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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
Apple’s iPhone 12 and HomePod mini event this morning went by quickly. If you don’t have enough time to watch the complete one hour, eleven minute video, Apple has conveniently provided a 51-second version.
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.
As mentioned in my last post, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 the day of the announcement. It was supposed to arrive between September 28 and October 1. It came a few days early on Thursday, September 24. So I got my iPhone 11 Pro upgraded to iOS 14 that evening and set up my new watch the next day. I made a silly unboxing video and finally found time to get it edited and posted to my YouTube channel (having a day job certainly puts a monkey in my wrench).
Week One Impressions
I am thoroughly enjoying the upgrade from a Series 1 to the Series 6. It’s a big jump in capabilities, size of display, responsiveness, and delight. I set it up as a brand new watch rather than use the backup from my Series 1. This is allowing me to experience the discovery of the new features of both the newest hardware and watchOS 7. This is an ongoing process. This is what has impressed me so far.
It’s unsurprising that a jump from a 1.5 generation device to a 6th generation device would bring a faster user experience. My Series 1 watch was upgradable through watchOS 6, but the hardware was never “snappy”. The Series 6 seems so much more responsive in all interactions—swiping through watch faces; scrolling with touch and the digital crown; launching apps from complications, the dock, and the app list (I don’t use the app “cloud” although I might give it a try since the display is bigger); and giving Siri voice commands.
Speaking of the larger display, I am enjoying it for enhanced readability and getting more information on the screen. My previous watch could not take advantage of many of the newer watch faces that packed more complications on screen because of it’s smaller size. Two millimeters and smaller bezels make a big difference.
My older watch was also not able to take advantage of things like fall detection and the advanced monitoring of heart rate that were introduced with Series 3, 4, and 5 watches. I don’t feel left out anymore. I haven’t tested the fall detection yet, but I have set up the ECG and Blood Oxygen apps (I’m all normal so far) as well as started tracking my sleep by wearing the watch to bed. The always-on display is very nice when I want to glance down to check the time without having to raise my arm to wake it up. The display is also noticeably brighter and the colors seem richer.
Oddly enough, it’s the hand-washing timer that continually delights me multiple times per day. It seems magical in how it detects that I’m actually washing my hands. I’ve only had a couple of “false positives” when I’ve gone to rinse something off my fingers while cooking—not fully washing my hands, but similar enough to tigger it. It has never once thought I was washing my hands when I really wasn’t, like when rubbing on hand lotion or just rubbing my hands together briskly. My wife says she wouldn’t want her watch telling her what to do, but I find the technology that can accurately figure this out fascinating and delightful. I don’t think of it as being told what to do or how to do it. I think of it as a tool to help my personal hygiene, especially during the pandemic.
I take a 2.5-mile walk every day and track it as a walk workout in the activity app on the watch. Getting the Series 1 got me up and moving more consistently through the gamification of closing all three rings. Like most things, I’ve gone back and forth sticking with the habit, but the Series 6 has revitalized my dedication to keeps the walking habit going.
I use that workout time to listen to podcasts and now I have a watch that performs well enough to use the watch app from my favorite podcatcher, Overcast. I still carry my iPhone and play the audio from there, but use the Overcast app on the watch to control it.
So Much More
I know I’m still just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this new watch. Of course it can alert me to notifications so I don’t have to pull out my iPhone, but I was using the Series 1 that way before. I’m intrigued by the notion that I can use the Shortcuts app on my iPhone to automatically set watch faces on the Apple Watch at specific times of the day. I’ll be looking into that next.
After only a week, I am very pleased that I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6. It was definitely time for me to upgrade. I look forward to several years of enjoyment before needing to replace it.
Yesterday Apple presented part of it’s annual fall new product introductions in a pandemic-friendly, highly-produced, pre-recorded video event titled, Time Flies. I say “part of” because there was no mention of new iPhones, which would be expected in a mid-September announcement, if this was a different kind of 2020. More on what was not announced below.
What Apple did announce was right in line with most of the leaks and rumors reported by too many reporters, bloggers, tech pundits, “analysts”, and YouTubers. The hardware announcements included the Apple Watch Series 6, a new mid-range Apple Watch SE (the series 3 is still available at the entry level), an updated iPad (gen. 8), and a new iPad Air (gen. 4) sporting the design language of the iPad Pro line. On the software/services side there were segments about new apps on the new watch—most notably the ability to take a blood oxygen reading, a Family Setup option for Apple Watch that provides the ability for multiple family members to have an Apple Watch that’s managed by a single family member, a new subscription service called Fitness+ that integrates with the watch and provides video training for 10 different kinds of workouts viewable on any Apple device screen ($10/month or $80/year, available late 2020), and a service bundle called Apple One with three price tiers (Individual: $15/month, Family: $20/month, and Premier: $30/month). Check out the links for all the details.
