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    There’s Yet Another Rant About Apple and Mac Users

    June 11th, 2018

    Over the years, some tech pundits have decided that Apple really needs to drop the Mac. To them, it has outlived its usefulness and, besides, far more money is made from selling iPhones.

    But it’s a good source of hit bait to claim that “Mac users don’t really matter to Apple.”

    Indeed, Apple has, at times, made it seem as if that claim was accurate. The Mac mini has not been refreshed since 2014. After releasing a total redesign for the Mac Pro in late 2013, Apple appeared to drop the ball and mostly abandoned that model.

    When a new MacBook Pro was launched in late 2016, some thought the claim that it was a professional notebook was a huge exaggeration. It was thinner, in the spirit of recent Apple gear, but the highly touted Touch Bar, powered by an ARM system-on-a-chip, was thought to be fluff and not much else.

    Apple also got dinged for things it had never done, such as supplying a model with 32GB of RAM. But that would have required using a different memory controller that might have impacted performance and battery life. In comparison, most PC notebooks were also limited to 16GB. A future Intel CPU update will offer an integrated memory controller that doubles memory capacity.

    Just after Christmas, a Consumer Reports review failed to recommend the 2016 MacBook Pro supposedly due to inconsistent battery life. After Apple got involved, it turned out that CR’s peculiar testing scheme, which involves disabling the browser cache, triggered a rare bug. After Apple fixed it, a retest earned the MacBook Pro an unqualified recommendation.

    Was all this proof that Apple just didn’t care about Macs?

    Well, it’s a sure thing the Touch Bar wasn’t cheap to develop, and embedding an ARM chip in a Mac is definitely innovative. But Apple’s priorities appeared to have gone askew, as the company admitted during a small press roundtable in early 2017.

    The executive team made apologies for taking the Mac Pro in the wrong direction, and promised that a new model with modular capabilities was under development, but it wouldn’t ship right away. There would, however, be a new version of the iMac with professional capabilities. VP Philip Schiller spoke briefly about loving the Mac mini, but quickly changed the subject.

    Before the 2017 WWDC, I thought that Apple would merely offer more professional parts for customized 27-inch 5K iMacs. But such components as Intel Xeon-W CPUs and ECC memory would exceed that model’s resource threshold. So Apple extensively redesigned the cooling system to support workstation-grade parts.

    The 2017 iMac Pro costs $4,999 and up, the most expensive, and most powerful, iMac ever. You can only upgrade RAM, but it’s a dealer only installation since it requires taking the unit completely apart, unlike the regular large iMac, where memory upgrades are a snap.

    Apple promised that a new Mac Pro, which would meet the requirements of pros who want a box that’s easy to configure and upgrade, would appear in 2019, so maybe it’ll be demonstrated at a fall event where new Macs are expected.

    But Apple surely wouldn’t have made the commitment to expensive Macs if it didn’t take the platform — and Mac users — seriously. The iMac Pro itself represents a significant development in all-in-one personal computers.

    Don’t forget that the Mac, while dwarfed by the iPhone, still represents a major business for Apple. Mac market share is at its highest levels in years in a declining PC market, serving tens of millions of loyal users. When you want to develop an app for iOS, tvOS or watchOS, it has to be done on a Mac. That isn’t going to change. In addition, Apple is porting several iOS apps for macOS Mojave, and developers will have the tools to do the same next year.

    According to software head Craig Federighi, iOS and macOS won’t merge and the Mac will not support touchscreens.

    Sure, the Mac may play second fiddle to the iPhone, but that doesn’t diminish the company’s commitment to the platform. But it’s still easy for fear-mongering tech pundits to say otherwise, perhaps indirectly suggesting you shouldn’t buy a Mac because it will never be upgraded, or that upgrades will be half-hearted.

    Perhaps there’s an ulterior motive behind some of those complaints; they are designed to discourage people from buying Macs and pushing them towards the latest PC boxes that, by and large, look the same as the previous PC boxes with some upgraded parts.

    But since Intel has run late with recent CPU upgrades, Apple has often been forced to wait for the right components before refreshing Macs. That doesn’t excuse the way the Mac mini and the MacBook Air have been ignored, but I’ll cut Apple some slack with the Mac Pro, since a major update has been promised for next year.

