More New Apple Hardware

Of course. Gotta release a new iPhone every year, right?

New watches, new AirPods, and new iPhones.

Allow me to summarize:

The Series 8 watches add a temperature sensor to allow ovulation tracking to the existing cycle tracking. Worthwhile for that large fraction of the potential user base that’s going to find it relevant. Kudos to Apple for continuing to enhance that feature, though I do find it a little odd that that’s what they chose to lead off with.

The Series 8 can also detect if you’ve been in an auto accident and–as with the longstanding fall detection–contact emergency services and contacts.

Hey, we’ve got a new definition of “all day”. Apparently that’s 18 hours. Seriously? You can’t even go one day without charging it?

Oh, wait, there’s a new “low power” mode that sacrifices some features to give you 36 hours between charges. I guess that’s nice if you don’t use the sacrificial victims. And it’s all done in software, so it’ll also apply to the Series 4, 5, 6, and 7 watches once they’re updated to WatchOS 9. Good to know they haven’t forgotten the older devices.

And there is, of course, a new Apple Watch SE for the cheapskates among us. Adds the crash detection, but it’s unclear whether it also adds the temperature sensors.

But the big–in every sense of the word–watch news is the Apple Watch Ultra. Larger than any previous Apple Watch. It’s got a new button, a frame that actually protects the edges of the crystal, and 36 hours of battery life without the low power mode. How about a dive computer? Built in.

Apple’s calling this thing “an essential tool for essentially anything”. Can I use it to open a bottle of beer? Probably not–but I’m sure someone will try. But really, does it seem like Apple is painting themselves into a corner by calling it the “Ultra”? I mean, a few years from now, what will they call the top-end successor watch? The “Mega”?

Anyway. On to the new AirPods.

No ultra here, just a new iteration of AirPods Pro. Better spatial audio (uses the camera in your iPhone to map the size and shape of your head so sound can be placed optimally for your unique body. Better noise cancelation, four tips instead of the previous three, better transparency mode (apparently it uses some noise cancelation to eliminate obnoxious noises while letting other environmental sounds through–that seems a bit risky somehow; do we really want it hiding things like construction noise while we’re walking down the street immersed in our phones?)

And then we get to the iPhones.

Brace yourselves: it would seem that the iPhone Mini is dead. Instead of Mini, iPhone, Pro, and Pro Max, we’re getting iPhone, Plus, Pro, and Pro Max. The regular iPhone 14 is a hefty 6.1 inches, and that Plus is a staggering 6.7 inches. Shades of phablets past! Of course, it’s taller and skinnier than a tablet form factor–don’t want to compete directly with the iPad Mini, naturally.

The 14 and 14 Plus will be using the A15 chip from the ancient iPhone 13 Pro. Improved cameras, of course. 5G, naturally.

Remember how Apple killed the floppy disk and the headphone jack? Now they’re killing the SIM tray. iPhone 14 will be eSIM only. That’s going to be an interesting educational challenge: millions of people still believe that the SIM card stores their contacts, despite the fact that that hasn’t been the case for at least a decade.

Hey, the 14 series has the same crash detection sensors as the new watches. And–wait for it–satellite connectivity. So even if you don’t have cellular service, you (or your phone acting on your behalf) can contact emergency services. And for less critical functions like “Find my iPhone”.

As for the 14 Pro, it comes in purple.

Yes, it’s got all the usual enhancements over the 14 (and 14 Plus) with regard to the cameras, power efficiency, and raw CPU–yes, a new A16 replaces that A15 that’s been handed down to the mainline phones). But, purple!

As for the size, the Pro and the Pro Max are the same as the 14 and 14 Plus, respectively.

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that with the introduction of the 14 series, the price for an iPhone 13 is now the same as for an iPhone 12? That being the case, why are they still selling the 12? Using up inventory? Also noteworthy and somewhat funny: the cost for the “low end” iPhone SE has gone up slightly. The only rationale I can see for buying an SE, rather than paying a bit more for a 12 or 13, is if you have to have the smallest phone available and never take pictures.

