Despite misgivings about making predictions, I made a few ahead of last week’s Apple developer event, the WWDC. With rumors of slight refreshes for Mac notebooks, I went along with the crowd, and was rewarded with success. The MacBook and MacBook Pro each received Intel Kaby Lake processors. The MacBook Air, still using silicon from the 2015 Broadwell family, received a minor speed bump. The only surprise was the fact that the MacBook Pro’s refresh came so quickly.
What I didn’t respect was the iMac. Not only was there a similar update for the regular model, but an iMac Pro was demonstrated. Nothing about the regular iMacs comes as a surprise. It’s mostly what you’d expect, though I didn’t anticipate further improvements to the display. But the iMac Pro came out of left field. I had thought that Apple would just add a few pro configurations for the regular model. Instead they built a new model, enhancing its thermal capacity to allow for use of Xeon processors, support for ECC error-correcting memory, and AMD Radeon Pro Vega graphics. Before I get to the other enhancements, we’re talking about the guts of a workstation.
And, at a time where Apple is perceived as overcharging for Macs, they boasted that the base $4,999 iMac Pro is actually a couple of thousand dollars cheaper than similar hardware on a Windows PC. Some people were able to reduce the price difference by cutting out some frills on do-it-yourself PCs, but Apple is surely more price competitive that some of you realize. However, a fully decked out iMac Pro with an 18-core Xeon processor, 128GB RAM, and 4TB of SSD storage, will surely hit five figures.
And don’t forget the new iPad Pros.
Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused on one of the most important keynotes from Apple Inc. in recent years, at their 2017 Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). During this event, new operating systems for the iPhone, the iPad, the Mac, the Apple TV and the Apple Watch were demonstrated. You heard about some of the important new features, such as how iOS 11 will make the iPad work more like a Mac in handling productivity apps.
By far the most attention was focused on a slew of new hardware announcements. After a slowdown in Mac updates during 2016, Apple introduced updates for the MacBook Air, MacBook, and MacBook Pro notebooks. There were also updates for the iMac. Keeping the promise of an iMac with pro features was a demonstration of the forthcoming iMac Pro, a 27-inch all-in-one powerhouse sporting the guts of a computer workstation. You also heard about Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo, the HomePod, a $349 loudspeaker that is directed by Apple’s digital assistant, Siri.
But the latter is a product that barely interests me, although I might consider one if it can completely replace the soundbar I use with my TV.
Our guests included outspoken commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and author/editor Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Continuing an ongoing discussion, Gene and Chris present two of the people responsible for a fascinating and insightful book, “UFOs: Reframing the Debate.” Featured guests include Robbie Graham, the book’s editor, and one of the authors, Robert Brandstetter, known in The Paracast Forums as Burnt State. From the description of the book: “If ever we are to further our understanding of the UFO enigma, we must fundamentally reframe our debate. We must wipe the board clean and fill it with new ideas, new theories, even new language. We must be willing to start from scratch when the field stagnates. We must be critical, sober, and free of dogma—ready to rinse away the residue of our own beliefs.”
When Apple began to make a few alterations to the macOS to adopt features from iOS, you can bet that some Mac users howled. So being able to switch the direction of scrolling to the “natural” direction used on iPhones and iPads, and other minor interface alterations, were sharply criticized.
There was a method in Apple’s apparent madness, and it wasn’t to kill the Mac. It was more about making it possible for you to do some things the same way on the two platforms. But the Mac remained the Mac and iOS gear remained separate, even though the operating systems are all descended from the same source.
For some, it was expected that the macOS was surely on the way out, and you’d soon run iOS on Macs. But using a mouse or a trackpad with a physical keyboard are different than working exclusively on a touchscreen. Obviously the end results must be essentially the same, and so Apple had to adapt the systems to conform.
Even then, using fingers instead of moving a tiny cursor makes for less precision. So interfaces have to be appropriately modified. Even now, cut, copy and paste on an iPhone or iPad are awkward, though these features work a little more smoothly than they used to.
