Apple’s Anxiety-Inducing MacBook Pro Keyboard Situation Update

Remember how Apple released a MacBook Air last year that might have had a more reliable update to their butterfly keyboard mechanism? Joanna Stern wrote about how it wasn’t fixed for the Wall Street Journal and put the nail in that coffin.

Here’s one I missed, Casey Johnston also had an update on our long national keyboard nightmare and bought a 2018 MacBook Air. Surprise, her Air’s keyboard broke as well.

Today. May 22, 2019. Apple has a press release speed-bump for the MacBook Pro accompanied by this headline: Apple introduces first 8-core MacBook Pro, the fastest Mac notebook ever

Congratulations Apple, any updates on that keyboard business?

“Phrase not found” Uh-oh.
Ol’ Jack is starting to worry here that maybe Apple isn’t getting around to fixing this one properly

Here’s the “good news.” Apple has extended their keyboard warranty program for their laptops to include all MacBooks with this butterfly mechanism.

“But wait,” you’d say, “haven’t they done anything to possibly fix this issue in these models?” Apple has told it’s spokespersons to say, on-background (with conditions), that these updated MacBook Pro computers have:

…a new material for at least one of the components in these switches. The purpose of this change is specifically to increase the reliability of the keyboards.

That is John Gruber’s interpretation of the message. I also completely disagree with Gruber’s supposition that these keyboards “…can’t be worse and are likely better.” The new keyboards can definitely be worse, and it’s clear that Apple’s judgement on this issue is poor. Apple has shipped the same bad keyboard design for 4 years.

I’m glad that Apple is trying to fix this keyboard design, and is updating their Macs on a regular basis again. Supposedly if you bring in a 2018 model of MBP or Air for repair you’ll get the 2019 keyboard material. I’m disappointed that if my ancient MacBook Pro fails I would not choose an Apple laptop to replace it. This 4-year extended warranty program doesn’t inspire confidence when it is immediately applied to their latest iteration of this butterfly key switch design.

What happens if the keyboard dies on the first day of the fifth year you own one of these laptops? You’ve got to beg Apple to fix it, or pay them to fix it.

How long can you go without your laptop? If you don’t care, then maybe you should get an iPad Pro. Apple’s keyboard for that is more reliable.

Would you recommend, sell, or give, one of these laptops in good conscious to a friend or family member, knowing that the warranty won’t last and the keyboard is likely to fail before the rest of the computer? I wouldn’t!

After all of this. Even if, or when, Apple’s designers make a new laptop that has a new keyboard design, would you trust it? I wouldn’t.

I Hope We Don’t Get RSI From Crankin’ It (the Playdate)

Panic’s new console

Renowned Mac and iOS software developer, Panic published their first game Firewatch with Campo Santo a few years ago, are expecting to release Untitled Goose Game later this year, and have now teamed up with the teens that figured out how to monetize themselves in pursuit of wacky audio equipment at Teenage Engineering to make a portable game console called the Playdate.

The Playdate is a bizarre device. There’s a black and white 400×240 screen without a backlight, Panic promises that screen will be perfectly clear during the day and that a reading lamp will be fine at night. I have a question out to them about glare.

The button layout looks normal up until you see that crank on the right side. The crank can tuck away inside the body of the unit for games that don’t need it. The Playdate downloads new games over WiFi. There is Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack as well.

Playdate’s games promise to be real odd ducks, the current list of announced designers are Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy, Noby Noby Boy), Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, GIRP), Shaun Inman (Retro Game Crunch), Zach Gage (FlipFlop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess) with more to come. Their 12 games are to be released at no other cost over the course of 12 weeks, once a week from the date a player first turns on their Playdate. There will be an option to skip the wait if you fire one up late in the “first season” of games.

