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.
Shawn Hickman is back with another excellent update to Sofa, the downtime/media organization app for iPhone and iPad that we’ve covered several times on MacStories. Sofa remains my favorite one-stop app for managing lists of media I don’t want to forget to enjoy later. The app supports TV shows, movies, books, audiobooks, videgames, music, podcasts, board games, and apps, making it the most comprehensive media organizer I’ve used. However, what makes Sofa special is its design and extensive customization options, which is why it was the runner-up for Best App Update in last year’s MacStories Selects awards.
What I appreciate most about version 3.4 of Sofa is that it extends the app beyond its existing boundaries with list sharing and new Shortcuts support. To round out the update, Sofa also adds Lock Screen widget support and TV and movie provider details for Super Sofa subscribers. It’s an excellent batch of new features for an app that I already consider one of the finest in its category.
The Consumer Electronics Show was back this week as an in-person event in Las Vegas for 2022 despite the current COVID surge, which caused many large companies to pull out of the show or scale back their plans. Still, that hasn’t stopped companies from announcing a wide variety of products planned for the next year and beyond. New TV technology and home automation are big again this year, as are new takes on existing tech.
After sifting through the headlines and press releases, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of this week’s most intriguing announcements. Feel free to skip around to the categories that you find most interesting using the table of contents after the break.
Sofa 3.0, an app that I last reviewed in March, is out with loads of new ways to track, organize, and browse the media lists you create. The app also has a new subscription business model for its pro features.
Media recommendations come at us all from every angle, whether it’s friends and family or sources like reviews. You can save lists of books, movies, videogames, and other media you want to try in lots of ways. You could use an app like Apple’s Notes or Reminders, but they’re general-purpose apps that don’t address the specific needs related to media consumption. Plus, trying to track media in something like a task manager gets out of control and messy fast.
Another option is to turn to an app designed for a specific type of media, and there are many good options available on the App Store. The advantage Sofa has, is that it makes it just as easy to pick a book as a movie or something else when you’re deciding what media to try next. It’s a subtle but important distinction. With single-purpose apps, you need to decide what kind of media you want to consume and then turn to an app to pick something. Sofa dispenses with the first step allowing you to answer a broader question: “How do I want to spend my free time?” That a one-stop approach is one of Sofa’s greatest strengths and one that the app leans into hard with the latest excellent update.
Sofa is a terrific downtime organizer. Since its release, the app has seen frequent updates that have added features and refinements that make it an excellent one-stop destination for collecting media you want to enjoy later. We’ve covered the app before, so I won’t revisit its core functionality here, but if you’re new to the app, be sure to check out our previous reviews for more details.
The headline feature of Sofa’s latest update is the addition of apps, audiobooks, and board games to the lineup of media it can track. I’m especially pleased to see that iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps have been added to Sofa. I’ve long considered trying new apps as a form of entertainment. Even poking around productivity apps that most people would consider ‘work’ apps is fun for many people.
The addition of apps is timely given the trend towards subscription-based apps with free trials. If an app catches your eye, but it’s got a relatively short free trial period, you can drop it into Sofa to try later when you can make the most of the trial. The addition of apps also provides a way to track games on Apple’s platforms that weren’t always available in Sofa’s videogame category. However, the change also means that you may have to search for an iOS game in a couple of different places at times.
Apple announced a lot of new software improvements during yesterday’s WWDC keynote, but time was short and one major platform didn’t receive its own segment: tvOS 14. Apple announced new tvOS features as part of its discussion of the home, but fortunately that doesn’t mean the latest Apple TV software release is light on improvements. In addition to features like HomeKit integration, new controller support, and improved Picture in Picture, tvOS 14 will offer a variety of other important updates when it launches this fall.
Here’s my overview of all the best new features.
Apple’s TV strategy has produced a mix of both winning and losing. While I think the company is largely on the right track with its efforts to produce original TV+ content, and it’s also poised to take a cut of many popular streaming services’ revenue via In-App Purchases, I nonetheless think it’s clear that the company’s attempts to offer a great TV experience are failing.
I suspect I’m not alone in saying that 2020 has been a big year for personal media consumption. The absence of normal social events has meant more time for reading, watching shows and movies, and other forms of relaxation.
At the end of last year I wrote about how I was using Sofa, a media list app, to track the TV and films I’d watched in 2019. I’ve used the same approach throughout 2020, and it continues to work well for me. The only change is that I’ve been testing a big update to Sofa for the last few weeks that’s available now. Previously exclusive to the iPhone, Sofa now offers a rich iPad experience complete with Split View, Slide Over, and multiwindowing, keyboard shortcuts, and mouse and trackpad support. Additionally, today’s update adds a robust theming system to the app and seamless iCloud syncing. It’s a strong step forward for the app, making it more versatile than ever before.
Last Friday Apple debuted a special new episode of its TV+ series Mythic Quest that was produced entirely during this season of quarantine. Lacey Rose at The Hollywood Reporter interviewed the co-creators of the show, Rob McElhenney and Megan Ganz, about the origins and challenges of the episode:
McElhenney pitched the idea to his bosses at Apple, who were immediately on board. To pull it off, he told a team in Cupertino, California, that the production would need 40 new iPhones and 20 sets of earbuds later that week. “This was a Monday, and I said, ‘If we have them by Friday, I think we could pull this off. Is that possible?’” he recounts by phone. “There was a rep on the call who didn’t skip a beat. She said, ‘I already have them tracked down. They’re in L.A. and I can have them to you by this afternoon.’”
Three weeks later, Mythic Quest: Quarantine was shot, edited and ready to air. McElhenney and the programmers at Apple feel so strongly about the finished product, which will drop on Friday, that they’re submitting it for Emmy consideration. “In the beginning, I think there was a real possibility that it would be a nightmare,” says Nicdao, “but by the end, I was ready to do three more.”
I watched the episode over the weekend, and it really is something special. It beautifully captures the human experience of this pandemic, confronting the dark moments while also providing a lot of joy. I won’t be at all surprised if it wins an Emmy.
If you’re interested in TV production at all, the full interview goes into lots of nitty gritty details that are fascinating and well checking out.