Other articles in the series CES 2018
- CES 2018: Eureka Park Wraps Up CES (18 Jan 18)
- CES 2018: PEPCOM Digital Experience (11 Jan 18)
- CES 2018: CES Unveiled Gives a Duck (09 Jan 18)
- CES 2018: Tech Trends from the Consumer Technology Association (08 Jan 18)
If you’re struggling with manual entry of numeric data, Adam Engst has a hot tip that can make it as easy as speaking. Josh Centers takes a look at the snarky yet powerful CARROT Weather app for iOS, and he looks ahead to HomeKit hardware in 2018. To wrap up this issue, Jeff Porten brings us more gadgets and gizmos from this year’s CES show in Las Vegas. Notable software releases this week include GraphicConverter 10.5.4, Microsoft Office 2016 16.9, DEVONthink/DEVONnote 2.9.17, Mailplane 3.7.2, Fantastical 2.4.5, Ulysses 12.3, SoundSource 3.0.3, Piezo 1.5.6, 1Password 6.8.6, and Typinator 7.4.
If you need to enter numbers, dates, or times into your Mac by hand, there’s an easier way than typing them with your keyboard. Instead, try dictating them into your iPhone or iPad!Show full article
As I’ve mentioned a few times in TidBITS, one of my hobbies is competitive running. As part of that, I’ve become involved with the Finger Lakes Runners Club, where I organize regular track meets for hundreds of runners. Using technology to manage running events is an intriguing challenge that I could go on about for ages, but for complicated reasons, I’ve been forced to revert to manual data entry when it comes to publishing finishing times for our relay races. I feel like I’m back in the 1980s, typing numbers on my Das Keyboard — at least it provides a keypad, unlike many other keyboards.
I realize that manual data entry isn’t something many people have to do all that often, but I’ve discovered a vastly simpler and more accurate way to transcribe a set of numbers: dictation! I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure this out, but I’ve never heard of anyone using dictation for numeric data entry before.
The realization that I could use dictation came to me when I was wishing I had someone to read me the numbers for our most recent relay results. It’s difficult to look at the timing tape, read a number, transfer attention to the keyboard, and then type the number accurately. That’s especially true with races that last more than 1 minute, where the times all have colons separating the minutes from the seconds — keypads don’t make it easier to type a colon.
In iOS, dictation is always available via the microphone button on the standard keyboard.
On the Mac, however, you need to turn it on. In macOS 10.13 High Sierra, enable it in System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation. Make sure to select the Use Enhanced Dictation checkbox.
Since I need to create a CSV file in the end for uploading to the club’s WordPress-based Web site, I started on my iMac, in Excel 2016. Dictation worked there, but it was frustrating because I had to select a cell and then click in it to get an insertion point before anything I dictated would be inserted. Next, I tried Numbers, which worked a little better in that I could press Return after my number was recognized to move to the next cell and read another number. Neither understood “New line” as “Press Return to take me to the next cell down.” But the proof of concept was there.
However, dictation in macOS has some recognition quirks, particularly when zeroes or decimals are involved. Here are some of the variants I tried, and the specific results could vary with different numbers as well. Oddly, speaking slightly faster improved the chances that the last two variants would work.
- “Four colon zero three point three” results in “4:0 3.3”
- “Four colon oh three point three” results in “4:03 .3”
- “Four colon oh three dot three” usually results in “4:oh three.3” but sometimes the correct “4:03.3”
- “Four colon zero three dot three” often results in “4:03three.3” and also sometimes the correct “4:03.3”
My first reaction to these errors was to use BBEdit to dictate a series of numbers using one of the first two formats above, since it would be easy to go through afterward and delete the spurious spaces. That worked well, in fact, since I’d speak a number, say “New line,” and then go on to the next number. Then I could copy that set of numbers and paste it into the spreadsheet I was using to create the CSV file.
Then I had another thought — what about the iPhone? I opened up Notes, and started reading down my column of numbers, separating each one with the “New line” command. And you know what? Dictation in iOS was way better than on the Mac, and no matter which of the variants I used, it formatted the number right every time. In subsequent testing, I discovered that saying “dot” instead of “point” prevented a few spurious spaces from creeping in. Since I have Notes syncing via iCloud, it was child’s play to open it on my Mac in order to copy the numbers to my spreadsheet.
For giggles, I also tried dictating a list of dates and then a series of times. iOS’s dictation recognized both perfectly. Naturally, as soon as you get into ordinary words, its accuracy drops, and you’d have to check everything and fix a variety of mistakes. But with numbers and highly regularized data, there isn’t nearly as much room for error.
