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  • Bloomberg attacks Apple TV as failing to be "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product"

    Bloomberg is doubling down on its narrative of Apple as an incompetent, poorly managed company with a perpetual strategy of failure that can't quite pull off its iPhone Magic in everything else the company does. However, the site's facts and analysis of the TV opportunity are seriously flawed.

    Yesterday, John Gruber of the Daring Fireball skewered a Bloomberg article published by Alex Webb and Alex Sherman, which similarly offered myopic criticism of Apple's acquisition savvy. Gruber observed that it "consists of quotes from investment bankers arguing that Apple should hire investment bankers to make more large acquisitions. Really, that's it."

    Today, Bloomberg published another piece by Mark Gurman targeting Apple TV, complaining that the product--along with rumored upgrades offering 4K resolution and support for Wide Color--"probably?aren't enough to?turn the gadget into a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product," while citing anonymous sources as saying that "Apple engineers have been forced to compromise on?Apple's vision of revolutionizing the living room."

    There are a series of problems with the article, ranging from factual inaccuracies to incorrect assessments about the television industry. Overall, it well represents the populist media narrative that Apple is a bungling, arrogant, ineffectual and incompetent company that can't even manage to regularly replicate its work that made iPhone the world's most valuable technology product to ever exist, and that made it the most successful and transformative tech company in the world--without any context for what real success in the TV industry might actually look like.

    Apple TV not "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product," also, iPhone is not groundbreaking

    "Early on," Gurman wrote, "the Apple TV was going to replace the clunky set-top boxes from the cable companies and stream live television. It never happened."

    Gurman didn't point out that other companies actually did exactly what he says Apple tried but decided not to do; Surprise: they weren't successful. Gurman didn't point out that other companies actually did exactly what he says Apple tried but decided not to do; Surprise: they weren't successful

    A decade before Apple TV was first announced, Microsoft acquired WebTV (a startup cofounded by former Apple engineer Steve Perlman) and launched an effort into replacing set top boxes and streaming Internet content to televisions.

    Later rebranded as MSN TV, the product was everything that Bloomberg portrayed Apple TV engineers as "secretly wanting" Apple's own box to be. Despite lots of investment from Microsoft and partnerships with major television vendors, MSN TV proved to be a major dud, not "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product."

    After years of pursuing various initiatives involving Windows Media Center and TV set top boxes with DVRs, cable cards and TV tuners, Microsoft's current video efforts now look a lot more like Apple's: direct digital downloads, rentals and media subscriptions.

    Gurman next wrote that the Apple TV "team debated bundling a gaming controller with the current?model?to better compete with Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation. That didn't happen either."

    Across two decades, lots of people have enjoyed playing Xbox and PlayStation, and both have achieved a measure of commercial success. However, neither product line has achieved anything near being "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product."

    The top selling console, PlayStation 2, reached record sales of 155 million units across 12 years. PS3 sold a total of around 80 million units. Apple sold over 78 million iPhones last quarter, and over one billion iPhones since 2007. Nothing comes close to iPhone, so comparing every new product Apple makes to iPhone is obvious, lazy, cliche, meaningless sensationalism.

    Gurman then jumped to voice, writing that "Originally, [Apple TV] viewers were going to be able?to shout commands from the couch to the Apple TV. Instead they must talk to?the remote control."

    Amazon's Fire TV does allow users to "shout commands from the couch," but this did not successfully create "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product" or market opportunity either.

    According to U.S. market research published by Parks Associates last summer, Amazon media player products narrowly out-shipped Apple TV (for a 22 vs 20 percent share of the market) in 2015, but that also includes USB sticks, which made up half of the total units. So despite a major price advantage and voice-shouting features, Amazon's Fire TV box performed worse than Apple TV in the U.S., let alone globally.

    Bizarrely, Gurman next complains that "Apple has essentially settled for turning the television set?into a giant iPhone: a cluster of apps with a store."

    Ironically, iPhone actually is the only thing close that's ever been close to "a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product," yet Gurman cites this as a big disappointment and failed direction for Apple TV to pursue.

    There doesn't seem to be anything Apple TV could have done to escape being branded as a failure by Bloomberg in one metric or another. In fact, there's nothing in the tech industry that meets Gurman's minimum standard for non-failure, not even the very standard of "groundbreaking" itself. Everything is all boring, uninspired failure that doesn't do any of the exciting the things that previous failures accomplished before failing.

    That's not journalism, it's just circular, contradictory, cynical negativity.

    The reality of Apple TV versus the iPhone

    While it first appeared in the same year as iPhone, Apple TV has only served as an incremental force in shifting the cable TV industry because it lacked the market potential that drove iPhone to become the world's most valuable technology product.

    The populist media narrative holds that iPhone revolutionized phones but complains that Apple failed to do the same for television. However, Apple didn't really revolutionize phones. It replaced the mobile phone with a handheld computer capable of running sophisticated computer software: apps.

