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  • Hands on: Must-have Mac audio tool Loopback reworked with major visual changes

    True, Rogue Amoeba's Loopback 2 is only a must-have app if you ever work with audio -- but you probably do, so it likely is. The tool for routing audio between apps and audio devices gets a makeover and doesn't add new features but greatly refines what it has.

    Rogue Amoeba's Loopback icon
    Rogue Amoeba's Loopback icon

    In February, we wondered how we ever did without Rogue Amoeba's Loopback app. It's a tool that lets you take sound from, say, FaceTime, and route it into your audio editor. Or, with it, you can take half a dozen audio sources and route them all through your Skype call. Loopback was that rare thing -- a version 1.0 that felt so complete that we also wondered what could ever be added to make a Loopback 2.

    Now we know. Loopback 2 is out and, let's not mess about here, we're going to urge you to upgrade. Yet officially there is not one single change to its core functions -- this is a major update that has no major functionality changes.

    What it has is a completely different appearance, and the change is enough to bring out features you didn't use before. There are actually some small but extremely significant additions or refinements to how the features work, but the focus of Loopback 2 is to get you able to do more and do it faster.

    Using Loopback is not the most straightforward topic to grasp at first. And, Loopback is so solidly reliable that it is a set-and-forget app. You set it up, you actually marvel at how gorgeously useful this is, and then you don't launch the app again for ages.

    You don't have to. Loopback is like plugging wires in on an old audio hi-fi device or a radio station's mixing board. Once you've plugged them in, they stay there and they keep working until you stop them.

    We just mentioned Loopback 1 in a piece about podcasting tools and confessed we'd only opened it once in months. It was meant as praise for a tool we lean on constantly and don't have to think about. However, it is also true that each time we opened Loopback, we'd have to think for a moment about how to use it.

    Main screen of (left) Loopback 1 and (right) Loopback 2
    Main screen of (left) Loopback 1 and (right) Loopback 2

    It's funny how an update can make the previous version seem much older than just a few months. Where Loopback 1 was about menus and dropdown options, Loopback 2 is more about dragging and visually connecting tools.

    Sometimes it's not such a different method. When you have to choose from a great many options, Loopback 2 still offers you dropdown menus. Even so, instead of a vertical list of options that include some drop-downs, Loopback 2 arranges what you need horizontally.

    You always use Loopback 2 to create what appears to be a new audio source for your Mac. You create this virtual device and your Mac believes you've just plugged in a microphone or added some new audio source.

    Within Loopback you decide what the actual audio source comprises. You decide that it really is this new mic or you say that this one new audio source is really the sound from FaceTime, Skype, Safari, Chrome or any combination of any application you've got.

    Previously you would click on the + sign at bottom left to start a new device, then you'd work your way down a form adding sources and making decisions. Now you still click the plus sign, but you go left to right choosing what audio sources you want to come in to this new virtual device. Then you choose where that audio goes -- whether it just goes to your headphones or is sent to a recording app like Audio Hijack.

    That's typically all you want to do, but you can keep going across the Loopback screen to add monitors. If you are sending the audio to a recorder app then you may still want to be able to hear it on your headphones -- those headphones are a monitor.

    Adding a new source in (left) Loopback 1, (right) Loopback 2
    Adding a new source in (left) Loopback 1, (right) Loopback 2

    This ability to connect different audio sources to different places like recording apps immediately brought two AppleInsider staffers back to our days in radio. BBC radio desks used to include a patchboard where you would take output from, say, a CD player, and route it to a DAT recorder.

    Picture an old time telephone exchange with an operator saying "Putting you through, caller" as they physically rearrange cables with 3.5mm jack plugs on.

    That's exactly how radio patchboards worked, sometimes with the mystical incantations provided by an engineer operating on too much coffee, and too little sleep. Now Loopback 2 expressly acknowledges that history by letting you drag what it calls wiring between sources.

    When you first set up a new, virtual audio device and add a source like FaceTime audio, you are automatically shown these sources as blocks with wires going between them. You can delete those wires and then click to drag where you want new wires to go.

    Detail from Loopback 2's
    Detail from Loopback 2's "wiring channels"

    It'd be good to be able to right-click on a line and choose Delete -- there's something in the visual nature of Loopback 2 that meant we found we keep going to do that and you can't. What you can do is click on a wire and then press Command-Delete on the keyboard.

    That's got to be because pressing two keys means it's certain that you really wanted to delete the connection. It's a positive choice rather than an accident. Still, the way that you are clicking first and then using the keyboard means we seem to always have to blink for a moment and think about what we need to do.