In fact, I’d suggest that dictating numbers into iOS might be the most accurate way of entering them from paper. It’s easy to make mistakes when transferring your gaze back and forth between a sheet of paper and the keyboard, and it’s also easy to tap a wrong key accidentally. But when you’re dictating, you can devote all your attention to reading and speaking the numbers, eliminating both context-switching and typing mistakes.
Give it a try!
by Josh Centers
CARROT Weather’s AI would kill you if it could, but since it can’t, it instead provides accurate and attractive weather forecasts. Josh Centers explains why CARROT Weather has become his favorite weather app.Show full article
I have a special place in my heart for the CARROT suite of apps, since their creator, Brian Mueller, was one of the first developers to pitch me when I broke into the tech writing business. That first app, originally called CARROT, is now known as CARROT To-Do, because he’s expanded it into an entire suite, composed of CARROT To-Do, CARROT Fit, CARROT Alarm, Artificial Superintelligence (a game featuring CARROT), and even a CARROT sticker pack.
The gimmick of the CARROT apps is that they’re powered by a hilariously murderous AI called CARROT, which dishes out insults while helping you reach your goals. CARROT is inspired by GLaDOS from Valve’s “Portal” series of games, but while Valve has seemingly given up on game development, CARROT is very much still alive. Well, in the AI sense, anyway.
The latest app in the CARROT suite is the $4.99 CARROT Weather, and it’s not only my favorite app in the suite, it’s also my favorite weather app period. Bradley Chambers of the Sweet Setup concurs, naming it the best weather app for iPhone and iPad. CARROT Weather is optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
When you open CARROT Weather, it gives you an hourly forecast in an attractive format, along with a daily forecast on the bottom of the screen. By default, CARROT Weather gets its weather predictions from Dark Sky, which is pretty accurate (Adam Engst is a fan, see “Dark Sky 5 Offers Hyperlocal Weather Forecasts for iOS,” 7 August 2015). I love that I can open the app and see the entire day’s weather at a glance.
You also get a daily message from CARROT, along the lines of:
- “Does the sun really think he can hide? We see you behind those clouds, stupid star.”
- “It’s hotter than Pauly Shore’s career out here.” (It was 11 degrees Fahrenheit.)
- “Sorry meatbag, I’m busy sending nice weather to the s*** hole countries right now.” (CARROT claims that it actually controls the weather.)
CARROT Weather displays a warning icon on the main screen if there are any weather alerts in your area — tap the icon to see full details. Alas, the National Weather Service writes the alerts, not CARROT.
There’s also usually a little illustration of white stick figures doing something. I don’t know what it means, if anything. When it’s raining or snowing, a graph of precipitation over the next hour replaces the figures.
CARROT Weather features a few other goodies that make it worth the price of admission:
Full weather radar (United States only). It lets you scroll backward in time to see the path of precipitation, but not forward to see where it’s predicted to go.
An Apple Watch app that actually works. The complication is reliable and the app loads instantly! To date, it’s the only third-party complication or app I use regularly.
Secret locations you can track down, such as the Moon, Chernobyl, and the Titanic
My personal favorite, an AR mode that brings CARROT into the semi-real world. Whatever you do, don’t poke or look directly in her ocular sensors!
A “time travel” feature that lets you view weather from the past or future! You can go all the way back to 1948 or ahead to 2028. (Take the weather predictions for 2028 with a grain of salt.)
CARROT Weather has a rich settings screen. You can adjust CARROT’s personality to any of the following:
- Professional, if you don’t care for CARROT’s banter. This disables CARROT’s personality.
- Snarky, in which CARROT “will deliver sarcastic weather reports (mostly) free of violence”
- Homicidal, in which CARROT “may threaten you and your loved ones with bodily harm”
- Overkill, in which CARROT “will make creative use of profanity in her forecasts”
For all settings other than Professional, you can also alter CARROT’s politics to centrist, liberal, conservative, or none. I’m not sure what the differences between the three political settings are — feel free to experiment.
To get the most out of CARROT Weather, you need to purchase one of the in-app subscriptions, available as an in-app purchase. The Premium Club subscription costs $0.49 per month or $3.99 per year and adds the following features:
- The capability to choose which data points appear in the iOS and watchOS apps
- Additional data layers for the radar
- Automatic background updates for Apple Watch
- Apple Watch notifications for precipitation and severe weather
I think the Premium Club membership is worth it just for the notifications, which I’ve found to be reliable. Better yet, unlike every other weather app I’ve tried, they don’t drain my battery! In fact, when I check my battery usage in Settings > Battery, CARROT has used only 2 percent of my battery over the past 24 hours, and it doesn’t even show up in the 7-day battery usage list.
