Trucks

In the era where Macs are compared to trucks and iOS devices are compared to cars, Apple currently only sells cars and the 1959 El Camino is what they’re calling a truck.

1959 Chevy El Camino

Sure, it has a flatbed (macOS / OS X), but it doesn’t have a truck suspension, a trailer hitch, or a frame you can attach a snowplow to.

But it still snows in New England.

Is Time Machine also dead?

Apple is discontinuing their wireless routers

Last week as I was writing a list of things that sucked in 2016 (which I didn’t finish / publish) I came across three products Apple doesn’t seem to particularly care about: Wireless routers, Headless Desktops, and the Server app, with depressing implications for Desktops + Server.app

These days you’d be a fool to use most of the stuff in Server.app that are just easy buttons for LAMP stack and other stuff that really should be done on a Unix box that won’t break everything when minor updates occur, but there are three things that can only be done with Server.app (on preferably a desktop Mac).

  • NetInstall (Manage macOS machine imaging)
  • Xcode Server (offshore building and testing)
  • Time Machine Server

The point of Time Machine Server as far as I understand it is to enable Time Machine backups over the network to a destination attached to the Mac doing the hosting – a Rich Man’s enterprise ready Time Capsule. By tying backups to network access you’re pretty much guaranteeing them to happen. Plugging in an external USB HDD for backups for laptop users in my experience just doesn’t happen, or it only happens when the system nags them to until they turn it off because it was either annoying or Time Machine got full and couldn’t figure out how to free up its unneeded versions of crap.

The versioning aspect of Time Machine that was supposed to make it better than other backups ends up making it worse because it caused drives to fill up and backups to stop instead of purging earlier copies. It was seriously possible for a Mac with a 256GB SSD to fill up a 1TB Time Machine volume if their daily workflow included “Pro” stuff like dealing with RAW, video, or virtual machines (Pro Tip: don’t back up your VM’s VMDK – store your files outside the VM with network sharing to your Mac). With that Time Machine adding 40GB of versions daily after 20 days there’s 800GB of just versions on that volume + the 200GB base backup and it’s “Full” because it’s not day 30 yet so it can’t start deleting old versions.

Of course, I don’t trust Time Machine (It’s only one of my backups along with BackBlaze) but the stupid simplicity of it made allegedly sufficient the non-IT inclined family members who make you troubleshoot various things while you’re trying to get drunk on Christmas Day. Without the Time Capsule or do-it-yourelf Time Capsule (Extreme + BYO USB HDD) however we’re back to relying on people to DO their backups. It’s not automatic if they have to plug something in to do it. $5/mo for Backblaze is just as hard a pill to swallow as whatever the crap iClouds awful prices are and iCloud documents are also scary, but apparently that’s the future here. Sigh.

Apple assuredly has the metrics to justify their decision. People don’t buy routers period. They use the awful one their ISP provides and don’t even change the default settings – certainly not to do anything that would make the info on the sticker inaccurate! It’s also true that the “good mesh network” market belongs to Eero. There’s no good reason for Apple to be in this market anymore, even though they basically started it.

Pink is for Pros

The messaging on Apple’s color choices for the new MacBook Pro is pretty clear: “Boy or Neutral”. My wife, who desperately needs to replace her 2008 MacBook, decided not to buy after the announcement yesterday when she realized that the Pros don’t come in the same gold that the MacBook comes in. She’ll be waiting for a Gold Pro update or at least a MacBook update with Thunderbolt 3 and a Wide Color display. I urge all my readers in the market for a new Mac who want to match their Gold or Rose Gold iPhones or iPads to continue to wait also.

I’m also disappointed that they’re Space Gray instead of Black.

Hip To Be Square

When the retina MacBook was released, I thought it was a sign that Apple was returning to their Steve Jobs Product Square: laptops and desktops on one axis, pro and consumer on the other. As the Intel transition completed, Apple had added the MacBook Air and the Mac Mini which no one really knew if they were consumer or pro. Then they stopped updating things.

Right now on the desktop side Apple offers an iMac updated a year ago and a Mac Pro and Mac Mini that haven’t been updated in 3 years. So what the hell is the pro desktop? The 5K iMac? Not if you want symmetric wide color displays. For that you either need the 15″ MacBook Pro (for dual 5K) or the 13″ MacBook Pro or believe it or not the 2013 Mac Pro but you’re limited to 4K.