    Ten years ago, Apple didn't disrupt leading phone makers such as Nokia and Motorola in the realm of upgrading the existing phone experience by adding a new layer of value to the "press or say 4" telephone voice interface. Instead, it shipped a handheld computer, based on its Mac operating system and app development frameworks, with phone functionality. Its phone features were leading in some respects (such as the very non-phone-like Visual Voicemail) and trailed behind in other respects (iPhone was not the "best phone" in terms of making simple voice calls).

    Apple TV presented a similar solution to the basic television: the original model was purely a scaled down Macintosh with an interface limited to downloading and playing iTunes video, as well as playing iTunes music and showing users' iPhoto images and home movies. Unlike iPhone, it didn't get its own App Store until much later. Apple focused on sales of iPhone because phones represented a much larger opportunity than Apple TV did, despite originally being priced more than twice as high ($650 vs. $299 for the first Apple TV model).

    The demand for a sophisticated smartphone was simply far higher than any demand for a smart TV product. Apple can lead a horse to water but it can't necessarily make it drink.

    Many efforts to crack the living room TV market have failed

    Despite a variety of TV-based experiments from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Samsung, Google, Comcast, Tivo, Amazon, Roku and many others, there's never been anything in TV that approached the success Apple had with iPhone in the mobile phone business, nor anything comparable even to Samsung's lessor success in selling smartphones, nor Google's success in promoting Android as a smartphone platform.

    In fact, the market opportunity driving iPhone sales itself has had more impact on the television industry (and video downloads and streaming) than any TV box or game console has. Second in line behind iPhone for having a major impact on television is iPad, which has helped drive momentum toward app-based broadcasting and the digital delivery of television, movies and other video content to mobile viewers.

    Apple has sold 350 million iPads since 2010. It sold about 25 million Apple TVs prior to Apple TV 4 and has been estimated to have sold about as many new models since. Clearly iPad is a bigger TV product than Apple TV. No wonder the set top box languished in "hobby" land for so many years as Apple focused on mobile sales, where the market opportunity was.

    The work Apple put into building its iOS App Store and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) video delivery were financed by iOS devices, and later applied to Apple TV. Apple couldn't have done things the other way around, as evidenced by the fact that nobody else has figured out how to milk similar revenues from the living room--not even Microsoft, which focused its vast market power on exploiting TV for years as the "third screen." The work Apple put into building its iOS App Store and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) video delivery were financed by iOS devices, and later applied to Apple TV

    Google TV failed spectacularly. When Google acquired Motorola Mobility in 2011, there was another rush of enthusiastic anticipation that in addition to buying up a smartphone manufacturer, it was also getting the second largest TV set top box manufacturer (after Cisco).

    "If a cable TV box has the name Jerrolds, General Instruments, or Motorola on the front, it will soon be a Google box," crowed Business Insider at the time.

    "Those brands represents almost a third of all cable boxes in the world, giving Google a very strong foothold in the living room," it added. "The challenge for the search and mobile giant will now be to find a way to upgrade all those boxes to support the Android Operating System."

    That expectation turned out to be completely wrong. Google ended up selling cheap USB dongles as a simple way to get Android phone content on TVs in competition with Apple's AirPlay, but didn't make any real progress in monetizing the living room via TV boxes. Its subsequent Android TV was a flop, and many parallel efforts to apply Android's phone success to television set top boxes or gaming devices similarly fizzled into obscurity.

    Ask a disgruntled engineer or a failed TV analyst for insight on Apple TV

    Anyone who works around the tech industry knows there are plenty of engineers ready to complain about executive decisions they had to work under. Not surprisingly, Bloomberg found one for its "report" on why Apple TV is no "groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product."

    Gurman's article included the line "that's not what I signed up for. I signed up for revolutionary. We got evolutionary," attributed to "one of the people, who requested anonymity to talk freely about internal company matters," ostensibly an Apple TV engineer team member.

    As noted above, Apple has plenty of TV box competitors, none of whom have really revolutionized the TV box. Perhaps the reason is that there's not enough opportunity for revolution to happen. Or maybe a revolution isn't needed, and incremental evolution is serving demand well enough. Given that the TV media streaming market is being led by sales of cheap USB dongles, it would appear that most of us peasants are largely content with the status quo and aren't looking to finance a revolution in watching TV.

    Gurman also cited Gene Munster (who he describes as having "covered?Apple for more than a decade?as a Piper Jaffray analyst") as stating, "Apple TV begs the question: Why does Apple do hobbies? Either do it right or don't do it at all."

    However, Munster has been the pinnacle of wrong in his analysis of Apple and the television market, to the point where it is a widely recognized joke that Munster perpetually predicted that Apple would ship a television that cost twice as much everyone else's, and make tons of money on it. Munster's predictions were not only wrong over and over, but farcically absurd and simplistically unsophisticated at the core.

    iPhone achieved a major market position by adding value to phones sufficient to drive Average Selling Prices of smartphones from around $100-300 up to today's $700 via iPhone 7 Plus. There's zero evidence that a slick user interface or apps platform could similarly raise the value of televisions. In fact, the demand for basic USB sticks and the limited interest in Apple TV even at a much lower price point ($149) demonstrates that there simply isn't as much commercial opportunity among TV buyers.

