Armchair Unboxing: iPad Air & Accessories

Believe it or not, this is the first iPad in “my devices” list. I’ve used an iPad briefly and am familiar with the overall touch interface as an iPhone user since the 3GS. It’s not the first iPad in the house — I gifted my wife with an iPad Air (4th generation) for Christmas 2020. But this is my first iPad.

So, why an iPad Air (5th generation) instead of an iPad Pro? I had been waiting and saving my funds for an 11-inch iPad Pro. When they were updated to use the M1 SoC I knew that was the way things were going. As an artist, I did have a hankerin’ for the larger iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for sketching and using mobile graphic apps, but the price was beyond my budget. There was also another consideration. I had already purchased a Magic Keyboard for my wife’s iPad Air. Since the 11-inch Pro would also fit on that keyboard, I wouldn’t have to buy another larger one for the bigger iPad Pro. Then, the iPad Air was updated with the M1 in the spring of 2022 and I knew that would be “pro enough” for my needs.

It took about a month for it to get delivered, but it finally arrived this past week and I’ve spent quite a bit of time setting it up from scratch; no setup from my iPhone backups — I wanted to keep it dedicated for different use cases. I’m getting used to the larger touch interface, multitasking, and trying to do some tasks that I’d normally do on my Mac. For instance, I am attempting to do everything for this blog post on the iPad. After the video, I’ll write about the process in more detail.

Those that know me realize I am a somewhat silly guy. To do an unboxing video of a product months after it came on the market is possibly ludicrous. It’s probably more for me to just try out the technology and hone my skills. After all, this old dog has to keep learning new tricks. Watch it or not, it’s up to you. If you do, I hope you can at least find some humor and enjoyment from it.

Process

I obviously did not use the new iPad to record the video. That was assigned to the stock camera app on my iPhone 13 Pro. It was shot in 4K at 30fps. From there on, I tried to use the iPad for everything.

Since I use iCloud Photo Library, the video from the iPhone was synced and available from the iPad without any fuss. I used iMovie for iPadOS and downloaded the clips directly into my project from iCloud. All the editing for the video was done in iMovie, then I exported a 1080p 30fps MOV to an iCloud Drive folder. I thought that was what I would need for uploading to YouTube from the iPad. Turns out that the iOS and iPadOS versions of the YouTube app only support uploading from your Photos library, unlike the website where you can upload a file from any folder. So, I could use my Mac or try Safari on iPadOS to log into my YouTube account. Turns out that when I tried to log into my Google account on the YouTube webpage in Safari, it just sent me to the YouTube app. So, since I had already gone to the trouble of putting the movie in a folder in iCloud Drive, I decided to go ahead and move over to my Mac to do the uploading to YouTube. In the future, if I’m doing all this on the iPad, I will probably just export from iMovie back to my Photos library so the YouTube app can access the finished video from there. Too bad iMovie doesn’t have the ability to export directly to a YouTube account anymore.

For the rest of the process, I used the iPad Air with Magic Keyboard (I’m typing on it right now), starting with writing this blog post in Markdown using Byword. Most of the time it was sitting on a desktop or table but I did do some typing with it sitting on my lap. Then I used the WordPress app for iPadOS to create and publish the post.

Impressions

After so many years using the relatively small screen of the iPhone, getting used to a larger touch interface has been a bit of a challenge. For instance, the iPad interface provides the space for an app layout that is much like the interface on macOS. But since I never touched the Mac to interact, finding the touch targets and figuring out how they work on iPad is taking some time. Especially when they do something differently on iPad than what I’m used to on the Mac.

Also, trying to use a keyboard and trackpad with the iPad confounds the learning curve by adding Mac-like controls to the interface. But here again, there are differences. Like, when the keyboard/trackpad is connected to the iPad, a command-tab on the keyboard brings up a familiar app switcher overlay in the middle of the screen. But command-Q does nothing. Why doesn’t command-Q take me back to the Home Screen? There’s a Home Screen icon in the app switcher overlay, but that requires tapping the tab key multiple times to invoke it.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in January 2010, he placed it in Apple’s hardware lineup between the iPhone and the Mac. He lauded the iPad as Apple’s answer to critics who said Apple should make a netbook. But “netbooks aren’t better at anything” that a smartphone or a laptop computer can do. Now, 12 years later here I am with an iPad mounted on a keyboard/trackpad combo in my lap that reminds me of the size of those netbooks that Steve criticized as slow with low quality displays running “clunky” PC software. But, of course, the iPad is fast, power-efficient, has an industry-leading display, and runs some of the best quality software ever written.

