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On the Sad State of Macintosh Hardware

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Quentin Carnicelli:

At the time of the writing, with the exception of the $5,000 iMac Pro, no Macintosh has been updated at all in the past year. […]

Rather than attempting to wow the world with “innovative” new designs like the failed Mac Pro, Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Compare and contrast with the iPhone, which is updated not just annually, but predictably. Post-WWDC, I’ve had a few friends and readers ask whether they should just go ahead and buy a MacBook or MacBook Pro now — knowing they’re old, knowing the keyboards are of questionable reliability — or wait until fall. I have no idea if new MacBooks are coming in the fall though. It certainly seems like they should, but would you really be surprised if we don’t see new MacBooks (and iMacs) until 2019?

I’d really love to see Apple get Mac hardware on a roughly annual schedule, even if most years they’re just speed bumps, like they were a decade ago.

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wchw25
6 days ago
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Word.
Singapore, Singapore
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2 public comments
satadru
6 days ago
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And this is also why there's a 90% chance that my next machine after 15 years of Apple laptops will be a Chromebook. It's not just that Apple hardware has stagnated, though a large portion of blame there is rightfully owed to Intel, but that there's just not any software any more that makes one NEED a mac. The average user is only using a web browser, and the best in class browser for non-mobile devices, Google Chrome, works on any platform. If you're in publishing and you need the Adobe Suite, then maybe Apple over Microsoft. Microsoft Office? I suspect the 95% use case doesn't require anything more than Google Docs.

What Apple has done is consistently pushed the bar in their hardware with good trackpads and good displays, especially with the shift to HiDPI screens and wider color gamuts... but the last several generations of laptop keyboards have been lacking, so that's a mark against the newer devices.
New York, NY
wreichard
6 days ago
How are we going to create mobile apps and graphics when there are no desktop OSes left?
satadru
6 days ago
I see some sort of hybrid system where one can run hybrid desktop and mobile apps side by side. For instance, ChromeOS is enabling linux app support, alongside Android app support. I imagine it is going to be nice to run your IDE on a touchscreen computer with a keyboard which you can also run the app you're developing on. Hell, even Autocad is now available as a web app.
wreichard
5 days ago
Well, I guess the iPad Pro has beaten the MacBook in some tests, so maybe ...
tingham
6 days ago
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I'm typing this share with comment on my Windows 10 PC that absolutely destroys my trashcan mac pro in every single benchmark except for "Dark Mode."
Cary, NC

Fixing the MacBook Pro

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Despite my love for the previous Retina MacBook Pro, I won’t be able to use it forever. The best laptop to ever exist should be in the future, not the past.

There’s a lot to like about the new MacBook Pros, but they need some changes to be truly great and up to Apple’s standards.

Here’s what I’m hoping to see in the next MacBook Pro that I believe is technically possible, reasonable, widely agreeable, and likely for Apple to actually do, in descending order of importance:

Magic Keyboard

Butterfly keyswitches are a design failure that should be abandoned. They’ve been controversial, fatally unreliable, and expensive to repair since their introduction on the first 12” MacBook in early 2015. Their flaws were evident immediately, yet Apple brought them to the entire MacBook Pro lineup in late 2016.

After three significant revisions, Apple’s butterfly keyswitches remain as controversial and unreliable as ever. At best, they’re a compromise acceptable only on the ultra-thin 12” MacBook, and only if nothing else fits. They have no place in Apple’s mainstream or pro computers.

The MacBook Pro must return to scissor keyswitches. If Apple only changes one thing about the next MacBook Pro, it should be this. It’s far more important than anything else on this list.

Fans of the butterfly keyboard’s feel need not worry — this doesn’t mean we need the old MacBook Pro keyboard, exactly.

The Magic Keyboard’s scissor switches feel similar, but with a bit more travel, and all of the reliability and resilience of previous keyboard generations. They’re a much better, more reliable, and more repairable balance of thinness and typing feel likely to appeal to far more people — even those who like the butterfly keyboards.

The Magic Keyboard only needs one change to be perfect for the MacBook Pro: returning to the “inverted-T” arrow-key arrangement by making the left- and right-arrow keys half-height again. This arrangement is much more natural and less error-prone because we can align our fingers by feeling the “T” shape, a crucial affordance for such frequently used keys that are so far from the home row.

