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.

New AirPods

Updated AirPods are finally available. Announced way back in 2017, alongside the still absent AirPower oval charging mat. Apple says the 2nd generation of AirPods have a new H1 SOC that replaces the W1 chip in the first generation, faster connection times, support the “Hey Siri” wakeword/hotword without having your iPhone out, and have longer battery life but only for “talk time.”

The physical appearance of the AirPods hasn’t changed beyond a new light on the front that is only on the Qi-compatible Wireless case.

I loved the AirPods when I got them, but as a first generation product they’re not without issues. I have a few more issues now than I did two years ago.

  • These days I am frequently wondering if the batteries are wearing down, as all batteries do over time, when I have to plug in the case to charge it more often than I used to.
  • The process of connecting them to a Mac is so poor that various third-party utilities have been made to smooth things over. I use one, it isn’t great, because you have to put both AirPods back in the case and then open the case before the utility will give you a chance to pair them to your Mac.
  • I don’t know if it’s because of the humidity here or what, but the case is also absolutely disgusting on my set. There’s a rim of grossness around the top of the case that is difficult to keep clean.
  • You can use the Find My iPhone app to locate missing AirPods, but only if they’re out of the charging case. They once fell into a little nook in the back of my office chair only to be lost for two months because who would ever think to look there and they were in their case so I couldn’t use the Find My iPhone app to make them make noise.
  • I don’t know how often it is, but I sometimes have issues connecting the AirPods to my iPhone. Sometimes it seems like the entire Bluetooth stack has gone off the deep end and the only way to get them to pair is to turn off Bluetooth and then re-enable it. Which you now have to do in the Settings app because the control-center widget only disables new Bluetooth connections instead of halting the entire stack.
  • Rarely, I hear the “connection ding” alert sound but I have no idea what the AirPods have connected to because the audio I’m trying to listen to comes out of my iPhone’s speakers.
  • Finally, anyone that has ever dropped the AirPods case is happy with how durable it is, but unhappy because it has a tendency to open the lid and eject the AirPods.

The new AirPods could fix many of those issues, but I don’t see any big reason for me to upgrade yet. The only Qi chargers I have access to are at an angle that wouldn’t work with the wireless charging case, which requires more of a lay-down mat. If you haven’t gotten a pair of AirPods yet, there’s no reason to wait, but if you’re considering upgrading I would wait for reviews of the 2nd generation.

The new AirPods come in at two price points. $160 without the Qi compatible charging case, or $200 with the ability to charge on any Qi charging pad. The new wireless charging case is also available separately for $80 and is compatible with the original AirPods.

New (old) iMac Day

Well, not as old as yesterday’s iPads. But the non-pro iMac finally received an update to its internals after a little more than a year and a half. This update was also delivered via press-release, ahead of Apple’s upcoming press event on the 25th which is rumored to be exclusively about their video streaming service.

Jason Snell has some disappointments with the new iMacs, specifically with the fact that the $1300 base-model iMac still includes a traditional disk drive:

Not to belabor the point, but the iMac is the only remaining new Apple product that features a spinning hard drive. It’s also the only Mac in a couple of years to receive an update and not include an Apple-designed ARM processor for security and other features. (The two are probably related—so far as I can tell, Apple has designed the T2 to only use flash storage.)

Spinning disks had a good run, but they’re old tech. They’re far less reliable than flash storage drives, and are also generally much slower. The $1299 base-model 4K iMac ships with a slow 5400 rpm spinning disk. It’s almost unforgiveable.

I agree with Snell, it isn’t fair for Apple’s most price-sensitive customers to end up with unreliable and outdated storage methods. You can’t easily upgrade that storage at home, once you realize how slow that 5200 RPM drive is.

There is still a non-Retina, 21”, iMac at $1100. That iMac joins the non-Retina MacBook Air in the land of Macs that Apple forgot.

