Apple’s macOS High Sierra update is now available

The latest big update to Apple’s desktop operating system, macOS High Sierra, has just been released as a free upgrade for users. It’s available now in the Mac App Store. All Macs from 2010 and later are compatible with the update, and some MacBooks and iMacs released as far back as 2009 can also run it. For a thorough look at all the new features that make up High Sierra, definitely read The Verge review.

After installing this update, you won’t notice many significant outward changes or redesigns, but the Mac’s core software foundation is in fact changing rather drastically. MacOS High Sierra includes a new, modernized file system — Apple File System (APFS) — and support for more efficient photo (HEIF) and video (HEVC) standards. HEVC, also known as H.265, is designed to efficiently handle 4K video without eating up too much storage on your Mac.

There are some user-facing updates, though; the Photos app now has an expanded and more powerful set of editing tools. Apple has declared war on annoying autoplay videos in the latest version of its Safari browser, and the company is also making it much more difficult for advertisers to track Mac users around the web with a new feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Siri has a new, more natural voice (just like in iOS 11), and Notes also gets some new functionality with pinned notes.

Joe Biden will deliver news briefings via Amazon Echo and Google Home

Former Vice President Joe Biden is getting into recording daily news briefings as his next job. In short podcasts (three to 15 minutes each), Biden will introduce articles on anything from health care to climate change. The briefings will be available as an Alexa skill on the Amazon Echo and also on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Assistant.

The program is called Biden’s Briefing and will feature Biden-curated content from media partnerships with Axios, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, MSNBC, New York Review of Books, Politico, Slate, Vice,Wired,and other publications. Biden’s criteria for choosing the articles is that they have to be thought-provoking and informative.

“These briefings include a range of thoughts and opinions, some of which I agree with and some I don’t, but all of which I think are important to spend some time thinking about,” Biden said in a press release.

Although the former vice president is going to introduce and sign off on each article, a network of voice actors are going to read the articles themselves. Biden may sometimes interject his thoughts during the readings.

This might be our first look at the rumored Alexa-equipped Sonos speaker

German blogger Carsten Knobloch says a reader sent him photos of the upcoming Sonos speaker that’ll ship with Amazon’s Alexa assistant built in. You can see it pictured above. Knobloch first published the images on his blog Caschys Blog. The leaked device lines up with what we already know about its UI.

An FCC filing for a device features the same play / pause button and microphone icons in the same layout as this leaked device.

Image:Zatz Not Funny!

Now, because this UI image has already been publicized, it’s entirely possible someone just created a device that imagines what the new Sonos speaker could be. I also wish we had video footage of it lighting up with a blue ring to confirm Alexa support. Still, we can probably guess the new speaker will look just like the one above given that it’s basically a Play:1 but with new controls on top.

The FCC filing also indicated that the device will support “multiple voice platforms and music services,” which could mean support for not only Alexa, but also Google Assistant. Sonos is expected to unveil the smart assistant speaker at an event on October 4th.

There’s one good reason to update to macOS High Sierra

Apple’s new version of macOS comes out today, and while almost every upgrade is under the hood and out of sight, there is one really great new feature inside Safari that is definitely worth updating for: in High Sierra, Safari automatically mutes autoplaying videos. The update to High Sierra is free and will be available for all Macs released since 2010, and some Macs introduced in 2009 as well. You can also get the Safari update on earlier versions of macOS, by updating to Safari 11.

I’ve been browsing the web in Safari for the past couple weeks, and the internet has felt like a somewhat calmer place, thanks to this new feature. If a video would normally autoplay with sound, it’ll still appear, but Safari will automatically pause it before the video can start to emit noise. That way, you get to browse in peace and quiet but can still hit play in the (unlikely) event that the autoplaying video was something you were interested in.

The feature works well. I tested it out on a number of websites that include autoplaying videos on their pages, including Bloomberg and CNET, and Safari always paused the videos before they could start to play. Safari also mutes those annoying ads that start to play sound only once you mouse over them (which you inevitably do by accident, not because you’re interested in them), even when they would normally get activated, which I was particularly happy to see.

Safari tries to be smart about which sites it blocks autoplaying video on, too. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Twitch, Crackle, Vudu, and DailyMotion are among the sites allowed to autoplay videos with sound turned on by default. That makes enough sense, since we want videos to play when we go to those sites. There seems to be some inconsistency among TV streaming sites, though: for instance, it looked to me like HBO Go was whitelisted, but HBO Now was not. The same goes for DirecTV Now, which was whitelisted, and Sling TV, which didn’t appear to have to go ahead to autoplay with sound. That’s not going to create enormous problems for these sites or their subscribers, but I’m sure the companies behind them will be plenty annoyed with Apple.