For $1.49 per month or $9.99 per year, you can join the Ultrapremium Club, which unlocks Weather Underground as a source. In my experience, Dark Sky is pretty good, but Weather Underground is just a bit better. I’ve used both, but neither is entirely accurate. For example, it was snowing the other day while CARROT Weather showed clear skies with Weather Underground’s data. But I learned from @NashSevereWx on Twitter that flurries were happening under the radar, so at that point, I was butting up to the limits of modern meteorology. For less anecdotal accuracy comparisons, check out ForecastAdvisor.
If you’ve been left unsatisfied by other weather apps, CARROT Weather will do a good job for you. But be glad she’s just an app.
by Josh Centers
Apple’s HomeKit home-automation ecosystem has been growing slowly but steadily, and numerous companies took advantage of CES 2018 to announce new HomeKit-compatible devices. Explore the most compelling new products with HomeKit expert Josh Centers.Show full article
TidBITS generally relies on roving correspondent Jeff Porten to ferret out interesting products at the unimaginably massive CES trade show every year. But there was one topic I followed closely from afar this year: home automation, and specifically, products compatible with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem. If you’re dabbling with installing HomeKit switches and sensors in your house this year, here are the new products you’ll want to check out.
Belkin Wemo -- The first big HomeKit announcement out of CES was that Belkin finally launched HomeKit support for its popular line of Wemo devices — something the company had first announced in May 2017 (see “Belkin Adding HomeKit Support to Wemo,” 18 May 2017). That’s the good news. The bad news is that enabling HomeKit support requires you to buy a $40 Wemo Bridge and plug it into your router, and it’s sold out until next month. Also, early reviews indicate that it doesn’t support Wemo light bulbs, which were discontinued last year.
Despite those caveats, this move is a big deal because Belkin Wemo is to smart outlets what Philips Hue is to smart bulbs: one of the first user-friendly models on the market and the recipient of tremendous ecosystem support. Some variant of the Wemo outlet has been the Wirecutter’s top pick for smart outlet for years, and if you already have several Wemo outlets, the Wemo Bridge is easily worth $40. But for those who haven’t already invested in the Wemo ecosystem, it’s worth holding off to see if future Wemo models support HomeKit without the bridge.
Philips Hue -- Speaking of Hue, Philips had some welcome news at CES, especially on the software front. First up, the iOS app (and its Android counterpart) is getting a much-needed redesign in Q2 2018:
Based on comments, feedback and ideas from Philips Hue users, the redesign will enhance both existing and new features, to help consumers light their home smarter with even more ease. The new app will improve daily use, and ensure seamless setup and integration of Hue accessories and new Philips Hue Entertainment partnership integrations. The interface will also let consumers instantly access their last-used scenes and group lights and set their desired color temperature or color.
I just hope it improves HomeKit sync so that the Hue app stops overwriting my accessory and scene names!
But wait, what’s this Philips Hue Entertainment bit mentioned? Many Hue-compatible apps, such as Light DJ, let you sync audio and video with Hue lights. Philips is incorporating such syncing directly into its ecosystem, starting with a new app, Hue Sync, for Windows and Mac. Hue Sync is due later this year and will let you sync your lights to any game, movie, or song played on your computer. Philips will also be partnering with companies to integrate light syncing directly into other products. First up will be gaming-focused PC hardware maker Razer. Check out the video to get a sense of what Razer plans to do with Hue Entertainment.
More practically, Philips is finally releasing outdoor Hue lights, due in mid-2018. Outdoor lights have been high on my wishlist since I first starting using Hue bulbs, so I’ll be curious about pricing.
Elgato Eve -- Elgato has long been one of HomeKit’s biggest boosters, and the company shows no signs of slowing down, having announced two products at CES: a redesigned Eve Room (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: The Elgato Eve Room,” 19 June 2017) and a new product called the Eve Button, which acts as a HomeKit remote.
The Eve Room and Eve Button share the same chassis as last year’s Eve Degree. That’s clever, but you’d be forgiven for trying to turn your lights off with your thermometer.
The original Eve Room was a white plastic box that tracked air quality, temperature, and humidity. The new one has the same capabilities, but it now features a built-in rechargeable battery and an E-Ink display that shows those things so you don’t have to look at your phone. When it ships in March 2018, it’ll set you back $99.95, $20 more than the current model. If that’s a bit much for you, the Eve Degree, which trades the air quality sensor for an air pressure sensor, is available on Amazon for only $61.
