Google announced a new "research project" called Bloks, a wonderful concept that brings programming to very young kids with real-world block-like components. It's an ongoing project that Google is opening up to the world, but the company is starting with electronic boards and programmable pucks. Brain Boards are built from Raspberry Pi Zero boards and can be used to power anything you could power from that device, like robots or switches for real-world devices. The pucks are essentially instructions, including on-off switches, directions, or volume controls. When used in sequence, they can send instructions to the Brain Boards. And it's all hands-on for young kids. They can collaborate in ways they never could with any programming thing based on a screen and/or keyboard. I love it. It's an entirely different approach from Apple's Swift Playground, and I think they're very complementary.
What started in 2008 as a small media server project today has matured into version 1.0. The first public release of Plex Media Server happened two years later in 2010, and it has been growing ever since, now used by milliions of people. The changes rolled into the 1.0 release aren't all that major – certainly nothing more than any other Plex Media Server release we've seen recently – it's the version number change itself that is significant.
Version 1.0 shows Plex's commitment to ship software that no longer has the assumption of being beta, communicating reliability and predictability for customers. I'm a long-time Plex user and now with both iOS and Apple TV client apps it really is a best-in-class product. Many of its features are available for free, though a paid PlexPass is well worth your money if you want to view your content offline or on your mobile devices. Congrats, Plex! Thanks for doing what you do!
Check out Ingrein, a very interesting clock designed to help you detach from our devices. The clock is made of real (reclaimed) hardwood, and it has a built-in "LCD screen and light and sound sensors to interact with and display information from your smart devices and favorite apps." The idea is that you limit what gets sent to the device to those things that are really important so that you can get your face out of your screen, especially when you're with other people. It's a very cool idea in theory, and I'm wondering how well it will work in practice. This product is funding through Kickstarter, where it already met its funding goals. Funding options starting at $299 are still available.
IK Multimedia announced iKlip A/V on Thursday. This is a broadcast mount for broadcasters and videographers to shoot with iPhone. It features an integrated high-quality mic preamp (with phantom power, too) and a built-in wireless receiver, which means you can monitor sound as you record. It's powered by two AA batteries. We all know that iPhone is being used to take more and more videos (and photographs), but equipment like this really helps blur the edges between professional applications and the rest of us. The device is available now for $179.99.
As if we couldn't be any more excited about "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," Entertainment Weekly just dropped a Death Star-size surprise in our laps: Darth Vader is in the movie. Since this movie chronicles the events leading up to the original 1977 Star Wars movie, it seemed pretty likely we'd see everyone's favorite Sith Lord, but now it's official. Hopefully Vader will make more than a cameo appearance because it would be frakking awesome to see him in ruthless bad-ass mode instead of the emo Vader we got in "Return of the Jedi." Rogue One hits theaters on December 16, so clear your schedule now.
BusyCal is the go-to workhorse calendar app for the Mac, and now version 3 is out with new features like calculating travel time, an improved menubar view, and tasks tied to specific times. What's even cooler is that BusyCal is finally available as an iPhone and iPad app, so you can use the same familiar views on all of your devices and get event and task alerts on your Apple Watch. We've been testing the Mac and iOS versions for a few weeks and are pretty impressed. BusyCal 3 requires OS X El Capitan and costs US$49.99, or $29.99 for upgrades. The iPhone and iPad version costs $4.99 and requires iOS 9.3 or later.
Propellerhead shipped Reason 9 on Tuesday. The newest version of the digital audio workstation and sequencer adds two main features: Players automate and process MIDI input, and Pitch Edit, a pitch editor designed for vocals (think Melodyne or Auto-Tune). There are other new features, too, including Bounce In Place, new visual themes, and reverse MIDI clips. On the content side, Reason 9 adds more than 1,000 new "cutting-edge" sounds, and Pulsar dual channel LFO, a rack extension that was previously available only as a stand-alone $49 purchase. I love Reason, especially for sequencing. It's powerful software, and Propellerhead makes it ever-more capable with each new release. Reason 9 is priced at €405/US$449, while upgrades from any previous version are €129/$129. Propellerhead also has a stripped down version called Reason Essentials 9 priced at €120/$129. The software shipped today and is available now.
I wanted to take a moment to wish The Icon Factory a happy 20th birthday! It's an amazing accomplishment for any company to stay in business that long, but to transform yourself from an icon-designer to a major design firm, user interface consultant, and app maker is astounding. Icon Factory posted a company timeline/history that is a great walk down memory lane, especially for Mac users. I have a soft spot in my heart for this company because it was such a shining star in the Mac world when that company was at its nadir in 1996. Icon Factory made awesome icons that helped make my Mac more fun—it might sound like a small thing, but I remember it to this day. So thanks, Icon Factory, and happy birthday! May the next 20 years be even more interesting than the first. - Bryan
It's summer camp time again at Apple's retail stores for kids who want to learn how to use their Macs and iPads to create cool movies and interactive books. The summer camps are free and run from July 11 through August 12 for kids ages 8 through 12. This year's sessions include Stories in Motion with iMovie, Interactive Storytelling with iBooks, and Coding Games and Programming Robots. They typically fill up fast, so be sure to sign up early if your kids want to go.
Today's announcement that Sonos added lockscreen controls to iOS led us (ok, it led my son) to realize that this likely meant it would also be controllable from an Apple Watch paired to the same iPhone. Sure enough, it is, and that's because whatever music is controllable from your iPhone's lock screen is also controllable from the "Now Playing" glance on Apple Watch. Note that the Now Playing section of the Apple Watch Music app is less likely to show this data, but sometimes it will appear there, too. The "Now Playing" glance, however, has proven 100% reliable in all of our tests.
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