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What to play this weekend: Splendor

Fri, 2015-07-31 10:31

You're a renaissance merchant with an eye on the jewel trade. A shrewd business person, you buy and sell precious gems like so many Big Macs. A ruby the size of your fist? Pfft. That's nothing to you. You invest in mines, recruit artisans and develop trade routes. Your work attracts the attention of nobles and royalty, and your prestige soars.

Such is the theme of Splendor ($6.99, universal) by Days of Wonder, a great tabletop game that has made its way to the iPhone and iPad. I've played the tabletop version several times and after spending several days with the iOS version, I find it a worthy successor. It does suffer a bit, as I'll explain, but overall it's a faithful adaptation of a fun game of buying, selling and racking up points. In fact, the digital version adds something that the tabletop version lacks that I like a whole lot. Here's my look at Splendor for iPhone and iPad.

There are three main components in Splendor: gems, noble cards and the other cards available for purchase. The latter come in three categories: inexpensive, moderately expensive and -- I bet you see where this is going -- very pricey indeed.

To begin playing, the cards available for purchase are sorted into piles, and the top four of each are laid face-up for all to see. The five types of gems are sorted into piles and finally several noble cards are chosen and placed face-up in the play area (the number of players determines how many nobles show up).

Let's play!

On your turn, you may take one of the following actions:

  1. Take one of three types of gems.
  2. Take two of one type of gem, provided there are at least four in the stack.
  3. Buy a card, provided that you can afford it.
  4. "Reserve" a card you can't yet afford.
  5. Receive a visit from a noble.

Each card that's up for purchase has: a cost, a bonus gem and potentially a prestige point value. When you pay a card's cost with the gems you collected on previous turns, you gain the bonus gem displayed in its upper right-hand corner, as well as any prestige points in the upper left.

Bonus gems count towards your gems on hand. So, if you want to buy a card that costs three blue gems and you've got two on hand plus one blue bonus, you may purchase that card. Bonus gems are also what attract the nobles.

Each noble has a cost, or a certain number of gems that will attract them to your merchant stand. Note that only bonus gems count towards this cost, and therein lies the game: collect the right gems to make the right purchases that will attract the right nobles. It's a card game but it's more like chess, as there's always an optimal move on the table for what you're trying to do. The question then becomes: can you see it?

Earlier I mentioned reserving cards. To reserve a card, you take it into your hand, as opposed to laying it out in front of yourself. Cards in hand are not scored and do not count towards your collection of bonus gems. However, a reserved card comes with gold, which is a sort of wild card and can be used as any other gem. Finally, reserving a card can really screw up what your opponent(s) is trying to do, so pay attention. Reserving is the only way to get gold.

On the tabletop





The components are very nice-looking, with great art. The breakout star here are the gem chips, which have the weight and feel of high-quality poker chips. It's great fun to have a stack of them in your hand and to hear the "clink!" as they drop against other. I often find myself fiddling with them between turns. It's quite addictive, and something I miss while playing Splendor on my iPhone or iPad.

On the iPhone/iPad





First, the good. There's no lengthy setup, shuffling or sorting. There are no piles to knock over. Also, the digital version keeps track of scoring for you, and even highlights cards that you can afford to purchase. The digital game also features a fantastic tutorial, which you can replay as often as you like. But what's really cool about Splendor is the challenges.

Not available in the desktop version (at least, not without a lot of careful setup), Splendor challenges vary the gameplay in fun and interesting ways. For example, I recently played one called "The siege of Vienna." The flavor is that the Ottomans have besieged Vienna. The Sultan is demanding a tribute in the form of a specific collection of jewels, or his army will breach the city walls.

To win the Siege of Vienna challenge, you must gain 15 points within 24 turns. Cards are drawn in a predetermined order. A "super noble" is in play, who is worth a huge 10 prestige points, and there are five gems of each color available.

Talk about replayability! The challenges add a whole new level of fun to Splendor and there are a great many to choose from.

There are a few cons that I must mention. The first is inevitable when comparing games like this: I miss manipulating the components! Ah, those click-y gem chips are just so much fun to play with. Also, keeping track of scoring is fine on the iPad's large screen, but the numbers are very tiny on the iPhone.

There's a pass-and-play mode, which I like, as well as a solo mode. No asynchronous play, though. Bummer, dude.

In conclusion

Splendor is a best-selling game and for good reason. It's easy to learn, fun and always different. The digital adaptation is very nice, and the challenges put it over the top. I whole-heartedly say, Splendor is what you should play this weekend.

AWT News Update: July 30, 2015

Thu, 2015-07-30 14:39

Apple Campus 2 Visitor's Center, image via Silicon Valley Business Journal

We have an extra goodie in the AWT News Update today. Not only do you have today's news, but Apple World Today accessibility editor Alex Jurgensen provided us with a tip for Think Different Thursday:

  • Apple is leasing space in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood
  • The "Spaceship" headquarters building being constructed in Cupertino right now will have a visitor's center
  • USB Type-C is on its way to being more widely accepted
  • Think Different Thursday: Mono Audio

The written version of the news can be found below!

Subscribe to the Podcast Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for July 30, 2015. As noted earlier in the week, there will probably NOT be a podcast tomorrow…

We recently mentioned how Apple is leasing space in San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington — well, now the company is signing a deal to lease 76,000 square feet of space in San Franciscos SoMa (or South of Market) neighborhood. Most of the space is currently occupied by CBS Interactive, which is subleasing the space to Apple. The space could hold as many as 500 workers, and is expected to be quite expensive since rents in the area are about $66 per square foot. The purpose of the space is unknown, but could be a better way to accommodate its San Francisco workforce. About 14 percent of its employees live in the city, and currently commute or rise Apple buses to the existing south Bay offices.

