Category Archives: Apple

Modular Computing and the Mac I Want

Just a few days ago I wrote, not for the first time, about having mostly quit the Mac. I t was a response to a forum post over at Mac Power Users though it was also a post that had already been brewing in my head as a general frustration that I’ve had with managing my Mac. I’ve been a Mac user since around 1993 when I purchased my first, a Mac Color Classic. Still have it. Since then many Macs and I’ve loved using them. It’s only been the past couple of years that I started finding macOS frustrating largely because the simplicity of the iPad has sort of spoiled me, especially in terms of background maintenance type tasks. Also, window management. Bit’s of friction that just kind of crept in with the Mac. But really that might move me from the real topic of this post so I’ll save that bit for another day.

But more relevant to this post is that over time the iPad, as the simplest possible computer grew to feel like a comfortable extension of me. First and foremost a slab of glass. I’ve never gotten over that simple fact that this simple tablet was the computer. It not only set a new standard of simplicity but also of personal, direct interaction. And also the beginning (for me at least) of a new way of thinking about modular and portable computing.

Of course the laptop is that to a degree. Certainly portable and a complete package. I sold my last laptop in 2016 because I’d mostly stopped using it. I was either using my Mac Mini or my iPad. I no longer wanted a mobile device that was permanently attached to a keyboard. At that point the iPad OS was more limited so I often still used my Mac Mini at a desk for many computing tasks.

The past few weeks I’ve been getting closer to purchasing a replacement for the 10 year old Mac Mini. It’s still working pretty well but with inflation, supply chain disruption etc, I thought I’d go ahead and get the replacement, a 2021 M1 Mac Mini. I’ll keep the current Intel as a backup, maybe a server (which is already it’s primary function) or gift it to a family member. In any case, before purchasing I carefully considered a MacBook Air.

Why I skipped the laptop and went with the Mini is the subject of this post as it speaks to the modular, portable Mac I really want but which does not exist. I’ll say first that I went with the Mini because I have a 27″ 4K display which is what I’ll be using anytime I use the Mac. Why pay extra for the 13″ screen, keyboard and trackpad I don’t want or need? The reason I almost spent the extra was that the laptop also comes with it’s own battery, essentially, a back-up power supply and can be charged via USB C from AC or DC power supplies. If I’ve got a power outage my iPads, mobile hotspot, iPhone, etc can all be charged via a solar powered battery indefinitely. As would a MacBook Air. Sure, I can use the standard AC wall plug such as the one that the Mac Mini comes with and run it for many hours from that back-up. But not indefinitely. That’s okay and not a problem because when it comes down to it I’ll be using the iPad for most tasks anyway. But thinking about it did send me down a rabbit hole.

The modular Mac I want most would be a Mac Mini with a battery and the option to charge/power via USB C. But why? Why not just a laptop? Because as I get older I want a bigger screen for larger text. And because I want to be able to have that screen at various heights as needed. And because I’m happy to use an external keyboard and mouse or external trackpad. So, in part, it’s very much a hardware positioning issue. Again, the iPad has spoiled me. I’m used to being able to arrange work spaces in all sorts of ways between the iPad, keyboard and trackpad.

But it’s also an expression of the Apple hardware and software ecosystem. Between my iPhone, 2 iPads and Mac, everything is connected. While not perfect it mostly works most of the time – generally speaking, it feels like like being in a very functional, useful and often magical modular computing ecosystem. I expect I’ll notice and enjoy this even more with an M1 Mac running the latest OS and features like Universal Control.

But about this Mac Mini with a battery, well, I suspect that the current Mac Mini could be much smaller with the lower energy Apple Silicon. I’m imagining a device about half the size and weight. Unlike a laptop, the dimensions of this device would not be constrained by the dimensions of the built in screen, keyboard and trackpad. Maybe a fan, maybe not. But with a built in battery it could be an always on device, easy to transport from home to office or even to different locations within a home. With one of the new portable screens, a keyboard and trackpad, the overall package wouldn’t have to be much more than a laptop. But has the option of a larger screen set at an optimally ergonomic height with different arrangements between the keyboard, mouse and screen rather than for optimal ergonomics.

I can imagine a scenario where I’m at the home office working at the 27″ display attached to this portable Mac Mini and/or iPad and the usual peripherals. But a quick unplug of the display and I’m off to the library or a coffee shop or office. Maybe I’m headed to an office where I’ve already got another display, keyboard, etc waiting so I just take this tiny Mac Mini and my iPad. Or maybe I’m going to another space and I can take a portable 15″ display, keyboard and mouse. Certainly that’s more heft and bulk than a laptop but it’s still very portable and, the key point, at the home office it has advantages over the laptop.

One last thing I’d want in this kind of set-up would be a new macOS and iPadOS feature, an extension of Hand-off, Continuity, Sidecar and Universal Control that would allow me to initiate control of the Mac from the iPad without a third party app and without the Mac or iPad initially being on the same network. In this setting the iPad would see the nearby Mac, recognize it as mine and that it was running without a display, and prompt a connection, turning the iPad into a wireless display for the Mac, no dongles or third party software needed. Currently I can control the Mac via an app like Screens but that requires that both be on the same wireless network. Or I could use a third party wireless dongle or a wired connection via an app like Duet (see below story).