    Add in the fact that consumers typically don't regularly replace their televisions after paying between $500-$1500 for one, and its clear why Apple largely focused upon its core competency in mobile computers, selling iPhones and iPads rather than trying to sell big, stationary televisions with a "revolutionary" interface.

    More Apple TV fiction

    Gurman's Bloomberg piece next made a series of other factually-challenged claims. It noted that Apple TV sales were down year over year, saying that "the slide reflects competition?from Amazon and Roku, whose boxes do the?same and more for less money."

    However, in realty Apple TV 4 sales are slowing because it is at the end of its product lifecycle. Further, Amazon and Roku were also in business when Apple TV 4 first went on sale, already offering those same boxes "for less money." Citing them as a primary reason for Apple's slowing sales of a model last refreshed in 2015 isn't just cliche, it's nonsensical. Macs, iPhone and iPad also face competition from a variety of offerings that "do the?same and more for less money," but this hasn't caused a regular erosion of Apple's sales across the board.

    Gurman also wrote that "while the Apple TV itself isn't critical to Apple's bottom line, it's central to the company's services business because increasingly the living room is where consumers buy, rent and consume media. Services represented almost $25 billion in revenue for Apple in the last fiscal year, making it the company's second biggest category?after the iPhone."

    However, the content that is actually "central to Apple's Services" is not media but apps. Growth in Services in particular is being fueled by apps, not movie downloads. Many of the paid apps available for Apple TV are free downloads for customers who have already purchased those apps on iOS. It's obvious that Apple TV is in no way "central to the company's services business."

    Source: Asymco

    Gurman next stated that the original Apple TV, "previewed by Steve Jobs in 2006" was "designed simply to stream iTunes video from a Mac to a TV?set."

    That's also false. The original Apple TV was oriented around content downloads to its hard drive, not "simply" streaming iTunes video from a Mac. It could also incrementally download purchased or rental content for immediate viewing from the iTunes Store.

    "The next version," he wrote, "launched in the fall of 2010, let?users stream content from the internet." Actually, the iOS version only allowed users to stream from the Internet as it lacked significant local storage to hold a library of direct downloads.

    Gurman also wrote "the latest box was announced in September 2015, a few months later than originally scheduled." However, Apple TV 4 did not have an earlier "scheduled release date." It was not announced until it was ready to ship, which was at an event alongside iPad Pro.

    Gurman also complained "the latest Apple TV sells for?$149, more than twice as much as?its predecessor, $60 more than Amazon's Fire TV?and $20 more than the priciest Roku." However, Roku makes relatively little from hardware, and earns most of its revenues from reselling content subscriptions or advertising. It is a tiny business compared to any of Apple's. And despite very low pricing, Apple's market share remains roughly equal with rivals selling far cheaper solutions, whether Roku or Google's $35 Chromecast dongles.

    A core misunderstanding of Apple

    Gurman also took issue with Apple TV reselling "services like Hulu," or requiring users to "log in with an existing cable subscription." But Apple can't unilaterally change how content owners offer to sell their content. If Hulu's business model deserves criticism, it's Hulu's network owners who are to blame, not Apple. Apple obviously would rather sell standalone apps and content and make money the way it does in the iOS App Store. But unlike its own iOS apps, Apple doesn't control the content of its partner networks and subscription sites.

    Gurman stated that Apple's new TV app "was to be?the main interface for accessing live shows and sports. But when the app was finally launched in December, it merely let viewers?access their iTunes video library and the iTunes Store, functions that already existed on the Apple TV."

    Actually, the new TV app was released as an alternative, content-oriented framework and UI for discovering content, as opposed to the typical Mac / iOS model of presenting an app-oriented interface. It mirrors the content-first model of Apple News and Apple Music, rather than presenting a series of apps that represent different sources of content.

    Apple's TV app

    Gurman also took issue with Apple's inability to lineup universal support for a "skinny bundle," writing that "media?companies were willing to engage with Apple due to concerns about the rise of online services like Netflix and the cord-cutting phenomenon," despite the fact that such a skinny bundle would hasten cord cutting, not abate its rise.

    He states that "media companies blamed Apple's arrogance;?Apple blamed the media companies' inflexibility. In the end, the talks fell apart, leaving Apple to?tout stripped-down bundles from Sony PlayStation and DirecTV."

    Gurman's portrayal of Apple's incremental success in lining up content partners betrays a limited memory of Apple's history with iTunes content. The same scenario played out in music, where labels first refused to negotiate on downloads, then conceded only after their business began to implode. It next played out in video, where studios and networks originally refused to sell their content in iTunes until they were shown it could work. This took years of negotiation and experiment. Apple TV 4 is not even two years old and Apple's TV app has only been around for three months.

    Gurman also called Apple TV's software "less ambitious than originally?envisioned," contrasting that "the current model?features an iPhone-like app grid, but designers had prototyped more novel interfaces. One idea, dubbed 'Intentions' internally, put the four tabs in the center of the screen: three for the Apple TV's main content types (video, music, and gaming) and one for everything else."

    However, Apple's TV app--along with Apple Music and Apple News--shows that Apple's intent is to focus on "merchandising" content centrally regardless of its source or what app it already hides within. The Intentions interface described by Gurman in once sentence does not suggest a better alternative.