For Apple fans, there’s nothing cooler than going to the Cupertino headquarters and having a chance to go into the store at the site to pick up Apple swag. Well, it turns out that the new spaceship-like campus will feature a visitors’s center complete with a store and a rooftop observation deck. There will be a 2,386-square-foot cafe and a 10,114-square-foot store, and elevators and stairs will take visitors up 23 feet to the roof level. I can’t wait to check it out.

Although the 12-inch Macbook with Retina display is currently one of the few devices on the planet that uses a USB Type-C port for data input and charging, it appears that the rest of the industry is expecting to follow suit with the adoption of the new style port. Intel’s upcoming Skylake processors will have built in support for the second generation of USB 3.1, which uses the Type-C port, with up to 10Gbps data transfer.

And now a Think Different Thursday feature from Apple World Today accessibility editor Alex Jurgensen.

Today on Think Different Thursday, Mono Audio!

Mono audio, a feature used primarily by people who are deaf in one ear, can help anyone with a pair of headphones that only half works to get better audio.

Normally, modern audio devices are set up to provide audio in stereo, that is, they send different parts of the audio to the right speaker than they do to the left. Because headphones are just wearable speakers, the same principles apply. This is why, when one headphone breaks, audio can sound distorted.

Indeed, the experience is similar to that of headphone users who are deaf in one ear.

To improve the listening experience, you can set the iPhone to send both the left and right channel audio through both headphones. This will ensure that you get a complete soundscape out of the working side of your headphones.

To do so: Open Settings, followed by General, followed by Accessibility and turn on "Mono Audio".

Voila, you should now be able to use your sigularly working headphone to listen to your favourite tunes. Just remember to turn off Mono Audio when you return to a fully working set of headphones for the best experience.

Please note that the AWT News Update may or may not be available every day this week due to some personal things that are going on. I’ll attempt to get you the news, but be forewarned that I may miss a couple of days. We’ll get back to a regular schedule next week.

DODOcase teams up with Cleveland Motley on new Urban Backpack and more

Thu, 2015-07-30 14:00

DODOCASE URBAN BACKPACK. IMAGE VIA DODCASE.

Those who read AWT or read TUAW in the past know that we've had a long history with DODOcase, the San Francisco company that took a struggling book bindery and turned it into a iPhone/iPad case powerhouse. Their book-like cases are legendary, and they've expanded into accessory bags, Apple Watch charging stands, and more. Now, just in time for Back to School, DODOcase has teamed up with a popular San Francisco designer on the DODOcase Urban Backpack ($220.00).

The designer is Cleveland Motley, who has been creating and making sturdy and good-looking backpacks in San Francisco for years. Working with DODOcase, the team came up with a bag available in a choice of three colors (black, navy, or olive green) with leather trim, base and straps. 

The body of the case is made with waterproof Cordura Canvas, while brass hardware keeps the bag looking classic. There's a foam back pad to protect your spine, a built-in padded laptop sleeve for up to a 13-inch laptop, and a closable inside pocket. To keep the elements out of the bag, yet allow full access to the inside when needed, Motley created a Velcro roll-top closure. 

DODOcase URBAN BACKPACK, LEATHER LAPTOP PORTFOLIO AND LEATHER & CANVAS PHONE CLUTCH. IMAGE VIA DODOcase.

For carrying extra goodies, there are three big exterior pockets, and the entire Urban Backpack has 15 liters of internal capacity. The Urban Backpack is designed and constructed to last a lifetime. DODOcase's "Back to School Collection" also includes a Leather Laptop Portfolio ($139.95) and a Leather & Canvas Phone Clutch ($69.95). 


Android security vulnerabilities and why it's a good thing to be an iOS user

Thu, 2015-07-30 12:30

Apple World Today has broached the topic of operating system fragmentation before. iOS is an example of a mobile operating system that doesn’t suffer from fragmentation, as the vast majority of the devices in the field run either iOS 8 (85 percent) or iOS 7 (13 percent). In the world of Android, only 12.4 percent of users are using the most recent versions known as “Lollipop”. Why the difference in operating system uptake? Android handset manufacturers are loath to change the loaded OS version since that will affect the “bloatware” apps that they install. Some recently discovered Android vulnerabilities are pointing out how fragmentation could make it very difficult for Google to protect users from exploits that can “brick” smartphones and tablets with something as simple as an MMS message.

The “Stagefright” vulnerability has been fixed by Google in the most recent versions of Lollipop, but close to 95 percent of devices don’t run that version of the OS — that’s close to 950 million devices. Stagefright is an Android system service that processes media formats, and the new exploit takes advantage of the service. Through one attack method, attackers would only need the mobile number of a user and send a special media file send via MMS. Once received, the message could remotely execute code, even deleting the message before a user sees it.

Tie this in with another recently discovered Android vulnerability that can essentially “brick” a device by installing a malicious app or pointing a device to a hacker’s website, and the platform could be in serious trouble.

Our take on the news:

Be very, very glad you own and use iOS devices. Apple’s control of both the hardware and software has made OS fragmentation a non-issue for the mobile platform, meaning that any discovered vulnerability can be patched and distributed to almost every user in a very short amount of time. Android users, many of who can’t update to the latest OS version thanks to limitations devised by handset makers, aren’t so lucky.

Stay on top of your favorite YouTube channels with Tube Alert

Thu, 2015-07-30 11:00

If you want to know precisely when your favorite YouTube channels post a new video -- and I mean the very second -- Tube Alert (free with in-app purchase to remove ads) is for you.

Tube Alert is a stand-alone app that lets you subscribe to your favorite providers and receive a notification whenever they publish something new. When you watch a video on Tube Alert, you can comment, like and share just as you do with the YouTube app.

When you do thinks like comment and share, you earn "Tube Points," which is a virtual in-app currency that can be spent in the Tube Alert Store (still in beta). As of this writing, the store isn't very full-featured, but it will eventually let you exchange points for gift cards and coupons for products that channel operators or other relevant brands make available.

