New Apple Products

2012 iMac

The Apple announcements to me were somewhat of a mixed bag.

iMac

I love the new iMac design, with the exception of the omitted optical media. A computer that slim with such a great display deserves to be usable as a media center. Otherwise it’s actually a great computer at a good price. If you think about it, not only do you get a pretty good computer, you get a great display in an amazing setup. It looks great.

13″ MacBook Pro

Retina displays on the 15″ MacBook Pro are awesome, however it seems many find the fonts especially to be too small and end up lowering the resolution to make things easier on the eyes and thus defeating the advantage of that great display. I’m not sure that a 13″ MacBook Pro is going to do much better in that regard. The other gripe I have with it over, aside for the lack of optical media which I still find useful is only having Intel HD Graphics 4000 and no discrete graphics. While the Intel graphics aren’t terrible, they aren’t amazing either. Given the number of pixels on that screen, and that price tag, I’d like something a little more powerful driving it.

iPad Mini / iPad 4

The iPad Mini is slightly more expensive than most people thought it would be. It’s however a rather good looking device with some great specs for the price. I think for the slightly higher premium you get a much better product and ecosystem than you do with the competition. Well worth spending just a little more. The only thing I’m not quite sure of is how it would actually feel. The iPad’s size is really part of it’s charm. It doesn’t feel like a phone, it feels like a substantial device. Yet another reason why I’ll need to take a trip to an Apple Store soon and play with one.

The iPad 4 is also quite impressive. Ars believes it’s based on the 32nm process. They also think it’s clocked at 1.5GHz and on the GPU side is still using the PowerVR SGX543 cores just clocked at 500 MHz up from 250 MHz. We don’t know for certain, but this sounds very plausible and I’m inclined to agree.

MacBook Pro Sleeps When Lid Closes

The MacBook Pro still has a quirk that has always bothered me. It’s not a hardware issue, it’s a software issue. Power users with laptops know about “closed clamshell” or “closed display” mode. That’s when you use a laptop with a desktop keyboard and mouse and the laptop remains closed. I don’t think any OS I’ve used totally gets this totally right, they all have their quirks. The MacBook Pro just has this one quirk that gets to me.

The problem with the MacBook Pro is when you have the computer open and on and you connect another display you’re given the option to mirror or use the display as a second display. If you mirror and close the laptop it goes to sleep. That’s completely illogical. There seems to be no way to disable going to sleep in this situation that I can find. I can’t imagine why anyone would want another behavior when closing a laptop while having a display and input device connected. When no display is connected and the laptop is closed, it should obviously sleep.

Searching on Google returns numerous forum threads with people who also have this gripe. Even a check box in the Energy Saver pref panel to facilitate this would do nicely.

For the record Windows is no saint either. It’s handling of monitor resolutions, especially if your desktop display is a different resolution is abhorrent. It can result in anything from reshuffling icons to putting windows out of the display area. I’ve never even bothered with such functionality in Linux, at least not yet so I can’t speak to its competency in this area.

Mac Finally Gets H.264 Decoding In Flash

Adobe today pushed an update that enabled H.264 hardware decoding in Flash 10.1. It only works on certain newer Mac’s and there are an assortment of caveats in which Flash will revert to software decoding according to a Flash Engineer.

I’ve only played with it for a few minutes on my Core i7 MacBook Pro, and things seem very speedy and my CPU didn’t see much of a spike. Hopefully enough videos will take advantage of hardware decoding that this will be a nice improvement.

I still believe WebM is the better future, but H.264 hardware decoding does make Flash less painful for the moment.

Confirmation of the Tablet

The tablet was a foregone conclusion. Since late last year even if Apple didn’t want to build one, investors pretty much forced it upon them with the hype. Failure to produce at least a proof of concept by the end of the quarter would really hurt the stock.

Terry McGraw, CEO of McGraw-Hill decided to announce it a day early. Newsweek jumped the gun in 2004 with an iPod update. I’m sure their legal team is working late tonight.

With it presumably comes iPhone OS 4.0 preview for developers.

Either tomorrow or next month Apple will announce an update to the MacBook Pro lineup. It’s now 232 days since the last update (avg 200) and will likely get Core i5 and Core i7′s and slight hardware tweaks. I think Blu-Ray is still 50/50. Apple might hold this until early or mid February so it’s not overshadowed by the tablet announcement.