The Pro vs Consumer line on the laptops isn’t any clearer. The 12″ MacBook with its tiny CPU remains in my opinion a great machine only for users like myself who also have a desktop. That sounds more Pro than Consumer. It’s an accessory for your Mac Pro.

The best consumer machine by price and spec is the confusingly named 13″ MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar. It has a 15 Watt CPU, which is a lot more power than the 5 Watt MacBook, but nowhere near the 29 Watt 13″ Pro with Touch Bar or the much higher 15″ model. The fact that both 13’s have the same battery rating is probably indicative of light testing where screen brightness and other constants are the top power draws. 10 hours is more like a maximum for the Touch Bar model and more like a promise for the non Touch Bar model (someone please save us from these names).

The 13″ with Touch Bar is kind of a terrible machine for all. It has more CPU than the non Touch Bar but only a little bump in Intel Integrated GPU. It has no discrete graphics option. Anyone who buys this for the Touch Bar will probably be disappointed in the lack of battery life it has due to the beefy CPU randomly going up to that full 29 Watt ceiling when decrypting Xcode Betas or crunching through some video task better left to the discrete GPU it doesn’t have. With the extra port bandwidth you can drive more external displays but you’ll probably observe sub-60 frame rates in the GUI and have a lot of fan noise.

And if all this wasn’t confusing enough to buyers, old Airs and Retina Pros are still being sold in the same section of their website without having to dig into refurbs and clearance.

Jackery Titan S with USB C MacBook Review

If there’s one thing USB C has over MagSafe it’s the lack of licensing required for third party charging solutions. Since getting the original USB C MacBook I immediately discovered that it would happily trickle charge or at the very least use less net battery power while plugged into USB 2 chargers with appropriate cabling. Now, finally, I’m testing a third party device specifically for charging the MacBook.

Amazon Affiliate Link

TLDR

The Good

  • Passthrough charging. You can use the battery as a charging hub while it is plugged in.
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge standard USB port spits out 18W, which you can use to charge the MacBook with via a USB A to C cable
  • Single USB C port is bidirectional just as you’d expect.

The Bad

  • 15-18W Max means it doesn’t have quite enough power to provide a net charge to the MacBook under heavy load such as rendering with a mostly dead battery.
  • Auto Shutoff, which is an important safety feature in light of what Samsung has been going through lately, may kick in before a completely dead MacBook or iPad Pro 12.9″ is completely recharged.
  • No Flashlight like the Jackery Giant has. Not a deal breaker, but it’s nice to have an extra use case for this giant battery.

Not taken into account

  • Weight: Batteries weigh what they weigh.

On the Road

The math says that this should be able to charge a MacBook almost 4 times or about 2 times for the 12.9″ iPad Pro (did you know the iPad Pro 12.9″ had twice the battery of a MacBook? I didn’t until I looked it up for this review). Or 6 iPhone 7 Plus charges or 12 iPhone SE charges. Depending on what you’re needing it for, it’s extremely plausible that you could use it for an entire week without needing to find an outlet.

I know it seems trivial, but the fact that you can use the battery as a USB charging hub while it is plugged in is extremely convenient. I took an Anker Powercore to WWDC with me and it had this limitation, meaning I could not top everything off at once at the hotel without finding additional outlets. For this singular reason I’m demoting the Anker behind the Titan for situations where I could handle the weight of one of them but not both (such as a conference). As an aside, I would like to point out that unlike academic conferences power was plentiful at WWDC. I never had to fight for a seat with an outlet and believe me WWDC is crowded.

The Qualcomm port is awesome if you have a device that can use it. I don’t, unfortunately as Apple has not yet developed a similar feature. I will note that rapid charge can count as putting an extra charge cycle on the receiving battery so I’m not sure how much I really want this feature until that’s been resolved.

I can’t overstate how delightfully simple the bidirectional nature of USB C is. It frustrates me how much of an Alphabet Soup of cable types have to travel with me considering they’re all USB.

Overall my only complaints are that while 15W is plenty to charge a MacBook while using it, it’s still less than the Maximum theoretical draw of 30W. If you’re going to charge a MacBook and an iOS device I recommend you connect the iOS device to one of the other ports on the device instead of to something like the Digital Multiport Adapter connected to the MacBook. If you try to debug an iPad while using the battery as a power source you may see either the MacBook and/or the iPad in the dreaded “battery is not charging” state where you may not be losing any battery power but you’re not recharging either.

