Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1014

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
Issue #1014
January 10, 2021


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SOME MODEST EXPECTATIONS FOR APPLE IN 2021 OR SUCH

Many of you have read various and sundry predictions from both tech and mainstream pundits who profess to know something about the Apple and its plans for this year. It reached a crescendo, as you might expect, when the end of 2020 approached. But I wonder just how much thought was involved in putting these ideas together. A lot of it was just plain common sense, or what passes for common sense in this broken world of ours.

So you read about what the 2021 iPhone 13 might be like, and it was about a similar product with a few more features, perhaps a better camera and maybe even a tinier notch. One story, citing rumors from the Apple supply chain, a common source of real or imagined rumors, has it that the rear camera bump might also be smaller.

Now in the scheme of things, the camera bump is the most awkward design factor, or would be if you decided to use your iPhone — or similarly equipped Android device — without a case. But since I always have a bumper case, it’s no matter to me. I have managed to avoid most instances of damage as a result.

But what really bothers me is the infamous True Depth Notch. Now I understand the technology behind Face ID that required setting up such a scheme, but that black bar at the top of the screen seems a poor design compromise from the end user standpoint. Not that you don’t get used to it, and app developers sometimes work around it. However, it gives the affected devices a feeling that the design is not just imperfect, but not quite complete.

So clever Apple really ought to find a way to miniaturize the circuitry to span the top of the unit without imposing itself on the otherwise almost edge-to-edge display. Three years after the release of the original iPhone X, Face ID is faster, more accurate, but the basic design is visually largely unchanged. Do you not wish for something better?

Now I am not about the explain the technological achievements that Apple would have to devise to retain Face ID and eliminate the notch. Maybe an embedded Touch ID feature, or the scheme used on the 2020 iPhone Air, embedded in a switch at the top of the unit, would work better. Certainly in an era where most of you who dare venture into tight places have wisely chosen to wear a face covering require a better solution than Face ID, which simply doesn’t work.

[I am not about to argue the merits of mask wearing, since I believe in science and I do not regard it as a political or free speech issue.]

Otherwise, it’s hard to find things that Apple must change on the next iPhone other than the normal modest feature and performance enhancements. After all, it’s already more powerful than most traditional personal computers, and its camera is already capable of taking 4K movies with footage that’s acceptable for the entertainment industry.

As to the Mac, few argue that the M1 processor in the low-end Macs released last fall provide compelling arguments for Apple’s decision to drop Intel and move to its own silicon. Even Rosetta 2 emulation delivers performance that smokes many Intel CPUs. The debates are more about whether the benchmark tests can better reflect the M1’s performance against Intel or AMD chips, with some claiming that Apple is pulling the wool over our eyes.

But actual performance measurements with real apps reveal that, while it’s not several times faster, the M1, a first generation Mac processor, offers surprising performance. Imagine a tiny Mac mini embarrassing some pro-grade gear.

Consider, too, that the more expensive Macs are still to be updated. Apple promised a two-year migration, starting in the summer of 2020. So one would expect that the Mac Pro, and the iMac Pro should it be upgraded, will make the cut by WWDC 2022. Or maybe earlier if Apple wants to repeat the Intel experience, where it completed the transition months ahead of schedule.

What this means is that there will be Macs this year with faster versions of the M1 — no doubt with more cores and possibly higher click speeds — or even successor chips. Graphics will also be enhanced. Apple Silicon may soon encroach or even beat the performance of Intel Xeons with many cores.

But what about the form factor?

Well, the first Mac mini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models with the M1 look otherwise no different from their predecessors. This even means MacBooks with low-grade FaceTime cameras. While I can see the basic logic, that a Mac is a Mac, and the parts inside shouldn’t make a difference to you and I other than the enhanced performance they provide, some have suggested Apple needs to upgrade the designs.

So what would that mean? Smaller bezels, larger displays, lighter weight? Maybe newer display technologies for improved picture quality? But most of the parts would otherwise be the same, although smaller batteries in a slimmer package would still provide longer lifetimes by taking advantage of the power efficiencies of the new CPUs.

I can certainly see improvements in the iMac, such as a smaller rear bump, larger displays in units of the same size as current models. But little of that is in any way revolutionary. There are, after all, just so many solutions to designing desktop or notebook computers with large flatscreen displays. The same is true for smartphones and tablets. The changes are apt to be minor.

I suppose if Apple relents on its no-touchscreen policy with Macs, and provides something closer to what you get with an iPad, well even then it would still be thin and light. Despite inheriting iOS and iPadOS interface elements, and the ability to run mobile software on the new Macs, they are still the pickup trucks in the computer industry.

Sure, perhaps there is a convergence device that will ultimately replace the iPad and the Mac. Some suggest it’s already happening, and that a 2025 Mac, for example, would be perfectly capable of replacing the iPad because there will be no more iPads other than entry-level gear.

Or does the Mac become the iPad?

So far I’ve avoided Apple’s forays into earphones. I recognize that the AirPods are quite successful in the regular and Pro models. Perhaps the AirPods Studio will gain traction among higher-priced headphones, although I wonder how many people feel it’s worth the extra cost. But the same could be said for the HomePod, which hasn’t set the speaker world afire in sales performance.

Indeed, where does any of that leave Beats?

Now I got a free PowerBeats Pro from Apple as a concession for screwing up the repair process on my iMac.

Twice.

So when its Fusion Drive failed in 2019, Apple first replaced the hard drive. They used their proprietary diagnostic software to determine the cause, kept the unit for several days to receive the part and install it. They claimed to have thoroughly cleaned the interior of its Arizona-borne dust. It was supposed to be perfect.

Unfortunately, the fix lasted for a day or two, the problem of being unable to boot returned, and Apple took it back. This time they decided that the flash drive had to be replaced too — or maybe that was the bad part all along. So it sat for another few days in that secured place behind the Genius Bar as the new part arrived.

My iMac worked all right this time, except that Apple restored the wrong operating system despite my repeated requests, meaning that I had to rebuild everything twice before I could get back to work. Restoring a terabyte of data takes hours, as you know.

So I complained to Apple about the time I lost due to their mistake, including the extra pairs of 25-minute rides to their nearest Apple Store. They relented and offered me a set of AirPods. I persisted that I wanted something better to compensate for the wasted time and lost productivity, and thus got the PowerBeats Pro. They wouldn’t offer an AirPods Pro, although I didn’t need the noise cancellation feature since I planned to use the thing for my radio show and needed to hear myself and my surroundings.

And don’t get me started as to how Apple handled my wife’s broken iPhone 6s, with where they wanted $399 to fix a broken mic, until I brought the matter to their escalated support people. In neither case did I try to pull rank and request special privileges because of my background as a journalist and book author who has covered Apple for decades. That would be unethical.

After I made my case, they relented and agreed to replace it despite the expired warranty. It was purchased new in 2018 from a prepaid wireless provider.

In any case, I am quite interested in what Apple plans for the Mac this year. As you know, my iMac is a Late 2014 model, and my MacBook Pro dates back to 2010. Both are now “vintage” and not eligible for further support. So I need to break out that old penny bank and get cracking.

THE FINAL WORD

Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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