If you do want to change Safari’s behavior here, the toggle is a little bit hidden. You have to go to the Safari menubar menu, click “settings for this website,” and then find the “auto-play” drop-down to change it. It’s fast enough to change once you know where to look, but it took some searching for me to find it. Controls are also tucked away inside Safari’s preferences menu.

Safari stockSafari stock

Another thing that’s really nice about Safari in High Sierra is a new feature that prevents websites and ad companies from following you around the web. It does this by automatically cutting off websites’ access to tracking data left on your computer by websites you don’t regularly visit, so that advertisers can’t gather too much data on you. Some trackers will still be unavoidable, but Safari is supposed to cut out the vast majority of them.

This feature doesn’t change the experience of browsing the web all that much — but it does provide some comfort, and, really, is a reasonable privacy measure. The only difference I noticed was on ads served by Amazon: when visiting the same website in Safari and Chrome, the Safari page showed me a bunch of products to buy that were relevant to the page I was on (Blu-rays, because I was on a movie news site), while the ad in Chrome displayed a bunch of products similar to ones I had somewhat recently viewed, including an Echo and an Xbox controller.

I suppose I preferred the more anonymous ad (I don’t even own an Xbox), but the actual browsing experience wasn’t all that different. Still, I’m sure people will be happy to know they’re being followed around less. And while I can see the benefit to targeted ads — I don’t entirely mind ads being made somewhat more relevant to me — I’m not a fan of having one company or product doggedly follow me around the web just because I clicked on their link one time. And that often seems to be how ad tracking is used.

Together, the two changes to Safari make the web a little bit nicer place to browse — though they certainly don’t solve all of the modern web’s annoyances. As much as I’m hesitant to see Google taking the lead on this, I think it’s going to take something like Google’s plan to have Chrome automatically block all ads on pages with fullscreen pop-ups and other aggressive promotions before I’m not regularly frustrated just by opening up a website. These changes in Safari do start to help though.

If you’re already using Safari, this is a great step forward and a very good reason to update to High Sierra. But if you’re not using Safari, I’m not convinced this is enough of an improvement to make changing from your browser of choice worthwhile. There are still too many minor differences that, for me at least, make Apple’s browser too difficult to use. In particular, the lack of website icons (favicons) on every tab makes it unnecessarily challenging to navigate when you have a lot of tabs open.

As for the rest of High Sierra, the highest praise I can give it is this: I’ve been using the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system for the past week or so, and I’ve barely noticed a thing. From a user’s perspective, almost nothing about macOS has changed in this latest release. Bugs are minimal. And the few changes that are here work as intended. It is a completely anodyne update.

The reality is that, under the hood, there’s a ton going on here. Apple has completely replaced the OS’s file system with one of its own making, one that will better allow for features like hybrid drives and backup snapshots and is supposed to do a much better job of file management.

Aside from files now instantly moving from one folder to the next — instead of taking a brief tick as they copy over, something that you might feel but will never quite notice — none of the benefits of the new Apple File System are going to be seen. The updates are all meant to make the system work better way off into the future. In fact, many Macs aren’t even going to get the Apple File System on day one. Only Macs with solid state drives will be transitioned over, which means there’s little reason for others to update.

There are a few other new features in High Sierra. We covered most of them in a lot more detail in our preview of High Sierra earlier this summer. Siri has a much more natural speaking voice, just like in iOS 11, but it’s still really limited in what it can do; Notes can now do tables, which is a nice addition; and Mail now surfaces top emails, though I still find the app to be unforgivably hard to use compared to pretty much every other modern email app. Other nice but nerdy updates: Macs now support VR headsets (the Vive, at least) and external GPUs (with AMD’s Radeon cards). Apple wouldn’t confirm support for anything from Nvidia.

Apple’s Photos app is one of the few things seeing a big update. Its navigation has been cleaned up, and there are even more detailed editing tools now, including access to curves, which is surprisingly powerful for a general purpose photo editor. I’m not sure that anyone super serious about editing their photos will take advantage of this, but Photos is turning into a great place to start touching up pictures, and it’s something that might even work for more serious editors in a pinch.

High Sierra is far from Apple’s most exciting macOS update. Even coming within a stretch of mostly minor updates, High Sierra stands out as an unusually boring one. But macOS is in good shape as a whole. It’s a solid, stable, functioning operating system, and Apple is setting it up to be in good shape for years to come. There are still a ton of places that need improvement — especially when it comes to Apple’s own apps. But High Sierra doesn’t hurt the situation. And the user-facing features it does add are truly helpful improvements.