    Deleting a connection
    Deleting a connection

    You can remove the connection using the mouse or trackpad but it means clicking on the line and then going to the Edit menu to choose Delete there. For some reason, that doesn't feel any quicker.

    Going further

    Yet in every other way, Loopback 2 does feel quicker because now it's fast for you to see what you want and how to do it -- and then execute the plan. If that were all that this update did, it would be enough.

    However, there are some small but potentially extremely significant additions to Loopback in this version and they're not all visual.


    One that is visual is what appears to be the addition of an item called Pass-Thru. Every time you create a new virtual audio device, you get this Pass-Thru item. Go back into any device you've made before in Loopback 1 and you've now got Pass-Thru.

    You always did have this, it's just that Loopback 2 makes it a visual part of the process.

    Pass-Through is Rogue Amoeba's term for how any of these virtual devices you create can work in two directions. You can take audio from FaceTime and wire it into Adobe Audition to record. However, you can also, using the same device, play back audio in Audition and have the person on your FaceTime call hear it.

    This has always been the case so Pass-Through is not a new feature. What is new, though, is that because it's visual and you can see it in each device you create, you can also edit it. You can't do very much, but you can alter the volume.

    This is a recurring feature across Loopback 2 -- you now get volume controls everywhere.

    In our use, we always wanted full volume being shoved around between our apps and devices. And then it would be at the destination that we'd worry about levels. We'd turn the headphones down, for instance. However, the developers say this is a regular requested feature.

    And it is handy how you can now see Pass-Through as an option when you're recording in sister application Audio Hijack, for instance.

    Using Loopback's Pass-Through option to record in separate Audio Hijack app
    Using Loopback's Pass-Through option to record in separate Audio Hijack app

    Unexpected bonus

    Maybe we just don't happen to be picky enough about altering volume levels. What we are now delighted to find is that we can be picky about exactly what audio sources we use. For Loopback 2 has opened us up to countless more options.

    Previously you could route audio from any app on your Mac but it's not only apps that make sounds. There are also deep-routed system audio sources such as Siri.

    Loopback 2 lets you record audio from any running process on your Mac
    Loopback 2 lets you record audio from any running process on your Mac

    Loopback can take the audio produced by, seemingly, anything on your Mac at all, whether you're aware of it or not. When you create a new virtual device and go to add audio sources to it, hold down the Option key as you click on the Sources section.

    This gives you one extra option alongside all the regular things you can add such as hardware like microphones or software like FaceTime. That one extra option, though, is Running Processes and it typically leads you to more than 100 items.

    Frankly, we lost count on 100 and if you told us it was nearer 200, we'd believe you but also point out that it depends on your Mac. On ours, this list included obvious items like apps we know play music -- such as iTunes -- and ones that we couldn't imagine would ever make. There's a process called 1PasswordNativeMessageHost, for instance, and we do use 1Password but remain clueless what this bit does.

    Still, if it ever makes a sound, we can now record it.

    What Loopback used to do is route audio from any app. What it now does in Loopback 2 is let you route audio from practically any part of any running app you have.

    Small but huge

    You can tell we're excited by that. Maybe today it's just because this is a new toy and we can try out all these options. However, you tend to buy Loopback in order to achieve one particular thing -- and then you keep finding new uses for it.

    This addition of Running Processes plus the way you can more visually work through finding what you want means it has potential for even more uses.

    Maybe we won't find that use today. And if you're looking at this upgrade from a cold, by-the-numbers perspective then it has to be said that you don't get major new features.

    Buy it anyway.

    If Loopback is useful to you then it is supremely useful and there is nothing else that does all this. Just upgrade it to support a great piece of software.

    Or alternatively, upgrade it because you do get a big advantage from the new visuals and because you do get this Running Processes feature. And because if you already have Loopback 1, the price for this upgrade is $49.

    If you don't have Loopback at all, go check out the trial version but bookmark the Store page because you'll be back to buy.

    Loopback 2 costs $99 to buy new and the company offers various bundles that save you money when you buy it alongside other apps. Loopback 2 requires macOS 10.11 or higher.

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  • Hands on with the new features in watchOS 5.1.2

    Apple just released watchOS 5.1.2 to Apple Watch owners with a litany of features despite numbering suggesting is is only a minor update. AppleInsider goes hands on, and shows you the big changes.

