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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.


    About Daring to Fix or Upgrade Your Mac

    April 22nd, 2018

    Once upon a time, there was a huge question mark about whether you could or should attempt to upgrade your Mac. Whether adding RAM or replacing a drive, would the act void Apple’s warranty? But in the early days, except for some of those original all-in-one models, changing RAM was a snap. The top cover of such models as the Macintosh II and the IIcx could be popped open in a flash, giving you easy access to the internal workings.

    Later on, as Apple began to produce minitowers, it wasn’t always so easy. By the mid-90s, when Apple’s leadership appeared to be more interested in selling the company than building compelling new products, I recall having to disassemble the thin wiring harnesses around the logic board to get to the RAM slots. Indeed, when some Apple executives held a briefing to testers who had signed up for their “Customer Quality Feedback” program, a new Mac with a rejiggered and simplified upgrade scheme was displayed.

    There was a big round of applause from the audience.

    In all this, Apple would never penalize you for upgrading your computer by yourself, so long as you didn’t damage something in the process. It was only logical.

    Nowadays, adding RAM on a MacBook of any sort is not even possible, since Apple opted to solder memory to the logic board. So you had to buy the product with the RAM you wanted, because the only upgrade possible was an expensive logic board replacement. But the options are straightforward. On the 13-inch models, you get 8GB RAM standard, enough for most users. The upgrade to 16GB, the maximum, is $200. For the 15-inch MacBook Pro, it comes with 16GB already, so there’s nothing to upgrade.

    The iMac is a mixed bag. It’s super-easy on the 27-inch model. I manage it in just a few minutes. The 21.5 model requires disassembly of the entire unit, and Apple seals the display assembly to the chassis with adhesive. You’d expect the iMac Pro, a costly workstation version of the larger iMac that caters to pros, to be just as easy as its counterpart. It’s not. Since it requires full disassembly, it’s usually a dealer installation. Again, if you want more RAM, you may want to have it configured that way when you place your order.

    Apple offers 32GB standard, which is a decent amount. Then pricing goes awry. For $800, you double the DDR4 ECC memory to 64GB. Going to the maximum of 128GB costs $2,400. Understand that you can save hundreds of dollars if you choose a third-party option and follow the online instructions to take your computer apart. Is it worth it? If I had the money to buy one of these machines, I would certainly put such an upgrade in the hands of a dealer.

    But if you do it yourself and seriously damage your expensive workstation, is it reasonable to expect Apple to fix it without cost?

    That takes us to a particularly dumb online complaint about Apple refusing to repair an iMac Pro that was evidently wrecked beyond simple repair during the making of a YouTube video. Now maybe the poster believed that ad revenue for this misbegotten project would be sufficient to cover the costs of a replacement.

    That didn’t stop him from contacting Apple and being forewarned that it might refuse to repair the unit. But if you can believe the story, Apple Store employees offered to try, but allegedly had difficulty getting the parts, with the claim that “HQ wouldn’t send the parts they ordered.”

    If they knew about its condition, I wouldn’t be surprised at any excuse to avoid facing the inevitable. But I find it strange that Apple opted to agree to perform such a repair in the first place, or maybe their support people chose to go the extra mile to satisfy a customer who spent a bundle on a new computer.

    But according to an AppleInsider report, the claims made in the video were misleading. Apple’s official policy is that they can refuse to repair gear that exhibits signs of being modified or tempered with. Visible damage would certainly fit into that category. Obviously if you bring in a broken machine, Apple can probably show you the door, or offer to fix it if you’re willing to pay for the replacement parts. But when it comes to a broken logic board and display, the bill may end up being higher than just buying one brand new.

    Consider this counterpart: Imagine replacing all the parts of a car seriously damaged in an accident. Depending on the severity of the mishap, once the costs of that repair exceed the value of the vehicle, insurance adjustors will total the car. That’s what happened to me last June when my VW had a disagreement with an old pickup truck that ventured out of its lane. It was enough to trigger the air bags, and enough to seriously damage the engine compartment. The insurance adjuster concluded it was toast. I used the insurance settlement to get a cheaper car and keep the change.

    Either way, reassembling a car from the raw components is far more expensive than just buying one assembled. I wonder why it works that way, but that’s how it is.

    In any case, this YouTube video featuring someone destroying an iMac Pro and attempting to get warranty service clearly demonstrates that some people have no problem underestimating the intelligence of their audience — or themselves.