Here’s how Panic describes a Keita Takahashi game for the system:

Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Keita Takahashi, the creator of Namco’s Katamari Damacy. This game uses the crank exclusively to control the flow of time, backwards and forwards. Your goal? Get Crankin’ to his date with Crankette while avoiding an ever-increasing series of ridiculous obstacles — obstacles that aren’t affected by the time control. Will Crankin’ make it to his rendezvous on-time? (Spoiler alert: no)

The name is supposed to make us think of setting up a time for kids to get together, but this Playdate console doesn’t have a firm release date yet or any announcement regarding multiplayer, just “Early 2020” with Panic hoping to have pre-ordering available at the end of 2019 and an e-mail waitlist that is supposed to act as a queue for the $150 handheld. The promise is that there will be a limited number of the consoles available at launch, which isn’t great since it probably means you need to pre-order this thing without knowing much about the yet-to-be-released games. Pre-orders are not necessary for anything that is produced at any scale, and it isn’t clear if Panic and Teenage Engineering are small enough to require them.

Panic promises to let us know about future game releases, and more specifications about the hardware (storage capacity, CPU, RAM) closer to the launch of the Playdate. It is not at all clear if you’ll be able to just download rando games that anyone makes, or if this thing tanks you’ll just be stuck with the single season of 12 games that Panic commissioned.

Falcon Age

Falcon Age looks very different, it’s a first-person falconeering and falcon-friendshipper where you and your falcon pal (palcon?) fight off the robo-nvaders seeking to exploit your planet. You can also dress up your falcon buddy,

Outerloop Games’ website says they’ve developed Falcon Age for virtual reality first, but it is playable on regular televisions as well. They’ve even gone to the trouble of adding a non-combat option to just spend time with your falcon friend.

Reviewers for IGN and Gamespot enjoyed Falcon Age. Vice’s (Waypoint, before Vice decided to destroy the good will that Waypoint had created) reviewer enjoyed Falcon Age less from the perspective of someone who wasn’t playing in VR.

Falcon Age is $20 and only available on the PS4 (and PSVR, optionally) for now.

Capcom’s Bizarre Home Arcade Stick Machine Thing

I don’t even know where to start with this thing. It’s a two-player arcade stick with an HDMI port, wifi for leaderboards,16 games built-in. For
£199.99, which is roughly $260 USD. That’s expensive, but Capcom UK claims to have Sanwa parts for the Joystick lever and buttons. That’s kind of worth it. But then you look at the actual design of the case and it’s the fucking Capcom logo! What in the hell were they smoking?

I can’t find any press release from Capcom US, but the UK edition is promised with an October 25th release date. Unfortunately this is coming from Koch media, purveyors of such shit goods as The C64 Mini. Also, there are hints that this might be using an illegally re-licensed version of the Final Burn Alpha arcade emulator. It’s Yikes-O-Clock, do you know where your executives are?

The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is a Real Disaster

Exactly as rumored, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition has been announced without a disc drive for May 7th.

At $250, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is a $50 discount on the $300 price of the regular Xbox One S.

The only slight bonus to this version is that you get Minecraft, Forza Horizon 3, and Sea of Thieves bundled with the digital-only Xbox One

When this revision was rumored, I wondered what the pitch would be. It’s not an Xbox One X, so the All-Digital Edition is lacking in performance. The discount is practically speaking, nothing, today.

That $50-off-the-$300 MSRP of a regular S is not enough of a discount, especially when the Xbox One S is regularly on sale for $250. At the time of writing, you can get an Xbox One S 1TB console with a game and a disc drive for $250 from Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or Gamestop.

My only guess to explain this odd strategy is that at E3 Microsoft could announce a price drop for the Xbox One X. Maybe $350, and cease producing the Xbox One S with the Blu-Ray drive. That distinction, a cheaper Xbox One X, and a Xbox One S All-Digital Edition that could be regularly discounted to $200 would be a good wrap-up price on this generation for Microsoft before their next console is released.

Hats off to Sony for upstaging Microsoft with their PlayStation 5 announcement. With new consoles coming in the next year or two I don’t think I’d buy or recommend a PlayStation 4 Pro at this point, or an Xbox One X, to anyone who owns a base PS4 or Xbox One. I’d expect much more from Microsoft about their commitment to a next generation console at their E3 presentation.

