, which have been virtually eliminated. The laptop features a new high-resolution display too, which Apple lists as 3072 x 1920 pixels with a 226 ppi pixel density. The display is driven by new AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series graphics. Also, the MacBook Pro boasts significantly-improved 6-speaker setup and high-quality microphones to capture less background noise when recording.

Apple has also returned to a scissor mechanism for the new MacBook Pro’s keyboard. It remains to be seen whether the updated design is an improvement over the butterfly mechanism used for the past few years in Apple’s laptops. Before the company moved to the butterfly mechanism, which allowed for reduced key-travel and, consequently, thinner devices, a scissor keyboard mechanism was used in the MacBook Pro.

The keyboard on Apple’s latest pro-level laptop is also notable because it features the return of a physical escape key. The escape key was eliminated in Touch Bar-enabled MacBook Pros in favor of a software escape key on the Touch Bar, but the latest model shortens the Touch Bar to make room for a physical escape key, which many users missed. The new keyboard also features an inverted-T arrow key layout. Apple says:

The 16-inch MacBook Pro features a new Magic Keyboard with a refined scissor mechanism that delivers 1mm of key travel and a stable key feel, as well as an Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a responsive key press. Incorporating extensive research and user studies focused on human factors and key design, the 16-inch MacBook Pro delivers a keyboard with a comfortable, satisfying and quiet typing experience. The new Magic Keyboard also features a physical Escape key and an inverted-“T” arrangement for the arrow keys, along with Touch Bar and Touch ID, for a keyboard that delivers the best typing experience ever on a Mac notebook.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro also features an updated Intel 9th generation i7 and i9 processors with up to 8 cores. The base model runs at 2.6 GHz, which users can upgrade. RAM starts at 16GB and is configurable up to 64GB. Storage starts with a 512GB SSD, which can be increased to as much as 8TB.

To learn more about the new MacBook Pro, listen to episode 271 of Upgrade from Relay FM where Six Colors founder Jason Snell interviews Apple’s MacBook Pro Product Manager Shruti Haldea.

The new laptops are already available to order on apple.com and with the Apple Store app starting at $2,399, the same price as the old 15-inch model, with deliveries beginning later this week. Apple also notes that the Mac Pro will be available to order in December.


Apple Hits Restart on Game Controller Support

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly six years since Apple added game controller support to iOS. The big news at WWDC in 2013 was the iOS 7 redesign, but for game developers, it was rivaled by the announcement that third-party Made For iPhone (MFi) controllers were coming.

The game press and developers understood the potential of controller support immediately. Even though it wasn’t announced there, Chris Plante of Polygon declared controller support the biggest story of E3, the game industry trade show that was happening at the same time as WWDC. Plante imagined that:

If Apple finds a way to standardize traditional controls, every iOS device will become a transportable console. In a year, both iPhones and iPads will approach the processing power of the current-generation devices. Companies will have the ability to port controller-based games for the mobile devices in millions of pockets — an install-base far greater than they’ve ever had before.

Game industry veteran Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve, saw Apple’s entry as a big risk to companies making PC and console games:

The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform…I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily.

I was right there with them. iOS devices couldn’t match the power of a traditional console in 2013, but you could see that they were on a trajectory to get there. With the addition of controller support, Apple felt poised to make a meaningful run at incumbents like Sony and Microsoft.

It didn’t work out that way though. iOS’ controller support was rushed to market. Early controllers were priced at around $100, in part because of the requirements of the MFi certification, and they couldn’t match the quality of controllers from Sony and Microsoft.

As anticipated, controller support was extended to the Apple TV when its App Store launched in 2015. Initially, it looked as though Apple would allow game developers to require a controller. In the end, though, the company went an entirely different direction by requiring that games support the Apple TV Remote, a decision that complicated development and dumbed down controller integration to match the remote’s limited input methods. Apple changed course eventually, and now lets developers require controllers, but by the time of that change the damage had been done. Many developers had already lost interest in controller support. It didn’t help either that for a very long time, the App Store didn’t indicate which games were compatible with MFi controllers, leaving the void to be filled by third-party sites.

