Apple’s Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro

Its new. Its controversial; but is it up to the task..?

Introduction
I’ve been a Mac since Apple dropped the PowerPC chip and embraced Intel. I have said many times that I bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, largely because the hardware itself was so powerful and so elegant. To be honest, it took a while for me to be won over by OS X and macOS. However now, it is my OS of choice; and the Mac… well the Mac is still my go to computer eleven years later.

The Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro is quite a computer. Its powerful. Its thin. Its missing ports… Let’s take a look, however, and see if it is really worth all the hype, all the change and all the money that is required to make it work.

Hardware
Over the past couple of months while I’ve been waiting for accessory hardware to arrive so I can set up this device for an out of town family member, I’ve had a few friends ask me why in the world they purchased this computer, especially considering the cost.

The answer was simple – build quality.

I mean, have you SEEN this thing? If you haven’t, then you need to take a quick look at the unboxing video I did for Soft32 that was published just a few days ago. The hardware is seriously sweet.

As invoiced, the unit that I’m configuring has the following tech specs

Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID
• 2.8GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
• 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
• 1TB SSD storage
• Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory
• Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
• Backlit Keyboard – US English
• Silver, Aluminum Case

This configuration retails for $3100 USD. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is $299 USD. So this particular installation, minus some minor accessories and apps, cost my family member $3400, plus tax, shipped.

…and this is where most folks choke and gag. The prices for the newest MacBook Pros are just totally nuts.

However, this notebook is likely going to last for at least 10 years before it will need to be replaced. When you compare that to a $1000 Windows PC that might last three or so years, the overall cost, is about the same. However, you’re likely going to buy at least two if not three Windows PC’s in that same time frame. So again, the prices are about the same.

That doesn’t make the new MacBook Pro’s cost any easier to stomach, though. It might justify it a bit more, but that down stroke is awfully steep. Its awfully steep… but let’s talk a bit about what you get for that price.

Form Factor
The new MacBook Pro is thin. Its REALLY thin. The original iPad’s dimensions can be found in the table below along with the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 MacBook Pros:

Size and Weight

Height Width Depth Weight
Orig. iPad 0.50 in (1.27 cm) 7.47 in. (18.97 cm) 9.56 in. (24.28 cm) 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg)
Mid 2017 0.61 In. (1.55 cm) 13.75 In. (34.93 cm) 9.48 In. (24.07 cm) 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg)
Late 2013 0.71 In. (1.8 cm) 14.13 In. (35.89 cm) 9.73 In. (24.71 cm) 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg)
Mid 2009 0.95 In. (2.41 cm) 14.35 In. (36.4 cm) 9.82 In. (24.9 cm) 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)

As you can see from the above, the original iPad and the newest, 2017 15″ MacBook Pro are about as thick as each other. In truth, that extra tenth of an inch that the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro has on the original 9.7″ iPad really only amounts to a diference of 0.254 cm (2.52 mm). Its also about as deep as the original iPad, too.

This should tell you something… Apple’s latest 15″ notebook has form factor specs in line with the original iPad… meaning that this notebook is thin. Oh, my goodness is it thin! In fact, (when the clam shell is closed) its as thin as Apple’s original tablet (the tenth of an inch is negligible). I think that’s amazing.

The last thing that I want to mention, and that I think is of note here is the 7th generation Core i7 processor. Apple introduced their Kaby Lake processor to the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro; and its made a difference in terms of speed, especially when you compare it to the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 models that I have in the house. The Mid 2017 is noticeably faster than both.

The Full 360

DSC_5227 - Top DSC_5229 - Front Edge
The three 15″ MacBook Pro’s – From top to bottom: Mid 2017, Late 2013 and Mid 2009 You can really tell how thin these things are. Remember, the Mid 2017 is as thin as Apple’s Original iPad
DSC_5230 - Right Edge DSC_5231 - Rear Edge
From the top down, Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports and the headphone jack, Late 2013: USB-A port, HDMI Port and the SD Card slot, Mid 2009: Apple SuperDrive and the Kensington Lock Notice that the Mid 2017 doesn’t have any kind of black bar spacer on the lid hinge
DSC_5232 - Left Ege
From the top down. Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports, Late 2013: MagSafe2 Power Port, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, USB –A port and the headphone jack, Mid 2009: MagSafe Power port, 10/100 Ethernet port, FireWire 400 port, mini Display Port, 2 USB-A ports, SD Card slot, microphone jack, headphone jack, (near the front of the MBP – battery test button and the battery power indicator)

TouchBar
This is going to be short and sweet. The TouchBar is new for the 2017 MacBook Pros. It provides an OLED strip of touch sensitive screen for context sensitive buttons that are governed by the active, running application.

DSC_5233 - TouchBar OS

Many are going to say that the TouchBar is nothing more than a gimmick. They may be right. The context sensitive buttons are cool; but I can see no real value to the feature.

DSC_5234 TouchBar OS 2

While it looks thanks to its OLED display, its nothing necessary. Having one doesn’t provide you with any advantage over not having one. That may change in coming generations as functionality for this feature grows and matures. However right now, its eye candy… nothing more.