    The new ECG app is far and away the most headline-worthy feature baked into watchOS 5.1.2, but there are a number of improvements and features that came along for the ride.

    Relating to that ECG functionality, the Apple Watch is now able to monitor for atrial fibrillation throughout the day, and not just while running an electrocardiogram. Apple Watch already monitored for high and low heart rates, so this just adds additional background functionality.

    With the update, the Apple Watch now has the functionality to access movie tickets, coupons, and rewards cards when tapped at an NFC reader, forgoing the need to open them directly.

    Walkie Talkie availability can now be toggled from Control Center rather than from within the app itself.

    The Infograph watch face gained eight new complications including Mail, Maps, Messages, Find My Friends, Home, News, Phone, and Remote. The relatively small amount of complications was a large complaint from early Apple Watch Series 4 adopters who were limited in what first-party complication worked on the new watch faces.

    Lastly, you can now receive notifications and animated celebrations when you reach your daily max during an Activity competition.

    Preceding the release of watchOS 5.1.2, Apple also released the latest versions of macOS, iOS, and tvOS.
  • Tim Cook says 'no place' for hate groups on Apple platforms

    In accepting the Anti-Defamation League's first-ever "Courage Against Hate" award on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a firm statement in support of the organization and against far-right groups.

    Cook in Normandy

    "At Apple, we believe technology needs to have a clear point of view," Cook said at the League's Never is Now summit on anti-Semitism. "This is no time to get tied up in knots. We only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division, or violence: you have no place on our platforms. You have no home here.

    "From the earliest days of iTunes to Apple Music today we have always prohibited music with a history of white supremacy. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. And as we showed this year, we won't give a platform to violent conspiracy theorists. Why? Because it's the right thing to do."

    Earlier in 2018 Apple pulled Alex Jones' Infowars app from the App Store, citing rules blocking "content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste." That followed the earlier removal of several podcasts.

    Among other theories, Jones has infamously claimed that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a "false flag" operation intended to give the government an excuse to confiscate guns, even going so far as to call families of victims "crisis actors" and broadcasting their addresses. Some of Jones' followers have harassed Sandy Hook relatives or issued death threats.

    "Apple is a technology company, but we never forget the devices we make are imagined by human minds, built by human hands, and meant to improve human lives," Cook said later in his speech. "I worry less about computers that think like people and more about people that think like computers. Technology should be about human potential. It should be about optimism."

    Far-right terrorism has come to the forefront of U.S. politics in the past two years thanks to a surge of incidents, such as the October massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 people.
  • Why Apple is now focusing on users, not units in Fiscal 2019

    Across the last 20 years, Apple has shifted from selling Macs in a world dominated by Windows PCs to being a dominant global brand that services a vast installed base that's more valuable, influential, and lucrative than Windows was at its peak. Apple wants its investors to understand that, and is now challenging the media narrative that suggests it running an unsustainable race against various manufacturers churning out ever-increasing volumes of hardware units.

    Apple customers visiting its Taipei 101 flagship store in Taiwan

    People over Units

    Starting with Apple's Fiscal 2019 -- which began this holiday quarter -- the company will be reporting its hardware sales only in terms of revenue, rather than unit sales. As previous segments in this series have laid out, the cynical take that Apple is doing this in an attempt to hide failure is simply false.

    Conversely, Apple's historical quarterly unit sales reporting has given analysts and pundits data that they frequently interpret incorrectly. In doing so, they obscure the company's actual performance and distract from its real value and potential.

    Going forward, Apple's revenue-only reporting will still provide a clear picture of the overall health of each of its business segments -- the same way that Microsoft, Samsung Electronics and other large companies with multiple lines of business report their quarterly performance without necessarily enumerating any units sold. The shift puts a new focus on what is really the most valuable aspect of Apple's global operations. Today, that's commonly understood to be iPhone sales. Just over a decade ago it was thought to be iPods, and prior to that it was assumed to be Macs.

    The real value of Apple's business has never changed. The real reason why Apple has always been uniquely able to sell premium hardware in a marketplace full of less expensive, generic commodity is its ability to successfully reach people, convince them that things are better inside the Apple ecosystem, and then retain their loyalty by delivering what Apple's chief executive Tim Cook refers to as "user sat."

    Essentially, Apple doesn't sell people units. It sells units of people on Apple.

    Apple has successfully sold nearly a billion on Apple

    Successfully selling and establishing a brand is much more work than simply selling units. But the work the company has invested over the last two decades has sold nearly a billion people on Apple. Industry research indicates that the installed base of customers Apple has built are largely not shopping around.