    Now this doesn’t mean the Mac isn’t going to undergo major changes in the coming years. Maybe Apple is becoming disgusted with Intel’s growing problems in upgrading its CPUs, and will move to ARM. Maybe not. But that’s then, this is now.

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    macOS Update Paranoia

    January 25th, 2018

    According to published reports, Apple has seeded a brand new macOS High Sierra update to developers. and public beta testers should have at it shortly. This one, 10.13.4, will put up warnings that Apple plans to remove support for 32-bit apps.

    Says Apple:

    To prepare for a future release of macOS in which 32-bit software will no longer run without compromise, starting in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 a user is notified on the launch of an app that depends on 32-bit software. The alert appears only once per app.

    Now it’s perfectly normal for Apple to remove support for older apps and features. macOS Lion, released in 2011, removed support for Rosetta. That was the app that allowed you to run PowerPC apps on an Intel-based Mac. Since Apple went Intel in 2006, you’d think that five years would be quite enough, but some apps never made the transition. As for 32-bit apps, by 2007 all Macs supported 64-bit, which should have been a proper incentive for all developers to get with the program.

    So I suppose it makes sense, except, of course, if you are saddled with an older app that’ll never be updated, and you’ll have to seek an alternative. Or not use High Sierra’s successor, 10.14, which is probably the release that will eschew 32-bit apps.

    But the issue that has reared its ugly head is not that Apple has released several updates in nearly four months, it’s that older macOS versions have seen fewer updates in the same period of time. Is there some deep, dark reason why 10.13.4 is on the horizon so soon, relatively speaking?

    On online blogger has actually posted a chart that records the update pace compared to an earlier macOS release. Maybe that person has enough spare time to engage in such chores. Maybe it’s a case of idle curiosity, or maybe it’s a case of wondering why.

    So is Apple more aggressive to remove bugs more quickly nowadays, so users won’t have to suffer with them, or are there more bugs in the newer release?

    I would suppose that a better solution would just be to examine the release notes and see how many issues have been fixed with each release. What I see is that the number is fewer, although I’m not necessarily considering the severity. Some of those bugs were foolish, such as the one that allowed you to gain root privileges on your Mac without a password, or the ability to do the same with App Store preferences.

    Security fixes include several for that notorious CPU bug, involving two issues dubbed Meltdown and Spectre. Although some uninformed members of the media incorrectly claimed the bug primarily affected Apple gear, that fiction is no longer being repeated. Regardless, these issues were not Apple’s fault, but the company is to be commended for taking charge of the situation and explaining what it planned to do.

    Even if High Sierra and older OS versions getting those fixes were otherwise pristine, these issues would have to be addressed. Apple refers to the process as “mitigate,” since the fixes do not completely eliminate the problems.

    There is, however, the perception that High Sierra has been especially buggy, but other than the password issues and security fixes, that doesn’t seem to be correct. I’m only an example of one, but our readers haven’t complained about its reliability, and I haven’t had any particularly unusual problems, and I’ve been using it since early in the beta process (but not originally on my work Mac).

    What I’m actually waiting for is Apple’s promised fix for the inability to convert a Fusion drive to the Apple File System (APFS). The feature was there at the early stage of the beta process, but removed because it was buggy. Indeed, when you reverted your Mac to HFS+ before installing the final release of High Sierra, you had to undergo a more complicated reformatting maneuver that required some Terminal commands.

    When High Sierra was released, Apple software engineering chief Craig Federighi said support for Fusion drives would come “in a future update,” but nothing has been heard since. Evidently it has taken longer for Apple to make the process reliable. For now APFS, which promises improved security and performance, is designed strictly for Macs with SSDs and, of course, iPhones and iPads. A regular hard drive can be converted, and evidently reliably based on my brief tests. The Fusion drive’s combination of HDD and SSD, however, is evidently the sticky wicket.

    It’s not that my iMac is going to suffer from the lack of APFS support, although my aging 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, outfitted with an SSD a few years back, converted in perfect form and continues to run reliably.

