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  • The Late 2016 MacBook Pro and Endless Controversies

    December 8th, 2016

    The carping about the perceived lapses in the Late 2016 MacBook Pro won’t end. I would have thought that complaining about the lack of a 32GB option, the high price, and hopes for more performance and battery life, would die down after a while. But they haven’t, and there are other issues that are getting attention.

    Complaints about the Touch Bar include the width of the virtual keys, the propensity for hitting the wrong key, and whether the available options can really improve your productivity. But it’s early in the game and apps are just starting to issue updates that support the new hardware. It’s up to developers to figure out what works with their products, although the demonstrations with Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro X, at Apple’s media event, were impressive.

    The argument about the lack of support for 32GB RAM is based on the fact that some PC notebooks do. But no Apple notebook has ever supported more than 16GB RAM. Apple executives, particularly VP Philip Schiller, assert that battery life would suffer severely if a different hardware memory scheme were used. The critics suggest Apple should just produce two different models, one that emphasizes power savings, the other that emphasizes performance. assuming that doubling RAM would make a huge difference. But in many cases it doesn’t, and the speedier SSDs help when virtual memory is required.

    This is a question of asking Apple to do something they haven’t done before, which is to provide essentially two different logic board configurations for the same product, one as a low-production option. You might see that on the PC side, where few manufacturers make much in the way of profits from personal computers, and they overwhelm the public with different model configurations. But Apple is never going to provide as many options as some want.

    Even then, there are some complaints about battery life, with users saying they are only getting as little as half what Apple claims, in the five-hour range. At the same time there appears to be a bug in the handling of the switchover from integrated graphics to discrete graphics on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The obvious symptom would be graphics artifacts, but this problem appears to occur on units that only feature integrated graphics. But if a dual-graphics unit doesn’t switch from discrete graphics when it should, that would shorten battery life.

    According to published reports, Apple executive Craig Federighi is quoted as saying, in an email to a Mac user, that the forthcoming Sierra 10.12.2 update will fix the graphics issues. I assume that would include the inability to properly switch between the dual-processors, which ought to improve battery life. Nothing is being said about other power efficiencies that would be managed by the OS or some misbehaving apps.

    What makes the battery issues most confusing is the fact that not everyone is impacted. Reviewers almost universally report battery life consistent with Apple’s claims of up to 10 hours. Well, one exception I know about offhand is columnist Joe Wilcox, who also says he’s not getting much more than five hours. But again this may all be about the OS or individual apps doing things they aren’t supposed to do.

    Regardless, when Sierra 10.12.2 lands — and it should be shortly — well see what it fixes. Meantime, it is available to both developers and public beta testers, and according to published reports, it does seem to fix all or most of the graphics glitches. I haven’t heard about the battery life shortcomings, though I suppose we’ll know soon enough. My feeling is that the pending updates will all arrive before Christmas, possibly within days.

    What bothers me is that some critics pretend Apple hasn’t had such problems before. Don’t forget that the first dual-graphics MacBook Pros from Apple also had switchover glitches. Some of the problems required replacing the unit, and we all know it’s happened in PC land. Don’t forget that the latest MacBook Pro is a very new design in many respects, so bugs are to be expected. But I also expect Apple to figure out what’s wrong and take care of the problem.

    Consider that Boot Camp audio glitch that fried MacBook Pro speakers. Apple will certainly replace the affected machines, and the Boot Camp audio drivers have been fixed. Consider the battery problem that impacts the iPhone 6s. Apple has announced a repair program to replace the batteries without charge. Over the years, there have been a number of extended repair programs from Apple to fix hardware defects that can cause a product to misbehave or fail.

    When a new product arrives, however. it may take a while for the shakedown cruise, for the glitches to be identified and more time for them to be fixed. It becomes really difficult when a problem isn’t consistent, where some users have the problem and others don’t. It reminds me of the car that misfires — until you bring it to the repair shop and it works perfectly. I can tell you a few stories.

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