This column was written before Apple released its fourth fiscal quarter financials. With record revenue, Apple’s results were at the high-end of Wall Street expectations. For now, you can read the basics at Apple’s site. I’ll be dealing with that subject in more detail in the next issue.
So macOS Catalina has been available for nearly four weeks as I write this. A 10.15.1, bug fix update arrived on Tuesday, October 29th, which likely dealt with some of the bugs in the first release.
Now even though the first public beta of Catalina arrived in late June, I didn’t touch it until September 9th (my birthday) because of problems with the third-party software I need to get work done. Since my aging 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro was left behind as of macOS High Sierra, my notebook has been, more or less, living in the past. I no longer had a second computer on which to test things.
So I was left with my 27-inch iMac 5K. But I also have three backups. One is a clone backup from Carbon Copy Cloner. A second external drive is used for Time Machine. The third backup is offsite, courtesy of Backblaze, a great value for just $6 per month.
Long and short is that I didn’t have to worry so much about a failed system upgrade, although restoring close to 900GB of data takes a few hours to complete.
But I did have to worry about the consequences of Apple’s decision to finally drop support for 32-bit apps. But it’s not as if this was a sudden move. Apple has been telegraphing that move for several years, giving developers plenty of time to get with the program. Well, if the developer is still at working on the app.
Which takes us to The Levelator, freeware from The Conversations Network, which provides intelligent level matching and normalizing of audio files. Sure, you can do it on a decent audio editing app with the proper selection of filters — and some trial and error — but The Levelator gets it done via a simple drag and drop.
Unfortunately, The Levelator is no longer being developed. The last version, 2.1.2, was built primarily to support macOS El Capitan. I had urged them to do something (as did others), and I suppose there were enough requests to encourage the developers to do the job. While I assume it only meant some minor programming changes; it will likely be a lot more complicated transitioning The Levelator to 64-bit.
I hear that may happen — eventually. But if I really wanted to move to Catalina before the release date, so I had to consider possible alternatives. One workable solution is Auphonic, a cloud-based audio post production service. While you get two free hours of processing per month, you have to pay a fee to handle more content. For my needs, it would cost $23 for 21 hours.
Obviously that’s not a lot of money in the scheme of things, but I’m trying my best to steer clear of extra expenses. So what to do while I await a 64-bit upgrade to The Levelator, when and if it arrives?
Well, it so happens the app is also available for Linux and Windows. Parallels recently sent me the latest version of its virtual machine app, Parallels Desktop, to evaluate. It’s Coherence feature allows Windows to integrate more closely with the macOS, putting the apps you want to run next to your Mac apps in the Dock.
So even with Catalina installed, I can still launch The Levelator, but it’s the Windows version. In fact, it appears to work better than the macOS version. When I drag some audio files to its icon in the Dock, it launches multiple instances, a separate window for each file. Based on limited testing, it can handle up to 10 files at a time.
Now I’m not saying it happens any faster; Parallels has really optimized the app. The sole downside is that it takes a short while for Windows to launch before The Levelator operates.
I can do this indefinitely, unless a future upgrade of Windows 10 makes The Levelator incompatible. But I could, I suppose, install a version of Linux and get on about my business. But I’d still like to see a native 64-bit macOS update.
Otherwise, the apps I need run just fine for the most part. I still capture audio for my radio show, The Paracast, with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack. There are new versions of the Amadeus Pro and Sound Studio post-production apps, and Skype — well it still flakes out from time to time, but, with a little patience, it’s reliable enough to get my shows done.
I’ve left the Catalina installation process for last. It was mostly uneventful, even with the late betas. Yes, there are significant differences, which is why some third-party backup software needs serious changes. So for security, the OS is run on a dedicated read-only APFS system volume, with the rest of your stuff placed on a volume with a “Data” suffix.
But you don’t, or shouldn’t, see two drive icons on your desktop. The OS manages that for the most part. The lone exception, is the Time Machine volume. While it still displays only one volume icon on your desktop, it’s Finder listing shows the additional “Data” volume too.
I suppose that’s a glitch that Apple will fix eventually since it’s apt to be confusing.
