As the year ends, here are some updates and improvements to Apple products, as well as some noteworthy accessories, worth calling out.
Apple updated pretty much everything recently to wind down the year, even introducing a couple of accessories without any fanfare. Although a lot of the updates provide routine bug fixes and security improvements, a few are worth calling out.
At the top of my list, especially given the complaints in my article about the new fourth-generation Apple TV (Personal Technology, Nov. 7), is support for the Remote app that runs on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Now, when you’re prompted to enter a password on the Apple TV, you can connect using an iOS device and type with the on-screen keyboard instead of the cumbersome horizontal line of letters on the TV.
Apple also activated Siri search for Apple Music on the Apple TV if you subscribe to the company’s music service. If your TV doubles as your home stereo, you can now use the Apple TV remote to request tunes by asking for them, such as, “Play the Hamilton soundtrack” or “Play some Christmas music.”
The Mac (OS X El Capitan 10.11.2), iOS devices (iOS 9.2), and the Apple Watch (watchOS 2.1) all gained updates. As always, make sure you have a backup of your data before you install them, even though I ran into no trouble on my devices.
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In terms of hardware, Apple released a new $99 iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case for people who want extra power throughout the day. It’s an odd-looking thing in charcoal or white, giving the appearance that your iPhone 6s swallowed an iPhone 4, but it doesn’t add much weight (it becomes about the same heft as an iPhone 6s Plus).
More interesting to me, when I put on my virtual photographer’s vest, is a new $29 Lightning to SD Card adapter that allows USB 3 speeds when transferring images between a memory card and the iPad Pro. The increased throughput works only for that latest iPad, but it does add the ability to transfer photos to an iPhone, which wasn’t previously possible.
If you do want to copy images to an iPhone, iOS 9.2 adds that ability for existing Lightning to SD Card and Lightning to USB adapters (so if you own one, there’s no need to buy the new one if you don’t have an iPad Pro). Given the screen sizes of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, it’s been silly that photo import has been limited to the iPad for the last year.
End of year fun. That covers the “practical” part of Practical Mac, but I’d rather wrap up 2015 relaxing and playing games. Sure, I need to work, too, but I’ve been delighted by several games this year (especially with the addition of the Apple TV).
Now, I’m not going to make the leap that Apple is suddenly the gaming platform of choice; years of promises of gaming on the Mac have taught me to know better.
But the iPhone especially has drawn a high caliber of games that aren’t typical shoot-em-up fests. (This isn’t even a comment about violence in video games; my gripe is that so many are so repetitive — shoot a bunch of things, shoot some more, then grind away at some “big bad” villain until you’re tired of getting defeated.)
So here are a few gems that I keep returning to, some of which cross between devices easily.
I’ve completed “Monument Valley” ($4) a few times, and yet it’s nice to return to the geometric puzzle world of Ida and her mysterious totem friend. It looks especially great on the iPad Pro.
Another beautiful puzzler is “The Room Three “ ($5), where you must unlock intricate boxes and gadgets to pursue an unseen craftsman who’s building it all. The environments are gorgeous, and the app rewards multiple excursions through its puzzles by serving up different endings.
“Crossy Road” (free), a modern interpretation of the old Frogger games, is fun on the iPhone and iPad, but putting it on the Apple TV is a new experience. Two people can play together, one using the Apple TV remote and the other using Crossy Road on an iOS device.
“Lumino City” ($5) is novel in that the environment you guide the main character through is an actual hand-built model. The interactive design of the opening credits alone sold me on it right away. It also runs on the Apple TV.
If you find yourself playing more games on the Apple TV, consider buying a dedicated game controller. I’ve been testing the $50 SteelSeries Nimbus Wireless Controller, which pairs easily with the Apple TV, is comfortable in hand, and is built well. (It also works with the Mac, recent iPad and iPhone models, and the sixth-generation iPod touch.)
The controls feel crisp, not mushy, and even though I didn’t grow up with console systems that use this type of controller, I was adept at using it within a couple of minutes. The battery is recharged using a Lightning connector.
Clearly, I’m more of a casual gamer (although if I had a PlayStation or Xbox and “Star Wars Battlefield,” you probably wouldn’t hear from me for a week), but there are games out there to satisfy anyone with a few minutes to spare here and there. A lot of people (especially in the Seattle area) have put in a lot of work developing them, so relaxing with their creations is the least I can do.