    Novelty it itself isn't necessarily an improvement over Apple's "iPhone like app grid," as proven by Microsoft's Metro Mobile offerings, or Amazon's Fire Phone with "dynamic perspective," or Google's floating content windows in Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets.

    Apple TV is not restricted by margin handcuffs

    Gurman also claims that "the?Apple TV is handcuffed by its parent's?addiction to fat margins. Apple is constitutionally allergic to losing money on a product--even if it can make up the difference by selling content."

    This is false on its face. Apple TV has obviously never been designed to claim Apple's typical 38 to 40 percent margins, and Apple repeatedly described it as "hobby." Analysts have referred to Apple TV "margin challenged." That's the complete opposite of claiming that Apple TV has been watered down purely to drive high hardware margins.

    Gurman also wrote that "some engineers initially believed the current?set-top box should be?capable of streaming 4K video, which offers about twice the resolution as the previous generation of high-definition TV. But 4K requires?a faster processor, which would have pushed up manufacturing costs. That would have forced Apple to accept a lower margin or charge more than the market would bear. Apple settled for a lesser chip that debuted back in 2014--and no 4K. Likewise, not bundling a gaming controller was partially a cost-driven decision."

    While it's true that 4K capable hardware would be more expensive, it would also require far more bandwidth, resulting in much slower performance on existing networks, while placing greater infrastructure demands on iCloud.

    Niche vendors who only materially operate in the US, such as Amazon, can offer a 4K streaming product because they don't have to deliver a good experience to a broad population of users. Its 4K support doesn't even have to work; merely advertising it will give Amazon the ability to gain favorable press whether it works or not. And as users have reported, Amazon Fire 4K "support" does not exactly live up to being a strong bragging point in reality.

    A8, Xbox comparisons, Hulu and the skinny bundle

    While Gurman writing that "Apple settled for a lesser chip that debuted back in 2014" sounds incriminating today, Apple TV 4 debuted in 2015, drawing excitement at the time that its A8 chip was barely a year old, having previously debuted as the fast 64-bit processor powering Apple's premium iPhone 6.

    Apple TV 4 is now approaching a year and a half without updates, but game consoles from Sony and Microsoft sit on the market for many years. The current "new" Xbox One was released nearly four years ago. Xbox 360 was on the market for eleven years using the same processor.

    Along those lines, bundling a game controller would have positioned Apple TV as a game console. At its launch, there were only a few titles for the new system; positioning it as a cheap Xbox alternative would have been more disastrous than Nintendo Wii. It would also, quite obviously, driven the price up even further.

    A high quality MFi game controller costs $49, a third the price of the Apple TV 4 bundle itself. A significant segment of its intended audience was primarily interested in TV apps and content, not in playing first generation tvOS games that were already explorable on the bundled Siri Remote.

    Undermining his own theory that Apple is inherently arrogant and doesn't know how the television industry works, Gurman wrote that Pete Distad "joined Apple in 2013 after serving as a senior vice president of content distribution at video streaming service Hulu," noting that he could "hammer out content deals and potentially revive the skinny bundle."

    That means the reason Apple doesn't have a skinny bundle yet is that not even an industry veteran from the TV network-owned Hulu could line up something that those networks currently oppose as a perceived threat to their cable revenue streams.

    Gurman again cited Munster as an Apple and television expert saying, "I think they realize it is drifting sideways at this point," adding that failure to make big changes would result in "losing the living room."

    Again, no other analyst has been more wrong about television and Apple than Munster. The entire Bloomberg article was written like an inside joke.

    Nothing new about Apple TV, sort of like iPhone 7?

    The idea that Apple would ship a boring new Apple TV model this year with barely any changes apart from support for better resolution and wider color gamut is reminiscent of last years' Summer of the Boring iPhone 7, where industry wonks all nodded their heads in agreement with the idea that the next iPhone would be a real snooze-fest.

    The fact that Apple faces greater and more significant competition in the living room, and that it controls a smaller segment compared to smartphones or tablets, suggests that Apple TV 5 will likely be at least as competitive in its offerings as Apple's other recent introductions.

    Support for High Dynamic Range and 4K resolution are obvious guesses, but Apple's savvy in two other areas (Application Processor silicon and Metal graphics) suggest that the company could also bolster its TV offering with support for better video gaming and new user interface animation effects, while also further exploiting the company's ability to feature tight integration with HomeKit devices and wireless speakers and headphones from its Beats subsidiary.

    It's also possible that Apple's recent acquisitions related to Augmented Realty, facial recognition and motion capture could also make an appearance in the next Apple TV, potentially in concert with future iOS devices or a new controller.

    Apart from video games, another area of interest Apple has been talking a lot about applies to sports and health. Further integration between Apple Watch and Apple TV could lead to new assisted physical training and exercise apps, as well as HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit apps that could monitor the recovery of patents at home, or study physical mobility in the general population.

    Apple's emerging presence in the enterprise, in addition to education, could result in new assisted learning apps and collaborative communications tools for companies with workers in multiple locations.