The Eve Button is a portable HomeKit remote that works independently of an iOS device. You can assign three HomeKit scenes to it: one tied to a single press, another to a long press, and the third to a double press. I haven’t been terribly impressed with similar devices from other manufacturers, so I’ll be curious to see how well the Eve Button works. It’s available now from the Elgato Store for $49.95.
iDevices and Brilliant -- Smart switches have been around for a while — I have an Eve Light Switch installed in my TV room — but manufacturers are starting to realize that a hardwired smart home controller could be used for more than merely flipping one set of lights on and off.
At CES, iDevices announced two smart in-wall switches: the Ceiling Fan Switch and the Instinct. The Ceiling Fan Switch is a HomeKit-compatible switch that has additional buttons to control most ceiling fans. The Instinct is seemingly identical, except that it has support for Amazon Alexa built in so you can use your voice to control your fan. iDevices couldn’t provide pricing or availability yet.
More ambitious (and likely more expensive) is the Brilliant Control, due sometime in 2018. It features a touchscreen, various sensors, and support for Amazon Alexa. It claims to work with Bose, Ecobee, Honeywell, Nest, SmartThings, Sonos, and others, but unfortunately will not work with HomeKit, at least initially. But despite that, the concept is cool. Light switches are fairly easy to install, and it’s genius to replace one with a gizmo that can control lights, thermostat, audio, and more. The Brilliant Control will cost between $200 and $350 when it ships.
“Is Your House on Fire, Alexa?” -- Ever say to yourself, “Man, I wish I could talk to my smoke detector!” No? OK, have you ever wished your smoke detector could play music? No? Silly sounding, I know, but it’s easier than embedding speakers in your ceiling. The Onelink Safe & Sound smoke and carbon monoxide detector can do both those things, it supports HomeKit, it has Amazon Alexa built in, and it will support AirPlay 2 whenever that ships. Even though it’s a whopping $249.99, I want one — if nothing else, to mirror the Alexa-powered Ecobee4 on the other side of my kitchen. Apparently I’m not alone: it’s already on backorder and isn’t expected to be back in stock in March 2018. 9to5Mac has a neat video of it.
Abode -- HomeKit works with security systems, but we haven’t seen much support yet (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: HomeKit Security Provides Peace of Mind,” 11 September 2017). That will improve when Abode ships the Iota all-in-one security system in late Q1 2018. In truth, the Iota looks like a glorified indoor security camera, but it does feature battery and cellular backups. If you’re looking for an inexpensive solution and don’t need HomeKit compatibility, check out the WyzeCam, which I hope to review for TidBITS soon.
Nanoleaf -- In the HomeKit space, no company has the panache of Nanoleaf. They make multi-colored triangular light panels that go on your wall. Why? Because it’s trippy and it’s the future, man. Don’t you ever watch any movies? Here, watch this one to see what it’s about.
Is that not cool and futuristic enough for you? How about the Nanoleaf Rhythm Edition, which makes the light panels flash in tune with music? Check out its video.
At CES, Nanoleaf announced new square panels that are touch sensitive and include both music sync and a motion sensor out of the box. Nanoleaf says that it hopes it’ll be priced similarly to the current product, which sells at $230 for nine panels. You’ll need to cash in your retirement account if you want your house to look like the set of “Blade Runner 2049.”
In case futuristic touch, motion, and sound sensitive light panels weren’t out there enough for you, there’s the upcoming Nanoleaf Remote, which is a decahedral remote for the Nanoleaf panels (think of a ten-sided die from Dungeons and Dragons). You rotate it and smack it on the ground to control your panels, and from the video, it looks like you can control other HomeKit devices with it.
Brief Thoughts on the HomeKit Ecosystem -- Overall, CES 2018 was net positive for HomeKit, as the ecosystem grows slowly but steadily. But two things worry me:
Even though Apple has taken steps to make HomeKit more accessible to device makers (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: What’s Coming in iOS 11,” 7 July 2017), we’re still seeing reputable vendors reject HomeKit support due to expense. I appreciate that Apple has rigorous standards and filters out junk vendors, but I worry that they’re hampering HomeKit adoption too much. Unfortunately, even Apple’s protocols aren’t enough to prevent security vulnerabilities (see “HomeKit Vulnerability Discovered, Already Patched,” 8 December 2017).