This may well be the year of the Mac Pro, but it is extremely unlikely that the successor to the trashcan  Mac Pro (I actually thought it looked kind of cool) will be below $5,000. It’s still a frustration that there aren’t reasonably priced, modular, Macs that can compete for desktop performance without the built-in displays of the iMac line, or the workstation parts, and price, of the Pro-lineup of desktops.

We’ll see what happens at the WWDC keynote in early June when the new Mac Pro will most likely be announced. I’m not sure the attendees who paid $1600 for the non-transferrable ticket, and thousands more for hotel rooms, will care that much about the high prices of these Mac Pros.

It’s New (Old) iPad Day

New iPad air and iPad mini with Apple Pencil

If you don’t want to waste time at an upcoming event by talking about updates to old products that nobody will think about for too long, you do it in a press release.

As rumored, that’s what Apple has done with this press-release update to their iPad lineup. The iPad Mini has been updated for the first time in almost 4 years, and the iPad Air  has been revived as a higher-end alternative to the iPad Cheap. Both devices got Apple Pencil support… sort of.

The iPad Mini 5 is the 7.9 inch device that can fit into the pocket of your Jnco Jeans, as long as you can track a pair down. Unfortunately the Jnco Jeans business doesn’t appear to be going well and their website is offline.

The iPad Air was last updated almost 5 years ago, with the 2nd generation model and is suspiciously 10.5”. You might remember a 10.5” iPad Pro that was replaced with the 11” model last October. That’s where this 3rd generation iPad Air form-factor is from.

Both devices get the A12 system-on-a-chip (SOC) from the latest iPhones, but not the A12X from the latest iPad Pros. So they won’t be quite as powerful, and we won’t have any benchmarks or information about clockspeeds and amount of RAM until reviewers get their hands on these updated models.

Both devices also get support for Apple’s stylus, but not the cool new one from the 2018 iPad Pros.

Both new-old hybrid iPads have the classic big-bezel design, not the new iPad Pro/iPhone X design with minimal bezels around the edges that’s neccessary for 2nd-generation Apple Pencil stylus.

That new Apple Pencil charges and when it is magnetically held-in-place to one side of those new Pros. The new Apple Pencil also has one flat side, so it won’t roll off a table. The 1st generation Apple Pencil supported by these newly updated tablets with old form-factors still has all of those first-generation Apple Pencil issues and is ready and willing to roll off your table and get lost under the couch.

Not receiving any updates today is the 2018 iPad Cheapwhich still has an A10 SOC, older (pre-Air 2) display technology, and the same 1st generation Apple Pencil support.

This old Apple Pencil support is almost vindictive at this point. Why does Apple want to punish lower-end iPad users with a worse stylus experience? Why sell people a stylus that probably won’t work with the next iPad they buy?

If these iPads are the future of labor, entertainment, and creative expression, Apple needs to treat the people buying these devices better. All iPads should have a similar design, and flat sides so they can support the same stylus that won’t roll off the table.

Lets revisit our oldest friend, with an updated logo, the table of confusing iPad decisions:

The logo for The Table of Confusing iPad Decisions

  • 2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A10 SOC
    • 2GB RAM
    • Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
    • Old-ass 1st generation Touch ID.
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 5 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 SOC
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($400) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($550)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($530), 256GB with Cellular ($680)
  • iPad Air 3 at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 2017-era iPad Pro Smart Connector
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 Processor
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($500) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($650)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($630), 256GB ($780)
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($1000) 256GB ($1150) 512GB ($1350) 1TB ($1750)
    • Cellular: 64GB ($1150) 256GB ($1300) 512GB ($1500) 1TB ($1900)
  • iPad Pro at 11″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($800) 256GB ($950) 512GB ($1150) 1TB ($1550)
    • With Cellular: 64GB ($950) 256GB ($1100) 512GB ($1300) 1TB ($1700)

All of the new models are available now in most countries.