Great first-party USB-C hubs

The MacBook Pro bet heavily on the USB-C ecosystem, but it hasn’t developed enough on its own.

When people can’t get what they need from Apple at all, or at a remotely competitive price, they’ll go to cheap third-party products, which are often unreliable or cause other problems. When these critical accessories aren’t flawless, it reflects poorly on Apple, as it harms the overall real-world experience of using these computers.

If a third-party hub or dongle is flaky, the owner doesn’t blame it — they blame their expensive new Apple computer for needing it.

Apple needs to step up with its own solid offerings to offer more ports for people who need them.

Apple’s most full-featured USB-C accessory is downright punitive in its unnecessary minimalism: one USB-C passthrough, one USB-A (a.k.a. regular/old USB), and an HDMI port that doesn’t even do 4K at 60 Hz — all for the shameless price of $80.

Instead of giving us the least that we might possibly need, this type of product should give us the most that can fit within reasonable size, cost, and bandwidth constraints. I’d like to see at least two USB-C ports, at least two USB-A ports, and HDMI that can do 4K60. An SD-card reader would be a nice bonus.

To make it easier to go all-USB-C on our peripherals and cables, I’d also like to see a true USB-C hub: one USB-C in and at least three USB-C out, with power passthrough on one.

And just as we learned that the need for pro displays shouldn’t be outsourced to LG, Apple should stop outsourcing critical adapters and hubs to Belkin. They’re not as good as Apple’s, and they never will be.

More ports

USB-C is great, but being limited to 2 or 4 total ports (including power) simply isn’t enough. Even if you adopt the USB-C ecosystem, these MacBook Pros are more limited than their predecessors:

  • The 13” MacBook Air can connect to power, two USB devices, Thunderbolt, and an SD card simultaneously. Its replacement, the 13” MacBook “Escape” (without Touch Bar), can only connect to two total devices on battery, or one when powered.
  • The 2015 13” and 15” MacBook Pros can connect to power, two USB devices, two Thunderbolt devices, HDMI output, and an SD card simultaneously. Their replacements can only connect to four devices on battery, or three when powered.

If there’s not enough Thunderbolt or PCIe bandwidth to have more USB-C ports, that’s fine — not every port needs to be USB-C with Thunderbolt. All of that cost and bandwidth is unnecessary for most common real-world uses of laptop ports (power in, charging iPhones, external keyboards, etc.).

Dongles should be the exception, not the norm, in real-world use — most owners should need zero. But HDMI and USB-A are still far too widely used to have been removed completely, and neither are likely to fade away anytime soon regardless of how Apple configures their laptops. Re-adding HDMI and at least one USB-A port will reduce or eliminate many people’s dongle needs, which I bet would dramatically improve their satisfaction.

Finally, Apple should give serious consideration to bringing back the SD-card slot. SD cards are more widely used than ever in photography, video, audio, and other specialized equipment, and they provide excellent options for fast, reliable storage expansion and data transfer. And they’re going to be around for a while — Wi-Fi and cables don’t or can’t replace most current uses in practice.

Back away from the Touch Bar

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

The Touch Bar should either be discontinued or made optional for all MacBook Pro sizes and configurations.

Touch ID is the only part of the Touch Bar worth saving, but the future is clearly Face ID. If we can’t have that yet, the ideal setup is Touch ID without the Touch Bar. We’d retain the Secure Enclave’s protection for the camera and microphones, and hopefully get the iMac Pro’s boot protection, too.

Nicer charger

USB-C PD charging and replaceable charging cables are great advances that should be kept. USB-C PD is the reason I didn’t include battery life in this list — occasional needs for extended battery life can be achieved with inexpensive USB-C PD batteries.

But Apple could make their chargers and cables so much nicer — and they only need to look to their own recent past.

I’d like to see them bring back the charging LED on the end of the cable, and the cable-management arms on the brick. These weren’t superfluous — they served important, useful functions, and their removal made real-world usability worse for small, unnecessary gains.