Also, this video Microsoft’s crack marketing team put together to announce this all-digital edition is supposed to be funny. Yikes.

Next PlayStation Detailed in Wired

Peter Rubin has the scoop on what might be the PlayStation 5 at Wired with a Mark Cerny interview. It’s mostly about the tech details. The SSD, backwards compatibility, ray tracing, PSVR compatible, not in 2019, not at E3.

My fear with anything like this as I sit here in April 2019 is that a PlayStation 5 would be noted to the press at length, and then the punchline when final details are announced is that it could be just the server that sits at a data center to host your game stream, but that isn’t the vibe I get from Rubin’s article.

Rubin also talks about the supported resolution of the new hardware in this parenthetical:

(While the next-gen console will support 8K graphics, TVs that deliver it are few and far between, so we’re using a 4K TV.)

I don’t for a second buy that this machine can do anything like real 8K rendering. Especially in combination with any kind of ray tracing.

I am not super interested in the ray-tracing GPU situation today. My read on it has been that enabling ray tracing features destroys performance on today’s modern, expensive, desktop gaming hardware from Nvidia.  A 2020 (or 2021) release date isn’t going to magically make today’s performance issues and cost go down to the point where true 8K rendering and ray tracing can coexist. Sony isn’t even using Nvidia parts. Cerny doesn’t seem like the type to bullshit, and that quote above isn’t quoting Cerny.

Astroneer Out of Early Access

Space explor-o-build-emup, Astroneer, exited Steam’s Early Access program and it’s still as cool as ever if you’re interested in mostly calmly exploring unknown worlds, building new things on them, and then occasionally running low on oxygen.

Mike Williams enjoyed Astroneer for it’s chill nature:

In terms of the survival genre, Astroneer is definitely on the soft side of things. The leisurely pace of Astroneer puts it closer to a game like Stardew Valley-it feels like the little brother of the current version of No Man’s Sky at times-giving you a series of tasks that push you toward an end goal. The primary focus is exploration, as you push out further from wherever your shelter is located. The planets you find yourself on are randomly-generated; a series of bright, colorful alien landscapes. Mountains, plains of swaying grass, and odd-looking trees stretch out in every direction in neon greens, oranges, and blues. Astroneer looks inviting and fun, and your lone explorer bounding across the landscape never diminishes that.

I’ve had fun with Astroneer as well, but I found that the text could be a little tiny when displayed on a TV, that’s with the Windows version on Steam (or via a key on Humble). Astroneer is also available on the Xbox One. Both versions are $30.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun

The people behind the Zen Pinball games, Zen Studios, have put out a first-person, turn-based, dungeon crawling, RPG called Operencia: The Stolen Sun that looks a lot like a modern take on the old Wizardry games. Unfortunately there are very few reviews of the game available, the one I found from IGN Spain is worth reading (machine translated version to English) for Javier Artero’s comments on the game as well as its translation.

Seeing a turn-based first-person role-playing game makes me wish for a modern remake of the Doom RPG and Wolfenstein RPG games from id that have been lost to the sands of time.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun is out now on the Epic Game Store and the Xbox One for $30. It’ll be on Steam in 2020.

Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm

That’s the headline to Joanna Stern’s latest column about Apple’s keyboard ongoing nightmare. It’s a hilarious column to read, Stern had her colleagues make some custom tech to remove or add letters from the article to match her brand new MacBook Air’s broken keyboard, and the video has a great conclusion. Don’t worry, there are switches to turn the letters back on.

Apple Services Event March 2019 Notes

Sesame

Apple opened yesterday’s event at the Steve Jobs theater in Cupertino with a 1960’s-style movie credits animation that paid homage to previously successful products their people have created. The iPod, the iPhone, the Mac, all great things but an odd thing to reference for an all-services event. 

Tim Cook came on stage to introduce the notion of services as a third pillar of Apple’s work, alongside the software and hardware. He referenced many of the services Apple provides today, like their podcast directory, and photo storage with sync.