    Apple's massive installed base represents an Elysium of buyers that consistently generate ongoing hardware, software, and services sales for Apple. It's also the premium demographic of consumer electronics buyers, necessitating Google to pay Apple billions for search traffic. Unit sales simply don't reflect the true nature of Apple's business.

    Outside of Apple's installed base of users, there are a series of PC makers who collectively sell more computers than Apple. However, Windows PC buyers are not necessarily loyal to any specific PC maker, as reflected in the constant shift in sales share between them.

    The situation is similar among Android licensees, where various companies take turns selling the most phones, but none have established any strength in creating the intensely loyal base of users Apple now has.

    Despite huge unit sales of phones for years, Samsung has been unable to sell its buyers on Samsung itself

    As Samsung has demonstrated, achieving years of large unit sales is meaningless if it doesn't generate sustainable income, particularly if those sales can subsequently be stolen away by lower-priced rivals. Samsung Mobile is now dragging the rest of the company down in profitability in part because it achieved unit sales without actually selling those buyers on Samsung.

    Samsung buyers were simply sold Android as a commodity, and they left when they found it cheaper elsewhere.

    The size of installed base "sold on Apple" is now so large that it acts independently of the industry. While overall sales of PCs, tablets, and phones are shrinking, Apple's Mac, iPad and iPhone have been bucking that trend.

    Just as importantly, the price tiers Apple can offer are also rising upward in an environment where Windows and Android licensees are struggling to prevent their already low Average Selling Prices from dropping any further.

    It's not simply that Apple is "raising its prices." Rather, it's expanding its offerings to include more luxurious products on the high-end, even as it now offers a $330 iPad and iPhone 7 starting at $450. What's new is that Apple's installed base is now so large that it can support a luxury tier that includes a $13,000 iMac Pro, a loaded iPad Pro at $1,900, and the high-end $1,450 iPhone XS Max.

    Samsung also offers luxury-priced devices, but it doesn't have an installed base that's large, loyal, and premium enough to actually sell commercially significant numbers of those devices. That results in large numbers of Samsung unit sales of smartphones, but at an Average Selling Price below $250, according to Counterpoint Research. Luxury brands in China have only pushed up their ASPs slightly higher, but are still at or below $275.

    Meanwhile, iPhone ASPs are nearly $800 across sales of more than 200 million annually-- that's a new development that analysts apparently still haven't yet digested. Samsung and its Android rivals in China are generating unit sales but not developing a reliable installed base of users. And because they can't sell higher-end devices in quantity, they can't bring down the cost of expensive components via economies of scale or generate the revenues and the profits that drive the development of future generations of technology on their own, without Apple's help.

    Because this is a relatively new development-- and unique in the tech industry-- many analysts have no frame of reference to help them understand how Apple's business works, leaving them stuck in the mindset that Apple is still in its desperate 1990s struggle with cheaper commodity vendors over each unit sold.

    The historical scrutiny of Macs units sold

    Apple's critics love to talk about the potential of its demise, and nothing has suggested Apple's apparent, imminent death quite like the prospect of its products being "outsold" the same way Macs were outnumbered by the collective sales of Windows PCs, starting in the 1990s.

    The Apple Computer of 25 years ago was negatively impacted by the rise of commodity Windows PCs for two reasons. First, Microsoft's large alternative PC platform attracted investment from developers that eroded away the level of interest in Macs and Apple's unique development APIs. This impaired Apple's ability to update or add value to its Mac platform, as many of the improvements it made were simply ignored by developers now focused on Windows, where more customers meant more money and a greater return on developers' investment.

    Secondly, large volumes of PC sales created economies of scale for Intel x86 processors and PC-related standards such as PCI, Parallel and PS/2 peripherals, and VGA monitors. The economies of scale shared by PC vendors not only helped make Windows attractively cheaper, but also made the price of Macs appear less affordable because Apple lacked the hundreds of millions of PC users that were driving down component and peripheral prices via consistent, high volume sales.

    Steve Jobs worked to interrupt this vicious catch-22 by focusing Apple on fewer Mac models that could sell in higher quantities. Jobs also targeted areas where Apple could shine over commodity PCs, focusing on multimedia, education, ease of use, and the technical lead PowerPC briefly delivered during Intel's misstep with Pentium 4.