Bottom line (you knew this was coming, right?): Back in June, I said I was genuinely looking forward to seeing some of the new software features that’ll be coming in the new operating systems. But the new hardware? I’m “meh” about that. Mostly another round of more of the same, but “bigger…stronger…faster“. And purpler.

Further Rejoicing

Was it really just last week that we declared the COVID epidemic a relic of history?

Sadly, yes.

I say “sadly” because apparently the Federal Government agrees. The program to provide free in-home tests is shutting down Friday because it’s out of money. Get your orders in quickly, folks.

Actually, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many tests get ordered this week, compared to the past three or four weeks? I doubt we’ll ever see the numbers, but I’d love to be proved wrong about that.

If you want to try and sneak in an order–I did Tuesday afternoon and it went through just fine–the URL is https://www.covid.gov/tests. Actually, the order went through so smoothly, I’m taking it as additional confirmation that the American Public as a whole has moved on to the Next Great Crisis.

And my apologies for whatever influence my post might have had in encouraging that migration.

I really do need to stop reading the news*. It only depresses me, and then I have to spend an hour or two cruising Love Meow to restore my equilibrium.

* To be fair, the local newspaper isn’t as bad as Google News. I could do without the endless 49ers stories, now that football season is upon us, but I don’t find them depressing, just boring. And–fair’s fair–I’m sure the football fans find the endless Giants stories just as useless. (I think we can all agree that the endless stream of stories about the Athletics trash fire of a stadium quest are both depressing and hugely entertaining.)

Apparently, the Google Assistant on my phone has figured out that pattern in my actions. For the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve looked at the news feed (swipe left from the Home screen), it’s included a Love Meow story halfway down the screen. I’m considering it a palette cleanser.

I can’t decide if I’m pleased that my phone is trying to take such good care of me or depressed that my phone thinks I need cheering up. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony in Google Assistant feeling compelled to counteract the effects of Google News.

For the record, as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon, Google News is showing eleven stories on its “New” home page. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death–which I’m largely neutral about–is the top story, followed by the impending heat wave on the West Coast (depressing), the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi (very depressing), Biden calling out Republicans over gun control (about damn time, but depressing that it’s necessary and unlikely to go anywhere), and the latest on the Ukraine/Russia war (very depressing). That’s four out of five depressing.

Local news has stories on a shooting, senior housing, and school vandalizations (one depressing, one mildly enlivening, and one mixed–depressing that the local schools need nearly $100 thousand to repair the damage, cheering that it’s being donated by one of our corporate overlords (Chevron)).

The only real cheer is in the “Picks for you” section. Google is keeping the orange-faced asshole’s social media app out of the Play Store, Albert Pujols is getting close to passing Alex Rodriguez (spit!) on the all-time home run list, and an opinion piece on the rumored iPhone 14*. Two happy stories and one neutral? I’ll take it.

* The phones will probably be announced at an Apple event next week. Expect my usual Wednesday post to be delayed a day so I can bring you my usual totally unbiased coverage of all the announcements.

WWDC 2022

Bet you thought I was going to talk about Sedalia and the Ragtime Festival. I will, of course. Just not today. I mean, I rearranged the blog schedule so I could talk about Google’s last event, so it’s only fair not to keep Apple waiting.

And there is a fair amount to talk about.

Starting, naturally, with what to expect from the upcoming iOS 16. The biggest news there as far as I’m concerned, is that Apple has finally pulled the plug on the ancient iPhone 6 series and the iPhone 7. If you’re still clinging to those phones, it’s time to put them away. It’s only going to get harder to fix them from here on. Better to move to something newer now while the phone is functioning.

Once you’re on iOS 16, you’ll be getting some goodies, too. Like live widgets on the lock screen. So you can do things like checking the weather or sports scores without unlocking the phone. And you can personalize the appearance with new fonts and color options. Once Apple introduced the massive home screen personalization in iOS 15, personalization of the lock screen was inevitable. People really don’t want their phones to look just like everyone else’s. Who knew? (I’m particularly excited about the “live notifications” which will let a single notification update with new information. Think sports scores here: instead of getting a new notification every time the score changes—all of which you’ll have to swipe away—now you’ll just have one notification that updates. Google’s been doing this for a while with things like the Google Assistant traffic notification; it’s good to see Apple keeping up.)

