Apple TV and Xfinity Partner Program?

As I mentioned back when I got my new Apple TV, Comcast making it’s internet-based TV solution available for the Apple TV would be a huge win for everyone. It let’s Comcast keep their foot in the door with folks who are heavily invested in streaming media, and it gives Apple a solution for live TV on the Apple TV.

Comcast just announced their Xfinity Partner Program, which in theory, would allow Apple to deliver the app themselves, integrating the Xfinity on-demand library (and maybe even DVR and live tv guide) into the Siri voice search.

For folks who are already invested in the Comcast eco-system, but spend a lot of time on their Apple TVs, this could be a big win, eliminating flipping back and forth between inputs, and bringing Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services into the same interface as your live cable. Hopefully, Apple sees the value here, as it could act as a gateway to get more folks into Apple TVs.

Stupid Siri Won’t Read Me Text Messages

In hindsight, this makes a ton of sense. For the last 3–4 months, however, it’s been infuriating.

I have a tendency to have Siri read me my text messages if I’m out walking or driving. It worked forever. In the old days, hold down the button, ask Siri to read the unread text messages, and then you could respond. Since I got my iPhone 6S, it was even easier—if I was in speaking distance, just say “Hey Siri, read me my text message” and she would.

Until a few months ago, when Siri said “I’m sorry, you’ll need to unlock your iPhone for that.”

Say what? Why you gotta be that way?

I googled and binged and duck-ducked for the last few months. I always assumed it was a bug. The only fix I ever saw was a factory reset, which I wasn’t going to do.

When iOS 9.3 came out yesterday and I got a new text message, I figured “Ah, maybe it’s fixed! Let’s give it a shot!”

“Hey, Siri, read me my text messages, please”

“I’m sorry, you’ll need to unlock your iPhone for that.”

Oh, Siri, it’s on.

I kept poking around the settings and turning things off and on to no avail. Finally, I noticed that I had turned off showing text messages on the lock screen (which was a result of a text barrage I was on the end of months ago and was sick of my phone lighting up every 2 seconds).

Hmm … I mean … if I didn’t want messages on my lock screen, it probably makes sense that Siri shouldn’t read them to someone who walks by.

Flip that switch, Siri is back to being my best friend.

So, again, in hindsight, this makes sense. The UI doesn’t make this obvious though. Somewhere in the UI it should say “This will also prevent Siri from reading you text messages on a locked phone”, or when you try to do it, Siri should say “I can’t do that. You can change that setting here.”

Or something.

Anyway, my phone outsmarted me and Siri and I are cool again.

Speed Up Time Machine Backups (and General Backupery)

More “make sure I can find this later” blogging.

Keir Thomas posted a tip about speeding up Time Machine backups. Run this command in a terminal window:

“sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=0”

and the backups will move a bit faster. I’m giving it a shot now because I’ve added a new backup option to my rotation. I found a good 4TB USB drive on Amazon and added it to my Airport Extreme. This acts as a remote Time Machine disk (awesome), which lets me backup my iMac, my laptop, but also my wife’s Mac, which she never remembers to backup (last time she backed it up was in November).

Everything finished pretty quickly except for my laptop (which I can’t leave just sitting around all day—it’s my work machine), which is finally nearing the last few hours of backup.

I’ve become paranoid about having enough backups, just due to the fragility of disks. Knowing that I’ve got at least four backups of my main machine, and two of everything else, makes me feel at least moderately secure.

(I should say, I’m not seeing much evidence that my backup moves noticeably faster, but I wonder if that’s because it’s a network backup.)

(Via Michael Tsai.)

Stop Spotlight from Indexing Your Time Machine Backup

So that I can find this again some day.

I plugged my Time Machine drive in to backup my laptop today (at work, my offsite backup). I couldn’t eject it once it was done. After a bit of research, seemed like it was stuck with Spotlight indexing the drive, even though I have Spotlight set to ignore the drive.

After some googling, found this on Stack Exchange:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Running that stopped Spotlight, and allowed me to eject my disk. Running

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

started Spotlight back up again normally.

Still not sure why Spotlight ignored me telling it to not index the backup disk, but that’s a different problem.

The 3 Things I Want for the Apple TV

I just posted a review of the Apple TV. There are a few things that I think would make the Apple TV much more useful to me.

Amazon Prime

There’s enough shows on Amazon that we’ll keep using the app on our TV until there’s an Apple TV version. Amazon should create a tvOS app, even though they won’t be able to sell things through the app. They probably won’t, just to be obstinate. Like not selling Apple TVs and Chromecasts.

But, if they build it, and have it integrated with Siri, the ability to quickly search across a number of services (iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, HBO) would quickly let me find movies I have access to.