If you’d like to read Apple’s stories on all the announcements, point your browser to Apple’s Newsroom for the official press releases. For the moment Apple’s Fall 2020 Keynote is at the top of the feed. It’s also well worth the little over an hour to view the video of the keynote in order to get the full experience of the new “reality distortion field”.
I do have to say I do like the way Apple is making announcements by presenting these pre-recorded keynotes during the COVID-19 pandemic (both for WWDC 2020 and these fall announcements). They are certainly missing a specific energy that only a live audience can provide, but these recorded keynotes provide an opportunity for Apple to tell a very tightly controlled and concise story about their hardware, software, and services. Another aspect I really enjoy are the transitions from segment to segment where the viewer is seemingly flying through the Apple campus, inside and out—with a couple of comedic cameos by Craig Federighi in the Time Flies event video. It’s like getting a privately guided tour of parts of Apple’s headquarters that most of us will never get so see in person, albeit a very speedy one.
This keynote marks an historic occasion for me personally. It’s the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a new Apple product on the same day as it’s announced. That’s right, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 a few hours later. I had several Apple Store gift cards burning a whole in my virtual Wallet app on my iPhone. I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a newer version for a couple of years, but this time I actually followed through. It should be delivered about September 30. It’s not a moment too soon, either. Last evening when I was going to bed after placing the order I noticed that my current Apple Watch Series 1 screen has begun popping off of the case.
Near the end, Tim Cook made a somewhat passing announcement that the new operating systems would be available today (Wednesday, September 16). Specifically, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14. I will be waiting until the weekend before my new watch arrives to upgrade my iPhone 11 Pro, however. The main reason being that this last-minute announcement has caught a lot of developers off guard. They were provided less than 24 hours notice of when the public will have access to the new operating systems. Normally they would have about a week to get the final adjustments to their apps made before the operating systems went live (thanks, 2020!). I’m not in a hurry and want to make sure that the developers of the apps I use have time to get their iOS 14–compatible updates submitted and through the review process before I upgrade my iPhone.
Lastly; what wasn’t announced. There was no word on the release date of macOS 11 Big Sur. There was no mention of Macs. We recently got updates to the Intel iMacs, but we were told at WWDC that the first Macs with Apple’s ARM-based SoCs would be out before the end of the year (there have been rumors and/or leaks regarding an Apple silicon MacBook coming soon). And as mentioned up top, nothing about this year’s new iPhones. We know there will be some if for no other reason than on Apple’s Q3 financial results call the CFO specifically set expectations that this year’s iPhones would be “a few weeks later” than usual. My suspicion is that there will be another announcement event sometime in October to tell the story of the iPhones 12 (I thought this was supposed to be an 11S year), more features of iOS 14 that depend on the new hardware, the first Apple silicon Mac, and when macOS 11 Big Sur will be available. And maybe, just maybe, “one more thing”, although the talk of the tech pundits would lead me to believe there might be two or three “one more things”.
One thing for sure is there is no shortage of rumors and speculation about what Apple’s going to do in the future. When/if they actually do, we’ll find out when Apple tells us.
Sometime in the first couple of months of the 2020 pandemic shelter-at-home period, my wife and I rewatched one of our favorite movie musicals of all time,The Sound of Music. Every time I see it my heart is filled with euphoria at the sweet sound of Julie Andrews’ voice as she masterfully delivers unforgettable song after song. One of those songs, sung to the Von Trapp children on her first night as governess to calm their fears during a late-winter thunderstorm, is titled, “My Favorite Things”.*
The practice of listing things to be grateful for is a recommendation for dealing with the stress and uncertainty of these times. So I thought I’d take a cue from that song and make a series of blog posts on some of my favorite things related to Apple specifically and technology in general. In this first part, I’d like to share with you three of my favorite podcasts for Apple-related news, tips, and knowledge.
Independently produced by Ken Ray, Mac OS Ken is a commute-sized, weekday podcast recapping the previous day’s tech news as it relates to Apple. Ken’s delivery is infused with his unique wit and dry humor, making even the stock market numbers enjoyable and understandable.