Here’s a nice one: Apple will add a Quick Start feature to Family Sharing to ensure that it’s set up properly. No more having the kids “hack” the system to get around the limits you set for them by discovering that you forgot to add a password…

And here’s a horrible one: iCloud Shared Photos. Everyone who has access to the shared library can add, edit, and delete photos for everyone. Apple, kill this. It’s already too easy for people to manipulate the information on their exes’ phones. Don’t give them another avenue of approach.

And yes, I say that even though Apple is also rolling out “Safety Check”, which is intended to give you a one-click method to stop sharing with specific individuals. Safety Check is a great idea. I’m just dubious about how effective it’ll be—and how easy it will be for someone being stalked to find and turn on.

That aside, it’s unclear what effect editing or deleting a photo in the shared library has on the original. People are already confused about how to delete photos from their phones to free up space without also deleting them from the iCloud. Now there’s a possible additional level of complexity. I predict chaos.

Moving on. Updates to WatchOS: new faces, new metrics, custom workouts, and so on. I do like the sound of the Medication app: there are a lot of people who could use the reminders to take their drugs on time. I just hope there’s an easy way for doctors to add the meds for their patients; anyone with a long list is probably going to be slow to get them entered. That said, if the app also tracks when prescriptions need to be refilled and gives users an in-app reorder button, it’ll be a big win.

As for the Mac world, yes, the M2* is finally a thing. A slightly larger than the M1, with a higher ceiling and lower power requirements. The first device to get it: the MacBook Air. Redesigned to be thinner and lighter, with a larger screen. And it’s got a MagSafe charging port, so you don’t lose one of your two precious Thunderbolt ports when you need to plug the machine in. And yes, the M1 MacBook Air will still be around, if you don’t need the ultimate in power and want to save a bit of cash.

* Presumably the M2 Pro and M2 Ultra will be along in the near future.

MacOS is getting an update as well, of course. Fare well, Monterey; welcome Ventura.

This is cool: Stage Manager is a new feature that will put small thumbnails of your active programs off to one side of the screen so whatever you’re working in can be centered without having to maximize it, but still letting you keep track of what’s going on in the background.

Naturally, Apple wants you to have an iPhone to go along with your MacBook. So they’re tying the two platforms closer together with the ability to pass FaceTime calls from one to the other—and to use your phone as a webcam. Much better than the laptop’s built-in camera, especially if your iPhone is a 12 or more recent.

Nor is Apple forgetting about your iPad. Collaboration is the big focus there, with document sharing front and center, and a new app called Freeform. It’s basically a shared whiteboard. Useful for business, especially when it arrives on phones and computers.

The iPad is also getting Stage Manager. Now that is a big win. It should make multitasking on the iPad immensely easier, especially if the rumored freely resizeable windows put in an appearance.

You all know I’ve been underwhelmed by Apple’s last few system iterations—evolve rather than revolutionize. But with the exception of the shared photos mess, I’m genuinely impressed with what’s coming. Maybe not quite enough to buy a Mac, and definitely not enough to replace my Pixel phone with an iPhone. But I can legitimately say there are several things I’m looking forward to seeing in the real world.

Kudos, Apple.

SAST 18

[Administrative Note: The last SAST post was 19. The one before that was 17. Oops. Consider this a modest nod in the direction of numerical consistency.]

I was pondering the fact that the two stories everyone knows about George Washington both involve wood. That is, of course, that he chopped down a cherry tree and that he wore wooden dentures.

The first, obviously, is a myth. But I wondered if the infamous dentures were made of cherry wood. That would be at least an amusing coincidence–because the tree-chopping legend surely doesn’t predate the real dental appliance–and possibly even a source of the legend.