    Of course, it's certainly possible that Apple TV never emerges beyond a token existence as Apple's product offering connected to television. But if anyone figures out how to make money from the living room by adding value to the common television, it's likely it will be the company that pioneered the market for, and then figured out how to best improve, computers, notebooks, phones, tablets, watches and Bluetooth headphones.
  • Exploit hidden macOS and app features with the Option key

    This one often overlooked keyboard button unlocks options and speeds up your work all over macOS -- AppleInsider shares a few of our favorites.

    Apple makes things simple by working hard to figure out what you are likely to need most of the time. As you use your Mac more and more, there are times when the most likely thing isn't quite what you want -- and with multiple ways to get from point A to B, Apple's got you covered there too.

    All across macOS Sierra and in many other apps, the Option key unlocks handy features.

    The Option key is regularly also labelled Alt and with most keyboards you've actually got two of them on the bottom row near the space bar. As you'll see, the way that you use this key isn't consistent, but in every case you're about to learn, pressing it gets you extra options.

    For instance you can use this to skip the "Are you sure?" message when you want to empty the trash. You can close every window on your screen instead of schlepping around clicking on the red button on each individual one.

    You can also troubleshoot wifi and Bluetooth problems or get finer audio controls.

    This is all built-in to the Mac but then on top of that Apple's applications do the same. Microsoft and Adobe don't follow Apple's lead on this but once you've seen what Option does, check it out in any application you're using.

    Option in the Finder

    Any time you're using a menu in the Finder, then you have a choice. Click on a menu as normal or do that plus hold down the option key.

    You can press Option first and then click. However, if you click on the menu and only then while it's open press Option, you can see the change in front of your eyes.

    On the left, the regular File menu from the Finder. On the right, exactly the same menu but as it appears when you press Option.

    Look how Close Window has changed to Close All. Look how you get a new menu item called Open and Close Window. That last one sounds a bit redundant, like it's going to flash open a folder and then shut it again on you. If you have clicked once to select a folder in a list of files, though, what this does is open that folder into a new window - and close the old one.

    There are several changes in just this first File menu and some are available all of the time, some are greyed-out. Those ones are only available when you've done something that can use them, such as select a folder before you opened the menu.

    The reason all of this happens is that by pressing the Option key you've made what's called a positive choice. You're not likely to accidentally press Option and click a menu item, you have chosen to do this. It's your choice and you know what you want to do, so the Mac does it.

    This is why under the Finder menu the Empty Trash that usually asks if you're sure no longer does. By making this positive choice, you've told the Mac you know what you're doing and you know what you want.

    Since we are all prone to clicking in the wrong place, incidentally, there is a handy extra menu item available to Option users in the Finder's Edit menu. Where you usually see Select All, if you press Option you get Deselect All. So when you've got a long list of files and you've accidentally selected the lot, you can just choose this instead of trying to find the right place to click to undo the selection.

    Option and the positive choice are meant to help you. So one thing that Apple does to protect new users from potential problems is hide a special folder called the Library. This is where a lot of settings and crucial files for keeping your Mac running are kept and there will be people who use Macs all day and never once need to go into it.

    Sometimes an application developer who's talking you through fixing a problem will need you to go into this Library for them. Choose the Finder's Go menu and then press Option.

    Suddenly, the previously hidden Library folder is right there in the list of places you can leap off to. Very helpful for troubleshooting, and purging the last remnants of a recalcitrant app.

    Option in the menubar

    Just as you may never need to go into your Library and may actually never even need to know it exists, there are also menubar functions you'll rarely need. Yet, they are ones that when you do need them, you really need them.

    These are handled slightly differently to the Finder menus. You have to press and hold Option before you click on them.

    Holding the Option key, though, click on the wi-fi icon in your menu bar. Instead of the regular list of nearby wi-fi networks, you get much more detail about your current connection.

    Your screen will differ in the detail of the wi-fi connection but also in how many options you get. You may have to wait for a moment with the Option key pressed down before the wi-fi menu fills out to contain all of these extra choices.

    When it does, though, notice that you also get options for getting diagnostic reports to help you figure out what's going wrong with your connection.

    It's the same with the Bluetooth menu. In both cases, the logic is that usually these two just work but occasionally things go wrong - and when they do, it's frustrating enough that the last thing you want is difficulty finding menu choices that help.

    It's about quickly getting more control when you know what you want to do next. So next time you're using your keyboard's volume controls, tap Up or Down while holding the Option key. Rather than just adjusting how loud the audio is, this opens the entire sound System Preferences to let you make finer choices. It's a short cut to switching between different speakers or microphones too.

    Personal Favorites

    You're going to find which of these works best for you, but our three favorites are are at opposite ends of the menubar. Over on the File menu in the Finder and apps like Pages there is that change from Close Window to Close All. When we're done for the day, that just tidies up everything.

    Full disclosure: we use this every day - and we never use it. Rather than choosing Option plus the File menu, we use the keystroke that does this without our taking our hands off the keyboard. You can see the keystroke in the menu: as well as changing what the menus say when you press Option, Apple also shows you a different keystroke to get the same effect.

