Dandy Cat

Back in late 2016, venerable tech journalist Andy Ihnatko broke the news in a tweet that Sal Soghoian, Apple’s Product Manager of Automation Technologies, left the company when his position was terminated.

In 2017, Apple acquired Workflow, the delightful iOS automation app that punched way above its weight.

Workflow became Shortcuts and was released alongside iOS 12 in September, 2018. It would later become a default app installed on all devices running iOS 13 when that update was released the following year.

The Mac automation app, Automator, has seen no appreciable improvements or updates in a very long time. Indeed, it appears to have been forgotten. In contrast, Shortcuts has seen relatively consistent updates since its release. Automation touches many aspects of iOS now, including within the Home app. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shortcuts and Home run on much of the same underlying code.

This sequence of events leads me to believe that there is a dim future for Automator on the Mac. Since the acquisition of Workflow, I’ve believed that we’ll see Shortcuts appear on the Mac one day. Apple downsized its old automation department and has subsequently invested heavily in its Shortcuts team.

In many ways, Automator is a remarkable app, but it’s never been user-friendly in the way that Shortcuts is. For people who don’t know much about automation, it’s far too complex and demanding.

Shortcuts, on the other hand, is bright, friendly, and hides its complexity behind action blocks that are easier to figure out. I may not use it as frequently as some people, but when I do the end result is more success and less headaches. If Apple wants non-power user people to get into automation, the answer does not lie in Automator.

I believe Shortcuts is the future of automation on the Mac. I really want to see it on that system. I think it will happen one day. 🍎

I had to take the unfortunate action of turning off the could-be-great Transfer to HomePod feature on my phone. I got very tired of my screen being taken over by the request to transfer what I have playing to my HomePod minis. It’s far too aggressive.

AirPods Max Are My Best Audio Buddies


It’s been a little over two months since I received my AirPods Max, and I’ve used them every single day since getting them. I love them very much, especially so since I used an Apple gift card with a very generous amount placed on it to purchase them.

I won’t bury the lede: do I think you should get AirPods Max for yourself? Probably not. I got extremely lucky with my gift, and I chose to spend that money on something that I thought I would appreciate. Turns out they’re lovely, and I’m grateful for them.

As far as headphones go, they’re both expensive and not expensive at all. Compared to other noise-cancelling headphones in its quality range, e.g., the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, they’re overpriced. Heck, even compared to other Apple audio products they’re overpriced. Stack them up next to something like the Audeze LCD-4 headphones, however, and you’ll see what a bargain they can be.

If someone was looking to purchase a great pair of headphones, I’d probably point them in the direction of the ones from Sony.1 Those offer similar functionality and sound for a couple of hundred dollars less than the AirPods Max. To be frank, that’s the better deal.

However, I’ve been enjoying Apple’s offering and think they fit mostly well in Apple’s audio lineup.

ii. The sound of AirPods Max

Ubiquitous “I’m not an audiophile” warning.

Apple’s doing a lot of computational work to make these headphones sound balanced and present. Compared to their Beats line of products, these headphones offer sound that doesn’t assault your ears with heavy bass. Instead, I’m hearing bright high notes, a midrange that makes vocals sound like the person singing is right in front of me, and bass that thumps the inside of my head without making my brain feel like it’s being squished.

Apologies for the use of florid descriptions of the way these sound. At least I didn’t use “sparkly” or “chunky” or “tinny.”

Everything feels accurate to my ear. I’m confident that what I’m hearing is, for the most part, what I should be hearing. It’s all just there. What I’m hearing lives inside my head, directly center stage.

That’s because it’s not just some magnets moving the air between the headphones and my ears, as many headphones are. There’s a computer chip inside each ear cup that processes, tunes, and adjusts what’s being beamed to them from my phone or other devices. The sound it plays is being styled, but not to alter what was created by the artist. Instead, it’s to enhance the experience for the listener.