MagSafe would be nice, but I don’t think it’s essential. MagSafe 2 wasn’t universally loved because it detached with too little vertical pressure when used on laps, couches, or beds, but maybe it could be moved to a splitting module along the cable, a few inches from the laptop end, like the original Xbox’s controller cables?

The move to a detachable, “standard” USB-C cable doesn’t preclude any of this. It’s already a specialized, dedicated power-only cable in practice (high-wattage USB PD support, but no Thunderbolt, and limited to USB 2.0 speeds). Third-party cables could still work — Apple’s could just be nicer.

Keeping what’s great

There’s a lot about the current MacBook Pro that’s great — fast internals, quieter fans, Touch ID, P3 screens, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C PD charging, and space gray, to name a few.

We shouldn’t have to choose between what’s better about the previous generation — connectivity, reliability, and versatility — and what’s great about this one.

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wchw25
208 days ago
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Singapore, Singapore
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MotherHydra
208 days ago
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Pretty much nailed it.
Space City, USA
lukeburrage
208 days ago
As a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar owner, the two big ones for me are the charging indicator LED on the cable or laptop (there’s no way to know if it is charging unless you open the screen) and the arrow keys. All the other issues don’t really effect me, though I understand the problems others have. I love the keyboard and touch bar, and the thinness and lightness are the best ever for a 15 inch laptop.
cnf
208 days ago
I love my touchbar, and don’t want to be without one again tbh.
peelman
208 days ago
Just got giggles, bring back the external battery indicator too. It’s so damned frustrating having to haul it out of the bag and open the bloody thing only to discover a dead battery. Marco is spot-on. They build that kind of Pro again, and they will sell a shitload of them.

Volvo’s Remarkable New Films About Human Achievement Don’t Look Much Like Ads at All – Adweek

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Volvo journeys to the bottom of the sea and explores the remarkably resilient recesses of the human mind in these evocative, intense and ultimately uplifting brand films from London agency Valenstein & Fatt.

Keeping the cars themselves mostly in the background, directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall (aka, D.A.R.Y.L.) tie the automaker’s quest for innovation to personal achievement and the qualities of the human spirit that can help us beat daunting odds and overcome adversity.

Produced as part of Volvo’s ongoing “Human Made Stories” partnership with U.K. TV service Sky Atlantic, each film clocks in at over five minutes and packs plenty of emotional power, punctuated by poetic imagery and memorable moments. Telling true stories, they transcend the content model to deliver food for thought and some pretty impressive feels.

That’s particularly true for “Music of the Mind,” which focuses on a gifted English violinist named Rosie who suffers a catastrophic brain injury that silences her performing career. Many years later, she rejoins her orchestra thanks to technology that reads brainwaves and translates thoughts into melodic phrases for others to play:

“The first set of films we created got good traction and were downloaded 600,000 times” from Sky Atlantic’s On Demand service, agency creative director Andy Lockley tells AdFreak. “This time round, we wanted to tell stories that were truly remarkable. Stories about people whose refusal to accept the things the way they are has led to innovation that that potential to change the world. We spent a great deal of time searching for these stories and were very selective.”

The team sought out emotionally engaging, intellectually challenging stories because they define Volvo’s target audience as “defiant pioneers—people who inherently do things differently, challenge conventions and create their own path,” Lockley says.

Less of a tearjerker than “Music of the Mind,” though equally effecting in its own watery way, is “Nero’s Garden,” which tells of an audacious plan to save family farms in Italy by growing crops on the seabed:

“In any branded content, product integration has to be integral and not too intrusive,” says Lockley. “If it is, it’s counterproductive, and people will simply reject it. The viewer can choose to stop watching at any point if they felt they are being advertised to.”

With subdued hues, quietly passionate interviews, deft build-ups of suspense and unobtrusive car cameos, neither film feels much like advertising at all.

“The primary purpose of these films is to convey Volvo’s philosophy that it’s humans and human behavior that drive the world forward—not cars,” says Lockley. “The focus isn’t the car, it’s the people.”

That said, the brand connection might, at times, be a tad too subtle. It’s tough enough selling the cars themselves in entertaining fashion. Trying to communicate an automaker’s “philosophy” makes for an even rougher road. Plus, who’s going to remember what a nameplate stands for—or be thinking about any brand whatsoever—after watching “Music of the Mind”?