Alexa was arguably the “winner” of CES 2018, and it seems like every smart home vendor is racing to put it in their products. If Apple had been more open and inviting, Siri could have been in that position. The Ecobee4 includes Alexa, and I don’t find it any better at recognizing my words than Siri. But Alexa does provide more integration with other apps and services, thanks in large part to Amazon’s willingness to license it to third parties. At this rate, by the time Apple ships the HomePod, Alexa will be in your speakers, TV, thermostat, and smoke detector. I’m leery of these always-listening AI assistants, but if I’m going to be stuck with one, I’d much rather it be Apple’s, given the company’s superior privacy record. But Amazon may already have too much momentum with Alexa for the HomePod and Siri to compete.
I hope these two issues don’t render HomeKit an also-ran in the home automation space because I believe that it’s the superior ecosystem. I’ve experimented with both Amazon’s and Google’s solutions and have found them lacking, mostly in the interface department.
by Jeff Porten
Jeff Porten, who never leaves civilization, finds several products designed to help you survive the wilderness, alongside things useful in cities.Show full article
Tuesday’s hot tip for aspiring tech journalists: when interrupting a conversation to ask a quick question, double-check to make sure someone else isn’t filming, lest you appear in full mortification mode in Jeff Gamet’s MacObserver video story.
Rocketbook Notebooks -- Rocketbook 🎁 might win my prize for the clever idea done best this year. A Rocketbook is one of several “cloud” notebooks, in which you write or draw with plain old analog pens, pencils, or markers. The bottom of each page has a QR code and several generic icons. In a free iPhone or Android app, you register what you want each icon to do, then tick the icons and scan the page with the app. One icon might send the page by email; another uploads it to Dropbox or iCloud. There are seven different icons and a large menu of services that you can mix and match. Prices range from $12 to $34, including a notebook you can erase and reuse with a dry-erase cloth, and another that you erase in a microwave(!). If you just want to try it out, grab the free PDFs and give it a spin.
RapidX USB Car Charger -- USB car chargers are ubiquitous enough that they’re likely on sale at your local pharmacy, but RapidX has an interesting twist with their X5 🎁 and X5+ models. The front of the X5 plugs into a car charging port and has two USB-A ports; what’s unusual is that a four-foot cable connects it to a second adapter with three USB-A ports (X5) or two USB-A ports and a USB-C port (X5+) so people can also use it in the back seat. The $25 X5 is available now; the $30 X5+ lets you unplug the cord when the rear ports are not in use.
CosmoConnected Bike Helmet -- I covered CosmoConnected’s motorcycle helmet last year (see “CES 2017: Cool Products from CES Unveiled,” 5 January 2017). This year they’re adding a bicycle helmet to their lineup. The helmet has embedded front and back LED lights that stay on for visibility and signal automatically when the bicyclist brakes or turns. In the event of an accident, the helmet talks to your phone to call for help. Available in September 2018 for $60; although the company is French, the press release promises U.S. distribution.
Coros OMNI Bike Helmet -- If you want your helmet sooner or more laden with features, check out the Coros OMNI. It includes a bone-conduction headset and forehead-mounted shielded microphone to listen to audio or take calls without impeding ambient sound, and a remote control you clamp to the handlebars. A forward flashlight shows you the road, but unlike the CosmoConnected it doesn’t include turning lights. It also has an emergency crash system to call for help, and since helmets must be replaced after they take an impact, turning in an old helmet gets you a 20 percent discount on a replacement. Available late January 2018 for $199 in a choice of several colors.
Qobuz Hi-Res Music Streaming -- I’ve been unimpressed with various hi-res music streaming services at CES, given studies showing that most people can’t tell the difference. (NPR has a helpful online quiz that tells you whether you can.) My hearing is so poor, I was able to downsample my music to 64 Kbps to fit on my old phone, and it didn’t bother me. But the Qobuz high-quality streaming service 🎁 has thought of people like me: the company is partnering with Mimi Hearing Technologies to provide streaming music adjusted to match frequencies you have trouble hearing. Qobuz is hoping to have this set up in time for a mid-2018 launch in the United States. Prices range from $99 per year to $349 per year; higher-priced plans include higher bit rates and lossless music, but lower-priced plans also have a monthly subscription option. No word on what the cost will be for Mimi enhancement, if any, or if it will only be included in premium plans.
