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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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    More About Apple’s Secret Sauce

    March 8th, 2018

    Apple has made a huge amount of progress overcoming common impressions of the company over the years, and the unexpected continues to happen.

    At first, there was a computer named Apple, but a different product, the Mac, had the staying power. in the early days,. the use of a graphical user interface was considered controversial at a time when a PC operating system was text-based. Only when Microsoft delivered a mostly usable version of its Mac imitation, Windows 95, did GUIs become acceptable.

    By 2001, Macusers were wondering about the first release of Mac OS X when Steve Jobs introduced us to “1,000 songs in your pocket,” the original iPod with a tiny hard drive. Cute and overpriced at $399, I didn’t expect much from it. But one day a new version appeared that was compatible with Windows. Before you knew it, the iPod was the number one digital music player on the planet. In the space of a few years, Apple had turned itself into a consumer electronics powerhouse.

    But things really took off when the best iPod ever, the iPhone, arrived in 2007. It wasn’t too many years before the iPhone was everywhere and other mobile handset makers had to scramble to give up old fashioned features such as physical keyboards and embrace touchscreens.

    It certainly makes sense that, to many, the Mac has become an afterthought, even though it’s a hugely profitable platform and Apple promises its ongoing commitment after giving it second shrift for a while.

    As more and more companies bought into the iPhone, and iPad, Macs gradually became acceptable to the enterprise. A deal with its former rival, IBM, resulted tens of thousands of Macs and other Apple gear being sold to IBM’s employees and customers. The mind boggles.

    Not long after, there were reports of corporate conquests everywhere. Delta Air Lines has them. Walmart has them. HP is leasing Apple gear as part of its new subscription program. It’s adding up.

    On a personal note, I took my wife to an eye doctor this morning. While the office PCs consisted of the usual nondescript boxes, the receptionist handed out 9.7-inch iPads for patients to complete their profiles. No more pens and scribbles, not to mention the time saved in processing the data for their medical records. Now if they could only convert the traditional computers to Macs, but it’s one step at a time, right?

    Certainly, the iPad is an excellent tool for a medical practice, a legal practice and even a car dealership. I recall when luxury cars makers were apt to include iPads containing the owner’s manual. At least they’d be read.

    The superb integration of Apple’s ecosystem makes a compelling case for growing business use. To think that the enterprise was, to Apple, once a dirty word. That’s also before the boss would routinely bring in an iPhone or a MacBook Pro, and demand that the IT people hook ’em up.

    The Apple Watch took an interesting but predictable turn as it became more and more successful. Don’t forget, it is the number one wearable on the planet, and with estimates of over 50% sales growth last year, it’s not as if it’s going to lose its luster soon.

    At first, the Apple Watch appeared to be meant as a piece of fancy electronic jewelry, with one model, the Edition, selling for $10,000 plus a line of fancy watchbands. But you could use it as a fitness tool and, integrated with Apple’s HealthKit for iOS and watchOS, its main purpose is being realized.

    Indeed, the focus on fitness may entitle you to a free Apple Watch courtesy of your health insurance carrier. So it is reported that UnitedHealthCare is going to include the Apple Watch Series 3 in its Motion program. By meeting a set of minimum fitness goals, you’ll be credited up to $1,000 off your insurance premiums to cover the price of premium fitness gear, such as the Apple Watch.

    The goals are labeled F.I.T.:

    • Frequency: complete 500 steps within seven minutes six times per day, at least an hour apart;
    • Intensity: complete 3,000 steps within 30 minutes; and
    • Tenacity: complete 10,000 total steps each day.

    For an insurance company, it’s enlightened self interest. If you live a more healthy lifestyle, you aren’t apt to get sick as often or for as long. you’ll keep your weight under better control, and thus the insurers will pay out less money for you in benefits and thus return some of the benefits to you for to cover the cost of your new Apple Watch. At roughly $4 per day to meet the goals, you can get one with a fancy watchband, or acquire two.

    Other insurance companies offering similar discounts include Aetna and John Hancock.

    Now large insurance companies may have tens of millions of members, and these particular programs appear to be strictly available in employer-based health plans. It’s unfortunate that there’s no word about it being offered as a benefit to those covered by the Affordable Care Act’s Exchange, but I suppose that could happen someday if the government doesn’t succeed in killing it first.