Still, Volvo deserves credit for attempting to shift the conversation and rolling in an unexpected direction.

“Nemo’s Garden” breaks tonight on Sky Atlantic following Game of Thrones, while “Music of the Mind” premieres after the hit series next Tuesday. Both films will be available for a year via Sky On Demand.

CREDITS
Head of Marketing, Volvo, Georgina Williams
Campaign Manager, Volvo, Terissa Wingfield

Creative Agency: Valenstein & Fatt
Joint Chief Creative Officers: Vicki Maguire & Caroline Pay
Creative Director: Andy Lockley
Strategic Design Director: Wiktor Skoog
Managing Partner: Crystyn Bevan
Business Director: Tim Rogowski
Account Director: Alex Nixon
Account Manager: Dominic Kolodziejski
Agency Producers: Amy Cracknell & Marcus Ely
Assistant Producer: Georgia Tomi

Prod Company: PULSE
Director D.A.R.Y.L (Edward Lovelace and James Hall)
Exec Producer: Neil Andrews
Editor Billy Mead & Amanda Jenkins at Ten Three
Additional editing: Matt Newman, Crispin Deverill & Luke Whiting at Hogarth
Sound Design: Zak Kurtha
Composer: Daniel Hart & Tom Player at Wake The Town

Post Production: GPS
Post Producer: Annika Gustavsson
Online: Esta Burgland
MPC Post Producer: Amy Richardson
Colorist: Mattieu Toullet

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wchw25
283 days ago
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Singapore, Singapore
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Pinboard Acquires Delicious

4 Comments and 5 Shares

This is simply amazing given the history of Pinboard. Strike a win for the indie web.

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wchw25
383 days ago
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Wow!
Singapore, Singapore
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codesujal
384 days ago
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wow.
West Hartford, CT
egoexpress
384 days ago
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Wow!
49.46904200,11.11430400
glenn
384 days ago
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lol
Waterloo, Canada

The Outline

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Joshua Topolsky, announcing the launch of The Outline, the new website for which he’s editor-in-chief:

Welcome to The Outline, a new kind of publication for a new kind of human.

OK.

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wchw25
559 days ago
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Cool!
Singapore, Singapore
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★ Why A-Series Benchmark Scores Matter

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Thom Holwerda on Twitter, quoting a tweet of mine touting the iPhone 7’s astounding Geekbench scores:

Funny how just like in the PPC days, benchmarks only start mattering when they favour [insert platform of choice].

https://twitter.com/gruber/status/776295771943600129

I like reading/following Holwerda, because he’s someone who I feel keeps me on my toes. But he’s off-base here. I’m certainly not saying that CPU or GPU performance is a primary reason why anyone should buy an iPhone over and Android phone. In fact, I’ll emphasize that if the tables were turned and it were Android phones that were registering Geekbench scores double those of the iPhone, I would still be using an iPhone. In the same way that I’ve been using Mac, non-stop, since I first purchased a computer in 1991. Most of the years from 1991 until the switch to Intel CPUs in 2007, the Mac was behind PCs in performance. I never argued then that performance didn’t matter — only that for me, personally, the other benefits of using a Mac (the UI design of the system, the quality of the third-party apps, the build quality of the hardware, etc. — outweighed the performance penalty Macs suffered. The same would be true today if Apple’s A-series chips were slower than Qualcomm’s CPUs for Android.

But that would likely never happen. If Apple’s in-house chips were significantly slower than the commodity chips used by Android device makers, Apple would just use those commodity chips. The mobile situation would be just like the desktop situation, where Apple uses the same CPUs as everyone else. That’s what makes the A-series chips’ performance so interesting. If the commodity chips were fastest, everyone would use them. But if the A-series chips are the fastest (and have the best energy efficiency), only Apple gets to use them.

The iPhone has all the benefits (in short: superior design) that would keep me, and I think most other iPhone users, on the platform even if it didn’t have a performance advantage. But it does have a significant performance advantage, and that advantage is exclusive to Apple. This is an extraordinary situation, historically. And year-over-year, it looks like Apple’s lead is growing, not shrinking. It’s not a fluke, but a sustained advantage.

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wchw25
643 days ago
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So true!
Singapore, Singapore
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