I can imagine that carrying a portable, battery powered Mac Mini and an iPad that could seamlessly initiate screen sharing/control would be a very cool feature in certain circumstances.

I’ll end with this story that popped up in my RSS feed as I neared the end of this post: Dave Mark at the Loop posts about this project to DIY a portable Mac Mini! Similar to what I’ve been thinking here though I would stress the value of a screen that is NOT attached.

Why I quit the Mac (Mostly)

I had a chuckle late yesterday afternoon when I opened up the forum and found this thread: iOS and iPadOS are endlessly frustrating to me.

The reason for my amusement was that earlier in the day was one of the rare occasions I found myself at the keyboard of my Mac Mini and I found myself frustrated with the experience for most of the time. I had a few things I needed to do in the Contacts app that aren’t up to snuff on that app on the iPad. Also not great on the Mac but a little better. Side note, Apple needs to give the Contacts app on all platforms some attention. It’s been awhile since spent any time managing contacts and it’s not a great experience. (Cardhop on the iPad is fantastic, a much better experience and I could have used that but hadn’t checked on the Mac in a couple weeks so figured I’d check for software updates, etc).

So, as I was working on that I had a tech question texted to me from a relative that resulted, after a series of exchanges between us, in my checking my Time Machine back-up. Huh, no back-ups since January 11th. No notifications that it had stopped. Upon investigating I found an error “A disk you are backing up is case-sensitive, but the backup disk is not. Select a different backup disk or exclude the case-sensitive disk from backups.” One of those fun Mac power user exercises! I do some searching and no resolution. Fine, I’ll come back to that later. I’ve had issues with Time Machine for years. For some it seems to work very well, for me, well, this is just the latest in a long, long list of failures.

I get back to my task. A client is having issues with his Contacts app throwing up the spinning beach ball which is why I’m tooling around looking at options for possibly moving some of his workflow to Numbers spreadsheets for contacts relating mailings, class sign-ups, invoicing and various other bits of data tracking that he’s never gotten around to doing.

While I’m at the Mac this same client messages me with a few requested changes to his website. I instinctively reach over to the iPad attached to the Magic Keyboard and open Textastic in split screen with Messages to reference the text and images he’s sending. He also sends a hyperlink to gather additional images and text from a website so I tap over to Safari. I select some text with the Magic Keyboard trackpad and copy. Then I use my finger to tap and hold an image in Safari, then use another other finger to drag up the dock and open Files to navigate to my client’s website folder. I drop the image in. As my hands are already near the screen I use my thumb to drag the dock up and tap over to Textastic. I finger tap the images folder, then tap and hold the new image to rename from the contextual menu then rename it using the keyboard. The client wants another image that I have in my Photos library so I Command-Space and type “flowers” and from those Spotlight results I open Photos app which opens a search for my flower images. I tap the “moments” section of the photos search results which has groupings based on date and within a few seconds I’ve got the image. I tap the share icon to send the image to a shortcut that resizes and compresses the photo which I save straight to the website images folder.

Over the course of this 5 minutes of activity my fingers and hands have danced back and forth from screen, to keyboard to trackpad. I can’t say that I know exactly how I’ll do any particular task, whether it will be the trackpad or touching the screen, I just do it. If my fingers are already on the keyboard I’ll likely use the trackpad. But because they’re always close to the screen tapping is easy and often I find that I can go quite a bit faster because I can interact more directly with the screen via touch and with two hands – with the trackpad I am limited to one cursor. This kind of interaction isn’t possible on the Mac and I feel slower because of it. The Mac limits me to one cursor, one point of on-screen interaction with a mouse or trackpad. I have to drag that cursor, and aim it. Not so with the touch screen where I can much more quickly move a finger right to the place I want to interact.

Another place where the Mac slows me down is in the processing of mail. The iPad and a touch screen feels far superior when processing mail. When it comes time to delete and move mail around the two hand, multi finger process is excellent. My left hand goes up towards the left side of the screen and I use my thumb and/or other fingers to multi select multiple emails to drag and drop. Or I can slide delete or tap delete using a second finger on the delete key if I’m doing this with the keyboard attached. Lots of options and I tend to use all of them.

Same thing for files. I feel slower on the Mac with a trackpad or mouse. On the iPad, whether I’m in split screen with two Files windows open or just one, multi-touch file selection is fantastic. Two finger drag to select multiples is great. Almost everything feels faster.

Another area that I’ll mention is multi-tasking. It’s often said that multitasking on the iPad is cumbersome, difficult and still not finished. It is true that on a Mac I can have as many windows of as many apps as I want, all on one screen, placed free form wherever I want and overlapping as I see fit, and yes, sometimes that is useful. Sometimes, it’s just a complicated mess of windows.

After several years working on the iPad I prefer the iPad multitasking model of interaction, especially given the improvements of the past few years. Having a single app window open is generally fine and when it’s not it takes me no time to bring up a split screen and/or a slide over as needed. Dragging up from the bottom of the screen to get multitasking or using any of the new keyboard shortcuts, again, all of these work very well for me. I don’t need third party window managers to help me organize or keep my windows tidy. I just use the iPad as it is intended and find that it’s fluid and fast and fun to use.