    Apple and the Right to Repair

    March 9th, 2018

    It should seem simple enough. You have a mobile tech gadget that needs a new battery or a repair. You take it to a shop and, when it’s ready, you pick it up and hand over your credit card. Or cash if you’re so inclined. Indeed when my son visited us from his home in Madrid during early 2017, he brought with him an well-worn iPhone 5c with a failing battery. I suggested he replace it, and the cell phone concession at a nearby Walmart offered to do the deed for $39, then $40 less than Apple’s price.

    He was tempted  but opted to save his money and get a new phone when the battery stopped sustaining a charge for more than a few hours.

    Now that repair shop handles all sorts of smartphone and notebook PC repairs. I’m not at all certain how well they do, other than the fact that most of these repairs shouldn’t be rocket science. A repair person from a nearby battery/bulb shop, while one of my Uber passengers, described the process of repacking an iPhone battery. It usually takes 10-15 minutes from power down, replacement to power on. “Piece of cake,” he smiled.

    Except that if you want a genuine Apple part, with a factory warranty. You can’t visit one of those repair shops. They are not authorized to fix Apple gear, they do not possess Apple’s repair tools, product manuals or access to the correct parts.

    It does’t mean they can’t do the job acceptably, but if the right front door of your new car was smashed to smithereens in an accident, would you want the body shop to replace it with a genuine part from the factory, or something fabricated in a third world sweat shop to reduce costs to the insurance company? Not that I have many accidents, but when I do, it’s OEM all the way.

    I’m not so worried about the battery or the tires, but I’d also be concerned about such critical components as the engine, transmission and emission control system. All right, some enthusiasts prefer custom parts to soup up their vehicles, but still.

    But what about your iPhone? Why can’t you have anybody replace the battery with a factory-approved part? Well, if it’s an Apple Store or an authorized dealer, you can. They have the training and equipment to to do the job in accordance with Apple’s standards.

    However, an independent repair shop can’t get the same training and access unless they sign up to become an authorized Apple dealer, assuming any slots are available. If you’re not authorized, Apple doesn’t have to deal with you and, in fact, they don’t have to honor the repair warranty, which means they have the authority to void it if they want.

    That takes us to a series of laws being proposed in different U.S. states called “right to repair,” which would require Apple and other tech companies to provide customers and third-party shops with full access to repair documentation, diagnostic/repair tools and parts. You got the money, they have to make them available.

    California state legislators are preparing to introduce what is called, naturally, the California Right to Repair Act, thus joining 17 other states considering similar bills.

    According to one of the legislators, “The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence.”

    Now Apple has always had a mixed relationship with repair facilities. No problem if you deal with Apple’s factory or authorized stores. But many products are difficult and often impossible to repair, according to iFixit.com. This is especially troublesome with Macs. You expect difficulty dealing with the tiny components of a smartphone or a tablet. If it’s not a place sanctioned by Apple, you’re on your own.

    But what about a personal computer, once presumed to be mostly upgradeable without much difficulty? Nowadays, the only Macs easily upgraded are the legacy 2013 Mac Pro and the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display — and then only for RAM. If you want a new drive on the iMac, you have to pry off the adhesive that holds the glass to the chassis. Surprisingly enough, you have to undergo essentially the same ordeal if you want to upgrade the ECC RAM on an iMac Pro. The 21.5-inch iMac is similarly hostile to RAM upgrades.

    Don’t worry about replacing RAM on a Mac notebook. It’s soldiered to the logic board. What this means is that, with the few desktop exceptions above, you have to buy a Mac with the expectation that no component will ever be changed unless it needs to be repaired. To Apple, it’s just a bigger iPhone when it comes to upgradeability.

    Now Right to Repair doesn’t mean that more Macs will become upgradeable. That’s a design decision. What it does mean is that anyone who cares to take on the task will be able to do such repairs using genuine Apple parts, tools and instructions. Obviously if you fix it yourself, you’ll be responsible if you break something, and independent repair shops will have to guarantee their own work; Apple will only be responsible for its parts.

    But it may equalize the playing field and allow you to get more useful life out of your tech gear, not to mention reduce your repair bills. However, it won’t encourage Apple to design Macs to be more amenable to upgrades. Clearly enough customers aren’t complaining for that shortcoming to be dealt with.


    The Most Expensive Mac — Cheaper Than Expected?

    December 15th, 2017

    So before the iPhone X came out, there were oh-so-many complaints about an expected starting price just shy of $1,000. It was the most expensive mainstream smartphone, although the critics were pushing it. After all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 wasn’t all that much cheaper, particularly when you paid for one on a monthly basis.