It’s good that the iPad Mini form-factor has finally been updated, and there’s a mid-tier for people who want a 10-ish-inch iPad with better parts than the iPad Cheap, without spending the $800 for an 11” iPad Pro. This is a complicated line-up, but there are finally clear “best” iPads with the Pro devices which have the ProMotion variable frame-rate that make for an extremely smooth visual experience. Scrolling through app icons on the home screen is ridiculous on devices with that high framerate.

The year-old iPad Cheap with it’s A10 SOC is probably still fine for most people, but I would think twice before buying it for myself.

The cheapest option for an iPad will always be a refurbished or used model, but I would steer clear of the 5 and 4-year-old previous models of iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2. ProMotion is also on the older 2017 iPad Pro models.

Hopefully this year’s WWDC event will bring some announcements of changes in iOS 13 to properly support more advanced workflows beyond the simple Siri Shortcuts available to us today. These devices have never been more unbalanced in terms of how much functionality the hardware could support, and how little iOS is taking advantage of the hardware.

Musish is Better Than iTunes for Apple Music on Windows, Linux, and macOS

If you use Apple Music, the streaming music service from Apple that gives artists pennies instead of dollars, and want to listen on your computer, Musish is open source, runs in your web browser, and a much better alternative to running the full desktop iTunes instance if you don’t need to listen to a locally-stored collection of music.

Musish appears to log in to your Apple ID via an Apple-supplied authentication system. Very handy, I look forward to using this on Linux, where iTunes isn’t available at all.

Jason Snell’s 2018 MacBook Air and Mac Mini Reviews

Jason Snell has reviewed the 2018 Mac Mini:

Apple has witnessed how the Mac mini has gone from being the best Mac it could build for $499 to one that’s a vital tool for professional and home users in a variety of contexts. And so, after a long time in the wilderness, the Mac mini has at last been updated—the right way. The last time the Mac mini got updated, Apple took away the highest-end configurations. This time, the Mac mini has been built with those many niche uses in mind.

and the 2018 MacBook Air:

Just when we thought it was dead, after several years of essentially no updates, the MacBook Air has returned with a new version that’s clearly inspired by the classic design. It’s been so long since the last major MacBook Air update, in fact, that most of the “new” features on this device are simply a recap of all the changes Apple has made to other Macs the past few years, finally rolled into this one: a new keyboard, Retina display, Force Touch trackpad, Apple-designed T2 processor, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, “Hey Siri”, and Touch ID.

Surprise! The definitive Mac of the 2010s is going to survive this decade. And while this MacBook Air is dramatically different from previous models in many ways, it’s also got a bunch of familiar touches that make it undeniably a MacBook Air. Like its predecessors, it’s not the computer for everyone… but it will probably be the most popular laptop among the (count ‘em) six models Apple currently offers.

He also has video reviews of both, and it sounds like they’re both good computers, even if they miss out on some features of older models like MagSafe which has saved my laptops many times.

There’s reason to think that Apple’s custom ARM processors, which now outperform many of their Mac computers in some benchmarks, are coming to replace Intel’s chips. These models, and any speed bumps they get in the next few years, might be some of the last Intel-based Apple updates.

Apple Special Event October 2018 Notes

New ipad pros

Last month we had new iPhones, this time Apple has announced a new set of 11″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros, a new Mac Mini, and a new Retina-blessed MacBook Air. This event was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York City.

Tim Cook started out the show by talking about what creative people do with the Mac. A montage played of various well-known folks starting at their Mac laptop screens, notably included were Lin Manuel-Miranda, Paul McCartney, Kermit the Frog, U2, teachers, photographers, and many other people.

The 2018 MacBook Air

Apple’s laptop situation isn’t great. Earlier this year they released new 2018 MacBook Pros that may have allieviated some of the issues with the reliability of 2016/2017 model keyboards. At the same time they also acknowledged the issue and offered extended repairs for three years for anyone who bought those devices.

Last week, the only laptop Apple sold with USB type-A ports was the MacBook Air. It was oddly placed in the product line, because it was actually heavier than some of the other laptop models and was their only device with a screen that wasn’t high-enough of a resolution to be deemed Retina.

