(You're reading all posts by Leander Kahney)

About Leander Kahney

Leander Kahney Leander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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Wood works magic in Grain Audio’s amazing walnut speakers

Chris Weir

Grain Audio designer Chris Weir is serious about sound. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Designer Chris Weir is dismissive of products that take a Swiss Army knife approach to features. He thinks a speaker should be a speaker — and nothing else.

“It’s a speaker, not a speakerphone,” he says.

He’s talking about his Packable Wireless Speaker System, a diminutive Bluetooth speaker he designed for Grain Audio, a hot audio startup. Weir resisted all temptation to add a microphone (for phone calls) or the ability to charge phones from its internal battery. It’s just a speaker, and a surprisingly good one at that.

In a market crowded with dozens of unexceptional, me-too products, Grain Audio stands out. Not only are all of its products made of wood (solid walnut, not wood veneer), Grain’s products do one thing, and one thing well: Pump out sound.

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The future of headphones — streaming music built right in

Matthew Paprocki, cofounder of the audio company Soundfreaq, suggests Apple may turn Beats into next-generation, music-everywhere streaming stereos.

Matthew Paprocki, cofounder of the audio company Soundfreaq, suggests Apple may use Beats to create next-generation, music-everywhere streaming stereos.

At the giant Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the exhibit halls were packed with wireless audio products. It’s all thanks to the mobile revolution. These are the listening devices of the future.

But future speakers and headphones will be quite different, predicted Matthew Paprocki, co-founder of Soundfreaq, a Southern California company that makes a range of critically acclaimed speakers.

Paprocki’s predictions may have implications for Beats, which Apple is rumored to be buying for $3.2 billion. Beats, of course, makes headphones and has a subscription based music streaming service, but Apple’s plans are unclear.

“They could take all the ingredients that Beats has and bake it into a new cake,” Paprocki said.

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With Beats, Apple buys the unobtainable: street cred

If and when Apple enters the wearables market, its biggest problem will be persuading people to wear the technology. A big part of that will be attracting the right early-adopters.

If Apple enters the wearables market, the biggest challenge will be persuading people to wear the technology. Attracting the right early adopters will be key to Apple’s success.

If the rumors are true, Apple’s forthcoming purchase of Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion is all about one thing — making wearable technology fashionable.

Apple is poised to introduce a line of wearables that likely goes beyond the long-rumored iWatch. While the technology Tim Cook’s team is cooking up might be amazing, getting people to wear it — especially cracking the crucial mass market — will be one of the biggest challenges Cupertino has ever faced.

Injecting style into wearable tech notoriously difficult. Even Nike got flustered and discontinued its FuelBand fitness tracker. So far, no company has really cracked the code and turned gear into a fashion statement for the cool kids, with one giant exception: Beats, a phenomenally successful wearable technology brand that dwarfs the rest of the industry because it’s pulled off the hardest trick in the book.

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This badass business card is made from an iPhone screen

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac This business card was made for an Apple engineer out of a genuine iPhone screen.

This business card, created from an actual iPhone screen, was made for an Apple engineer (whose name has been removed by request). Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Every year at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, a million and one business cards get handed out. Most end up in a desk drawer or, worse, the circular file. But last year one card stood out.

This glass business card is made from an actual iPhone screen, sourced from Foxconn’s factories in China. The lettering is laser-etched into the hardened Gorilla Glass — a very complex process.

The card belongs to an Apple engineer, who hung it on a lanyard around his neck. Everywhere he went, people pawed at it.

“Everyone was grabbing it asking him, ‘How the heck did you do that?'” said the card’s creator, who made a batch of 10 for the engineer.

The first question we had when we got our hands on one was, where do we put in our order? Unfortunately, that ain’t gonna happen.

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Hot-rod Hackintoshes perform like the latest Mac Pro

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

This P280 Hackintosh screams like a Mac Pro. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Although it looks like a vanilla PC in a boxy case, the machine pictured above is a high-performance, custom-built Hackintosh.

This thing is hot! Known as the P280, after its Antec case, this Hackintosh is equivalent in performance to Apple’s latest Mac Pro workstation, but costs significantly less.

Roughly comparable to a Mac Pro costing $3,500, the P280 was assembled from off-the-shelf PC parts costing just over $2,000, including a water-cooling system to chill its chips. The Hackintosh runs Apple’s OS X Mavericks and, according to its builder, bests a similarly configured Pro on many benchmarks.

It has none of Jony Ive’s industrial design magic, of course, but that’s not the point. This is a DIY rig that’s as badass as it gets.

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AAPL! AAPL! AAPL! Buy! Buy! Buy!

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. Take every penny you own and invest it in Apple stock, because the company is about to go gangbusters.

The big news from yesterday’s earth-shattering earnings call is that this is a company that is extremely confident about its financial future.

Apple has come under fire recently for not innovating. You’ve heard the whining: Apple’s lost its mojo. There have been some nice updates to existing products, but Apple’s done nothing lately to realign the universe. It’s been four long years since it’s last biggie — the original iPad. Where’s the latest product that reshapes the modern world?

To many observers, it looks like the company has been treading water in the two-and-a-half years since Steve Jobs’ death. Android is seating Apple’s lunch, and Apple’s got nowhere to go but down. Apple’s over.

