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    Newsletter Issue #970: The Night Owl Takes a Cautionary Approach to macOS Mojave

    August 8th, 2018

    On the surface, it may seem that macOS Mojave is an extremely minor update. Other than Dark Mode and the reliance on Metal graphics, it doesn’t seem a whole lot different when you look it over, as I did starting last month. But the mere fact of choosing Metal means that Macs without support for that graphics technology have been made obsolete.

    Before Mojave was announced, I had planned (hoped) to test the betas on my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. Obviously that’s not possible, despite the fact that it has an SSD formatted with the APFS file system. That’s because its graphics hardware, state of the art eight years ago, preceded the arrival of Metal.

    A 2012 MacBook Pro,  where a Retina display debuted on Macs, works just fine. So do older Mac Pros with graphics cards that support Metal. So, my only option was the iMac. With a Fusion drive, it lost out on the APFS conversion last year, because Apple couldn’t make it compatible. It appeared on the early betas of High Sierra, but was soon pulled.

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    The First iOS 12 Public Beta: But Will You Need Those New Features?

    June 27th, 2018

    Since I’ve been largely in cheapskate mode in recent years, I seek ways to save money. I no longer pay $99 to join the Apple Developer Program. At most I miss one or two early previews after the annual WWDC. Otherwise, a public beta release is usually released no more than a day after the developer version, unless there’s something really bad that has to be fixed first.

    With the release of the iOS 12 public beta, I went ahead and downloaded it for installation on a late model iPhone. It is possible to restore your device if something goes wrong by downloading a previous version (not to worry, it’s searchable). So I took the plunge.

    The first step requires installing Apple’s device profile on your iOS device, so it will be able to alert you, download and install the new releases.

    Since this week’s release is the first for regular folk, don’t expect miracles. The final or near-final version won’t be out for two months. That said, my initial experience, after about a day, hasn’t been so bad. The symptoms are largely about flakiness. So sometimes, when I try to delete an email, the Trash icon isn’t there, and backing up through the menus and returning brings it back.

    A handful of web pages stay white and never render or refresh, but it’s not consistent. So far, at least, there have been no crashes.

    One of the tentpole features of iOS 12 is not something you can see. It’s the promise of faster app launches, faster keyboard display, and speedier swiping to the camera, ranging from “up to” 50-100%. The highest boost is promised for an iPhone 6.

    I read an early review of the first iOS 12 release for developers, in which the promised performance leaps were tested. It was a mixed bag, with some of the touted functions coming close to matching Apple’s claims, and some not-so-different. To be fair, early betas aren’t optimized for performance. Better to test this with a final or near-final release.

    So I didn’t bother to actually check speeds. My subjective impressions were positive. It seems to boot faster, and most things appear to be snappier. Both Lyft and Uber, which used to take maybe six seconds to load, took roughly three seconds to launch with the iOS 12 public beta. The zooming effect appears faster and smoother, with no overt evidence of stuttering. Most interesting is the fact that, even though I’m at a motel with three megabit Wi-Fi connection, my iPhone didn’t didn’t feel that slow at online access.

    Assuming faster performance is all or mostly across the board, it means that the same hardware that worked with iOS 12 will of a sudden run faster. This is very much against the grain, where the oldest supported hardware usually becomes unbearably sluggish with a new iOS release.

    Indeed, it’s very likely some people buy new gear not because what they have doesn’t work so well, but because performance has deteriorated so much — and not just because the battery is spent and the CPU is being throttled. Thus, Apple might possibly sell fewer iPhones. But I expect Tim Cook and his team expect people, will be more satisfied that their gear is not exhibiting many overt signs of aging and will be just as inclined to upgrade, or more will stick with iPhones.

    I am not considering how well an Android device ages since many of them never receive a new OS release.

    I am interested in the FaceTime Group feature as a possible substitute for Skype, at least for audio-only use, but that means that guests for my shows will need to use Apple gear. I’ll keep it in mind.

    The added security and privacy features, including a proper password manager and default blocking of social network interactions, are welcome. But they aren’t things people will necessary notice until they began to seriously look around.

    I’m also intrigued by yet another promise of a better Siri — last year’s promise wasn’t fully realized — and I’ll give it a chance and see if I can reliably take it beyond simple alarms.

    For the most part, you should be able to install an IOS public beta without seeing much in the way of front-facing changes, at least at the start. Although I’ve seen over 200 new or changed features listed, they are largely  more subtle than usual. This may be in keeping with the rumor that Apple is focusing more on performance and reliability than adding cool stuff, that some key features are being held off to 2019.