To compare, I just hopped back to my Mac to see where I left things yesterday. A Finder window open and 7 minimized windows in the dock. I can run the cursor over those tiny minimized windows in the dock to get a label to identify them but it feels slow compared to multitasking on the iPad. On the iPad I can more quickly activate the multitasking view which gives me a view that’s much quicker and easier to navigate with less eye strain and cognitive load. Not only that, but I can more quickly get back to an app or task from further back in time right where I left off. This is especially true of the newer M1 iPad Pro with increased memory. I can often, with just a couple of swipes pull an app from multitasking right where I left off at some point earlier in the day or a previous day.

A few more ways that I find the Mac to be too restrictive are tied to the hardware limitations. I don’t know how folks can deal with a permanently attached keyboard. A MacBook Air is more flexible than a desktop Mac in terms of location but it’s still stuck to landscape mode and a keyboard/trackpad. Sure, I use my iPad with a keyboard/trackpad much of the day. But as needed I give the iPad a gentle tug and it’s free to continue using in landscape or rotated to portrait without the extra baggage. I can keep using my fingers to touch the screen directly or I have the additional option of using the Pencil. There’s a fluidity of form, handling and function that come with the iPad that I can’t get with a Mac that’s locked to a keyboard, trackpad and/or mouse.

I’m not sure at what point I began viewing the Mac as more of a hinderance and something I had to over-manage. I’m not certain if it’s the complexity of the OS, troubleshooting things like file permissions, window clutter or just the form factor that requires a cursor. But at some point around 2018 I’d spent enough time with the iPad as my computer that going back to the Mac was more trouble than it was worth. When I was younger I enjoyed the Mac more in part I think because I didn’t mind maintenance, it was a part of the fun. The iPad came along and matured at a rate that matched my own needs and inclinations I suppose. 12 years on and it’s not as simple (or limited) as it was in those first few years. But nor is it overly complex.

Ultimately we’ll all chose the tools we’re most comfortable with for various tasks, environments and at different times of our lives. I’m grateful that the iPad has been iterated in such a way that my mom can still have her easy to use iPad, mostly unaware of all of the new features that have been added. The same is true for my father and quite a few others in my family. For them the iPad is still that simple computer that they don’t have to worry about or spend time maintaining. But for me Apple has provided another version of this same device, one that is far more capable and yet, still, not cumbersome or overly burdened with troubleshooting or maintenance.

The Mac served me well for 25 years and while it will still have it’s place I’m happy to have moved on to the iPad.

I had to recharge so here’s the iPad in desktop mode.

Combining Binoculars and Apple AR

I’m an avid walker. Usually with dogs, sometimes without, but always attentive to my surroundings. I enjoy listening and watching birds and whatever other wildlife might be around. This is especially true when I’m out trail walking. That said, at 52 years, I’ve just bought my first pair of binoculars and took them out on my walk today. As I paused numerous times on the trail to look off into the distant woods I wondered, what would Apple do were they to decide to make a pair of binoculars. Now, to be clear, binoculars are a very specific tool and not necessary the sort of thing one might think of Apple making. But hold on a second because there’s been a lot of speculation that Apple IS making some sort of AR or VR headset and eventually something smaller then a headset, perhaps glasses. But, stick with that larger “headset” form factor for a minute.

Tech pundits surprisingly have had a very limited scope when discussing this sort of thing. I’ve heard the topic brought up countless times over the past year but generally speaking it seems that most of the discussion is a big question of what such a technology might be used for. But the discussion I’ve heard focuses on typical nerdy, computery sort of things. Generally, how might the tech be an extension of computer interaction for video games or FaceTime or maps and directions. All pretty typical stuff one might think of and nothing that really interested me.

But as I used my binoculars this morning and pondered Apple and AR and this suggested headset form factor I began to wonder about the potential applications that arise when Apple’s technology is combined for the specific purpose of increasing, in a supplementary way, optical abilities and adding knowledge and context at the same time. In that context, an AR optical device begins to take on a whole new meaning with amazing potential and I do find that very interesting.

Here’s a scenario: I’m in the field with a headset that has as it’s foundation Apple optics and Apple’s powerful silicon. It’s also camera that can record as video or still images. Considering what Apple can do with a device as thin as an iPhone I have to wonder what they could do if they were free to operate in other dimensions. What kind of magnification might this new device be capable of? Whether magnifying the viewing of distant objects or a close-up macro mode. Add to this the machine learning we now see emerging in the Photos app for identification of birds, plants, etc. So, in this context and considering binoculars in outdoors experiences, an Apple AR device begins to sound much more useful.