    Even so, Apple under Jobs continued to struggle to sell more than a few million Macs annually in a market of hundreds of millions of PCs, forcing it to constantly work to identify new technical advantages it could exploit to stay ahead of generic PCs. Apple directed attention to its software, integration, and industrial design, ushering in the age of translucent colorful plastics and later more serious looking aluminum unibody designs which helped Macs stand out from generic PCs.

    Apple adopted Intel's chips in 2006

    At the same time, Apple also worked to adopt Intel chips, USB, and other technologies that allowed it to share some of the economies of scale that were incrementally bringing down the component costs of PCs. The number of Mac units Apple was able to sell each quarter was a closely watched barometer of how well its various initiatives were working to win over PC user "switchers."

    As noted earlier, Apple transparently documented this progress in incredible detail for years, breaking down its quarterly Mac sales by target audience, form factor (portables and desktops), and region sold. Yet over time it has increasingly published fewer details.

    Apple's installed base gains a critical mass

    Apple's dedicated installed base of Mac users have long appreciated the fact they were paying a premium for a superior experience. However, the Mac's price premium still prevented Apple from successfully attracting large numbers of PC users who had grown accustomed to saving money by putting up with the rougher edges of Microsoft's haphazardly managed Windows platform.

    When iPod arrived, millions of new people were exposed to Apple's "far less frustrating" experience, where layers of complexity were purposely stripped away-- not to demean the user's ability to figure out endless series of technical minutae, but to free them from having to waste time dealing with it. Jobs' iPod taught users to pay a premium for a premium experience. That lesson was more convincing in the individual world of everyday electronics, compared to the dauntingly complicated, technical patriarchy of desktop computing.

    Seven years later, Apple went from selling 3 million Macs a year to annually selling 50 million iPods and 7 million Macs. But more importantly, Apple wasn't just increasing its unit sales -- it was vastly increasing its installed base of loyal users. In 2008, the active Mac installed base had reached 36 million machines. That was still a small fraction of the PC market, but it represented a premium demographic of users capable of attracting some specialized attention from developers.

    It was iPhone that really erected a walled garden of constrained experience for users, one that minimized the nature of personal computing so much that nobody thought of the new mobile computer as being a "computer" at all, but rather just an effortlessly simple device that could browse the web, listen to music, take pictures, play games, message friends and run a new class of spectacularly easy-to-use apps. In three years Apple was selling 50 million iPods, 40 million iPhones, and over 13 million Macs per year.

    Apple's growing installed base begins crushing rivals' unit sales numbers

    While the tech media obsessed itself with unit sales of iPhones -- and initially smirked in contempt of its inability to execute Adobe Flash applets and regularly announced how much they hated that users were unable to compile their own kernel or side-load bootleg apps from random untrustworthy sources -- none of that helped predict what was about to happen. It also didn't stop iPhone from blowing up into a force that completely destroyed every other existing smartphone platform of the day within just its first few years.

    Giant established mobile phone makers Nokia, Blackberry, and of course Microsoft's Windows Mobile partners such as Samsung and Sony formerly had large unit sales. In fact, Nokia and Blackberry kept selling huge unit numbers of phones even as it became clear that they were completely outgunned and had no functional strategy for competing with iOS. Their unit sales collapsed suddenly and spectacularly, offering no real indication of health until it was too late to matter.

    Apple's iPhone wasn't simply stealing unit numbers away from Nokia and Blackberry -- it was building upon the installed base of its satisfied Mac and iPod users. Apple's installed base, not merely of machines but of users-- was increasingly growing more important to understanding Apple's potential for success than just the unit sales it sold each quarter. While initially small, the unit sales of iPhones meant that Apple was attracting buyers into its retail stores, where it could sell them Macs and other products.

    Apple's installed base begins creating its own weather

    By 2010, Apple's installed base of users was large enough to be sold a new category of device. Apple adapted its iOS architecture to deliver the larger, tablet-sized iPad that year, which undercut the foundation of the conventional PC market and caused the entire Windows platform to tilt sideways as users flocked to Apple's dumb-simple device by the tens of millions every year for a period of time comparable to reign of Windows 95 through Windows XP.

    Three years after launching iPhone, Apple's installed base had grown large enough to support an iOS tablet

    The media narrative that insisted that Apple was just around the corner from once again being outnumbered by commodity was proven wrong over an extended period of time, first by iPhone, then by iPad. Additionally, unit sales of Macs were incrementally rising, but something else was also happening: its installed base was growing even faster. By 2013, Apple could announce that its installed base of Macs had doubled over five years, reaching 72 million.