Gnarbox Photo and Video Editor -- Serious photographers sometimes find themselves far away from a computer (and civilization, for that matter), and I’ve seen several products at CES that automatically offload photos and video to additional storage. Gnarbox takes that one step further; it’s a ruggedized 1-pound computer that backs up your photos and provides photo and video editing tools, all controlled by your phone. Available now, $299 for 128 GB of internal storage, $399 for 256 GB.
goTenna Mesh -- Speaking of being away from civilization, I understand that there are still parts of the world that lack cell phone reception. Enter goTenna Mesh, a portable receiver that talks to other goTenna Mesh devices within range — around 4 miles in open terrain (and 0.5 miles in thick forest) — and allows for either private texts or emergency broadcast messages. GPS locates everyone carrying one on maps that you download before going off-grid. Each device adds to the mesh network, so the more people carrying one (regardless of whether they’re in your group or strangers), the greater the range of the network, because signals can hopscotch from one goTenna to the next. Encryption prevents anyone but your recipients from reading your private messages. A full charge gets you around 24 hours of use. Available now, sold by the pair for $179 (you need at least two to be useful).
QUARTZ Water Purification Bottle -- In keeping with the off-grid theme, the QUARTZ bottle uses UV light to purify water. It has a variety of power modes, starting with “keep this bottle from tasting and smelling wonky,” up to an “adventure mode” to clean water that might come from unsafe sources. This might be useful when you’re away from civilization. A bottle weighs 13 ounces empty and can hold 18 ounces of water. One charge reportedly lasts 2–3 months. It’ll set you back $99 in April 2018.
myCharge All Powerful Battery -- I’ll admit, there are some products I remember and want to mention just because their names amuse me. The myCharge 🎁 All Powerful is just a great name. It’s a 20,000 mA battery with USB-A, USB-C, an AC outlet, and a Qi charging pad, which you can use to run your gadgets… away from civilization. All of these ports can also be used to charge the All Powerful from another device or wall power. As might be expected, with that many ports, it’s not small. You can buy it for $199 in April 2018.
myFC Jaq Hybrid Fuel Cell Battery -- Fuel cell power technology has been 5 years away for as long as I can remember at CES; I first wrote about it for TidBITS a decade ago (see “CES 2008 Day 1: Keyboards, Power, Eyewear, and More,” 9 January 2008). It still won’t power our flying cars, but maybe this year it will charge your iPhone when you’re, uh, away from civilization. (That’s the last time I’ll say that, I promise!) myFC is hoping to introduce the Jaq Hybrid later this year: it’s a 2750 mA rechargeable battery with a slot to take single-use fuel cell cards. You only need a card when you’re caught with a dead battery. The cards contain sodium hydroxide and water; plugging them into the Hybrid powers up the battery in an environmentally friendly way, even though you’re tossing the card afterward. myFC is planning the battery to cost $59, and the cards to run $2 each.
Matias Wired Aluminum Keyboard -- Matias has released a backlit wired aluminum keyboard. As the booth rep said to me, “Apple decided to stop making this keyboard in favor of Bluetooth, so we made it instead.” But Matias’s keyboard has an added trick Apple’s never had: a dial that lets you change the color of the backlight. The keyboard sports scissor-switch keys with 2.1 mm of key travel; they feel like a MacBook did in the pre-USB-C days of 2015 and earlier. $99 pre-orders include free shipping and begin in late February 2018.
BrainTap Headset and Audio Meditation -- I’m fascinated by CES products claiming to be neuro-scientific, at least in part because so many of them make extraordinary claims that might be entirely due to the placebo effect (see last year’s NuCalm entry, “CES 2017: Gadget Finds on the CES Show Floor, Days 1 and 2,” 10 January 2017). Enter the BrainTap headset, a $495 gizmo that flashes red and blue lights into your closed eyes while you listen to a custom audio program covering one of 800 different meditative goals. BrainTap claims to “meditate for you,” which could be useful because meditation takes a bit of practice. Unfortunately, I’ve done that practice and can enter a meditative state easily and even sometimes accidentally, so I’m unsure whether the lights do anything, or if it just triggered a state I can achieve anyway. The helmet isn’t necessary to sign up for the $10-per-month audio service with access to that library of 800 programs. (If just the audio interests you, I can say good things about a different product, HelloMind’s hypnotherapy app, which I’ve been using since they gave it to me last year; their sleep programs work well for me. See “CES 2017: Gizmos from the PEPCOM Digital Experience,” 6 January 2017.)