Another scenario. Take as the base of this next experience that with a current iPhone I can look up into the night sky and take an excellent photo of the Milky Way galaxy. The new iPhones are fantastic at photographing the night sky but of course, no magnification. What might this new device do for an amateur astronomer? Using my $60 binoculars I can see the Andromeda Galaxy. Though I’ve not yet tried it I’m sure I could get a decent view of the Orion Nebula or comparably large, bright “deep sky” objects. Better binoculars will provide views of globular clusters and comets. And of course, a view of the moon with almost any pair of binoculars is spectacular. What might an AR device from Apple be capable of for anyone interested in the night sky? Want to look at the above mentioned Andromeda Galaxy? Ask Siri and be directed which way to look. Interested in learning some of the primary features of the lunar surface? Hey Siri, take me on a tour of the moon or Hey Siri, show me the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. Obviously there would be limits to such a device but again, with binoculars as the base technology, what might be possible?

AirPods Pro – Adjusting fit to fix the thumping problem

I’ve been using the AirPods Pro for two or so years and have greatly enjoyed them. Particularly nice is using them when doing outdoor chores such as mowing grass. That said, they’ve not been without problems. I’ve had the buds replaced a couple times due to the known issue of crackling sounds. Beyond that I’ve had no complaints until now and to be honest the newest issue may have been there all along and I’m just beginning to notice Or, it may be new, I’m not sure. It’s the thumping sound I hear when walking. Some on the internet report this as an issue from the beginning, others say it happens over time. In my case, I may have just accepted the sound or just not really noticed it. But, whether it was a sound there all along that I’m just now noticing or a new sound, it’s a loud thump with each step I take and as I generally wear them when I’m out for long walks, it’s a problem.

A few notes from my experience is that with the medium tips I’ve had a good seal and still do. Some on the internet claim that as the fine mesh side grill gets dirty over time this can cause a problem with performance and getting a good seal between the tips and ears. Some claim that cleaning by blowing or sucking can remove debris and fix the thumping and seal issues. Different users, different ears, etc, who knows what exactly is going on as there are so many contradictory reports. All that said, here’s what I’ve found and what is working for me.

Steps I’ve taken that didn’t help but which others report as being helpful:

  • Cleaning the mesh openings
  • Resetting the AirPods and repairing them to my Phone
  • Trying the different tips

That last step of trying different tips led me to a solution for my personal situation. It occurred to me that perhaps the problem has been there all along and I was just ignoring it. My thinking here is that I was able to get a good seal from the first try with the medium tips. And as expected, when I’m sitting still or standing still, the noise cancellation or transparency modes, whichever I’m using sound great as does the audio. But with that seal comes a kind of vacuum. It’s that tight seal and the resulting vacuum that seems to allow one to hear the loud thumb, the vibration of the bones from heal to head with each step. It’s hard to describe really because it’s not just a sound, but a kind of resonance.

As an experiment I spent a few days with my older AirPods 2 which do not have such a seal. Of course, they do let in a good bit of environmental sound but they are free of that vacuum and generally still sound very good. It’s a trade off. It occurred to me that perhaps the AirPods Pro might be better with less of a seal. I changed to the large size tips and put them in my ears. The settings app that one uses to check the seal of the AirPods reported that I no longer had a good seal but I still got the thumping when walking. So I gently tugged them out just a little. They still felt secure in my ears but no longer tightly sealed. I wiggled my eyebrows up and down, which basically results in my ears also moving up and down. I could now feel that while the pods were still secure in my ears the seal was maybe only 80%. The sensation of a vacuum was gone. I walked and there was no thump. Over the past two days I’ve walked with music, podcasts, and nothing playing with both modes, noise cancellation and
transparency, no thumping. I’m also trying the smallest size tips and as expected, less seal, little to no thumping. I’m not sure yet if I prefer the small or large tips but in both cases it’s fairly easy to enjoy a walk without the thumping.

The downside to this method is that noise cancellation is not as good as it would be with a 100% seal. No doubt, I’m getting a little bit of environmental sound. That said they are still sound far better than the standard AirPods. And I should add that I do all my walking on trails in the woods where the environmental sounds are actually something I like. Birds, frogs, leaves under foot… there’s no traffic, honking of horns or anything I don’t mind hearing. And I suspect that when we get back to summer-time mowing I’ll have no problem just pushing in the AirPods and getting a near perfect seal for those times I need it.

So, in my case at least, the solution has been to simply spend a few moments at the beginning of each walk to gently unseal the AirPods from my ears with light tug and a few eyebrow wiggles. It may work for you or it may not, but a little experimentation might with different tips and positioning might be what you need.

Apple continues to lead on renewable energy in 2021

 Montague Wind Power Facility in Oregon, one of Apple’s largest renewable projects to date

Apple continues to lead the way on corporate climate change action.

Apple announced its Power for Impact initiative in 2019, designed to provide communities with renewable energy while promoting economic and social growth. One of the 10 new Power for Impact projects involves working with the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority in the United States to collaboratively develop renewable energy resources for the wholesale market, with the objective of creating a large-scale wind power development in the Midwest. Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

Every company should be a part of the fight against climate change, and together with our suppliers and local communities, we’re demonstrating all of the opportunity and equity green innovation can bring. We’re acting with urgency, and we’re acting together. But time is not a renewable resource, and we must act quickly to invest in a greener and more equitable future.