    I can also see the value of companies offering Apple Watches and other gear to encourage their employees to live healthier lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be done as part of an insurance company program, and it may fuel the sale of tens of millions of Apple gadgets. Secret Sauce indeed!

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    Does Apple Plan to Do Less for iOS 12?

    January 31st, 2018

    In recent years, Apple has been criticized for trying to do too much, releasing OS updates with missing and/or delayed features. Or, worse, lots of bugs to drive users crazy. Despite assurances by Apple that its monitoring fewer problems nowadays, facts are nasty things that often get in the way.

    Consider two embarrassing problems for macOS High Sierra, which was touted a mainly a performance update with few compelling new features. So imagine the bug where you could gain root access on your Mac without a password, or a related problem involving App Store preferences. There was silly stuff for iOS 11 too, a perfectly stupid autocorrect bug involving the letter “i.”

    In other words, clearly obvious problems that you’d think a first-year programming student would discover in routine testing. How did Apple allow them to clear quality control without a WTF?

    During the WWDC, Apple gave a compelling presentation about a new file system, APFS, which had already shown up in an iOS update and would finally premiere on the Mac. It would offer improved performance and security and I was anxious to see it in action.

    Unfortunately the first release version was basically limited to SSDs. If your Mac had a Fusion drive, the combo of a large HDD and a small SSD, APFS didn’t survive the beta process. Apple said it would come in a future release, but four months later, with macOS 10.13.4 reportedly under beta test, it’s nowhere in sight.

    Does that mean it won’t show up until macOS 10.14? Maybe never?

    Unfortunately, the news media, when given the opportunity to talk to an Apple executive, seems to forget to ask questions about such matters. Evidently a new file system that will improve the reality of storage devices isn’t considered terribly important. To be fair, the debut of APFS on iOS and related gear occurred with little fanfare and almost free of glitches. But the storage device situation for Macs are far more complex and confusing, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect too much.

    In any case, Apple has suffered from bad publicity for its lapses. I can agree with the suggestion that the OS developers are taking on too much and not being given enough time to get the job done.

    Maybe Apple is getting the hint. There are published reports that some features expected for iOS 12 will be pushed off to iOS 13 to give the company additional time to deliver a more solid release. Such features reportedly include a new home screen, augmented reality enhancements, improved photo sorting, a long-awaited upgrade for Mail and other enhancements.

    As a practical matter, I’d welcome improvements to Mail, which has changed only in modest ways over the years. It’s one of my two most used apps; the other being Safari.

    But I have to say that, if true, Apple is taking the correct approach. Features should not be promised unless there’s a reasonable assurance they will be ready and working by the day of release, though I realize sometimes unexpected problems arise.

    But it does remind me of a common problem that has afflicted Microsoft over the years, boasting of new Windows features that never seem to see the light of day.

    Of course, Microsoft is rarely attacked for such lapses, or for OS updates that cause boot loops or the failure to get past a startup screen. I suppose that’s considered par for the course — for them. But as I’ve said many times, Apple is judged by a different set of rules. Rightly or wrongly, it is perceived as a builder of premium-priced gear, which means it has to meet higher standards.

    So obvious carelessness in quality control, and being able to login without a password is about as bad as it gets, shouldn’t occur. Maybe the lack of APFS support for Fusion drives isn’t a serious issue for most people, but Apple needs to keep Mac users up to date on what’s going on.

    Even if iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS become more reliable, Apple needs to be more proactive in describing changes. The lack of an explanation of how Apple prevented sudden shutdowns on iPhones with the iOS 10.2.1 update has caused no end of trouble. It’s not that throttling performance on devices with deteriorating batteries was a bad move, but a couple of sentences of explanation would have done a world of good.

    True Apple has apologized, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Even though the forthcoming iOS 11.3 release will allow you to check on battery health, and even switch off the controls that reduce performance, that hasn’t halted the class action lawsuits.

    It has also been reported that the the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission may conduct an investigation to determine if Apple violated securities laws in failing to give adequate information in the release notes for the original 10.2.1 update.

    I don’t pretend to know securities laws, but that seems a bit much. Apple might have to settle the lawsuits in some fashion, maybe with coupons for free battery replacements and such, but one hopes it’ll be an object lesson about not properly informing customers. That, and not trying to do too much with future OS releases, ought to really help as Apple takes on new projects going forward.