It's an interesting idea, as I don't want to miss a single video from Tolarian Community College for example, but the store seems kind of...not my cup of tea.

If you're interested in checking it out, Tube Alert is available from the App Store now.

Simple Counter is a great tally app for iPhone and iPad

Thu, 2015-07-30 05:58

This week's featured app grew out of the developer's love of board games:

"When I was playing board games with friends," Sweden's Arvid Lunnemark told me, "we usually resorted to using pen and paper to keep score. We all thought that there just had to be an app for this. We were right, but we continued to use pen and paper. Why? Because in the end, pen and paper was simpler to deal with than any of the apps [we found]. It frustrated me that pen and paper could trump an iPhone, and as a result, Simple Counter was born."

An app inspired by gaming. How could I pass on that?

Simple Counter ($1.99, universal) has found a place on my gaming table, but its usefulness extends well beyond game night. The fifteen-year-old developer has made a useful, no-look counter that can be used to tally just about anything. Here's my look at Simple Counter for iPhone.

Looks







Simple Counter's appearance is no-frills and straight-forward. The app presents a large number on a solid background. You can't determine the color of a counter's background, but each one provides a good contrast to the white numbers.

Simple Counter works in both portrait and landscape orientation. It gets interesting in landscape. You can create an unlimited number of counters (more on that later in this article), and I've found that more than three work best in landscape (see below). Also note that you can only add a new counter while in portrait, as the add button disappears when the phone is rotated to landscape.

Use

Today, I do most of my tallying at the game table. However, a few years ago I worked as a teacher at a residential school for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. Back then my colleagues and I took a lot of data as the students worked towards their educational goals. That was tricky with pen and paper, as we had to look away from the student to record a hash mark.

Today I wish I had Simple Counter back then. While watching the student, I could have tapped the screen to record a point of data. Since an audible "pop" confirms each successful recording, I could have kept my eyes where they needed to be.

I could see this being used to record the number of people who pass through a gate at an event, tickets sold, runners crossing a track...or even doing pushups.

"I wanted to count how many [pushups] I could make," Arvid told me, "but I always lost count when I was doing them due to exhaustion. So, I thought, can I use Simple Counter for this?"

"I put my iPhone just so the tip of my nose would touch it on the way down. When doing a push-up, my nose would touch the screen, and would increment a count in Simple Counter. As a good side effect, this setup also forced me to go all the way down to the ground with each push-up, so I couldn’t cheat anymore."

Simple Counter as fitness coach. There's something I hadn't thought of.

A few things to watch out for

I'm quite happy with Simple Counter, and a few additions and changes would make it even better. First and foremost, data export. I'd be really happy if I could export my data as a CSV file via email or Dropbox.

Additionally, the support for unlimited counters is nice, but unnecessary. Who's going to have 30 counters going at once? My iPhone 5c's screen can display six counters at once. After that, I must scroll to reach them all. This will vary from screen size to screen size, of course, but still. That's a lot of counters.

Finally -- and this is a niche request, I know -- when there are just two counters on the screen, I'd like to be able to flip one 180 degrees. For example, when I'm playing Magic: The Gathering and using Simple Counter to track the life total of two players, one of us must look at his or her score upside-down. It's not a big issue, but since Simple Counter is otherwise so perfect for gaming, this would be a nice option.

In conclusion

This is a very nice app and a great effort from such a young developer. I was glad to chat with Arvid about his inspiration and experiences, and we wish him luck as he advances in the wonderful world of iOS app development.

Are you an individual developer, or do you work in a two- or three-person shop? Let us know, as we love to feature the work of smaller developers.

Simple Counter is available now from the App Store.

AWT News Update: July 29, 2015

Wed, 2015-07-29 16:00

A very slow news day in the world of Apple, but we brought it to you anyway!

  • If you own any MacBook made in 2015 and use Boot Camp, there's a FaceTime Camera Driver Update for you
  • Fantastical 2 for iPhone gets an update today!
  • Running the public beta of OS X El Capitan? The third public beta is available. Woo-hoo!

A short text version of this podcast is available after the inline player and subscribe button.

Subscribe to the Podcast Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for July 29, 2015. Yes, I actually made it here today, although my availability is in doubt tomorrow and Friday. There’s not a lot of news today, so this will be a quick podcast.

If you have a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air that was made in 2015 and you use Boot Camp to run Windows on that Mac, you should install a new FaceTime Camera Driver Update that has become available. The Driver Update is available from the Apple Support website and can be downloaded from this link.

The popular calendar app Fantastical 2 for iPhone was updated today to version 2.4 after a short delay brought on by iTunes Connect being down for the developers. The new version has a great new feature that lets users create event drafts, so you can start creating an event or reminder, swipe down to save it as a draft, and then come back to the draft later. In addition, the iPad and iPhone versions of Fantastical 2 are also getting Japanese localization today. If you don’t already own Fantastical 2, it’s available from the App Store for just $4.99.

The third public beta version of OS X El Capitan has just become available if you’re part of Apple’s Beta Software Program. The new beta release will be in the Mac App Store as usual.

Please note that the AWT News Update may or may not be available every day this week due to some personal things that are going on. I’ll attempt to get you the news, but be forewarned that I may miss a couple of days. We’ll get back to a regular schedule next week.


Stayin' alive with iFixit and ERI

Wed, 2015-07-29 11:30

image via ifixit.org

Whenever a new product appears from Apple or most other major electronics manufacturers, one of the first things that iFixit does is to buy one of the devices and then tear it apart. They don’t do this for the sick thrill of it (well, maybe they do…), but for the purpose of creating detailed repair guides that any of us can use to fix our own devices. Now iFixit is teaming up with Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) to provide hard-to-find parts to keep your favorite Mac or iOS device alive.

ERI is the largest recycler of electronic waste in the world, handling over 250 million pounds of electronic gear every year. The equipment ranges from old, worn-out computers, digital cameras, smartphones, and tablets to items that — for one reason or another — were never even used.