DSC_5235 TouchBar Word

If you have a contrary opinion, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment in the Discussion area, below, and let me know.

USB-C Ports
This is probably the most controversial feature of Apple’s newer MacBook Pros. Apple has removed all ports on their new notebooks and replaced them with four – two on each side – USB-C ports.

I’ve spent the last couple of days setting up this new notebook and configuring it for my family member. They are moving from a Mid 2009 15″ MacBook Pro, and it has a number of different ports on it. This is going to take them a bit of getting used to.

Even me, with my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro… I’m having issues getting used to the fact that there aren’t any legacy ports on the new, Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro. I have had at least three incidents over the past 24 hours where the lack of any real port connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth excluded) was a big problem. When most of your accessories, thumb drives, etc., are all USB-A and all you’ve got is USB-C ports, you’re going to have a problem moving data, printing or connecting one device to another. When you’re trying to move data from one PC to another, for example, this can be a huge issue. In fact, it can be downright impossible.

I tried to transfer this file – this review – back and forth between my Late 2013 MacBook Pro and the Mid 2017 MacBook Pro. The easiest way to do this is with a thumb drive. Unfortunately, thumb drives make use of a USB-A connection. The only way I was able to put a file on a thumb drive was with the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. This was fine because I was in a home office setting. However, this would be an issue if I was out and about.

Unfortunately, items like a USB-C Flash Drive aren’t as wide spread available as they should be. They’re available, but not as mainstreamed as I would like… and besides that, I don’t have any. Nor would I think, any normal consumer as yet.

If you don’t have one, and you plan on taking your Mid 2017 MacBook Pro out and about with you, then you’re likely going to need one of these. Juiced Systems makes a 6 port USB-C Adapter that is a must have to anyone that plans to use this advanced Apple notebook outside of an office setting where a dock of some sorts, exists. If you don’t have it, don’t count on using any of your standard, mainstream, widely available, low cost accessories with your new Mid 2017″ MacBook Pro. Models exist for both 13″ and 15″ notebooks. Currently, they’re available for about $70 USD, and they’re probably going to be $70 of the best dollars you’re going to spend on this new notebook. I know I’m wishing I had one for this review.

Keyboard & Trackpad

Keyboard
Because the device is now thinner than it used to be (see the chart, above), Apple had to do something different with the keyboard. There really isn’t a lot of room in the case any longer. The new keyboard uses the same butterfly switches made popular in the original 2015 12″ MacBook. The switches used in the new Mid 2017 MacBook Pros are the next generation butterfly switches. The second generation switches have a lower profile than even the first generation butterfly switches.

So, what does all this mean? It means you’re gonna have a really clacky keyboard. It also means that there isn’t going to be a lot of keyboard travel, either. What you’re left with is a very different typing experience. In order to completely experience what the typing experience was going to be like, I pulled this review over to the new computer and decided to at least write this portion of the review there.

The typing experience is definitely different than on older MacBook Pros. There isn’t a lot of keyboard travel. The keyboard is very stiff, and yes… very clacky. Its not too difficult to use, but it may take some folks a bit to get used to.

It may also be a bit of a detractor for some.

Keyboard feel and travel, the elements that make up the typing experience are definitely different. Again, its not bad, but it may take you a bit to get used to it.

Trackpad
The first thing that you notice about the trackpad is that its huge. Its at least twice the size of trackpads on older MacBook Pros. Its very much like the trackpad on Apple’s 12″ MacBook. Large and Force Touch enabled.

I haven’t used or even put my hands on the 12″ MacBook; and while I have 3D Touch on my iPhone 7 Plus, experiencing Force Touch on a notebook computer is very different. Its easy to understand how it simulates a click. What’s really gonna blow your mind, though, is how the secondary, force click actually works and feels like. It truly feels as though the trackpad not only depresses for the click, but depresses even deeper for the force click. Its truly a strange feeling. Its really cool; but its really strange. You’d never expect that there was a deeper click in that trackpad.

The new trackpad is a total winner. I’d love to have it on my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro.

Conclusion
This device is super thin and super light. In fact, it’s the thinnest and lightest notebook I’ve ever worked with. The new 7th generation Intel Core i7 quad core processor is fast. Its going to crunch through more than you think it will, in less time, too.

The TouchBar is cool; but I’m not certain if it’s the kind of enhancement that I would have picked had I been given the option. The bar is completely contextual and changes as needed by the active application. This is both good and bad, especially if you touch type and are used to tapping function keys with a certain finger, though in truth, doing this is a bit of a stretch for your hands. At the end of the day, the context sensitive buttons are kinda cool, but its really more of a gimmick than anything else.

The trackpad is awesome. I was really surprised that it was a Force Touch related component without any moving parts. It truly feels as though it has two levels of physical distance and travel with you press it.

The keyboard isn’t bad, but its not great. The level of key travel is greatly diminished and unfortunately, its stiff and clacky. Its not the greatest typing experience and will require some getting used to. For some, this may be a deal breaker.

