The TV Problem

As WWDC approaches, there is a lot of speculation about Apple releasing some sort of new Apple TV product. Most interesting, we’ve heard rumors that they are negotiating with some of the major networks so they can offer a television package where you pay some flat monthly fee and you have channels streaming through your Apple TV.

There’s a lot to like about such an idea. With most cable providers, the user interface design is an afterthought and looks like it. Navigating my cable system is a mess and I’d love to see what Apple could do. Nevertheless, I don’t think this is going to solve the“TV Problem”.

Recently I spent some time at the local corporate office of my local cable provider. It's is a big company and I’m sure they have lots of offices like this all over the country but the one I was at was gorgeous, huge, and full of employees. It is quite an enterprise. Setting up a cable network is not cheap or easy. It up takes a lot of money and manpower. In exchange for this investment, the government, more or less, gives cable providers local monopolies so they can recoup their investment. That strategy seems to be working because these companies appear to be massively profitable. This article claims that Time Warner Cable has a 97 percent profit margin on Internet service. According to the New York Times, last year Comcast reported $2 Billion in profits.Moreover, the cable companies seem intent on holding onto this advantage. Last year Comcast spent nearly $17 Million lobbying. Time Warner spent $7.8 Million. That data pipe going into your house is big business and existing cable providers are going to do everything they can to remain the only person that can give it to you.

And that is the real “TV problem”. It has nothing to do with television production or licensing at all. It’s all about that Internet pipe coming in your house. Even if Apple is able to make a deal with the content creators, you’re still going to need to pay for Internet access. The cable companies understand this is the current vector and that’s why they are suddenly pushing back against net neutrality.

I don’t see a scenario where Internet access suddenly gets much cheaper and government regulation clamps down on cable company profits. There’s too much money at stake and there’s too much lobbying going on for that to ever realistically happen. In my opinion, the only way we’re going to truly revolutionize Internet access and, in turn, television access, is when we cut the cable entirely. I think it’s going to require a technological breakthrough. 

When we can access the Internet directly from the satellite or some other wireless medium and it doesn’t involve guys driving around with trucks and ladders, then there’s a potential for competition and a much more satisfactory position for consumers. I have no idea when this will happen but I suspect it will … eventually. Until then, I don’t know if there’s any solution to the “TV Problem”.

Force Awakens Costumes, Models, and Props

While attending the Star Wars Celebration yesterday, I got the opportunity to tour an exhibit of costumes, Models, and Props from the upcoming Star Wars, The Force Awakens movie. This pushed all my nerdy Star Wars buttons and it will probably press yours too. SPOILER ALERT: Be advised these pictures most certainly contain spoilers. There are a lot of images in this gallery. Enjoy.

Apple Watch Periscope Today at 4:45 PST

I've got a full agenda of meetings today but it looks like my day ends pretty close to an Apple Store. Sounds like an excuse to go play with the demo Apple Watches to me. I'm going to be turning Periscope on at approximately 4:45 PM PST so if you are far away from an Apple Store and would like to look at the demo watches with me, check in with me on Twitter at about that time.

Sponsor: Curbi iOS Parental Controls

This week, I’m pleased to welcome back, curbi as a sponsor. While the Internet can be scary for most people, it is terrifying for parents. Letting our kids enjoy the good parts of the Internet while protecting them from the nefarious parts isn’t easy. Not only can kids get into trouble over your local WiFi network, they can also get into trouble through a cellular connection or at a friend’s house. curbi solves this problem, giving you amazing parental controls for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. You can easily block specific types of content or add a specific site list. curbi tracks (and can block) websites through Safari or any other iOS app that has a web browser. Perhaps even more importantly, the curbi blocks will work no matter how they access the Internet, even using their Pal's home WiFi on the other side of town.

curbi also lets you set boundaries. For example, you could block social networks from 3pm to 6pm and the entire Internet from 9pm to 8am. For just $6.99 a month, you can protect all of the iOS devices in your home. curbi is the only service I’ve ever seen that can protect your kids, no matter where they are. Learn more here.