    But it would be nice if Apple gave us an update on the status of the ability to convert Fusion drives to APFS. Or maybe the question isn’t being asked by many people, as I’ve seen very little mention about the topic in tech publications. That, of course, is not going to encourage Apple to continue to work on the problem, so maybe it’ll be set aside for High Sierra’s successor.

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    macOS 10.12.2: Battery Fixes?

    December 14th, 2016

    Some people who bought new MacBook Pros have been complaining about poor battery life. While Apple claims up to 10 hours, there are reports of users getting as little as half that. Some of these reports indicate that the display of estimated battery usage descends rapidly under normal use.

    The Tuesday launch of the macOS 10.12.2 update included references to fixes for graphic problems, which appear to make good on the promise from Apple software VP Craig Federighi a few days ago in an email to a Mac user. As you recall, one online blogger made a huge deal of allegedly canceling his order for a 15-inch MacBook Pro and replacing that order with one for the 13-inch model as the result of the fear or expectation of such problems. He also seemed blissfully unaware that similar problems had been reported with the smaller model.

    In any case, it’s early in the game, so it may take awhile for the affected users to report on whether the problems have been solved. I’m sure people will want to test the situations where it happens.

    One fix not mentioned in the release notes is battery life on the new MacBook Pros. Instead, Apple removed the “Time Remaining” display, apparently under the theory that it only shows momentary and rapidly changing numbers and is thus misleading. Perhaps, but it’s a feature that has existed for a number of years, so why did Apple suddenly decide it had to go?

    After all, the allegedly inaccurate display of remaining battery life was as inaccurate for previous Mac notebooks as it was for the Late 2016 models. Or does power management on the new models make it even less accurate that it was before?

    As usual, these are the kinds of fine details you will not receive from Apple. So you’re left to theorize, or do lots of testing to see what’s really going on.

    In saying that. it appears that there may have indeed been battery life improvements as the result of the 10.12.2 update. As I said, it’s not in the release notes. But published reports indicate that some users are reporting that the problems they experienced previously are gone. Now I suppose the loss of the remaining time display might have caused them to focus on actual battery use throughout the day, rather than a momentary indication.

    But users who are reportedly running third-party and more detailed battery life apps claim that the MacBook Pro isn’t discharging as quickly due to lower power consumption. So the battery doesn’t run out of juice so quickly, and it’s more in line with Apple’s 10-hour estimate.

    In a statement to Jim Dalrymple’s The Loop blog, Apple stood behind the 10-hour estimate as the result of “lots of testing.”. But evidently nothing was said about any change in the OS that would improve or change the situation. So why are battery apps revealing lower power utilization? Why are people saying that the problems were solved?

    Is it a case of the right hand and the left hand being out of sync at Apple? It’s not unheard of for a large corporation to deliver mixed messages, sometimes contradictory statements. But Apple usually is consistent about what it tells the public once the message is nailed down.

    Now I suppose it is possible that fixes Apple made for other macOS Sierra problems had the side effect of improving power efficiencies in some areas, and thus battery life. But since Apple isn’t talking, we’ll just have to keep guessing. For the time being, I’ll assume the claims of improved battery life, and the reports of what battery apps are showing, are accurate.

    Time will tell what’s really going on, and whether the new OS update delivered a placebo effect for some, or corrected an incorrect estimate of battery life in  apps that measure such qualities. Obviously the best measurement is the stopwatch. Take a fully charged Late 2016 MacBook Pro still running 10.12.1, perform a given set of tests, perhaps using Automator to keep it consistent, and see how long it takes to shut down. Then apply the update and see if anything has changed.

    Now Apple lists the conditions under which it tests battery life on the pages that describe its mobile products. I suppose if you follow those conditions, you should be able to approximate Apple’s estimates. But it’s been years since I followed their terms and conditions to measure Apple benchmarks. When I did, it was more about verifying performance claims of new Macs, not so much battery life. For me, so long as the battery seemed to hold on within the range of Apple’s claims, I was pretty satisfied. I never ran into a situation where my Mac portable or iPhone disappointed me, or maybe I have lower expectations than some.