Likely a few other tweaks to the lineups, perhaps a CPU bump on the Mac Pro’s and perhaps a small tweak to the iPod lineup (more storage, new colors nothing major) though I expect the iPod/iPhone focus to be in June not now.

WWDC 2009 – OS X 10.6, iPhone 3GS, iPhone OS 3.0, MacBooks

I had the Apple WWDC keynote going in the background as I always do so I can follow the madness as it happens. Overall not terribly shocking. The biggest surprise just came a few weeks earlier than I thought.

MacBook/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air

So the big news in the MacBook world is that they are getting rid of the removable battery in the 15″ model in favor of the 17″ style non-removable battery. A little faster, SD card slot (I guess some people really care about this), and finally going to officially support 8GB RAM across the board. In my opinion supporting 8GB RAM is the biggest improvement. RAM limitations seem to be more problematic than CPU limitations. With Snow Leopard (see below) heavily taking advantage of multiple cores and 64 bit computing, extra RAM won’t just be a luxury, it will be a requirement. There is a reason 4GB is the minimum RAM across the board now. I said months ago they needed to do this.

The MacBooks are also “green”, energy star compliant, etc. etc.

The one downside I see is that the MacBook and MacBook pro line is being blurred quite a bit. The real difference at this point is the graphics chipset. For average users the MacBook will be more than enough. If you’re a power user, the MacBook Pro will be your laptop. With Snow Leopard taking advantage of the GPU for computational purposes, having a good GPU is just another performance boost.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Mac OS X 10.6 as John Grubber aid might be a tough sell to consumers. It’s not very feature packed, at least as far as users are concerned. Most of the changes are under the hood geared towards taking advantage of modern hardware, removing cruft from years of API and design iterations. That’s not going to easily convince consumers to spend $129. As a result for Leopard users it’s $29 (family pack for $49) . That’s a good decision as explaining the advantages of rewriting the Finder in Cocca to an average user won’t be easy. I think the biggest actual feature it has going for it so far is Exchange support, which I don’t think will do too well outside the business world, which was never Apple’s strong point.

On the technology side, I welcome our 64 bit overlords. GrandCentral and OpenCL should really help make software faster, and take advantage of the hardware. This will hopefully spur some innovation. The downside of course it that working the GPU for basic application performance will compromise battery life. Right now it’s easy to conserve battery life by avoiding games which tax the GPU to save battery life. I don’t really know if having lots of apps tax the GPU is really going to help or hurt in that regard, or if there will be a level of user control (turbo mode). My only concern is if the GPU is doing extra work, and isn’t well optimized for power savings, this could get troublesome.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is also Intel only. The PowerPC is officially dead now. Kinda stinks for PowerMac G5 users whose computers are still pretty speedy and were expensive, but it’s essential to keeping development sane and forward moving.

Apple’s pricing of Snow Leopard is also going to speed adoption and let developers focus on developing software for 1 OS on one architecture as opposed to multiple OS versions on 2 hardware architectures.

iPhone OS 3.0

Lots of new features, developers have lots of ideas in the works, ships June 17th. Free for iPhone users, $9.99 for iPod touch users. No surprises.

The only interesting software notes are that TomTom will be releasing a turn-by-turn directions app. I expect this to be rather popular as long as it’s not too expensive. There’s also a “Find My Phone” feature for MobileMe customers that is pretty much the “locator” button on your cordless phone and emits sound regardless of your iPhones settings. Kinda handy, useful if you frequently misplace your phone.

Also interesting is AT&T won’t be supporting MMS next week when iPhone OS 3.0 launches. They will start supporting it later this summer. Tethering is also still in the works. This is sure to upset many people. According to Boy Genius Report the MMS delays are due to administrative issues, while the tethering issues are due to the plan still being in development, though I’m guessing they also have concerns about network capacity in NY and SF.

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS is the new hardware. New insides, same classic exterior. Faster (though no exact specs on hardware) OpenGL|ES 2.0, 7.2Mbps HSPDA, 3 MP auto-focus camera. The camera supports 30 FPS VGA video with audio. There’s also a digital compass, voice control, improved battery life, and data encryption. $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB. $99 for original 8GB model.

This is pretty much what was expected. I think the biggest feature is the camera. The digital compass will be handy for a few people, but for most it will be a pretty meaningless thing.