Last year, when I looked back at the history of games on the App Store for its tenth anniversary, I came away pessimistic about the future of games on Apple’s platforms. After a decade, I felt like we were still asking the same question that Federico posed in 2013:

Will Apple ever develop a culture and appreciation for gaming as a medium, not just an App Store category?

Sadly, Federico’s question remains as relevant today as it was six years ago. Still, I’m cautiously optimistic based on what’s happened in the past year. Part of that is the App Store editorial team’s excellent track record of championing high-quality games in the stories published on the App Store. Another factor is Apple Arcade, the game subscription service we still don’t know a lot about, but which appears designed to showcase high-quality, artistically important games.

The latest cause for optimism is Apple’s announcement at WWDC this past June that iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS would all support the Sony DualShock 4 and Bluetooth-based Xbox controllers when Apple’s OSes are updated this fall. The reaction from developers and other observers was a combination of surprise and excitement that was uncannily similar to the MFi announcement in 2013. Yet, the news begs the question: ‘How is this time any different?’ The answer to that question lies in how the new controllers work and the role they will play in Arcade.

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NetNewsWire Review: The Mac RSS Client, Rebooted with a Solid Foundation for the Future

After Google Reader disappeared, a lot of people drifted away from RSS readers. For many, social networks like Twitter filled the void, leading some observers to declare the death of RSS. However, a funny thing happened in the aftermath of Google Reader’s demise. New sync services arose, and RSS readers flourished on iOS, where competition to provide users with new and innovative ways to read their favorite feeds has been fierce.

However, feed reader options haven’t been nearly as robust on the Mac. As I’ve noted before, many of my favorite RSS readers for iOS don’t have Mac counterparts, and those that do haven’t been developed with the same regularity we’ve seen on iOS. It’s into this landscape that NetNewsWire 5 launches today.

If you’ve been using RSS for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard of NetNewsWire, but may not be aware of its long history. The app’s roots stretch back to 2002 with NetNewsWire Lite 1.0, which Brent Simmons developed. In 2005, the app was purchased by NewsGator, then Black Pixel bought the app in 2011.

Simmons began working on a new open-source RSS reader called Evergreen in 2015. But then in 2018, he reacquired the rights to NetNewsWire from Black Pixel, bringing the app back to where it started for the first time in 13 years.

NetNewsWire comes with a built-in set of feeds to get newcomers started.

NetNewsWire comes with a built-in set of feeds to get newcomers started.

NetNewsWire 5 is an all-new, free app rebuilt from the ground up using Evergreen’s code, but bearing the name of Simmons’ original feed reader. The time and hard work by Simmons and other contributors to the open-source project are apparent. NetNewsWire 5 is a thoughtfully-designed, fast app with powerful search. The app won’t be my primary Mac feed reader until it has more syncing options or the planned iOS version is released, but if your feed reading is limited to the Mac or you use Feedbin to sync your feeds to iOS, NetNewsWire is an excellent choice.

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Swapping Dongles for a Dock: The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

By limiting its laptops to Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports, Apple has been able to continue its relentless pursuit of thinness. That’s great when you’re on the go. However, if an Apple laptop is your primary computer, the number and lacking diversity of ports is problematic. When you’re back at home or work, connecting legacy USB-A devices, SD and microSD cards, and Ethernet and HDMI cables requires an array of often expensive dongles and cables that quickly fill up the available ports on your Mac.

When I commuted to downtown Chicago for work, I carried a 2016 MacBook Pro with me. At the end of the day when I returned home, I sat the laptop on my desk and plugged in a bunch of cables and dongles, which was a pain. Because I work from home now, I don’t use my MacBook Pro that way very often anymore, except in the summertime when that laptop becomes a testbed for the latest macOS beta. I’ve been trying to work on the macOS beta from a MacBook Pro as much as possible over the summer, and the experience has caused me to revisit the frustration of unplugging cables and dongles every time I want to leave my desk and work elsewhere.