Parts that iFixit sources from ERI will not only be tested, but backed by iFixit’s lifetime warranty. The combination of repair tools and parts available from iFixit, their free repair guides, and a staff of experts ready to provide support will go a long way toward making it easier for people to keep those old devices alive and out of landfills.

Our take on the news:

This is a huge win for consumers and the environment. Our society is much too ready to just toss old electronics into the trash bin instead of making older devices usable again.

iPad appears to be a leaky lifeboat from the sinking ship SS Tablet

Wed, 2015-07-29 09:30

IDC provided data today showing that although Apple's iPad continues to be the market share leader in the tablet market, its share has dropped markedly over the past year and the overall market for tablets is declining. 

This year, Apple shipped 10.9 million iPads in the second quarter (ending June 30), while the number for 2014 was 13.3 million units. That's a decline of 18 percent in one year. Apple's share of the overall tablet space dropped from 27.7 percent in 2014 to 24.5 percent this year. 

Apple's not the only company seeing a drop. Rival Samsung fell from 8.6 million units in 2014 to 7.6 million units this year, with a marketshare drop of one point down to 17% in 2015. So who is gaining share? Lenovo, Huawei and LG Electronics are all seeing growth year over year. Part of the growth might be in the 2-in-1 tablet ("touchscreen laptop") market, which is included in IDC's numbers.

IDC Worldwide quarterly tablet tracker

Our take on the news:

There are many possible reasons for the decline in the tablet market; the devices might be on a longer refresh market than smartphones, many users may prefer a "phablet" like the Apple iPhone 6 Plus to having both a smartphone and a tablet, and corporations might be slowing their purchases of the devices until they see more enterprise-oriented applications arrive. 

Rumors have it that Apple may ship a significantly improved 7.9-inch iPad mini this year, while a larger iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch display might also make it to market. Both of these devices may jump-start Apple's presence in the tablet market, since the less expensive iPad mini could be attractive in education while the larger device may have many applications in the enterprise.

Apple will probably continue to have problems competing against cheap, yet capable devices by companies like Huawei, and the lack of a true 2-in-1 tablet in the Apple lineup might also be hindering growth. Then again, this is still a very new product category -- the first iPad shipped in 2010 -- so the future is anyone's guess. 

What's your take on tablets? Do you think they're on the way out, replaced by a combination of larger smartphones like the iPhone 6 Plus and combo tablet-laptops like the Microsoft Surface III? Let us know in the comments below. 

We'll be back tomorrow...

Tue, 2015-07-28 16:40

Just in case you're wondering what is going on at Apple World Today, two things are up: first, we're having "one of those weeks", the perfect storm of writers being tied up with... life. The second thing? We're making some behind the scenes editorial changes that you'll hear about soon. As a result, you may see less content the next few days, but things will be up to speed next week. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to let us know via the comments tool. 

AWT News Update: July 27, 2015

Mon, 2015-07-27 15:00

Today, we go around the world with Apple World Today. News stories from all over the globe include:

  • Google+ profiles won't be linked to other Google products in the future
  • Apple Watches will soon be available at Best Buy
  • Apple is adding 500 authorized resellers in India, which explains the odd image at the top of this page
  • France and Sweden -- or at least major cities in the countries -- get visited by the Apple Maps vans starting on Saturday
  • An iPhone counterfeiting factory in Beijing has been shut down
  • eBay will be trimming the number of iOS apps it has

Don't want to listen to the podcast? There's text below.

Subscribe to the Podcast Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for July 27, 2015.

If you’re like many of us who love technology, you fell for Google+ when it was first introduced, thinking that it would turn into a real social network. Well, that never really happened, and now Google seems to realize that as well. For years, any time you’ve wanted to create a Gmail account, set up a Hangout, or make your own YouTube Channel, the company has automatically set you up with a Google+ account. Now Bradley Horowitz, the Google VP of sharing, says that “it doesn’t make sense for your Google+ profile to be your identity in all the other Google products you use.” At some point soon, there will be an option to remove that public profile that has followed you around. Thanks, Google.

There’s another sign that production of the Apple Watch has finally met demand; on August 7, you’ll be able to buy a Watch online or in select brick-and-mortar Best Buy stores. The company plans to expand distribution to over 300 of its stores by the holiday shopping season. You won’t be able to buy the solid gold Apple Watch Edition at the stores, but the Apple Watch Sport and stainless steel Apple Watch versions will be available.

Apple is making inroads into another major world market, starting with the addition of 500 resellers in 12 cities in India. At the present time, the company has already selected over a hundred of the resellers, and more will be in place later this year. This follows news a few weeks ago that Foxconn may start producing iPhones and other Apple products at new plants in the subcontinent.

Let’s travel around the world a bit more, to France and Sweden. Apple’s Maps vans will be traveling around a number of cities in those two countries, as well as even more places in the US and UK soon. Most of Paris, France as well as Stockholm and Malmo in Sweden will start seeing the vans on the streets on or around August 1.

A very sophisticated iPhone counterfeiting factory in Beijing, China has been shut down, with nine arrests being made in connection with the company involved. Reuters says that the factory produced over 41,000 fake iPhones valued at about $19 million. Some of the phones made it to the US, and US authorities tipped off the Beijing police on what was going on. The factory had six assembly lines and hundreds of workers, using second-hand components that were repackaged as real iPhones. Still, I wonder if any of them made their way into the fake Apple stores that have popped up in China, complete with retail workers sporting the familiar Apple logo t-shirts and identity badges…

Finally, eBay is getting rid of a few of its mobile apps in the near future. The Valet, Fashion, and eBay Motors apps will be decommissioned between now and the end of the year, with the main eBay app picking up some of the features of those other apps in the process. If you’re an eBay regular, be sure to keep the iPhone and iPad apps updated.

