While some might wonder whether Apple will sell a bunch of new MacBook Pros, particularly the models with the Touch Bar and Touch ID, they seem to be off to a good start despite higher prices. Or so it seems, since it only took six hours for orders to back up a couple of weeks. Of course there’s no telling how many units Apple plans to build, or can build.
Is this a bet on Apple’s part? A way to demonstrate that there’s no need for a touchscreen on a notebook, since the Touch Bar does the extra stuff most people need? Is this something that will turn up on all Apple keyboards someday? So many questions, but few answers, despite the fact that Apple executives had a number of press briefings.
So far, it seems nobody bothered to ask, “What about the Mac Pro and the Mac mini?” Or maybe they were instructed not to talk about any other products. We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s a sure thing there will be no more new hardware from Apple this year. So if the model you wanted to be upgraded isn’t on the list, look to the spring of 2017.
One thing is clear to me: Apple put in a lot of effort to develop the Touch Bar and to slim the MacBook Pro. That’s not the sort of commitment you’d expect for a dying platform.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE we featured columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Gene and Kirk dissected the good, bad and ugly points in Apple’s media presentation where the main focus was to introduce a new MacBook Pro line. But what about the tentpole feature of the refreshed notebooks, the Touch Bar? Does it offer enough advanced features, as a context-sensitive OLED-based control strip, to justify a price increase of between $300-$400? More to the point, does Kirk plan to buy one? And what about the missing hardware, such as the three-year-old Mac Pro? It’s still available from Apple, but does it have a future?
You also heard from tech editor Sean Aune, director of operations for TechnoBuffalo, an online blog and gadget review site. He started the discussion with his observations about the new hardware from Microsoft, introduced the day before Apple’s event, where costly Surface Books and the Studio all-in-one computer were introduced. Did Microsoft take the wrong approach to actually exceed Apple’s prices on their new gear? Gene and Sean also talked about the MacBook Pro and the pricey new models with Touch Bar and Touch ID. The discussion moved to questions about the planned merger between AT&T and Time Warner. A match made in heaven — or that other place? And what about the DDoS attacks against DynDNS, which, for hours recently, nearly brought down a large portion of the Internet.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host Greg Bishop, of “Radio Misterioso,” present noted Canadian UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski with a UFO sighting update. For Halloween, he’ll also focus on “ghosts and UFOs,” and where there are, in fact, actual differences, or if they are actually two manifestations of the same phenomenon. He’ll also cover his articles on the dangers of UFO fandom, and what Canadians actually believe about UFOs. Says his bio: “Chris Rutkowski, BSc, MEd, is a Canadian science writer and educator, with a background in astronomy but with a passion for teaching science concepts to children and adults. Since the mid-1970s, he also has been studying reports of UFOs and writing about his investigations and research.”
AT&T must be looking real hard for extra cash from customers to pay for its planned merger with Time Warner. So I receive regular emails inviting me to upgrade a two-year-old iPhone 6. I might even consider it, though having my phone bill drop by $30 or so a month if I keep the current hardware is undeniably attractive. In fact, that appears to be the dilemma confronted by many iPhone owners. If their equipment is working nicely — and iOS 10 runs great on an iPhone 6 — is there any reason to buy something new?
Forget about the “missing” headphone jack, which really doesn’t impact a whole lot of people. But what about being water-resistant? What about the improved camera? Is it worth the inconvenience of an iPhone 7 Plus to be able to take delectable portraits? Oh, and I got to talking to a new owner of an iPhone 7 Plus at the checkout counter of the local Sam’s Club the other day. We exchanged devices for a moment — I figured I’d be better off if he decided to run away — and I was happy never to have considered one. It’s just too large for my needs.
In any case, on Saturday morning, I received a call from a long-time client — someone who long ago deserted me for the free service from an Apple Genius Bar — who asked if I’d help him set up an iPhone 7. But he reminded me that he didn’t really need my services. He could go to the Apple Store if he ran into difficulty, but wasn’t it worth the free lunch to be about to report about setting up one?
All right, I could use the money, but he’d take me to any restaurant I wanted in his neighborhood, and there was always a story to be written.