The biggest issue with this device are its USB-C ports and the lack of any native legacy port on it. Its going to be difficult for anyone to use any kind of legacy device with this notebook computer without some kind of dongle, dock or adapter. Unfortunately, this means you have to carry some other attachment in order to use what you need to get your work done.

Okokokok… so what’s the bottom line?

As always, Apple has created a GREAT notebook computer that should last any user at least seven to ten years, provide you baby the crap out of it. Its expensive, for certain. In fact, it may be too expensive. The Late 2013 MBP that I bought was the top of the line machine, and it cost me just under $3000. The top of the line 15″ in the current generation is $4200, or $1200 more than what I paid nearly four years ago (this coming December). Most of that is going to be attributable to the 2GB SSD that’s available for it; but that price is still outrageous.

This machine is awesome, but it requires a great deal of compromises. If you don’t mind making them, and have enough money to get the machine that will grow with you, the new Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro may be the right machine for you.

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Should I Upgrade or Not..? – Part 1

Based on the information at hand, here’s my take on Apple’s announcements from 2017-09-12…

iphone x

Apple announced three new iPhones (six, if you count the different sizes), two new Apple Watches (one with cellular and one without) and two new Apple TV’s the other day (again, if you count the different storage sizes). There’s a TON of debate going on regarding the new devices; and like EVERY OTHER YEAR that Apple announces new iDevices, the same argument starts: is the upgrade worth the cost?

Like EVERY OTHER YEAR, the answer is likely going to be the same – it depends on where you’re upgrading from.

iPhones – the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X
The iPhone 8 offers the following in terms of new tech

• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7
• An updated Retina HD display
It’s got a True Tone display, making colors more realistic, as it automatically adjusts and readjusts the white balance to match the direct and ambient light around you. Dual domain pixels make it viewable from nearly any angle
• An improved camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s faster,
• Has a better screen
• Has a better camera , and
• Has wireless charging

However, this can be said of EVERY new iPhone out there? I mean, isn’t that what you get with EVERY new generation iPhone? Its better, faster stronger..? This year’s camera is better than last year’s camera? I mean, the only thing new here is the implementation of Qi charging… and as every AOSP and Google Pixel fan has pointed out to me, this is something that has existed with Android phones for at LEAST two years… so where’s the new, innovative stuff?

The answer is that you won’t find it on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. It’s the “tock” to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus’ “tick.” You have to remember that Apple isn’t revolutionary in its technology implementations… they’re evolutionary. Their take on this is that they may not be the first to do it, but they are (likely) the ones to do it right.

In most cases, I agree with this; but don’t get me started with Apple and its services offering… iCloud and all that it offers (iCloud Drive, iCloud Backup and synchronization (photos, music, messages, files, etc.) are still screwed up and… that’s a rant for another day. I think that the “improvements” that you’ll see with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are really good, decent improvements. However, I don’t know that these are enough to justify an $700+ upgrade from the iPhone 7 (or even 6s, for that matter) to the iPhone 8.

The iPhone X offers the following in terms of new tech

• Edge to edge Super Retina display
The Home Button is gone. There are a ton of new gestures needed and required because the Home Button has been removed. 3D Touch has been reworked to work the new, OLED screen. The Super Retina displays offers truer, more vivid colors, ginormous resolution, and a 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio. This is the best screen on a smartphone, ever.

• TrueDepth Camera & Face ID
The selfie camera has been totally reworked because the Home Button and its Touch ID sensor is gone. The TrueDepth Camera enables a new, neural engine powered camera so that it can map your face to support Face ID and facial identification (for device unlocking as well as Apple Pay authentication).

The TrueDepth Camera drives Face ID and stores the information in the Secure Enclave. Face ID and its setup process maps an analyzes more than 30,000 mapping dots to create a precise depth map of your face. The mapping is supposed to be so accurate, that you can grow a beard, change your hair style (or completely shave it off), wear glasses etc. and you are still you to the TrueDepth Camera. Pictures and realistic masks can’t fool it, thanks to the neural engine and machine learning capabilities of both the camera and the new A11 Bionic processor.

• Improved (digital photo) Camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7

• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s got a new display size and new display type
• The Home Button has been removed to provide more screen real estate
• The front and rear cameras have been totally revamped to support OIS in every mode (still and video) and for machine learning driven, facial recognition (because Touch ID has been removed)
• It’s faster and smarter to support facial recognition and augmented reality, and
• Supports wireless charging

There’s a bit more here, and to be fair, while none of this is NEW – it was pointed out to me by that same Android fan-boy that both Google Pixel and Samsung devices have had OLED displays, facial recognition, bezeless displays and wireless charging – it’s the combination and (more the) implementation of these technologies on this platform that make them (so) new. It’s the type of cameras, it’s the method of facial recognition etc., that makes the iPhone X the coveted hit that it likely will become in the Apple Ecosystem.

However, there are a few issues here that I need to cover…

Device Storage Sizes
The iPhone 7 comes in 32GB and 128GB sizes. Both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X come in 64GB and 256GB sizes. To be honest, I think the same thing about the 64GB size as I thought of the 32GB size… it’s completely USELESS.