    So in the regular File menu there is Close and next to it Apple's written the keystroke Command-W. Hold down the Command key, tap the letter W and the current window closes. Press Option and the File menu shows that Close All is Option-Command-W.

    Much as we like that, our other favorite Option trick can't be done from the keyboard and it takes place at the furthest end of the menubar. Hold down the Option key and click on the Notification Center icon to the right of Siri. That immediately switches on Do Not Disturb for the day.

    To switch Do Not Disturb off again, just hold Option and click on that icon again.

    That's perhaps the smallest speed improvement. If you don't use the Option key trick then you have to click on Notification Center, wait for it to slide open, then scroll to the top and click the Do Not Disturb on/off switch.

    Maybe that's the case with all of these -- any individual one other than the wi-fi and Bluetooth extras only saves you a moment, but those moments add up. It doesn't take a lot of time to find another way to your Library nor to close each window individually. Yet it's long enough that it breaks your concentration on what you want to do.
  • 'Xagent' malware arrives on Mac, steals passwords, screenshots, iPhone backups

    A Russian hacking group accused of interfering with last year's presidential election has evolved its Xagent malware package, known for its ability to infiltrate Windows, iOS, Android and Linux devices, to target Macs, according to a report on Tuesday.

    Uncovered by security research firm and antivirus builder Bitdefender, the Mac strain of Xagent is similar to its predecessors in that it acts as a modular backdoor for intruders, reports Ars Technica.

    Once the malware is installed, likely through the Komplex downloader, it checks for the presence of a debugger. If none is found, Xagent waits for an internet connection to reach out to command and control servers, which in turn activate specific payload modules, Bitdefender explains. As a Mac malware, most C&C URLs impersonate Apple domains.

    The Xagent payload includes modules capable of searching a target Mac's system configuration, offloading running processes and executing code. More troubling is the malware's ability to grab desktop screenshots, steal web browser passwords and offload iPhone backups. The latter capability is perhaps most important from an intelligence-gathering standpoint, Bitdefender says.

    While an exact lineage has yet to be determined, the security firm believes APT28 is behind the Mac form of Xagent.

    "Our past analysis of samples known to be linked to APT28 group shows a number of similarities between the Sofacy/APT28/Sednit Xagent component for Windows/Linux and the Mac OS binary that currently forms the object of our investigation," the report reads.

    Circumstantial evidence suggests APT28, also known as Sofacy, Sednit, Fancy Bear and Pawn Storm, has deep ties with the Russian government. Last year, the group allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee and leaked emails through WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election.

    Bitdefender notes its investigation into Xagent is ongoing.

    Today's development comes less than a week after security researchers discovered a new Mac malware seemingly originating out of Iran. Called "MacDownloader," the nefarious software attempts to fool users into downloading the package by presenting a fake Adobe Flash Player dialog, then -- inexplicably and in this case ironically -- another window claiming to be an "Adware Removal Tool by Bitdefender."

    After years of priding itself on its "virus free" Mac OS X platform, Apple is becoming increasingly susceptible to targeted malware attacks. The shift in hacker attention from Windows to Apple products is likely due to the success of iOS, an operating system used by a huge percentage of smartphone users worldwide.
  • Review: BeatsX are Apple's most affordable W1 wireless headphones

    With BeatsX, Apple takes the best of Beats by Dre's line of minimalist earphones in-ear monitors wireless, incorporating the new W1 chip, top-notch materials and unique Flex Form neck strap into a consumer-friendly design.

    BeatsX represents the continuation of Apple's headlong charge into a world free of wires. Started with Powerbeats3 last year, the latest model pushes Beats by Dre's signature sound further downmarket, making it more accessible to iPhone 7 customers looking for a more dynamic -- and available -- alternative to AirPods.


    In many respects, BeatsX is a wireless evolution of Beats by Dre's urBeats, the tiny in-ear monitor serving as an entry-level device to the firm's flagship over-the-ear headphones.

    Both BeatsX and urBeats feature a similar bullet-shaped design with RemoteTalk control and flat cabling. Whereas the old wired version houses its driver in a metal casing, BeatsX makes do with an updated plastic composite shell. The change equates to weight savings, but more importantly allows for the integration of magnets that snap one earbud to the other for necklace-style wear and easy storage.

    The new wireless iteration sports an updated ear tip arrangement that sits slightly askew of the main driver housing, offering a more ergonomic fit that doesn't dig in to a user's pinna, or outer ear. Like other IEMs, Apple provides a selection of four interchangeable silicone ear tips for a more customized fit. Two pairs of "wing tips" are also included for extra security.

    A medium dome tip come fitted to the device out of the box, while a separate packet includes small and large dome options and one medium flange-style tip for enhanced noise isolation. We went with the flange style tip as it offers better protection against falling out during brisk runs or strenuous exercise.

    Following after other Beats models, BeatsX relies on flat cabling to connect each earbud to its onboard amp, power supply and RemoteTalk module. Like other portions of the earphone, the cable is wrapped in soft-touch material that presents a premium feel and helps repel moisture.

