Tag Archives: Mac

Thoughts on the Hello Again Event

A few quick takeaways from Apple’s Hello Again event:

  • Accessibility is one of those things that makes Apple stand out as a company. They’ve cared about it for a long time, but they’ve upped their game even further in the Tim Cook era. Just as they have on environmental issues, diversity, social justice and equality, and on and on. They have a long way to go before they are perfect, but they strive to be better than what they are. And you can’t deny their impact on people’s lives. Some see Apple opening their keynotes this way as a distraction. Or “the boring part.” Some cynical people probably see it as a smokescreen. I see it as a clear, public demonstration of what the company values. And that makes me feel good as a customer and shareholder.
  • Apple is out of the monitor business. When Phil Schiller is on stage saying “Hey, check out this cool new LG Monitor” you know Apple has no plans to make a monitor ever again.
  • The MacBook Air is done. They may be keeping the 13-inch around to sell out current inventory, but the new Pro is now smaller than the 13-inch Air ever was, and the 12-inch MacBook is already smaller than the 11-inch Air. So size is no longer a benefit. The only remaining benefit of the Air—cost—is answered by the 12-inch MacBook, the entry-level Touch Bar-less MacBook Pro, and my next bullet point.
  • The days of the sub $1,000 Mac are done. I thought the Air would stick around for another generation because of this price tier, but then I thought about it more carefully. Low-cost PCs make almost no sense anymore. People who need the power of macOS are becoming a smaller group with every passing year. Prices will continue to reflect the shrinking market. Apple has an entry-level machine for people who are budget constrained, and it’s only $599. It’s called the iPad Pro. That machine does everything the target audience for an 11-inch Air or 13-inch Air would need and more. The MacBook and MacBook Pro 13 with no Touch Bar will cover anyone else, albeit at a slightly higher cost. The price you pay for needing more power than the average person. Pretty soon, the only people who need macOS will be certain kinds of pros. So it’s pro machines from here on out. And those pro machines are going to keep getting more expensive. Don’t worry; you won’t be upgrading them very often.
  • Laptops are where Apple sees pros moving forward. I don’t think they’ll kill the iMac soon, necessarily, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mac Pro were truly dead this time.[1] The Touch Bar is a perfect demonstration of where Apple wants to innovate. And it’s likely a laptop-only feature. Sure, they could put a Touch Bar on a Bluetooth keyboard, but I’m not 100% sure they will.[2] Which means even the next generation iMac will likely be missing out on this incredibly cool and useful new input device. Meanwhile the MacBook is likely to get a Touch Bar as soon as it’s cost-effective. Apple clearly sees portability as being an important value to professionals. Some may spend 90% of their time sitting in a room alone working, but many other professionals need their machines to go wherever they do. And with Thunderbolt 3, it’s easier than ever to take one cable and plug into power, external display, multiple USB peripherals, web cam, and more when at your home office. The laptop becomes as powerful as a desktop workstation in a second with one cable, yet still retains the ability to be taken elsewhere when needed.
  • The Touch Bar is a big deal. I’ve heard some say they aren’t sold on it yet, but once they get one, I think they’ll change their tune. This is the first input device for macOS since the trackpad that will change the way we use our laptops. Because it’s built in. And it’s in the perfect place, just above where my hands already are. If developers are smart about the controls they put up there, and people can customize as much as it appears they can, it’ll soon be hard to imagine life without the Touch Bar. So much so I would say that even using your MacBook Pro in clamshell mode with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse is going to become less popular. The Touch Bar will be that useful, and you will notice when it isn’t there. I’m so stoked about the Touch Bar that I’m considering not replacing my iMac next year, as I had planned. Instead, I’ll get a 13-inch or 15-inch Pro and finally consolidate into one Mac again, after six years of using a 2-Mac setup.
  • The Touch Bar is not cheap. Apple created a “dumbed-down” MacBook Pro to help bridge the gap between Air buyers and Pro buyers. It’s telling that they left in the gorgeous new wide-color display and the Thunderbolt 3, but took out the Touch Bar as a cost-saving measure. There’s nothing “Pro” specific about the Touch Bar itself. The emoji alone will appeal greatly to consumers. But this input device is debuting on the Pro because it’s a costly add-on for Apple, and the highest-margin machines are the easiest place to add such a feature. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s MacBook only gets the Touch Bar on the high-end model, too.[3]
  • The new MacBook Pros have finally gotten thin and light enough to make the 12-inch MacBook less appealing to me. People make fun of Apple’s obsession with thin, but this is a massive deal to people like me. I use my laptop every single day. I travel around New York City with it, on crowded subways and busy sidewalks. On busses, trains, and coach-class airplane seats. And it’s seldom the only thing I’m carrying. My laptop can never be thin enough or light enough. If I had the last generation of MacBook Pro, I’d be leaving it home much more often and opting for my iPad when moving around. The new Pro seems to have crossed the threshold of light and small enough to become my one-and-only Mac.[4] I could not be more excited about this.
  • Apple’s long-term strategy for the Mac could not be more clear. They are consolidating all the various models into one line in three sizes: 12-inch, 13-inch, and 15-inch. The larger ones will be more powerful and expensive, the smaller more portable and cheaper. Choose accordingly. In a few years, I suspect there will be exactly that many laptops—and perhaps just that many Macs in total—from which to choose. This makes perfect sense for a category of technology that, frankly, is becoming more niche by the minute. Keep making it more powerful and more portable, and add innovative features like Touch Bar that give you the benefits of multitouch input, but in a way that makes sense within this form factor. It may not be your ideal picture of the future of macOS, but it’s definitely a strategy, and one that Apple thinks is best for its long-term business. And looking at the evolving market, it sure seems like they know what they are doing.