Other projects in South Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia, and Israel seek to provide renewable energy to healthcare and educational institutions, as well as surrounding households, using rooftop solar installations. Apple believes that this will create a source of local revenue and lower energy costs, freeing up funds for educational scholarships, equipment, and medication.

I’ve been a happy Apple user since 1993ish with a my first Mac, a Color Classic II. I’m really happy that they are not just setting a good example on climate change but that they are setting the best example. And they should given that their success. But many do not attempt even half of what they have. They’re thorough and are leaving nothing un-examined in their engagement with the problem of resource use and climate change. 

At the core capitalism is about profit, continual growth and resource use beyond all bounds. I applaud Apple in the effort they are making and hope others follow but it’s not something I expect to happen as it goes against the logic of capitalism as a system. That said, they are proving that it is possible.

Two months with iPadOS 15

I’ve been using the beta on my iPad Pro since the first day of the public beta and thought I’d write a bit about what stands out to me as noteworthy. This is just a tiny fraction of what’s coming and again, it’s what I’ve found noteworthy. The most comprehensive coverage that I’ve found thus far is this fantastic mini-site over at MacRumors.

My impressions…

First and perhaps unexpected, I’m enjoying and using the new widgets far more than I expected.

With iPadOS 14 and earlier I generally kept my Home Screen clear except for the sidebar of widgets. All my apps were in a single folder in the dock. With iPadOS 15 I’ve moved all my apps to the App Library and now have a full Home Screen of widgets which functions as a fantastic dashboard. I’m finding the 2nd largest widget sizes the most useful with just one small section for 4 of the small widgets. So, a view of my Home Screen gives me the current weather, easy access to my most recently listened to music, my most recent email, a selection of frequently used Shortcuts, my most recently accessed folders and files, calendar, current daily calories, battery status and upcoming reminders. Edit to note that I’ve since changed this by moving the 4 small widgets back to the sidebar which stays hidden. I’ve since added the large-sized Contacts widget which does a great job of providing an overview of my latest interactions with my closest contacts.

With earlier versions of, the public beta some of widgets were l a bit buggy, especially the Files widget though it seems to have settled down as of this date. Also, the mail widget does not always update recent new mail in the background as I would expect though that may be an expected limitation. Obviously having to switch to mail to see updates isn’t helpful.

I’ll mention Spotlight next because it’s somewhat integrated with the above mentioned Contacts widget. In short, Spotlight has a few new additional results added to searches. Most important for me is the improvements in it’s surfacing of my contacts related information such as photos, shared notes, messages, etc. Also, Spotlight now does more with web searches of public figures and built in web search generally. Rather than go to Safari it’s possible to just start with a Spotlight search of a topic. Web results starting with Wikipedia, images, top web results are all neatly organized in the Spotlight results. For some searches the results can be quite extensive ranging from your content, shared with you content, articles from Apple News, TV shows or movies and on. By default the extensive content categories are hidden behind a “Show more results” button.

Next, while I’m still training myself to use it the new globe keyboard shortcut is great. I forget too often to use it but suspect that as that habit takes hold it will become a really nice feature. Specifically the Siri shortcut Globe-S as I’ve always wanted such a shortcut on the keyboard. I enjoy using Siri and know I’ll use it more with that shortcut. Also, the globe shortcuts for multi-tasking are very useful. Again, one I need to practice more to more fully integrate and take advantage of. It’s not that it’s difficult so much as remembering it’s there and making it a new habit.

On the subject of multitasking, using the keyboard to navigate through app windows In the multitasking view is really nice. I normally use the trackpad but the arrow key navigation works great too.

Also in the category of multitasking, the active window indicator is still too subtle when using split screens. It’s better than before but Apple insists on making the indicator subtle enough that I have too look longer and with more attention than I should.  Actually, in a nod to macOS I wish they’d offer an option to have the same red-yellow-green color scheme. Not likely and probably not that useful. But at the very least, more contrast would actually be useful.

Keyboard shortcuts are improved in presentation when using an external keyboard and the new organization of keyboard shortcuts to resemble the Mac’s categories of File, Edit, etc are nice improvements. This whole area is more compact and useful.

The Safari redesign. This one has been talked about a lot as it should be. I agree in general that it’s nice to see an effort but it made Safari worse and seemed to be an attempt to solve problems that most people don’t really have. Glad to see the dedicated tab bar back as the default now they need to take the next step of putting it where it was and also removing the extra padding that the new rounded rectangles have. It’s wasted space that hides the description of the tab. Also, the active tab indicator is far too subtle.

But there’s some good stuff with the updated Safari too. Tab groups!! This falls under the “I didn’t know I needed this until I had it” category. I’m using it a lot to create topic areas. I’ve got a climate change group and a tech group. A week ago I was searching for a new chair and had a group of tabs for that. I’ve got a group now for a new WordPress site I’m working on for a client. I expect some of these will be persistent as they are topics I always read about. Others will come and go as needed. The key is that a tab group is easy to create from any window with tabs, easy to re-open via the sidebar and easy to delete when you’re finished. It’s also easy to add a tab from any other Safari window to an existing tab group.