Will this iPad Air replace the MacBook Air for my mobile computing tasks? Unequivocally, no! I’ve used a Mac for so long now that it’s particular way of getting things done is so ingrained into my workflow, that I am much more productive on that device. I will be experimenting with the iPad to see what kinds of tasks seem to lend themselves to a touch interface and the software tools available on iPadOS that provide a sense of delight in their use more so than on macOS. Certainly, once I get into using the Apple Pencil for sketching and such, those tasks will be on the iPad. I have already been reading more in this first week with the iPad. Reading ebooks is a much more enjoyable experience on the iPad than on my iPhone.

Just as Steve intended, the iPad will be my in-between device for doing some things better than on my iPhone and other things better than on my Mac.

New Apple Kit in 2022

Well, I finally did it. I ordered an iPad 12 years after they were introduced. Wow, have they changed since then. Unfortunately, due to #thedaysinwhichwelive, it has not shipped yet. The stated delivery window is June 16 to 23. I ordered a Smart Folio case and an Apple Pencil (2nd gen.) at the same time and they arrived.

I plan on doing an unboxing video for all three once the iPad is here, so stay tuned.

User Group Tips o’ the Month

Some of you may know (and now the rest of you will, too) that I’m one of two Vice Presidents serving the Mountain View Computer Users Group in Sierra Vista, Arizona. It’s a multi-platform group that focuses on personal computing topics for Windows, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and Android users. It started as a Mac user group in the late ’80s, but that’s a story for someone else’s blog.

Anywho, we have recurring tips of the month segments at our meetings for Windows, macOS, and iOS. At our last meeting on October 9, I provided the tips for Macs and iPhones and I thought I’d share them here.

Punch it, Chewy!

We are on the eve of another fall 2021 Apple event. Invitations went out last Tuesday, October 12. Are you ready for personal computing power to be “unleashed”? I didn’t get an invitation, but no one needs one because this event, just as the last seven, will have no live audience and be streamed free for anyone who cares to watch.

Invitation art for Unleashed Apple event.

All the rumors, analysts, and pundits point to the next round of Apple silicon–powered Macs — this time the high-end MacBooks Pro. Perhaps a redesigned high-end Mac mini. Hopefully the larger iMac (30- or 32-inch screen?) with the new design language introduced with the 24-inch iMac.

Tune in tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. PDT (U.S.) and watch the live stream. You can watch it on Apple’s website, YouTube, or in the Apple TV app on any supported Apple device as well as many others (Amazon Fire TV and select smart televisions, for example).

I will be watching while working and then rewatch it again after I get home.

Happy Birthday, Mac OS X!

Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah packaging

Or OSX, or macOS. It’s hard to believe that you are 20 years old. I’ve been using you and your predecessors longer than I used classic Macintosh systems starting with System 4.2 all the way through Mac OS 9 from 1987 through 2001. And now that you are starting your 21st year, you have turned 11 — macOS 11 (Big Sur), that is.

My Mac Story: Part 1

I’m starting a series of blog posts inspired by a Facebook post I made — and the subsequent comments — on June 21, 2020. That happened to be Father’s Day here in the U.S. I posted a photo of myself with my brother Mark and my father John wishing them both a happy Father’s Day. In the photo all three of us have new T-shirts draped over our chests that my mother Judy gave us. The solid black shirts have three simple words screen printed in white on the front: “I’m a Mac”. We were — and still are — Mac users and avid Apple fans.

Portrait photo of three guys with “I’m a Mac” T-shirts.
The Midgorden “Macs”: from left to right; brother Mark, father John, and Barry (me). Taken June 25, 2007.

A Facebook friend commented, “Curious, what does ‘Mac’ mean?”

I replied: “Mac is short for Macintosh, as in Apple’s personal computer. ‘I’m a Mac’ is in reference to the series of Get a Mac TV commercials featuring John Hodgman as a PC and Justin Long as a Mac that ran from 2006 to 2009.”

What follows is the rest of my reply, added to and edited for this first installment of “My Mac Story”.