Still, starting at $1000, the MacBook Air appeared to be something Apple wanted to keep around way past the due date. They’ve updated it over time with small updates, but Apple has never done a significant redesign of the Air’s body style since it shipped in 2009. This 2018 MacBook Air update is long overdue.

Cook introduced the new Air with this video before handing the device’s introduction off to Apple’s VP of Engineering, Laura Legros:

Finally, finally, the MacBook Air, 2018, has a Retina screen. It also has Touch ID authentication through a single dedicated spot on the keyboard (without the Pro’s Touch Bar,) two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt 3, a new keyboard, Hey Siri hotword detection, and an entirely new body with much thinner bezels around the 13.3″ screen.

Legros said that this was the “greenest Mac Ever” with 100% recycled aluminum, and then introduced this video:

This Air is also more expensive, starting at $1,200 for the base model with 8GB of RAM, a paltry 128GB SSD, and a 1.6 GHz dual-core i5 that can boost to 3.6 Ghz.

If you want 16 gigs of RAM and a 512GB SSD you’re looking at an $1800 MacBook Air. There is even a 1.5TB SSD option that brings the price up to $2,600!

Yow. Legros called this “…the most affordable Retina Mac we’ve ever offered.”

My impression is that this is the laptop that Apple wants to compete with the new 2018 iPad Pro for the future of labor and entertainment.

The 2018 MacBook Air can be purchased online now, or it’ll be in stores on the 7th of November.

The 2017 Air is still for sale, if you want Type-A USB ports and a non-Retina screen at a lower $1000 price.

If I needed to replace my MacBook Pro and wasn’t onboard with the XCode-less iPad, I’d get this Air in a second.

The 2018 Mac Mini

Speaking of overdue updates, it has been four years since the Mac Mini was last updated.

Cook came back out to introduce the 2018 Mac Mini with this sci-fi trailer:

After the video Tom Boger, Apple’s head of Mac Marketing walked onstage to talk about this updated Mini.

Boger specified that the new Mini doesn’t use “mobile parts” but didn’t call the CPU a desktop processor. It’s a 3.6Ghz Quad-Core processor to start.

Spinning disk options are gone in favor of SSD’s, internally. The external design is extremely similar to the old Mac Mini except Apple in 2018 is attacking the the port situation differently. The 2018 Mac Mini has just two USB 3 type-A ports, one HDMI 2.0, four USB type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports, one ethernet port, and one”3.5 mm headphone” jack that looks particularly awkward to access between and just below the USB Type-A ports as reader basscomm points out.

Just like the Air, you can order a Mini today and they’ll be generally available on the 7th. They start at $800, the configuration I’d go with is the 3.2GHz i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That configuration is $1700.

The most expensive configuration you could do is the same CPU with 64GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD, 10 Gigabyte ethernet instead of Gigabit, and that is $4,200!

Yow.

The cheapest iMac Pro is $800 more at $5000, but it starts with a much more reasonable 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. That is a machine that could last ten years or more.

This mini is also supposed to be made of 100% recycled aluminum.

Retail Updates

Angela Ahrendts spoke about retail Apple Stores, and specifically the Today at Apple series of classes for people to learn how to create with Apple devices. Ahrendts introduced new classes, and talked about the renewable energy resources that power the stores.

The 2018 iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″

Cook returned to talk about iPad sales, and showed this chart to demonstrate how Apple had sold more iPads in 2017 than “…the entire notebook lineup of all of the biggest notebook manufacturers.” Look at this chart, it has one notable exception missing from it:

More ipads than notebooks

Cook went on to boast that “…this makes iPad not only the most popular tablet, but the most popular computer in the world.”