Apple News+

Cook talked about Apple’s News app and said that it is the #1 news app due to Apple having over 5 billion articles read by readers each month. It isn’t immediately clear if there are other benchmarks available to compare, and no chart was displayed on-stage for this claim.

After a video about how important written and photographic journalism is, Cook introduced VP of Applications Roger Rosner to talk about their subscription service for news and magazines. Rosner said their subscription would cover over 300 magazines. Last year, Apple acquired a digital magazine subscription service called Texture, at the time Apple boasted that Texture had over 200 magazines.

Rosner introduced Wyatt Mitchell, Apple’s Director of Design for Applications, who has worked at numerous magazines in the past, to demo News+. Mitchell introduced a redesigned News app and an issue of National Geographic inside it, with a video cover surrounded by the traditional yellow border.

Mitchell also showed the new News+ tab in the redesigned News app, and talked about how the app would automatically download recent issues so you have them available offline, demonstrated some of the other navigation features, and went back up the stack by handing off back to Rosner. If you don’t sign up, your News app is now less useful and has a tab you don’t want.

Rosner said News+ include subscriptions to various online news sites and papers like the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Rosner highlighted that Apple doesn’t know what you read, by making recommendations on-device instead of on their servers, and doesn’t allow tracking from advertisers in the News app. Essentially a shot at what the websites for these magazines and newspapers have had to give up to to advertisers in order to keep paying their executives and investors.

Rosner said there has never been a service like this before, which is extremely suspect given that Apple acquired the magazine portion of this service, which already existed. Rosner then continued to talk about how these magazine and newspaper subscriptions would normally cost a ridiculous amount of money each year if you were to subscribe to each individually, in order to provide context for the final price of $10 per month. Family sharing members get access without an additional fee, Apple’s Apple Music streaming music service is $15/month for families or $10 for individuals, as an example.

News+ is available in yesterday’s macOS (10.14.4) and iOS (12.2) updates.

Apple’s News app has been notoriously unavailable in Canada, and will now finally be available there in French and English alongside Canadien newspaper, The Star. News+ hits Australia and the UK this Fall.

Apple Pay & Apple’s Credit Card

Cook took things back to talk about growing Apple Pay statistics, and mention that Portland (Oregon) would be getting transit passes through the Wallet app alongside New York City and Chicago. This has been available in some other places like Japan for some time.

Cook talked about their perceived problems (ease of application, privacy, etc) with credit cards and introduced VP of Apple Pay Jennifer Bailey to talk about their Apple Card credit card through Goldman Sachs and Mastercard.

Bailey demonstrated how the Wallet app would show charts to help people understand their spending, and how people could text Apple to handle issues with the card like changing an address. I’m not sure why we need to text to handle something that could be done via a user interface experience, but it’s more likely that Apple just wanted something easy to demonstrate that wasn’t fraught with the usual anxiety around a stolen card or other issues.

Bailey promised that Apple had used machine learning to change the transaction logs and statement to make them easier to understand, and would associate the useless info we usually get on a statement into the name of an actual business. As an example, they used an animation to transform an address from a line on a normal statement into a named 7-11 location.

Bailey moved on to talking about rewards programs, and how hard typical credit cards make it to understand the value of their points. Bailey said that Apple’s rewards (called Daily Cash) are given to you directly as cash sent to your Apple Pay Cash account each day, which is a different tool that is already in the Wallet app. The Apple Pay Cash competes with similar digital debit cards from Square and other companies. The Apple Card credit rewards would be given back to you as 2% of the purchase amount whenever you use Apple Pay. Retail and digital purchases at Apple stores or through Apple’s services would get 3% cash back.

Most credit rewards programs are given after a new statement, so a daily payout could be better, but I imagine the credit card companies feel the pennies they give back to their customers are more impressive when it’s 20 bucks at the end of the billing cycle instead of 16 cents the next morning.