I had been thinking about ways to improve my summertime beta setup when Other World Computing offered to send me its OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock to test. I took them up on the offer, and having used it for a while now, I love the convenience of being able to connect everything to my MacBook Pro with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. It’s not an inexpensive solution, but compared to the cost of purchasing multiple over-priced dongles, it’s not as extravagant as it might seem at first.

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Marzipan: A Chance to Revitalize the Mac App Ecosystem

My annual practice of deciding which Mac apps qualify as ‘must-haves’ is always an interesting exercise. At the core of this reflection is a simple question: ‘Why?’ Why this app instead of another one? Sometimes it’s an app that stands out from its competitors, making the choice easy. Other times it’s a unique feature that fits well with the way I work. Most of the apps I include in my annual round-ups fit into one of those categories.

Last year though, too many apps fell into a couple of different, troubling categories. First, I tolerate a handful of underwhelming apps because they’re associated with services I like or which are essential to my work. Apps like Slack, Skype, and Trello fall into this category. Second, there are apps like Due and Reeder that I like, but either they don’t get much attention or have fallen behind compared to alternatives on iOS. Fortunately, these apps are still in the minority among the apps I use regularly. For every disappointment, there are apps like Things, Ulysses, MindNode, iA Writer, Screens, and Yoink that are not only a pleasure to use on macOS, but offer excellent iOS apps too.

Still, as I covered in the conclusion of my 2018 must-have Mac apps round-up, the exercise of going through the Mac apps I use left me with an uneasy feeling:

there’s an interesting contrast between what I consider must-haves on iOS and the Mac. On iOS, many of the apps I consider must-haves are compelling because of a single feature that sets one app apart from others or because it fits especially well with how I work. Too often that’s not the case on the Mac. I find myself explaining that I use a particular app because ‘it gets the job done.’ That’s because there are too few alternatives to some apps, which is a shame.

Mac apps are not in a state of crisis, but at the same time, the universe of Mac apps is not nearly as big or diverse as iOS. That’s not surprising given that the number of iOS devices in use is roughly 10x the number of Macs in use. As someone who works on and studies both platforms though, the trends are troubling.

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(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Apple needed to show developers that Carbon was going to be a real and valid way forward, not just a temporary stopgap, so they committed to using Carbon for the Mac OS X Finder. The Carbon version of Finder was introduced in Mac OS X Developer Preview 2, before Aqua was revealed; it acted a bit more like NeXT’s, in that it had a single root window (File Viewer) that had a toolbar and the column view, but secondary windows did not. At this stage, Apple didn’t quite know what to do with the systemwide toolbars it had inherited from NEXTSTEP.

[…]

It had taken Apple four years to find the new ‘Mac-like’, and this is the template Mac OS X has followed ever since. Here we are, eighteen years later, and all of the elements of the Mac OS X UI are still recognizable today. So much of what we think of the Mac experience today came from NEXTSTEP, not Mac OS at all. AppKit, toolbars, Services, tooltips, multi-column table views, font & color pickers, the idea of the Dock, application bundles, installer packages, a Home folder, multiple users; you might even be hard-pressed to find a Carbon app in your Applications folder today (and Apple has announced that they won’t even run in the next version of macOS).

Fascinating read by Steve Troughton-Smith on how Apple transitioned from NeXTSTEP to Mac OS X between 1997 and 2001. The purpose of this analysis, of course, isn’t to simply reminisce about the NeXT acquisition but to provide historical context around the meaning of “Mac-like” by remembering what Apple did when the concept of “Mac-like” had to be (re)created from scratch.

Apple is going to be facing a similar transition soon with the launch of UIKit on the Mac; unlike others, I do not believe it means a complete repudiation of whatever “Mac-like” stands for today. The way I see it, it means the idea of “Mac-like” will gradually evolve until it reaches a state that feels comfortable and obvious. I’m excited to see the first steps of this new phase in a couple of weeks.

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