  1. People have noted the stark contrast between Apple’s laptop-only announcements this week and Microsoft’s Surface Studio announcement. As much as I think the Surface Studio is an awesome machine for artists, I think Apple is probably right in putting all their chips on laptops over desktops. There’s probably a market for the Surface Studio, but it’s a really small one. Maybe Apple should do all it can to hold on to those artists, but honestly, I think they stand a better chance of doing that with a larger iPad than a macOS machine that converts to a drafting table. It’ll be interesting to see where Apple takes iPad (and consequently iOS) next year. There’s no reason iOS can’t become an operating system for certain categories of pros, like digital artists.  ↩

  2. One issue with a Touch Bar on a wireless keyboard is angle of view. The Touch Bar screen is optimized for the angle at which your eyes are likely to be positioned while typing on a laptop. A quick glance down to the bar is natural and doesn’t disrupt your focus on the main screen. With a detached keyboard, especially one that sits on a shelf below your desk, the controls on the Touch Bar become far less visible, and thus far less useful. The Touch Bar could easily become a cumbersome distraction, rather than a useful tool, in this setup. Thus, I would not be surprised if Apple never brings it to the iMac or its standalone Bluetooth keyboards.  ↩

  3. Whereas I had previously thought the 12-inch MacBook was going to get cheaper every year until it could take over the old 11-inch Air $999 price slot, I now think it more likely to retain its higher price but have the addition of the Touch Bar instead. At least in the short term. Or, as I suggested, they could split the high and low end by offering the Touch Bar on the higher-priced versions only. But I’ll be amazed if the MacBook doesn’t get the Touch Bar at all next year.  ↩

  4. Even the 15-inch is somewhat appealing to me, if it’s going to be my only Mac. I don’t see myself getting an external display, so getting all the pixels I can out of my internal monitor might be worth the extra weight. And it’ll be pricier, but likely last longer for me. I’ve gotten by for almost four years now on my current iMac. I could see myself going 4 years on a MacBook Pro 15-inch, but probably fewer on a slower 13-inch. Not sure about that one yet for me. I’ll reserve judgment until I can get both sizes in my hands.  ↩

Built-in Text Replacements vs. TextExpander

Yesterday, I mentioned I could probably replace TextExpander with the built-in Mac and iOS text replacements, given that I generally don’t use the more advanced features of TextExpander, anyway.

So this morning, I fired up my MacBook, opened System Preferences and TextExpander side by side, and created shortcuts for my most-commonly used TextExpander snippets in the built-in system. There were a few shortcuts I had created that could fill in forms, or put the cursor in the middle of the text replacement (two features that the built-in replacements can’t do) but I thought there was a good chance I’d get over that minor inconvenience quickly.

Then, a few hours later, I took a look at my iPhone’s text replacements. Given that these are supposed to sync over iCloud, I expected to see all my new replacements right there on my phone.[1]

Not quite.

