The Robservatory

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Apple Universe

Top-level category for all Apple, Mac, and OS X related topics.

Number of days until fifth update for macOS releases

When the third release of macOS High Sierra came out, I charted the pace of its updates compared to all prior Mac OS X/macOS releases. I said I planned to keep that chart current, so here it is now that the fifth High Sierra update (10.13.3) is out. (Note that 10.0 has vanished from the chart, because it had only four releases.)

Click the above image for an in-window larger version, or just view the full-size version directly.

As you can see, macOS 10.13 took just 120 days to reach its fifth update; that’s nearly half the time (229 days, macOS 10.11) as the next quickest release.

Is it better software updating, catching more bugs earlier and pushing releases faster, or is it just buggier software receiving multiple quick-release critical updates? I obviously don’t know, but my perception as a user is that it’s the latter.

A useless analysis of macOS (OS X) release dates

Updated and republished for macOS 10.13.3; skip it unless you really really care about all the macOS releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of macOS (previously Mac OS X) from the public beta through the latest public version, which is macOS 10.13.3, as of January 23, 2018—the 109th release in total.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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Easily delete albums in Photos

Last fall, I finally made the move from iPhoto to Photos…months later, I still find myself frustrated by many things in the Photos’ user interface.

Today’s aggravation dealt with cleaning up a bunch of older photo albums—some I just wanted to delete, others I wanted to convert from Smart Albums into normal albums (because I wouldn’t be adding any more photos that used the keywords in the Smart Album). That meant I wanted to delete a bunch of albums—well over 100.

Deleting an album in Photos can only be done from either the My Albums overview, where you can select more than one (though not across folders), or via the contextual menu in the sidebar.

The My Albums view wasn’t going to work for me, as I needed to look at and work with many of the albums, across many folders. But after the sixth time of doing the “right click, select Delete Album, tab to Delete in the confirmation dialog, press Return” dance, I was sick of it. Time for another Keyboard Maestro macro.

This one is very simple—it just replicates the actions required to delete an album. With it in place, I click on the album I wish to delete, then press Control-D. It’s still more mouse interaction than I’d prefer—why can’t I select albums via the keyboard?—but it’s oh so much faster than using the contextual menu.

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The iMac Pro—and upcoming Mac Pro—are Apple’s ‘halo cars’

Writing on his blog, Kirk McElhearn talks about profit and the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro (emphasis added):

I’m speculating, but I think Apple won’t be making much of a profit from the iMac Pro, or the coming Mac Pro, but rather needs to have these computers as flagship devices to show that the company can innovate. If they take a loss, because of R&D costs, it’s not a big deal, because for every iMac Pro or Mac Pro they’ll sell, they probably book 10,000 iPhones.

I think Kirk’s spot on here (though this being Apple, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a small profit on the Pro models). And there’s a perfect corollary in the automotive world: halo cars

A halo vehicle (or halo model) in automobile marketing is one designed and marketed to showcase the talents and resources of the manufacturers and to promote sales of other vehicles within a marque.

Consider Ford and the new Ford GT, which is a stunning $495,000 sports car…

Ford won’t sell may of these—I believe they’ve capped production at 1,000 units or so, and they’re probably taking a loss on each car. But it’s a car that shows what Ford can do given unlimited budget and working outside the constraints of a typical production line—it takes one full day to assemble each car. Compare that to the roughly 300,000 Ford Fusions sold each year, which means they’re producing over 820 cars per day.

It also gives the owner of a Fusion or Fiesta or Mustang the ability to say “Yea, it’s a Ford—the same company that makes that amazing GT.” It may even draw them into a showroom to see the car, where they may leave with some lesser vehicle. (Though with so few GTs being built, Chevrolet’s Corvette is a better real-world example of a halo car, as you can find those at any Chevy dealer.)