The Beginning

My Mac story starts in the fall of 1984. My wife and I were living in Portland, Oregon at the time. We had traveled to my parents’ home in Fremont, California for Thanksgiving. My aunt Ruth (my dad’s sister) and uncle A.J. from Fountain Valley, California (in Orange County near L.A.) were also there.

My uncle was an engineer and computer programer for McDonald Douglas. He had an original Macintosh 128 and was leaning how to write software for it.

A Macintosh 128 with keyboard, mouse, and external floppy diskette drive.
The original Macintosh 128

He brought it with him to show my dad, but I was also entranced. I spent hours over the holiday weekend playing with MacPaint and eventually recreated a logo I had recently designed for JJC Ministries* in tiny black and white pixels on the 9-inch (512 x 342) monochrome display.

Photo of a printed program cover with the JJC Ministies logo.
A printed, vector-based version of the JJC Ministries logo.

The Macintosh obviously made an impression on me. But it was way out of my price range at the time and the professional graphic art environment in which I worked was still fully analog — drafting tables, Rapidographs, rubylith, and dark room with a process camera, photo chemicals, and hand-set typography equipment.

I didn’t think much about computer graphics at all until I was sent on a business trip to a 3M-sponsored design conference in Redondo Beach, California in 1986. One of our field trips was to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. There we got to sit and play in a computer lab for exploring early digital design tools. It was equipped with Apple IIGS computers running what was essentially a color version of MacPaint. It was fun, but I did not come away from that experience nearly as captivated as I was with my uncle’s Macintosh.

I didn’t have too long to wait until I got to use a Mac again, however. In the summer of 1987, my employer at the time, Gillespie Decals, Inc., purchased Macintosh SEs for the production art department.

A Macintosh SE two-floppy diskette model.
The Macintosh SE

It was a two-floppy diskette model and we used System 4.2 initially with MacDraw software to create small, simple label art, printed it out on a 300dpi LaserWriter, then took the black and white output to the darkroom process camera to create the transparencies needed for the printing processes being used in the plant (screen, flex, and/or hot stamp). Later that year we added external SCSI 40 MB (that’s megabytes) hard drives and the first version of Adobe Illustrator, which was an amazing leap from MacDraw for vector graphics.

Later that year I took out a personal loan and bought the identical model for home and “I’m a Mac” ever since.

There’s more to come, so stay tuned to this blog for more installments of “My Mac Story”.

* “JJC” stands for Jesus, Joy, and Clowns. In a former life I was involved with the Christian clowning movement, but that’s a topic for a completely different blog.

The M1 Lifestyle: “Snappy”

For the second time in as many months I did something I’ve never done before; placed an order for a new Apple product right after the keynote event where it was announced. As previously blogged, I ordered a new Apple Watch Series 6 after the Time Flies event in September. Last month I ordered a new Apple Silicon M1 Mac mini to replace my aging iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011).

The Back Story

The iMac was a gift from my cousin Ann. It had belonged to my Uncle A.J., who passed in April of 2015. I kept it updated up to the latest operating system it could run (macOS 10.13 High Sierra). I’m sure I also stressed it much more than my uncle ever did with lots of menu bar utilities and Adobe Creative Cloud software. It was a work truck, but showing its age. Some iCloud services were no longer syncing reliably, partly because of the age of the OS. It was slow and prone to spinning beachballs. I couldn’t upgrade to the 2021 versions of the Adobe creative software apps as they didn’t run on High Sierra. And most disturbingly, it appeared that the graphics system was going out. The displays, both the built in and a connected Apple Cinema Display HD, would spontaneously flash little multicolored checkerboards at random intervals and areas across the screen. I knew I needed a new Mac sooner than later, but because of Apple’s June WWDC announcement of new Macs based on their own silicon design coming before year’s end, I wanted to wait until the announcement to see if one of the new systems would fit my needs and budget. I was hoping for an iMac or a Mac mini. My wait was rewarded and shortly after Apple’s One More Thing event on November 10, I ordered the M1 Mac mini.

My First Mac mini

This is the first time I’ve purchased a new Mac that didn’t have a built in display or come with a keyboard and mouse. Because of that, it’s also the least expensive Mac I’ve ever bought. Every Mac I’ve purchased since 1987 through 2018 (there have been five) were all on the high side of $2K. Since I did have a keyboard, mouse, and display, the Mac mini was the perfect fit and I could afford to bump up the specs and spend less than $1,500.