30 Minutes with the New MacBook

In addition to spending 30 minutes with the Apple Watch yesterday, I also spent 30 minutes with the new MacBook. I’ve talked about the new design already on the Mac Power Users and written about it here. Now, after having spent some time behind one, I have a few additional thoughts.

  • This machine is one sexy computer. I never thought I’d see a computer that could make a MacBook Air look fat and yet the new MacBook does precisely that. It feels more like picking up an iPad than a Mac.
  • The ability to use an aluminum hinge may have engineering benefits but also looks damn nice.
  • The audio from the speakers sounds better than I expected out of a computer this small.
  • The retina screen looks like every other retina screen—beautiful and bright.
  • The additional colors of space gray and gold both look nice. The gold doesn’t look tacky but it is not for me. Space gray on the other hand…
  • The keyboard was the big question for me. Several people that I respect don’t like it, including Jason Snell. I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.
  • Just one port. Since that port is both new and an industry standard, I expect we'll see an assortment of docks and other pluggy-in bits in short order but if you are buying this as your only computer right now, it will be rough sailing for awhile.

My questions about the new MacBook are not hypothetical. My current laptop is three years old and I’ve been thinking about replacing it while it still has some resell value. Since I turned my life upside down, I no longer spend every work day sitting at my laptop. I use my home iMac a lot more and my laptop a lot less. Put simply, my laptop has changed from being a a second primary computer to just a second computer. I don’t need it super powerful but do need it to write words, handle mail, outlines, mind maps, and the other tasks that I normally do on the road. Getting it down to just two pounds means I’d be able to carry it a lot easier and more often. Something this portable has a real benefit to me. I’m just not sure if I could get used to that keyboard. 

To answer that question I’ve ordered one. I’m going to use it for a week, but still keep the box and my MacBook Pro at the ready. After a week, I’ll either keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or send the MacBook back. Either way, I’ll be reporting in.

30 Minutes With the Apple Watch

This morning I had my appointment at the local Apple Store to go try on the Apple Watch. Unknown to me, the watches you try on are in demo mode and you can’t actually operate them. There are, however, watches in the store that you can operate, but not wear. So between spending 30 minutes trying watches on fiddling with the ones that I actually could operate, I came out of it with a few thoughts:

  • The rubber watch strap does not feel nearly as much like rubber as I thought it would. It’s actually kind of supple. Also, I was able to strap it on and off several times without help and did not find it nearly as difficult as some of the reviews are reporting.
  • The leather watch strap does not feel nearly as much like leather as I thought it would. It feels a lot like hard plastic and was disappointing.
  • The taptic feedback is just right. I love the idea of getting a tap on the wrist without anyone else in the room knowing.
  • Likewise, the resistance on the digital crown is also just right. I'm guessing there is a really great story on how they tested and eventually decided upon the amount of resistance for that dial.
  • The watches that I could operate only had the native applications on them. There’s probably a good reason for it but I was disappointed since some of the reviews have talked about how third party applications load slowly and I wanted to see this for myself.
  • Both the 38mm and 42mm watches are smaller than I expected. Maybe it is because of those big photos on the Apple website, but I just expected it them be bigger. I actually prefer their smaller size over the larger sizes that resided in my head. Both of them are smaller than my existing Pebble watch.
  • Both the aluminum and steel Apple Watches are of negligible weight. I know some people have been worried that the steel one will weigh too much. I don’t think that’s an issue. I could barely tell a difference. They are both very light and will not be a problem on your wrist all day.
  • The new San Francisco font looks great. It scales nicely on the watch and definitely adds to the experience.
  • Navigating the watch is a little different than a phone but not that different. I’ve read several people complain about the interface being confusing and I don't agree. After 10 minutes I had it down. Swipe down for notifications. Swipe up for glances. Press the crown for the home screen. Press the button for your friends.
  • That thing where you can draw on the screen felt pretty useless. That thing where you can tap on the screen makes a lot more sense. Occasionally when I would go to tap on the screen, the watch would detect some movement from my finger and attempt to turn it into a drawing. That made me sad.
  • Siri worked fine and displayed words while I was dictating them. Many of the features (like creating a new calendar appointment) were turned off on the demo watch so I couldn’t push Siri as hard as I would have liked.
  • Customizing the watch faces is easy enough. The initial collection of watch faces is nice but I sure hope they open that up at some point.
  • It was 10:30 AM on a Saturday and there were a lot of people in the store that wanted to look at the watches. Just observing the Apple Store customers, it looks to me like they’re going to sell a lot more of these than I expected.