Dreamlight High-Tech Sleep Mask -- Runner-up for far-fetched scientific claims is the Dreamlight sleep mask, which among other things, will integrate with your 23andMe genetic testing for sleep advice “tailored to your genes.” More down-to-earth, the Dreamlight is a sleep mask that wraps entirely around your head and is thick enough to be used as a pillow in a pinch. It includes audio headphones and embedded lights they claim will guide you into a deeper sleep with the company’s supplied audio tracks (or your own music) and will wake you more gently. Also, the lights provide “infrared beauty treatment.” I think this is PR-speak for “will lightly warm your eyelids.” You can back it for $100 on Indiegogo starting 17 January 2018; it’s scheduled to ship in April 2018.
Notable software releases this week include GraphicConverter 10.5.4, Microsoft Office 2016 16.9, DEVONthink/DEVONnote 2.9.17, Mailplane 3.7.2, Fantastical 2.4.5, Ulysses 12.3, SoundSource 3.0.3, Piezo 1.5.6, 1Password 6.8.6, and Typinator 7.4.Show full article
GraphicConverter 10.5.4 -- Lemkesoft has issued GraphicConverter 10.5.4, a maintenance release for the graphic conversion and editing utility. The update adds HEIC export capabilities via an external helper tool (requires macOS 10.13 High Sierra), a separate text antialias option, support for Mailplane 3 as an email application, and a new Copy XMP Face Names to XMP Persons contextual menu item. It also improves the speed of thumbnail and preview creation/display in the browser, improves the manual sort option, and provides a two-image advance option for slideshows on dual-display setups. ($39.95 new from Lemkesoft or the Mac App Store, free update, 181 MB, release notes, 10.9+)
Read/post comments about GraphicConverter 10.5.4.
Microsoft Office 2016 16.9 -- In a major jump from December’s version 15.41 of Office 2016, Microsoft has now released version 16.9 with the addition of real-time collaborative editing. For Word and PowerPoint, you’ll need to save your documents to OneDrive or SharePoint Online and then send an invitation to collaborators (Microsoft notes that Windows users need to be running PowerPoint 2010 or later). Collaborative editing in Excel requires an Office 365 subscription and spreadsheets saved to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or a SharePoint Online library.
Office 2016 also adds AutoSave to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, allowing Office 365 subscribers to enable the feature for files stored on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. The three apps also improve discovery of documents stored in your frequently used sites and groups in the Open menu.
In app-specific changes, Excel gains new charts (including funnel, sunburst, and histogram) and improves support for filters in a PivotTable. PowerPoint enables you to trim content from the beginning or end of an audio or video clip, and adds support for using your mouse as a laser pointer for improved focus during presentations. Outlook adds gestures for archiving (swiping left with two fingers) or deleting (swiping right) email from your Inbox. ($149.99 for one-time purchase, $99.99/$69.99 annual subscription options, free update through Microsoft AutoUpdate, release notes, 10.10+)
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DEVONthink/DEVONnote 2.9.17 -- DEVONtechnologies has updated all three editions of DEVONthink (Personal, Pro, and Pro Office) and DEVONnote to version 2.9.17. All three editions of DEVONthink make PDF annotations and text entered into PDF forms searchable, improve link insertion into plain text and Markdown documents, enable you to customize colors of Markdown documents, and resume playback of audio files after closing and reopening. Additionally, the Pro and Pro Office editions add support for sheets (table-like data) created with version 2.4 or later of the DEVONthink To Go iOS app and enable you to search databases via URL command.
DEVONthink Pro Office improves its Web interface to be compatible with current Web browsers and ensures that importing email messages via drag-and-drop skips already imported messages. DEVONnote receives only the link insertion improvement in plain text documents, along with several of the bug fixes for the other apps. (All updates are free. DEVONthink Pro Office, $149.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Professional, $79.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Personal, $49.95 new, release notes; DEVONnote, $24.95 new, release notes; 25 percent discount for TidBITS members on all editions of DEVONthink and DEVONnote. 10.9+)
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Mailplane 3.7.2 -- Uncomplex has released Mailplane 3.7.2, adding support for the new Google Calendar in OS X 10.11 El Capitan by fixing display issues in the full month and “find a time” views. The Gmail-specific email client also adds Clearbit Connect as a plug-in, prevents automatic unpacking of tar.gz files if Open Downloads Automatically is unchecked, fixes return link handling in conjunction with Evernote, updates to the latest version of WebKit, and adjusts the OAuth dialog due to recent Google changes. ($24.95 new, free update, 64.8 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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Fantastical 2.4.5 -- Flexibits has released Fantastical 2.4.5, adding events and reminders to Spotlight search results in macOS 10.13 High Sierra. The calendar app also improves support for repeating Facebook events, hides extra Google Hangout and Google Meet notes sent by Google Calendar, conceals HTML tags in notes, and fixes an issue in High Sierra where event tooltips could appear upside down. Additionally, using AppleScript to add multiple items no longer requires a delay between each parse sentence command. ($49.99 new from Flexibits and the Mac App Store, free update, 15.3 MB, release notes, 10.11+)
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Ulysses 12.3 -- The Ulysses writing app for the Mac and iOS has been updated to version 12.3, adding back the Services submenu to the Editor contextual menu. The update also fixes an issue with entering Chinese, Japanese, and Korean (CJK) characters into the editor search field, adds the Command-Control-Option-C keyboard shortcut for copying x-callback URLs, improves PDF export performance when using underlines, and fixes a crash that occurred when exporting to DOCX with fonts that have only bold styles.
