News from Six Colors

The latest in the world of Apple

Six Colors Writing about Apple and other stuff by Jason Snell, Dan Moren, and others.

  • Laptop webcams are kind of terrible ↦
    by Dan Moren on April 6, 2020 at 10:36 pm

    Great video from the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern about laptop webcams in 2020 and how they are somehow terrible, especially compared to the amazing front-facing cameras in most of our smartphones. Stern specifically calls out the brand new MacBook Air, which includes a 720p FaceTime HD camera; in some low-light conditions it’s arguably worse than a 2010 MacBook Pro. (Dell’s laptop camera was arguably worse, while the Pixelbook Go and Surface Laptop 3 did better in some places.)

    But here’s the thing: it’s not just the MacBook Air. The 13-inch and newly released 16-inch MacBook Pro both have a 720p camera, which is probably the exact same part. The tech specs for the 5K iMac say it has a “FaceTime HD camera” and don’t specify the resolution, but it says the same about the 2017 5K iMac I’m using, which definitely has a 720p camera. In fact, only one Mac has a webcam better than 720p—the 2017 iMac Pro, which has a 1080p camera.

    Meanwhile, every iPhone in the 11 series can shoot 4K video with that front-facing camera, while the XS, XR, 8, and 7 all have at least 1080p cameras on the front. The iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini all have 1080p front-facing cameras—you have to get down to the $329 iPad in order to find a mobile device with a 720p camera.

    As Stern says, we obviously use the front-facing cameras on our iPhones and even iPads more than we probably use the webcam on our Macs. Apple made a gamble here, arguably skimping on a component that it didn’t think most people would care about—and it might have continued to skate by on that for a while, if it hadn’t been for all of us forced into video conferencing by the coronavirus outbreak.

    It’ll be interesting to see if this changes in new Macs, but you shouldn’t hold your breath: unless Apple had already independently decided to upgrade the webcams, it’s likely to be quite some time before they make their way into new Macs.

    [Read on Six Colors.]

  • (Podcast) Upgrade #292: Don't Look Over There!
    by Jason Snell on April 6, 2020 at 8:10 pm

    How will COVID-19 change the future of consumer technology? Why is Zoom the videoconferencing tool of the moment, and why has it had so many security and privacy issues? We ask the big questions this week, and also discuss Amazon’s ability to sell and rent movies on iOS, the mystifying launch of the Quibi video service, and how moving to a virtual workspace is affecting Apple.

  • (Sponsor) SoundSource
    by Six Colors Sponsor on April 4, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    My thanks to Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource for sponsoring Six Colors this week. SoundSource is a utility that gives you powerful control over all the audio on your Mac, right from your menu bar.

    Dan wrote about SoundSource about a year ago here on Six Colors, and here’s part of what he said: “It’s one of those apps that you don’t know you need until you use it for a while—then you wonder why it’s not installed on every single Mac you use.”

    SoundSource lets you take control of Mac audio on a per-application basis. You can change the volume of any app relative to others, and play individual apps to different audio devices. I can output different apps to my headphones (via my USB audio interface), through my iMac’s speakers, and to the external speakers hooked up to my iMac.

    The app also lets you adjust audio dynamically, so you can hear your audio even in loud environments. The built-in equalizer sweetens the sound. You can even apply Audio Units effects to audio as it’s played. And all accessible right from the convenience of the menu bar.

    SoundSource costs just $29, and Six Colors readers can save 20% on SoundSource with coupon code 6C2020. (Good through May 10th.) Download the free trial today!

  • Viticci on the iPad as modular computer ↦
    by Jason Snell on April 3, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the iPad shipping, it’s worth reading Federico Viticci’s story about how he uses his iPad today:

    The more I think about it, the more I come to this conclusion: the iPad, unlike other computers running a “traditional” desktop OS, possesses the unique quality of being multiple things at once. Hold an iPad in your hands, and you can use it as a classic tablet; pair it with a keyboard cover, and it takes on a laptop form; place it on a desk and connect it to a variety of external accessories, and you’ve got a desktop workstation revolving around a single slab of glass. This multiplicity of states isn’t an afterthought, nor is it the byproduct of happenstance: it was a deliberate design decision on Apple’s part based on the principle of modularity.

    Federico pushes his iPad further than almost anyone else, but that’s okay. He is showing us what’s possible today and making us wonder about what might be possible tomorrow. (Like, true native external monitor support, maybe?) I charitably do about half of what he does, but I always learn something, or get an idea for a new way of working, when I read these pieces.

    [Read on Six Colors.]

  • (Not So Fun With) Charts: Virus in the U.S. ↦
    by Jason Snell on April 3, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    I’ve been posting a chart a week on Six Colors in 2020, but I have to admit that I’ve been a bit less enthusiastic about chart making for some reason the last few weeks.

    Okay, it’s because I’ve been seeing a lot of charts like these at the New York Times:

    The accompanying charts, which will be updated daily using data collected by The New York Times, describe the outbreak for metro areas around the country. Metropolitan areas are helpful units because they reflect the places where people socialize, commute and share health care resources.

    Given the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak, most charts are sharply angled upward and we’re all waiting to see them round off, flatten, and start back down. It makes it a tough time to watch charts.

    That said, these are all excellent charts, and you can put in your own metropolitan area to see how it compares to the areas that are highlighted. It goes to show you how important data visualization can be when it’s done right.

    [Read on Six Colors.]