Fruit Flies Like an Apple

Apple Time Flies logo.

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”.

For some thoughtful first-impression analysis, you can do no better than reading John Gruber’s “Brief Thoughts and Observations on Today’s ‘Time Flies’ Apple Event”. If you prefer videos, tune in to Rene Ritchie’s YouTube channel.

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.

Apple Watch Series 6 gold aluminum with product red sport loop band.
The gold aluminum Apple Watch Series 6 with a (PRODUCT)RED sport loop band that I ordered.

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.

Apple Watch Series 1 on a wrist. The display is coming off of the case.
My Apple Watch Series 1 with the display coming 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.

Apple Silicon

Apple Silicon illustration slide from keynote.

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.

Happy World Backup Day!

Please join me in reciting the World Backup Day pledge.

“I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31. I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day — friends don’t let friends go without a backup.”

If, like me, you have a backup strategy implemented, then take this opportunity to make sure it’s working correctly — restore some files from your backup.

If you don’t have a backup plan in place, I can recommend a great ebook; Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, by Joe Kissell. If you’re not a Mac user, sorry, I don’t have a book recommendation for you.

And don’t forget to backup your iPhones and iPads (and iPod touches, if you have them), too. Turn on iCloud Backup or connect your iOS device to your Mac (or Windows PC) and back it up with iTunes.

As some wise guy once said, “Don’t be an April fool. Be prepared. Backup your files on March 31.” All I can add to that piece of wisdom is to continue backing up your files every day of the year. 😃