I’m glad to have the updated Notes and Reminders apps. The ability to tag will be useful in both of these. Also, Quicknotes in Notes is very nice though I’m not using it as much as I think I will. Notes really is an excellent app. The indexing of Notes text, attached pdfs and now text recognition in images is fantastic. It’s all very fast and shows up nicely in Spotlight. If I hadn’t recently integrated Obsidian into my daily workflow Notes would likely shine brighter. As it is though it will still have a place. It’s a great place do do photo and document scanning and as I’m currently scanning in a bunch of old family photos I’m enjoying it for that.

The updates in the Photos app are really proving useful. I love the improved metadata, editable location and machine learning that now identifies plants and other objects. Some of that was identification was already there but it’s much, much better now with more accurate results and far more specificity in the identifications. Where before Photos could show me my dog pictures it now also suggests the specific breed and has an integrated Wikipedia link. This is especially useful for all of the photos I get out on the trail for identification of plants and flowers. It’s not yet offering specific insect ID but it does recognize more general animal categories such as insect, butterfly, bird, horse. I suspect that over time range of objects for which specific IDs are offered will grow.

Live Text in photos is absolutely fantastic and useful. Not only does it improve search but if you’re someone that deals with a lot of text and images it comes in handy often. I often need the text that’s in an image for a document or a website. Lazy clients will just send a photo or screenshot with a bit of text rather than retype it for me. This is the sort of feature that once you start using it and realize how often it can be useful, well, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Messages has some nice improvements, namely “shared with you” which integrates into all the other system apps. Nothing earth shattering but nice. I’ve not had a chance to use FaceTime with any other beta testers and am not a big FaceTime user generally but the announced changes look very helpful for those that use video calls.

A couple more tid-bits. System-wide “shared with you” is a nice new feature. Continuous dictation is great for those that like to dictate text rather than type. Especially useful on the iPhone where I’d much rather dictate than type a long message.

That’s it for the moment. There’s far more of course but they’re features I’m not going into as this isn’t really a review so much as my notes on what I’m interested in and finding most useful. The above linked mini-site over at MacRumors has all the details! Also worth noting, at the bottom of the page is a list of helpful how-to articles for iOS 15.

I started this post in July and am just now, having used the beta for almost two months, finishing off my notes. The final release will likely be coming in the next couple of weeks and with it a load of very detailed reviews.

Finally, a smart discussion of pro apps on iPad

I recently discovered Cup of Tech podcast and gave a listen to episode 129 and I’m really glad I did. I found perhaps the best, most mature and informative discussion of “pro apps”for the iPad Pro. I think the quality of discussion is largely due to the fact that the podcast hosts are all developers and it’s reflected in the information provided by the discussion. They begin by discussing the apps that currently exist which might be defined as pro such as Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer and Procreate. They then move on to the usual mention of Apple’s pro apps specifically Final Cut Pro, Logic and Xcode. But then they go into an actual discussion of what needs to be happening behind the scenes and what might explain the lack of these apps that’s far. Specifically they go into a fascinating discussion of SwiftUI, Catalyst, and development process of those frameworks as it might relate to the complicated process of writing the pro apps. They don’t dig so far that a non-developer would get lost (I’m not a developer) but rather discuss the frameworks in terms of what they can currently do, current limits (in the publicly available versions) and what they can probably do behind the scenes (given new versions likely being used at Apple), and just a generally excellent discussion of the various considerations in developing complicated apps and in developing frameworks to produce those apps.

In other words it’s not just a brief and pointless repetition of the usual complaining but rather an actual exploration of what happens when a company has to build something complicated from the ground up.

The discussion begins at about 1:10:00.

WWDC 2021 Wishlist

I generally avoid doing this kind of post each year as so many others do. I’m not sure I see the point really as we’ll get what we get. Also, the truth is I’m not at all unhappy with iPadOS as it is. If none of these happen I’ll still happily continue using my iPad.

  • Improved Mail app with Smart Folders, share sheet, improved searching
  • Proper external display support
  • Improved Files app (generally make it as close to the Mac Finder as possible). The main thing would be indexing of text content, Smart Folders, copy progress indicators
  • Multitasking – I’m actually pretty happy with it as is but I’m sure it can be improved.
  • Widgets on the Home Screen
  • Would be great if iPhone apps, when iPad is in landscape orientation, could be displayed as slide overs or some other way from the current method of taking over the whole screen in portrait mode.
  • Settings app support of split screen. (Lol, is there a reason this app does not support split screen??)
  • Health app
  • Smart Folders in Photos, Contacts, Notes and really, everywhere it’s possible to do.
  • Editing and creation of groups in the Contacts app.
  • Home App improvements
  • I don’t use FaceTime but from what I hear it could stand to be improved.
  • I actually really love Siri. Make it better.
  • Voice dictation is great. Make it better.
  • iCloud Diary – Setting this aside from the rest. I’d love to see Apple do something more with Messages to move it in a direction that might allow for people to more easily quit Facebook. That might just be a chip away at it sort of thing whereby each year more features are added that allow it to more fully replace FB. In particular, I’d love to see some sort of timeline feature along the lines of what Micro.blog offers. A sort of iCloud diary or iCloud journal. Make it easy for anyone to do some of the things they might otherwise go to Facebook for. I don’t think it needs to be an immediate replacement, just a step towards that. Maybe a new app with tie-ins to Photos, Messages, etc.

