The State of the Mac (Desktop)

Over the last few weeks I can't help but think that Apple have seriously dropped the ball on Mac desktop updates. The obvious example is the Mac Pro. Apple have admitted that they made mistakes with the Pro and have now needed to go back to the drawing-board, to redesign a Pro desktop model. Other than this month's minor tweaks, the cylindrical towers were last upgraded back in 2013, which is a crazy gap for any technology product, let alone the powerful Mac which is supposed to demonstrate Apple's cutting edge abilities in desktops.

But even with the iMac, updates have been slow in arriving. Apple updated the aluminium iMac every year from 2007 to 2015; then nothing in 2016. So the updates this year, mentioned as "coming" in 2017 in the Apple press briefing, means they are long overdue. Any revisions should really have arrived towards the end of 2016 at the latest and the fact that they are likely to arrive in late 2017 means that there are many iMac users out there hanging on, and will simply have to sit and wait through patiently.

Apple iMac

Apple have hinted that the iMac upgrade will be more than a simple speed bump and it is possible that something big is coming in the design as well as the speed. Maybe the long wait will be worth it, but surely they could have revised the chips and graphics in mid-2016 as an interim step?

The other Mac left to the sides is the Mac mini- to the point that I had questioned if it would ever be upgraded? It was updated annually between 2009-2012, then once in 2014. A three year gap is worrying for a Mac. Apple mentioned the mini at the recent meeting, and said it was still an important part of their range, but otherwise I would have assumed that it was on the way out. The hint of a possible update is welcome and I really do hope that it receives some attention before the end of 2017.

The question I have is how did we get to this point with the desktop Macs? The mess that is the Mac Pro lineup is not simply a matter of Apple revising its ideas on the Pro; for me they completely stalled on this line and are now reacting to the situation very late. If they had only decided it was not serving their customers correctly, that would be one thing, but they took so long to reach this view that it shows they had lost their focus on the desktop Pro. The same seems to be true for the iMac and this is the most disappointing part for me. Over the years the iMac has been such an important product for Apple that it deserved far more attention during 2015-2017. Any update coming in late 2017 will be welcome but I hope that this signals Apple will give the desktop Macs regular attention and not result treat them in a stop-start manner in the future.

Loving the New MacBook Pro

I have been through a few Apple laptops families over the years. I started with a black PowerBook G3 in the mid-90s and then moved to a titanium PowerBook G4. I didn't move to an iBook, even when they became sleeker with the white plastic design, but instead stuck with PowerBook and MacBook Pro until the MacBook Air emerged. This finally encouraged me away from the top-of-the-line models, as the slim and yet powerful MacBook Air offered me the flexibility of a thin laptop, but with enough power to drive an external display and complete all the tasks I needed. I generally boosted the processor, such as the i7 in my last model, so the size, weight and engine matched my needs.

However this October, Apple launched the new range of MacBook Pro and I was left with a choice. The MacBook Air family looks dated with no Retina display, so my choice this year was a new sleek and thin MacBook or to jump back up to the top of the line MacBook Pro. I decided on a 13" MacBook Pro for two reasons- the screen size (13" vs the MacBook's 12") and the new TouchBar technology.

After one week of use, I have no regrets. The display is crystal-clear and it is only after you have worked for a while with these displays that you realise you can't go back. Like the iPhone and iPad Pro, the text is smooth, images are clean and elegant on this screen. I also enjoy the extra space compared to my old MacBook Air's 11" screen.

But the real headline here is the TouchBar. Part of this is its existence, and part is its use. The existence of the TouchBar just makes the laptop feel new and feel more sophisticated compared to the MacBook Air and the previous MacBook Pro. It is a whole new way to interact with the laptop and that makes it look and feel like a new generation and not just a minor upgrade. Along with the black trim and thin bezel around the display, the TouchBar makes the MacBook Pro look new and fresh, and the MacBook Air by comparison looks "old" and quite outdated.

In use, it is smart and intuitive, even if it is a work-in-progress. For example in Mail, the Touch Bar offers suggestions on where you would like to file emails. If you select an email in your inbox, it knows which mailbox you normally place emails from that person, and files the message in one tap. The change, after years of dragging and dropping emails, is astonishing. I still only use about 30% of the buttons in the TouchBar and it may be that over time I customise them more, but what I do use I love and it makes a difference to my speed. This is especially true with the Touch ID sensor at the end of the TouchBar: unlocking the Mac and using my 1Password app is so much quicker.