Oddly, about half of them had synced, while the other half were missing. One duplicate that I had deleted was still there. As of this writing, the missing ones are still missing. On my home iMac, none of the new shortcuts have appeared. My iPad Air 2 seems to have one or two of them. My iPad Pro has none.

Maybe Smile wasn’t crazy to make sync the tentpole feature of its new subscription service, after all.


  1. Okay, I’m lying. I fully expected the iCloud sync to be a disaster, since text replacements have never synced properly for me on any of my devices. But I thought maybe there was a minute chance Apple had addressed this in the most recent updates. Nope.  ↩

Goodbye, Helvetica

9to5Mac claims that Helvetica Neue is on its way out as Apple’s system font for OS X and iOS.

Helvetica Neue looks pretty crappy with its custom kerning in OS X, especially on non-Retina screens. (Which a majority of Mac users use and will use for years to come.) I don’t know how San Francisco will look on a non-Retina screen, but it would very likely be no worse.

Personally, I never thought standardizing on one font for all of Apple’s platforms was necessary. But if they’re going to do it, better San Francisco—which was designed for the screen, at least—than Helvetica Neue.

Laptop Preferences

The extremely shallow key travel is partly to blame, but so is the keyswitch feel. They’re more like clicky buttons than keyboard keys, feeling almost like the iPhone’s Home button. They don’t engage or actuate — they snap. This makes it harder to modulate downward force while typing on them, especially from your weaker outer fingers.

I can type on the MacBook, but I’d rather not.

(via Marco Arment)

Where was this article when Marco and I were supposed to have an on-stage argument at Úll this year?[1] I basically disagree with every single one of his conclusions in this piece.

I love the keyboard on my new MacBook. I have no issues with the trackpad. The weight and size reduction is well worth any compromises in speed, etc. I’ve written already about how much I like this thing. I’ll even take it a step further and say that I’ve developed an actual affection for the MacBook, the way I have for my Apple Watch. The way I did for many of my early Macs. My first iPod, etc.[2]

I want to find more reasons to use my MacBook. I spend more time in cafés working rather than running home to my big 27-inch iMac screen most weekdays. I’ve even gotten into the habit of doing some late afternoon work in the living room, with the MacBook on my lap as I sit on the couch.

But that’s the thing. This machine is polarizing. It makes perfect sense that someone who has been using a 15-inch Pro for the past few years would have a harder time making the transition. It makes sense that reactions to the keyboard are all over the map.[3] As someone who travels on the New York subway every day, I not surprisingly prioritize the weight and size difference more than others might.

Laptops have matured well past the point where there’s any one machine that could appeal to all of us.

And that’s why I’m glad the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros still exist. Perhaps the one thing I agree with Marco about on the laptop front is that Apple is likely to evolve the Pros closer to this MacBook moving forward, and that is unfortunate. The new MacBook Pro released yesterday is merely a delay in this transition (thanks to Intel), but the MacBook-ification of the Pro line is inevitable. I would prefer that Apple continue to branch out and make varying machines for varying preferences, rather than continue along the path of unification along the entire line. Why not make a thicker MacBook Pro that gets 12 hours of battery life? I’m not going to buy it, but clearly other people would.

Maybe the Apple Watch will be a good influence on Apple in this regard. Perhaps having to cater to different fashion preferences will open Apple’s mind a bit about their technological preferences.[4] But I’m not holding my breath.


  1. Coincidentally, I was actually sitting next to Dave Wiskus having a drink when Marco published this piece. Dave, of course, staged our Úll discussion hoping that the two of us would have a full smack down disagreement session, a sort of Crossfire for tech geeks. But we ended up agreeing on pretty much everything we discussed. If only we had waited a few more weeks. Sorry, Dave.  ↩

  2. Unlike my iPhone 6, which I still actively dislike. I remain convinced that five years from now, the 6 will be considered one of the weakest designs of iPhone, second only to the 3G.  ↩

  3. Read the reactions to the keyboard by Rene Ritchie, David Sparks, and Jason Snell to get the full spectrum between my enthusiasm and Marco’s active disdain. It’s not often you get this much disagreement within our own community over a single feature in an Apple product.  ↩

  4. I’m selfishly hoping for this so I can get a proper 4-inch iPhone screen again, too.  ↩

Thoughts on the New MacBook

Many reviews have already been written about the MacBook by people far more qualified than I, making a comprehensive review by me pointless. But I did have a few thoughts over the past few days that I wanted to share [1].