GoPro will launch the Hero 6 Black on September 28th

GoPro announced today in an email that it’s holding a launch event this coming Thursday, September 28th, in San Francisco, California. While the company didn’t specifically name the new camera, all signs point to the new Hero 6 Black being the star of the show. CEO Nick Woodman will start things off at 9AM PT.

It seems like the $499 Hero 6 will also go on sale that day, seeing as a number of the cameras have already been delivered to stores around North America, some of which were mistakenly displayed a few weeks too early. We’ll also probably learn more about the Fusion, GoPro’s consumer 360-degree camera, as well as updates to the Karma drone.

The Hero 6 Black isn’t expected to be as much of a redesign as the Hero 5 Black was compared to its predecessors. Instead, all the changes coming to the new camera are internal. It looks about the same as the Hero 5 Black, but will be able to shoot 4K footage at up to 60 frames per second, and 1080p footage at up to 240 fps. The Hero 6 Black is supposedly twice as fast, offers better transfer speeds, and features improved digital image stabilization and low light performance. And all this is thanks to a new processor that was developed in house, known as the GP1.

We’ll find out everything else on Thursday, as The Verge will be on the ground in San Francisco for the event.

Apple ditches Bing for Google search results in Siri and Spotlight

Apple has removed Bing as the default search engine for Siri web search results in iOS and in Spotlight on the Mac in favor of Google, according to TechCrunch. The switch has already begun to roll out to iPhone and Mac users, and should be completed this afternoon.

“Switching to Google as the web search provider for Siri, Search within iOS and Spotlight on Mac will allow these services to have a consistent web search experience with the default in Safari,” Apple told TechCrunch in a statement. Apple is keeping Bing as the default search engine for images in both Siri and Spotlight on Mac, and YouTube will continue to handle video searches.

Apple has seemingly timed the change with the release of macOS High Sierra today, instead of with the release of iOS 11 last week. The move should help improve search results (unless you are in the “Bing is better than Google” camp) when Siri doesn’t have the answer to a question you asked. Google will also become the default search engine for the iOS search bar as well.

Instagram added 200 million daily users a year after launching Stories

Instagram continues to see incredible growth thanks to its Stories feature, with the app now reaching 800 million monthly users and 500 million daily users, according to CNBC.

It’s hard not to give almost all the credit for this rapid growth to Stories. Instagram, at six years old, had 500 million monthly users and 300 million daily users shortly before the launch of Stories a year ago last month. In just over the last year, those numbers have shot up by around 160 percent, with Instagram announcing new milestones every couple of months.

What makes this milestone really stand out is Instagram’s daily user count. Daily usage is much harder to get, but a feature like Stories rewards people who come back every single day; if you don’t open the app in time, your friends’ stories will just disappear. Facebook has been steadily building businesses that reach over 1 billion people each day, like WhatsApp, which passed that milestone in June. Instagram is still a ways away from a full billion, but it reached the halfway mark much faster due to the launch of Stories.

The milestone also speaks to how Instagram seems to be limiting the growth of Snapchat. Snapchat was at 173 million daily users last month, up only 30 million from the year before. Instagram had a huge head start because of its larger initial user base, which certainly helped its Stories feature take off in such a big way. But Snapchat had the feature well before Instagram did, and it seems that people are choosing the convenience of staying inside of Instagram over the unique features that Snap tends to get to first.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is everything fans want from Studio Ghibli

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special event releases. This review comes from Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

In 2014, a ripple of panic went through animation fandom as the media reported that Studio Ghibli, the beloved Japanese production company behind movies like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, was shutting down. With the latest retirement of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki (who has retired, then returned to feature animation, multiple times now), the rumor was that the studio would close. The reality has been more complicated. Ghibli still exists, but it hasn’t made a new film since 2014’s When Marnie Was There. Its roles on other recent projects have varied: advice and support on Michaël Dudok de Wit’s feature The Red Turtle, co-production but not animation on the TV series Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter. Recently, Miyazaki confirmed he has come out of retirement again for yet another feature, but that one isn’t due out until 2019.

So for longtime Ghibli fans, the release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower comes as both an immense relief and a significant surprise. Its production company, Studio Ponoc, was founded by Ghibli veteran Yoshiaki Nishimura (producer of the company’s When Marnie Was There and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), and the film features a variety of Ghibli vets. It’s no wonder it looks and feels so much like a Ghibli film, from the character designs to the story dynamic to the source material. But given Ghibli’s uniqueness in the world, it’s still surprising to see another studio so perfectly reproducing all the things that make Ghibli movies magical.

What’s the genre?

