I’ll Relax When AppleCare+ Doesn’t Exist

Apple has a new series of video ads with the statements “More durable than ever” and “Tougher than any smartphone glass” followed by the slogan “Relax, it’s iPhone.

The first ad depicts a home cook mishandling, spilling ingredients on, dropping their iPhone 12, and finally washing it off with tap water. If the rubber gaskets and glue that add water sealing on the cook’s iPhone fail and the cook doesn’t have AppleCare+? They have to pay big bucks to repair it or replace it outright. The newer iPhone’s are water resistant, they aren’t water proof. They may even be extremely water resistant but it isn’t perfect. This first video has fine-print disclaiming the actions: “Water resistance may lessen through normal use. Rinse only when dirty.” 

The second ad has the protagonist fumbling with and eventually dropping their iPhone 12 on a city street, but the iPhone conveniently lands in some soft dirt. If the protagonist of the second clip had their iPhone fall a little farther over and land on the sidewalk? The glass will likely crack, they need to buy a new iPhone or pay for costly repairs. The “ceramic shield” may be better than ever, but it likely isn’t capable of withstanding a direct hit face-down on a concrete sidewalk without some cracking. The pained expression on the protagonist’s face as they fumble trying to keep the iPhone aloft as it falls doesn’t even make sense if the iPhone is so durable. 

If the incidents happen exactly the way they are shown the iPhone might survive, but I don’t think that is enough certainty for people to relax about accidentally destroying expensive devices.

This isn’t the only time they have made these claims, at almost every recent iPhone announcement there is a slide with claims of enhanced durability. For these ads to be honest Apple would need to change the warranty to include failures of the “ceramic shield” and the water resistance and end the AppleCare+ insurance program or actually make an iPhone that is durable to real sidewalk falls and somehow doesn’t lose water resistance over time. It is remarkable that these ads are aired with these claims of enhanced durability and go without much in the way of scrutiny.

Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Review

Apple’s iPad devices are feeling more and more like laptop alternatives, for better or for worse they are now overloaded with features that let them multitask and confuse people who just want to use them without learning about hidden functionality that allows that multitasking.

All of the multi-tasking functionality is hidden behind swipes and gestures that are so obtuse Apple has to explain in a series of videos:

If only they had just had some kind of interface around apps that let you handle these things, like, I don’t know, window borders…

Still, it must be hard to go from an approachable app-based interface to one that adds multitasking when your apps didn’t really have room for multitasking functionality to start.

Which brings us to Apple’s addition of mouse functionality to the iPad last year.

Mouse support was hit or miss for a little while, but newer bluetooth mice work well, and the mouse cursor even adjusts to take over certain UI elements, a genuinely nifty trick that hasn’t been done before and improves the experience of mousing. Especially when so many apps end up using standard interface controls. The only downside is that many apps do not really support the new mousing modes, this is especially apparent if you use remote desktop software like VNC Viewer which expects a touch and so you have to click on the trackpad while you move the cursor or the mouse cursor won’t move at all. There is probably some VNC software that works better, but that’s just how some apps are setup. There is no “hover” state with touch like there is with a mouse cursor, so apps won’t work right away and this keyboard accessory has been out for almost an entire year.

The first iPad shipped eleven years ago alongside an optional keyboard dock, an odd device that made ergonomic sense for a workstation but couldn’t really be picked up and carried around. It also had a portrait layout instead of the wider landscape view that people have come to expect. Portrait mode can be preferable for writing since you can see more of your document, but it might not work as well if you’re going to watch a show or movie or something else you’re writing about in a picture-in-picture window.

Since 2015 Apple has sold a series of Smart Keyboards and Smart Keyboard Folio devices for the iPad line that just included a keyboard but also were handy and wrapped around the iPad to provide some protection and could be positioned with the keyboard tucked away behind the iPad while still holding the tablet upright or below it for typing. Handy, but also expensive keyboards. They’re still available, and bluetooth keyboards, including Apple’s own have worked for years, but Apple finally made a keyboard that includes one of their fantastic trackpads in the superfluously named Magic Keyboard for iPad.