The noise cancellation is also the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s not on par with Apple’s previous best, the AirPods Pro, because they’re better. Instead of being shoved inside your ear canal it envelops your ear with a soft cushion. I don’t experience any of the pressure that some people can feel when they wear noise-cancelling headphones, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Apple’s figured out how to make a pleasant cancellation experience as invisible as possible.

Likewise, their Transparency Mode, which relies on that same magic, is breathtaking to consider. The headphones aren’t just turning off noise cancellation—you’d then only hear muffled sounds from around you. Instead, they’re using the many microphones in the headphones to “play” outside sounds to you, just as it plays music. Every time I switch over to this mode, by pushing the noise control button, I marvel at how it seems like I’m not actually wearing headphones.

These sound so good that I don’t think I’ll ever consider another pair of headphones.

iii. The feel of AirPods Max

There was a big fuss about the feel of these headphones when they came out. It’s safe to say that everyone’s concerns are, on the whole, not a problem in the slightest. These are the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever owned, and I look forward to putting them on each day.

The only thing anyone should be concerned about is the fabric mesh on the headband. This “canopy,” as Apple calls it, will forever feel vulnerable to the world. I fear the day when I accidentally snag it on something and it screws up the fit and feel of the headphones. This is reason enough to invest in AppleCare+ for them.

Otherwise, they’re outstanding. I can wear them all day without feeling like they’re squishing my head—a common problem with other headphones I’ve owned. The ear cushions feel like pleasant pillows. The telescoping arms extend to the perfect length for my (large-ish) head. Everything comes together to equal comfort.

I’ve not once felt like these are too heavy. They feel perfect in their weight and distribution. Many people complained about their feel and how much they moved around on the head. I don’t know where that’s coming from. I have a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50X headphones that I use when recording podcasts. Since getting the Max, I dread having to wear these. They do feel lighter than headphones made primarily of metal, but they also feel like cheap pieces of crap in comparison. They flop around, squeeze my head, and struggle to achieve a decent seal around my ears.

AirPods Max glow with the luxury Apple imbues so many of its products. I feel like I’m wearing something special when I slip these on.

iv. They do fall down in places

There’s some stuff about the AirPods Max that do dampen the enjoyable experience:

  • The Smart Case is forgettable at best, but it’s mostly just bad. It has a misaligned notch for the charging cable, it offers zero protection for the mesh canopy, and it’s boring. It pales in comparison to the Wireless Charging Case used by the other AirPods.
  • This isn’t necessarily a problem with the headphones, but Siri is still lacking. I use it frequently because it’s an easy way to do many things. However, it’s clear there’s still so much potential that’s not being realized. Instead of a personal assistant hugging my ears, I have a somewhat competent robot on my head.
  • The incredible Spatial Audio feature isn’t currently available on the Apple TV. This may be more of a limitation with the Apple TV box—it is an older piece of hardware. Having Spatial Audio available to me would make for a great experience that would set it far apart from the competition. This is a massive oversight that Apple needs to fix as soon as possible.

v. They’re the best headphones I’ve ever owned

Surely, they’re not the best sounding headphones ever made. Put on a costly pair of wired headphones that are attached to an imposing stack of converters, amplifiers, and equalizers and you’d no doubt have a transcendent experience that the AirPods Max will never be able to meet. That also sounds like a cumbersome undertaking, and a damn expensive one.

There’s not really a price ceiling when it comes to audio equipment. Audio gear is a money monster. It will consume whatever cash you throw at it, and it’ll do it with a greedy smile on its face.

You can find headphones that’ll run you the price of a brand-new car. You can get a digital-to-analog converter (or DAC) that’s five times the price of the AirPods Max. A quick internet search will give you listings of floor speakers that can cost as much as an enormous house.

The only limit on this stuff is how much your wallet is capable of handling.

I don’t want any of that nonsense. If that’s your thing, then more power to you, but it’s not mine. I value a frictionless experience that can delight my ears. I don’t want to be tethered to an amp because I’m wearing headphones that won’t even function without wired power. Instead, I want to be able to connect to multiple devices with ease, move freely around my home, and play whatever I want whenever I want.

