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  • Newsletter Issue #1038

    December 14th, 2022


    So let me sum it up for starters: Is it very likely that smartphones, tablets and personal computers have become so good that the new, improved models are offering features that few of us really care about? Does that, in effect, make you less likely to upgrade your device?

    Let’s take a look at the path and the results.

    After expectations from Apple rumor sites and speculators that there would be new Macs in the fall of 2022, it didn’t happen. Instead there were some new higher-priced iPads. So the basic (?) iPad now comes with a larger 10.9-inch display, an ancient A14 chip and the usual camera and connectivity enhancements.

    It also starts at $449 U.S., a $120 increase over the previous, 9th generation model, which remains in the lineup at its original $329 starting price. Is the upgrade worth the bother? Well, if you have an older iPad that doesn’t run current operating systems, or really crave the growing laptop-style features from iPadOS 16, perhaps.

    Interesting that Apple’s efforts to enhance the iPad platform include making it more like a laptop computer, which leads me to believe that the ultimate iPad will simply be a MacBook Pro with a touchscreen. At least it will give them the excuse to say that Macs will never have touchscreens because they have something else to meet that need.

    This is not to say I don’t like iPads. I just never took to them, so I remain neutral. I see one every day in Barbara’s hands, and her sister has one too (an older one was passed off to her). At the same time, Barbara has no interest in working on my iMac.

    Now the iPad upgrades were launched with press releases. Apple picks and chooses its public presentations, and it doesn’t choose many nowadays.

    Take Apple’s “Far Out” media event, on September 7, 2022, which didn’t seem so far out to me. I’ve been using Apple gear since the 1980s, and I’ve witnessed a number of product introductions and innovations along the way. And some were impressive.

    So I remember when the first PowerBook was unveiled, the first Mac with a PowerPC processor, even the Newton MessagePad, which presaged generations of tablets and smartphones, although it was essentially a failure. Let’s not forget the iPod, which revolutionized the music industry and, with iTunes, made it possible to download your favorite tunes legally, thus signaling the marginalizing of the CD industry. Well, vinyl is still around of course, but I’ve never been convinced of their value, except for the emotional experience of opening the sleeve, taking out the record, cleaning it and carefully placing it on your record player or turntable.

    Even if you think vinyl sounds better — and it isn’t as accurate as digital but may be smoother sounding — after a few plays, the quality degrades. And don’t forget the surface noise.

    Anyway, the iPod presaged the evolution of Apple Computer into Apple Inc., with a focus on far more than personal computers. With the 2007 introduction of the very first iPhone, you saw the gadget that would literally replace a personal computer in the hands of many, and become Apple’s most successful product — ever.

    In the early years, each annual iPhone upgrade was big business. Better cameras, Touch ID, 4G and LTE support, 4K video capability, larger displays, OLED, Face ID and the notch. Well, not so much the notch though I do realize it serves a need.

    But the iPhone encountered the same issues as personal computers. As Apple ran out of significant features that catered to most users, they reached a plateau where every single upgrade was relatively minor in the scheme of things even if it required hundreds of millions of dollars in research money, and years of efforts from Apple’s design and programming teams.

    Some of the new features were downright silly by any normal consideration. Take the Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro. It has a slightly smaller notch, and the area is used for special effects, such as displaying a phone call or audio/video playback in process, and expanding to deliver a checkmark or another special effect.

    Big deal!

    Indeed, for most people, Apple’s first regular (non-Pro) iPhone with OLED, the iPhone 12, will likely suit the needs of 95% of users. The display is clear and crisp and bright enough, it’s support for 5G may be incomplete, but it’s sufficient. Besides just how much speed do you need downloading stuff on an iPhone. Really!

    All right, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 offer superior battery life, and that might be an issue if you aren’t so close to a charger and use it heavily. But the iPhone 12 does support fast charge, so the initial burst of current capacity doesn’t take so long to accomplish. The camera is good enough for the vast majority of owners. What’s more, this model, from 2020, will be supported for at least another few years with iOS upgrades.

    So it’s not a bad deal if you have an older iPhone, and the price of the newest hardware, which just keeps going up and up, is daunting.

    That isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions to the upgrade rule. Sometimes carriers will offer you tremendous rebates or discounts to switch your service, or even for customers to upgrade to a newer model. Recently I priced out an upgrade to a newer, more expensive iPhone on AT&T, and discovered that my monthly bill would actually go down. I’m considering the move.

    In any case, it’s clear that selling new gear is a matter of marketing more than compelling features, with a few extra fluffy features to make it seem more worthwhile.

    With a Mac, the switch to Apple Silicon, coupled with its support for hardware acceleration of some video codecs, makes it a more compelling move compared to any but the most recent Intel Macs.

    Speaking of which: I have a Late 2014 27-inch 5K iMac with Retina display. It recently received a full 2TB SSD upgrade to replace a failing 3TB Fusion Drive; it failed previously three years ago and was replaced then by Apple. This experience explains, to me, why the Fusion Drive was never more than an imperfect stop gap, offering some of the performance of an SSD with a spacious enough hard drive to manage the files you supposedly didn’t use as much. There would need to be smart management to make sure that unneeded files were moved off the SSD as needed.

    Regardless, my iMac is much faster with its OWC upgrade. Most things happen in an instant, and even some rendering tasks appear to run faster, since so much is dependent on drive performance.

    Anyway, I’m hopeful that 2023 will offer an M2 or M3 version of the 24-inch iMac, and perhaps a new 27-inch model. Unlike a lot of what Apple is doing these days with questionable upgrades, these models may be worth the price of admission.

    As to Apple, regardless of whether new gear is worth the upgrade or not won’t matter in the scheme of things. Those quarterly sales figures are what counts.


    Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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