Jun 282019
 

Some of the reaction to Apple’s recent product announcements has been amusing to say the least.

First of all, let’s get the monitor out of the way first. If you think that monitor is ridiculously expensive, you’ve not looked at the specifications closely enough. Mid-range content creation monitors do cost that much – a quick look on B&H shows two monitors in the same price ballpark as the new Apple monitor, and the Apple monitor has higher specifications.

Not including the stand may seem a bit cheap, but frankly if you’ve already paid for a VESA stand that suits your working environment why pay for a stand that you will just throw away?

But yes, $1,000 for a metal stand is a little pricey. Given the negative reaction of the Apple fans at the show, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple drop that price (I also wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t).

Now onto the Mac Pro.

First of all, I should say that I’m not buying one – I don’t have the money, and whilst I run a somewhat underpowered workstation at work and a somewhat overpowered workstation at home, the strong points of the Mac Pro aren’t what I’m interested in and its weak points are where I’m interested in strength.

Is this expensive? Of course it is, but so is any high-end workstation – this isn’t your standard desktop PC! You can get a very roughly equivalently specced out Dell Precision 5820 for very roughly 2/3 the cost. But that comes with slower ECC memory and is much less expandable. You can also configure a Dell 7920 to a point that a Mac Pro looks cheap (it goes well above $100,000).

And you don’t buy such a system without expanding it beyond the base configuration.

This kind of machine is bought by professionals where the cost is less important than the return on investment. If it makes a professional just a little bit more productive, it can pay for itself within a year. Of the photographic (and video) professionals I watch on the tube, at least one is planning on buying three as soon as he can.

  1. Could you get a better specification ‘DIY’ machine with a budget of say $15,000? Probably although it may not be as expandable.
  2. Could you run macOS on it? Probably but it wouldn’t be supported by Apple (and that sort of thing is important in a corporate environment).
  3. Could you get next day fix or replace support for your ‘DIY’ machine? Almost certainly not; and again, when any downtime costs you money, that sort of thing is important.

There are however two criticisms I would make of Apple :-

  1. Storage. The new Mac Pro is severely limited in terms of storage expansion. In some ways that it is understandable; the sort of customer this is aimed for is likely to have a big fast NAS box somewhere. But I think they missed a trick by not offering a disk expansion chassis; perhaps an accessory tower that clips to the main tower doubling the width.
  2. No “Mac Pro Mini”. There is still an empty spot in Apple’s product line-up covering the mid-range tower territory – in fact exactly what those who criticise the Mac Pro are effectively asking for.
Cube On The Lines
Feb 032019
 

Apple’s stockprice has taken a bit of a tumble just recently, prompted by a statement from them indicating that they’ve made a bit of a mess of the iPhone releases and they’re not selling as many as they expected.

Foolish scaremongers are predicting the demise of Apple. Over a few bad quarters? That’s just ridiculous.

If anything (and you fancy a gamble), now is probably a good time to buy shares in Apple, because they are not going away any time soon. And they will probably come up with an answer to what they are doing wrong.

So what are they doing wrong?

Too Few Products

It may seem a bit strange to say considering just how many different iPhones you can buy, but what I am really talking about here are product types rather than individual variations. After all whether you are buying an iPhone X, XS, XS Max, or XR, you’re still buying an iPhone.

Just take a look at the Apple web site navigation bar :-

Each of those (with the possible exception of a particular keen Mac user of the “Mac” group, and of course “Music”) is a product that a person is only likely to have one of.

And keeping the number of products you sell small makes you more vulnerable to the occasional “miss”. Which with the best planning in the world will happen from time to time.

Just imagine what is missing :-

  1. The Apple HiFi
  2. The Apple alarm clock.
  3. The Apple home/small office network server.
  4. The Apple power-line ethernet adaptor.
  5. The Apple WiFi access point.
  6. The Apple air pollution monitor/smoke detector.

And that’s just a few items thought up by an individual on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Don’t Ignore The Fringe Fanatics

For many years, Apple survived by making products well suited to the audio/visual creator community. And yet looking through the Mac line-up, there is nothing there suited to the real power user.

And yet Apple has fans who still want to run macOS – either compromising on their needs by getting an iMac Pro (usually with huge piles of non-Apple external disks) or by getting an ordinary PC and running macOS on it.

Give them what they want, and no a promise to release a proper Mac Pro “someday” isn’t sufficient.

There may not be a great deal of profit in it, but a small profit is better than none. And catering to power users may well have a greater effect than you suppose – they are or can be influencers. Imagine every photographer, videographer, and sound engineer saying “Forget about Windows; get yourself a Mac”.

Because that’s what they used to say.

Too Expensive

If you ask anyone if they would like more features, the answer is almost always yes, but they can become more reluctant if you ask them to pay a little more money for those features.

And if you ask them to pay more for features they are not interested in, they’ll rapidly lose interest if money is tight and their old phone is ‘good enough’.