Last year Apple eliminated the 64GB size from their smartphone offering because (they said) that it didn’t offer enough storage space. Why then would they bring it back for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X?

I’ve got a 128GB iPhone 7 Plus. If I want to upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, I’ve either got to totally remove my entire music collection (I don’t have video on my iPhone) and revert to streaming everything; OR pay $150 USD more for twice the space I have.

I’ve got 85.50GB of stuff on my iPhone. 55GB of that is music. 8GB of that is photos and home videos taken with my iPhone cameras. The rest is used by apps and their data. I’ve got 38.50GB of free space.

Apple is forcing me to make a cost based decision that I really don’t want to make. I hate entry level devices, as they nearly ALWAYS leave you wishing you had bought more. However, without a mid-level storage offering of 128GB, its either pay more or shut up (meaning upgrade and get over it, or don’t upgrade and stop crying).

Cost
At the end of the day, for nearly everyone, these decisions are going to be cost motivated. The 256GB iPhone 8/ 8 Plus are $699/$799 and $799/$949 for the 64GB/ 256GB variants, respectively. These aren’t cheap, but they aren’t really out of line with other smartphone offerings at their tier level today. I’ll get to other issues here, in just a sec…

The iPhone X also offers 64GB and 256GB variants. Those are $999 and $1149. These aren’t cheap either, but only the price of the 64GB device has been seen from both Google and Samsung recently. $1150 for a phone – regardless of how “smart” that phone may be… is just a little nuts…

And that brings me to my overall point here… we’re really starting to push up against the envelope of reasonability when it comes to device cost.

Due to the increased device cost, you’re either going to need to buy a data plan with enough bandwidth to address the decreased storage you may have to accept in order to buy into the device; OR you’re going to have to bite the bullet and pay for the more expensive device. Either way you cut it, your carrier is going to get a bigger cut of your paycheck; and for many this may be a huge problem… especially when you’re upgrading more than one device at a time.

I’ve got four devices on my AT&T wireless account. Three of them are on the same upgrade cycle. That represents an additional cost of approximately $40 to $60 additional dollars a month (after any residual device costs of $50 to $100 per device are satisfied at upgrade time), if we upgrade on schedule based on these current device costs… and that’s really crazy.

By the way, those costs are NOT Apple specific. They are based on an upgrade of any “current” device, currently on any kind of installment program to any “new” device available, be they Android, iOS Samsung, LG or Apple, etc.

Availability
The iPhone 8 is available for purchase on 2017-09-15 (or two days from this writing) with delivery on 2017-09-22. The iPhone X is available for purchase on 2017-10-27 with delivery anticipated on or around 2017-11-03 (that may be subject to change, and will likely ONLY be available for a very small amount of iPhone X’s purchased/ ordered on October 27).

In other words, there are likely enough iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ to go around; but landing an iPhone X of any size will likely offer legitimate bragging rights. Not that you bought the phone – regardless of how “eXclusive” it may truly be – but because the yield rates are reportedly very low, at only 10,000 per day, worldwide. That means that only 450,000 ADDITIONAL units will be manufactured – again world wide – between now and 2017-10-27. Getting one of these any time this year, will be a huge crap shoot. It’s likely that the bulk of orders for the iPhone X will be delivered some time during the early months of 2018.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or not?” is going to really require you to think about it. The upgrade from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus to the iPhone 8 may not be very compelling unless you really want the better camera and wireless charging, to put it very bluntly. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus going to be very similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus (remember… this is the “tock” update…).

The upgrade to the iPhone X may be the more compelling upgrade, but the cost and the available storage sizes really make the upgrade difficult. Not many are going to want to pay $1150 for a smartphone; and $1000 for a smaller, 64GB device implies that you may have to up the ante on your data plan in order to make it work… so you’re going to pay more for the iPhone X no matter how you slice it.

For me… the jury is still out. I’ve got to a day or two to think about it, but as of this writing… I’m still on the fence. I will likely get one to review, but it may be some time in October before I order it, IF I don’t jump on the band wagon on 2017-09-15. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Come back next time. I’ll have information on the new updated Apple Watch and Apple TV, as announced at the Apple Event on 2017-09-12!

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Waxing iNostalgic – iPhone’s 10th Anniversary

I’ve got very specific memories of using Apple’s early iPhones…

I’ve been an iPhone user for quite a long time. In fact, I covered iPhone 3G Day for Gear Diary’s Judie Lipset Stanford back in the day when I helped her get Gear Diary off the ground as writer number 3 for the site (Judie was writer number 1, Mitchel Oke was writer number 2…). Back then, Gear Diary was really a mobile first site, covering any and all mobile technologies. I wrote a lot for her between 2006 and 2008.

In July of 2008, I stood in line at a local AT&T store and picked up an 8GB iPhone 3G. It was the big boy back in its day, and it was the BOMB… or so I thought. I ended up selling the device just three months later. It wasn’t a hard decision to make, as I recall. At the time, I had had just about enough.

