Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1007

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
Issue #1007
October 13, 2020


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Nothing about Apple’s rollout of the iPhone 12 series and a smaller, cheaper HomePod was surprising. It was a typical overproduced sales pitch that came across as cold, over-rehearsed.

The final scene, of CEO Tim Cook walking towards the camera, was especially artificial. He speaks well, and has a calm, reassuring demeanor, but his delivery is stiff almost as if he’d practiced too much. He should avoid the flourishes, and perhaps speak from his desk to give it more of an aura of credibility.

On the other hand, none of that diminishes the value of the new gear. Indeed, Apple can make a compelling argument for you to upgrade your iPhones, especially if the unit you have — from whatever company — is getting long in the tooth. That’s where the value of the new gear is front and center.

If you have butter fingers and have dropped your smartphone on occasion — and experienced cracked displays — you’ll especially appreciate one of the key new features of the new iPhones. So the Ceramic Shield, which Apple says “sits flush to the edge of the phone,” results in a quadrupling of drop performance. This means it can take a lot more abuse, and that would surely reduce repair expenses and, of course, it means fewer trips to Apple or a third-party dealer for a replacement display.

Now I don’t want to challenge the fates, but so far I’ve only experienced one case of a cracked display. But it was Apple’s fault — really. I was at an Apple Store some years back, purchasing a new case. I placed my phone on the table, and the Apple Genius accidentally knocked it off. It fell to the ground, but they were willing to replace the unit without protest.

Now water resistance is also said to be improved to an IEC rating of IP68. This means you can drop or take the phone to a depth of 6 meters for up to 30 minutes. No, I’m not planning on giving it a try, but it means you can take your iPhone 12 to the shower if you’re waiting for an important call without fretting over whether it’ll be damaged.

Or at least that’s what they tell us. I’m not about to put it to the test.

Other improvements were to be expected. So the camera has better parts and software, there’s a new case, and the same OLED display on all models, including the entry-level iPhone 12 mini. Using the A14 chip, which uses a 5 nanometer die, means extra performance. It’s the same silicon that’s outfitted in the newest iPad Air.

It may also be used in the forthcoming Macs with Apple Silicon, but I suspect that there may be an enhanced version, the A14X, sporting eight cores rather than six, installed on a new generation of MacBooks, a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro. Although parts numbers of new Macs have allegedly appeared, it’s not at all certain when these new models will appear, although Apple promised this year.

As to the iPhones and the HomePod, you can check out all these specs and perhaps read some preliminary reviews online. I don’t need to do it here.

I’m more concerned with the way Apple has priced the near gear and the misleading reasons for removing content. So the ear buds and charging brick are no longer being included in the shipping box, just the USB-C to Lightning charging cable.

Apple’s excuse is that most of you already have the missing parts, so it’s better for the environment not to include them. But it also means Apple spends less to build the unit, thus meaning higher profits, or to cope with higher costs of production. So if you need the missing wall charger, it’s $19 from Apple; ditto for the ear buds. That means you have to pay $38 plus sales tax, if any, to buy them. So the $699 starting price for the iPhone 12 mini would otherwise be $737.

Or maybe not.

The quoted prices for the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12, according to a published report at AppleInsider, only apply for those of you buying units for AT&T or Verizon in the U.S. If you choose T-Mobile or an unlocked model, it’s $30 more. The Pro models carry the same price regardless of carrier or whether they’re unlocked.

The lower prices are regarded as “instant discounts,” which evidently means it’s some sort of carrier subsidy. In other words, the real price of the two lower-priced iPhones, when you add the missing charger and ear pods and the carrier-specific pricing, starts at $767. It also provides a good reason to switch carriers if you’re using T-Mobile, or prefer an unlocked unit. Then again, if you pay off your phone, it can be unlocked by the carrier f you request it; well usually.

Now I understand why Apple might want to “decontent” these products. It costs more to provide an OLED display, and that’s a way to make up the difference, but keep the increase invisible to most customers. The iPhone 12 Pro models evidently carry enough profit not to require this alleged discount.

The two cheaper iPhones are crippled in another way, which may not mean so much unless you live outside the U.S. So because it supports fewer frequencies, their 5G chips lack support for the lower-frequency mmWave spectrum outside the U.S. So mmWave is where 5G delivers the most performance advantage.

Then again, with 5G still not rolled out in many locales, it may not make so much of a difference to most of you. Would you really benefit from from two gigabit download speeds under normal circumstances? Probably not. At this point, I fail to see the arrival of 5G as anything that will magically change my lifestyle, or the lifestyles of most of you. Maybe some day.

Actually, I see 5G as something that could provide an affordable alternative for home broadband, especially in areas where wired Internet is still dead slow, and there are lots of places of that sort in this country. There’s also the hope that carriers will become less greedy about bandwidth limits as 5G spreads across the globe. As you know, those “Unlimited” plan speeds will be throttled if you use more than a dozen or two gigs of bandwidth.

Compare that to typical home plans which, when there are limits, they are more in the range of hundreds of gigs. Cox maxes out at 1.25 terabytes unless you opt for extra cost plans that deliver more.

In any case, assuming the new iPhones provide the promised improvements, I’m willing to forgive Apple for its pricing deceptions. But I am concerned that this might start a precedent. With previous iPhones, there was never a question about pricing, and I understand that Apple felt the pressure to pack in as many improvements as possible, and they don’t come free.

Of course, if you buy one with a lease/purchase plan from your carrier, the potential price difference of a few dollars a month, where it applies, wouldn’t make much of a difference. If you have ear buds and wall chargers, you’d need an adapter for the former to work with an iPhone if it doesn’t have a lightning connector.

I just checked. Here in the Steinberg household, we have several wall chargers, including a high-power unitthat I bought from Amazon for less than Apple’s $19 purchase price. I also have several ear buds, two over-the-ear headphones, and a wireless in-ear model. Should I spring for any of the new models — and it’s not in the budget yet — I won’t have to buy anything extra other than a new case.

And one more thing: Since Apple said nothing about an impending release of macOS Big Sur or those Macs with Apple Silicon inside, I wonder if they will just merit press releases. If I might, I suspect we’ll know by the first week of November, maybe sooner.

And so it goes.


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