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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro

I was going to wait a little bit longer before writing my review of this new computer, but Michael Tsai recently published some of his thoughts on it and – after writing a post in response to his experiences I realized it was turning into a bit of a review – so now this post is a review.

If you read Michael’s post you might come away thinking he doesn’t like the computer. I don’t think that’s the case. I just think he is pointing out the things that stuck out to him the most and usually the things we don’t like are the ones we remember more readily.

To cut right to the chase, I really like this computer. It has the potential of surpassing the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina as my favorite Mac of all time. But I need a bit more time with it before I’ll know that.

The great things about this new computer are the speed and memory, the larger screen, and the sound.

The good things about this computer are Touch ID (makes using things like 1Password so much better), the large trackpad, and the hopefully reliable keyboard.

The bad things are the fact that it is all USB-C and the rather useless Touch Bar (more on this later).

Now, to Michael’s experience.

Michael on Touch ID:

I’ve always had great experiences with Touch ID on iPhones, but the Touch ID key on the MacBook Pro barely works.

I don’t have this experience at all. I’ve added two fingers to Touch ID (since my laptop is on my left at home and on my right at work) and I’ve never once had it error. Yet.

I’d suggest Michael consider re-entering his fingers again (or perhaps adding the same fingers he already has) or consider returning the computer. 50% is just not good enough. Something must be wrong.

Michael on the included power cable:

The included charging cable is gross, sticky, and leaves a film on my hands, like the AirPods Pro.

I have never had this issue with a cable from Apple. It makes me wonder if some people’s natural skin oils or whatever react to Apple’s cables and some do not? This may sound odd but I had a music teacher that couldn’t use brass instruments because brass was allergic to him. The trumpets would have holes in them if he used them.

I do appreciate his links to USB-C cables and chargers that he uses as I will likely buy both of those products through his links for my travel bag.

Michael on the aluminum case:

The bottom front, where you lift the display, still has very sharp corners, which once caught on my hand and drew blood.

I cannot find where he’s speaking about. There is no area of this case that I find “sharp” at all and certainly not one that could draw blood. Unless I threw it at someone! I’d love to poll 10 owners of this laptop to see if anyone else has thought the case was sharp?

Michael on the Touch bar:

The Touch Bar is more annoying than I expected, and I plan not to buy another Mac that includes one.

I don’t know if Michael remembers or not, but 4 years ago we agreed on the Touch bar’s potential. We both felt that it was underwhelming but perhaps, in the future, it’d be useful.

We are now in that future. And the Touch Bar, for me, isn’t particularly useful except in very specific apps. First, I use an external keyboard for about 90% of my computing. Second, the Touch Bar isn’t ingrained in my brain to reach for. I wonder if I learned to type on a keyboard that had a Touch Bar would I find it indispensable? A quick search of YouTube shows a lot of people that get use out of it.

Where I have found the Touch Bar useful though is in Adobe apps. Using Premier for a project yesterday, a few common tasks I have while editing a video were available on the Touch Bar. So I switched to the built-in keyboard for a bit and it really did save me a lot of mousing. Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. are similar. So perhaps for apps that have an enormous number of features and menu items the Touch Bar can really be put to good use. It becomes buttons that replace keyboard shortcuts.

Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to contrast some of his comments with my experiences. It shows you that two people can buy the same product and have a different time of it.

Lastly, here are a few things that Apple could have done to make this the best Mac of all time (for me). A USB-A port, a card reader, added MagSafe to USB-C, and made the built-in camera just a bit better. That’s about it.

Oh, one last thing. The price. Mine was over $4,000. That is not a trivial amount of money and the most expensive Mac I’ve owned. However, most of my Macs have lasted at least 5 years. I use my Macs for both professional and personal use. Paying far less than $1,000 per year of use for how much I use the computer is a no-brainer. This laptop would be worth it at double the price. Don’t tell Apple that.

Why I used Migration Assistant to move to my new Mac

This isn’t a tutorial. If you’re in need of one and you’ve somehow stumbled onto my blog of jumbled thoughts on a variety of topics, sorry. You’ll need to go back to Google and try again (though, really, you should be using Duck.com).

I recently upgraded to a 16-inch MacBook Pro (review forthcoming) and had the opportunity to use Apple’s built-in process for moving from one Mac, or Windows computer, to a new one – Migration Assistant.

I’ve upgraded from one Mac to another (at my best count) 6 different times. Once I used Migration Assistant. All other times I didn’t. Since I only seem to buy new Macs twice a decade on average, I figure these moments are a good opportunity to start with a clean slate on my computer.

Doing so is not very easy. Though, I will say, moving from one computer to another is easier than it has ever been thanks to password managers, cloud services and storage, and a variety of other reasons. I remember in the 90s it taking about 3 or 4 days to feel as though you were back up and running. Then in the 2000s it would take me about a full long day or two. Most recently, without Migration Assistant, it would take me a full day. This latest move took me about 2 hours.