A few notes on Apple’s Spring 2021 hardware releases

So, this week Apple’s latest, the new color iMacs and the new iPad Pros are shipping to customers and of course the reviews have come out. Also, the updated AppleTVs and AirTags. The only thing I’ll say on the last two is, great, good to see! The AppleTV needed an update and the AirTags look very cool and useful.

The 2021 iMac

I’ll start with the iMac. I’m loving Jason Snell’s post about the new M1 iMac and the original iMac G3:

It’s hard not to look at the new 24-inch iMac, which I’ve been using for the past week, and not feel at least a little pang of nostalgia for the original iMac. Introduced in 1998, not only did the iMac G3 save Apple, it injected a blast of color into the beige world of personal computers.

In his nostalgia filled post he offers some delightful comparisons between the iMacs of the past and today’s new colorful iMacs.

I had the lime iMac and loved it. I would later buy the first generation of the white G5 iMac but then moved on to the Mac Mini for my desktop Mac. This new colorful iMac? I love it. These colors are fantastic and I’m really digging the new design. The perfect desktop Mac for a lot of people and so beautiful! And contrary to all the critique of Apple keeping the chin, I’d say the chin is iconic at this point. It’s a part of the design and I hope it doesn’t go away. It’s what an iMac looks like and differentiates it from a plain display.

In short, like the other M1 based Macs, this is a powerful machine and it’s a beautiful, fun design.

2021 iPad Pro

Processor
Not surprisingly, the M1 based iPad Pro is a very fast computer. Of course, the 2018 iPad Pro was also very fast. Day to day interactions are instant (as they were with the 2018). Where I expect to see differences is when I’m working with LumaFusion projects or Affinity documents in Designer or Photo. While those apps are very fast in use, while editing documents or video timelines, there is a noticeable delay when exporting.

Memory
With the added memory, now 8GB and 16GB, apps do a much better of holding onto content. I’ve got an 8GB model and in several days of use I’ve not noticed any reloading of any app content. A welcome change.

Screen
The screen is indeed beautiful and it is better than the previous generation.

5G
Lastly, one of my reasons for upgrading was 5G. T-Mobile/Sprint has excellent coverage in my area and my 5G iPhone has been great. I wanted that for the iPad too and it’s been great. That said, set-up was a pain. With my previous LTE iPad Pro set-up was a breeze and took only seconds to accomplish via the Settings app. This time around it ended up that I had to order a physical SIM card from Sprint/T-Mobile as the built in eSim is not supported by Sprint anymore. After several phone calls this became apparent but was not immediately obvious. Activating that sim involved 2+ hours on the phone which I suspect was also unnecessary and probably reflects a shortcoming in Sprint’s preparedness. But, once activated, it’s excellent.

Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case
I debated between 4 options for the keyboard case:

  1. Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case
  2. Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio
  3. Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad
  4. Brydge Max+

I won’t go into all of my considerations and will just say I went with the first. I’ve only had it for a day so it’s hard to say how it will play out but it’s very well made and feels nice to carry. The fabric cover is very nice though some may not like it. It seems very sturdy and I’m really liking the fact that it is fairly easy to pull the iPad off of the keyboard for hand held use. That said, the magnets connecting them are very strong so they won’t come apart on accident. It’s not as thick or as heavy as I thought it might be. The keys and trackpad feel fantastic. That’s my quick review. I suspect I’ll have more to say after a few more days of use. But, all in all, off to a great start!

The story of the iPad Pro 2021

On April 20th Apple announced it’s 2021 update of the iPad Pro and it’s a doozy of an update with all new screen technology, the M1 chip with 8 or 16gb of memory, 5G, Thunderbolt port and of course the usual improved cameras.

And, like clockwork, all of the Apple pundits have come out with their predictable “The iPad hardware is too powerful for the software” articles. They’re not entirely wrong but I do think the echo-chamber is over emphasizing how bad the problem really is. The various articles point out the usual iPadOS shortcomings (currently groupthink is focused on Files, lack of proper 2nd display support, and limitations of multitasking), the lack of Apple’s pro software such as Xcode, Final Cut, and Logic. The story is that the hardware is plenty powerful and that what it needs are updates to OS and pro apps.

Let’s break it down.

The Hardware
I’ll start by saying that the 2018 iPad Pro that I’m currently using has been a fantastic work computer for 2+ years. I’ve used it everyday and after 2+ years it is still very fast for my daily work. From Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo to the occasional LumaFusion video project, it has handled it all with relative ease. From booting up, waking from sleep, authenticating, to app launching, it all is nearly instantaneous. I consider myself a “power” user and make my living with this device.

The only area where the hardware has lacked is in memory which was stuck in the 4 to 6GB range for the past two releases (2018, 2020). This limitation shows up when I do a lot of switching between apps. While most apps do a great job of holding their previous state the more demanding apps such as the Affinity apps will sometimes need to reload if I’ve been away using other apps for awhile. The new 2021 iPad Pro will have 8GB and 16GB of RAM so I expect this problem will be greatly reduced.