So, a bit of research ensued. And, annoyingly, it turns out that the wooden dentures story is totally fictional as well.

Okay, not totally. George did wear dentures. Just not wooden ones.

Still, it does leave room for some creative fictionalizing. Anyone want to help spread the story that President Washington’s wooden dentures were made from the very same tree he chopped down as a nipper (sorry)?

Moving on.

Gotta love the rumor mill.

There was a rumor making the rounds that Apple was going to release a new Mac Mini this year. Perfectly logical: the entry level Mini now has an M1 chip, but the high end Mini still has an Intel processor. Gotta have a high-end M1 Mini, right?

Then Apple introduced the Mac Studio. Which is, to all intents and purposes, an ultra-high-end Mini.

So now, of course, the rumor is that Apple is not going to come out with a new Mini this year. It will be next year.

Personally, I don’t see why we even need a high-end Mini. The original Mini was unveiled as a “bring your own peripherals” deal that would let Apple sell you on their hardware and software at a significantly lower price than the rest of their line. It’s still a great idea, and the M1 Mini fits the niche admirably.

Leave it at that, Apple. Keep the Mini low-end and low-rent and let the people who need power go with the Studio.

Moving on again.

Thanks to Eric for pointing me at this article in Politico.

There isn’t much in it that will be new to anyone paying attention to the Oakland As efforts to convince the city to give them a dream platter of goodies–though I’m somewhat amused by the author’s characterization of the Mets as the antithesis of the As.

What struck me while I was reading it, though, was the thought that perhaps we’ve been misreading the situation. The team’s ownership keeps presenting it as “give us what we want or we’re moving to Vegas.”

Totally standard sports team tactics. Except that the Athletics keep moving the fences back. Every time it starts to seem that they’re going to get what they’re asking for, they add something to their demands.

At this point, they’re promising to put $12 billion dollars into constructing their megafacility–if. Given the typical lack of correspondence between construction estimates and actual costs, the bill is likely to be closer to $25 billion than the twelve the team is promising.

What if the As ownership doesn’t want to get handed their dream package? If the city coughs up the land, the tax district, and whatever add-on gets added to the demands next, then ownership is on the hook for those big bucks.

I’m starting to think they want the deal to be rejected. They’re just looking for an excuse to head for Nevada, where they can rejoice in actually being a small market team, rather than having to fake it enough to get those subsidies from the teams in larger markets.

At this point, I’m almost ready to hope Oakland does give the As’ ownership everything they’ve asked for, just so I can see what kind of verbal gymnastics they go through in denying they’d ever promised to build a ballpark…

And, finally, on another baseball related note:

Commissioner Manfred (spit) is trying to butter up the players. He’s gifted every player on a big league roster with a pair of $200 Beats headphones.

Let us not forget that, under the just-signed collective bargaining agreement, every one of those guys is making at least $700,000 this year. I think they can probably afford their own headphones–and probably already have a set or six.

Hey, Rob! Instead of making nice on the players–who aren’t going to believe for an instant that you’re on their side, or even that you like them–why don’t you try making nice on the fans? You know, the folks who contribute the money that lets owners pay those players, not to mention the salary that you used to buy all those headphones.

We could really use a no-local-blackouts, no social-media-exclusives broadcast package.

Apple Is At It Again

How many new product announcements do we really need? I mean, they revealed phones, watches, and iPads in September, HomePods and laptops in October. And now here we are in March, and they’ve got more goodies coming out.

But before we get to the hardware, a bit of baseball news: Apple TV+ will be showing two MLB games every Friday. Assuming, of course, that there’s an MLB season. No word on whether games on Apple will be blacked out on MLB.TV. History suggests they will; one more reason to be pissed off at the team owners and the commissioner.

New iPhones are coming.

No, not new models; the 13 is still the latest and greatest. But you’ll be able to get the 13 Pro (and, I presume, the Pro Max) in “alpine green”. Or, if you don’t need that third camera, you can get the regular 13 (and the 13 Mini?) in “green”. Just green, no alpine for you.