But at a time when the Windows world mandates convergence, where you have 2-in-1 notebooks with touchscreens, Apple vows they will never do that. It’s akin to marrying a toaster oven and a refrigerator. The critics say Apple must change its ways, but it’s nonetheless true that the 2-in-1 PC is more expensive, and most people buy cheaper gear that works in the more traditional fashion.
PC sales, meanwhile, continue to decline slightly, with a few companies gaining sales at the expense of others. After quarters of slightly lower sales, Macs are on the upswing again, though with single digit increases. Will the rush of hardware updates, ahead of the educational buying season, change matters any? That remains to be seen, but right now the only Mac not getting attention is the Mac mini. Does that mean it’s on the way out, or is Apple working on something to keep the Mac in the minds of customers this fall? Clearly the arrival of the iMac Pro, promised for December, will get plenty of coverage.
So it appears the Mac’s future is guaranteed, at least for a few years. Someday, however, Macs will no longer be relevant except to fulfill the needs of a small number of power users.
At one time, it was even believed that the iPad was a potential Mac replacement, but that thought went astray when sales began to decline. Apple also appeared to lose interest in its tablet platform, although that, too, changed this year.
So there is a relatively cheap version of the traditional iPad, a so-called fifth generation model using a case design similar to the iPad Air. The iPad Air 2 form factor, adapted for the iPad Pro, is gone. A new 10.5-inch iPad Pro has a reduced bezel size to fit a larger display in a case nearly the same size and weight as its predecessor.
But the iPad is still saddled with the multitasking and other productivity limitations of iOS 10. That is, until iOS 11 arrives.
In addition to the multitasking constraints, the lack of access to the iOS file system has been a matter of concern, especially if you want to be able to manage your files efficiently. If you are going to work with different apps, and want documents to move over, there has to be a way. Certainly there have been third-party app solutions that expose the file system, so it’s not impossible.
Indeed, under the veneer of iOS there are indeed files and folders, just as there are on a Mac. You just have to see them.
Apple’s solution is the Files app for iOS 11, which is roughly equivalent to putting the Finder on iOS. A more traditional Dock, and app/document features influenced by Mission Control and Spaces, clearly indicate where Apple found its inspiration.
I recall talking about multitasking and file management changes on iPads awhile back on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, only to have the guest tell me that Apple would never adapt Mac features in iOS. I suggested maybe they would look for a better solution, but the solution they ended up with is still adapted from the Mac. A key reason is that people are accustomed to the traditional file/folder metaphor, and other ways of dealing with their documents. Why force them to learn something new, when the traditional methods work? They still have to be adapted to the touchscreen.
But there’s one more thing!
So you know that Apple has promised never to make a 2-in-1 Mac. It’s not that you can take that promise to the bank. Apple has been known to change its mind. There is, for example, an iPad mini, coming after Steve Jobs joked about needing to sandpaper your fingers to use a small tablet. The excuse was that the iPad mini had much more screen real estate because it used a slightly larger display with a standard aspect radio, not a widescreen. But it’s also true that some use the iPhone 7 Plus as a tablet too.
Are you with me so far?
So what about that 2-in-1 Mac? Well there isn’t one, but Apple still builds a 2-in-1 personal computer. Just take and iPad, hook up a keyboard case or add a Smart Keyboard to an iPad Pro, and that’s what you have.
When you use that setup, however, you realize what’s wrong with a 2-in-1 PC. You type on a traditional keyboard, but have to raise your arm to do something on the screen to mimic traditional mouse/trackpad cursor functions. It’s not very comfortable or efficient. It proves that Apple’s argument against such form factors was right on, even if they are selling such beasts.
One possible solution would be to provide an iPad keyboard with a trackpad. I envision a Smart Keyboard with a slide-out drawer at the bottom that provides the trackpad function for those who want it. I’m sure Apple can devise a way to make it happen without making the unit too thick. You can already buy third-party keyboards that more or less convert an iPad into a faux MacBook.
But do such accessories — and the changes to iOS 11 — amount to turning an iPad into a simplified Mac? Not so fast, but maybe it will point the way towards the computer of the future, at least for most of you.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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