Please note that the AWT News Update may or may not be available every day this week due to some personal issues. I’ll attempt to get you the news, but be forewarned that I may miss a day or two… or three. We’ll get back to a regular schedule next week.

The Well-Protected MacBook: Moshi's accessory line for the 12-inch Retina MacBook

Mon, 2015-07-27 09:35

12-inch macbook w/moshi muse 12, iglaze 12, ivisor 12 and clearguard 12. photo ©2015 Steven sande. 

Three weeks on a cruise ship with my 12-inch Retina MacBook turned my emotional attachment to the lightweight laptop from "like" to "love". So how do you protect something you value? That's an answer provided by accessory manufacturer Moshi, which has a full line of goodies designed to keep your 12-inch MacBook safe from drops, spills, scratches, and other catastrophes.  Today I'm looking at the Moshi Muse 12 (US$44.95), iGlaze 12 ($54.95), iVisor 12 ($34.95) and ClearGuard 12 ($24.95), four different products each with the same goal of protecting your 12-inch MacBook.

photo courtesy of moshi

Muse 12

The Muse 12 is a nicely designed minimalist sleeve for the 12-inch Retina MacBook. It comes in two color schemes: one that's Graphite Black with a light grey flap (perfect for the Space Gray and Silver models) and another that is Sahara Beige with a brown flap (nice with the Gold model). The exterior is made of a knit synthetic material that resists stains, while the inside is a soft Terahedron microfiber. 

There is no zipper or Velcro on the flap to scratch your MacBook. Instead, the Muse 12 keeps your MacBook from accidentally sliding out through the use of what Moshi refers to as SlipGrip. That's a design that holds your MacBook in the sleeve even when it is being held upside down. The entire sleeve is lightly padded, and there's a large pocket for the charger and other cables.

SlipGrip works as advertised, as the MacBook stayed put when I was holding the Muse 12 upside down and shaking it. It's not as "organic-looking" as the Inateck MP1200 Felt Sleeve, nor as "industrial" as the Waterfield Design Dash Sleeve, both of which gained 5-star ratings. The Inateck sleeve is inexpensive ($15 on Amazon) and attractive, while I know from personal experience that the Dash Sleeve will stand up to years of use and still look great. 

I like the look of the Muse 12, the padding is better than that in the Inateck Sleeve, and the pocket is nicely closed off by the flap unlike the open top design of the Dash Sleeve. At $44.95, it's right between the $59 premium price of the Dash Sleeve and the $36.99 MSRP of the Inateck Felt Sleeve.  It's also the only MacBook sleeve of the bunch that comes in a choice of colors.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★

photo courtesy of MOSHI

iGlaze 12

Back in the TUAW days, I had a company-supplied 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It was nice, so I wanted to protect it and bought a Speck SeeThrough Case -- really a polycarbonate shell that encased the entire thing in vibrant green (they don't offer that color anymore...). Shells like this are wonderful for keeping the exterior of your MacBook completely scratch-free, something that's great for resale value down the road. The iGlaze 12 is Moshi's take on a clear shell to protect every square inch of your MacBook.

Before I installed the iGlaze 12, I thoroughly cleaned the exterior of the MacBook with a cleaning spray and a Toddy microfiber cloth. Once it was smudge and fingerprint-free, I took the iGlaze out of its box and slipped it on. It clicks on perfectly, top and bottom, and protects everything except the USB-C port on the left side of the MacBook and the audio-out port and tiny microphones on the right of the MacBook.

Of course, it does add a tiny amount of thickness to the overall MacBook package, but it wasn't enough to keep the iGlaze-protected MacBook from sliding easily into the Muse 12. That being said, at $54.95 this is quite a pricy accessory; it's more expensive by $6 than the similar shells from Speck that come in an array of colors. For protection, it's excellent, but the price is quite high.

Apple World Today Rating (Out of 5 stars): ★★★★

PHOTO COURTESY of MOSHI

ClearGuard 12

The next piece of protective gear for the well-dressed 12-inch Retina MacBook is Moshi's ClearGuard keyboard protector. I have a bad habit of eating and using my technology at the same time, so it's not surprising to see a wee bit of BBQ sauce or a string of mozzarella cheese near or on my keys. After a good scrubbing, I decided to give the ClearGuard 12 a try.

Now the Retina MacBook is a bit of a different Mac anyway -- it has a completely different (yet still wonderfully comfortable) keyboard feel from the standard Apple Wireless Keyboard or any other MacBook. It was with more than a bit of trepidation that I installed the ClearGuard. I had used silicone keyboard covers way back in the 90s and hated them.

Instead of silicone, Moshi uses thermoplastic urethane that is .1 mm thin -- they say that's about 1/5 of the thickness of silicone protectors. Installing the ClearGuard is easy -- you remove the cover from protective cardboard and plastic packaging, remove two extremely thin blue plastic strips covering adhesive strips, and then use a piece of the cardboard packaging to press down on the adhesive.

The ClearGuard installed quickly and easily, and the keyboard still worked as it should. If anything, I think the ClearGuard added a bit of "slickness" to the feel of the keys. While it doesn't detract from the vertical push and response of the keys, my fingers didn't find the keys as "sticky" as the hard plastic of the MacBook keyboard and they sometimes slid to the side a bit. 

The ClearGuard is washable, so the next time I spill something on the keyboard I can just pull it up and literally run it under water to get it cleaned off. I'm not sure how that will affect the adhesive strips, but that's something to check out down the road. The price is right at $24.95, and this would be a great thing to install on a brand new 12-inch MacBook before anyone has a chance to drop food on it.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★

Photo courtesy of moshi

iVisor 12

The last Moshi product we'll look at is the iVisor 12. This is screen protector, a thin film with an adhesive bezel that does two tasks: it keeps the screen from getting covered with fingerprints and smudges, and it provides a non-glare matte finish to keep reflections down. 

