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Mbp touchbar

When I was working on ideas for my latest Practical Mac column for The Seattle Times, I wanted to talk about my new MacBook Pro, but felt as if I’d already beat the subject into the ground. Turns out I hadn’t actually written about it since I received mine. (Maybe the readers are tired of it anyway.) So this week, I share some observations about actually using the new Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro on a daily basis. I also reflect on a couple of utilities—TextExpander and SoundSource—that have served me well running older versions, but which I’ve finally updated for good reasons.

Of particular note with the MacBook Pro, I’ve seen vastly improved battery life since updating to macOS Sierra 10.12.3, which fixed a bug that wasn’t allowing the graphics processors to switch the way they were supposed to. (In short: most of the time, the machine uses the Integrated graphics that are part of the main Intel Core i7 processor, which is highly battery efficient. Some apps, like Photoshop, take advantage of the discrete GPU for better and faster graphics processing, which burns through battery power faster. Instead of kicking back to the Integrated graphics when no longer using one of those apps, Sierra would continue to use the GPU.) This change has almost doubled my battery life in some cases.

Read it here: A new MacBook Pro, and dragging old applications into the future

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Airpods coffee

When Apple announced AirPods, the wireless earbuds, I thought they looked cool, but they didn’t really catch my attention. I already owned a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and regular earbuds have generally worked just fine in my ears.

And then people started to rave about them. As I mention in this week’s Practical Mac column for The Seattle Times, “… I began to see something unusual for modern Apple, with its deep marketing prowess and industry clout: enthusiastic word-of-mouth.”

After using them for a few weeks, I’m sold. They’re great, even with a few limitations (no volume control except via Siri, no quick pairing with the Apple TV). And AirPods offer the best first-encounter experience of any Apple product in recent memory, hands down.

Read the entire review here: AirPods turn out to be rare product that lives up to the hype.

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360fly4k in hand

Following the publication of my guide to The Best 360 Degree Camera at The Wirecutter, I sat down with Chuck Joiner at MacVoices to talk all about it. We cover why someone would want a 360-degree camera in the first place, some background on how I went about making the final selections, and more.

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Homekit plug light

I dipped my toes into HomeKit recently, and now I’m waist-deep into smart home technology. For my latest Practical Mac column at The Seattle Times, I look at several devices that are making my home better, as well as the effect it’s had on my family and I: Making a smart move with HomeKit smart-home devices.

Setting aside the technical considerations, what’s been most intriguing is how my family and I have responded to these little forays into living in a smart home. I was skeptical at first of the benefit of having lights that could be controlled from my phone — I do still remember how to flip a switch. But the key is in setting up schedules and scenes.

Now, many lights turn on by themselves: our porch light and living-room lights automatically come on at sunset and turn off at 1 a.m. (which is an obvious indicator if I’m still awake that I need to head to bed).

In my home office, the lights and a portable space heater turn on in the morning so my workspace is warm and welcoming when I start working. And if I leave the house on errands or to take a walk, the space heater is automatically turned off when I go past a geofence surrounding my house, so I don’t accidentally leave the heater running all day.

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Group test2

Here’s something a long time coming. I’m thrilled to announce that I have a new guide at The Wirecutter: The Best 360-Degree Camera.

This is by far one of the most interesting projects I’ve done. 360-degree cameras capture the entire sphere around the photographer, in stills or video, which is great for getting a better sense of a scene beyond what a typical photo frame offers. But this photography also has many challenges, such as where you the photographer appears—many of us are happy to hide behind the camera, but in this case there is no “behind” the camera.

It was also a challenge to set parameters, because the cameras we chose for final testing take different approaches to the task of capturing a 360-degree scene. They’re not like most cameras where a lot of the features are the same from model to model and you look to see which one has better resolution or low-light capabilities. For example, the Ricoh Theta S, Nikon KeyMission 360, and Samsung Gear 360 each use two extreme–wide-angle lenses to capture two images, which are then stitched together in the camera as one image. However, the 360fly 4K designers opted to use just one lens to avoid the stitching altogether, which unfortunately means you end up with dead area in the image where the lens can’t see.

When viewed in the cameras’ apps or in a few locations online such as Facebook, Flickr, or YouTube, you can explore the entire scene by dragging the image. If you’re on a mobile device, some sites like Facebook enable you to turn your body and move the device to view everything. It’s a very cool effect! (The image below is hosted at Flickr and should be interactive. You can also see a few more at this Flickr album.)

theta_vancouver_bw_etool

In the end, it wasn’t just image resolution or form factor that made one rise above the others, but a combination of hardware, software, and experience to capture the images, and then the process of doing something with the files (which has its own complexities). I’ll let you read the guide to see which one was the winner. I was surprised, and I was the one doing the research!