    In any case, I do hope that Apple will be more forthcoming about preparing OS update release notes. But that assumes there is a mysterious battery fix that has, so far at least, remained under the radar.

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    The Late 2016 MacBook Pro and Endless Controversies

    December 8th, 2016

    The carping about the perceived lapses in the Late 2016 MacBook Pro won’t end. I would have thought that complaining about the lack of a 32GB option, the high price, and hopes for more performance and battery life, would die down after a while. But they haven’t, and there are other issues that are getting attention.

    Complaints about the Touch Bar include the width of the virtual keys, the propensity for hitting the wrong key, and whether the available options can really improve your productivity. But it’s early in the game and apps are just starting to issue updates that support the new hardware. It’s up to developers to figure out what works with their products, although the demonstrations with Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro X, at Apple’s media event, were impressive.

    The argument about the lack of support for 32GB RAM is based on the fact that some PC notebooks do. But no Apple notebook has ever supported more than 16GB RAM. Apple executives, particularly VP Philip Schiller, assert that battery life would suffer severely if a different hardware memory scheme were used. The critics suggest Apple should just produce two different models, one that emphasizes power savings, the other that emphasizes performance. assuming that doubling RAM would make a huge difference. But in many cases it doesn’t, and the speedier SSDs help when virtual memory is required.

    This is a question of asking Apple to do something they haven’t done before, which is to provide essentially two different logic board configurations for the same product, one as a low-production option. You might see that on the PC side, where few manufacturers make much in the way of profits from personal computers, and they overwhelm the public with different model configurations. But Apple is never going to provide as many options as some want.

    Even then, there are some complaints about battery life, with users saying they are only getting as little as half what Apple claims, in the five-hour range. At the same time there appears to be a bug in the handling of the switchover from integrated graphics to discrete graphics on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The obvious symptom would be graphics artifacts, but this problem appears to occur on units that only feature integrated graphics. But if a dual-graphics unit doesn’t switch from discrete graphics when it should, that would shorten battery life.

    According to published reports, Apple executive Craig Federighi is quoted as saying, in an email to a Mac user, that the forthcoming Sierra 10.12.2 update will fix the graphics issues. I assume that would include the inability to properly switch between the dual-processors, which ought to improve battery life. Nothing is being said about other power efficiencies that would be managed by the OS or some misbehaving apps.

    What makes the battery issues most confusing is the fact that not everyone is impacted. Reviewers almost universally report battery life consistent with Apple’s claims of up to 10 hours. Well, one exception I know about offhand is columnist Joe Wilcox, who also says he’s not getting much more than five hours. But again this may all be about the OS or individual apps doing things they aren’t supposed to do.

    Regardless, when Sierra 10.12.2 lands — and it should be shortly — well see what it fixes. Meantime, it is available to both developers and public beta testers, and according to published reports, it does seem to fix all or most of the graphics glitches. I haven’t heard about the battery life shortcomings, though I suppose we’ll know soon enough. My feeling is that the pending updates will all arrive before Christmas, possibly within days.

    What bothers me is that some critics pretend Apple hasn’t had such problems before. Don’t forget that the first dual-graphics MacBook Pros from Apple also had switchover glitches. Some of the problems required replacing the unit, and we all know it’s happened in PC land. Don’t forget that the latest MacBook Pro is a very new design in many respects, so bugs are to be expected. But I also expect Apple to figure out what’s wrong and take care of the problem.

    Consider that Boot Camp audio glitch that fried MacBook Pro speakers. Apple will certainly replace the affected machines, and the Boot Camp audio drivers have been fixed. Consider the battery problem that impacts the iPhone 6s. Apple has announced a repair program to replace the batteries without charge. Over the years, there have been a number of extended repair programs from Apple to fix hardware defects that can cause a product to misbehave or fail.

    When a new product arrives, however. it may take a while for the shakedown cruise, for the glitches to be identified and more time for them to be fixed. It becomes really difficult when a problem isn’t consistent, where some users have the problem and others don’t. It reminds me of the car that misfires — until you bring it to the repair shop and it works perfectly. I can tell you a few stories.

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