I am also positive on the ports and possibly even hostile to all of the noise over Apple's move. The ports make complete sense. Four USB-C ports, no longer requiring me to look at the end of the cable to ensure I am about to plug it in the right way, just shows how bad the old USB standard was. USB-C is the way forward and we jut need to get on board. Yes I have bought a few adaptors, but so far I have used a USB-C to USB adapter twice for about ten minutes, used to plug in a USB stick and back up my iPhone.

About the only thing I don't like is the USB power adapter. It seems to have had less thought put into it. It is a shame it is so big and the USB-C cable which runs from the adapter to the laptop is thick and slightly clumsy. But overall, this is a minor concern.

If you are ready to move into the future of Mac laptops, dive in. If you love your current (and old) peripherals, the move will be more painful and expensive. But in the end I recommend this laptop as it is a clear break from the past and a beautifully designed Mac.

Here Comes the Autumn... What's Next for Apple?

As the Autumn approaches (sorry, "Fall") Apple will be readying a number of changes to their product lineup. Here is what I expect to see and what I hope to see...

Expectations:

The new iPhone will arrive in September and will come with a few usual changes. Thinner design, new Ax chip inside which will be faster than the 6S, better graphics, improved camera. There has been a bit of talk about a new dual lens camera, and this certainly fits into the usual iterative updates. One question- will Apple continue to update the iPhone SE separately to the main iPhone lines? Looks likely this year as the SE is too new for a refresh in September.

The big question is the headphone socket and whether Apple will go for a lightening connection for wired EarBuds or opt for some sort of wireless option? My own view here is that this will come down to usability. Not only does the ease of connection matter, in other words how the Bluetooth or other wireless technology works, but also the battery life of any wireless EarBuds. I suspect we will see lightening EarBuds shipping as the standard and possibly new wireless versions as an optional extra. But let's hope that if Apple do go for wirelessly versions, they have got something better than the current Bluetooth technology, which is at best fiddly and normally frustrating to use.

It is possible that we will see changes to the iPad, especially as we approach Christmas. The iPad would be a good seller during the holidays and the iPad Pro (12" model) could see changes so it has the newer TrueTone display. The smaller 9" iPad Pro is less likely to change as it is less than a year old. It is also possible that Apple will leave the iPad out, given that the Pro has been changed in the last 12 months, and make any changes in the new year.

We will definitely see three updated operating systems- the new macOS Sierra to replace OS X El Capitan, the next version of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch operating system, iOS 10 and watchOS 3.0. This was set out in June at WWDC and it is likely to ship (for free) in October.

It also seems to be time for new Apple Watch models. Apple launched the first Watch almost 18 months ago. As we approach the Christmas buying season it seems logical that there will be new Watch models; I have always maintained that the Watch is the new iPod, for music and fitness. Maybe it is also time to streamline the range from three to two families of Watch?

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Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all of our clients - and best wishes for 2016!

We will be closed until January 4th but look forward to helping out in the New Year. 

Don't forget to check out our award-winning Early Myths books for kids- great estocking fillers!

Update on Apple Press Event- iOS 9 & OS X El Capitan

Apart from new devices, Apple also announced the dates for the release of their two main operating systems-

- iOS 9 for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch- to be released this Wednesday (September 16th)
- OS X El Capitan for Macs- to be released on September 30th
(for Apple Watch users, they also announced Watch OS 2.0, to be released on Wednesday)
Here is a quick rundown of the highlights:

iOS 9:

iOS 9 is the new operating system for your iPhone and iPad. Here are some of the new features announced.

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The Future of iBooks

As a children's book author, I have been considering Apple's future options for iBooks and whether they would venture into the world of Windows or Android.  After all, iTunes runs on Windows PC and Apple Music will be available on Android this Autumn, so why not iBooks on other non-Apple platforms?

But when I look closer at Apple's use of iBooks, I don't see this happening. Books is an interesting side-show for Apple and it fits nicely into content-consumption on the iPad and iPhone but it's not a core business. The iBooks Store arrived with the iPad, as Apple touted the virtues of books on the iPad for consumers and in education. But it is not central to Apple's business and so does not receive the attention that say the iTunes and Apple Music stores receive.

Anyone who has interacted with the iBooks team will also know that the number of people behind iBooks is relatively small. The changes in the iBooks Store over the years have been gradual but not revolutionary.  

Instead, Apple see the iBooks app as an important piece inside iOS and OS X. The benefits of the iBooks app come as part of the operating system and the user experience on an iPad, iPhone or (recently) Mac, and launching a parallel experience for Windows and Android is not something Apple will do.  iBooks is key to iOS/OS X, which in turn is part of the user experience on an Apple device.  The message is- if you want to experience the iBooks app, buy an iPad, iPhone or Mac!