If Jackery is listening (this is not a review unit. I’ll disclose up front if I ever review something I’ve received for such purposes) I’d like to see a flashlight in this model with WARM white LEDs and a new version with only USB C ports on it. Way of the future.

Recommendation: Obvious Buy for owners of USB-C charging MacBooks, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. There isn’t too much competition in the native USB-C space yet and giant batteries are a scary product to buy from a no name company but I’ve come to trust Jackery products not to burst into flames.

Reflecting on WWDC16

  • San Francisco has a homeless problem and the route between Bill Graham and Moscone (which I took daily because of my hotel location) is a route that exemplifies it.
  • The first time I heard Tim Cook speak in person it was to call for a moment of silence. It’s a powerful memory.
  • I couldn’t find a bagel that was boiled, they were essentially round breads with a hole in them.
  • Poke (the Hawaiian preparation of sushi) is amazing.We ate as much as possible as often as possible.
  • Tech celebrities are cool in person. I met Marco Arment, David_Smith, John Siracusa, Federico Viticci, Aleen Simms, James Thomson, and Rene Ritchie.
  • Labs are where it’s at, but some labs obviously have session pre-requisites. Every Engineer I spoke to was wonderful and helpful.
  • The convention center is full of Apple Retail employees from around the country doing various tasks. I asked them on Friday if that’s where they were from and they told me no one had asked them (I asked a very large group).
  • Diversity is shit at Apple but not as bad as it was among attendees. Attendees had more racial diversity, Apple had more gender diversity, but both were bad. When I chose to line up for sessions I would pass the time counting the distance between women in line.
  • My hotel WiFi was not insufficient for loading a Beta between the keynote and the State of the Union, perhaps because no one else thought of this.
  • Moscone WiFi was pretty good but fell down while in lines for sessions, but both AT&T and Verizon held up (there are apparently microcells inside Moscone). Also, as you may know about me, I use an AT&T iPhone and a Verizon iPad when traveling.
  • Moscone lunch boxes were fine. I found a few that were within my dietary restrictions. The meals for dietary restrictions (if you checked off any on the pre conference survey) were great too.
  • I still hate every step involved in flying.

Tablet Inc.

It seems the iPad can’t catch a break. While I buy new ones often, most people I talk to are still on their first iPad, and unless it’s an iPad 1, they’re still entirely supported devices. For all the “planned obsolescence” Apple is accused of doing with their phones they’ve gone way too far in the opposite direction with iPads. They Last. Forever. With up to date OSes and Apps, they continue to be able to browse the modern web (slowly), play games (at 12 fps), and watch Netflix. This is unfortunately also the domain of practically free Android and Amazon tablets. When those iPad 2’s hardware starts falling apart, they might turn to Amazon for a replacement $49 Netflix-while-cooking device.

That doesn’t mean it’s all doom for the iPad. It also doesn’t mean they can’t make some marketing changes either.

A key step in getting people to love their iPads enough to never defect to any Netflix capable tablet of sufficient size is pushing cellular. Imagine sitting in the park, using the pencil the draw the sunset, and your Watch goes off to tell you something – the dreaded “view this message on your phone”. When you’re at home on the couch, you would just slide over Messages and look and reply, but when you try that you get nothing. Your iPad isn’t connected to the internet. Carriers are doing a decent job of pushing tablets (they’re usually $10 a month to add to a contract and $100 off MSRP) but Apple isn’t telling the story WHY you wan’t that cellular iPad. Maybe it’s time to stop charging for it now that there is a single LTE model that handles all bands. Make the iPad brand synonymous with going places. Not just your couch, but other people’s couches, park benches, AirPorts where the WiFi is too congested to work, etc. This also requires a branding push from iCloud.

In addition to knocking off the cellular premium, it’s also time for bundling devices on payment plans. If you get credit approved, you should be able to get a new iPhone, Watch, and iPad for a slight discount (basically just comping Apple Care Plus on the extra devices beyond the phone).

With prices hidden by payment plans, it’s time to get rid of the 3 size tiers. Make the choice simpler by offering just a 64 and a 256GB option. 64GB is plenty for everyone, but if you know you’re going to be big on video and gaming you can opt for the 256GB.