Comcast Xfinity X1

We watch enough live TV (particularly sports) that cord cutting isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Losing NESN (the Red Sox), Comcast Sportsnet (the Celtics), and ESPN (for general other sports) just make it unlikely for us. That being said, the Apple TV is a much nicer device (so far) than the Xfinity X1 box (even though X1 is the nicest cable box I’ve ever used).

If Comcast were to make the X1 app for the Apple TV (like they have for the iPhone and iPad), the Apple TV would likely become our cable box. We could stream our DVR recordings via the Apple TV, tune to live programming, all while within the Apple TV interface and it’s ability to overlay Siri searches and flip back and forth between apps.

And, adding the Xfinity On Demand library into Siri search would give a really broad base of movies and TV shows to watch.

Again, Comcast won’t do it for the same reason Amazon won’t do it. But they should, as it’ll ensure that we’ll get value from our cable subscription.

iCloud Keychain

Setting up accounts on the Apple TV is a little painful. Especially when I’ve got those accounts setup on other devices and likely have their passwords sync’d with iCloud Keychain. Why the Apple TV can’t see that and automatically log me in is silly.

And, its still silly that when I turn on an app like ESPN, and it makes me go to an activate link (which is fine), that the Apple TV can’t see that, open and fill out the link itself (it has an internet connection), and then leverage iCloud Keychain to login to my cable provider.

This stuff should be brain dead simple. I assume its the sort of stuff that gets cut to get the device out as a 1.0, but I hope that these sorts of features show up in a future release.

Quick Apple TV Review

Our new Apple TV arrived this week. I ordered the one with more storage, figuring it can’t hurt, and since our other Apple TVs were still in use after 5 years, the extra cost will probably work out in the long run.

The good thing about the new Apple TV is that the interface is basically a refined version of the existing interface. It’s cleaner and clearer, looks much nicer on the TV, but if you know how to get around the existing interface, you’ll be right at home. The bad thing about the interface is that it’s a refined version of the existing interface. It’s still just a bunch of icons. There’s fewer icons now, because you’re able to pick and choose which apps you want (so all those random channels you don’t care about don’t have to get installed), but it’s still just icons.

The big improvement in the interface is Siri. Voice search (which currently works across iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime, has been pretty solid in my experience. You need to learn the syntax, and sometimes its results can be a little wonky, but by and large, they’ve been pretty good. I asked Siri to “show me the episodes of Scrubs with Brendan Fraser”, and it pulled up the 3 episodes of Scrubs he’s in, with the ability to watch them on Netflix or iTunes.

It’s also been nice to quickly check the weather forecast or the score of a game while I’m watching something on Netflix.

The downside, of course, is that the search is limited to just those apps. If I wanted to check out Mr. Robot, it won’t find it on the USA app. Apple says they’re opening up the Siri API to other apps. If every app can participate, much like they can on iOS now, Siri will become even more powerful.

The new controller is, generally, a pretty great improvement. I’ve found the touchpad interface to be pretty intuitive and fast for getting around the interface. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Apple device if there weren’t some form over function decisions. The fact that it’s entirely symmetrical, with a touchpad at the top, makes it far too easy to pick up or grab and accidentally scroll through the show you’re trying to watch. This seems like something that is fixable. The remote has an accelerometer in it, which should make it possible for Apple to determine if the remote has been picked up (and if it’s remotely aimed in the right direction) before starting to scroll through the show.

There’s some low hanging fruit that Apple should be cleaning up with future releases. The Photos app doesn’t use iCloud Photo Library, which is insane to me. I would guess that’ll be fixed shortly. The Music app leverages the Apple Music service (if you’ve got it on), which is great, but you can’t search it with Siri, and the navigation is a little wonky.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the new new Apple TV. The majority of the flaws (occasional Siri wonkiness, controller issues, low-hanging Music and Photos flaws) seem correctable with future software releases. The open app store should bring a lot of opportunity to bring all sorts of interesting apps (Amazon? Comcast? Fantasy sports?) to the Apple TV. If Apple opens up the Siri interface and makes it possible to fill in some of the overlays, I could imagine the ability to ask Siri how my fantasy team is doing, and have it know the actual players on my team and load that up in an overlay while I watch Netflix (or, maybe, football on the Xfinity X1 app …)

If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem (movies and TV shows in iTunes, Apple Music), the new Apple TV is a no brainer. Even not using the Apple ecosystem, it’s a pretty nice device and probably the easiest to use of the streaming devices.

Updating Your Printer’s IP Address on a Mac

The work printer nearest me apparently changed IP addresses. I had no idea, so I kept trying to print and it kept failing. Eventually, I noticed that my Mac thought the printer was on one IP, and the printer had a different one.

So I figured, no biggie, I’ll change the IP address.

Turns out, that’s a lot harder than it seems. I finally found this article which walked me through the steps.

Net-net: Apple needs to make this process much easier. I shouldn’t have to log into a hidden web interface to change the settings on a printer.