Heavily rumored, and now proven to be correct, there is a new iPad Pro in two sizes: 11″ and 12.9″. They have no lightning ports, instead there is one USB Type-C port and a new “Smart Connector” that works with a new Apple keyboard case as well as a new Pencil stylus. Here’s the video that Cook used to introduce the new iPad:

The new iPad Pro tablets have a much smaller bezel, with Face ID that works in both landscape and portrait orientations. Just like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, the home button has been replaced with gestures. The new iPad Pro still has an LCD screen, but it also has curved edges like the iPhone XR. Apple’s John Ternus reintroduced this concept, again calling it Liquid Retina.

The 11″ iPad Pro has the same physical width and height as the old 10.5″ garbage iPad Pro that can now be safely disposed of in the nearest fire before you upgrade. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is a smaller package than the old 12.9″, because of the edge-to-edge-ish design of the new Pro’s. The new 12.9″ iPad Pro is also a full millimeter thinner than the older 12.9″ design.

Both new iPad Pros have a look on the sides that resembles my favorite iPhone design, the 4S’s solid edges. They also both have an A12X system-on-a-chip instead of the A10X that last year’s design had.

The AnnX chips are supposed to focus on graphics performance, Ternus compared the new iPad to the equivilent of a portable Xbox One S.

Dropping the lightning port for USB type-C allows the iPad Pro to connect to other USB devices and external displays. No support was expressed for USB peripherals like mice, keyboards, or external storage options. Instead, it was demonstrated almost solely as a camera connector and for charging your iPhone which still ships with a type-A cable that can’t plug into any of the current generation of Apple laptops.

The Pencil stylus is particularly interesting, it magnetically anchors to the side of the iPad Pro and it also has contact charging. The 2018 Pencil has a new action accessible by double-tapping its side. The new Apple Pencil stylus is $130.

I’m curious about the usability of Apple’s new folio keyboard for the iPad Pro. They specifically called out that it could switch between two angles. One for use at a desk, and one for use on your lap. That functionality is exactly what I’ve been looking at third-party keyboards for, replacing all laptop usage scenarios. The new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Folio is $180 for the 11″ iPad Pro, and $200 for the 12.9″. That is a lot. To compare, the Brydge keyboard that turns the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9″ into a clamshell-style laptop while supportting way more angles of operation is $150.

Apple showed off a free-to-play game from Ubisoft called Assassin’s Creed Rebellion and said it was at 120 frames-per-second. Then they said that it was something that “no console could deliver.” That is sort of true in the sense that the game looks like Ubisoft’s take on Fallout Shelter and TV displays don’t really exist to take advantage of higher frame-rates from consoles as far as I know.

Greg Thomas from Take Two’s 2k Sports division talked about NBA 2k Mobile on the new iPad Pro while his underling demonstrated it. Thomas said it runs at 60 fps at the full retina resolution with no upscaling, it didn’t look that great to me.

Adobe’s VP of design Jamie Myrold and Chantelle (no last name or title given) demonstrated the new version of Photoshop, they repeatedly insisted that this was “the real Photoshop” on the new iPad. It isn’t available yet, but it was clearly frustrating to work with for an on-stage demonstration. Chantelle eventually swapped the same image she was working on to an augmented reality experience with depth between the layers in a separate program they’re calling “Project Arrow.” Both products are supposed to be available in 2019.

Phil Schiller narrated this other video introducing the new iPad Pro tablets:

If I were going to swap my laptop for an iPad I would get a Mac Mini to handle the desktop computing tasks that the iPad can’t.

The new iPad Pro’s are up for order today with general availability on the 7th.

 

Guess where all the recycled aluminum for the Macs comes from? The runoff from iPads and iPhones. As a Philadelphian I will now refer to these new Macs made with recycled aluminum as “Scrapple Macs.”

Overall

I’m disappointed that the Macs on display here have 128GB SSDs by default. I believe that many people will need more storage, and then they’ll have to use an external disk.

Apple’s folks talked up the capabilities of the new MacBook Air for expansion through devices like external GPU kits to bring actual graphics acceleration capabilities, those external enclosures are expensive as-heck and they oddly didn’t mention them for the Mini.