There’s a ton that needs to be done with developer relations. Many of them are very chicken-egg scenarios but someone has to move first, it might as well be Apple. I think something that hasn’t been talked to death (like trials and upgrade pricing) is to announce the deprecation of AppKit and UIKit and announce their consolidated successor (which realistically could just be UIKit). Not some janky preprocessor consolidation like SKColor where you still occasionally run into the huge differences between NSColor and UIColor. An actual from the ground up UI Framework that _is_ the same on iOS and OS X, not just sometimes looks the same (I’m looking at you, NSPopover). Hopefully apps will flow in both directions.

WWDC ’16 Wishlist

UIKit for Mac. UXKit style macros like SKColor would be annoying. I’d rather just have UIKit.

Process per Finder window/tab or any other Finder improvements that would prevent lockup when a [usually network] disk goes awry.

SKTriangleNode. SKShapeNode is heavy and so is drawing geometry with squares. Seriously. Just triangles. That’s all I want. I’d settle for Quads assuming proper quads, but c’mon those are just two triangles glued together just give me triangles already.

Xcode for iOS. Please don’t be 12″ iPad only and please don’t be Swift only. Whatever we get, I’ll probably trash Unity immediately.

Debugging over Bluetooth. We’ve needed this one for a long time.

iAd – either a formal burial or interstitials on par with AdColony and Unity Ads. iAds aren’t crashy. I want iAd to succeed.

Dark Mode for iOS. I’d also like to see them take another stab at UIAppearance.

Drag’n’Drop.

—Edit
lol I didn’t get any of this

Fun with Safari Content Blockers

I spent about 15 minutes writing a Safari content blocker with exactly one rule: no external javascript.

Most websites loaded instantly and scrolled much smoother. If Apple could somehow add this feature to iOS 5 it could breathe new life into original iPads or hell it could breathe new life into PowerPC Macs.

There were some casualties, of course. Some sites and services (Facebook, Twitter, Slack, parts of Youtube, some tumblr themes) use externally hosted javascript to render feeds. On iOS this is inconsequential since most of those services are typically accessed via apps, but I did notice direct links to posts often worked just fine and weren’t dependent on javascript spaghetti.

Because I believe that sites that fall apart using this blocker rule are following bad web practices and because there are plenty of ways to waste server resources with ads instead of my clients’, I’m going to continue using the block, and I’m going to release it. Look for LemonBlock this fall. 🚫🍋

A Night with iOS 9 on an iPad Air 2

Last night I joined the ranks of iOS developers who have since WWDC picked up an iPad Air 2 to make sure we’re understanding the 2 app paradigm and testing properly for it. After only one night (after all I can only use my apps and Apple’s apps in split screen) I’ve already formed some opinions.

I am an iPad mini preferrer and was thoroughly annoyed by this last fall’s “update” which in iOS 9 does NOT gain simultaneous split screen apps but only pull-over apps. I tried this on an A7 powered retina mini and performance is a little on the painful side, even for a beta 1. Then I saw user videos of their iPad Air 2s not stuttering even while running two apps AND a PIP video. My just purchased Air 2 behaves similarly smooth. The only thing that isn’t is the new app switcher but using two apps plus a PIP video is incredibly smooth.

I found nothing ambiguous about the implementation of split screen apps. The left app is the primary and controlled by the home button switcher. The left is handled with gestures. I really liked it. It seemed far less ridiculous than how Windows 8 works, although I’ll admit I haven’t checked out any of the more recent Windows 10 Betas.

Like the split screen feature on the Mac, Safari is a little weird about this. If the webpage you’re on has a proper meta viewport=device-width header, the feature works as expected. If it doesn’t, however, it scales down a 1024pt wide viewport which can be uncomfortably small. Since the iPad and Mac continue to send their normal User Agent Strings while this feature is being used (I think) it looks like we have to hope and pray that our favorite websites finally get onboard with using CSS3 to do responsive design and stop relying on user agent sniffing.

Even as thin as light as it is, the iPad Air is still really big with really big text even on the smallest setting (I use the smallest setting on my mini so that’s what I’m used to) and I find I get slight motion sickness if I use it closer than arms length, so I’m going to be really bummed if there’s no updated mini this fall.