The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

Apple

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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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.

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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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.

The iPhone 8 Plus’ glass is not all it’s cracked up to be

This morning, I was thinking about putting a clear screen protector on the iPhone 8 Plus, just because I had one that came with one of the cases I purchased. While cleaning the glass, though, I noticed something disconcerting: My iPhone 8 Plus is already showing fine scratches on the glass.

Compare my year-old iPhone 7 (top) with the weeks-old iPhone 8 Plus (bottom)…

Both phones are in similar cases that extend above the edge of the glass—I tried two minimal cases on the iPhone 8 Plus, but have only used the full-sized cases out in the “real world.” Both phones have been used in similar ways, sitting in my pants pocket or in a tray in my car. After a year of such treatment, the iPhone 7 glass looks practically brand new. The iPhone 8 Plus glass, however, is already showing fine scratches. (There are similar scratches near the bottom of the phone, too.)

These scratches aren’t—yet?—visible in day-to-day use, but it concerns me that they’ve developed to this degree after only a couple weeks’ use. How bad will things get after a few months?

Are any other iPhone 8 (Plus or non-plus) users seeing such scratches on their displays? I’m tempted to go visit the Apple Store with my phone, because I can’t believe this is normal, especially given how well the iPhone 7 (and all my prior phones) have resisted scratching.

Configurator covers (some of) iTunes’ lost app features

On the same day that Apple announced the new iPhones and such, they also released iTunes 12.7, which has a number of minor changes, and one very major change (here’s a nice summary). The major change is the removal of pretty much anything related to iOS apps: You can’t sync apps, you can’t browse the store, and you can’t reorder your iOS device’s app icons.

As someone who is Mac-bound for the majority of the day, this is a horrible change, and I absolutely hate it. Apple does provide one workaround, the ability to manually sync data from your computer to your iOS device. But this method isn’t really user friendly, and offers almost nothing in the way of actual app management. Further, it doesn’t let you rearrange your apps, which is one of the most awful tedious tasks one can undertake on an iOS device.

Enter Apple Configurator 2, a free Mac app that Apple says “makes it easy to deploy iPad, iphone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business.” But here’s a secret—shhhhhh!—you don’t have to be a school or business to use Configurator, nor do you have to use it for multiple devices—it works just fine for a single user with a single iOS device. And as an added bonus, it does some things that iTunes 12.6 and earlier never did.

In summary form, using Configurator, I can…

  • Easily view (customizable) device info for multiple devices at once.
  • See a summary screen for any given device, containing lots of useful tidbits about the device.
  • Rearrange icons on any device’s screens.
  • Change the wallpaper on any device.
  • View info on all installed apps, and sort by name or seller or genre, etc.
  • Update installed apps.
  • Install apps from either purchase history or from a folder on my Mac.
  • Install configuration and provisioning profiles (for beta software, etc.).
  • Install documents and assign them to applications.
  • Create backups (open or encrypted) and restore them.
  • A whole bunch more…

The one thing it can’t do—and for which there’s still no alternative I’m aware of—is browse and purchase apps from the iOS App Store. For that, you’ll still need to use your iOS device…or a virtual machine running iTunes 12.6. (Configurator requires a physical connection via USB cable; it won’t work over WiFi. Configurator also grabs any connected devices it sees, so don’t launch it while iTunes is syncing other iOS content, for instance.)

Keep reading for a slightly deeper look at a few of Configurator’s features…

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My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

The past, present, and future of the Mac Pro

I’ll admit it, last week’s news about the new Mac Pro got me excited about the future of the Mac for the first time in a long time.

Note that I am not in any of the target markets for a typical Mac Pro buyer—I don’t crunch huge scientific data sets, I don’t render massive 4K movies, and I’m not compiling huge programs on a daily basis. But I have always been a fan of the Mac Pro for one reason (up until the most recent one, at least): Customization. Having a customizable Mac means it can last longer, as you can make changes to keep up with technology. I have owned both the Motorola and Intel era Mac Pros, and they were truly excellent machines.

The past


One Mac to rule them all

The older Mac Pro (and its predecessors) were—as I recently wrote—wonderful machines, because you, the user, could do so much to them. You could add RAM, of course, but you can do that to most any current Mac.

You could also choose up to four hard drives to put inside the case—no messy cables, no need to worry about a child or pet disconnecting your drive while it’s rendering a movie, etc. If you outgrew them, you could easily replace them. In my Mac Pro, I had an internal Time Machine drive (in addition to the external Time Machine drive.)

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