    BeatsX can also be considered a variation of the company's new Powerbeats3. Both are tethered designs that connect one earbud to the other via a cable.

    Powerbeats3 packs its working hardware -- amp, battery, communications suite -- onto the earbud itself, while BeatsX shifts those components to two relatively small pods that end up sitting on either side of a user's neck. These -- rather cheap plastic -- component packs house BeatsX's power button with integrated white LED on the right side and Lightning charging port on the other.

    Unlike Powerbeats3, which uses a common flat cable as an interconnect between earbuds, BeatsX employs a springy, malleable metal cable dubbed "Flex-Form." A component pack sits at each end of the Flex Form cable, then outputs to the usual flat ribbon cable that connects to BeatsX's earbuds.

    As a neck-worn device, Flex-Form is exceedingly comfortable, but for some might be a tad bulky. Add soft-touch material to the mix and the flexible cable becomes a magnet for clothes or skin.

    That said, Flex-Form does have its advantages, most prominent among them being the ability to stuff the device into the included silicone carrying case without worry of permanent bending. We tried creasing the Flex-Form material at numerous points, but the special metal simply popped back to its original springy state.


    Beats has a history of tuning its headphone products to reproduce pronounced bass tones, and BeatsX does not stray too far from that tradition. Though not as overpowering as some other over-the-ear Beats devices, bass tones are definitely the star wireless in this IEM.

    That is not to say bass overwhelms mids and highs. BeatsX is more refined than most recent Beats products -- bass is obviously a big part of the sound signature, but the low tones now serve as a plinth for relatively crisp and clean treble notes. The overall profile is dynamic -- and colored -- in nature, much more so than Apple's own AirPods.

    Most importantly, the acoustic customization is not fatiguing, something that can't be said for other Beats headphones.

    While we would not consider tone reproduction natural, the bass-enhanced tuning brings is best for rock, R&B, rap and electronica. Classical, vocal performances, acoustic cuts and might be better served by tweaking Apple's built-in digital equalizer -- accessible in the Settings app under Apple Music -- though we would recommend leaving the EQ off in most situations.

    Testing the earphones with Apple Music, a three month trial of which is included with each BeatsX purchase, the device was lively and responsive. As noted in our recent AirPods comparison, BeatsX volume maxes out a few notches below Apple's branded wireless offering. Still, thanks to a true sealed design, BeatsX maximum listening levels should be more than suitable for all but the loudest environments.

    Battery life and software

    Apple claims BeatsX packs in 8 hours of battery life and our tests found that number to be on the conservative side. We were able to sneak out nearly a few extra minutes of playback time while listening at normal volumes with our paired iPhone either nearby on a desk or in a pocket.

    We did, however, see battery life decrease when taking the earphones into another room away from its host device. As can be expected, there was a noticeable battery life decline during phone calls, as onboard components pulled double duty in receiving signals from iPhone and collecting and sending back microphone audio from the RemoteTalk module.

    With Apple's W1 chip, pairing BeatsX with an iOS 10 device is a non-issue. Simply turn the device on within range of a compatible iPhone or iPad and tap "connect." Once paired, users can check current battery status -- complete with a custom BeatsX icon -- in sound source panes system wide.

    The W1 chip also allowed free roam of our house. As a test, we left our iPhone in one room and walked about one hundred feet away with no perceptible loss of functionality.

    We also had a chance to test the Fast Fuel feature, which juices BeatsX up with 2 hours of playback time with a 5-minute charge. The function worked as advertised.

    In all, Apple's system power estimates appear to be accurate.

    In use

    Thanks to its silicone tips, BeatsX is easy to put on and forget about. The neck strap with its pair of component packs takes a bit of getting used to, but is for the most part unobtrusive. Further, since both sides are equally balanced, users are unlikely to find BeatsX sliding down on one side, potentially dislodging an earbud.

    We did experience some wind and cable noise issues when running, but nothing out of the ordinary for wired headphones.

    To our surprise, we found the magnetic earbud feature to be much more than a novelty. The design lets users secure the earphones as a necklace when not in use, much better than having them dangle free. During workouts, for example, snapping the earbuds together helps keep them out of the way of weights and machinery.

    BeatsX is much better suited for running or walking than gym work. The Flex Form cable is just heavy enough to stay in place during repeated vertical movement. That same weight works against BeatsX for exercise that requires users to lay down supine, like free weight workouts, as the Flex Form cable, hardware pods and connecting wires tug on the earbuds. In such cases, Apple's self-contained Powerbeats3 or AirPods are likely better choices.

    As for RemoteTalk, the feature appears largely unchanged from wired Beats earphones. A small, plastic remote control with integrated microphone located on the left earbud wire, RemoteTalk affords users physical control over output volume, track start/stop, call answering/ending and Siri. Users can perform many of those same functions with Siri, but there's something to be said for having a dedicated set of physical buttons at the ready.

    Outgoing call quality was adequate, but with a single microphone dangling by our mouth, the experience is not up to par with AirPods' adaptive mic selection and beam forming technology.


    Overall, BeatsX is a well-made, decent sounding earphone that works in a variety of environments. Add to that an easy pairing process and solid wireless connection thanks to Apple's W1 chip, and the package becomes even more appealing.

