Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1005

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
Issue #1005
September 21, 2020


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For months, it was a given that Apple would announce the rumored iPhone 12 at its annual September media splash. And, in the days before it happened, it was rumored that it wouldn't happen, which essentially took much of the meat out of the event.

Indeed, Apple's 65-minute infomercial last week was decidedly predictable and not terribly impressive. The new products and the new features may be useful, but there was nothing so compelling that you should throw away your recent Apple gear and invest in something new.

Well, I suppose there's the blood oxygen sensor in the Apple Watch Series 6, but it seems to be sensitive to the type of band you wear to make it reliable. All right, the display is brighter and the battery charges faster, but such improvements aren't game-changers. If you want one, the main decision is whether to save $120 and buy the Apple Watch SE and sacrifice the blood oxygen and ECG apps.

Now maybe if you could use an Apple Watch for a couple of days or more under moderate load without having to recharge, that would be a helpful change. But it doesn't seem that any of the new models of Apple's gear runs much longer than previous models.

Take the 8th generation iPad, which starts at $329 for a 32GB capacity. It isn't altogether different from last year's model, except for the presence of an A12 chip, which means snappier performance. So apps will launch faster, scrolling and gameplay will be more fluid. But is that enough?

My wife has an iPad Air 2, with an A8 chip. The newest iPad is very similar in size except for the 10.2-inch display, as opposed to the 9.7-inch display in the older model, which was released in 2014. Her iPad shipped with iOS 10, and runs iOS 14 just fine, though I suppose support will end next year or the year after.

Barbara focuses mostly on Mail, Notes and Safari, and a handful of other apps. Nothing she does would benefit all that much, except for the improved performance. Listening to music won't change because both models contain essentially the same subpar audio systems, which sound no better than a 1950's transistor radio.

Upgrading to the 2020 iPad Air might be overkill. It is a very useful tweener product that sits between the basic iPad and the iPad Pro, and is very much an alternate to the latter, especially with its A14 CPU; the current iPad Pro has an A12Z with more processing cores but slightly slower performance. Talk about confusing.

If you have an iPad more than two or three years old, however, I suppose an upgrade might be tempting. There's much more interest in these devices now that Apple has added support for input devices in the latest iPadOS, so you can use a mouse or an accessory keyboard with a trackpad. It turns these units into credible alternatives to notebook computers.

For that, it may very well be worth considering an upgrade, which is clearly what Apple hopes. If you have an Apple Watch two years old or older, the choice is clear if the new health and fitness features are important to you, and you have the spare cash, of course.

With the basic iPad, Apple is clearly looking at its value to educational systems that more and more rely on remote learning due to the pandemic. Pricing is compared to a Chromebook, which has gotten some traction because of its affordability to cash-stressed schools.

Now I just want to leave it out there. As most of you know, I do not own an iPad, although I've reviewed a few over the years. I barely touch Barbara's except to fix or adjust something. In short, I've just never taken to them. My daily computing experience is confined to my aging iMac and my iPhone. My vintage MacBook Pro is strictly a backup machine.

So next month, Apple's focus will be on the expected iPhone 12, which will likely reach customers by the end of October or early in November. Other than 5G support — which won't be so big a deal for most of you — they will be faster with a possible case redesign. The dreaded notch may still be present, albeit a tad smaller, or it's possible Apple will embed Touch ID in an edge-based button. Thus no notch.

Indeed, the new Touch ID button on the latest iPad Air might be just the ticket for people who wear face masks due to the coronavirus, and I hope that's pretty much all of you unless you reside in an area that's mostly pandemic-free. But face coverings make Face ID useless, and the best Apple can do is have the passcode display come up faster.

Is that sufficient to signal a change for the next iPhone? Maybe the wasn't enough time to make a change, but still…

Now when it comes to services, Fitness+ looks promising. The new Apple One bundle is nice if you need the services it offers. I don't.

Overall, though, I hardly think a virtual media event was worth the bother. There was nothing that couldn't' have been placed on Apple's site as part of the sales process. It's not that Tim Cook made any news of note. I don't know if all or part of it was live, but there was no need to be. In the old days of physical gatherings, having an audience react to the proceedings gave it an air of authenticity.

Without the audience, why bother?

Now I understand having a virtual WWDC keynote, where news beyond product releases and upgrades was made. The planned switch to Apple Silicon is perhaps the most significant piece of news from Apple in recent years, since it may have a tremendous impact on the direction of future Macs. It is also the focal point of developer access to Apple's future products, and that makes it doubly important.

But everything at the September 15th session could have been handled as well with a series of press releases. The very same might be true for the next iPhone, with a lone exception, and that's the possible release of the first Mac with Apple Silicon. Even then, having a new computer that's faster, perhaps thinner and with longer battery life would hardly merit a full-blown media presentation.

Indeed, the day of such events is long past. Unless Apple has a game-changer to display, and switching processors is familiar territory for the company, what difference does it make?

True I did watch most of the media presentation. The production was slick enough, though the transitions from Cook to other people and back again was simplistic and amateurish, and I lost interest right away. The press releases and presentations on Apple's site contained pretty much all of the information I needed to know.

This doesn't mean that Apple isn't producing gear that's worth buying. But aside from new customers, there are few reasons to upgrade these days unless your hardware is getting long in the tooth, or there's a new feature you must have.

When it comes to the iPad, Barbara made the most practical decision. She's hanging on to her iPad Air 2 and looking for a new case. There's no reason for her to upgrade her 2015 iPhone 6s either.


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