Children’s fantasy adventure. The film is based on The Little Broomstick, a 1971 children’s fantasy by author Mary Stewart, best known for her Arthurian trilogy beginning with The Crystal Cave. That’s in keeping with Ghibli’s habit of adapting fantasy novels, solely by women authors — Eiko Kadono’s Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1989, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle in 2004, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea in 2006 (into Tales From Earthsea), Mary Norton’s The Borrowers in 2010 (into The Secret World of Arrietty), Joan G. Robinson’s When Marnie Was There in 2014. The studio has adapted a short story (Grave of the Fireflies), a comic strip (My Neighbors the Yamadas), and several manga by men (and some manga by women), but for novels, it’s strictly stuck to female fantasy authors. In its first outing, Studio Ponoc went to the same vast well.

What’s it about?

Mary Smith is living with her great-aunt Charlotte while her parents are immersed in some distant work project. It’s the last week of summer, just before school starts, and Mary is bored because virtually all the local kids in the quaint British town of Redmanor are away on vacation. So when she sees a black cat turn to a gray one, she readily follows it into the woods, where she finds a strange glowing blue flower. This, it turns out, is Fly-by-night, or the Witch’s Flower. It blooms only once every seven years, it’s exceedingly rare, and it’s coveted by witches. None of this means much to Mary, until the flower manifests an incredible power through her, leading her on a wild adventure.

Like some of the more expansive Ghibli features (Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, say, or Howl’s Moving Castle), Mary and the Witch’s Flower starts in a small domestic place and expands out to a much larger and more intimidating one. It’s usually easy to stay about one beat ahead of the story — when Mary discovers a broomstick carved with magical runes, it’s clear she’s going to be riding it at some point — but it’s impossible to predict the story much further out than that, so the less viewers know about it going in, the better.

Studio Ponoc

What’s it really about?

Knowing yourself, standing up for yourself, having confidence in yourself, not hating or judging yourself because of superficial things like hair color. And if you read between the lines enough, there’s certainly a message there about not forcing your choices on other people.

Is it good?

For longtime Ghibli fans who were afraid they were done with new adventures, especially in the Miyazaki mold, it’s tremendous. And for people who aren’t familiar with Ghibli, but are looking for a beautifully animated, fast-moving adventure fantasy, it’s also tremendous. Mary is an approachable, entertaining heroine who starts off the film with some minor self-doubts: she hates her bushy red hair, and she has the usual worries of a kid facing a new school. Later in the film, she veers into some minorly cocky, smug territory when her temporary magical powers earn her some acclaim. But mostly, she’s what kids’ adventures most often call for: a determined, brave hero who dives into every challenge that awaits her.

And what a world she’s diving into. Visually, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is indistinguishable from a Ghibli film. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi also directed Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There and The Secret World of Arrietty, and he worked as an animator on Ghibli projects from Spirited Away to Howl’s Moving Castle to Ponyo. He gives Mary and the Witch’s Flower the same lush, hyper-detailed pastel look. (Just as in Ghibli films, it’s notable here how easily viewers can distinguish the air bubbles in a slice of bread, the fat marbling in a slice of meat, even the tiny fibrous ribs in Brussels sprout leaves. The environments are immaculate and luminous, but the food in particular looks like a series of still-life paintings ready for a museum.) His co-writer, Riko Sakaguchi, is also a Ghibli vet (on Tale of the Princess Kaguya), and he gives the story a familiar arc of self-discovery, as Mary moves from self-doubt to world-doubt to understanding and accepting the responsibilities her actions have caused.

The one major flaw in Mary and the Witch’s Flower might be that its particulars are too familiar for longtime Ghibli fans. The recognizable character designs are reassuring, but they can also feel recycled, as when one of the villains has roughly the same face as Kamaji, the many-armed boiler operator in Spirited Away. For that matter, Mary’s climb up a scary cliffside staircase and her quiet late-film visit to a house surrounded by water both closely evoke Spirited Away. So does the blobby, rapacious, all-consuming monster that shows up in the third act, much like No Face in Spirited Away. There are all sorts of familiar Ghibli images in Mary, from a dancing, talking flame that recalls Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle to Mary’s broom-riding adventures and black cat familiar, so reminiscent of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Generous viewers will call it all homage, with Studio Ponoc’s creators acknowledging where they came from, and filling their story with in-jokes. Less generous viewers could understandably consider it theft, or just a sign of limited creativity.

Studio Ponoc

But one thing that distinguishes Mary and the Witch’s Flower from most Ghibli movies is that it does have recognizable villains. Their motives are perhaps a little gentler than those of a standard Western animation antagonist. Mary’s antagonists aren’t out to destroy or rule the world, and they think their cause is just. But they aren’t just mildly misunderstood, and they aren’t quickly defanged into friendly figures, like so many Ghibli bad guys. They’re strange and cruel and dangerous, and that gives Mary and the Witch’s Flower a touch of tough edge.