Mac Geek Gab
The Mac Observer’s Mac Geek Gab podcast is my go-to listen for tips, geeky information, and new software and gadgets. Co-hosted by Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun, it’s about 90 minutes long and episodes usually drop every Monday.
Chuck Joiner, the host and face of MacVoices, has been involved in the Apple ecosphere for decades and has been a mainstay of my podcast subscription list since I became aware of podcasts. I like MacVoices for the broader community perspective and understanding I receive from his guests. Chuck interviews influential “voices” from all parts of the technology world that orbit around Apple; software developers, hardware inventors, tech journalists, bloggers, other podcast hosts, special event and trade show coordinators, consultants, publishers, etc. MacVoices episodes run about 30 minutes or so and are published regularly, but not on a set schedule.
So, if you have a hankerin’ to learn more about Apple news, want to brush up on geek tips and gadgets, or broaden your understanding of the Apple ecosphere, you can’t go wrong with these three podcasts.
*By the way, “My Favorite Things” is not really a Christmas song, even though many musical artists have covered it on their Christmas albums over the past 60+ years. First, in the chronology of the musical, it was sung in late February or early March 1938. Second, the lyrics don’t mention Christmas at all. There are references to mittens, packages, sleigh bells, snowflakes, and winter—all of which could be inferred to be images related to Christmas, but could just as easily not.
A slide from the WWDC 2020 Keynote showing components of future Mac SoCs.
On June 25, 2020, a good friend of mine, Kathryn Knoll, posed a question on my Facebook wall. I worked for/with her in the mid-’90s at Sophia Center, a spirituality-support center now located in Portland, Oregon.
Kathryn said, “Hey Barry, would you be willing to help those of us who don’t know what an Arm CPU core is. Why should we be excited about it? You always explain it so well and I’m humble enough to say I don’t know anything about it even though all of my devices are Apple products.”
I thought it was a great quesiton. Since I figure a lot of my friends, family, clients, and readers may be asking the same thing, I decided to answer the question in a blog post.
So, Sister Kathryn, let me see if I can do this without getting too geeky. To paraphrase Wikipedia, ARM is a family of architectures for computer processors. ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. So, there’s an acronym inside an acronym going on here. (Still pretty geeky, eh? Bear with me; just trying to establish a bit of a foundation.)
Again, from Wikipedia: “Arm Holdings is a semiconductor and software design company wholly owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group and its Vision Fund”. Oddly enough, even though ARM is an acronym, the logo for the company is all lowercase “arm”. They license their CPU core designs to many mobile device manufacturers around the globe, Apple, Inc. being one.
At their 31st annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2020; link to the keynote) this past week Apple announced the start of transitioning the Mac from Intel-based CPUs to custom-designed “Apple silicon”. They never actually used the term “ARM” in the announcement, however.
Apple has been designing their own “CPUs” for iOS devices for a decade now. The iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices have been running on custom-designed Apple silicon since the iPad was introduced in the spring of 2010. But this silicon is actually much more than a simple CPU. They are SoCs, which stands for “systems on a chip”. They license ARM technologies, then design and build custom architectures around them that include GPUs, image signal processors, machine learning and neural engines, to only name a few parts of the overall system (see the slide at the top of this post). Apple contracts with third-party fabricating companies to actually manufacture the SoCs, but they are unique to Apple devices.
That’s where the Mac line of personal computers are going over the next two years. After that, Apple will no longer be tied to Intel’s x86 chip roadmap, but will be able to make Macs on their own schedule. Apple silicon–based Macs will be able to do things no other PC can. Some things we can expect are better performance, lower power requirements (longer battery life on MacBooks), and less heat. The iPad Pro that came out earlier this year outperforms the new MacBook Air (also early 2020) in benchmark tests. In the future, Macs will probably outperform most off-the-shelf PCs from any manufacturer.
Should we be excited? I’m a bit. For most folks, they probably won’t notice when it happens. If you want/need a Mac, buy one. Whether it’s a current Intel-powered Mac or a future Apple silicon–powered Mac (the first one is supposed to ship before the end of this year), it will provide many years of service and performance. Apple is still making Macs with Intel CPUs and will be for at least two years. In the keynote they stated support for Intel Macs will continue for years to come. I imagine that if asked, regular users won’t know or care what kind of processor is in their Mac. Apple has set out a transition path for their hardware and software—and especially their tools for app developers—that will in most cases make the change virtually imperceptible to users.
If you haven’t watched the keynote yet, it is well worth it to get an overview of where the Apple ecosphere is headed.