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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.


    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.


    Apple’s Mac Christmas Present

    December 13th, 2017

    When Apple launched the iMac Pro at June’s WWDC, I have to admit I was surprised. I expected a regular old iMac with some higher-end configurations. There are versions of Intel’s Core chips with extra cores, and I thought Apple would choose them.

    What I didn’t anticipate was a new model with, essentially, the guts of a Mac Pro in an iMac case. But that’s precisely what Apple is giving us with the iMac Pro, which was promised to ship this month. The internal cooling system was revised to handle the expanded needs of 18-core Intel Xeon, AMD Radeon Pro Vega graphics and up to 128GB of ECC RAM.

    As I said, the guts of a Mac Pro, or at least one possible configuration of a Mac Pro.

    The new space gray computer with a chassis you expect in an all-in-one workstation, including four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, four regular USB 3 ports, an SDXC card slot and even 10Gb Ethernet for super-fast networking.

    Predictably, it’s going to be an expensive beast. You can max out a regular iMac to hit $5,299 U.S. with pretty much all options selected, plus AppleCare. The iMac Pro starts at $4,999, and you can expect it to easily soar to two or three times that amount if you click or tap pretty much all the options.

    But even the entry-level is pretty well configured with an 8-core Xeon, 32GB ECC RAM, and a 1TB SSD. High-end Xeon chips are expensive. An Intel price list I saw lists the W-2195 18-core CPU, the one Apple is reportedly using, for a suggested price of $2,553. Add to that the cost of 4TB of SSD, the more powerful graphics card and 128GB ECC RAM, and you get a mighty expensive beast.

    In the spirit of the MacBook Pro, the iMac Pro will include a T2 system-on-a-chip that supports low-level functions, such as the boot process, password encryption and other functions, including audio, the camera, the SSD. It’s the sort of advantage Apple’s in-house chip design capability provides, but there’s evidently no support for Touch ID or even a Touch Bar.

    According to published reports, the 8-core and 10-core models will ship this year. Both 14-core and 18-core upgrades won’t arrive until 2018. The former has yet to be officially announced.

    All told, you can expect a maxed out iMac Pro to approach the cost of a compact sedan.

    Since the iMac Pro can support up to two external 5K displays, that might be quite enough for content creators. But Apple is still reportedly developing a modular Mac Pro and a new lineup of Thunderbolt displays, and here’s where I might make a prediction or two.

    You see, the first group of power users that Apple seeded with preproduction iMac Pros are also running a fairly major upgrade to Final Cut Pro, version 10.4. One of the new features is support for an 8K timeline. But the iMac Pro’s internal display tops out at 5K. So what’s going on here?

    Right now, Dell has a 32-inch 8K display priced at $3,699. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the iMac Pro drive one of these beasts, and the next Mac Pro might handle a pair. But is it possible the new display lineup from Apple will include an 8K version?

    Blockbuster movies are already being shot in 8K, but the cameras cost upwards of $30,000. On the other hand, if a movie company is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a movie laden with special effects, paying more for a camera is no big deal.

    Indeed, it’s very possible there will be an 8K TV in our homes someday, though it would be an extravagance. As 4K sets become cheaper and cheaper — even with HDR capabilities — 8K prototypes have already been displayed at the CES. But I question the value. Many people can’t even see the 4K advantage unless they have a model with a very large screen or sit fairly close. 8K in the home would be meaningless for most people, though that resolution will look just great on the big screen.

    But just as Apple pioneered affordable 5K capability when it introduced a special version of the 27-inch iMac in 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about an 8K version someday. It’s the future of movie production, and Apple continues to work hard to add more professional features to Final Cut Pro X, and somehow persuade video editors to embrace the app once again.

    In any case, I didn’t expect Apple to make a huge deal about shipping a new Mac so late in the year. The late December shipping date of the 2013 Mac Pro seemed an afterthought. This time, however, Apple is ramping up the publicity machine with stories about power users seeded with the iMac Pro, preliminary unofficial benchmarks and other reports.

    Getting user reactions ahead of reviews from the usual selection of tech journalists clearly demonstrates that Apple wants to tout the iMac Pro’s credibility as a professional workstation.

    We can worry about the HomePod next year.