The New Keyboard:

Lots of debate on short throw vs. long throw. My approach to typing is much like my approach to any musical instrument. If I want to play fast, I need economy of motion. The less distance my fingers need to travel, the faster I can play. That’s physics. Typing is no different. If you’re used to pounding on Cherry switches, though, you’re probably going to disagree. That’s okay. We’re allowed to disagree on this.

Based on what many reviews suggested, and my own experience typing at the Apple Store for a few minutes, I thought it would take me a day or two to get used to the new keyboard. In reality, it took seconds.[2]

Because of the lower height of the keys, and the fact that they are sufficiently recessed into the unibody, this is the first laptop I’ve ever owned that doesn’t have the nasty habit of leaving keyboard-shaped grease stains all over my screen whenever I close it. I can’t tell you how significant an improvement this is. There’s virtually no grease on my screen, and that’s without putting a cloth over the keyboard when I close the lid. As someone who has been a laptop user since 1996, I’m practically weeping with joy over this. I’ve been cleaning that grease off of various screens regularly for years, and now I don’t need to worry about it nearly as much. Future of the notebook, indeed.

Backlighting is not just nicer, but significantly nicer. Having each key illuminated with its own source results in far less light leak around the keys, which makes the keyboard far less distracting in low-light situations. Combine that with the improved font (San Francisco) on the new larger keys, and you get a far better low-light experience using this machine.[3] It’s almost as if the text on the keys isn’t artificially lit up, but rather just happens to be visible in the dark.

My only issue with the keyboard is the arrow key situation. Specifically, the “up” key is pretty hard to find by feel alone. That’s a bummer.

Space Gray

I’m usually a plain old silver kind of guy. For whatever reason, I usually like the silver iPhone, the silver iPad, etc. The whole Darth Vader thing never appealed to me. (I even ordered the silver steel link bracelet for my Apple Watch.) But when the Space Gray MacBook was announced, I thought, “What the hell. Might as well do something different for a change.”

I think if I had seen the MacBook in person before ordering it I would have chickened out and gone for the regular aluminum color. That’s not to say that I’m regretting ordering the Space Gray. But I would recommend people have a look in person before ordering.

The gold was a non-starter for me. I think it looks nice enough, but I can’t have all that yellow reflectivity hitting my eyes as I’m trying to choose colors in Photoshop.

I couldn’t put my finger on what it was about the Space Gray that I don’t love, until my colleague Tim said it for me. He said it reminded him of one of his old PC laptops before he became a Mac convert.

Now, I’ve never owned a PC, but I immediately understood what he was talking about. This MacBook is way too pretty to be a PC, but we’ve been looking at aluminum Macs for so long that any Mac laptop that isn’t that specific shade of silver just doesn’t look like a Mac. At first glance, it looks like a PC that’s trying to be a Mac. I suspect that will change over time as we get more and more models in this color.

Meanwhile, having a Space Gray Mac does make me want to use Dark Mode in OS X for the first time. And it makes me wish all that much more that Dark Mode were a true dark UI, not just a change in menubar and Dock. (Hopefully, Apple will consider enhancing Dark Mode to include the entire UI in a future OS X release.)

And, oh my, does this darker Space Gray ever show fingerprints. Not just on the non-illuminated logo on the lid (Which is an absolute fingerprint magnet) but the entire body of the machine. (The keyboard, too, even shows prints far more than the other laptops.) So while I’m cleaning my screen far less often, I’m wiping down the rest of the machine on a regular basis now. (One step forward…)

USB-C

I understand that Apple wants to keep making licensing money on Lightning accessories, but having the diminutive USB-C connector and Lightning coexist seems silly. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually iOS devices just go USB-C. Maybe not this year or next, but eventually, it would make sense.

The one port thing has been talked about to death. It’s not much of a factor for me and my workflow, but I’m sure it’ll be a nuisance from time to time. My guess is it’s a temporary situation with this first model.

As far as losing MagSafe goes: yeah, definitely a step back. It’s obvious why it had to happen, though. This MacBook is far too light for MagSafe to have worked well, anyway. It would be hard to imagine that even a redesigned “MagSafe 3” connector for this machine wouldn’t have either disconnected too easily and become annoying, or too hard to save your laptop from a trip over the cable. And adding a magnet connector to the universal USB-C standard really wouldn’t work for other USB peripherals. USB-C is a snug fit, so that cable isn’t coming out unless you want it to.