Now I have to admit to having a deep loathing of screen protectors of any type, having had issues with them going back to the days of the Palm Pilot. They either never align properly on the screen, get a bubble or two between them and the screen, or change the view of the display in such a way that it drives me bonkers. So with that caveat in mind, I installed the iVisor after doing a thorough cleaning of the MacBook screen. Moshi says that its screen protectors are made of an adhesive material that "allows for bubble-free installation" and "is also washable and reusable." We'll see...

...and they're right. Although my screen was fairly clean before installation, I used the provided microfiber cloth to give it one final buff to high gloss. The first time I installed the iVisor it was misaligned slightly, so I pulled it off and then put it back on. It's hard to really tell that there's a screen protector installed on the MacBook, except there is a lot less reflective glare than previously. The iVisor can be spied by the holes that are in it at the top of the screen, where they make way for the FaceTime camera and other sensors. 

I am impressed! This is the first full-screen protector I've ever installed that hasn't made me irate. The price is a bit high at $34.95, but considering that it's protecting one of the most expensive parts of your MacBook -- the Retina display -- it's worth it. 

Apple World Today Rating (Out of 5 stars): ★★★★★Conclusion

I wish that these Moshi accessories for the 12-inch Retina MacBook had been available on day one, because now that I know just how protective and well-made they are, I would have installed them before booting up the laptop for the first time. I strongly recommend that anyone with a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro look into Moshi's protective accessories to keep your device looking good for a long time

If you're interested in buying these accessories for your 12-inch Retina MacBook, please consider doing so through these Amazon affiliate links and support Apple World Today in the process:

Muse 12 (sleeve)

ClearGuard 12 (keyboard protector)

iVisor 12 (screen protector)

Caturday: Sad kitteh means it's time for the Dog Days of Summer!

Sat, 2015-07-25 14:30

image via popkitten.com

Believe it or not, we finally ran out of the seemingly inexhaustible crop of cute pictures of cats laying atop, beside, or inside current or vintage Apple gear. Since it's warm out in the Northern Hemisphere, most cats are avoiding the computers and trying to stay cool. Sooo, it's time for you to get us those pictures of your favorite dog with Apple gear in the photo for what we used to call The Dog Days of Summer over at TUAW. 

Rules:

1) It must be a picture of a dog. We don't care what breed it is, but no cats or rabbits, please.

2) The picture must have something to do with Apple products. Whether it's your favorite dachshund Luigi wearing a tiny Apple t-shirt at the local Apple Store, or your Great Dane Juneau resting her giant paws on the screen of an iPad, this is all about the doggies. 

*We’re looking for a few good dogs! *Have a picture of your hound soaking up the good vibes of an Apple product? Tell us the back story behind your pup’s photo on the Apple World Today contact page - we don't accept inbound attachments, so please host the photo on Dropbox, Flickr, iPhoto, etc... and then include the link in your message. Please note that the picture must have some tie to an Apple product.


AWT News Update: July 24, 2015

Fri, 2015-07-24 16:30

There's a lot of good news for Apple fans on this summery Friday afternoon:

  • Apple Pay begins its second year as an iPhone/Watch/iPad-based payment system
  • Apple's 10-Q holds some interesting data for those thinking about the next-generation iPhone
  • Pandora hasn't been affected at all by the launch of Apple Music
  • Intel's Skylake architecture could make upcoming Macs much faster and more efficient

Hate podcasts? Read the news in our text version below.

Subscribe to the Podcast Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for July 24, 2015.

Believe it or not, Apple Pay just began its second year of existence. While it’s still not accepted everywhere, things are getting better as time rolls on. For example, when it launched in the UK recently, 1.25 million locations accepted Apple Pay on day one. Payment processor Square is working with Apple to roll out an Apple Pay-compatible reader later this fall, which will be a huge boon to the millions of small businesses that use the service. Also this fall, US retailers will be forced to move to accept NFC payments like Apple Pay or credit cards with embedded chips, or take on the liability for credit card fraud. That move could be the best incentive for many retailers to begin accepting payments from iPhones and Apple Watches.

Wall Street analysts love nothing more than to look at Apple’s 10-Q filing each quarter, which gives forward-looking statements as to how the company expects to do in the next quarter. Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty noticed something fascinating — Apple’s purchase commitments with suppliers were $26.5 billion, representing a 26 percent increase over the same quarter last year and 15 percent increase over the previous quarter. Huberty’s take on the numbers is that Apple expects the next-generation iPhone, which many are calling the iPhone 6s, to do really well. That phone will most likely be released in late September, meaning that the commitments are being spent on product tooling and manufacturing process equipment for the suppliers that will be building the new phones.

The CEO of Pandora said told investors that the launch of Apple Music hasn’t been a threat to the music streaming service. During a phone call discussing the June quarter, Brian McAndrews remarked that there’s been “no impact yet” and that “we don’t believe that there will be any long-term impact.” Apple Music is designed as an on-demand service, while Pandora is radio based on custom stations that are developed algorithmicallly. That means that Pandora will compete more with Beats 1 radio than Apple Music, and should most likely continue to prosper into the future.

Finally, leaked presentation slides from Intel show that future Macs using the Skylake 14-nanometer architecture could see amazing improvements in both performance and power consumption. The slides were obtained by website FanlessTech, and show that CPU performance could be 10 to 20 percent faster than the existing Broadwell-based systems, while improving battery life as much as 30 percent. The performance of integrated graphics chips on the Skylake chips could be anywhere from 16 to 41 percent faster. While it may be too late in 2015 for any Skylake-based Macs to be released, we might hear of something when OS X El Capitan ships in September or October.

We’ll be back Monday afternoon for another edition of the AWT News Update.

Trailer for "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine" arrives

Fri, 2015-07-24 14:30

Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney and Magnolia Pictures have released the first trailer for the movie "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine". The movie will be opening on September 4, and is an unflinching -- and some say unflattering -- look at the Apple co-founder. 