AirPods Max have given me all of that, and I couldn’t be more happy to own them. If I had the money, I would buy them a second time (probably for my wife), even if I wouldn’t necessarily say other people should get them. If you’ve got the expendable cash, then go for it, but again, they’re so damn expensive. They’re still one of my favorite Apple products ever. They consistently amaze me and have been a great companion as I’ve written these words. I’m a fan for life.

  1. In this case, I’m assuming this theoretical person doesn’t sleep on a bed of cash. [return]

Apple just discontinued the HomePod and I think that’s sad news. I’ve got two of them serving as an amazing stereo system for my television.

Apple can still do a lot in this space. They just need to try harder. Hopefully, this is to make room for an Apple TV sound bar? Please?

Central Park was just renewed for a third season on Apple TV+, which is great. It’s a fine show.

Makes me wonder what the first show to be cancelled by them will be. Will that be a thing with Apple, or will it be a place where creators can work without fear of being removed? 📺

What I Wouldn't Give for an Apple TV Soundbar

Jason Snell has been talking about wanting an Apple TV soundbar for a few years now, and I want to join in on this chorus.

I’ve had several Apple TV boxes over the years. Even in the face of rising opposition from the likes of Roku, Amazon, and Google, not to mention nearly every smart television sold in the last few years, I’ve held firm on sticking with Apple’s overpriced offering. I appreciate the interface, the strong integration with Apple’s services, and I’m even okay with the much-derided remote.

These days, there are some massive blind spots that Apple has with this device. It’s lagging hard behind the rest of the competition, and that’s becoming a problem. It’s got me considering if a Roku would make my tv life easier, but I don’t really want to toss my hat into that ring.

I do love the Apple TV, but it’s good to be critical of the things you love.

The current Apple TV is way too expensive

Even for Apple, a base price of $179 for a device that hasn’t seen an appreciable update in years is verging on the unconscionable. I’m reminded of the trash can Mac Pro from 2013, which never lost its $3,000 starting price tag, even after several years and the definite news that a newer, better Mac Pro was on the horizon. The thing got older and it stayed the same price. It became an issue for Apple.

The Apple TV is powerful, though, even by today’s standards. Not only can it display 4K content in glorious Dolby Vision high dynamic range, it can also play some fairly demanding Apple Arcade games.

The thing is, most other streaming device or tv manufacturers provide a 4K Dolby Vision capable box. They’re also able to do it for, generally, at least half the price of the Apple TV. An equivalent product from Roku is only $99. From Amazon, it’s $119 for their cube or $49.99 for their stick. Heck, you can even get something with a suspiciously Apple TV-like interface from Google for $49.99.

Apple isn’t providing a novel product anymore. At this point, what it has to offer is a nice integration with its other services, and that’s not worth a premium.

Half of the Apple TV is pointless if you don’t game on it

Arcade feels half-baked on the TV. By trying to appeal to the broadest set of customers on the widest range of devices, they’re hindering their ability to make the Apple TV a seductive gaming device. When your competition is Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, coming in with a service that distinguishes itself from the rest of its games by, mostly, having no ads1 means that you’re falling short of the competition.

Apple may never pull serious gamers away from their PlayStations, Xboxes, or Switches if they refuse to go all in on their gaming efforts. This means creating blockbuster games that people feel a need to play and including a real controller in the box. Sure, you can connect one from a PlayStation or Xbox if you want to a better experience. However, the Venn diagram of people who own both a dedicated gaming controller and an Apple TV probably isn’t as close to a circle as Apple might hope. Instead, by including just an Apple TV remote in the box, their suggestion is to use that as a controller. That’s not a terrible experience.

I’ve got a PlayStation, so I do all of my gaming on that device. It’s more enjoyable. I use my Apple TV exclusively for streaming. I don’t want to game on it; I’ll hop onto my iPad if I want to play something from Arcade.

