The Kicked-Ass Edition Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Four-sentence HomePod Review (With Appendices), by Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

Walking around the HomePod from one corner of a room to another or around it in a circle is a really incredible experience. The sound does not fall off at any angle, and the characteristics of the audio don’t change. This just works.


But it really kicked ass in live performances, where it felt that the vocals were sitting out in the air between you and HomePod, no matter where you were standing, and the applause and high hats were coming from some place above and behind the speaker — being projected outwards and around. It’s one of the most three dimensional sounds I’ve heard from any music setup and absolutely the deepest stage from a “single speaker”.

Apple HomePod Review: A Stunning Smart Speaker, by David Phelan, Independent

The audio quality is way better than any other smart speaker I’ve heard, including the Sonos One and Google Home Max (a big, music-oriented speaker not yet on sale in the UK). What’s more, it sounds absolutely as good as, or better than, many decent stereo speaker setups. The wide sound stage and deep fidelity to the music means it has outshone some pretty full-on hi-fi systems I’ve heard. Nothing on the HomePod is muddy, every element is sharp and realised.

All from a single, pretty-small speaker. There’s plenty of bass: the woofer inside shifts a lot of air (and can move up to 20mm, Apple says) and sounds solid and strong. But vocals are also super-clear: rich, bright and detailed.

My HomePod Review, by Om Malik

For most of what they claim is true — I tried the HomePod in different locations and while sound stage changes a bit, it doesn’t sound very different to an amateur. I didn’t have an Apple Music subscription, but I have iTunes Match so I can stream some music from Apple. However, my first action was to AirPlay my favorite music tunes from Spotify. I have the premium version of Spotify, and the high-quality stream sounded perfect. Well, almost as perfect as a 384 kbps stream can sound. Next, I AirPlayed my FLAC files using the FLACBox app on my iPad.

And boy that is when I realized Apple had built something spectacular. The hi-res version of Peter Gabriel’s So sounded almost like my CD player. The mid-range and vocals were smooth and silky. The bass — thanks to a top firing woofer was tight and filled the room without sounding jarring and rattling the cutlery. Next up: Moon safari by Air. My FLAC collection is in love with its new friend.

Hey Siri

HomePod, by John Gruber, Daring Fireball

HomePod’s undestanding of voice commands is fast and accurate. The most interesting feature is that HomePod can hear your commands while loud music is playing even if you speak at a normal talking volume. This sounds (sorry) too good to be true, but in my testing it works uncannily well. I would go so far as to say that HomePod can understand commands spoken at normal volume while music is playing better than human ears do. It works so well that I’m not sure most people will even think to try it. Intuitively, one thinks one must speak over the music to be heard. And, with Amazon Echo, that’s true. But with HomePod, you don’t. You can’t just whisper to it, and HomePod can’t read lips like HAL can, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that you do not have to yell. Some impressive engineering went into this.

Apple’s HomePod Has Arrived. Don’t Rush To Buy It., by Brain X. Chen, New York Times

But after a week — during which I asked HomePod to play my favorite tunes from artists like Beck, The Talking Heads and David Bowie — the smart speaker still did not learn. Instead, like a stubborn D.J., Siri kept playing music by artists outside my music palette: Taylor Swift and Leroy Frances, to name just two.

That leads to my conclusion: The $349 HomePod, which costs roughly three times its competitors and arrives in stores on Friday, is tough to recommend to you, dear reader.

Apple HomePod Review: Locked In, by Nilay Patel, The Verge

And, in the worst omission, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t recognize different voices. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you just click yes during all the setup prompts, literally anyone can ask the HomePod to send or read your text messages. Seriously, it’ll just read your texts to anyone if your phone is anywhere on the same Wi-Fi network, which usually reaches far beyond the same room as the HomePod. If your HomePod is in the kitchen and you’re in the basement, anyone can just roll up on the HomePod and have it read your texts. If you have kids, they can just text anyone at will while you’re in the bathroom and you can’t stop it. I tried it with the HomePod behind a closed door and it picked up my voice and it happily read my texts aloud, a nightmare for anyone who lives in a dorm.

This is also baffling: iPhones don’t answer to just anyone saying “Hey Siri” once you’ve trained them to your voice, and the HomePod runs a variant of iOS on an A8 chip, which allows for “Hey Siri” on the iPhone 6 when it’s plugged into the wall. I asked Apple about this, and there wasn’t a clear answer apart from noting that the personal requests feature that enables texting can be turned off. I agree: until Apple adds personalized voice recognition to this thing, you should definitely turn personal requests off.

Managing Power

Apple Explains Why Power Management Features Were Introduced In January 2017 But Not Disclosed Until February 2017, by Juli Clover, MacRumors

Apple says that iOS users were not immediately informed about the power management features in iOS 10.2.1 because it first needed to confirm that the update successfully solved the problem causing unexpected shutdowns.

Apple Is Exploring Whether To Offer Rebates To Customers Who Previously Purchased Full-price iPhone Batteries, by Tony Romm, Recode

Cynthia Hogan, the iPhone giant’s vice president for public policy in the Americas, told Thune in a reply released Tuesday: “Yes, we are exploring this and will update you accordingly.”


Farrago: A Fun And Useful Soundboard For The Mac, by Andy Affleck, TidBITS

Farrago is a fresh new take, adding greater control and more options for each sound than previous soundboard tools for the Mac.

8 Easy Ways To Make iPhone X More Microsoft-friendly, by Mark Guim, Windows Central

My experience from switching to the iPhone X from Windows Phone was surprisingly painless. I'm able to continue using my favorite Microsoft services, while also benefitting from the iPhone X's excellent camera and vast app ecosystem.

The New York Times Puts Olympic Athletes In Augmented Reality, by Adi Robertson, The Verge

In one of its first mobile augmented reality experiences, The New York Times has launched an iOS-based visualization of four Olympic athletes. If you have a recent iPhone and the Times mobile app, you can see 3D models of figure skater Nathan Chen, speedskater J.R. Celski, ice hockey goalie Alex Rigsby, and snowboarder Anna Gasser overlaid on the real world.

SleepIn App Allows For Virtual Snooze When School Cancels Classes, by Theo Hayes, WBAL TV

Irani created coding that syncs to a school's notification system. It's essentially an alarm clock that won't go off if your school has been canceled.

Users can choose from a list of schools on the app, set it for the time they need to get up and, if class has been canceled, it won't make a sound.


iOS 11.3 Beta 2 Adds Brand New ClassKit Framework For Educational Apps, by Guilherme Rambo, 9to5Mac

From a brief look into the code for that framework, it looks like it will allow developers of educational apps to create student evaluation features, users will be able to answer questionnaires that will be automatically transmitted to teachers remotely via iCloud.

Bottom of the Page

My first audio-book listen, if I am remembering correctly, was back in the early 80s. I was just a little kid, and was quite curious about this Audio-Visual room in the public library that I frequented.

One fine day, I finally gathered up my courage and walked into the room to find out what was available. Looking through the paper catalogue, I picked up a short fairy tale title. The librarian helped me to check out the tape (I think) and set me down next to a tape machine. I put on the headphones, and proceeded to listen to the audio-book.

I believe this book-on-tape thing probably didn't make any impression on me, because I didn't listen to any other audio-books ever again in that library. Perhaps I didn't care much about listening when I could just read. Perhaps because I could bring home books to read, but I could only listen to audio-books in the library.

Many many many years later, after the invention of podcasts, after buying my first iPod, and after being bombarded by Audible's advertisements, I downloaded Stephen King's Bag of Bones to try out, and I've been hooked.


Thanks for reading.