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    Newsletter Issue #1018: Random Thoughts on the Upcoming Apple Silicon Macs

    May 25th, 2021

    As you might expect, the skeptics are looking hard to find problems with Apple’s first generation Macs with the M1 chip. They need something to do, but other than app developers who haven’t upgraded their goods to the new silicon, and a few glitches here and there, the rollout has been quite seamless. What’s more, high Mac sales clearly indicate customers are pleased, or at least the changes aren’t impediments to buying new gear.

    Now I’m sure most people who purchase new Macs aren’t concerned so much about the fine details of a new processor architecture. That’s all about we geeks getting involved in the nuts and bolts and Apple’s design choices.

    For the first release of the M1 Mac mini, MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, Apple followed the same tact used in the transitions from Motorola to PowerPC and from PowerPC to Intel. The external designs were virtually identical to the models they replaced except for the new hardware. As a practical matter, most everything you did to make the new Macs run was the same as the older Mac. The 24-inch iMac represents the first change, to a thinner, lighter form factor — and they come in colors, which makes it sort of a throwback to the second generation iMacs from over 20 years ago.

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    Newsletter Issue #1011: The Apple Critic Report: Little Has Changed

    November 26th, 2020

    You’ve heard those claims. Whenever Apple takes a significant action with a new product, it is deemed to be endangering the company’s success. Whenever the company releases a modest or incremental update of a product, it’s accused of playing it safe.

    In other words, they can’t win.

    So let’s see where the Mac universe exists now: The first group of Macs with Apple Silicon, dubbed M1, has been released. They are entry-level models, such as the $699 Mac mini and the $999 MacBook Air, plus a $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro. You can easily boost the prices substantially by customizing with more RAM and storage.

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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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    So is Apple’s Educational Initiative Doomed?

    March 30th, 2018

    As much as Macworld is regarded as one of the original and few surviving Mac-oriented publications, of late it hasn’t treated Apple so well. In recent months, their bloggers have attempted to redesign the iPhone X in rather a silly fashion, decided Apple must offer a free (not free trial) version of Apple Music, and felt that spec comparisons of released products must have some importance aside from idle chatter.

    It is not the Macworld I wrote for in the 1990s, where legitimate stories were published, not hit-bait blogs.

    True, one is entitled to their opinion, just as I am entitled to express my disagreement and the reasons for that disagreement. When it comes to facts, however, that’s another story.

    So take Apple’s latest educational initiative, punctuated by this week’s Field Trip and the introduction of a 2018 9.7-inch iPad with faster innards and support for the Apple Pencil.

    But Macworld’s blogger believes that Chromebooks are the bee’s knees and there is no possible way that Apple, with is luxury priced $329 iPad and $99 Apple Pencil — minus modest educational discounts — can possibly compete. Make them cheaper, please. Make them cheaper, pretty please. Make them cheaper, because they demand it!

    Maybe even make them mimic PCs!

    This is not to say the article is totally off the mark, but there are questionable comments, misleading assumptions and downright incorrect statements.

    As you notice, I am not mentioning the author or giving a link. The post doesn’t deserve it.

    According to the stats in the article, sourced by Futuresource, a consulting firm, Chromebooks dominate, with 58% shipped to American K-12 schools, whereas iOS gear holds 19%. The stats do not mention Macs at all, which is quite misleading. After all, both are made by Apple and are meant to work together in schools. Macs certainly are more suited to the higher grades.

    On the surface, the article about prices appears to be accurate; well mostly. Apple’s student price for the iPad is $299, whereas a Chromebook is estimated to cost $230. But that comparison is bogus for different reasons. Apple’s modest discount is for a single unit purchase. School systems would very likely pay less if they bought iPads by the hundreds or thousands. But no effort is made by the Macworld blogger to examine that question.

    But there’s more, and it’s revealed in this paragraph:

    Having used both Chromebooks and iPads for a long time, I can say that Apple definitely has the edge in durability. I went through around four Chromebooks during the lifespan of the same iPad (which is still doing fine, by the way). My iPad 2 is still alive and kicking despite heavy use. As such, I think it’s possible to argue that iPads could be less expensive for schools in the long run, particularly if they reuse them. But that’s simply not as convincing when you’re a school administrator looking at big numbers at the bottom of the bill.

    So let’s review this: It’s an example of one, to be sure, but you expect students to be harder on delicate electronics gear than a tech columnist. But even if you assume that its necessary to buy several Chromebooks for each iPad, how long does it take for the total bill of materials to add up? Do we assume school admins are too stupid to see that the former just aren’t very reliable and are unsuited to severe use and abuse? When do the bean counters begin to complain? How much of that 58% of total shipments is for replacement gear?

    But that’s what you should expect when you buy cheap and cheaper. Suggesting Apple cut the price to, say, $250, without knowing the actual bulk price, is a statement based in ignorance.

    Yet another argument against the iPad is that Chromebooks have ports. True, you cannot connect a mouse to an iPad, but you can connect a keyboard. But when the Macworld blogger goes into external hard drives and monitors, he’s clearly thinking of the wrong product. He wants something that “far better mimics the experience of saving and sending files on a Mac or a PC.” So why not a Mac? Why doesn’t he realize that Apple sells both iPads and MacBook Airs to the educational market.

    Without actually having used Apple’s new Schoolwork app, he concludes that Google’s G Suite for Education is better because it appears to support a wider range of devices.

    Not mentioned, however, is any comparison of Apple’s commitment to user privacy compared to Google’s. Is there any comparison? Do Chromebooks provide the necessary level of online security for school systems? If they are no better than Android gear, I’d have serious concerns, and the poor reliability of  cheap Chromebooks is going to make that choice a far more expensive solution as time goes by.

    Yes, there are legitimate reasons to consider using a low-cost device that more closely matches the traditional PC model, with keyboard and trackpad or mouse. But to assume that Apple is selling just iPads to school systems is a big mistake. The article is clearly spun towards explaining why Chromebooks are better than iPads, but that depends on a number of conditions. I expected far better from one of the original Mac publications.

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