Until a significant market share is using the 3GS, I question how much developers can take advantage of the extra performance without making their apps useless to the 3G and original iPhone users. This might be a limiting factor.

The bigger news is Apple is keeping the 8GB iPhone 3G as a lower cost option. Apple had to keep the original 3G iPhone on the market to keep growing users during the current economic recession. This is good for growing users… but bad for those who want to keep the user base on the bleeding edge. Those new 3G users will be locked into contracts for 2 years. That means at least 2 more years before the iPhone 3G starts to fade out, not 1 more like most were expecting. I think for many people, the 8GB iPhone 3G is actually the better buy.

Scorecard

  • √ iPhone OS 3.0 Announced (100%) – I was right. Announced, release is next week, GM seed released today.
  • √ iPhone v3 Announced (100%) – I was pretty close here too. Faster, 32GB capacity, better graphics, video support, no radio as many suggested. I said 50% chance of dual cores. Looks like still single core.
  • √ Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Announcement (85%) – Right again. September release.
  • √ Lots of demos (99%) – Right, wish I wasn’t. These just get in the way.
  • X Steve Jobs Appearance (65%) or mention (90%) – I’m surprised of no mention at the end. Not really surprised he didn’t appear.
  • X iLife / some other software upgrade 60% – Didn’t happen.
  • √ MacBook Update – I thought this was more likely for July/August in time for the “back to school” season. I didn’t think they would use WWDC for this announcement. It makes sense for Apple to start now given Snow Leopard being released in a few months. More people on faster laptops with more RAM the better.

Overall not bad. More accurate than previous years.

Apple Needs a 15″ Version Of The 17″ MacBook Pro

Dear Apple,

Your MacBook Pro lineup is just downright annoying. Your 17″ model (MB604LL/A) is absolutely awesome with it’s optional matte display which any sane person prefers over its eye torturing glossy cousin. The ability to add up to 8GB RAM is also far superior to the 4GB cap on the 15″ model. This thing rocks.

Your 15″ model (MB471LL/A) however has the advantage of a smaller form factor and lower cost due to 2″ less LCD one must pay for. The removable battery is just another plus. For whatever reason, despite the fact that NVIDIA says the chipset will support 8GB, these laptops only support up to 4GB. Why? There’s also no option for a matte display. Insanity.

From what I understand the 17″ uses the same NVIDIA 9400 chipset as the 15″ making this more of a software limitation than a hardware one. I personally wouldn’t ship it with any more than 4GB RAM, but I sure would like the option to upgrade it later.

I want a 64 bit, 15″ laptop with a matte display whose manufacturer states that it is tested and known to work well with 8GB RAM.

As for the lack of a matte display option, that’s just totally not cool. While some people don’t care, others like myself are quite particular with our hardware especially the part that we stare at endlessly for hours.

Your favorite customer,
Robert

P.S: Push notification for the iPhone would be a spiffy too.

The Next Generation Of Computing

I got my current laptop in Oct 2005, though the model was released in spring/summer of that year. My Mac mini is an 1st Gen (G4 1.4GHz) from Jan 2005. Needless to say my hardware at home is getting close to the point of needing an upgrade. Due to my laptop being replaced unexpectedly I have two computers getting to that magic point at almost the same time. Not much I can do about that. I’ve been thinking about the next generation and what I want to do. Ideally I’d like to simplify my setup, and hopefully in that process get more bang for the buck. In some ways I think I will, in others I won’t.

My initial though is to eventually get a MacBook Pro once it’s truly 64bit and supports at least 8GB RAM. GPU accelerated video decoding would also be nice. I like my computers expandable and to last a while. In 3-4 years time I think I’ll want more than 3GB of RAM considering I think 2GB is the minimum today. Yes the hardware they ship today technically supports this, but Apple’s firmware doesn’t for reasons unknown. I’d also like one or more USB 3 ports, but we’ll see if that happens in the 2nd half of 2009 or not. I don’t think the lack of would be a deal killer though. I think it will take quite a while for USB 3.0 speeds to be necessary to the point of widespread adoption.