Of course, there is a new SE. This is now the third generation of SE, with mostly the guts of the iPhone 13 backing the same old comparatively low-resolution screen of the previous SE. Better camera, though still not as good at the 13, naturally. And it does have 5G.

Time for a new iPad Air. With an M1 chip. Clearly, last September’s iPad Pro with the M1 is so last year: unless you can’t live without FaceID, there’s not a lot to choose between the new guys and those six-month-old ancients. Better front camera than the previous iPad Air and, of course, 5G for the cellular models.

And, naturally, new computers.

No M2 chip yet. But we are going to be seeing the M1 Ultra! Can you imagine how excited I am? To be fair, the idea behind the Ultra is kind of cool: let’s glue two M1 Max chips together and treat them as a single chip.

There’s been a longstanding perception that Apple computers feel slow, even when they’re objectively screaming along. No matter how fast the computer is getting work done, the user interface has often felt sluggish. I have to hand it to Apple on this one: I can’t imagine an M1 Ultra machine feeling sluggish–unless Apple deliberately throttles it back.

So we’re getting a new computer line to hold the Ultra. Not a Pro, not an iMac, and certainly not a Mini. Brace yourself for the Mac Studio. Actually, it looks like a tall Mini. With lots of ports. Easy on desk space, which is good, because Apple wants you to pair it with a new monitor.

A 27-inch monitor. Really, Apple? When I can walk into any electronics store and buy a 32-, 34-, 43-, or even 49-inch monitor? Okay, yes, it does have a dedicated CPU for its camera and sound system, and a metric buttload of speakers, but still, 27 inches does seem rather cramped these days.

That monitor is a mere $1500. I don’t see the value, honestly. Go with a third-party monitor and audio system, and put that grand-and-a-half toward upping the specs on the computer. M1 Ultra Studios will start at $3999, which honestly doesn’t sound half bad for 64GB of RAM, a terabyte of storage, and that CPU. (A maxed out model–128 GB, 8TB, and 16 additional GPU cores–will only set you back $7999. As Apple helpfully point out, that’s only $666 a month for a year.)

I’m not sure I can honestly say Apple is doing anything revolutionary here, but it’s one heck of an evolutionary advance.

And, if you want to see something truly impressive, wait until they’re ready to announce an Apple silicon Mac Pro.

Which, given Apple’s recent pace of announcements, should come before summer.

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

An Apple a Day

It seems like we were talking about Apple’s latest announcements just a couple of days ago, and yet here we are, talking about Apple’s–you know.

Let’s skip the puffery. Does anyone outside Apple really care how many awards Apple TV+ has won?

More importantly, Apple has announced new toys.

Two new iPads, specifically a new basic model and a new mini.

The former is a nice step up from last year’s model. New chips mean a 20% speed increase across the board, and a new camera will let it do some of the video trickery formerly limited to the iPad Pro.

The upgraded mini is probably the most eagerly awaited upgrade. Smaller bezels in the same form factor mean a bigger screen without increasing the weight, Touch ID in the top button*, and a 40-80% speed boost depending on what you’re doing. No more Lightning port; USB-C instead, which opens up a lot of new accessory possibilities. Better cameras, of course. That’s obligatory for any new Apple hardware, right?

* These days, Touch ID is much better than Face ID. Don’t make me take my mask off to sign in without a password, please. And nice of Apple to remember that not everyone who has an iPad has an Apple Watch they could use for automatic unlocking.

And, speaking of the Apple Watch: surprise! Get ready for the new Apple Watch Series 7. Bigger screen and bigger buttons, faster charging, stronger*, and still compatible with your old bands. Because backward compatibility is important, right?

* Let’s hope so. The screens on the previous six generations seem unreasonably vulnerable to cracking from even the smallest jolts. Interestingly, Apple is crediting the improved durability to the shape. I have to wonder why they’re not using the oh-so-strong ceramic they introduced on the iPhone 12 screens.