Yet another problem that I hope will be addressed in a future maintenance update is all about cursor movement. After a couple of days, it becomes and ragged, as if it’s jumping from position to position after a slight pause. A curious side effect is that, when trying to grab audio in Audio Hijack, the app hangs.
A restart fixes the problem. Now it may just be that this is an Audio Hijack issue that somehow impacts the OS. Rogue Amoeba has released version 3.6.2 with some performance improvements and bug fixes. So we’ll see.
Other than third-party apps, there are reports of a peculiar bug in Mail, which evidently damages some messages to the extent that some are incomplete, or are missing in action. It doesn’t seem to occur with everyone; I haven’t seen it during casual checks of tens of thousands of stored emails dating back to 1999 (don’t ask!).
That problem could be a deal breaker for some of you, and it really never hurts to wait out a couple of maintenance updates before taking the plunge.
But macOS Catalina is not the only OS from Apple with teething pains. The release of iOS 13 was ragged, and it required updates to set things right. The current version, 13.2, has loads of fixes and some new features, such as Deep Fusion, a machine learning function that supports the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro smartphones.
Other than managing some of the new multitasking features on iPadOS 13, Barbara is not repeating any problems on her iPad Air 2. Even if iOS 14 leaves it behind, she’ll still use it so long as it continues to run properly.
As iOS has matured with each new version, Apple removes support for older gear, both iPhones and iPads. This is understandable, as features in the new OS may simply not work, or work poorly.
Even then, the oldest supported model, which worked well enough, seemed to lag with a new iOS upgrade. Sometimes it seemed barely usable, and the cynical among us assumed it was about Apple wanting to obsolete older gear. Sure, they are playing lip service to compatibility, but they really want to encourage you to buy the newest model.
But things changed beginning ub iOS 12, where Apple touted substantial improvements in app launching and other performance parameters on the oldest support model, the iPhone 6.
With iOS 13, Apple made a similar pronouncement about performance improvements on older gear. It goes back to the iPhone 6s and the “Plus” variant, plus iPads of that period. Since I just happen to have an iPhone 6s around, I decided to give it a brief test. It ran quite well with iOS 12 and it even seemed snappier than it did before the upgrade to iOS 13.
Unlocking with the passcode seemed as quick as before. I randomly selected apps on the device, which included Mail, Pages, Safari, Yelp, AppleInsider and a few others that represented the ones most often used. After launching these apps, I put them through their paces.
The verdict? You’d be surprised how fast an iPhone 6s can be, and it was released four years ago. Sure, I didn’t run Geekbench, or some high-energy games. Benchmarks wouldn’t change, and Barbara and I aren’t gamers. No doubt resource-intensive apps would run slowly regardless, but they just aren’t on my agenda.
I also compared it to more recent iPhones that I borrowed for a few minutes from friends. None of them, even the iPhone 11, seemed to run all that much faster. Sure, they were snappier, but I think most of you probably wouldn’t notice — or care.
iOS 13 also includes a battery optimization feature, to regulate charging to suit your usage pattern. That’s done to maximize battery longevity.
The long and short is that Apple cares enough to make sure that a four-year-old product works as good as it ever did — maybe better — and that means it’s good enough for most iPhone users. The consequence is that customers might just be inclined to hang on to older gear rather than invest in new hardware. It surely hurts Apple’s bottom line in a world where smartphone sales have largely peaked.
Despite concerns that Apple is hot to sell you new stuff — and obviously they are — that doesn’t mean abandoning users with older hardware. In fact, the desktop computer I use for my work is a 27-inch iMac that’s several years old. I have no complaints whatever with its performance for the kind of work I do.
Sure, even today’s iPhone will leave it behind in benchmarks. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Apple clearly cares about its Mac users too.
Now imagine how much life you’ll get with an Android phone, and how long can you receive OS updates. Well, for some, it’s never.
There are those class-action lawsuits about throttling iPhones with aging batteries and all. But that’s old news, and I’d be surprised if they go anywhere; well, maybe Apple will offer some coupons to settle and get rid of these complaints. But that would mean essentially admitting it did something wrong.
To me, Apple’s approach to supporting older gear is commendable. In the long run, it may even encourage more people to buy new devices when the time arrives because they have great experiences with their existing gear.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
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