At that time, AT&T had a HUGE wireless coverage problem. At the time, no one seemed to be able to understand that a wireless internet device was only as good as the coverage it needed for internet connectivity. I, however, put two and two together, and made the “3G light bulb” come on for many bloggers. At the time, someone submitted my article to Slashdot, and Gear Diary came down as a result of the entire internet reading the article… apparently, all at the same time. It was very exciting, but very troubling for the site, as we tried to figure out how to keep it from falling over due to the avalanche of traffic.

Ultimately, it was AT&T’s numerous coverage issues that caused me to dump my iPhone 3G. To be honest, I just couldn’t take it any longer. When you’re sitting completely still, and your call drops 8 times in under 30 minutes, something has to change. That kind of connectivity problem didn’t exist with other smartphones at the time. I sold my iPhone 3G and was much, much happier.

However, I recognized and realized that the formula that Apple was working on would eventually gain ground over both Blackberry and PocketPC (Microsoft), the two industry leaders at the time, and had mixed feelings about my sold iPhone soon after. However, I was determined to wait it out.

I came back to iPhone with the iPhone 4S, three full revisions later (the iPhone 3Gs and the iPhone 4 were released prior to the iPhone 4S). By that point, Apple’s ecosystem of apps, music and video content had matured enough that it was a much more compelling smartphone choice; AND more importantly, AT&T had done a great deal of clean up on their network coverage issues. I’ve been a consistent iPhone user since the release of the iPhone 4S, and so has the rest of my family.

With 2017 being the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iconic iPhone, I’m looking forward to the release of whatever they end up designating as their 10th Anniversary model, be that the iPhone 8, the iPhone X. By any name, it’s bound to be an iconic device, and definitely one for the history books.

Stick around, kids. I’ve got some really fun and interesting Apple related updates and reviews coming in the next week or so.

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MacSales Introduces 2.0TB Aura Pro SSD

MacBook Pro upgrades are few and far between; and you NEED to look at this one, long and hard…

I’ve been using Apple computers since 2006 when Apple made the switch from PowerPC chips to Intel. At that point, due in large part to Apple’s Boot Camp, it made perfect sense. Back during this time, it was really easy to upgrade nearly every Mac. Today, Apple’s Boot Camp even supports Windows 10, continuing to make it a perfect multiplatform solution.

In 2012, Apple released the retina MacBook Pro. This display change signaled not only a change in Apple display technology, but a change in its notebook architecture. At this point, according to Apple, the MacBook Pro was no longer user upgradable.

That is… until now.

On 2017-06-26, MacSales and OWC (Other World Computing) announced the availability of a 2.0TB SSD upgrade for the mid-2012 to early 2013 Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display. This particular upgrade is a HUGE deal. OWC and MacSales are one of the very few providers of upgrades for this class of MacBook Pro notebook. The upgrade comes in two flavors – one with an external enclosure and one without.

The Aura Pro 2.0TB SSD upgrade frees up and boosts capacity on the internal hard drive – at over five years of MacBook Pro ownership. The Aura Pro drive is also available as a kit with an Envoy Pro enclosure to immediately reuse an Apple internal hard drive, creating a new external USB 3.1 Gen1 portable drive. This is the perfect upgrade for a middle aged Mac, as it increases storage by at least 1TB (for those MacBook Pros that came with a native 1.0TB internal SSD).

aura

The Aura SSD line is a professional storage line that offers increased performance not only over the native SSD, but other SSD replacements. It also provides

The Aura Pro SSD offers a wide range of industry-leading controller technologies for performance and reliability, including:
• Global wear leveling algorithm automatically distributes data evenly and manages program/erase count, maximizing SSD lifespan.
• StaticDataRefresh technology manages free space, gradually refreshing data across the SSD over time, enhancing data integrity.
• Hardware BCH ECC corrects errors up to 66-bit/1KB for superior data retention and drive health.
• Best-in-class power consumption.
• Advanced security protocols support AES 128/256-bit full-drive encryption.
The cost of the 2.0TB Aura Pro is $899.99 USD for the drive only. If you’re looking for the kit with the Envoy Pro enclosure, it will set you back a cool $939.99 USD.

I had an Aura Pro 480GB SSD for the Late 2012 MacBook Air that I had for a couple of years. The performance of that drive was totally awesome. The performance bump on that i5 based Mac was definitely noticeable and a huge boon. It was more than worth the cost of the drive.

I am currently working with OWC and MacSales to see if I can get one of these drives for review. I will let you know how that effort goes. It will be a nice contrast review against the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro and OWC/ MacSales USB-C Dock and Thunderbolt 3 Dock that I have waiting in the wings.

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Is the Apple HomePod a Non-Starter?

Apple’s got a new Siri powered speaker…

I’ve been chewing on this one for since Apple’s WWDC keynote and I just don’t get it.  Apple’s HomePod is a Siri powered speaker that connects to  your iTunes library and your Apple Music Account.  Specifically, according to Apple:

  • HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.1 It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.
  • Built to bring out the best in Apple Music, HomePod is a key part of an incredibly deep and intuitive music ecosystem that lives everywhere you do.1 With Siri intelligence and access to virtually all the world’s recordings, it’s like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear.