Usurious interest rates and statements “designed to keep you paying the minimum each month” was the next topic from Bailey. She demonstrated the UX for paying off Apple’s credit card that she claimed would help people understand how much interest they would accrue if they only paid a minimum amount.

Bailey promised that the Apple credit card would have “no fees” for late payment, annual fees, international fees, or fees for going over your limit, and it would have “lower interest rates” without penalty rates.

Security and privacy were the final subjects, Bailey said that Apple wouldn’t know what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid for it, and promised that the graphs and other information were all rendered on the device. Goldman Sachs and Mastercard presumably would have to know these things, of course, but Bailey promised that they (the bank and credit card middleman) would not share this data with third parties.

A very short video showed how Apple created the physical card for non-Apple Pay transactions. It’s made out of titanium and has no visible number, CVV, expiration, or signature, only your name and branding from the companies involved. Hiding the numbers on the front and back is probably not that useful. They’re all in the magnetic stripe and unless the stripe can change dynamically, there won’t be much of a benefit to people using the card. As frustrating as it can be to have a credit card stolen, it’ll probably be more frustrating to open the Wallet app to get the digits each time you need them for any online transaction that doesn’t take Apple Pay.

The physical card only gives 1% cash back, and presumably the magstripe isn’t updated like the one in the digital wallet so you’ll always have the same number and limited security on the physical card.

The Apple Card credit card will be available this summer.

Apple Arcade

Cook returned to introduce Ann Thai, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Apple’s App Store to talk about games, the positive culture around them, and Apple’s commitment to them before introducing their Apple Arcade game subscription service.

Thai introduced a video that has designers and developers talking about their games. Beyond A Steel Sky, Where Cards Fall, Sakaguchi with Fantasian, Lifelike, Bekah Saltsman with Overland. Thai returned to talk about the Arcade subscription that she says includes over a hundred games that are mobile exclusive (presumably that means phones and tablets, and not precluding versions for the Nintendo Switch). “We’ll be adding new games all the time.” makes me wonder if games be removed all the time, too.

Thai says that the subscription will be found in a new app store tab and on the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac computers and the games will have cloud saves so you be more seamlessly able to swap devices. Pour one out for Game Center. 

As a poke at Google’s recently announced game streaming service, Thai mentioned that these games would be playable offline. No features or content would be excluded behind in-app purchases (IAP) and there would be no advertisements in the games.

Thai said that Apple wouldn’t share your info with the companies making the games, and that this subscription would also have no additional charge for family sharing before introducing a montage video featuring more games that would be on the service.

Apple Arcade launches this fall, no price was given yet.

Apple TV Channels Subscriptions

Cook took the stage again to talk about Apple’s plans for TV. Peter Stern was introduced to talk about the redesigned Apple TV app on their devices and the integration of various third-party live and on-demand streaming TV bundles under the new marketing umbrella of Apple TV Channels.

The “Apple Channels” subscriptions look like you just have access to the smaller name subscription services that you typically would go to a third party app for. Not Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, but HBO, Starz, Showtime, CBS All Access, and so on. They’ll probably be the same price, just embedded inside the Apple TV app so you don’t have to leave that app.

Cindy Lin was introduced by Stern to do the app demo. Lin accidentally scrolled down instead of over because the Apple TV remote is a beautiful piece of shit that Apple hasn’t done anything to fix in years.

It looks like this app has the same problem as Netflix, trailers that autoplay when you scroll onto the page for a show. I hate that part of Netflix, the last thing I want to have happen when my kid is in the room or when I’m idly browsing through shows or movies is to have anything autoplay a trailer for an inappropriate, and loud, show.

Stern returned to tell us that the new Apple TV app is out this May, the app is also coming out this Fall for macOS. It’ll also be on Samsung, LG, Sony, and Vizio televisions as well as Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV devices that hook up to your television.

It isn’t clear yet if those television makers are skimming what you watch when you use the Apple TV app on their TVs as they do for everything else you watch. It can probably be assumed that they do, and they can already do that if you hook an Apple TV box up to an HDMI port. Any contract they have with Apple might prevent it for both scenarios or none.