Adding iBooks to the Mac was a nice extra but it is a different experience to using it on an iPad and iPhone. iBooks is most at home on iOS and especially on the iPad, then possibly on an iPhone 6 Plus, with other platforms such as the Mac coming at the end. Putting it onto Windows or Android is a further step away from Apple's central aim here. 

In the end, while I would like to see iBooks extended out beyond iOS and OS X, I can't see it happening. With my author hat on, it would be great to reach new audiences. But as a long-time Apple observer, it goes against Apple's aims for iBooks, which is to draw more people to buy the iPad and other hardware devices.

[Note- at time of publication, the iBooks Author page still has not been updated to show that iBooks Author books can be read on an iPhone: https://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/]

WWDC Highlights

Looking back at the WWDC keynote, it is worth reflecting on what was good and what was not so great:

iOS 9: this looks like a solid upgrade. It will be free, will arrive in the late Autumn, and should help to make the iPad a more work-orientated device. The changes to the keyboard, such as new shortcuts when working with text, are very welcome. So too is the idea of the virtual trackpad. The iPad can be fiddly when working with text- my Mac is always my preferred machine for letters and documents. But these changes should help. I am typing this post on an iPad because I love its mobile capabilities which even the MacBook Air can't match. But typing does take longer on an iPad, and so anything to help is welcome. 

The multitasking features such as the split screen looks great, but it was a pity that it will only be fully available on a new iPad Air 2. My iPad Air 1 feels a bit left out, and this may well be the inventive to drive new iPad sales (reasonably Apple's intention, given how slowly people upgrade iPads).

OS X 10.11: also looks like a slick update, with a real focus on stability and bug fixes. I love when Apple do this as it helps all users and solves a few headaches for me when teaching about the Mac. 

Music: well, that was all a bit of a mess.  It has been a long time since I groaned at the style of an Apple keynote, but this was pretty bad.  It seemed chaotic, long, and without a real focus. I am also not sure that the Music app and streaming service will appeal to me. I can see how people like Spotify and Apple wish to get in on this game, but I will have to see what it is like when launched. It does not seem to be something I will be paying a monthly fee for. The three month free trial is a good hook though as I will certainly take a look.

--

Overall the keynote was way too long, and seemed to get out of control. Tim Cook started to run on and off stage towards the end and this gave the whole thing a panicked and rushed feel. It is a pity as I really liked the early part and the main iOS and OS X announcements. When it got to the Music section I nearly turned off. But overall the announcements set out an exciting set of changes for 2015-6.

Apple Watch Wish List

Next Monday Apple will unveil more details about the Apple Watch. The event in Autumn 2014 revealed the Watch's existence, with a ship date of early 2015, but was short on some of the details. We know there will be a number of editions of the Watch and the price will start at $349, but we do not know the full price range and many of the features of the Watch are a mystery. 

Here is what I will be looking out for:

1/ battery life: this will be a key element as I would expect the Watch to last a full day. Anything less will be irritating as you will need to remove it in the middle. The idea of topping up your watch in your car or at work might put people off. We really hope Apple can stretch the battery in the Watch to a reasonable span, such as 12 hrs or more. 

2/ health: it would be wonderful to think that the Watch would track heart rate and blood sugars-  I know this is almost impossible. But as a diabetic I would like to think that the Watch could communicate with other gadgets for health and make health info a more regular part of life, not something you need to find out at your doctor's surgery. Blood pressure will be possible with the sensors, so I will be watching with interest. I will be disappointed if it simply also tracks steps and distance, the same as any other Nike-type monitor. 

3/ connection to iPhone and Mac: how are we going to load apps and sync info to the Watch (music etc). I still am not a fan of the way this is organised in iTunes- installing and arranging apps in the iTunes window is fiddly at best. I hope Apple have a great way to organise your content for the Watch. 

4/  tactile communication: the ability to send a "buzz" your Apple Watch friends is great. I love the idea of this way to communicate- more than text or email. It is a physical way to communicate and this will be catchy. It also works for routines- the Watch will vibrate if you have not stood up in a while- good for those of us looking after bad backs! Apple seem to have thought through the personal side of the Watch, and the ability to vibrate on your wrist is far more immediate and intimate than a buzzing iPhone. This will be an interesting one to keep an eye on as it could develop into a whole new, personal, way to communicate. 

5/ security: the Watch strikes me as the new thing too steal, and so I will be interested to see if Apple have thought this through. The iPhone is now a nightmare for a thief as the user can use Find My iPhone and can lock/wipe the device. We hope that the Watch, so publicly visible on a wrist, has these types of features and more.  