The film premiered at SXSW 2015 in Austin, TX four months ago, and was immediately panned by Apple senior vice president of internet software and services Eddy Cue. Cue tweeted that the movie was "an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend" and "not a reflection of the Steve I knew." Cue felt that the book "Becoming Steve Jobs" was the most accurate portrayal of Jobs. 

Of course, the Jobs film oeuvre also includes the largely forgettable movie Jobs with Ashton Kutcher in the title role, as well as the upcoming Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels. 

Secur SP-4003: The 6-in-1 car charger that could save your life

Fri, 2015-07-24 12:00

Secur SP-4003 Six-in-one car charger. Photo ©2015 steven sande

When an email came through the Apple World Today offices pitching yet another car charger, my first impulse was to yawn. I mean, you can buy these things at the dollar store for the purpose of plugging in your USB-powered devices for a quick charge in the car, so what’s the big deal? Well, a closer look showed that the Secur SP-4003 Six-in-One Car Charger (US$34.99) can do quite a bit more than just charge your iPhone or iPad — it could save your life.

While the video below can pretty much demonstrate all of the features of the SP-4003, here’s a rundown of the features:

  1. Car mobile USB device charger (5V, 1A output)
  2. 2200 mAh battery pack
  3. 150 Lumen LED flashlight with 4 hour life at full charge
  4. Flashing red emergency light with 10 hour life at full charge
  5. Emergency window breaker
  6. Emergency seat belt cutter

This is one device that could really help out if you’re stuck in a car that’s rapidly sinking into a lake! You grab the SP-4003, use it to cut yourself free from the jammed seat belt, take a deep breath, then smash the window to equalize the pressure and provide an escape route. Once you’re safely on shore, you can use the red emergency flasher light and LED flashlight to signal for help, or use the built-in battery pack to top off your phone to call for help.

Sure, the scenario sounds far-fetched, but wouldn’t you rather have a tool like this Six-in-One Car Charger to help you out in the unlikely case it does happen? And you probably need a new car charger anyways, am I right?






The design is really quite clever. The tip of the charger (where it is plugged into the 12-V outlet in your car) conceals a sharp tip that will shatter automotive glass. The seat belt cutter is a razor blade that is well out of the way of fingers, yet will slice through woven material quickly. I sacrificed one of my Olloclip lanyards as a test -- although it's not as thick as a seatbelt, the cutter sliced through it with no effort.

The flashlight can be a real help even when you're not in an emergency situation, helping to find that pair of sunglasses that fell beneath the seat. The flashing red emergency light could be a big help when you're trying to change a tire at night by the side of the road, warning other motorists of your presence.

Conclusion

While car chargers are usually a dime-a-dozen proposition, the Secur SP-4003 is one that is going into my car immediately.

Apple World Today Rating (out of five stars): ★★★★★

At the present time, it appears that the Secur SP-4003 Six-in-One Car Charger can be ordered at B&H Photo or Brick House Security for delivery in the near future.

What to play this weekend: Agar.io

Fri, 2015-07-24 10:00

Recently I was hanging out with some friends when someone showed me Agar.io for iPhone (free, universal). "You're a cell who eats other cells while trying to avoid getting eaten yourself," he said.

"That's it?" I said.

"That's it."

Agar.io comes to iOS after a successful run on PC and browser-based play. This mobile version preserves the low-end, no-frills graphics of its siblings and is somehow just as compelling. I've pretty much explained everything there is to know, but here are a few more details.

Game play

Agar.io is a world-wide competition. You'll start with a tiny circle that you can name. The game begins right away and your "cell" appears on what looks like a field of grid paper, along with other cells of various sizes. The point is to grow larger, which you do by running into, or "eating," cells smaller than yourself. At the same time, you must avoid larger cells that would like to eat you.

As I said, that's pretty much it.

Agar.io is an entry pick-up-and-play, just-one-more-try genre that is so compelling. You're playing this silly game, and you know it's silly, but you also know you can do better if you try just one more time. There's no huge investment since you immediately start over after dying, so be reckless and give it a go.

Skins

As you play, you'll see some players whose cells resemble flags, the moon, an alien face and so on. These skins are determined by the nickname you choose just prior to playing. For example, use "USA" as your nickname and your cell will resemble the American flag. Enter "ayy lmao" to get a grey alien face. Really, it's just another layer to the silliness.

Conclusion

Agar.io won't appeal to everyone. It's goofy, the graphics are rudimentary, there's no sound at all. But that's also what makes it so fun, in a "the is the dumbest game I've ever played" kind of way. It's the same feeling that makes Manos: Hands of Fate a great movie. That's why Agar.io is the iOS game you should play this weekend.

AWT News Update: July 23, 2015

Thu, 2015-07-23 17:00

What's at the top of the Apple news today? Here's a good hint:

  • Apple announces the nice deal that will be part of the 2015 Back to School promotion
  • Meerkat and GoPro link up to provide livestreaming of video from GoPro action cams
  • Annual sales of iOS devices now equal total annual unit sales of Windows PCs
  • Apple adds 35 more US banks and credit unions to Apple Pay

Want to read the news and not listen to it? Take a look at the text version below.

Subscribe to the Podcast Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for July 23, 2015.

Thinking about getting a new Mac soon? If you’re a student or educator, Apple has a deal for you as part of its Back to School promotion for 2015. If you buy a MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac or Mac Pro — and you’ll get a small educational discount if you’re eligible — you can get a pair of Beats Solo2 Headphones valued at $199 for free. Those headphones come in gloss black, white, red, blue, gray or pink colors. A PDF containing the terms and conditions of the Back to School promotion can be downloaded here.