As it stands, I paid for potential that’s not being delivered. $179 was spent on this thing, and I’m using maybe only $79 worth of this device. I’d put the remaining hundred on the bet that I’m not the only one who doesn’t care about gaming on Apple TV.

Give us options

What I want is a different Apple TV, or rather, a few different Apple TVs. Not just storage options. Two, maybe three, different devices:

  1. A small stick that can be plugged directly into an HDMI port.
  2. An Apple TV soundbar, which would combine the best of the Apple TV and the HomePod into a single product.
  3. A box similar to what’s offered now. This could be for those who want to game on their television, but don’t need or already have a sound system.

The stick would be a wonderful option for people who don’t want the sort of audio quality a soundbar can provide. Maybe they’re living in a smaller apartment or dorm room. They want to watch their content, but space is at a premium. A stick that can plug directly into the back of the tv, provide 4K video, and come in under, say, $60 would be an amazing product.

I currently have an Apple TV outputting its audio to a paired set of HomePods. It’s a wonderful setup, with remarkably few issues. I happily enjoy my movies and tv shows on this every day.

However, it’s clear that Apple’s intention wasn’t to have people pair their Apple TV with a HomePod. It was introduced as a phenomenal (and very pricey) speaker with which to play your music. Audio can also be streamed from the Apple TV and played on the HomePod. Heck, even Dolby Atmos audio can be played through them. It’s a feature that seems hacked together when Apple finally realized that people were using them as television speakers.

I would love to see what Apple can produce when they create an Apple TV+HomePod experience with greater intention. A soundbar offering could be that device. This could become an essential piece of living room equipment, as necessary as the television itself. When smart TVs are becoming more capable of playing high-quality content by the day, you need that sort of selling point to stay ahead of the competition.

I’d also like to see it stay under $400. Not a bad price when companies like Sonos sell a basic soundbar for $399. That one doesn’t even have Apple TV or Siri integration.

The Apple TV has never really taken off because it’s an expensive product aimed at the wrong people. When there are Roku devices that start at $30, pricing it at $179 is a nonstarter for most. They don’t particularly care what the Apple TV offers. They just want to watch The Office and save a few bucks. They’re already paying a bundle each month on streaming services. This is where the stick would shine.

On the other hand, many people would love to have a home theater experience that can come close to replicating a theater. An Apple TV soundbar would get us closer to that dream, and we’d be willing to pay for it. I would love a single device that can act as an Apple TV, HomePod quality surround sound speaker, HomeKit hub, and maybe even another Siri communicator.

A better lineup would go a long way toward making Apple a contender in the streaming device game again. As it stands now, they’re letting competitors lap them by seemingly ignoring their device, and I don’t know what the intention is there. Do they actually think it’s good enough or are they letting it die a slow death? If they’re looking at phasing out the Apple TV because it’s not selling as well as other players in this market, maybe not selling well isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s because the Apple TV isn’t good enough anymore.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge plus. [return]

I just spent the last couple hours restoring my M1 Mac Mini because of a consistent kernel panic issue. I think it may have solved the issue and brought back my great computer. At least, I hope so because that was a lot of work.

My M1 Mac Mini is a truly wonderful machine. I love every part of it, except for the near daily kernel panics that occur when it goes to sleep. It only ever seems to happen once a day, but it’s still enough to be worrisome and frustrating.

Two more weeks until WWDC and I couldn’t be more excited about what’s coming!

Happy belated birthday to me! If you’ve got an iPad Pro, I couldn’t recommend this keyboard enough. It’s everything I was hoping for and more. I think this iPad is now my favorite computer ever (and I had some pre-butterfly keyboard MacBook Pros).

An iPad Pro attached to a Magic Keyboard on a desk.

Why would you do this? What sick monsters are out there bending their multi-hundred dollar tablets? WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH PEOPLE THAT AN ARTICLE LIKE THIS NECESSARY?

I would pay Apple a subscription fee forever if I could hide the app reviews from people complaining about how they don’t want to pay subscription fees. “$10 a year?!?! Only millionaires can afford this sort of scam!!!1!111!!”