6/ Apple Pay: we expect Tim Cook to give an update on the new payment system, Apple Pay.  Hopefully he will announce that it is coming to Europe and we can't wait for it to arrive here. It will be a fantastic way to pay without having too pull out our cards at checkouts

7/ price: this thing won't be cheap! The starting price point of €349 is for the most basic version, but we expect the range to be big, and into the thousands. The more limited edition Watch, with gold, is likely to have an eye watering price to match. It is also likely that most people will be spending around $400-500 after they have selected a better strap or gone for a slightly better face.

8/ sizes: the Watch comes in a 38mm or 42mm size and I hope that Apple do not market this as a "ladies and gents" versions. I really hope the point of the sizes will be personal use and not gender based. If you look at a traditional jewellery store, the smaller watches are for women and the larger faces for men.  This irritates me and hope that Apple stick to breaking this type of gender-based stereotype. It would be nice to see the faces as a personal choice, the same with the straps. 

9/ don't expect this in your local shop: the Watch is likely to be an Apple-only purchase, so for Ireland it will be bought on the Apple online store. I do not believe that they will supply the Watch to third-party retailers, at least not at the beginning. Given the number of faces and straps available, this is a custom-build, so online shopping makes more sense. But there again not being able to hold or touch a Watch in Ireland before purchasing could be a  problem. Strong demand at the start will mean that Apple won't care about this, but expect to see Apple Watches in stores in a few years time as the product matures.

10/ this is the new iPod: the iPod range has not been updated in a few years and this is likely to continue. The Watch, along with Bluetooth headsets, is likely to be the new iPod. 

11/ what does the Digital Crown do?? The dial on the side of the Watch has not been discussed in detail. Look out for more news on this on Monday. Tim Cook did not refer to its purpose in the Autumn release.

12 surprise: Apple almost certainly held back on revealing significant functions of the Watch, so that this is revealed closer to the launch date. This means that competitors do not have time to try to copy its features. Expect a few show-stopper features to be revealed next week. 

We look forward to learning more on Monday. 

Simon Spence/2015

ClubMac- Dublin Mac User Group

Many thanks to ClubMac for inviting me along to speak to their meeting yesterday.  ClubMac is a Dublin Mac user group and provides s great forum for people to gather to discuss all things Apple. They hold regular news update and Q & A slots, for members to ask technical questions, and then have keynote presentations from invited guests. 

My own topic was publishing books on the iBooks Store, something I have done for a few years now with my children book series, Early Myths

I received a very friendly welcome and I would recommend the group to anyone starting out with a Mac who would like an opportunity to meet fellow users to learn more. Thanks to Tom and his colleagues for a very enjoyable evening. 

For more information check out the ClubMac website: www.clubmac.ie

Tomorrow- Apple reports Q1 results

Apple will announce its results for Q1 2015 tomorrow and there will be a number of items we will be looking out for:

1/ iPhone numbers: we expect these to be big and likely to set a record. Q1 covers the Christmas period and so sales of iPhone always hit a high watermark in this part of the year. But the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been a runaway success so we expect to see all-time records for the iPhone.

2/ Apple Watch: we are unlikely to get a launch date tomorrow- this will probably come later in March. But we will be watching out for hints from Cook as to which part of the next quarter they are looking to. 

3/ iPad: iPad sales have flattened and so it will be interesting to see what happened in the Christmas market. Did the iPad Air 2 help to boost numbers or are people waiting for the next big thing in the segment before upgrading? The iPad Air 2 was not a huge change from the first iPad Air and nor was the new iPad mini that different to the previous model. We expect relatively flat numbers and for the media to over exaggerate the "deflation of the iPad bubble."

4/ iPod numbers- watch these dwindle. It has been nearly two and a half years since Apple revised this segment and do you know anyone who bought one as a present this Christmas?? The iPod feels like Apple history.

5/ Mac figures on the rise: these have been rising at a strong and steady pace in recent years and we expect this to continue. The new MacBooks Pros and Airs along with the new retina Display iMacs mean that this should be a strong segment in Q1. 

Simon Spence/2015

Apple Beta of 10.10.2

Apple have released the fifth version of the 10.10.2 beta to developers, with a focus on WiFi and Mail.

We have held off giving our full recommendation to Yosemite until now due to the WiFi bug, but hopefully this next update will mean that 10.10 becomes a more stable OS. 

[AppleInsider Link]

Simon Spence/2015

The end of the Road for MacUser Magazine

At one time I subscribed to both Macworld UK and MacUser, but like man I cancelled my subscription a number of years ago.  

Just seems odd to buy a printed magazine when everything is online. But still sad to see its demise, even if for sentimental reasons:

MacUser statement

Simon Spence/2015

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