360-degree photography is really in its early days, and I think this category will get even more interesting in the near future as customers decide what to do with the cameras and manufacturers cater to those whims. In the meantime, the shots you get can really stand apart from traditional cameras in many ways.

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In my latest Practical Mac column in the Seattle Times, I outline (in a more concise version than what I posted previously) why the perceived MacBook Pro limitations—RAM, price, etc.—didn’t stop me from ordering one to replace my aging 2010 MacBook Pro. I also offer a solution for stopping iCloud calendar spam and note Apple’s apparent abandonment of its AirPort line of wireless routers.

Read it here: MacBook Pro issues didn’t keep me away.

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Mbp touchbar top

Following Apple’s media event last week where the company introduced the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I wrote up the news and some initial impressions for my Seattle Times column: Apple’s latest Mac upgrade news is intriguing and perplexing.

There’s been a lot of kvetching and hand-wringing about this new update from Apple, reaching similar levels of paranoia as during the Dark Years of being an Apple fan. Does this mean Apple is abandoning the Mac? Has Apple forgotten about its professional customers? Is the Touch Bar just a gimmick? And what about the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro?

I sound dismissive, but I’m not. There are some things about the event that are perplexing, such as the 16 GB memory limit in all MacBook Pro configurations, and the lack of any news about the other Macs. I don’t fall on the Apple-is-doomed spectrum (hell, we’ve been through enough of that), but this does seem like an unusual move for the company.

I’ll have more to say soon. In the meantime, read the article and leave your feedback!

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My barber said, “I have too many clouds,” and I immediately sympathized. iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive…I have files stashed in all of them. What surprised me when I set about to write this week’s column for the Seattle Times, is that I’ve so effortlessly moved so much of my work and personal data to cloud-based services.

iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, released last month, further entwine iCloud’s tendrils into everyday activities. In the column, I talk about how it enables me to control Philips Hue lights in my home from any remote location, unlock a Mac using my Apple Watch just by getting near it, and more.

Read the column here: Forecast: Increasing use of cloud services for just about everything.

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My latest column for The Seattle Times looks at what’s just around the corner: a few notable features in the macOS Sierra and iOS 10 betas. I’ve been running both (as well as watchOS 3), and am impressed so far. The features I mention in the column are just a sampling, and I focused on how the Mac and iPhone/iPad work together.

I didn’t have space to mention things like the Maps app automatically noting where you parked your car, how convenient the raise-to-wake feature on the iPhone is, or the convenience of replying to texts without leaving the current app (something possible under iOS 9, but expanded in iOS 10).

Read it here: Beta testing: In next macOS, everyday features work more closely across devices.

Also worth noting: Make sure you update to iOS 9.3.5, a quick-fix security update that Apple issued late last week to patch a hole that could enable an attacker to remotely control your device. TidBITS has more info here: iOS 9.3.5 Blocks Remote Jailbreak.

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Birdhouses

Over at TidBITS, I write in more depth about the changes in Lightroom for iOS 2.4, and they’re doozies: Lightroom for iOS 2.4 Changes Mobile Photo Workflow.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, adding native raw file format support to Adobe’s mobile photo editor is a big deal, especially for people who are looking to use just an iPad or iPhone on photo shoots to minimize the gear they carry.

It means you don’t end up with separate edited copies of photos that are synced with Lightroom on the desktop—a raw file editing in Lightroom mobile is synced to your main library with edits intact. And the editing power takes a big leap in quality, pulling detail out of shadows without blocking up sections where JPEGs just don’t hold up.

For example, here’s an underexposed raw photo edited entirely in Lightroom on my iPad:

LRm24 raw before after

There’s a better example in the article that shows extreme pixelation in a JPEG.

I also talk about the new local selection tools, which are great for adjusting selected portions in linear or gradient areas. Here’s another before-and-after, showing the radial tools at work; I was able to bring up the exposure for just the birdhouses without overexposing the background.

Lightroom m24 local original

Lightroom m24 local radial

Overall, this is an exciting release, something I’ve been looking forward to for years. It streamlines the mobile photo workflow and does what I envisioned in 2011 when I wrote the first edition of my iPad for Photographers book.

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