The Magic Keyboard for iPad is an exceedingly silly name, but it’s nice to see Apple being a little bit whimsical when they’ve altogether attempted to eliminate the easter egg and other nice things under the watchful gaze of Jony Ive before he disappeared into the white void. Sadly there is only one color available, and it is black.

All that to say, the new keyboard is pretty good. For a company that fucked up their laptop keyboards for a great deal of time, the Magic Keyboard for iPad seems great.

Typing on the blessedly-not-butterfly switch mechanisms is pleasant and makes a cute thocky noise that might sound a little bit like a cartoonish idea of popcorn popping. The arrow keys are spaced out well with enough distance from the rest of the modifiers and alpha cluster that your hands can find them easily. The keys are by default backlit and because this is Apple the illumination is very even behind the legends. Only on the larger keycaps (return, caps lock) show any variance in the backlight.

The keyboard attaches to the iPad through a series of magnets on the back, it feels very secure in that sense but because the iPad is heavier than the keyboard the whole contraption can feel a little unstable on a lap when you’re sitting on the couch.

Despite not being coated in some kind of fabric like the Smart Keyboard was, the Magic Keyboard for iPad still has a very odd, very prominent, seam that extends over every edge. Someone I know has used that Smart Keyboard for years and the fabric has peeled off and it looks terrible at this point. The seam presumably indicates that is what is holding the soft-touch plastic part on, but it isn’t exactly reassuring in terms of longevity for a keyboard that you would hope you could keep using even when there is a newer iPad.

Since I have switched my desktop usage to mechanical keyboards I haven’t used a thin keyboard switch like this in a while, and even a traditional layout is kind of unusual. I’m a pretty big person so having my hands typing so close together isn’t as comfortable as I would like without an ergonomic split. I should say that I’m trying the keyboard for the 12.9” iPad Pro, I imagine that the 11” iPad Pro or 4th generation iPad Air and its smaller Magic Keyboard for iPad would be less comfortable.

While the layout of this keyboard is pretty impressive for a small space, especially to fit the amazing trackpad, there are a few other quirks.

For one, just like the Smart Keyboards that came before, there is no function row on the Magic Keyboard for iPad. This means no media keys, so no control over the keyboard backlight or media playback that you’ve come to expect from decades of Apple keyboards that included media controls. The backlight can be manually configured in Settings as can the touchpad. No escape key, either. However the good news is that you can reconfigure the modifier keys to serve other functions:

You may also note the “Globe key” that is similar to the globe key on the software keyboard in iPadOS and iOS. This key lets you type emoji or in my case I use it to switch between different languages.

On my mechanical keyboards I usually program the caps-lock key to be a modifier that unlocks additional functionality. Caps-lock and the 1 key gives me F1 and you can do all kinds of other wild stuff Apple would never include but I truly miss.

Other reviewers have pointed out that this keyboard is a bit heavy, but I previously had a bulky protective case on this iPad so for me it is lighter than before.

The substantial hinge mechanism adds to that bulk, and also adds another USB-C port to the left side of the iPad which conveniently lets you charge the iPad from desk-level instead of having a cable hanging out mid-air. Very thoughtful, but I believe it charges a bit slower through that C port. (Update: an earlier version of this article said there was no metal-to-metal contact for charging, closer inspect revealed the following) The back of the Magic Keyboard’s folio portion connects to the iPad through three pins that make contact with three contacts on the back of the iPad. That USB-C port also can’t be used for data, so an external mouse or thumb drive can’t be used with the port at the hinge. That port must transmit just enough data for the keyboard signals and power for the backlight, so the good news is that you don’t have to charge the keyboard separately.

