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.

Apple Hardware Redux

And here we are again, talking about Apple’s latest hardware releases. Another symptom of a weird year. I mean, isn’t this about the sixteenth time?

Anyway, this announcement is for the first Macs running Apple’s own CPU–with the distinctive moniker “M1”–instead of one made by Intel.

The major feature of the new CPU, at least from Apple’s perspective, is that it combines all of the silicon into one convenient package. It’s not just a CPU, in other words. It’s also the security manager, the memory, the input/output controller, the machine-learning “Neural Engine”, and sixty ‘leven other things.

That allows for smaller motherboards, lowers the cost of production, and may simplify repairs.

On the down side, it also eliminates certain upgrades. Specifically, increasing the RAM isn’t going to be possible. Apple is confident that, rather than upgrading their machines when they get older, the majority of their customers just replace them. Which is probably a safe bet, given the cost of Apple-compatible memory.

There are three new machines: a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro, and–the biggest surprise of the day–a Mac Mini. Interestingly, while the MacBooks will be selling at the same price point as the Intel-based models they’re replacing, the Mini will be $100 cheaper. Since I’m on record as considering the previous generation of Minis to be significantly overpriced, this is definitely an improvement.

Worthy of note: the Air and the Pro are nearly identical. The only differences, as far as anyone can tell until we get our hands on the machines, is that the Pro has a cooling fan–which may allow it to run faster for longer stretches than the fanless Air*–and at least some models will have faster graphics processing.

* Now there’s an irony for you: a mobile computer named “Air” that doesn’t move air around.

Accompanying the new machines is, of course, a new Mac operating system. Big Sur will be out tomorrow for all Macs (at least all made in the last five years or so).

It’s got the usual laundry list of new features: new look and feel, new privacy features, and so on, ad infinitum. The biggie, at least if you buy Apple’s thinking, is that it can run iPhone and iPad apps.

Was anybody really asking for that?

Granted, Google’s done a nice job in allowing Android apps to run on Chromebooks; they’ve shown the idea can be done well. But Apple’s history in cross-platform app support isn’t encouraging. Let’s be blunt here: the iPad came out in 2010. And yet, the best it can do when running an iPhone-only app is to show it at double its normal size with little support for rotation. And Apple hasn’t done much to encourage developers to add iPad-functionality.

To be fair, Google has done a lousy job of convincing developers to support Android table-specific apps either. But the wide variety in Android phone capabilities forces Google’s infrastructure, and thus phone-oriented apps, to be more flexible in terms of resolution and layout than is the case in Apple’s world.

I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of people experiment with iOS apps on their MacBooks, decide the experience isn’t all that great, and give up. Developers will then say “Hey, nobody’s using apps on their computers; why should we waste time and effort on making it better?”

Bottom line: The new Macs sound good, but even with Apple’s experience in custom-designed silicon–the M1 is, after all, a variation of what’s been running iPhones and iPads for years–there are going to be teething problems.

Similarly, even if you ignore Big Sur’s need to support those new devices alongside the existing Intel devices, it’s still a major revision to the Mac OS (major enough that Apple is declaring it version 11 after seventeen years of version 10). Remember how rough the transition to Catalina was last year, when the biggest change was the move to eliminate 32-bit apps?

My advice is to wait until at least 11.0.2 to upgrade–Apple is already working on 11.0.1; odds are they won’t start building in fixes for real-world problems in the new Macs until 11.0.2 at the earliest.

And unless you’re comfortable dealing with random computer misbehavior, hold off buying an M1 Mac for at least six months to give Apple time to work out–or work around–the inevitable hardware bugs.

Apple Hardware (sans iPhone)

I’m going to give you my usual recap of Apple’s latest hardware unveiling in a moment, but first, a public service announcement.

Ahem.

I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT TOILET PLUMES. IF YOU USE A PUBLIC BATHROOM, FLUSH THE DAMNED TOILET WHEN YOU’RE DONE!

Okay, on to Apple.

As expected, Apple is coming out with a new Apple Watch. All the features of the previous versions, and now adds blood oxygen level monitoring, an always-on altimeter, new faces, new bands, and one big new feature.

That’s Family Setup, which lets you set up watches for other people who don’t own iPhones. This could be really nice–though I suspect anyone willing to buy their kid a $500 watch isn’t going to balk at getting them a $400 phone to go with it. But I know plenty of older people–who can really use the health-monitoring capabilities of the Apple Watch–who don’t feel the need for an iPhone each. One phone to handle the watches of both members of the couple? Win!

The other big watch announcement is the Apple Watch SE. Like the second-generation iPhone SE, it’s got most of the hardware of the new watches, but at a significantly lower price. In the case of the phone, the SE’s cost savings are the display and camera; for the watch, they’re in the CPU: it’s faster than the Series 3 phones, but not up to the speed of the Series 6. (It looks like the SE is replacing the Series 5 watch; the 3 is still around at an even lower price, but the 5 appears to be gone and the SE will use similar or identical components.)

Moving on to the iPad, we’re getting a new generation with (surprise!) a faster CPU, the dedicated machine learning chip, support for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Nothing really new here.

Ditto for the new iPad Air. More colors (whoopie!) and a USB-C port instead of Lightning. New CPU–faster–and larger. I thought the selling point of the Air was that it was light and easy to handle. At eleven inches (diagonally), it’s definitely getting into the “rest it on a table or your lap” territory. I do like the idea of a fingerprint sensor in the power button. No more Home button, but still keeps the ability to unlock the device without removing your face mask.

iOS 14 comes out today (Wednesday), along with the iPad, Watch, and Apple TV variants. Nothing new there we didn’t already know about from WWDC and the last couple of months of public betas.

No iPhones, thanks to (according to rumor) problems testing the 5G capabilities. No doubt, those will be coming later this year, along with the new Apple-CPU Macs and a few other little projects in the pipeline.

Usually there’s one product line that looks generally good, and the rest are highly snarkworthy. Certainly this set of announcements is no exception. It’s nice to see the Apple Watch finally getting out of the snark category (“Breathe” app, anybody?) but we’ll have to see how long that lasts.

SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.