The New Setup

Photo of new M1 Mac mini setup on desk with two displays and peripherals.
The new M1 Mac mini setup.

My new M1 Mac mini has 16 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage.

The monitor on the left is an LG UltraFine 4K display (21.5-inch). This monitor was a gift from my father a few months ago. He used it as an external display for a 2017 MacBook Pro (the first generation with a Touch Bar), that he eventually sold and replaced with a 27-inch iMac. It had been in his basement, so he generously sent it to me for an external monitor for our 2018 MacBook Air so I would at least have a backup machine in case the old iMac went completely kaput before I could replace it.

Since I was used to a two-monitor setup, I knew I would want another display. On the recommendation of Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun of the Mac Geek Gab podcast, I purchased the Monoprice 27-inch CrystalPro UHD 4K monitor (on the right). Even though Apple worked directly with LG to produce the UltraFine displays back when Apple stopped making and selling their own, out of the box the Monoprice display seems, to my eye, to have a more accurate white point. The LG display looks to have a bit of a blue cast in comparison. I have not done any calibration on either yet — one of many things on the list for refining the new setup.

Peripherals attached include:

  • Fantom Drives G-Force MegaDisk 3 TB hard drive (Time Machine backup)
  • Anker 10-port USB 3 hub (three ports are charging only)
  • Western Digital MyBook 1 TB hard drive (file archives)
  • Western Digital MyPassport 1 TB hard drive (file archives clone)
  • Epson Perfection 4490 Photo flatbed scanner (I have not yet tested this with the new Mac and Big Sur — the software from Epson is not compatible, so I have to find an alternative.)
  • Wacom Graphire graphics tablet (from 2004 — it still works as an input device, even without specific drivers, and I can draw with it, but the pressure sensitivity is no longer recognized by any software I have tried lately.)
  • Anker PowerWave Stand (Qi-certified, upgraded since I purchased)
  • Apple iPhone Lightning Dock — White (only available in black or gold now)
  • MacAlly Solar Powered Slim Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac
  • Apple Magic Mouse (generation 1 — the one with replaceable AA batteries)
  • Altec Lansing stereo computer speakers (I’ve had these for years)

That’s how it stands for now. As mentioned, there is a list of things to do and things to purchase as time goes on, but for now I can be productive with this initial setup.

Week One Impressions

During the initial setup my main first impression was, “Wow, this Mac is snappy!” That word has been thrown around a lot in many reviews of the new M1 Macs I’ve read. Even to the point of being perceived as hyperbole. It’s not a bad adjective for the experience, but one could also say “this Mac flies” or “it’s wicked fast”. Granted, I’m coming from an overburdened, nine-year-old iMac. But even our two-year-old MacBook Air is not as “snappy” as this new Mac mini. Apple has done something extraordinary in computing with their own systems on a chip (SoC). They have created a computer that is quiet, efficient, cool, and fast. Usually there are tradeoffs among those characteristics, but not with the M1.

System Setup

Instead of setting this up as a brand new machine, letting my cloud documents sync down and reinstalling all my apps, etc., I chose to migrate the system over from the iMac and see if I could get up and running faster. Actually I used a clone of the system on an external hard drive for it’s ease of implementation.

Usually, migrating a previous system to a new Mac is a processor-intensive, fan-spinning, slow process. I’ve never migrated a system from an old Mac to a new Mac as easily and quickly as this time, however. I could tell it was hitting the new M1 SoC pretty hard as the Mac mini’s cooling system did come on. Although I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t put my hand behind the enclosure and felt the air coming out. It was moving quite forcefully, but was not hot. It was completely silent, however — no fan noise whatsoever.

Initially, Migration Assistant indicated it would take three plus hours to complete the transfer, which was in line with my past experience. I got up to let it do it’s thing while I did a little Christmas decorating around the house (this was Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.). About ten minutes later I wandered back into the room where I was setting up the new Mac mini and Migration Assistant now said it would be done in about 20 minutes.

Photo of the Migration Assistant screen while setting up my new M1 Mac mini.
Only 22 minutes left?

What‽ Never have I had a migration go so fast. I wonder how quickly it would have finished if my previous system clone had been on an SSD?

When the Mac mini booted up in macOS 11 Big Sur and I logged into my user account I was immediately overwhelmed with notifications and alerts asking for various system permissions for numerous software programs that launched at startup. I was so used to the old iMac’s startup routine taking ten minutes or more for all my menu bar utilities to load. I was unprepared for how fast this new system loaded everything, seemingly all at once.