If this keeps up, I may have to switch from Periscope to Meerkat. At VidCon today, Meerkat announced a partnership with GoPro. The partnership will allow GoPro users to live stream on the Meerkat service using the GoPro3 cameras. In the near future, it’s expected that support for the GoPro4 cameras will be added. Can you imagine me reading the news as I jump out of an airplane, kayak down a mountain stream, or crash down a ski slope on a mountain bike? Meerkat also allows embedding of live video on web pages, so this show could be broadcast on the Apple World Today site if we move in that direction.

Here’s an interesting statistic: annual sales of Apple iOS devices now equal the total annual sales of Windows PCs. That tidbit came from analyst Benedict Evans, who grabbed information provided by Gartner, Apple, and a16z to show that while sales of Windows PCs have fluctuated around 250 to 300 million annually for the past seven years, sales of iOS devices in the same time frame have jumped from essentially zero to that same 300 million mark. Sales of Android devices reached the Windows PC milestone back in March of 2012, so we shouldn’t feel too smug.

Apple has added another 35 US banks and credit unions to the financial institutions supporting Apple Pay. Apple Pay now has over 375 participating debit and credit card issuers nationwide, with dozens more planning to support the service as soon as Apple gets around to them. My local credit union, Public Service Credit Union, has been waiting since Apple Pay launched to be added to the list — that’s despite having over $1 billion in assets, 139,000 members, and 28 branch offices. C’mon, Apple!

We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon for another edition of the AWT News Update.

Bluelounge Posto: The vital accessory you didn’t knew you needed

Thu, 2015-07-23 14:00

Every once in a while we get review items that seem a little strange… until we give them a try. The Bluelounge Posto (US$19.95) is one of those accessories that clicked with me the minute I did the one-time assembly and put my headphones onto it.

That’s right; Posto is a headphone stand. It’s rather simple in design, featuring a square base with four nonslip rubber feet, an 8-inch (20 cm) tall post, and a silicone hook that your headphones rest on when not in use.

Bluelounge says that Posto works with any headphones. I was doubtful since I have the strangely-shaped (but wonderful) Blue Mic Mo-Fi headphones, but sure enough, the Mo-Fi set hangs on the Posto nicely.

So is it functional? Yep. Posto is one more accessory that might possibly just keep my desktop clearer in the future. Instead of just tossing my ‘phones onto the desktop and having them take up about 52 square inches of space, I now hang them on the Posto with its 18 square inch base.

The price is definitely right, too. Posto comes in black or white, and you can buy one through Amazon for delivery starting on July 27 to help support Apple World Today (affiliate links).

Apple World Today rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★

PhotoFast MAX puts speedy data transfer and backup in the palm of your hand

Thu, 2015-07-23 12:30

PhotoFast MAX (left) and PhotoFast iFlashDrive (right). Photos ©2015, Steven Sande

PhotoFast MAX (starting at US$79.99 for 16GB) is the latest incarnation of what used to be known as the i-FlashDrive. Take a USB 3.0 flash drive, add a Lightning adapter to one end, and toss in an iOS app to organize and view files, and you have an iFlashDrive. Let’s start this review with a bit of history.

Way back in the year 2009 (remember that year?), one nasty little problem showed up with the iPhone — if you wanted to move some large files between it and your Mac or PC, you were stuck trying to do it through iTunes. That didn’t always work, as there were certain file types that just weren’t recognized.

Along came the i-FlashDrive, which at that time had a USB 2.0 connector on one end and a 30-pin dock connector (remember those?) on the other. I found the device to be surprisingly useful, particularly when I wanted to transfer large video files to or from an iPhone.

Fast-forward to 2015, and PhotoFast has released the PhotoFast MAX. The idea is still the same, but now you’re looking at a speedy USB 3.0 flash drive and a Made for iPhone (MFi) compliant Lightning port on the other end. The new device is about two-thirds the size of its ancestor, and comes with covers to protect both the Lightning and USB connectors.

It just so happens that I have the perfect situation for testing a 16GB PhotoFast MAX. My wife just finished making a one-hour slideshow file in Photos for OS X that was exported as a .m4v video file about 1GB in size. I installed the free i-FlashDrive ONE app onto her iPad — the new app replaces the original i-FlashDrive HD app that is still available for those using the older hardware.

The newer version of the app offers connectivity to Dropbox and Google Drive, as well as YouTube. The latter is a wonderful idea, as it is now possible to discover videos and add them to the i-FlashDrive ONE playlist for later viewing.

PhotoFast i-FlashDrive ONE app slideshow






Although her 27-inch iMac (my old hand-me-down iMac) isn’t equipped with USB 3.0 ports, the transfer of the slideshow file to the PhotoFast MAX was speedy and easy. Once the file was stored on the MAX, I fired up the i-FlashDrive ONE app and plugged in the MAX. The file appeared in “external files”, and I then copied it from the drive to the i-FlashDrive ONE app’s storage. That took just a few seconds thanks to the speed of the Lightning connector.

As my wife is going to show the slideshow using a projector, I wanted to make sure that the i-FlashDrive ONE app would not only play the file, but allow projection of it. Since the file is stored as data in the i-FlashDrive ONE app, it’s not accessible from the standard iOS Videos app.

That’s where the i-FlashDrive ONE app failed me. It wouldn’t show the video in full-screen mode, instead just showing a smaller window that — when projected — still showed the iPad’s status bar at the top of it. The app did show the video correctly on an iPhone 6 Plus, but it should work properly on any iOS device with a Lightning connector that’s running iOS 8.

Conclusion

The PhotoFast MAX is a wonderful way to carry extra content — up to 128GB of it — or back up your favorite iOS device in a flash (no pun intended). With USB 3.0 and a Lightning connector, the device is ready to use with any up to date Mac, PC and iOS device with the exception of the new 12-inch MacBook. But don't worry -- PhotoFast has a USB-C version coming out soon. The new form factor of the PhotoFast MAX makes it a device you’ll want to carry with you all the time. The i-FlashDrive ONE software needs a little bit of work, though.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★