Sadly, the hinge also just isn’t as flexible as the Smart Keyboard. So you can’t leave the Magic Keyboard for iPad attached and use it like a stand but with the keyboard hidden behind the iPad.

There also just isn’t enough protection built into this case. While it is very easy to intentionally detach an iPad from the Magic Keyboard for iPad using the magnetic mechanism, you’re left with no protection at all but that is the only way I’ve found to keep using my iPad to watch a show while doing something messy like washing dishes. The Apple Store sells another case for the iPads that are compatible with the Magic Keyboard for iPad but with the MSRP for the keyboard case at an eye-watering $350 I’m not sure adding another $70 for that case on top is reasonable. You can even buy some iPads brand new for $300!

A basic M1 equipped MacBook Air is around a thousand dollars and is practically the most powerful computer you can buy right now, even more powerful than many of the “Pro” intel computers Apple still sells and it also has a keyboard built-in and runs macOS.

The iPad Pro 12.9” is the same thousand-dollar-ish price, but doesn’t include a keyboard or trackpad and is less flexible in some ways but more portable in others and has a processor that for all real purposes hasn’t been updated since 2018. Granted, the A12X still feels plenty fast but that is only because iPadOS is so aggressive about memory management and processing management. Applications on iPadOS just can’t hog resources like macOS programs can. Adding on the Magic Keyboard for iPad makes the iPad Pro Keyboard and Trackpad chimera about $1350.

The advantage the Magic Keyboard for iPad has is that it also works with iPad Pro devices from 2018 and the lesser-priced ($600) iPad Air. The iPad Air also has a newer processor (A14, non-X), but no FaceID and is only available in one size, 10.9 inches. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Air and iPad Pro also starts cheaper, it’s $250. That is the iPad I’d probably recommend to someone who is desperate for one today unless you need the larger physical size (12.9”) and higher capacity of the 512 or 1TB storage on the iPad Pro. In which case the rumor sites are all imploring you to wait.

Wait for what? An updated iPad Pro. Ah, but will it work with the same Magic Keyboard for iPad? I have no idea, but you hope so.

Overall, I really enjoy the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro more than I thought I would. I can be very productive with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard and the iPad, but bluetooth devices just aren’t as easy to set up and use as the Magic Keyboard for iPad.

However, in a desktop scenario the iPad can’t really be separated more from the Magic Keyboard which just isn’t as good ergonomically and that is disappointing, your display should be at or slightly below eye level but this is just how laptop-ish devices are. There are other quirks, the biggest of which is the ridiculous price, and that is why this amazing Magic Keyboard for iPad and trackpad only gets 3 out of 5 stars. It is magic, but wow do you pay for it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Now, if I could dream, I’d have a real programmable mechanical keyboard attachment for the iPad, and could download an emulator or other software outside of Apple’s App Store without having to reauthorize the installation every few days.

Apple Discontinued the iMac Pro and HomePod

Within the past week Apple has discontinued the full-size 2018 HomePod and the 2017 iMac Pro. Both of these devices have replacements, but I imagine some people are a little disappointed that Apple doesn’t keep updating these devices and selling them as they worked for certain purposes.

The 2017 iMac Pro was originally intended to replace the 2013 “trashcan” Mac Pro that Apple supposedly ran into “thermal constraints” with and never updated, and now the 2017 iMac Pro is replaced by the 2019 Mac Pro. The newer Mac Pro actually has room for expansion cards and hard drives but is also in a hideously expensive case and like previous iterations only supports high-end Xeon configurations. The newer Mac Pro also doesn’t have an M1 or other ARM-chipset-based option and instead uses an intel-based platform that may not remain in Apple’s lineup. Both the iMac Pro and current Mac Pro started at an eye-watering $5000. These devices have always been out of my reach but they’re priced similarly to other workstations with the same hardware at first, the difference being that Apple almost never drops the price over time. Still, the iMac Pro included a 5K display and a stand for the display. To outfit the current Mac Pro with a professional display from Apple you’re gonna need to take out another loan, Apple’s Pro Display XDR is another $5000 but it doesn’t even come with a stand for that price. You can just use a VESA mount? That’s $200.