The reason I decided not to start from scratch was that I didn’t want to lose my current productivity level. Though I’m usually up and running within a few days, I feel somewhat hamstrung for at least a few weeks. Each time I open an app it requires new permissions, or whenever I pick up an old development project – with its myriad of dependencies – I have to relearn what I need to get it to run*.

So, fearing that I would lose momentum I decided to try Migration Assistant. My plan was to use it to migrate from my 13-inch MacBook Pro to the new 16-inch MacBook Pro and be up and running in the same day with every single app, preference, setting, dependency, file, password, and even session. My fear this time was if Migration Assistant did a terrible job at this, I’d have to format the computer and start over from scratch.

I’m happy to report though, that it went pretty smoothly. There were one or two apps that simply wouldn’t open (Visual Studio Code being one that comes to mind). So I simply trashed the app and reinstalled and it worked. I don’t know if it had to do with Migration Assistant or another issue but that was a simple enough fix.

Other than this one hiccup, I didn’t skip a beat. I never once went back to the old Mac and ended up formatting it the same afternoon that I received the new one. And with the added horsepower of this new Mac I feel even more empowered than I did prior to the move.

I do, however, have two suggestions to anyone using Migration Assistant… Do not use WiFi to make the transfer. I don’t even know why it is an option. I have a modern wireless set up in my home – it is very, very fast for most things – yet Migration Assistant simply would not work over WiFi. From what I could tell, the process would have taken multiple days. It seems impossible. So my only guess is that it simply doesn’t work. Apple should remove it.

If you cannot directly connect your two Macs because you do not have the right cables, consider recovering from a Time Machine backup using Migration Assistant (like I did). It only took about 90 minutes. To do this, you just need to make sure you back up your old computer right before making the jump.

I hope this new Mac lasts 5 years or so (unless the rumored switch to ARM is simply too enticing to wait). When I do switch to a new Mac, though, I won’t hesitate to try Migration Assistant again.

* This too has been dramatically improved with things like package managers and Docker.

My questions for WWDC 2019

I am looking forward to this year’s WWDC more than I have in the last 4 or 5 years. There is so much riding on this conference for my personal productivity but also for the Mac and iPad platforms as a whole.

Here are a few reasons why and I’ll follow with a few questions that I have.

Steve Troughton-Smith asked on Twitter if any developers were willing to state publicly that they planned on bringing their iOS apps to the Mac via the upcoming UIKit release at WWDC.

(If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I suggest looking at STS’s blog post on the subject.)

You can read the thread on Twitter but Michael Tsai has a collection of the responses from developers (of course). It is exciting to see so many developers that are willing to give this a try.

Then, of course, is Guilherme Rambo’s scoops on some of the things coming to macOS and iOS over on 9to5Mac. There isn’t one link I can provide to all of the posts so here are just a few.

Here are the WWDC questions that I’m most interested in getting an answer to:

  • Will Apple finally throw out the most unreliable piece of hardware they’ve “ever” made?
  • Will UIKit apps from iOS work on macOS well enough to satiate us long-time Mac users? Meaning, will they be good Mac citizens unlike the current Mojave offerings that stink?
  • Will the iPad’s version of iOS get enough productivity updates to make a meaningful impact on how I personally use my iPad currently? (I’m not convinced the leak re: the new undo gesture will make any difference whatsoever to that particular interaction. To me a three-finger swipe is just as discoverable as the absurd shaking you have to do now. No offense to Etch A Sketch.)
  • Will mobile Safari support Web Share Target API by the end of the year? Related. (I need this for Unmark big time)
  • Will iOS finally get an app drawer (or something like one)? Having the apps on pages and pages of home screens or nestled into folders has been showing its age for a few years already.
  • Could the biggest announcements at WWDC still be unleaked? Could Rambo’s scoops, whatever their source, be simply laying the groundwork for a much larger announcement? Personally I would mind seeing something re: automation, AR or VR.

We’ll know in about a month.

The Sony of the PC industry

Jessica Williams (presumably no relation to whom this post is about) writing for Times News regarding Jeff Williams, COO of Apple, speaking to students and faculty at Elon University , regarding Steve Jobs’ new plan for Apple in the late-90s:

Apple would become “the Sony of the PC industry.” It would make computers fashionable, and it would go after individual consumers rather than big business.

See my post from last week: The Mac is turning less Pro. This isn’t anything new. This plan has been going on for 20 years.

The Mac is turning less Pro

skywhopper, on Hacker News, commenting on a thread relating to Mark Gurman’s scoop on Apple’s (supposed) plan to have apps running on iOS and macOS using the same (or, similar) code bases by 2020:

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware, and a failure to recognize the importance of catering to the power users who might want an actual escape key, multiple types of ports, and a keyboard that doesn’t feel like it came off a rejected tablet accessory.

I can see an argument for fragmenting the laptop world into Pro/developer hardware and consumer hardware. But Apple seems to have got the needs of those groups mixed up. Do Apple’s own software engineers love the newest Macs I wonder?

