April 20, 2021: A virtual meeting vanishes

Based on notes by Kathleen Charters

The April 20 meeting was supposed to be about macOS security, but we never got that far. The Q&A (Question & Answer) session started at 6:30 p.m., as usual. We had a steady stream of questions about Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event and, just as the session was winding down, the Zoom session crashed.

Or so it seems: it turns out that Wave Broadband had cut the host’s TV, telephone and Internet connectivity, for some odd reason. Meanwhile, meeting participants apparently continued chatting away in a disembodied Zoom session, wondering where the host had gone, before giving up.

But before that happened, there were…

Questions & Answers

Q: The “Spring Loaded” event had some small iMacs, but nothing with a bigger screen, to replace the Intel-based 27″ iMacs?

A: This is not too surprising. Right now the entire world is experiencing an IC (Integrated Circuit) shortage, and it has stalled computer, phone, auto, boat, aircraft, etc., production. Apple has an unusually robust supply chain, yet it is still probably easier for them to confidently ship lower-end machines than more complex high-end machines.

As the Apple Silicon Macs are a new technology, it makes good sense to get a bunch of machines out to as many people as possible as soon as possible, and that is easier to do with a lower-end machine. Mac users keep Macs for a long time; most SMUG members have machines that have been out of production for quite a while. Convincing Mac users to move away from their trusted Intel-based machines to an Apple Silicon-based machine is easier if it is a lower-priced Mac mini, MacBook, or iMac.

Also: while the new M1-based iMacs have “only” 24-inch screens, those screens are amazing. The Intel-based 27-inch iMacs have displays sporting 5120 x 2880 pixels; the new M1-based iMacs have displays sporting 4480 x 2520 pixels. That’s a lot of pixels in a smaller form factor, and at a lower price. Plus: you can use the connectors on the back of the new iMacs to hook up another screen using Thunderbolt, if you really want more screen acrage.

The power supply for the new iMacs are not embedded in the machine itself, but in an external, fairly small power brick. And the power brick also has an Ethernet plug, which means one less cord coming out of the back of the iMac. Quite clever.

Q: You have one of the new Apple Silicon Mac minis. Do you find it a good replacement for your previous Mac?

A: For me, no. I purchased the M1 Mac mini specifically as a “science experiment,” to explore the new Apple Silicon technology and see if it was compatible with what I’ve been using for the past 15 years. I also wanted to use it to offload some processes (rendering video, crunching large files) that otherwise would tie up my Intel-based iMac.

And there are some things I do that absolutely require an Intel processor. I run Windows 10 on a virtual machine (using Parallels) on my iMac. Running Windows absolutely requires an Intel processor, since it is not an “emulation” of Windows but a virtualization of Windows. I have run a whole bunch of Mac applications on the M1 Mac mini, just to see if they work, and haven’t really found anything that failed. I’ve tried a bunch of Mac Intel-specific programs, and the M1 Mac mini transparently loads Rosetta 2 (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211861) and then runs them. And quickly, too.

So no, I haven’t replaced my Intel iMac with my M1 Mac mini, as they have different purposes.

Q: Was there anything else you heard that you liked?

A: The new iPad Pros are impressive, both the 11-inch and the 12.9 inch versions. The 11-inch version appeals to me simply because it is easier to tote around, but the screen on the 12.9-inch version made Kathleen and I both go “Whoaaaaa…” It uses a new LCD backlighting technology that is utterly astounding, and we can’t wait to see it in person rather than just on a webcast. You should be able to see the screen outside in daylight, which is almost impossible with previous iPads, and the color fidelity should be without parallel.

Aside from the screens, the new iPads have essentially the same M1 processor as the new Macs, and are appropriately fast. They use USB-C/Thunderbolt connectors, and can support external storage devices, and also external screens.

The iPad Pros also have LIDAR capability, which I had thought of as just a curiosity, but they showed several architecture, engineering, drawing, and game applications that took advantage of LIDAR to do real-time texture mapping and object mapping, placing people and objects into other environments in real time. This would have cost millions of dollars just a few years ago.

Probably the least impressive introduction was a new color iPhone 12: it is purple. That’s it. No new functions, just a purple body. Since I like purple, I thought this was excellent.

More technically impressive are Apple Air Tags. (See https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2021/04/apple-introduces-airtag/) Recent changes to Find My on the iPhone, iPad and Mac have included a new category, Items, in addition to the existing People and Devices. Attach an AirTag to an item (such as a purse, wallet, briefcase, suitcase, set of keys, coat, or anything else you might be inclined to misplace), and you can then track it down with your iPhone or iPad or Mac by telling Find My to go find the item. If it is nearby, the Find My app will draw arrows to guide you to the object, or you can trigger the AirTag to make a sound. If the AirTag is out of range, Find My will indicate the last spot where it was in range, which often will be where you left the item. You can have the AirTags engraved, for free, with an emoji or name or something. Unlike many similar tags by other companies, AirTags have user-replaceable batteries; batteries should last for a year.

The Apple TV 4K announcement was a collection of incremental improvements. The new Apple TV has a more powerful chip, and a new Siri remote with more buttons (you can, for example, now control sound and power on the TV, and have better navigation). The Apple TV 4K now supports XBox and Playstation wireless controllers for playing games, and, as the name suggests, supports 4K TV, including 4K video shot with newer iPhones. But the neatest trick was the ability to calibrate your TV by holding your iPhone up to the screen and having the Apple TV shower it with photons to get the right color balance. If you’ve ever tried to calibrate a TV, you will find this heavenly.

Apple also made some changes to the Apple Credit Card. Spouses, for example, can now both get credit scores based on their purchases, rather than just one person getting a rating. And a new family plan allows children over 13 (or elderly who want financial independence but with some limits) to make purchases on an Apple Credit card, but subject to parental controls.

Q: Apple mentioned subscription podcasts. What are these?

A: Most podcasts are free, but some of the more elaborate ones are supported by advertising embedded in the podcasts. There are also subscription podcasts that require you to pay up front, just like a newspaper subscription, but these are not currently supported by Apple’s podcast application. Apple’s infrastructure is set up to support free podcasts, and it does an excellent job: it is the largest podcast hub in the word.

By adding support for a subscription model, Apple can now also support commercially produced podcasts by news and media companies, celebrities, etc.

And then, in mid syllable, Internet connectivity vanished and the Zoom session crashed.

You can watch Apple’s webcast (it is only an hour) by streaming it from their website, https://www.apple.com/apple-events/april-2021/

Apple special event: speed

Apple sent out an invitation today to a special event on October 13, 2020, 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

This is the sum total of what they are revealing at this time:

Possibilities:

  • Apple will announce its long-awaited hovercar.
  • Apple will announce the launch of its own space venture, competing with Space X, and Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic.
  • Apple will announce its surprise entry into competitive bicycle racing.
  • Apple will announce its own gigabit-per-second Internet service.
  • Apple will announce a really fast computer using Apple Silicon.
  • Apple will announce it has purchased the rights to a 1994 film featuring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Dennis Hopper.
  • Apple will do something else.

You should be able to watch the event on any Internet-connected Apple device, but if you have an Apple TV, I highly recommend watching it on your big screen TV.