October 31, 2018
For an Apple Event that was rather lackluster for me, I have been reading a lot on the subject.
The first two sources are from Jason Snell over at Six Colors, who seems very excited about the current state of things. Just look at his use of exclamation points! As always, I prefer to share “gems” instead of main points.
This is the iPhone X factor, applied to the iPad. The home button is gone, replaced with a TrueDepth camera system that allows Face ID to work from any orientation. It’s surprising and impressive when you see the iPad unlock using Face ID when you’re holding the iPad upside-down. The camera can still see your face from down there? Apparently so.
FaceID on the iPad can be used in any orientation. Many might not know that FaceID (on the original iPhone X at the very least) was only available when the phone was in the right orientation.
So the real question is, why did people keep buying the MacBook Air all this time? Was it that $999 price? Was it the design? The size? The fact that it was the last Apple laptop without the new butterfly keyboard design?
Anyway, that butterfly keyboard. I don’t hate it but I certainly don’t love it. My daughter uses her MacBook all the time and doesn’t complain, so apparently it doesn’t bother her? And Apple probably has a bunch of user research that shows that most people don’t care. But if you hate that keyboard—and it seems to be a more polarizing design than the last one—it means you have no good options on the Mac right now.
Then there are the ports! Apple’s go-to move is simplification—fewer ports, fewer buttons, the works. On the new Mac mini, it’s gone the other way, giving all us nerds exactly what we were clamoring for. Hello, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus two USB-A ports, plus HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10GB Ethernet!) and a headphone jack. What is this, 2015?
I, like Snell, was hoping that the Mac lineup would get an overhaul in the sense that Apple would simplify the offerings. Instead, they made it more messy and gave us the above thought experiment. In any case, it appears the MacBook Air is the best Mac portable from a portability perspective. On the keyboard, I think this is a generational thing. The new keyboards have their problems, but they are fine, especially if you have never (or rarely) known anything different.
On the Mac Mini, the announcement was a solid upgrade, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. The Mac Mini has become a server admins best friend, but its original intention (aside from luring the switchers of old) was to be a complete computer in a small package; BYO… everything. I was hoping Apple would release something similar in size to the AppleTV with a full computer inside. Alas, they went the very un-Apple direction that Snell points out in terms of the available I/O.
He’s absolutely right, the mini is perfect in all of those instances. I said a while ago that the Mac mini is one of those products that Apple could update or not update and it wouldn’t matter that much. I still believe that, but I’m happy that users of these machines finally get their update.
The MacBook Air was never designed to be a workhouse computer that’s going to get your high-end graphics work done, it is intended to be the go-to computer for everyone on-the-go. It does that very well.
I think the iPad Pro is getting to the point where more mainstream people would feel comfortable replacing their notebook with an iPad. That was always the thought Apple had, but the technology is catching up to the dream.
Jim Dalrymple has a history of great takeaways. He is a happy iPad user, so the mini was not the highlight for him, but what he says above is true: if the Mac Mini is for all the pro-level use cases Apple offered on stage, the Mac Mini could have been left to languish and it still would have made Apple money. Good for Apple that they updated it, but don’t expect another update for a long while.
His MacBook Air takeaway is correct, but it is part and parcel to the problems inherent in the announcements. The MacBook Air and MacBook are competing for this on-the-go space now. For the iPad, I’m cautiously hopeful.
I tried Apple’s new Smart Keyboard Folio for both iPad Pros, and I’m not sure what to think of it yet. On one hand, I’m disappointed that Apple didn’t ship a fully redesigned Smart Keyboard with backlit keys and new built-in media keys (such as the ones the Brydge keyboard currently offers). I also had the impression that getting the iPad in and out of the folio case was a more involved process than the old Smart Keyboard, though that might just be the result of it being a new accessory that I’m not familiar with yet. Time will tell.
I am frankly not sure how I feel about the new iPads themselves and I will reserve judgement until I am able to play with them in person. No authors I have read thus far have discussed this, but the magnetic connector for the Pencil is on the top and can be used while connected to the smart keyboard. Is there a second smart connector that is used to communicate with the keyboard? In any case, the new version of the Pencil puts my first generation version to shame.
UPDATE: Rene Ritchie discussed the new changes to the smart connectors. The Smart Keyboard Folio (Ugh!) connects to a smart connector on the back of the iPad, which is why I haven’t seen it. (No one shows you the back of the iPad.)
I said I wanted a faster iPad Pro, same 12.9” screen size, with a smaller overall footprint. Face ID, sure, USB-C, whatever. We got all that, and honestly I am not sure I see a reason to buy these. Which seems absurd given that just a couple days ago I was writing how I was noticing my iPad Pro (12.9” which is version 1, not the 10.5”) was feeling a touch slow in areas.
As usual, I completely agree with Mr. Brooks. In particular, the change from Lightning to USB-C seems downright odd to me and I cannot say I am particularly happy about it even if it seems like the right move from a technology and future-proofing perspective.
The base machine, and the most expensive, which clocks in at $4,200 comes with integrated graphics, in the form of the Intel UHD Graphics 630 chipset. For a computer that Apple says can be used by pros, this blows my mind. Yes, macOS Mojave and Thunderbolt 3 make living with an eGPU relatively easy, but having a discrete graphics option, at least in the high-end models would make me feel a lot better about the Mac mini being useful to a wider range of customers.
If you are going to read anything about a Mac Mini, read Stephen Hackett. This is actually the reasoning for my commentary on the Mac Mini above. If you are going to stick to an integrated graphic card, build a new chassis that makes us all stand in awe of the external design and better understand such a tradeoff.
The new internals are betrayed on the outside by a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports,meaning the MacBook Air has the same IO as that weird Touch Bar-less 13-inch MacBook Pro. Unlike that machine, the new Air does have a Touch ID sensor, the first time we have seen it divorced from the Touch Bar. I like it.
Based on the commentaries of others, I think I would like the Touch Bar, but having an option that comes with TouchID alone is a net win. The existence of TouchID without the Touch Bar also helps to explain the limits of what can be done with Apple’s A-series Mac-based subsystems.