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    The Apple Software Defect Freakout

    December 20th, 2017

    Apple can’t get a break. Software glitches that are not terribly unusual on other computing platforms garner amazing amounts of publicity when it happens to an iPhone or a Mac. That the average price of Apple gear is higher — even though usually competitive — means they have to answer, I suppose, to a higher authority.

    Most recently, Apple had to rush out a fix to address a root bug in macOS High Sierra, which allowed you to gain root privileges on a Mac — meaning you’d have full control of your computer without restriction — without a password. Clearly a foolish error, Apple fixed within hours after the flaw was revealed to the public.

    That should have been the end of it, until it turned out that, if you installed the macOS 10.3.1 update after running that fix, the bug would return.

    As a practical matter, there are always security flaws that will allow someone with access to a computer to take it over, more or less. The root bug didn’t come into play unless someone had physical access to your Mac. It wouldn’t just happen.

    Still, there are just so many ways you can attack this boneheaded move. Mistakes happen, but was this one sufficient to condemn Apple forever? What about all the other bugs that have appeared in previous macOS and iOS updates. Three years ago, an iOS 8.0.1 update had the side effect of partially bricking newer iPhones. That’s far worse than granting hackers easy access, because it meant no access.

    Even though Apple pulled that update within less than an hour, and released a fixed version, 8.0.2, the very next day, the affair got plenty of coverage from cable news talking heads. The affected iPhones could be restored, and would soon be back to normal, but it was still a big inconvenience. I suspect Apple’s support lines were clogged for days.

    Again, this all happened in 2014, and there are other software and hardware flaws over that years that were troublesome to greater or lesser degrees. I still remember buying a Power Macintosh 8100 in 1994, because the experience was memorable, but not in a pleasant way.

    Adding RAM was a treacherous process, which required you to physically remove the logic board after disconnecting some delicate wiring harnesses. In retrospect, the process was actually easier than pulling one of today’s iMacs apart. But once reassembled, it was crash city because of a seriously buggy Mac OS update. Sure, that didn’t happen under the watch of Steve Jobs or Tim Cook, but it illustrates something long-time Apple customers know full well. The products are pretty reliable and long lasting, but they are far from free of glitches.

    Despite this clear and obvious fact, some of Apple critics seem to think that the High Sierra bug, and some particularly irritating ones with iOS 11 that seemed near as foolish, represent a serious decline in the quality of Apple’s software.

    It’s easy to claim that they are doing too many things, releasing too many products — after a period in which people claimed they released too few — and need to spend more time and resources making sure that all or most of the serous bugs are fixed before release.

    There’s certainly plenty on Apple’s plate, with four OS platforms — iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS — to actively support, not to mention amazingly sophisticated hardware.

    Even if the number of bugs per product is the same or less — something Apple has claimed from time to time — once you add them up, it means there’s more to complain about. Having a larger customer base means that every one of those bugs impacts more people.

    So I can understand why some tech pundits will complain about a rapid decline in the quality of Apple’s products, even if serious bugs are usually fixed quickly. If you buy a flawed gadget, one that clearly doesn’t work or work properly due to a hardware defect, Apple will replace it without question. They are known to establish extended repair programs to fix hardware defects even a few years after the product goes out of production and warranties have expired.

    How can that happen if Apple’s gear has always been perfect?

    While Apple should be justifiably embarrassed when stupid mistakes are made, those mistakes will continue to occur until robots take over the entire development, testing and manufacturing process. Or maybe not even then. After all, how can robots be perfect if they are created by humans?

    But whenever you find something with an Apple label on it to complain about, consider the competition and how often bugs appear on those products. Consider Windows patches that cause boot loops — repeated booting without end – or the complete failure to start. Consider smartphones with biometrics, such as facial recognition and iris sensors, that can be easily defeated with digital photos.

    Sure, Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID are not perfect, and there are elaborate methods to defeat them, but they deliver a high degree of security for most users. The biometric flaws I mentioned in the previous paragraph, which impact a Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, don’t seem to stop some reviewers from praising them to the skies. Imagine if you could defeat an iPhone’s biometrics as easily. You’d never hear the end of it.

    Now since Apple has never been perfect, it’s hard to claim that there are sudden declines in quality control. One surely hopes that Apple learns from its mistakes and, as with the rest of us, strives to do better the next time.

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