    The size of Apple's installed base was now capable of launching another new product category: Apple Watch, which inherited the sports-centric, wearable functionality of iPod, and added a fashion-oriented element of exchangeable bands and customizable faces. Its tight integration with Continuity, Health, Home, Siri and App Store titles helped it to grow within Apple's installed base of tech-hungry buyers even as Samsung's larger unit sales of Androids did virtually nothing to launch Galaxy Gear into a functional orbit.

    Microsoft's once important Windows platform was similarly unable to drive sales of its cheaper Band, and despite its supposedly vast "leading" platform of Android, Google's Wear efforts have flopped as well.

    Over the last year, Apple sold more than 217 million iPhones, 43 million iPads and 18 million Macs. Those are the last official unit sales numbers we're going to get. Apple also revealed this year that the Mac installed base had grown to 100 million.

    That might sound small in comparison to iPhones, but this year Amazon was applauded for having 100 million Prime users. In a world of shrinking PC sales, Apple is not just bucking the trend in growing its unit sales but is expanding its core installed base of users.

    This year, Amazon announced 100M Prime users and Apple announced its 100M active installed base of Macs

    Rather than understanding the integrated nature of Apple's businesses and how its product sales feed each other and launch new categories, many analysts and industry pundits have been distracted by focusing unit sales of specific categories. This is reflected in observations along the lines that Apple's non-iPhone businesses-- Mac, iPad, Services and Other-- are all so small compared to iPhone in units that they are a "rounding error" or "barely move the needle."

    The reverse is actually true: Macs and iPad are collectively a $44.3 billion business, while Services and Other products generated over $37 billion and $17 billion respectively.

    Rather than competing with iPhone for attention, Apple's base of iPhone users is driving business to its other segments-- which are individually about the size of Amazon Web Services or Facebook! Conversely, the hardware segments of companies that don't have an iPhone business, like Google Pixel and Microsoft Surface (about $4.5 billion), are a fraction the size, if they can register at all.

    It's a huge stretch to say that Google's search is driving Pixel at all, or that Windows, Office 360 or Azure are driving Surface.

    Why a installed base of people is far more valuable than quarterly units sold

    Apple no longer needs to desperately prove that it can entice PC users to switch to the Mac. Instead, it is increasingly leveraging its much greater installed base of iOS users to sell Macs. Beyond its 100 million Macs, Apple now has an installed base of users with 1.3 billion active devices. This installed base of users is more important than units sold for multiple reasons.

    Firstly: for third party developers, the number of new Macs sold per quarter is far less interesting than Apple's growing, premium installed base of Mac users. The Mac installed base of users is both growing large enough to support new development and is also more likely to pay for software and services-- certainly more so than users in Microsoft's PC platform who largely weren't even willing to pay to upgrade to Windows 10. Google's Chrome OS platform is not only tiny, but almost entirely made up of K12 schools looking for a nearly free solution.

    If you combine Windows PCs and Chromebooks, various vendors' unit sales look more significant than they really are-- particularly if you compare them against only Apple's Macs and segregate iPads into a separate category, as research firms like IDC do. But Apple's installed base of premium users tells an entirely different story, one that's actually true.

    Secondly: the Continuity and familiarity between Macs and iOS are actually quite important, but goes missing when you break down Apple's installed base of devices into units of products. Further, the similarities in development and coding tools between Macs and iOS means that companies that have already invested in iOS because of its size and importance can repurpose much of what they already know to bring their software to the Mac.

    At WWDC 2018, Apple introduced expanded plans to drive Mac development via iOS

    Apple is making this even easier in its recent initiative to enable iOS UIKit apps to run on Macs-- starting this year with its own internal iOS apps including Home, News and Stocks, and expanding next year to allow third parties to bring their iOS apps to the Mac App Store. The tight integration of Apple's huge installed base of users is not reflected in Mac unit sales alone.

    Thirdly: the WinTel PC economies of scale that once worked against Apple have now virtually vanished. Instead, you can observe even more powerful economies of scale in Apple's internal development, where features created for the more than 1 billion iOS devices can be adapted to work across its 100 million Macs. This includes services like Maps, Siri, and News, which would have been impractical to build just for the Mac.

    Apple's massive, highly profitable iOS mobile platform allows it to pay for other new technology investments that benefit Macs, including APFS and its custom T2 silicon with Apple's custom SSD controller, encryption, support for Hey Siri, and security for features like Touch Bar and Touch ID.