And it looks like Apple is simplifying the product line a little. Once the Series 7 comes out, the 5 and 6 will both go away. Series 3 for the budget-conscious, SE for the mid-range, and 7 for anyone who doesn’t want to be seen as a cheapskate.

And, of course, new iPhones. Kudos to Apple for not giving in to superstition and skipping “13”.

Smaller front camera notch and, as usual, the best camera ever in a (non-pro) iPhone. Bigger battery. Comes in regular and mini. Faster than your now-obsolete iPhone 12, naturally. Storage now starts at 128GB–no more 64GB devices–and goes up to 512GB. Not quite up to some of the top-of-the-line Samsung phone’s 1TB, but still and improvement for anyone who wants to carry weeks of music or a trans-Atlantic flight’s worth of movies.

Naturally, there’s a Pro and a Pro Max, both of which fall into the “more than six inches” category, also known as “too flippin’ big to fit in your pocket. As usual, the main distinguishing characteristic of the Pro phones are the cameras, but Apple is also talking up the improved battery life (as compared to the equivalent iPhone 12 models) and storage up to (ah, there it is–couldn’t let Samsung get that far ahead) 1TB.

As expected, most of the new devices are evolutionary; only the improved mini could even arguably be considered revolutionary.

But that’s today’s Apple.

WWDC 2021

I gotta say I’m underwhelmed by what I’m hearing from Apple. Unlike previous WWDCs, this year’s seems to be totally focused on software. Which, yes, needs to be updated and improved. But it sounds like what we’re going to be seeing from Apple is a bunch of minor evolutions with no revolutions in sight.

iOS 15 is bringing us such goodies as using audio positioning to make it sound like people’s voices are coming from where they’re shown on the screen in FaceTime and automatic filtering of ambient noise. Links to FaceTime calls that can be emailed or added to calendars are handy, but hardly the sort of thing to make someone run out to buy an iPhone. Some of the tweaks to Notifications sound handy–scheduling certain kinds of notifications so you’re not bothered with them when you’re focused on something else, for example. But again, would that be enough to encourage you to buy an iPhone if you were on the fence? I’ll admit “live text” sound sweet. Being able to select text in a picture, even one that’s part of a web page, so it could be copied, pasted, and even clicked if it’s a link is a really helpful tweak. But again, not the stuff of which dreams are made.

Then there are the enhancements to the Apple Wallet app. Sorry, but I have no interest at all in putting my work badge, hotel keys, or driver’s license on my phone. Privacy implications aside–and there are plenty of those–the practical issues are disturbing. Getting locked out of my room because my phone ran out of juice on the conference floor is bad enough. But fumbling with my phone if I get pulled over for speeding? Sounds like a good way to get shot–and I’m not even Black.

Then there’s iPadOS. It’s getting widget support like what iPhones got in iOS 14. Hurray? Oh, wait, they can be bigger and show more information, since the iPad screen is larger. The UI improvements to multitasking are nice, I suppose, but for the most part they’re adding new ways to do the same things. Granted, keyboard support is useful–necessary, even, with the way Apple is pushing keyboards for iPads–but again, not revolutionary.

Speaking as a former software tester, I’m dubious about the ability to build apps on an iPad. Agreed, a nice learning tool. But the ability to submit apps directly from the iPad to the App Store? Apple better exercise some editorial control, or we’re going to be buried under a flood of redundant MyFirstApp apps.

There is one area where I’m totally in favor of Apple’s moves in iPadOS 15, and that’s with the privacy enhancements. Blocking your IP address and location from websites is a plus. One that should have happened years ago, IMNSHO, but it’s here now, and I hope Google follows suit. Private Relay sounds like it’s stealing a trick from the anonymous Tor browser. Slick. Good for Apple.

Moving on to watchOS. Pardon me. Let’s skip that. I find Apple’s continuing fascination with the Breathe app and its progeny disturbing enough that I tuned out that whole section of the presentation.

As for the ability to let you unlock the door to your house by tapping your phone or watch… Uh, let’s just say I’m sure it’s more secure than any of the standalone Bluetooth locks out there. But that doesn’t mean its secure. Too much room for error here–I’ve double-tapped icons accidentally, turning something on and then immediately back off, way too many times to want to literally make them the keys to my castle.