The 2018 HomePod was originally $300, that price seems insanely high but it was similarly priced to other high-end “smart” speakers from Sonos and other companies. Every review I read or heard had high praise for the HomePod’s audio quality and uniquely capable microphones for hearing request. For the past year or two the HomePod was often on sale for closer to $200. Just last year Apple released the 2019 HomePod Mini and at $100 and much smaller it is a very odd product compared to similarly sized smart speakers. In the past year, Apple has also made their Apple Music subscription music service accessible on some other smart speakers. All of these smart speakers have enormous privacy concerns, and send what they capture (intentional or not) back to their manufactures.

Of the three major makers of smart speakers, Apple, Google, and Amazon, I trust Apple the most because they’re the only one of those three whose motive is selling devices (and now service subscriptions) to people and businesses. Google is primarily funded by being the middleman for advertising publishing and in some cases an advertising publisher on their own products. Amazon is primarily funded by being an online store that breaks their workers, a middleman for other stores, and handling high-availability network and other hosting services for thousands of businesses. They are all corrupted by the profit motive, none are truly trustworthy for that reason, and only Google has some workers in a new union. Facebook makes some similar devices and I have no idea how anyone trusts them at all when they have helped and profited from the rise of white supremacy and at least one genocide that I can think of. I am not kidding about the genocide. Facebook’s primary funding is also advertising from other advertisers to their users.

All of these smart speaker devices seemed to be destined for replacement or destruction when either nobody buys smart speakers anymore or when one or more of the competitors in that market drops out and the other two follow suit.

Here in 2021 with climate change barreling down on us, it seems insane to buy electronic things that don’t have a shelf life of more than 4 years. Apple will no-doubt continue to support the iMac Pro with software updates for years to come, but the writing is on the wall for both it and the original HomePod. When it comes to the iPhone line, those devices are supported with software updates for years longer than their Android counterparts and Mac hardware from 2013 is still supported with the current version of macOS, Big Sur 11.3.

The Apple TV box has not received a hardware update since 2017, and Apple’s confusingly-named Apple TV+ subscription service and Apple TV app available on other devices and TV’s I would not be surprised if it is the next device to expire. Apple’s Apple Arcade game subscription service and Fitness+ fitness subscription service seem like the only things keeping that device around and some of the Apple Arcade games I’ve tried perform terribly on the Apple TV.

Apple’s Headphone Lineup as 2021 Begins

Connectivity Issues with AirPods and the Mac

Jason Snell writing for Macworld:

But… connecting and disconnecting AirPods on the Mac is so much more frustrating than on iOS. While iOS 14 brought more intelligent connection and disconnection of AirPods, Big Sur can’t get with the program. It can take a long time to connect the AirPods, and they seem to disconnect at the drop of the hat.

Typically I use a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones with my Mac, connected through a USB audio mixer and both those devices are a little more than a decade old, but when I need to make a video call on my Mac I use my one working Powerbeats Pro (it’s the left one, the right one turns off after about 10 minutes of usage) and trying to determine that it is connected, the default microphone, and the microphone whichever app I’m using actually selects is a nightmare.

I don’t want to go back to switching which device (my Mac or my Windows computer) has a physical microphone attached and my experiences otherwise match Snell’s in this article. My wired Sony headphones are more than a decade old and work great even if they have some signs of wear at this point — I’ve replaced the ear pads four times now — nothing beats the reliability and consistency of actual headphones. In that same time I’ve gone through several pairs of AirPods with warranty servicing, and now these PowerBeats Pro that don’t have an extended warranty and I wasn’t able to get serviced during their first year. You can’t beat the convenience of AirPods and their cousins from Apple’s Beats brand, but they do not last at all and are not convenient to use with a Mac.