HomePod does more than play music.  It’s very much like the Amazon Echo. It can help with questions and tasks. It can also connect to HomeKit related devices used to control your connected home’s heating, cooling lighting, locks, etc. It can be the center of your home, just like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo and Dot.

The HomePod may be a superior speaker, providing rich, full sound; but it doesn’t have one thing that made the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – The Amazon Store.

The Amazon Echo was originally intended to be a way for users to order or reorder items you normally buy from Amazon.  All you have to do is ask Alexa to order you <something> and a few days later, the item(s) show up at your door.  It’s really that easy.  This was the main purpose of the device – to provide Amazon with an easy revenue stream.  The thought was that with a vocal path to your order history and your Amazon account, vocally ordering something from Amazon, without actually viewing your account, the prices, etc. would make you more likely to order or reorder items. It’s not “real” when you don’t necessarily see how much it costs.

This product ordering backbone provided Amazon with a reason for the product. Everything else that it does – play music, read books, control your home’s compatible products, etc. is a byproduct.  However it’s a byproduct that the Apple HomePod doesn’t have.

The Amazon Echo does everything that the Apple HomePod does and is $179.99.  The HomePod is $349.  You can literally get 2 Echo’s for the price of a single HomePod; and you’ll be able to order all the books (and other Amazon provided goodies) until your credit card maxes out.  However, the Echo’s won’t sync their playback as the HomePods will, providing better overall audio quality during playback.  You also can’t order Apple products and accessories with the HomePods.

I’m not entirely certain I get the reason behind the HomePod. The Echo is easy – It’s a verbal gateway to Amazon’s product catalog.  While Siri is more sophisticated and intelligent on the HomePod, she can’t order you any Apple products and have them delivered.

In short, the HomePod is twice as expensive and does (literally) half as much as the Echo does.  While I’m certain that Apple will sell a great deal of them, I don’t see them hanging around in the long term.  This just doesn’t seem like a core Apple product like the iPhone or the iPad.

Am I missing something here; or is the Apple HomePod a total non-starter?  Will it be successful, or is it just a flash in the pan product that Apple released in order to insure that they weren’t missing out on a market that both Amazon and Google were competing in ?

Someone please tell me… I’m really wanting to know, because I don’t think that I get the HomePod and don’t want to – nor can I afford to – buy one.  I don’t have an Echo or Google Home device and wasn’t planning on purchasing either, even though I order products from Amazon all the time.

This is where I need your help.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and give me your take on the Echo, the Home and the HomePod.  I don’t do any home automation, so getting one of these would really be nothing more than an audio speaker that could play music and audio books. It could also keep my granddaughter company.  She talks to Siri all the time and has complete conversations with her for hours at a time on her iPad.  At least with the HomePod, and under iOS, Siri is (supposed to be) a lot more intelligent.

Here’s to hoping the HomePod is a lot more than just a very expensive, very sophisticated wireless speaker… but I have my misgivings.

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New Apple Operating System Updates Released

Apple released new versions of macOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS on 2017-03-27.

Apple released updates to three of its operating systems on Monday 2017-03-27. Apple released macOS 10.12.4, iOS 10.3, watchOS 3.2 and tvOS 10.2. Each OS brings something new to the game.

macOS 10.12.4
This new OS version brings a great deal of new stuff. Aside from the “improved stability, compatibility and security stuff, you also get the following:

  • Night Shift, which shifts the color pallet on your monitor to the warmer send of the spectrum after sunset in an effort to reduce blue light emissions, which tend to have an effect on the ability to fall asleep and sleep quality
  • Siri support for cricket scores and stats for Indian Premier league and International Cricket Council leagues
  • Resolution of several PDF rendering and annotation issues in Preview
  • Improvement of visibility of the subject line when using Conversation View in Mail
  • Fixes for an issue that may prevent content from appearing in Mail messages
  • Other minor enhancements and fixes

Night Shift is the big thing here. This is SUPPOSED to be easier on the eyes and is supposed to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep if you compute later in the day, into the evening. The pallet on your monitor will actually warm (whites will appear more yellow…). This option is available via the Settings app, under Displays.

iOS 10.3
The latest version of iOS brings a number of new features to the iPhone. The most notable and most important is APFS or Apple File System. HSF+ is dead. Apple is converting all of its operating systems to support the new file system, starting first with its smaller devices before moving on to the desktop.