But that edge doesn’t take the film away from Ghibli’s long-standing covenant of joy, where at heart, the story is about excitement, wonder, and exploring the world. For that matter, Studio Ponoc has seized on other elements that have always obsessed Miyazaki, particularly the thrill of flight, and the unpredictable, sensual power of magical transformation. Mary and the Witch’s Flower doesn’t just borrow elements from Ghibli, it feels like a complete continuation of the studio’s work. It’s a welcome relief for every animation fan who thought that particular era of Japanese animation had, after 30 years, quietly come to a close.

What should it be rated?

Like Studio Ghibli’s movies, this is an entirely kid-friendly film. The littlest audience members may find some scares in the movie’s monsters, but if they were okay with Ponyo or Howl’s Moving Castle, they should be okay here. Call it a G.

How can I actually watch it?

New York-based animation distributor GKIDS has the North American distribution rights. Look for a limited theatrical release in late 2017 as an Academy Award-qualifying run. GKIDS has been extremely successful in getting Oscar nominations for its releases, including The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and various Ghibli titles. A home video release is likely for 2018.

Here’s our closest look at the Tesla Model 3 touchscreen yet

The most controversial feature of the year’s most hotly anticipated car is a touchscreen, a 15-inch display perched on the dash of the Tesla Model 3 like an affront to decades of automotive design. Everything runs through this screen: gear shifter, music, HVAC, navigation… even the windshield wipers and sideview mirrors. There is no instrument cluster and no heads-up display.

So far, the basic mechanics of the touchscreen have remained a mystery. We’ve all seen photos and pored over the promotional videos released by Tesla, but until now, we’ve lacked a close-up look at the touchscreen’s user interface.

Jalopnik just posted a video that made the rounds over the weekend of the comprehensive walk-through we’ve been itching for. Shot at a Tesla gallery in Austin, Texas, in what is purported to be the first Model 3 shipped outside California, a Tesla employee (presumedly) gives a pretty good overview of the screen’s controls.

We see a top-down image of the car on the left-hand side, just below a large “P” that indicates the car is in park. Right below the P is a battery icon that indicates the amount of charge that’s left, followed by the speed limit as recognized by the camera at the top of the windshield.

To the right, there’s a larger window that switches from navigation to music to settings, based on the icon selected at the bottom of the screen. The Tesla employee demonstrates how to turn on the windshield wipers (two settings: fast and slow), and adjust the air flow from the hidden vents. The later functionality, which involves moving two dots around a grid of four squares to direct the flow of air, is very, very weird. Time will tell whether this turns out to be an easy way to adjust the AC or a totally counterintuitive design choice that confuses drivers.

Another confusing aspect is the apparent lack of FM radio in the Model 3. There is satellite radio and podcasts galore, but when the Tesla employee tries to call up Austin’s Mix 94.7, he’s instead offered a bunch of non-Austin stations. This may be by design: Tesla is reportedly negotiating with all the major labels about licensing a proprietary music service that would come bundled with its cars. The Model 3 also couldn’t sync with a smartphone or Wi-Fi; the Tesla employee is promising those functions will be available through a software update at a later date.

“There’s a lot to learn,” the customer admits after the tutorial is over. “It’s a learning curve for us too,” the Tesla employee replies.

Steve Bannon reportedly wanted a mole to apply for a Facebook job

Breitbart chairman and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon once hoped to infiltrate Facebook’s hiring process to obtain information on the company, according to a new report from BuzzFeed.

According to emails obtained by the outlet, the idea was broached by an official from the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group. The official, Chris Gacek, reportedly wrote in an email to Bannon that Facebook was hiring for a “Public Policy Manager” with the company’s WhatsApp arm.

At the time the email was sent, in August 2016, Bannon was still with Breitbart, but was just about to join the Trump campaign. Gacek wrote that it “seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo [Yiannopoulos] with INTEL about the job application process over at FB.” (It’s unclear if they actually hoped someone would get the job.)

The idea was sent down the chain of command, according to BuzzFeed. Bannon forwarded the email to then-Breitbart tech editor Yiannopoulos, who sent it along to a group of contractors working for him. Whether or not anyone applied for the job, it ultimately went to a former Obama staffer.

In July of this year, The Intercept reported that Bannon was pushing the White House to more closely regulate tech companies. Since his exit from the administration, Bannon has continued to be critical of companies like Facebook and Google, arguing in a speech that they should be regulated as public utilities.