The iMac, MacBook, and Mac Pro are now the most out of date Macs according to the Mac Rumors Buyer’s Guide at 512 days since the last update for the iMac and MacBook, and a whopping 1777 days since the Mac Pro was updated in 2013.

The iPad Mini hasn’t really been updated since 2015! It was rumored to receive an update at this event, but didn’t end up getting one. That size is still interesting to me, although now I would be more likely to use a 12.9″ iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

These custom ARM chips that Apple is developing really make me wish for a smaller Mac single-board-computer targeted towards the hobbyists that originally made the first Apple computers. I believe that Apple’s A-series would be perfect for these applications and would outclass the competition in build quality and ease-of-use, even though they would certainly not be cheaper.

I have felt the urge to switch to an iPad for all of my photography and writing needs for some time, I sold my iPad Mini earlier this year and regretted that decision because there hasn’t been a good device to replace it with. All of these devices are great, but they are also far out of reach of everyone. I hope that more of the new iPad Pro features make their way to a new iPad Cheap next year.

The Deal With The iPhone XR

That iPhone XR came out and it has almost the exact trade-offs we discussed before.

The XR is like the XS and XS Max in many ways, except the XR is missing the 2nd telephoto camera system of the X and previous Plus-sized devices which can be useful for composing shots or getting superior “portrait mode” photos in daylight. I specify daylight, because the telephoto (zoom) camera system makes portrait shots almost unusable at night on the XS and XS Max. The telephoto system used for portraits on the XS and XS Max captures less light (f2.4) than the “wide-angle” (default, non-zoomed, f1.8) lens.

Ben Sandofsky has way more information about the depth system in these phones, the pros and cons of each, and specifically the upgrades he made to the Halide camera app to support taking “portrait mode” style photos on the iPhone XR of more than humans. The built-in iPhone XR camera app will currently refuse to take portrait photos of non-human objects and beings because it uses a neural network that was trained to detect people so that it can separate them from the background.

There are some other differences between the XR and XS/XS Max, they’re important, but the camera situation is probably the biggest technical difference for most people.

  • The iPhone XR screen is bigger than the XS, X, and all prior phones, but not as big as the Max,
  • The XR has better battery life than any other iPhone
  • Way more color options for the chassis you’ll never see unless you’re a rich person who doesn’t put an iPhone with a glass back and glass front in a case.
  • The LCD screen has a lower resolution and is mostly worse than the XS and XS Max’s OLED screen, but still good.
  • The XR is less water resistant than the XS and XS Max.
  • The XR has less RAM than the XS and XS Max. The XR has 3 GB vs the XS and XS Max’s 4 GB.
  • The XR has different price tiers for storage, it’s “just” $50 to bump it from 64GB to 128GB. It’s $100 to bump the XS and XS Max from 64GB to 256GB.
  • The XR has no 3D Touch, instead you can “long press” to get 3D Touch actions in situations where long-pressing didn’t do anything before. For example, on previous iPhones you could tap and hold an icon on the home screen to make them start jiggling to be able to delete or move apps and put them into folders. iPhones that have 3D Touch also let you press forcefully on icons to bring up a small menu of quick actions for that app, like jumping straight into a selfie mode with the camera. The XR can’t 3D Touch and will only switch into the jiggling icons mode, it won’t let you open up the quick action menu for each app.
  • The XS and XS Max have better cellular radios that can handle faster speeds (“Gigabit-class LTE”)
  • The XR has slightly bigger borders around the screen.
  • The glass on the back of the XR’s is less durable than the glass on the back of the XS and XS Max.

Here’s what is the same

  • Same camera array on the front with the same Face ID system that doesn’t work in landscape mode
  • Same A12 system-on-a-chip
  • Similar goofy notch at the top which either doesn’t bother you at all, stops bothering you within a few days, or will constantly haunt you because you can’t let anything go.
  • Still more expensive than the previous generation of devices were when they were released
  • Same Qi “Wireless” (contact) charging
  • Same shitty 5-watt charger in the box

Overall, I would recommend the XR to anyone who wants to save money and is coming from a non Plus-sized 6/7/8 or earlier iPhone. The situation for people who had a Plus-sized iPhone is a little bit more difficult. The iPhone 6/7/8 Plus’ have two cameras for portrait and zoom, and a higher resolution “Retina” LCD (1920×1080) than the iPhone XR’s “Liquid Retina” screen (1792×828).