APFS is said to provide up to an additional 7.8GB of available space on 128GB to 256GB iPhones. Part of the upgrade to iOS 10.3 will convert all of your storage to support APFS, and as a result, depending on the amount and type of content you have on your device, this conversion may take a while. If the upgrade looks like its bombed out and stalled, don’t do anything. Leave your device alone. Let the conversion take its course and finish. Even though the device might not look like its doing anything, leave it alone as its likely converting your storage and copying content back to the volume.

iOS 10.3 also includes the following updates

Find My iPhone

  • View the current or last known location of your AirPods
  • Play a sound on one or both AirPods to help you find them

Siri

  • Support for paying and checking status of bills with payment apps
  • Support for scheduling with ride booking apps
  • Support for checking car fuel level, lock status, turning on lights and activating horn with automaker apps
  • Cricket sports scores and statistics for Indian Premier League and International Cricket Council

CarPlay

  • Shortcuts in the status bar for easy access to last used apps
  • Apple Music Now Playing screen gives access to Up Next and the currently playing song’s album
  • Daily curated playlists and new music categories in Apple Music

Other improvements and fixes

  • Rent once and watch your iTunes movies across your devices. This coincides with the iTunes 12.6 update that was released a week or so ago
  • New Settings unified view for your Apple ID account information, settings and devices
  • Hourly weather in Maps using 3D Touch on the displayed current temperature
  • Support for searching “parked car” in Maps
  • Calendar adds the ability to delete an unwanted invite and report it as junk
  • Home app support to trigger scenes using accessories with switches and buttons
  • Home app support for accessory battery level status
  • Podcasts support for 3D Touch and Today widget to access recently updated shows
  • Podcast shows or episodes are shareable to Messages with full playback support
  • Fixes an issue that could prevent Maps from displaying your current location after resetting Location & Privacy
  • VoiceOver stability improvements for Phone, Safari and Mail

watchOS 3.2
watchOS 3.2 requires that your Apple Watch be connected to your iPhone. You can only update an Apple Watch that’s paired with an iPhone and is actually connected at the time that you wish to download the new OS. Your watch will also need to be connected to its charging cable with at least 50% charge.

There are a couple cool items of note here and not much else. watchOS 3.2 now supports SiriKit, which expands the voice commands for Apple’s Siri digital assistant. Siri now supports commands from 3rd party apps, letting users, for example, send a message or hail a ride sharing service.

watchOS 3.2 also includes Theatre Mode which silences all sounds and raise to wake, preventing your Apple Watch from becoming an audience distraction during a movie or play.

tvOS 10.2
The changes to tvOS are a little more demure than changes from other Apple OS’. In tvOS 10.2. Apple has accelerated in app scrolling, has enhanced support for the Device Enrollment Program and has provided for better mobile device management. It also offers an enhanced development tool in VideoToolbox, which is a framework for allowing apps to take advantage of hardware accelerated encoding and decoding.

Owners of a fourth generation AppleTV can get the update by opening Settings on their AppleTV and then selecting System, Software Updates, and then Update Software.

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The Future of the MacBook Pro

Even though some have moved on to other issues, it’s still kinda hangin’ out there…

I’ve been a Mac for about 11 years. While I originally bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, I’ve fully moved over to macOS and have moved all of my app needs, wants and desires over to the Mac/ Apple side of the fence. This had made things good and bad; and I’m happy and sad with the results. In other words, I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve fully transitioned.

While I admit that I was less than happy with the recent Late 2016 MacBook Pro’s, some interesting information has come to light, and thankfully, I’ve finally gotten the time to digest it all.

Apple prognosticator, Ming Chi Kuo has released a few bullet points describing how he feels Apple will address some of the laptop’s shortcomings:

  1. Apple will combat high price complaints by offering discounts. Apple is targeting the Late 2016 13″ MBP without Touch Bar. Its Apple’s desire that this unit eventually replaces the 13″ MacBook Air.
  2. Apple will address performance by working with Intel to insure that the latest Kaby Lake chips get used in all MBP’s going forward
  3. Apple’s done a great deal to address batter life at this point. Some of this was resolved by both OS and battery firmware updates. Implementing the latest Kaby Lake processors will further address this issue and put it to bed.
  4. Apple intends to get low-powered RAM sticks into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so that it can eventually bump the specs to 32GB, resolving the criticism of high end Mac users.

There are some holes here, however. While cost is a huge issue, only addressing the price point of the 13″ MBP without Touch Bar doesn’t do anything for the rest of the product line. It only provides entry level discounts. The larger SSD’s, processor and RAM configurations when maxed out, price the 15″ MBP with TB, up over $4000, after tax ($3949.00, USD retail price). The 32GB configuration isn’t available yet; and my guess it’s going to be at least a $2000 add-on.

I have no idea how individuals like me, who have a real need for that level of processing power can afford a computer that will likely cost upwards of $6000 USD. It simply doesn’t make sense. I have no idea how the high end units will sell to the guys that have traditionally purchased them.

These are guys like me – freelance writers, graphic artists, photographers, programmers, etc. They work for themselves, or for small businesses. Apple computers are some of the best computers available today. Creative professionals like these need powerful machines with a lot of RAM. Unfortunately, the 2016 MacBook Pro, fully configured with 32GB of RAM and its largest SSD, is about double what last year’s MacBook Pro cost.

So what does the Future of the MacBook Pro look like?

It looks technologically superior; but it looks really expensive. I hope Ming Chi Kuo is right. I hope that it all happens.