    And if you can see people freaking out big time over a smartphone that can cost over $1,000 in its top-of-the-line configuration, imagine a Macintosh computer that can be optioned to a price north of $13,000!

    Indeed, the media meme has focused heavily on the fact that the iMac Pro is Apple’s “most expensive computer,” and that might be technically true. But the original Macintosh IIfx, a computer workstation that debuted in 1990, retailed for $8,969 in its entry-level configuration, and that’s the equivalent of $16,797.90 in 2017.

    And it didn’t even come with a display, though you could upgrade it to a fare-thee-well. So it may have ended up costing even more in 1990 dollars.

    The starting price of the iMac Pro is a “mere” $4,999, and it’s actually not entry-level by any means, since it includes an 8-core Intel Xeon-W processor, 32GB of ECC RAM, and a 1TB SSD. Not too shabby. Indeed, it is a workable configuration for many people, although I might consider the version with a 2TB SSD if I had the budget for one; that configuration adds $800 to the price.

    If you need the best available, you can order up an 18-core processor, the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB HBM2 memory, 128GB of ECC RAM and a 4TB SSD. That gets you to the $13,199 figure.

    However, the price is not out of line. A Windows PC equipped with similar parts would be priced in the same range. This has long been true of Apple’s professional workstations.

    From the front, the iMac Pro appears to be nearly identical to a regular iMac, except for the space gray color scheme. The rear has more ports, fitting for a computer that’s meant for 3D rendering, complex mathematical calculations and other high-end use. To go with it, Apple released Final Cut Pro X 10.4, which includes a wealth of new features including support for real-time 8K editing.

    Now if only Apple had an 8K display for such chores. Right now Dell has such a beast, and I suspect the promised Thunderbolt display will also fit into that category when it arrives next year. An iMac Pro can drive two external 5K displays, and probably just one with 8K capability. But that might be more the province of the forthcoming Mac Pro.

    Still, Apple is definitely making moves to reclaim the professional video editing market by piling on features in its $399 app.

    Now when it comes to the iMac Pro, users are going to have to consider whether buying a computer that starts at $4,999 will really suit their needs. With a minimum of 8 cores, it’s clearly meant for apps that take advantage of multiple cores, and the preliminary benchmarks reveal expected performance boosts across the board.

    But if you’re not using such apps — or just can’t afford the price of admission — the regular 27-inch iMac would very likely meet your needs. For up to four cores, it’ll probably benchmark faster in CPU tasks than those expensive Xeons. All right, the Pro’s graphics are more powerful too. But the standard iMac isn’t necessarily cheap when check all the boxes. Indeed, a maxed out iMac with 2TB of solid stage storage is $5,299.

    As to the iMac Pro, I thought it would end up even being more expensive, because I overestimated the premium for the 18-core Xeon-W CPU. I predicted a total price of over $15,000.

    The media, however, is focusing on the wrong thing. As I indicated above, the iMac Pro is not more expensive than comparable Windows boxes. You might mention the Microsoft Surface Studio all-in-one, which more directly competes with a regular iMac, and includes a touchscreen, but you cannot option it to the same level as the iMac. That’s why it never gets much above $4,000.

    Contradicting the emphasis on price, in the past the critics complained that Apple had failed to listen to its power users. The 2013 Mac Pro was a misfire, never upgraded, and, even though it’s still available, it’s mostly a placeholder for the next model.

    As to delivery, you might stand a chance of getting one of the “lesser” iMac Pros before the end of the year, but you’ll have to wait a couple of months of you want 14 cores or 18 cores.

    But there’s also a new modular Mac Pro under construction. Will it just be a version of the iMac Pro sans display with easy upgrades and space for multiple drives and expansion cards? Or will Apple choose Xeons with up to 24 cores and perhaps even RAM slots? Will the price approach $20,000, and will the media rant about that factor rather than its value as a high-end workstation? You betcha!

    Oh and by the way, one valid criticism being made about the iMac Pro is that RAM isn’t as easily upgraded as one the regular 27-inch iMac. You have to bring it to a dealer, which probably means it has to be taken completely apart if you want to use third-party ECC memory instead of just checking off Apple’s overpriced parts.

    I wonder why Apple couldn’t simply follow the regular iMac RAM upgrade scheme, although it’s likely components had to be positioned differently to take advantage of the higher cooling requirements.