Specs aren’t everything, the XR’s screen is by all accounts fine, and not everyone would choose to pay a base price of $1000 over the XR’s $750 just to get the extra camera, worse battery life, fewer color options, and a shinier chassis (the XR has an aluminum band of metal around the edges instead of steel). Joanna Stern can’t even think of many people to recommend the XS and XS Max to over the XR. I’m really, really, into photography and it’s complicated even for me because I love taking good photos at night and the XR takes better portrait photos at night.

Still, still, these new iPhones are too expensive. Nick Heer:

But there is one thing eating at me with this new iPhone lineup: the starting price for a current model year iPhone is now $50 more than last year, and $100 more than two years’ prior. It’s as though they’ve dropped the entry-level model and are starting at what was previously Plus model pricing. In Canada, the difference is even more pronounced — for the first time, you cannot get a current model year iPhone for under $1,000. The iPhone XR might be the least-expensive iPhone Apple launched this year, but it is by no means a budget device.

It might be the right business strategy for Apple to keep raising their iPhone prices but it’s bad for the people buying them.

Siri & Shortcuts in iOS 12

Easily the most impressive feature of iOS 12 is the integration of Workflow into the operating system as the recently-rebranded Siri Shortcuts. Apple’s on-stage demos of Siri Shortcuts have consisted of people explaining a half-dozen different actions these shortcuts perform, as funneled through one simple command. However, Siri shortcuts are also tremendously helpful at drilling down into an application to complete one task without opening that application when it would be inconvenient to do so.

For example, when I’m playing Clash Royale, which has been filling a strategic hole in my heart for some time, I often want to skip Overcast to the next chapter of the podcast I’m listening to. You can only take so many SquareSpace ads.

Before iOS 12, this meant flipping over to Overcast in the multitasking switcher, expanding the current podcast to fill the whole screen, and then tapping the next chapter arrow. Finally, I’d flip back to the game to see that I had lost one or all of my towers and the game was probably over.

In iOS 12, with Overcast 5, you can configure a list of shortcuts within the app to handle practically any function of the app from changing the playback speed to skipping the current chapter. That changes the scenario to one step, “Hey Siri, Overcast next chapter.” Siri isn’t always fast, but she is definitely faster than swapping to Overcast app and attempting to do the same thing.

There is a lot more functionality in Shortcuts that I haven’t even tried yet, and this example was only simplifying one task into one command instead of several tasks, but it feels obvious at this point that these programmable actions can alleviate some of the burden placed on users to adapt to iOS.

My main gripe with the Shortcuts functionality as it exists today, and with Siri in general, is that Siri takes over the whole screen when it isn’t necessary to do so. Many Siri activities that aren’t even shortcuts only necessitate a small confirmation that the requested action took place. The iPhone 6 Plus-sized devices (and especially the XS Max) cry out for a small window of the screen to pop-up a Siri response, then nobody will miss out on their game of Clash Royale just to skip a podcast ad.

Part of the problem that causes Apple to dedicate the entire screen to Siri may be the low confidence we all have in Siri to hear us correctly. Even today I couldn’t get my (Series 1) Apple Watch to understand a simple request for a timer (CW: misogynistic slur in text). The misunderstanding turned the request for a timer into a nasty message that I was surprised to read, then a few tries later it became a request for information about a movie I don’t want to see. Finally, I gave up and set the timer myself. On the iPhone a full-screen Siri response gives you the ability to see and edit the request if it was misunderstood like my 20 minute timer was on the Watch.

Once Apple’s confidence in Siri is higher, we may get that partial-screen response to our requests. I recommend keeping up with Shortcuts via MacStories.