It took some sorting out and a little time on my part to get through all these initial setup tasks. I lost count of how many times I entered my Apple ID and password as well as the new admin password for my user — at least I got a head start on impressing it into muscle memory. But after a while things settled down and I moved on to testing old software, installing updates, uninstalling incompatible apps, and installing new software (Adobe Creative Cloud apps, specifically).

Snappiness

There’s that word again. The thing that brought this most pointedly to my attention was opening apps, specifically the Apple apps that have been updated specifically for Big Sur on Apple silicon.

On the old iMac, I kept my music and photos libraries on external drives since the internal storage was only 512 GB. I upgraded the M1 Mac mini at the time of purchase to the 1 TB storage option so I could move my music and photos back on to the internal storage. The process was pretty seamless using Apple’s Music, Books, Podcasts, and TV apps to consolidate their respective media from the external drive back into place on the Mac mini. Moving the Photos library was even simpler — copying the library file from the external drive to the Pictures folder in my user’s Home folder, then double-clicking the library file to launch Photos.

When I first launched Photos I was blow away by the fact that the window opened immediately with all photo thumbnails fully visible before the icon on the dock had finished bouncing once. There was no delay to draw the thumbnails in the window as the individual photos were read from disk. This same almost-instant launch of apps is the new normal for those that are compiled for the M1 or are universal (contain both Intel-native and Apple silicon code). I’ve never experienced anything like it. Ready to launch an app and do some work (or play)? Click the dock icon and BAM, the machine is ready for you to start! No more waiting around for windows to render or files to load —they are just there on screen waiting for you to do something.

Real World Production

After getting licenses transferred and apps updated, I am enjoying a new working environment for my telecommuting graphic design production. The main Adobe Creative Cloud app — the one that manages my account subscription and installs/updates the individual applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDeisgn, and the like) — updated itself to an M1-native beta version, which is “snappy” and has so far worked great, except it did not recognize the 2020 versions of creative apps I already had installed, so I could not just tell it to update everything to the 2021 versions and migrate all my user settings and preferences. This I had to do manually.

The creative apps that I use mostly are not yet M1 native, so they run in Apple’s translation environment, Rosetta 2. Apple has done it’s best to make sure that Intel-based applications that are translated with Rosetta 2 work as expected (just as if they were running on an Intel Mac). The Adobe apps are no exception. They are not “snappy”, but they do load faster and perform better than they did on the old Intel iMac I was using. I’d say they launch in about half the time it took on the iMac. So, even though they are not yet optimized for Apple’s silicon, I am experiencing a much more responsive working environment. All the features that I’ve put to the test have worked and I’ve had no unexplained crashes. This is all anecdotal and only over three days of working, but It’s a more enjoyable experience by far.

Moving Forward

There’s still a bunch of tweaking and app updates to go (when developers get M1-native versions out) before I have the new setup where I want it. But for the time being I am very pleased and glad I jumped onto the leading edge of Apple’s Macintosh offerings. Considering these are the first generation Apple silicon Macs, and the slowest of this class we are likely to see as the rest of the Mac line transitions to Apple SoCs, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to anyone needing a new Mac computer to choose any of the new M1 macs. This is the future of Mac computing, available now!

Another Fall Apple Event

Apple Event invitation art for October 13, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. PDT

Only one month after Apple’s iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6 event on September 15 we’ll be treated to another streaming event next week on Tuesday, October 13. The much rumored iPhone 12 is sure to be the tentpole device. (Isn’t this supposed to be the year for the 11S?) Will it come in four sizes and include 5G as the leak reporters are reporting? We’ll find out next week, but the name of the event on the invitations that went out to the media is “Hi, speed.” so the inclusion of 5G would fit with in with that hint.

What else might we see? Only Apple knows, but there is no shortage of speculation. The iPads Pro are due for an update. So is the Home Pod. Or will there be a Home Pod mini announced? Will the much anticipated AirTags debut? And when will macOS 11 Big Sur ship? Will the first Apple silicon Mac be “one more thing”?

To find out, mark your calendars and on the day point your browser to the Apple events page to steam it to your desktop. It will probably also be on YouTube. If you have an Apple TV, you can use the Keynotes app to watch it on your television.