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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.

PHP turns 25

PHP turns 25.

I’ve said that I agree that PHP is pretty bad. However, I still use it regularly, it has allowed me to make some incredible things, and made me a ton of money over those 25 years.

/via Michael Tsai.

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 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.

Touch Bar

I’ve been tweeting like crazy about the new MacBook Pros and how I’ve found the most recent updates underwhelming. But I couldn’t come up with a great way to describe how I felt about Touch Bar in a way that I wanted in my blog archives. Until I read this.

Michael Tsai:

I’m not crazy about Touch Bar, but it does seem potentially useful.

That’s exactly it for me. The Touch Bar does not excite me. But, I can see how it could be potentially useful.

Apple asked a bunch of people to fly to their campuses to show them a new version of the MacBook Pro that is, of course, lighter thinner and has less ports. And it has the Touch Bar. But it isn’t what I wanted from them. And, as you see from Tsai’s post, perhaps they don’t care. I don’t care about lighter or thinner. I care about performance, storage, reliability.

I am underwhelmed. No. It is worse than that. I’m disappointed.

I’m using a 2012 MacBook Pro. I’m ready to upgrade. But I can see no compelling reason to do so. Not for Touch Bar that’s for sure. After spending some time with the Surface Book this weekend I can now say I’m going to purchase one and see if I can make the switch. Microsoft’s software may not yet be up-to-snuff but they certainly have my attention and it appears I’m not alone.