How it all ends up, though, only time will tell. We’ve got a few months before WWDC hits, and with us approaching mid-March, it’s unlikely we’ll see a March event. So, it’s all about timing.

Right now, it’s expensive, and the port configuration(s) aren’t moving in a direction that I think will work for everyone. Certainly, you can get around the ports “problem” and use dongles while on the go and a docking station or other port replicator while at a workstation; but that doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s a band aide at best.

I’d love to hear what you all think. What do you think about the what Ming Chi Kuo says? Do you have a Late 2016 MacBook Pro? How do you get past the port problem, or the cost? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts.

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The Day that Apple Changed the World

The iPhone is 10 years old, and its introduction changed the world

Apple set the smartphone – and the world – on its ear when it introduced the iPhone to the back in 2007. Steve Jobs mashed the popular iPod Touch together with cellular communications technology and created what he called, “a revolutionary mobile phone and breakthrough internet communication device with desktop class email, web browsing, searching and maps [all combined] into one small and lightweight handheld device.”

That’s exactly what the iPhone is today, too. Still… even ten years later.

The device, however, is much, much more than it was. With more than two million available apps, its changed the way we play, commute and communicate with family, friends and the entire world. It gave birth to the Selfie, to the tweet, and to countless other things social. Its created bajillions of copycat devices, much to Samsung’s chagrin, and is in many ways the most successful consumer device, like, EVER.

So where does it go from here? That, my friends, requires a bit of vision. Many are prognosticating on this topic, and I don’t agree with everyone. Here’s where I think Apple will go with things, even if I don’t care for that particular direction.

Connectivity
Apple wants to be the communications hub of your entire existence. With things like Home Kit, your iDevice – including your iPhone – can communicate with the core infrastructure of your home. As costs come down for third party products – like locks, thermostats, light bulbs, appliances, etc. – imagine being able to control the temperature of your house from anywhere in the world, being able to see if you’re out of milk while on vacation and then being able to place an order for milk, eggs and bread while you’re gone and having them on your doorstep when you return home. While you can sort of do some, if not most of this today, it isn’t always easy… or accurate. It should be with future versions of iPhone.

Imagine being able to accurately communicate with all of your gadgets and appliances without dropped connections or other communications interference. Bluetooth 5 promises to provide communications accuracy as well as increased range and speed of communications with your entire home.

Artificial Intelligence
The biggest issues with the Amazon Echo and with Google Now is that both Amazon and Google require that you give up privacy and access to most if not all of your personal data to make their digital assistants work. Imagine if Apple could accomplish the same thing, while still protecting your privacy.

Apple intends to do this by keeping your data on your device, instead of pushing the request to the cloud where your data is collected, analyzed and aggregated with every other bit and byte. This will be a huge win for Apple if they can deliver. Keeping your data private and creating devices smart enough and fast enough – with enough memory (RAM) to handle local search should be a key initiative for Apple going forward.

Ports
Many folks lost their minds when Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I am not a huge fan of the missing headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I know a great deal of folks who are still a bit miffed about the whole thing; and Apple seems to be doing the same thing on their computing devices as well.

However, most fall into two categories – those that don’t care and those that can work around it.

Those people that can work around the lack of a headphone jack on their iPhone are those that have accepted the fact that they’re going to need a dongle to continue to use their legacy headphones with their iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. They’ve pulled the dongle that Apple included in the box with the new device, slapped it on the cable of their legacy headset and have decided to leave it there. The only issue most folks bump into here is listening to audio and charging at the same time. There are some splitter cables on the market right now that resolve this issue, but unless this is a big deal for someone, paying $40USD or more for a single dongle isn’t a very popular idea. (yes, Amazon DOES have splitter cables for about $10USD, but they don’t have MFI certification. If you go this route, use the cables with caution. The application of too much or too little power to a lithium ion battery can have explosive results.

The Next Big Thing
Figuring this out isn’t easy, especially when it comes to Apple. There are more rumors about what Apple is going to produce than anything else on the internet, really. Well… perhaps there are more cat videos, but this comes in as a close second.

The biggest problem here, is that no one hardly ever gets it right, until the last minute, and by THAT time, it’s too easy. Nearly anyone can produce an accurate guess at that point. However, figuring out what Apple is going to do with the iPhone ten years from now, isn’t going to be too hard, at least I think so.

Before 2027, Apple will discontinue what we consider to be the iPhone. Apple will likely produce a different device, with a completely different form factor to replace it. It’s likely NOT going to be in the traditional or familiar form factor. It could be a wearable. It could even be an implant, projecting a virtual display that only YOU can see.

Whatever the iPhone turns into, many see it being a wearable of some type. As reported by C|Net, input and output of data from a communications device and the brains of a product will reside with a [more fluid] device, [instead of a traditional smartphone]. I expect to see some REAL innovation in this space over the coming years as there’s no doubt in my mind that communications, could (literally) all be in your head.

What do you think? Do you see enough changes in the smartphone and peripherals market to change the iPhone into a wearable of some kind? What do you think the next big thing is? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts?

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