    Looking just at unit sales of Macs, Apple's investment in macOS-- creating a substantial new version each year, with a half dozen minor updates in between, along with related software, hardware, and firmware technologies used in Macs-- barely makes any sense.

    Other PC makers that maintain global unit sales of 20 million computers are largely shipping commodity hardware components packaged with Windows, with very little proprietary feature innovation. They can't afford to invest very much into their PC business. No PC makers have a massive, wildly profitable mobile device business that subsidizes development of new technology. And the declining nature of the conventional PC market means that Microsoft is increasingly less interested in driving investment in Windows development.

    More importantly, in lacking a large, loyal installed base of users, generic PC makers can't count on anyone buying its new products, but must instead compete against other generic PCs almost entirely on price. That requires making value engineering design compromises that help differentiate Macs as premium machines.

    The scarcity of high value, new unit growth

    Next to Apple, large mobile device makers such as Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo are barely making money on their mobile devices and all appear to be losing money on PC and tablet sales. None of this hardship is reflected in their high unit sales, which are increasingly unsustainable in a world where there is no more overall growth occurring in PCs, tablets or even phones.

    Huge potential expansions of volume shipments into new regions are growing scarce. And the growth that is occurring is happening in emerging countries where already slim margins are being pared down even further by cutthroat pricing competition among device makers. While Apple has some near-term hurdles to jump in markets like India, its long-term strategy is maintaining iOS as an aspirational brand, so that once there's an installed base of smartphone users, it can upgrade them to iOS the same way it upgraded Americans from Windows Phone and later Android; Japan and Europe from Symbian; and China from Linux and Android.

    All of those territories were once sold huge unit sales volumes of non-iPhones for years before Apple entered and began selling them iPhones, and then sold its iPhone users on iPad and Macs, and then Apple Watch, and increasingly apps, subscriptions, and other Services.

    Functional business model vs failures

    It will be much easier for Apple to upgrade the world to higher-end gear than it will be for the collective commodity licensees of Windows and Android to find new markets to sell more units.

    In part, that's because Apple has a functional business model for increasing the desirability of its products in a crowded field. For the last twenty years, Apple has consistently been selling hardware at a profit that can fund investment in new technology. And rather than that model wearing out as a strategy, it is working increasingly better over time, launching new categories of products and enhancing the lives of Apple's base in a way that retains their loyalty. The base is growing substantially and the price they are willing to pay keeps increasing.

    Alternatively, commodity hardware producers have been locked in a vicious cycle of lower prices and even cheaper competition that is driving them out of business. Slim margins aren't enabling them to invest in technology, and like Apple in the 1990s they are locked out of the economies of scale that the most valuable mobile platform is driving.

    The standouts that are seeking to copy Apple's model, including the Microsoft Surface, Google Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy brands, are spending billions on product development that isn't resulting in high volume sales or sustainable profits; instead, they're merely burning up resources generated elsewhere by those companies. As Zune, Windows Phone, Nexus phones, Chromebook Pixel, and Galaxy Player all demonstrated, unsustainable sales volumes will eventually result in failure, despite many assurances that these companies are invested in a long-term approach.

    That raises the question: what is preventing other companies from copying Apple's success in building a thriving installed base of loyal, premium users? The next segment in this series will examine why.
  • Holiday 2018 gift guide: Here are the best headphones for the music lover on your shopping...

    If you have recently acquired an iPhone XS or iPhone XR, but find the supplied EarPods not to your liking, or know someone who could do with an upgrade from their existing audio hardware, AppleInsider offers this list of headphones and earphones that may be worth a listen.

    Apple AirPods

    The obvious choice for any iPhone-owning audiophile, Apple's AirPods are a major upgrade from EarPods that eradicate the need to plug them in. Compact and without that pesky cable, the wireless earpieces use the Apple-designed W1 chip for a solid Bluetooth connection, offers extremely simple pairing with an iPhone, iCloud synchronization, and proximity-based activation and turning off.

    Apple AirPods
    Apple AirPods

    While capable of about 5 hours of usage from a single charge, the AirPods are provided with a carry case that recharges each, providing more than 24 hours of additional listening time as well as protection when the AirPods aren't being used.

    If you're looking to offer someone the best Apple-based audio experience, it's hard to look elsewhere than the AirPods.