And, of course, Apple is introducing a new version of MacOS. What comes after Catalina and Big Sur? Monterey, of course. All the whiz-bang feature updates from iOS and iPadOS seem to be making their way to the desktop as well. No surprise there. A few other little tweaks. You’ve been able to use your iPad as a second monitor for your Mac for a while. Now you’ll be able to move your cursor from one to another and drag and drop files seamlessly. Really making the iPad (or a second Mac!) work like a second monitor. That’s cool. And if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, I can see it being a way to persuade you to expand your hardware portfolio.

I’m going to skip the developer-oriented updates. Most of you won’t care, and those of you who will have probably already seen all of them. I could snark a bit about them, but really, some targets are too easy. (App Store, I’m looking at you.)

Bottom line, the new OSes–coming to public beta next month for a Fall release–will make existing Apple users’ lives easier in small ways, but by themselves, they’re not going to sell hardware. And there’s no word from Apple when they’ll be announcing new hardware.

Apple Springs Into Action

Kind of an odd place to start, Apple.

Kicking off a round of (primarily) hardware announcements by rolling out changes to the Apple Card is weird. Not that they spent much time on it–but I’m sure we’re all relieved to know that you can now share your Apple Card with your family. How this differs from every other credit card in the world allowing you to get additional cards for family members is unclear. I’m sure Apple will explain eventually, given their dedication to transparency and open access.

Anyway.

We all know the most important news goes up front, right? So apparently the biggest thing coming out of Apple is a new color for the iPhone 12: purple.

I like purple. I might buy a purple phone if I was looking for a new phone (I’m not). But I can’t help but think Apple is indulging in a bit of lede burial.

What else did they spring on us?

After literally years of speculation, Apple has finally released the AirTag. This is, of course, Apple’s version of the Tile and TrackR devices*. As long as you’re using it with a reasonably recent Apple device (maybe a purple iPhone?), you can get actual directional information. That right there puts them miles ahead of TrackR. It’s unclear how large AirTags are, but it’s worth noting that they use a CR2032 battery. Easy to find (sorry) but does impose a certain minimum size not all that much smaller than a quarter.

* Yes, TrackR is still around. Their latest product is the “pixel” (what is it about their refusal to use capital letters?) which they call their “lightest and brightest” tracker. It’s “about the size of a quarter” which isn’t much smaller than the old product I reviewed four years ago. I don’t plan to review them to see if they work any better.

What else? Hey, a new Apple TV. 4K, of course (I can hear all of the enthusiasts/first adopters asking why not 8K. Shush.) More powerful than any previous Apple TV and it comes with a new remote that doesn’t include the damn trackpad–actually it seems to be a callback to the much-loved iPod Classic with its five-way click wheel. That right there seems like sufficient reason to buy the new model if you’re looking for a streaming box.

Then, of course, there are the new Macs.

Remember the original iMac? The one that came in all of those cool colors? Check out the new iMac. Twenty-four inch screen with a more-than-4K resolution. Thinner than many TVs. And, of course, boasting the same M1 chip found in last year’s MacBook and Mini–that’s good and bad. On the plus side, they’ll be fast and not too power-hungry. On the down side, they’re limited to the same 8GB of RAM as the MacBook and Mini–that may be a bit limiting for a machine that’s historically been pitched as a good starting point for people who want to experiment with video.

And, as you may have gathered, a literal rainbow of colors–with matching keyboards and mice. Personally, I’d like to see an ability to mix and match. Purple computer with blue keyboard and red mouse, anyone? Or am I the only one who likes to get away from color coordination from time to time?

Anyhow, Apple also announced a new iPad Pro. With an M1 chip.

Way to blur the lines between computers and tablets, guys.