Thinking about the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro as Apple’s halo cars makes perfect sense. These are expensive machines that will sell to relatively few people, but every Mac (and iPhone) owner can say “Yea, the same company that makes those amazing high-end desktop machines.” It may also draw users to an Apple Store to see this amazing metal, and they may end up leaving with a “normal” iMac or MacBook Pro.

And it lets Phil keep saying “Can’t innovate any more, my ass!” for a few more years.

Revisiting a PDF page counting script

A couple of years back, I created a bash script to count PDF pages across subfolders. Here’s how it looks when run on my folder of Apple manuals:

I use this script on the top-level folder where I save all my Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scans. Why? Partly because I’m a geek, and partly because it helps me identify folders I might not need to keep on their own—if there are only a few pages in a folder, I’ll generally try to consolidate its contents into another lightly-used folder.

The script I originally wrote worked fine, and still works fine—sort of. When I originally wrote about it, I said…

I feared this would be incredibly slow, but it only took about 40 seconds to traverse a folder structure with about a gigabyte of PDFs in about 1,500 files spread across 160 subfolders, and totalling 5,306 PDF pages.

That was then, this is now: With 12,173 pages of PDFs spread across 4,475 files in 295 folders, the script takes over two minutes to run—155 seconds, to be precise. That’s not anywhere near acceptable, so I set out to see if I could improve my script’s performance.

In the end, I succeeded—though it was more of a “we succeeded” thing, as my friend James (who uses a very similar scan-and-file setup) and I went back-and-forth with changes over a couple days. The new script takes just over 10 seconds to count pages in the same set of files. (It’s even more impressive if the files aren’t so spread out—my eBooks/Manuals folder has over 12,000 pages, too, but in just 139 files in 43 folders…the script runs in just over a second.)

Where’d the speed boost come from? One simple change that seems obvious in hindsight, but I was amazed actually worked…

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macOS quality as measured by update release rate

There’s a lot of chatter out there that High Sierra is potentially the worst macOS release ever, in terms of bugs and broken or missing functionality. From the recent Month 13 is out of bounds log spewage problem to the root no password required issue (whoops!) to a variety of other glitches, High Sierra has presented many users, myself included, with a near-constant stream of issues.

But is it actually any worse than prior macOS/OS X1I’ll just call it macOS from here on. releases? There’s really not a lot of information to go on, given Apple’s very-private development process and non-public bug tracker.

However, the one data source I do have is a list of every macOS release date. With 10.13.2 having just been released, I thought it might be interesting to see how quickly the third update arrived on each version of macOS. If High Sierra is worse than usual, I’d expect that the time required to reach its third update would be notably less than that of other releases.

After some fiddling in Excel, the data proved—with some caveats and observations—my hypothesis…

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The Calculator bug persists in iOS 11.2

It’s not as bad as it was before, but it’s definitely still there. You don’t even have to tap super fast; I can make it happen whether I’m using two fingers or one. As long as a couple of button taps are within a reasonably-quick amount of time, you’ll get the wrong answer.

Dec 14 Update: I’ve now visited an Apple Store, and can replicate the bug in iOS 11.2.1 on the X, 8/Plus, and 7/Plus. See below for a video of the iPhone X running iOS 11.2.1.
Dec 3 Update: Some users with the same phone models as those I’ve tested say they can’t replicate the bug. I’ve added a video of my phone in use, showing exactly how quickly I was tapping, and that the bug is definitely there. Click the “more…” bit to see the video.
Dec 2 Update: Users have reported the bug is fixed on the iPhone 7 Plus and the X. But it’s definitely present on the following phones: iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, and iPhone 8 Plus—I personally tested all three of those. If you have a different model and can test, please do so and let me know—I’ll update the list when I receive responses.

Below are three examples; one with 3+2+1 and two with 6-5-4. The slow-motion version shows exactly how Calculator comes up with the wrong answer, as you can see incorrect values being inserted. This was recorded on my just-upgraded iPhone 8 Plus running iOS 11.2:

I can even make this happen with a simple “3+2” test. You may argue that I’m tapping the keys too quickly, but I’m not really hitting them at super-human speed, just quickly. And more importantly, the taps should be recognized and cached in order, regardless of what onscreen animations are occurring.