Apple TV+

Cook introduced us to Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht to talk about Apple’s plans for original video programming under the banner of Apple TV+. I am not sure how much I buy their compassion for stories that they’re telling us so much about. They introduced a video from various directors and actors talking about their work. Steven Spielberg started it out, and then showed up on stage to talk about how he got started and introduce a show based on Amazing Stories, the elder statesman of long-running science fiction magazines at over 90 years.

After talking about the idea for a TV show for a bit, and not showing any footage, Spielberg disappeared when some stage lights went down and he was replaced by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon to announce their TV show called “The Morning Show.” It’s a comedy about a morning show.

Steve Carell joined them onstage to have more relatable celebrity banter about how funny they are.

The stage blackout ate another cast and replaced those three celebrities with two others, Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Alfre Woodard (Mariah Stokes/Dillard in Luke Cage on Netflix) introduced their show, See, about a planet where nobody can see and everybody is blind.

Kumail Nanjiani appeared after the next blackout to tell us about his show, Little America, about different stories of immigrants in the US before the blackout consumed him.

Big Bird of Sesame Street came by the darkest place he’s ever been, an Apple stage with another Jim Henson style muppet to announce a show called Helpsters that teaches coding.

J.J. Abrams appeared after the blackout with Sara Bareilles to talk about their show called Little Voice. Bareilles then sat at a piano and performed the title song for the show. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her perform but she is obviously extremely talented.

Finally, this too-long bit wrapped up with a promise of the “highest quality storytelling” and a montage video that actually had footage from some of these shows.

Apple TV+ is promised for this Fall. No price announced, and no ad tier bullshit, at least.

Tim Cook returned to introduce Oprah Winfrey as the “one more thing,” who talked about her shows for the platform.

Overall

I have no interest in any of the shows Apple is putting forward, because we don’t really know anything about them. They could be good, but no critics have seen them yet. We’re not supposed to make fun of Planet of the Apps anymore, but it was complete garbage even if it was created by other people who aren’t working on Apple’s TV programs anymore. I have a little bit more hope that these programs could be good, but only a little.

News+ is probably fine, but it isn’t clear how much of those top papers you’re getting, and how much of that will just be magazines that aren’t that informative or useful. It could be useful if there were local newspapers involved, but only a handful of big papers are integrating with News+. It isn’t clear yet if the subscription could be good for smaller papers or a weight to drag them down.

The Arcade subscription could be a good deal for players and developers to get us out of the rut mobile gaming is in where too many good games are ruined by the free-to-play business model or buried with ads. Can you even get a match-3 game on iOS without an energy mechanic or some other garbage hidden behind consumable IAP? Apple made the mess, is profiting from it, and does too little to stop it. The subscription might not be the worst thing, I hope the games that come out of it are eventually available for purchase separately, especially on platforms that have a better possibility for archival.

I don’t like how rent-seeking Apple has been and continues to be. The credit card is perhaps the worst example of that. The card could be better than most others, it’s difficult to be worse, but watching Apple’s executives onstage with literal dollar signs behind them is not a good look and they were correctly roasted online for it.

If you let them, Apple will provide you with every kind of media you consume to the exclusion of all others. Apple’s executives want us to pay them $1500 for an iPhone on an installment plan, use the Apple credit card to pay them rent for our photo and video storage (which is still limited to 5GB a month on the free tier), listen to music, watch TV, enjoy movies and play games through their subscription services. The only allowable criticism and journalism is read through Apple News and Apple’s internal editorial teams vacuum up talented journalists who go without any kind of byline when their writing appears in Apple’s App Stores and elsewhere.

 

Apple is already doing everything they can to run affiliate linking editorial out of town on a rail, and almost took Touch Arcade with them.

I miss the days where Apple was focused on products and services in their wheelhouse instead of this rush to expand into every possible business to continue their never-ending quest for increased growth. These new services probably aren’t taking personnel from those products, but they’re clearly taking executive focus. Today’s Apple can’t even ship a laptop keyboard that works.