Give it time, and USB-C will be everywhere, so the adapters and such are another temporary issue. There are already some good options on Amazon.

The biggest annoyance for me, actually, regarding this new universal port: The lack of an LED to indicate when the MacBook is charging. Obviously, this couldn’t be incorporated into the cable, as it makes no sense for other USB-C peripherals. But just a little light laser etched into the side of the MacBook case near the port would have been very handy. The MacBook does play a sound when you plug in the power, but only if the machine is not on mute. (My Macs are always on mute.) Not being 100% sure that the machine is charging is the sort of thing that drives a nerd like me nuts.[4]

The Lid and Hinge

Opening the new MacBook, you can tell they got much closer to nailing the balance in the resistance of the lid vs. other Mac laptops. It opens fairly easily with one hand, and you don’t have to hold down the bottom of the laptop to keep it from popping up and then slamming back down onto the table as you open it.

The metal hinge (as opposed to the old black plastic) also adds to the fit and finish of this machine. The Unibody construction just keeps getting more and more solid, and Apple just keeps getting better at mass producing gadgets with increased levels of polish.

Size

Don’t let the 12-inch screen fool you. This machine is smaller than the 11-inch Air in almost every dimension, including the most important one: width. It fits better into my portable Muzetto bag than my Air ever did. Once Apple can get the price down on these machines, neither model of the Air will need to stick around.

Speed

This is another one of those things that is mostly a matter of opinion and workflow. My biggest fear in replacing my 13-inch MacBook Pro with this machine was the apparent step back in terms of performance. Having used it for a few days, though, I can say that my fears were overblown. This MacBook has yet to feel “slow” at any point since I’ve started using it. Even with Xcode (albeit with my relatively simple iOS apps) the machine performs such that I don’t notice any sort of decrease in speed. I keep the display at the “More Space” 1440 x 900 setting, so I’m getting more real estate than I did with my old 11-inch MacBook Air, too. I’d say that if you’re working with an Air right now, there’s no reason to worry about performance when switching to the MacBook. Migrating from the 13-inch Pro, of course, is another matter. Again, it depends on what you want to do with your laptop.

The fact that I’m not really noticing a difference in my day-to-day use, though, is a testament to just how little processor speed means for most people nowadays. Maybe I don’t push my laptop nearly as hard as I do my iMac, but I do more processor-intensive stuff than the average person by a long shot.

I did get the build-to-order 1.3 GHz option, though. So this is as fast as the MacBook can currently go. I don’t imagine it’s that much faster than the base 1.1 or the mid-range 1.2, but getting the Turbo Boost up to 2.9 may make some difference.

I’m sure when I do some video work in Final Cut Pro I’m going to notice the difference much more. But for UI design in Photoshop, working on web sites in Coda, Keynote, the Omni Apps, etc.—all the things I tend to do in coffee shops on my laptop instead of on my iMac at home, the decrease in size and weight easily trumps the performance tradeoff in my mind. The same way it did when I first switched from a 15-inch MacBook Pro to an 11-inch MacBook Air many years back.

Overall

Here’s the thing about this MacBook: I’m drawn to it. I don’t know if it’s the small size of the thing that just makes it more lovable, but I’m already finding more excuses to use this machine than I ever did with my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Nothing against the folks who love the sweet spot that the 13-inch offers in size and weight to performance ratio, but I just never became fond of using that machine the entire time I owned it. The MacBook is as close as Apple has ever come to making the right laptop for me. What I thought I wanted more than anything a year ago was a MacBook Air 11-inch with a Retina display. But this is so much better than that. I can’t wait to see how this new machine evolves over the next few iterations.


  1. I’m not saying that no one else has written about any of these things. I’ve just been getting lots of questions from people about my reactions to this machine, so I thought I’d offer some of my own perspective.  ↩

  2. I think my trouble with typing at the Apple Store was the low tables they use there. Puts the keyboard at a terrible angle for someone my height. Any keyboard would be hard for me to use in that environment.  ↩

  3. Those of you who know me know that low-light is my preferred work environment, so this qualifies as a big deal to me. I want Apple to make a wireless Bluetooth version of this keyboard immediately, so I can use it with my iMac.  ↩

  4. Ditto for the non-illuminated Apple Logo on the lid which makes it impossible to know if the machine has actually gone into sleep mode when you close it. You know the old adage about the refrigerator light? Same thing here.  ↩