Overall, after just 30 minutes, I’m looking forward to incorporating the Apple Watch into my life. It’s a great bit of technology to make using my iPhone easier. It doesn’t feel like life-changing technology the way the original iPhone or even the iPad did. However, it does feel like a big enhancement to the existing experience.

Also, having tried on the steel and the aluminum watches, I’m happy with my decision to purchase the aluminum one (I bought the space gray with black band). The stainless steel looked better to my eye but the difference wasn’t worth the extra money to me.

If you’re anywhere near an Apple Store, you should go in and check it out for yourself. Even if you can’t get an appointment, the hands-on watches, where you can fiddle with the operating system, are worth the trip.

MPU 250 Live: We're Just Getting Started …

It was fitting that our 250th episode took place with a live audience. You'd think that after this long Katie and I are running out of things to say. We're not and there is lots of great content planned for the coming months. 

In this episode we're joined by Brett Bruney to discuss scanning on the go, we follow-up on LaTex, RSS and cord-cutting. We also address listener questions about splitting iTunes accounts, merging contacts, scheduling time to complete tasks and share listener tips about automating a home webcam, using Keyboard maestro, and automated RSS feeds.

Initial Apple Watch Reviews and a Few Thoughts

Today a bevy of Apple Watch reviews showed up on the Internet. They are all mostly positive. If you would like to burn a couple hours, head over to this Mashable linkwhere they have got a summary of the key reviews and links. 

There seems to be a few common threads throughout the reviews. Some early reviewers complaint that it took them awhile to figure out the new interface. For so many years now, Apple has been training us to use iOS and the “escape anything” home button. That isn’t going to work on the watch and it looks like this new paradigm is going to take some getting used to for some people.

Another common theme is the frequency of notifications. Watching the video reviews, it appears you can have a lot of control over what gets your watch but out-of-the-box, it drives them all at you. I already have most of my notifications turned off but those who like to leave the fire hose turned on should expect a lot of taps and dings from their wrist.

For me, the biggest news from these reviews was that there were no complaints about battery life. As big of an Apple geek as I am, the Apple Watch would be a non-starter if it runs out of gas at dinnertime. I was happy to see that the reviewers, who were presumably playing with these watches a lot more while writing their reviews than a normal user would, were all able to make it through a day without trouble. 

I’m still wavering between the sport and stainless steel models but having looked through the reviews, I’m definitely planning on ordering an Apple Watch of one sort or another.

The iPhone Extension Trick

Have you got any contacts that have extensions in their phone numbers? If you do, you'll know that adding extension information to your contacts can give your iPhone fits when placing calls. There is, however a trick.

When creating a contact, instead of this:

866-5309 x1982

Do this:


The semicolon is secret code to your iPhone to wait once the call connects and gives you the option to dial the extension when you tap it at the bottom of the screen.

I use this for telephone extensions and also for my conference call dial-ins—that seem to always have ridiculously long conference ID numbers.

Alternatively you can use commas to have the phone delay slightly and enter a digit for you. For instance, if you frequently have to call your cable company to reset your cable box and you know the tone sequence to make that happen, you could have a phone number like this.

Cable Box Reset

Assuming you got the numbers in the right order, that sequence would actually penetrate the bureaucracy and reset your cable box.

You can set the commas and semicolons in the Contacts app on your Mac, which is obvious. Not so obvious is the fact that you can add commas and semicolons on your phone too. To do so, press the symbol button on the dialer and then "pause" for a comma or "wait" for a semicolon.


Mac Voices Interview

Today I appeared on the Mac Voices podcast with Chuck Joiner. I say appeared because I did it on video, which was a new thing for me. Chuck and I talked about the OmniFocus and Workflow Video Field Guides.