AirPods Max

Airpods max silver witb

Apple also recently released a pair of over the ear headphones called AirPods Max and they are completely ridiculous. $550 just for the headphones and the included “Smart Case” doesn’t cover the entire headphones but at least they have replaceable ear pads… oh wait those are $70! The most expensive ear pads I’ve ever gotten for my Sony MDR-7506 headphones are $20. The Apple AirPods Max ear pads look like they will be much easier to replace, but they also look like they are more wasteful, there is a hard plastic part in the replacement, not just the foam mesh ear pad I replace on the Sony headphones.

The AirPods Max headphones also do not include any kind of wire for connecting directly to a device, just a Lightning to USB-C Cable for charging and no charging brick. Without a direct wired connection here will be audio latency that makes the AirPods Max unsuitable for editing video or audio, or doing any other kind of low-latency work like playing video games. Apple does sell a cable that will directly connect the AirPods Max for $35, but you can’t charge while you’re using that adapter. There are plenty of other lightning to 3.5mm cables but they apparently won’t work.

From the Apple Watch series of devices, the AirPods Max have a digital crown in order to change the volume, access Siri, and so-on.

Topping off the design of the AirPods Max is the weight, 385 grams. That’s heavy. My Sony MDR-7506 headphones are 229.63 grams which is completely comfortable. Even Gruber noted the weight in his review, titled “Heavy Is the Head That Wears the AirPods Max:

The AirPods Max headband does seem to distribute the weight as comfortably as it can, but the weight is all in the ear cups, and heavy ear cups are, well, heavy. When you remain motionless, you can forget they’re there. But when you move around, the AirPods Max have inertia. They move a bit when you shake your head side-to-side, and they move a lot when you nod your head up and down. Look down at your feet and look back up and you’re instantly reminded, Oh yeah, I’ve got heavy cans on my ears. You feel a bit bobble-headed with them on. The heaviness of the AirPods Max doesn’t make them uncomfortable, per se, but it definitely feels like they’re intended for stationary use. Their lack of water resistance aside, the weight keeps them from being the sort of headphones you’d want to use while exercising any more vigorously than a brisk walk.

There are plenty of headphones that cost $550 or more, but after my experiences with the regular AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro I would definitely not recommend anyone spend this much on these. When my Sony MDR 7506’s eventually become irreparably broken, I will get another pair of them. A decade is plenty of life for headphones that cost less than $100. For my iPhone, iPad, and video call use I’m going to get the cheapest pair of regular AIrPods I can. The other features of the AirPods Max sound great, 20 hours of battery life, active noise cancellation and a transparency mode that let you hear what is going on around you… but the inconsistent experience of using AirPods with a Mac, the ridiculous Smart Case, and the high price of both the AirPods Max and their replacement parts make it both out of reach for me now and completely unserviceable over time. Replacing the ear pads on my Sony headphones has cost about $60 over ten years for four replacements. Replacing the same AirPods Max earpads four times over a decade would have cost $276. Hopefully those Apple ear pads are more durable and last longer.

Beats Flex

Beast FlexAs a complete counter to their most expensive headphones, Apples’s Beats brand now has a $50 pair of headphones called Beats Flex that are Bluetooth earbuds connected to each other by a wire that is meant to go around the back of your neck when worn and the earbuds magnetically connect when you’re done with them. They don’t have a case, and at 12 hours they last longer than typical AirPods on a single charge which get 5 hours until you put them back in their charging case. The Flex are also available in a variety of colors (black, yellow, blue, gray) compared to the white AirPods and AirPods Pro. But the $50 price tag only gets you the first generation of AirPods chip, the W1, instead of the newer H1 in the 2nd generation of AirPods and AirPods Pro. The aforementioned AirPods Max have an H1 for each ear. The older H1 chip has more latency between the device making noise and the headphones receiving them, hands-free Siri access (which is almost entirely terrible if you call anyone in your life “Sweetie” preceeded by “Hey”). The H1 is also incredibly slow to pair to a device. The only thing the Flex have that AirPods don’t is that you won’t be as likely to drop one into water, due to the cable connecting the two earbuds together, and they charge via USB-C. The Flex also won’t sense they’re out of your ears and don’t pause podcasts or music until you magnetically link the earbuds. Apple also has an Android app for updating the Beats Flex firmware, something they don’t make available for their AirPods line of products.