Too few pro apps
It’s true that Apple’s own professional apps such as Xcode and Final Cut Pro are not available on the iPad. But it’s also true that, at least on the video front, at least one very powerful solution exists: LumaFusion has grown each year into a more capable application for increasingly complex video projects. Why not give more credit where it is due? The same should be said of Serif’s incredibly powerful Affinity graphics apps. Over the past three years we’ve heard countless complaints that Adobe’s apps are not available (Photoshop now is with others on the way at some point). But Affinity brought it’s two well regarded and powerful image/vector design apps, Photo and Designer, to the iPad several years ago and they’ve got the third app in the suite, Publisher, headed to iPad sometime in 2021 (expected, not announced).

And I’m just pointing to three that I have experience with. There are many, many others, especially in the area of graphic design. I would suggest that there might be a bias in the coverage because it’s podcasters and writers whose voices are most amplified via publishing in well known publications and podcasts, but these folks perhaps lack the experience with this category of applications so they go unnoticed. People out doing other kinds of work with some of the more powerful applications such as those I mentioned above are not equally amplified.

A simplified OS
While Apple has continuously pushed the iPad forward it is still a different experience. Given it’s foundation as an intentionally simple, easy to use computer, those differences are often viewed as shortcomings by advanced, “power” users. The most often repeated complaint in the past year is multitasking. Apple has steadily improved it but advanced users still consider it to restrictive, likely because they come from the Mac with it’s unlimited windows. An iPad limited to displaying 2 app windows and a third in slide over is never going to please power users. Previous to that the loudest complaint was the Files app which could not display external drives attached via usb.

Another prominent example being discussed online are the limits when displaying to an external screen, namely that it’s mirroring only and, when attached to a widescreen display, it’s got the black pillar-boxing on each side. No doubt this is a shortcoming and, as the new iPad Pros have Thunderbolt, will need to be addressed by Apple. Some apps do take advantage of the full screen but not many. With the increased power of the iPads it should be improved in the next version of iPadOS and likely will be.

But as the story goes, these apps and features are all present and more powerful on the Mac. But of course the Mac OS is far older and more mature. And it’s also an OS, given it’s power, maturity and complexity, that many people can’t use. Again, it’s important to remember the origin of the iPad as an easier to use device with a focus on more casual computing.

I’ll point out that with each year we get improvements. Some years they are big improvements, others just more iterative refinements and fixes. In 2020, even before WWDC, Apple added a huge mid-year feature, full trackpad/mouse cursor support, something no one saw coming. It was widely praised as it should have been. But at WWDC the iPad was given fewer features and iPad OS 14 looked to be more of a bug-fix, refinement release. It’s notable that many users had complained about the bugs and had called for a bug fix type release. But many of them still complained at the lack of features and the focus on bug fixes. Basically, Apple will be criticized either way.

In short, people tend to focus on what they didn’t get rather than what they did get. It’s easy to focus on the negative. I’ve thought for several years that much of the problem lies with the culture of tech punditry and the over emphasis on critique. And, another aspect of this, the insular nature of tech enthusiasts that are focused on what they want as “power” users often forgetting that the iPad was really pointed at people who are not tech enthusiasts or professionals. So, yes, now we’ve had the iPad Pro for 6 years and iPadOS for 2 years, the iPad is maturing as a platform and needs to serve the original user base as well as the more advanced users that have grown in numbers over the years.

I recently came across Matthew Panzarino’s review of the 2020 iPad Pro on Tech Crunch where he concludes:

It’s insane to have a multi-modal machine that can take typing, swiping and sketching as inputs and has robust support for every major piece of business software on the planet — and that always works, is always fast and is built like an Italian racing car.

Who can argue with that?

I think that sums it up really well.

A small sampling of posts below.

Andrew Griffin at the Independent had an interview with Greg Joswiak and John Ternus, two Apple Execs to discuss the new iPad Pro, iPad Pro: How Apple Made Its New Tablet – And What Exactly It Is. They cover a lot of ground including ongoing speculation that the Mac and iPad will eventually merge which again Apple denies.

Jason Snell, writing for MacWorld,
The iPad Pro is a killer machine but its software is killing me:

And yet, in 2021, it feels like the same story: Apple killed it on the hardware side, and the software…well, the software lags behind, to put it nicely. Apple built a spectacular sports car, but where are the roads to drive it on?

Harry McCracken, noted for his use of an iPad as his main computer for a decade chimes in with
The iPad Pro just got way more pro. Now it needs pro software:

Apple clearly envisions the iPad Pro serving some of the world’s most demanding users. During Tuesday’s launch event, most of the applications the company referenced for the new models were heavy-duty tasks such as shooting movies, creating augmented-reality content, designing buildings, and editing vast quantities of 4K video. The kind of stuff, in other words, that people do for a living—and for which no tablet is yet the most obvious mainstream choice.

But while Apple’s hardware strategy for making such folks happy seems to be a smashing success, the software side is as murky as it’s ever been.