Trying the same experiment with PCalc, for example, I cannot make it fail, even tapping buttons much more quickly than I do in Calculator.

Kill the fancy animations, Apple, and just make Calculator remember our key taps, please?

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Month 13 is out of bounds

And obviously, it would be, because there is no month 13. But if you’re unlucky enough to be a Mac user in the month of December, 2017, then you’ll probably be seeing a lot of “Month 13 is out of bounds” messages in your Console. And by ‘a lot,’ I mean an exceedingly excessive never-ending stream of spewage…

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them—I’m getting anywhere from two to 20 per second, continuously. Ugh.

This just started happening this morning, and it’s happening on all my Macs. I found one Apple developer forum thread that talks about the problem, and user Helge seems to point to a bug in mdworker

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The fundamental problem with the Touch Bar

Today, via a link posted on Six Colors, I read Steven Acquino’s The Touch Bar Makes the Mac More Accessible to Me, in which Steven shares his positive experiences with the Touch Bar:

Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji.

Usability is definitely an individual thing, and Steven makes a good case for why he likes the Touch Bar. However, Steven doesn’t mention a fundamental issue with the Touch Bar. Nor does Marco Arment in his Fixing the MacBook Pro article. To me, this unstated issue is the main problem with the Touch Bar, and it’s one that Apple can’t fix with new features or tweaks:

You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.

When the new MacBooks were released, I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea…was incredibly disruptive. To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.

As but one example, Steven mentions using the Touch Bar for zooming:

In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.

Granted, there are some extra capabilities in the Touch Bar zoom, but using the Touch Bar for zoom seems infinitely harder—and more disruptive—than my preferred approach:

You can really customize zoom in that panel, including making it usable via the keyboard, setting zoom limits, and more. I keep it simple, though, with a mouse-assisted full screen zoom.

To zoom my screen, I hold down the Control key, then scroll my Magic Mouse with one finger, and I get infinite and easily-controllable zoom, all without ever taking my eyes off the screen. To zoom with the Touch Bar, I’d need to look at the Touch Bar while I tapped on it to get into zoom mode, then look back to the screen as I zoomed. That seems much tougher, and again, my eyes have to go from screen to keyboard and back—and do so again when I’m done zooming to exit zoom.

Using a Mac should be about doing things efficiently, and to me, the Touch Bar is an incredibly inefficient solution to a non-existent problem. I’m with Marco, and hope that future laptops either remove the Touch Bar completely or make it optional.

My initial impressions after briefly using the iPhone X

No, I didn’t buy one. (Though I could have; the nearby Apple store has had them in stock each day.) But I did spend about 20 minutes playing with one, just to compare it to my 8 Plus. Here then are my thoughts after that extensive hands-on period…

The Good Stuff
  • The screen is lovely (most of the time; see below). Very high pixel density makes for incredibly crisp text, and the OLED tech means blacks are black, and colors in images look stunning.

  • The 120Hz sample rate on the touchscreen makes for very snappy interactions.

  • Compared to my 8 Plus, the narrower iPhone X feels nicely sized in my hand.

  • I don’t think it would take too long to get used to the gesture-based interface; I already find myself wishing that the “short drag up” to activate the app switcher worked on my iPhone 8 Plus.

  • Face ID is very easy to set up, much more so than Touch ID. (The store phones have a demo setup so you can see how it works and test it, but not really apply it as you would on your own iPhone.)

There’s more, of course, but they’re things that apply to the iPhone 8/8 Plus, too: The glass design feels good in the hand, much improved cameras, speedy CPU, etc. The X has all of that, though with an even better camera, thanks to stabilization on the zoom lens, too.

So much for the good…

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