Ulysses costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 annually for access to both Mac and iOS apps (a student discount is also available for $10.99 per 6 months). It’s available from the Mac App Store (which offers a 14-day free trial on all devices), as well as part of the $9.99-per-month Setapp Mac app subscription service. ($39.99 annual subscription, free update, 21 MB, release notes, 10.11+)
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SoundSource 3.0.3 -- Rogue Amoeba has released SoundSource 3.0.3 to provide full compatibility with macOS 10.13 High Sierra. The sound preferences tool also fixes a bug where playing back audio from a device could accumulate additional latency over time and corrects an issue with audio playback from single-channel devices to properly provide both channels. ($10 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 3.5 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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Piezo 1.5.6 -- Rogue Amoeba has released Piezo 1.5.6, updating the Instant On component to version 8.4.5 to provide better compatibility with Skype 8. The “charmingly simple” audio recording app also adds support for full VoIP capture when using the Scopia Desktop video conferencing app, ensures Piezo’s popover behaves as expected in macOS 10.13 High Sierra, works as expected when using a device with very high sample rates, and corrects an issue with audio playback from single-channel devices to properly provide both channels. ($19 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 8.3 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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1Password 6.8.6 -- AgileBits has released 1Password 6.8.6, reimplementing iCloud sync using Apple’s native iCloud framework for faster and more stable synchronization. The update also fixes a bug that prevented viewing of an attachment more than once, ensures that Quick Look windows close when 1Password is locked, and prevents 1Password from requesting rich icons for items with invalid URLs. ($64.99 new from AgileBits and Mac App Store or free with a $2.99 or $4.99 per month subscription, free update, 48.6 MB, release notes, 10.10+)
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Typinator 7.4 -- Ergonis has released Typinator 7.4, improving the text-expansion tool’s Quick Search feature, which finds all items that match certain keywords or phrases. Quick Search now displays all matches in a scrollable list instead of limiting the list of matching items to the height of the screen. The update also now works with text entered via the Mac’s Keyboard Viewer, improves suggestions for AutoCorrections in the New Item window, fixes a bug that produced the previous expansion when you typed two abbreviations in quick succession, improves appearance of abbreviations with prefixes and suffixes in Quick Search matches, and fixes feedback sounds that did not play when you triggered certain expansions from Quick Search. (€24.99 new with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 7.7 MB, release notes, 10.6.8+)
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In ExtraBITS this week, Apple has been hit by a double dose of bad: a new form of DNS hijacking malware that targets the Mac and another crashing link bug for Messages in both macOS and iOS.Show full article
In ExtraBITS this week, Apple has been hit by a double dose of bad: a new form of DNS hijacking malware that targets the Mac and another crashing link bug for Messages in both macOS and iOS.
Mysterious DNS Hijacking Malware Targets Mac Users -- A new piece of Mac malware is making the rounds. OSX/MaMi hijacks macOS’s DNS settings to intercept traffic by routing it through malicious servers. Additional capabilities, which didn’t seem to be active in the version that researcher Patrick Wardle analyzed, including taking screenshots, generating simulated mouse events, persisting as a launch item, downloading and uploading files, and executing commands. The motive, author, and how OSX/MaMi is spread are currently unknown, and when the Hacker News article was published, antivirus apps weren’t able to detect it. To see if you’re infected, check your DNS settings in System Preferences > Network, and look for the DNS servers 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168. But unless you did something to bypass macOS’s Gatekeeper security, you likely have nothing to worry about since the malware’s executable isn’t signed by Apple.
Messages App Plagued by Another Crashing Link Bug -- Twitter user Abraham Masri has discovered a Web link that, when opened in the Messages app on iOS or macOS, causes freezing, crashing, battery issues, and other nasty behavior. This isn’t the first time that a rogue link or piece of text has broken one of Apple’s apps. Apple will likely release a fix soon.