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  • Newsletter Issue #999

    July 6th, 2020


    Some of you have wondered whether the fact that I’m not writing as many columns means that I’m slowing down, or planning to retire. But it’s not about wanting to work less. It’s more about the fact that Apple is not the company it was when I started the original version of this site in 1999, and I’ve begun to repeat myself a little too often.

    Then, Apple was just a couple of years coming out of a near-death experience. It wasn’t out of line to think that there wouldn’t be an Apple Computer for many more years, so those of us who embraced the platform by buying its products had to work harder to prove — maybe to ourselves — that it was the correct idea. And as Apple’s fortunes improved, to refute the fake news and ill-informed commentaries written about them.

    Segue to 2020.

    You’d think there’d no longer be a need to do fact-checks, that it was a given that Apple had become the number one tech firm on the planet, with a market cap that exceeds $1.5 trillion.

    Now I am not stock market expert. My sole experience with a stroke broker dates back a couple of decades, when we found someone who almost invariably recommended the wrong stock. It did occur to me that perhaps suggested those stocks because she had some sort of vested interest in pushing them over others.

    But you have to put Apple’s current status in perspective. We are still suffering through a worldwide pandemic, and while I avoid political commentary in these columns, that the U.S. has, so far, been affected worse than any there country can’t be disputed. Apple’s Asian supply chain has largely recovered, however, and it’s estimated that the new generations of iPhones and other products may, at worse, appear only a few weeks late. Or maybe not.

    There have been a number of predictions about the form and substance of Apple’s forthcoming products and little or no indication that major features of the next iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, or Macs will somehow be crippled because of the current situation. Instead there’s a steady stream of reports that the best is coming.

    All right, the forthcoming iPhone lineup, dubbed iPhone 12, will feature the usual incremental improvements with a speedier A14 CPU, and more powerful camera parts. It won’t be a revolution, but represent good reason for people whose iPhones are getting a little long in the tooth.

    A revolution isn’t really necessary, and it’s not that people are flocking to buy foldable phones or other questionable gadgets. Indeed, the need for a foldable device has yet to be demonstrated, though I suppose a usable and reliable model might change things.

    But what about laptops with touchscreens? PC makers have been producing them for some years now, and I suppose some are willing to pay extra to gain the added functionality. Having a gadget that can serve, more or less, as both a tablet and a traditional notebook computer seems to make sense. But is the world waiting for them?

    Now Apple has clearly moved in that direction by making the iPad more of a notebook replacement. There is now full support for input devices, and Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad finally recognizes the fact that customers want to be able to have a tool that is as good as a regular keyboard, not some clumsy contraption with fabric-type keys.

    In a sense, then, today’s iPad Pro can in many respects mimic the feeling of an iOS-based MacBook. To some, it is the perfect computer, but not to me since I’ve only used portable computers grudgingly.

    But if the iPad has become Apple’s two-in-one notebook, where does that leave the MacBook?

    Does Apple’s move to install the same CPU family in Macs mean that they will ultimately become refrigerator and toaster oven combos too?

    That’s among the theories about what Apple has in store for Mac users going forward. But don’t forget that the forthcoming changes are largely about processing power so far. If you look at the list of features Apple promises, they largely mean that you’ll be able to do more things without waiting for the computer to catch up. Apple’s demonstration with Final Cut Pro X running on Apple Silicon depicted four 4K streams and instant rendering of changes.

    Over and above being able to use a future MacBook Pro longer without having to recharge the battery, it means that you will have to find other escuses to take a break; well, unless you want to process four 8K video streams, which may require somewhat of a delay until the chips are powerful enough to catch up.

    Imagine rendering one of those $300 million super hero movies in a few seconds with a regular notebook computer.

    Apple’s critics are having  a field day, suggesting that you should stop buying Macs until the chip switchover impacts the model you want to buy. If this happens, it is suggested that Mac sales will tank for a while, but even if that’s so, Apple would do it anyway expecting greater sales going forward.

    Now Mac users needing new equipment are certainly going to face a dilemma, which is whether to wait for the new models with Apple Silicon to arrive or buy what’s available now. Apple will evidently also release some Intel-based models, though which and when is an open question. There is a published report of benchmarks of an unrelated Intel-based iMac that might be a bridge model.

    Or maybe it’s just Apple testing the newest Intel silicon but not planning on releasing a product unless there’s a delay in getting the Apple Silicon versions out.

    One thing that’s clear is that current Mac hardware isn’t suddenly going to become obsolete. It’s a sure thing that macOS will continue to be updated for Intel hardware for everal years, and software developers will continue to upgrade apps for both platforms.

    Even when the OS and apps are no longer compatible, nothing stops you from using what you have for as long as it continues to function, and that’s true for new hardware too.

    So I have a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010 that can run macOS High Sierra, the last system compatible with that model. The apps I need on it are also compatible, meaning I can continue to do most or all of my work on it when the need arises.

    Since buying it, I have replaced the 500GB hard drive with an SSD version and updated RAM from 4GB to 8GB. For the most part, performance is perfectly acceptable. Other than the lack of a Retina display, it served as a fine temporary replacement when my iMac made two visits to an Apple Store for storage device repairs.

    My wife had an iPhone 5c for a year or two after iOS support ended. I had no complaints.

    Since performance improvements of recent Macs have been modest for the most part, immediate decisions may not be necessary during the Apple Silicon migration. But if you need a new Mac and can’t wait, there’s nothing wrong in making the move. Long after Intel-based models lose support, aside from unexpected maintenance, they certainly won’t stop working.

    Apple’s critics might want to find potential dangers in Apple’s third processor move. But Apple has done this before, and knows a thing or two about the process. Some still believe that Apple’s success is a fluke, but not in this reality.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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