He welcomed me into his home, located just outside of Phoenix, and I went to his office (a converted den), where he had a boxed iPhone 7 — silver with 128GB storage — in front of his iMac. He grabbed another chair and waited for me to sit.
I first made sure he had a current backup of his iPhone 6, since he just wanted to migrate his stuff and not have to redo any settings other than reentering passwords.
But noticed that Apple has simplified the boxes a tad, but they still make it easy to pry the plastic covering from the box and from the handset. Once plugged in, it powered up, and I noticed that it was already charged to 77% of capacity. I envisioned a quick setup process, and lunch at one of my favorite mediterranean restaurants.
Alas, it wasn’t to be — at least for a little while.
You see, my friend’s iPhone 6 was using iOS 10.1, which came out this past week. But the iPhone 7 shipped with iOS 10.0.2, and iTunes thus protested that the backup wasn’t compatible. So I had to stop the setup dead in its tracks and first upgrade the new device to iOS 10.1.
Apple needs to consider the hazards of this potential OS mismatch on backup files. Surely they could parse the backup regardless.
In any case, once upgraded, I could no longer setup the unit as a new phone, since it had already been turned on and upgraded. Instead, I had to choose Restore. I also had to contact AT&T to activate the device; I thought it would be ready out of the box, but that might have caused problems since he was already using an iPhone 6 with the same phone number.
Once restored and activated, the iPhone 7 continued to charge. Completing the activation process required powering off and rebooting, something I’d do after lunch.
We returned, and I noticed the charge level had reached 100%. I spent a little time to consider the new model. Once inserted into a case, it was difficult to distinguish the iPhone 7 from the iPhone 6 — other than the modest changes in the external camera design, until I looked at the bottom of the unit. There were grills for two speakers, plus the lightning port. No headphone jack.
Otherwise, the real differences were obvious. Boot up times were noticeably faster. On testing, my friend found Touch ID more responsive, recognizing his thumb print almost instantaneously. It was almost too fast, but the new solid state Home button, using capacitative touch instead of a physical switch, is definitely an acquired taste. Once I set the click and home button rates in Settings, I mentally compared it to my impressions when I used the Magic Touchpad last year.
It all came flooding back to me, the squishy feel of pressing a non-button, sensing the slight click in response from the Taptic Engine. I even felt a physical movement — it’s not real — when I pressed the switch. It was as if the switch had come loose and might stop working in a moment. That might be true for a physical switch. Since this was solid state, I had nothing to worry about.
I tried some more settings to see if I could find a combo that would better imitate the feel of a traditional mechanical Home button, but I couldn’t. If you’re already used to the Magic Touchpad, or the touchpad on recent Apple notebooks, you won’t mind. Otherwise, well, it’s just one of the more noticeable changes in the iPhone 7. But if it removes one more point of failure, I suppose it’s all right.
While working through the interface and testing app after app, I had to consider the fact that the iPhone 7 offers performance comparable to a mid-range PC. All from Apple’s ARM-based chip technology, and that’s just astounding. But I’m not advocating for Apple to switch from Intel to ARM on Macs. Even though there is an ARM chip inside the new MacBook Pro to manage the functionality of the Touch Bar, this doesn’t represent a potential processor switch. More than likely, you’ll just see more system functions taken over by ARM hardware, but the Mac will still be Intel-based otherwise.
The long and short of it is that Apple has fine-tuned iPhone hardware to be faster, more responsive in almost every respect. The camera switches on almost in an instant ready to capture a photo or a video. The stereo speakers are — well, louder, but there’s still no bass to speak of. To someone of my advanced age, it reminds me of one of those old-fashioned transistor radios with an extra speaker. It’s loud enough to almost fill a normal-sized room. It’s reasonably undistorted, and may be as good as it gets for a tiny speaker. But what about some overdone bass technology from Beats Electronics.
According to published reports, Apple did deliver a more bassy sonic character for the new MacBook Pro’s speakers, so maybe there’s hope. Maybe the next iPad Pro will show us the way.
Meantime, if you’re in the market to upgrade to an iPhone 7, I say go for it. There do not appear to be any defects of note. You’ll get used to the solid state Home button, and the loss of the headphone jack is largely a non-issue for most people. For those who must charge and listen at the same time — and have a headphone with a traditional mini-plug, well there’s a dongle for that.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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