    It’s not that Apple plans to say that a new OS release is less than originally planned. But it’s also true that some features may be delayed or omitted because they aren’t perfected. But customers shouldn’t have to wait for months for AirPlay 2 and other promised features either. On the other hand, it may also be possible that this will be the norm, that some things will be rolled out through the year as they are ready. It’s not that Apple has to worry about readying an OS for retail sale.

    But even though my initial experiences with iOS 12 are positive, I urge you to be careful about installing a beta OS unless you have a ready backup routine.

    I will hold off installing a macOS Mojave beta until it’s closer to release. I no longer have a backup computer, since the next OS won’t run on my 2010 MacBook Pro.

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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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    Forcing Your Apple Gear Out to Pasture

    June 7th, 2018

    When the question comes up, Apple regularly denies that it’s deliberately making, or sabotaging, older gear to become obsolete; there is no nasty planned obsolescence plot that will force you to buy a new model before its time.

    But it’s not that Apple hasn’t done things to foster that impression. It almost always seems as if the newer OS is slower than the previous one on older gear. So is Apple doing nasty stuff under the hood to make it run that way? Or is it just a matter of having more features, and exploiting the capabilities of newer hardware to do things quicker?

    There is also that notorious update, which first appeared in iOS 10, to manage a problem with sudden shut-downs on some iPhones. What Apple failed to explain at first was that this problem only occurred in units with failing batteries, and thus Apple opted to reduce peak performance to fix it. At least until the battery was replaced. But it also meant that many users would suddenly see a huge dip in performance, made crystal clear in benchmarks.

    It fueled class-action lawsuits, even when Apple explained they were trying to make performance more reliable on the affected iPhones. Of course, the symptoms would disappear with a battery replacement, and performance would return to normal. A few sentences in the releases notes would have clarified all this. Indeed, Apple took a step that should have been done long ago in iOS 11.3, which was to add a Battery Health indicator, and allow you to turn off the throttling if you decided to take your chances.

    The lawsuits are still active. The lawyers are no doubt hoping Apple will pay them off to settle, thus resulting in huge paydays. Those who joined the class will get coupons, perhaps a discount on a battery replacement. Of course you already have a discount of $50 until the end of the year.

    Another method to convey the impression your Apple gear is obsolete is to remove it from iOS and macOS update support. My wife’s still-functioning iPhone 5c is stuck with iOS 10. But she mostly focuses on phone calls, checking her email, and an occasional Google search. Whenever I mention the possibility of buying her a new iPhone someday, she barely notices.

    But in response to frequent complaints that the oldest supported hardware will run slower with a new iOS release, Apple has made a big move to address the problem in iOS 12. There is the promise of a huge boost in app launch, keyboard launch and camera response across the board. These are key factors in judging how fast your iPhone or iPad runs. What’s more, Apple will allow its next OS to run on the same gear as iOS 11. That includes the iPhone 5s from 2013 and the last iPod touch.

    Will it slow user upgrades? Will it encourage more people to buy such gear because it’ll be supported for up to six years with annual OS upgrades?

    Compare to users of Android hardware, where the chance of buying a new device with the latest OS is extremely slim, not to mention the chance it’ll ever receive an update.

    It’s not that Mac users will see the same level of support, however. Evidently some of the key features of macOS 10.14 Mojave, such as Dark Mode, Dynamic Desktop and Stacks, evidently require Metal graphics. But older Macs don’t have graphic chips with that support, and since Apple is deprecating Open CL and Open GL, it means that most Macs released prior to 2012, except for a couple of Mac Pro models with the right graphics cards, are going to be abandoned.

    Such as my 2010 MacBook Pro. It will still run macOS High Sierra with good performance, since it has an SSD and maxed out memory, but the handwriting is on the wall.

    Then again, offering OS support for an average of six years and seven years before the next macOS arrives in 2019, is really nothing for which an apology is required. Apple should not be expected to abandon potential improvements because older hardware won’t support it. Besides, it’s not as if running an older OS suddenly renders your Mac inoperative. The only concern might be the fact that security updates may stop coming after a year or two.

    But to expect Apple to avoid innovation in favor of giving older hardware a longer lifespan is hardly logical for a profit-making corporation. The lifetime of Apple gadgets is pretty good as it is. How many people have eight-year-old PCs that still work great with the newest apps and OS installed, or at all?

    Indeed, one reason that Apple has cut back on allowing customers to swap RAM and storage devices to many recent Macs appears to stem from the fact that only a tiny percentage of customers ever attempt to upgrade. There’s also the promise of more reliability and making it thinner, although such design considerations may be lost on most people.

    Yes, I’d like to be able to swap out RAM, if not the storage device. Then again, I suppose Apple could max out memory on more models, so it wouldn’t matter.

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