Laptops are great since they can be moved around which is handy from time to time (though I use my laptop more at my desk than anywhere else), but they do lack the power that I sometimes want. The Mac mini obviously never delivered what I really needed in that department. My thought is to build a desktop rig composed of a multi core CPU (whatever makes sense at the moment), min 4GB RAM, at least two SATA drives (primary/backup) and dual boot Windows and Linux. This beast would be pretty much for when I need some real horsepower. By building it myself I could invest a little wiser in a good case, power supply, etc. and upgrade this thing through several revisions for years to come rather than throw it all away after a few years. I can also target my $ towards components I care about.

My primary (day to day) computer would be the MacBook Pro and would likely have Parallels installed so I can run Windows if/when necessary (mainly since Quicken for Mac sucks last I checked and so I can test web pages in Windows). When I need to do something that laptops suck for due to small slow disks or just being slower, I would have the desktop rig available.

One of the downsides here is that while my current display is VGA/DVI, both of these systems would be DVI. I could either degrade the signal to VGA and use my current KVM, or upgrade to a DVI capable KVM switch which isn’t cheap (I haven’t seen less than $250 for something like a IOGEAR GCS1782). The DVI switches don’t support dual displays unless you drop some serious cash, so that’s pretty much out of the question. This adds to the complexity. Is building a KVM for DVI really that much more difficult to warrant the price difference? Or is it simply there aren’t enough in the market to drive the price down?

When should I start this? What system should I target first? Which should that system replace? Who the hell knows. I’m thinking later next year. It’s not so much a “plan” as an idea. I know I need to upgrade to more modern hardware since I won’t be able to run Mac OS X 10.6, and XP is getting to me. Both use 2.5″ ATA/100 drives which are becoming hard to find, and even when you find them are pretty small. Both are maxed out in RAM.

I’ll likely retire the Thinkpad to just for travel and other silliness, and perhaps save the G4 mac mini for some diabolical scheme. Apple even alludes to some of the possibilities on it’s site (see “Big Ideas” on the right rail of the Mac mini page).

It gets surprisingly complicated when you want it all and have it fit on your desk.

WWDC 2008 Predictions

And the a tradition continues. Here’s my predictions for WWDC 2008. Steve Jobs will announce the following:

iPhone 3G

Well duh. At this point if it’s not at least announced, Apple’s stock is going to tank. There’s a ton of stuff to back this up including AT&T telling employees not to take vacation in the near future. And mystery shipments of presumed iPhones. I’ve got a good idea what the technical specs will likely be.

AT&T Subsidy

AT&T will likely subsidy the new iPhone when purchased with a 2 year contract to help lower the price and encourage more people to buy it. This is looking even more likely as the economy declines and potential buyers may now be more hesitant.

.mac to become me.com and mobileme.com

.mac will finally die and be replaced with me.com and mobileme.com. I suspect mobileme.com will be free for iPhone users. me.com may be paid if Apple does it in-house, or free if they contract the functionality out to someone like Google (which is likely).

Mac OS X 10.6 Insights

I don’t think we’ll see it until at least late 2009, more likely early 2010, and I doubt Steve will suggest any faster of a timeline. Remember after 10.3 the plan was slower OS releases. I suspect it will stay that way. I don’t think Apple likes the idea of two Mac OS X branches, the mobile and desktop one. I suspect 10.6 will be an effort to “unify” the platform at least from a marketing perspective. Starting from WWDC 2008 onwards I suspect a “Mac OS X powered phone” will be more common branding. Again Apple’s goal is to sell computers. Using the iPhone as a method to sell the desktop experience is pretty obvious. But what does that mean for the OS? Likely a lot of focus on things like Sync, the future of tech (64bit, multi-core, intel) and blurring the distinction between phone and computer. I don’t think we’ll see much more than a little eye candy and some buzz words considering we’re not far from Leopards release. Just enough to get the press talking about it.

New Desktops / Laptops

I don’t think Apple plans any desktop/laptop announcements just yet, I suspect they will hold off until August as tradition. At that point pretty much all of Apple’s computer lines are due for a major overhaul. I suspect the MacBook Pro may be the first to experience a major design change. Apple desperately needs a mid-range tower to build more market share as the Mac mini is under powered and the Mac Pro is very expensive. If anything is announced I suspect it will be just that.

Special Guests

No idea who the special guests will be. If the new iPhone is based on Atom, I suspect an Intel Exec. Other than that, really don’t know. Likely an iPhone developer or two will make an appearance during the iPhone Apps part. No clue on musical guest.

So there you have it. We’ll see Monday what I got right.