    While we would not recommend the earphone for strenuous workouts, it is more than capable as a running companion, especially paired with Apple Watch. In that respect, BeatsX outperforms its Apple-branded AirPods sibling, fitting more ear types with its interchangeable ear tips and wing tips.

    With Apple leading the charge toward an all wireless ecosystem by axing 3.5mm headphone jack from iPhone 7, and assumedly future iPhone models, vendors are quickly adapting and advancing their own Bluetooth headphone technology. Apple itself is pushing the envelope with its W1 chip, a highly efficient communications stack which is expected to see incorporation into a growing number of products in the months ahead.

    BeatsX is a testament to Apple's wireless future, and while not perfect, it offers a glimpse at what the company has in store for Beats by Dre fans.

    Score: 4 out of 5

    Where to buy

    BeatsX earphones are available now from Apple for $149.95. Authorized Apple resellers Adorama and B&H also have BeatsX models available for purchase with no tax collected outside NY and NJ, according to our iPhone Accessories Price Guide.
  • Apple patents screen tech capable of reading fingerprints without dedicated sensor

    An Apple patent grant on Tuesday suggests the company is looking to leverage its LuxVue acquisition to integrate display technology capable of reading a user's fingerprint without a dedicated sensor, a design feature rumored to see release with "iPhone 8."

    As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,570,002 for an "Interactive display panel with IR diodes" details a touch display that incorporates micro-LED sensing technology instead of the ubiquitous active matrix hardware seen on most mobile devices.

    The IP was reassigned to Apple last April from LuxVue, a small company specializing in highly efficient micro-LED displays and associated technology. Apple purchased the firm for an undisclosed sum in 2014.

    Among other facets, including the ability to completely replace bulky capacitive sensor components with strategically placed infrared light emitters and sensors, today's patent lays out a design for incorporating touch panels and fingerprint sensors using largely similar hardware. Interestingly, some embodiments jibe with rumors surrounding a rumored "iPhone 8" with full-face display, specifically rumblings about an "invisible" home button and Touch ID sensor.

    Apple's current fingerprint sensing technology requires a capacitive drive ring to be in contact with a user's finger during operation. To create a completely clean display surface, as hinted at in multiple iPhone rumors, the company would need to fully integrate, or more likely remove, said drive ring from the fcover glass.

    It is possible that Apple is looking to ditch Touch ID altogether as it moves to a new, more advanced system. For example, a touchscreen capable of acting as an input device and fingerprint scanner would save space and grant greater design flexibility. Finding a working technology, however, is difficult, as fingerprint sensor readings need to be highly accurate, much more so than a traditional touchscreen.

    LuxVue believes it solved the puzzle, or is at least on its way to doing so. According to the patent, micro-LEDs can be used as a surrogate for standard capacitive touch arrays. Specifically, separate IR emitting and sensing diodes connect to driving and selection circuitry to create a subpixel circuit. Due to their small size, these IR diodes can be embedded into a display substrate alongside RGB LEDs or on a microchip mounted to said substrate.

    Dubbed "interactive pixels," the subpixel arrangement could incorporate red, green, blue, IR emitting and IR sensing LEDs (RGBIRSIR), as well as other color arrays, in an extremely high resolution panel. In some embodiments, the system can be calibrated to perform any number of operations based on sensing component input. For example, the circuit might act as a traditional ambient light sensor to brighten or dim displays, or perform proximity detection tasks to shut off touch input during phone calls.

    More advanced features like touch detection and determining the surface profile of a target (fingerprint recognition) are also outlined. Germane to rumors of Apple's rumored iPhone, these latter embodiments operate by bouncing IR light off of a user's finger and back to sensing diodes.

    During operation, rows, or in some cases dedicated areas, of a display containing interactive pixels scan for a user's finger. When an object comes within sufficient proximity for sensing, a bitmap is generated to inform the system of proximate positioning data.

    In some cases, bitmaps can include information about the intensity of incoming light, allowing deeper analysis of the object and its surface. For example, by examining dark and bright spots of the bitmap a sample system can detect corresponding ridges and grooves in a user's fingerprint.

    Addressing the issue of security, the patent notes certain areas of the display might include sections that have a higher density of interactive pixels and supporting chips. Additional emitting and sensing circuits means greater pixel densities, which in turn translates into more accurate fingerprint readings.

    Alternatively, the proposed screen might contain a sufficient number of interactive pixels to turn the entire surface into a fingerprint reader.

    Other embodiments note the use of IR light allows sensing components to remain active even when it appears as though the screen is off, beneficial in saving power and operating the device in low-light environments.

    Whether Apple intends to bring the micro-LED technology to iPhone or another future product remains unknown. The company is widely rumored to launch an "iPhone 8" model this year with an edge-to-edge display. Such a design would require the company to move, hide or delete features incorporated into its contemporary handsets, including proximity and ambient light sensors, and the Touch ID fingerprint module.

    Apple's micro-LED touchscreen and fingerprint reader patent was first filed for in June 2014 and credits Kapil V. Sakariya and Tore Nauta as its inventors.