The Verge’s Chris Welch liked the Flex for what they are. I don’t think I’d really recommend Beats Flex for anyone who wants to use them with a Mac but it is incredible that Apple makes competent bluetooth headphones that cost less than replacement ear pads for the AirPods Max.

Rumors

Supposedly new AirPods and AirPods Pro designs are coming this year with shorter stems and new charging cases. I hope this doesn’t mean all of the new designs will be in-ear. One of the reasons why I’d like to go back to the regular AirPods is that they are more comfortable for my ears.

Can We Trust The New 16″ MacBook Pro Keyboard?

Skipping an event, Apple launched a new 16″ MacBook Pro to replace the 15″ model via press-release and inviting some folks to look at the new laptop. The 16″ MacBook Pro was changed by thinning the bezel to slightly increase the size of the display, upgrading the speakers and microphone, and the keyboard is back to a scissor-mechanism instead of the dreaded butterfly-mechanism.

The new laptop looks like this:

This new 16″ laptop was rumored for a while, and part of the rumor was that the price would get a significant bump. That rumor was a little bit wrong, the starting price for this MacBook Pro hasn’t changed at all since Apple raised it a few generations prior. It’s still $2400 for the base 15″ MacBook Pro, before you add on an AppleCare insurance plan and upgrade any components before you order it. Fortunately it does start with an entirely reasonable 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

I thought it was interesting that Apple specifically called out Fortnite players as having a better experience in their press release with the meaningless non-statistic of “Gamers will enjoy smoother gameplay with up to 1.6 times faster performance in games like Fortnite.” 1.6 times faster what? Framerates, presumably.

Game developers are also purported to have improved performance with another call-out: “In Unity, developers will experience 1.4 times faster fly-through performance during game development.”

All of this improved performance is attributed to better Radeon Pro options, the 5300 and 5500 with either 4 or 8 gigs of video RAM with the pseudo-benchmarks attributed to the highest end Radeon Pro 5500 8GB.

The new speakers on the 16″ MacBook Pro are supposed to have less vibration, due to being paired back-to-back which Apple promises will cancel out the rumble. The new microphone array sounds better than any other laptop microphone I’ve heard, which should make video and audio calls better, unfortunately the built-in camera is still an old 720p module that hasn’t been upgraded in years.

The new keyboard has the inverted-t arrow keys that were replaced four years ago with what most people seem to think is a less useful shape that looked kind of bizarre with extremely tall left and right arrows that were hard to find by touch. There is now more space between the keys, and a physical escape key and a separate power/Touch ID button on the opposite sides of the Touch Bar panel. All those changes are welcome, but the most important change is the new scissor key switch mechanism that may be more reliable than the butterfly mechanism, and here is the real question: after three generations of awful, unreliable, butterfly keyboard mechanisms, should anyone trust Apple to get this right?

I don’t think so. I think most people would be better served to wait for longer-term reports. As long as there is still time left on the extended keyboard warranty if they have a butterfly-mechanism keyboard and if they don’t have daily issues with key switch unreliability. You’ll also have to wait if you want this new keyboard part on any other size or type of MacBook. It’s only on the 16″ Pro for now.

It stinks that Apple is the only company that can make laptops that run macOS, because it puts people in a bad situation where they have few choices if they want privacy, security, and enjoy the user experience of Apple’s products. I’m glad that Microsoft continues to work on their Surface line of devices to challenge Apple, and we may see ARM-based macOS devices before long that replace these Intel-based laptops.