I left the Mac (but may come back some day) for two primary reasons:

  1. Apple doesn’t cater to me (a professional computer user, programmer, video and photo editor, that owns a bunch of peripherals) any more. They used to. In fact the Mac was originally for exactly the type of person I am. The hardware choices they’ve made make it clear they care far more about consumers than professionals.
  2. The price gap between a Windows computer and a Mac computer is no longer commensurate with the build quality gap. It used to be that Macs were so much nicer than Windows computers. It was inarguable. These days it is arguable, if not nearly indistinguishable. Microsoft’s Surface line, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and (dare I even mention) Huawei’s laptops are nearly on par with the latest Mac laptops. And the price difference is significant. My DELL XPS 9370 was about $1,400 less than if I had purchased a somewhat comparable Macbook.

You might ask: But what about the Operating System? macOS is still nicer than Windows in a variety of ways. It used to be far nicer and far more capable. But the niceness gap and the capability gap have also shrunk.

Windows 10’s WSL has been a boon for me personally to allow me to do the types of things I need to do on a computer. Combine that with Docker and I’m able to do every single thing I used to do on a Mac.

The biggest gripe I have with Windows 10 is its inability to strip away the legacy stuff you find in the corners of the OS. They are being eliminated one by one – like the plates in the shooting gallery at the county fair – with each release I download. But even this gripe isn’t much different from what I’m seeing on macOS. The Marizipan apps have been universally panned, the updates to macOS haven’t really been all that compelling (Dark Mode is your biggest selling feature?), and when will Mail.app ever get the update it so desperately needs?

To sum up: Mac hardware and software is still (albeit arguably) better than most Windows 10 hardware and software. But the gap is all but closed – leaving the consumer the ability to choose based on budget for hardware. And with PWAs, web apps, Electron apps, etc. taking over both platforms a huge portion of the software we use every day is nearly identical.

Apple is going less Pro. I don’t blame them. There are more buyers. Apple will continue to string along developers into believing they care deeply about the Mac because they need developers (and the Mac) to build apps for their consumers – especially on iOS. You need a Mac to build an iOS app (at least today). But I think it might be time to stop believing them and start opening up ourselves to the fact that there are other options for some of us that don’t only build Mac or iOS apps.

One less comment from me: I’m not anti-Apple at all. I still really like the company and what they stand for. I miss my Mac nearly every day. Windows 10 still has a ways to go. And the grass always seems greener elsewhere. But, I prefer to continue to have an open mind. To not be dogmatic and to choose the hardware and software I use based on principles I care about as well as on the reasonableness of their cost.

/HN comment thread via Michael Tsai.

Numi

Numi:

Beautiful calculator app for Mac

It isn’t only beautiful. It appears very powerful.

Removing the pro from Apple

John Gruber regarding Sal Soghoian being axed from Apple:

If they had simply fired him, that’d be one thing, but the fact that they’ve eliminated his position is another. This is shitty news. I find this to be a profoundly worrisome turn of events for the future of the Mac. I hope I’m wrong.

I noted this on Twitter without any comment. But I’m slowly seeing us pros being shown the door at Apple and Sal is just further evidence of this.

When Dan Kimbrough and I were at the Apple Store last week to look at the new MacBook Pro we were speaking to a retail store employee who, after hearing how we use computers said, “Oh, you are a ‘Pro User’“. He said it in such a way that made me think we weren’t welcome. Dan felt it too. He said so immediately as we were walking out the door.

My thinking is this; the consumer market is enormous compared to the pro market. Yes, there is a lot of money in Enterprise but Apple doesn’t consider themselves an Enterprise company. They slowly stopped chasing that dream long ago. Remember the X-Serve? Now, they are also slowly backing away from the pro market as well. Their entire business, for decades, was built on top of those that use Photoshop and Illustrator to do their work. Then, with their switch to a Unix-based OS, they picked up a ton of us that do programming for a living. But now they are removing ports and power in favor of small and thin. And they aren’t updating their beast of a computer either. And, to top of off, they eliminated a position at Apple that was arguably a very important part of why pro people could use macOS.

We keep asking Apple if they are going to leave the Mac behind. And they keep saying no. What we should be asking is if they are going to be leaving the professional users of the Mac behind.

This does not mean I think this is the wrong strategy for Apple. Apple is chasing revenue. They will sell more Macs to “normals” by making them as approachable, thin and light as possible. It just happens to not be the right strategy for me to continue using the Mac. So I’m making the jump to Windows 10. We’ll see if I’ve made the right decision in three years or so.

E12: The Mac, RSS feeds, Shopping, and Stranger Things

We hit our stride in this bit. Danny and I have a Sunday-evening chat about how Apple could move away from the Mac and survive, RSS feed habits, shopping for clothes (naturally) and Stranger Things.

Site Danny references is Woodpile Report.

Download MP3

Home office 2014

Due to an influx of work at Plain I found myself working from home this weekend. It wasn’t so bad. Great view, good Cornflakes.