    Shinola Bluetooth In-Ear Monitors

    A collaboration between Detroit watch producer Shinola and Campfire Audio, the Shinola Bluetooth In-Ear Monitors ($250) are beautifully produced earbuds housed in stainless steel. Inside the buds are wide-range 8.5mm Beryllium dynamic drivers for a rich, authentic sound, with a multi-part braided cable connecting the buds to each other consisting of a thicker section for around the neck and two more flexible areas towards the ends and an in-line control.

    Shinola Bluetooth In-Ear Monitors
    Shinola Bluetooth In-Ear Monitors

    Capable of fast charging via USB-C, the Bluetooth 4.2 earphones offer up to 12 hours of music playback from a single charge, with the charging point itself located on the side of the inline control.

    Master & Dynamic MW07

    If you want wireless earbuds like the AirPods and are prepared to go to the premium end of the market, the Master & Dynamic MW07 Earphones ($299) are an excellent choice. Each earphone is produced from metal with a handcrafted acetate exterior, with the build quality also extending to the glossy stainless steel charging case, which provides three additional charges that gives a total listening time of up to 14 hours.

    Master & Dynamic MW07 in charging case
    Master & Dynamic MW07 in charging case

    Inside each earphone is a custom 10mm beryllium driver, helping keep the audio accessories lightweight but without sacrificing the sound quality, with connections performed over Bluetooth 4.2. Each also include a two-part earbud section made of silicone, which consists of an actual tip that goes into the ear canal and a separate "fit wing," ensuring they are both comfortable to wear and securely in place.

    Jaybird X4

    A refinement of the company's sport earbuds line, the Jaybird X4 ($129.99) are ideal for those wanting to listen to music while keeping fit, with IPX7 waterproofing offering protection from sweat and rain. For the X4 release, the signature fins have been redesigned to make them rounder at the corners while simultaneously making them less flimsy, in turn offering more comfort and practicality.

    Jaybird X4
    Jaybird X4

    The accompanying MySound iPhone app can be used to tweak the EQ settings of the headphones on the fly, including being able to turn on presets created by athletes and musicians. Connecting over Bluetooth, it offers up to eight hours of battery life, which will certainly cover a few sessions in the gym before needing to be recharged.

    Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

    Based on the critically-acclaimed ATH-M50, the updated Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT takes everything great about the studio-grade headphones and improves upon the concept with Bluetooth connectivity. The same large hinged earcups, padded headband, and chunky design of the original all make an appearance in the new version, but crucially it eliminates the wire, making for a more enjoyable listening experience.

    Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
    Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

    Sporting the same 45mm drivers as the ATH-M50, the Bluetooth equivalent doesn't sacrifice audio quality in its usage of Bluetooth, with the headphones boasting up to 40 hours of usage from a single charge. The ATH-M50xBT also includes a built-in mic for calls, onboard music and volume controls, and a touch control on the side to trigger voice assistants like Siri.

    Master & Dynamic MW50+ 2-in-1 wireless headphones

    Housed in stainless steel, aluminum, and leather, the Master & Dynamic MW50+ ($398) offer a timeless and stylish design that many people will appreciate. Lambskin-covered memory foam ear pads for the ear cups providing comfort for long usage, with the magnetically-attached sections able to be swapped out to allow for on-ear and over-ear versions to be used depending on the situation.

    Master & Dynamic MW50+ 2-in-1 wireless headphones
    Master & Dynamic MW50+ 2-in-1 wireless headphones

    Controlled by a collection of subtle metal buttons on either side, the headphones can be used with a mobile device using Bluetooth 4.1 and its 16-hour battery, or via a detachable 3.5mm headphone cable. The heart of the headset is its use of a 40mm beryllium driver, which offers minimal distortion and is balanced with a warm tone, leading to songs sounding full with definition on both the high and low ends.

    In a market where you can pay a premium price for headphones constructed from plastic, this offers a breath of fresh air by offering great construction alongside the quality, making it a really good choice for audiophiles.

    Beats Studio3

    Noise cancellation is a much-loved feature of premium headphones, and is one the Beats Studio3 (on sale for $279.95) fits in alongside a number of other must-have features. Combined with the over-ear arrangement, the headphones provide a high level of sound isolation, while still remaining comfortable for hours at a time.

    Beats Studio3
    Beats Studio3

    Running for up to 40 hours without the "Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling" and up to 22 hours with it active, the long-lasting battery also offers fast recharging using Apple's Fast Fuel technology, with 3 hours of playback provided from a 10-minute charge. Its wireless credentials are also superior through the use of Apple's W1 wireless chip, providing rock-solid Bluetooth connectivity and simple pairing with iPhones and iPads.