But that narrative is nonsense. Wednesday’s earnings call — and the gobsmacking 7-to-1 stock split — clearly telegraphs that Apple’s executives have something huge up their sleeves. Maybe a couple of things. Maybe a lot of things.

If you’ve been paying close attention to the news and rumors, 2014 looks like it’s shaping up to be Apple’s biggest year in decades.

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Heartbleed Security Bug: What Apple Users Need to Know


The newly discovered Heartbleed bug is being called the Web’s worst security bug ever.

It allows hackers to steal passwords and login details when users visit vulnerable sites — undetected. That’s the bad part: affected sites probably have no idea they’re vulnerable. The bug is subject to an emergency security advisory. Some experts are estimating that up to 66% of the Internet’s servers could be affected. Each server has to be fixed manually. So it could take a while.

In the meantime:

  • Don’t log into any sites until you’ve officially been given the all clear.
  • Change all your passwords for websites and email. Especially for sensitive sites like banks, credit cards and webmail. However: wait until you know a site has been patched before changing passwords. Sites like Tumblr and Yahoo sent out warning emails earlier today telling users to change their passwords.
  • Apple.com and iCloud appear to be unaffected, according to this (unofficial) list on Github.
  • Install the Chromebleed Checker for Google’s Chrome browser — it pops a warning if a site is vulnerable (Cult of Mac is not. See screenshot below).

We’ve reached out to Apple’s PR department for comment. No reply yet. We’ll update if Apple makes any statement or issues an advisory.

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Are You An Old Git? And Other Questions For Apple’s Jony Ive


The UK’s Sunday Times has a long interview with Apple’s head designer Jony Ive in its Sunday Magazine (warning: paywall).

It claims to be the first in-depth interview Ive has given in twenty years at Apple, but breaks absolutely no ground whatsoever. Irritatingly, I can see the fingerprints of my Jony Ive biography all over the piece, but there’s no mention of the book.

The strangest thing is that Ive recycles the same quotes he’s used in the past. Believe me, I’ve read them all. He says that Steve Jobs’ ideas sometimes sucked the air from the room (previously uttered in his tribute to Jobs) and that he wanted to be a car designer, but other students made weird “vroom vroom” noises while they worked (from an Observer interview). There’s absolutely nothing new in the entire piece including the obligatory hint of an amazing new product, which of course, he can’t talk about.

The best part is 10 random-ish questions lobbed at him, which are:

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Can These iMacs Cure Cancer? [Exclusive]

Can These iMacs Cure Cancer? [Exclusive]

In the quiet foothills of Kentucky, a massive supercomputer is churning through data. It is hunting for new drugs to fight cancer.

Every week, the DataseamGrid processes 300 man-years worth of calculations. Yeah, that’s 300 years of calculations every week. Drug discovery usually takes 10 to 15 years, but the DataseamGrid blazes through that work in a fraction of the usual time. It is one of the largest pipelines of potential new cancer drugs in the country. Researchers here are about to start human trials this year of a new drug discovered by the supercomputer, which, if successful, may lead to an entirely new class of cancer drugs.

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Publisher’s Letter


A few years ago at a MacWorld party, I spotted a guy I knew and barged in while he was talking to someone else. “Have you got a story for me?” I asked. He came back with a few suggestions, each less newsworthy than the last. His former conversation partner stood by in silence. Then Mr. no-news said, “Wait a minute: this guy runs the largest Mac supercomputer in the world!”

That guy was Brian Gupton, one of the brains behind the DataseamGrid in Kentucky featured in this week’s magazine. We talked for a couple of hours, lost in conversation in the middle of a party. I liked him immediately on a personal level: here’s a guy from a blue-collar background who is hugely passionate about education. And it turned out he had built this gigantic supercomputer that was trawling through massive amounts of data in the search for a cancer cure.

There were so many strands to the story.

At the time we met, there were two promising cancer drugs in the works. One of them appeared to be almost 100 percent effective at eradicating stage IV carcinomas. I remember being completely flabbergasted: “Are you sure no one has written about this?” His answer was even more astonishing: only local press had picked up the story.

I was amazed that he’d managed to build a world-class research tool in a place that was being decimated by the declining coal industry. It was a public/private partnership, and an early example of utility computing – this was before cloud computing had taken off.  Another fascinating detail: some of the drugs they were exploring were being grown in genetically modified tobacco plants.

Gupton and his partners built the supercomputer with Apple’s Xgrid, a software package for distributed computing  which, at the time, came built into OS X.  This meant that anybody could build their own supercomputer. And it meant that universities, schools, research centers could potentially become these powerful grids, following in Dataseam’s footsteps. (Apple has since removed Xgrid from Snow Leopard, making that less possible.) Many school districts buy iPads for kids now, favoring one-on-one computing without desktops. Yet Gupton is as passionate as ever and the researchers are still bullish, saying it’s the largest cancer drug pipeline in the country.

Today, the Grid hums as researchers look for chemicals to disrupt or inhibit the growth of cancer. Based on the modeling techniques that won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry they’ve built a simulator that takes a 3D model of a cancer protein and matches it against a molecular model of a chemical, working with a library of 20 million chemicals.

This supercomputer on a shoestring is still going strong.