Though, as a friend of mine pointed out, pairing the new iPad Pro with a keyboard, and you’re getting awfully close to the touchscreen laptop Apple fans have been demanding for years. If you don’t mind being limited to the iPad version of apps. That’s probably a dealbreaker for me; I know the iPad versions of Office and the various Adobe apps are getting better and better, but there are still things you can only do with the computer versions of the programs. Hey, Apple, how about an iPad Pro variant running MacOS?

And that’s about it.

Most of the hardware will be up for preorder at the end of the month, with shipping in late May. Not too long to wait.

Oh, and if you gotta have a purple iPhone, you can pre-order it this Friday and get your hands on it April 30–assuming they made enough to keep up with the demand.

Taking Note

There are a few things that annoy me about SiriusXM–most notably the amount of time spent reminding listeners that there are no commercials and their programmers’ habit of preempting channels for special events (and rearranging the channel lineup with little or no warning).

Even so, as you may have gathered, I like the service. It could improve–less channel segmentation, or at least more channels that cover a range of genres would be nice–but it’s worth the annual subscription.

It’s starting to scare me, though.

Not too long ago, on a cold, gray day when I was more than normally ambivalent about going to work, I got a station break as I backed out of the garage. That ended as just as I shifted into Drive, and I headed up the hill listening to “Mama Told Me Not to Come”. That was followed by “Old Man” and then “Stairway to Heaven”.

At this point, having been informed that I shouldn’t go to work because I was old and going to die, I was seriously considering turning around and going back to bed. Unfortunately, at that point I was halfway across the bridge, where turnaround points are non-existent–and besides, I’d already paid the bridge toll.

So I made the decision to go on, only to be reminded that “People Are Strange”. I could only agree. And change to the 40s channel. Which had, of course, been preempted in favor of “Holiday Traditions”.

I managed to switch to an 80s alternative channel before succumbing to the urge to rip the radio out of the dashboard, but it was a close call.

Despite the warning and the obstacles SiriusXM put in my path, I did make it to work, survived the day, and made it home in one piece, but the next time the radio gives me a warning like that, I think I’ll take its advice. Far easier on the nervous system.

Actually, I should clarify one thing.

My car radio is an older model–I got it at Circuit City, back when there was a Circuit City. So, no touchscreen, no bluetooth, no voice or steering wheel controls. What it does have is a simple segmented LCD panel just wide enough to show eleven characters in all-caps.

So my warning was actually “MAMA TOLD M”, “OLD MAN”, and “STAIRWAY TO”.

Generally not a problem, but it does mean I occasionally get a bit of cognitive dissonance. Did you know The Kinks had a 1966 single called “SUNNY AFTER”? After what? The lyrics don’t give much of a clue.

Then there’s that immortal Stones’ classic “LETS SPEND “. I hadn’t thought the song was quite that explicit about what Mick and Keith were planning.

The real prize, however, was learning that “JEFFERSON A” had a top-ten hit in “WHITE RABBI”. I didn’t know Grace Slick was Jewish…

Despite its limitations, I have no plans to replace the radio with something newer and more capable.

Something else I won’t be getting: Apple’s new AirPods Max* headphones.

* Yes, that is the official name for them. The hazards of applying a single name across a product line. “AirPods”–plural–makes sense for a set of those things you stick in your ears, but rather less so for a single device that covers both ears.

Even if Apple is correct in calling them the greatest auditory experience since “musician” meant “that guy who bangs two sticks together” (I’m paraphrasing their advertising, if you hadn’t guessed.), we can’t lose sight of the fact that, like the rest of the AirPods line, they’re Apple-only.

There’s also–and I can’t believe I’m writing this–the price tag: $550!

That’s more than half the cost of a new M1-based MacBook Air or an iPhone 12.

Reminds me of those legendary restaurants that are so expensive they only need one party of four to pay their rent for the month.

Granted, Apple has always had a reputation for expensive gear, but even by their standards, this is excessive.

If you have to have Apple-made headphones to go with your Apple-made electronics, stick with Beats. Unless you’re in the hundredth of a percent of the population with absolutely perfect hearing you only listen in an acoustically-sealed room, you’re not going to hear the difference.