And that is what has happened, the latest iPhone has more and better features than any previous iPhone but the price has crept up. For many (including the affluent “middle-class”) it has become a significant purchase rather than something that can be paid off with 2-4 months of minor inconvenience.

Follow The Path
Nov 292017
 

If you have not already heard about it, Apple made a mindbogglingly stupid mistake with the latest release of macOS (previously known as OSX), leaving their users open to an incredibly easy exploit that would give anyone full access over an Apple in their hands. Or in some cases, remotely.

The externally visible effect of the vulnerability is that a standard Unix account (root) that was supposed to be disabled was left with a blank password. Apple uses a very common Unix security mechanism that means the root account is unnecessary as an ordinary account (i.e. nobody logs in as root), although the account has to exist so that legitimate privilege escalation works.

As an alternative, Apple uses sudo (and graphical equivalents) so that members of a certain group can run commands as root. Nothing wrong with that.

To keep things safe, Apple disabled the root account and because the account was disabled, left the password blank.

It turns out that the vulnerability was caused by a bug in Apple’s authentication system which resulted in blank passwords being reset and the account enabled. But it is more complicated than that; Apple made a number of mistakes :-

  1. The bug in the authentication system. Of course no software is bug-free, but bugs are still mistakes. Of course because no software is bug-free, it makes sense to take extra precautions to avoid bugs causing a cascade of problems.
  2. The root password should have been set to a random value to prevent access if the account was accidentally enabled.
  3. Apple’s test suite which hopefully they use to verify that new releases don’t contain previously identified bugs should also check for this vulnerability.

Although the precise details don’t matter as it’s the principle of defence in depth.

Hemisphere and Curves

Oct 302016
 

Meh.

With the sole exception of the touchscreen key strip that replaces the function keys, there’s pretty much nothing that interesting about the new Macbook Pro machines from Apple. That is not to say they are not nice machines, but they are a bit under-specified for a “pro” laptop tag, although I suspect that quite a few people complaining about the lack of a dedicated GPU in the 13″ model fail to realise that most serious professionals do most of their heavy number crunching in the cloud and not on a light-weight laptop.

macbook-pro

 

And frankly any laptop is light-weight compared to a rack-based server with a case full of Teslas.

A laptop is essentially a creative tool for accessing “the cloud” for anything that requires a real computer, and a 13″ Macbook Pro is fine for that (although the trendy tax is a touch high).

Now onto the function key replacement: As a devotee of the keyboard, I’m somewhat reluctant to cheer the replacement of real keys with a touch screen, but it could be quite a neat feature. In the old days when we used function keys much more widely than we do now, on-screen labels for what the function keys did were not uncommon … look at the bottom of the following screenshot :-

norton-textra-writer-21-4

 

And the ill-fated Apricot Computers had a competitor to the IBM PC which came with a keyboard that had six “soft keys” with LCD panels.

So Apple has not done anything new here, but when did they? Their core skill is taking technical innovations and making them user-friendly; I don’t have a problem with that.

This keyboard could be useful in many ways – in addition to resurrecting the old “function key labels” in a more usable way, there is also the possibility of using them to insert symbols that we should be using, but rarely do so because they are not to be found on our normal keyboards. Depending on your proffesion (or inclination), we have different symbols we could or should be using – perhaps the copyright symbol ©, the interrobang ⁤‽, or more. Of course how useful it becomes will be down to the relevant software developers.

Jun 122013
 

Apple’s teaser of their replacement for the venerable Mac Pro has raised quite a few hackles “out there” amongst a certain kind of Mac Pro prospective customer. They’re wrong.

It is quite possible that Apple has done some extensive research on whether internal expansion with storage and PCIe cards is necessary or not. And it is quite possible that most of the old Mac Pros had not been expanded in this way.

But Apple are wrong too (and of course I’m right whilst everyone else is wrong  :-P): Internal expansion is important for some people, and they are quite possibly the sort of people that you don’t want to antagonise. Specifically the enthusiasts who would rather keep their storage internal, who want to add accelerator cards of one kind or another, etc.

Whilst the enthusiasts may not be the majority of Apple’s customers, they do have a certain amount of influence. People asking the enthusiasts at the moment may well get told to get an old Mac Pro right now so they are not limited by the expansion capabilities of the new Mac Pro.

And there’s a way that Apple could have done both; kept the neat design of the new Mac Pro, and allow the enthusiasts to have “internal” expansion. And it could be done by simply allowing the new form factor to expand the case through the base – allow it to “click” onto a PCIe expansion cage, or a two-drive enclosure.

Sure that would require some sort of special bus in the base, and a sensible way of attaching cases to the base in a secure enough manner. But it would also mean that the new Mac Pro was as expandable as the old without the use of the cable tangle that most external devices require.

Take a look behind most large tower PC’s and you’ll find a tangle of cables attaching screens, keyboards, mice, external drives, and odder devices. Apple’s new Mac Pro will just make this worse when they could have done something even more radical and showed the industry how to improve the situation.

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