Thoughts on Apple

I have been thinking a lot about Apple in the past few weeks. There have been announcements of new MacBook Pros, iPhones, Mac minis, MacBook Airs, and iPad Pros, not to mention the releases of iOS 12 and macOS Mojave. I’m also curious about the upcoming 2019 Mac Pro based off the recent iMac Pro, as well as the rumors of what got put off for iOS 13 or what’s coming with Marzipan. I’m not really interested in the Apple Watch or watchOS, but we do own a few AppleTVs and HomeKit devices. The future, in my view at least, is both bright and scary at the same time.

Steve Jobs conceived of a four quadrant product grid for Apple consisting of desktops and portables for consumers and professionals. When he unveiled that grid at the Macworld 1998 conference, the consumer desktop and portable were the iMac and iBook, respectively; the professional desktop and portable were the Power Macintosh G3 and PowerBook G3, respectively. This later evolved into the iMac, MacBook, cheese-grater Mac Pro, and MacBook Pro with the transition to Intel processors. The lines have widened to incorporate the Mac mini and MacBook Air. These lines get even more confusing as the iPhone and iPad, especially as Apple pitches the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

Also in the past year, we have been discussing some potential upgrades due to some repairs we needed. Both Chloe’s Late 2013 13” Retina MacBook Pro and my Mid 2012 15” Retina MacBook Pro needed new logic boards. Our Late 2014 5K iMac needed a new Fusion Drive, and Chloe’s 4th generation iPad is beginning to get a little bit long in the tooth. We replaced the Fusion Drive, but decided against upgrades to our MacBook Pros because of the faulty keyboards, lack of ports, and rising prices.

Really the answers have come down to what do we need, and those answers have been not much. Chloe has a newer 5K iMac at her office that, so far, has been doing the bulk of her work for the university (mostly in MATLAB and LaTeX). Now that I am a doctoral student and substitute teacher, I don’t need to be editing or viewing scores in Finale or Sibelius. As a sidebar, I’ve become really intrigued with the notation software Dorico, so I have stopped upgrading my versions of Finale (25) and Sibelius (Ultimate 2018). Most of my work is done in Blackboard (Boston’s learning management system), Mendeley (a resource for culling journal articles), and Microsoft Word. I have a hobby of gaming, and my current fascinations are Elder Scrolls Online, revisiting Cyan’s Myst series and Obduction, or toying around with my Nintendo Switch (when are they going to release a hockey game?). After the great logic board replacement of 2018, my MacBook Pro tends to crash when doing anything graphics intensive, so my gaming experience has been relegated to the iMac. I’ve dabbled in trying to get a Steam Link to work with our TV, but haven’t yet been successful.

So again, what do we need? Nothing. What do I want? I’d like something with a little more graphics power to play my games. The iMac has an AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics card with 2GB of VRAM, and it does an ok job with the games I play. The latest models come with a Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of VRAM scaling up to a Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB of HBM2. Not knowing much about graphics cards, I imagine some of this is overkill for my needs. I am also confused by Apple’s seeming beef with NVIDIA both in terms of drivers and selling cards in their Macs. Could having a Thunderbolt 3 equipped Mac with an eGPU be a better choice for me? What kind of graphics power will the 2019 Mac Pro have?

If I were to purchase anything in the near future (which I won’t), I think it would be the following (in no particular order):

  • 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar: This would be a downgrade from my 15”, but with Thunderbolt 3, I don’t need the larger screen size and dedicated graphics card. I would likely invest in an eGPU and a large 4K or 5K monitor instead. Ideally, what I want in a laptop is a decent processor, reasonable RAM and SSD storage, ample ports, and a reliable keyboard at an affordable price. Right now, there isn’t anything in Apple’s lineup that combines these. The MacBook is woefully underpowered and only has 1 USB-C port. The new MacBook Airs are intriguing but get expensive when adding RAM and SSD storage. The non-Touch Bar MacBook Pros only have two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an older keyboard design, and outdated processors. I wish Apple could improve the keyboard and include FaceID in all of their laptops.

  • 2019 Mac Pro: The rumors (and Apple) tell us that this design is going to be more modular than the current Late 2013 Mac Pro. Based on the iMac Pro, I think we can expect workstation-class processor(s) and graphics, highly expandable RAM and SSD storage, Apple’s T2 (or higher) security chip, and lots of ports. I would like the ability to customize it with the ability to add my own RAM, SSD, and graphics cards (hopefully that’s what modular means, right?). However, based on how much the iMac Pro (starts at $4,999!) and Late 2013 Mac Pro (starts at $2,999) cost, I doubt this computer would be cheap, even in a base configuration. There have also been rumors of an Apple Pro display to go with this new computer.

  • Mac mini: Because of the expandability offered by Thunderbolt 3, maybe the new Mac mini might be a cheaper alternative to the 2019 Mac Pro? The base model starts at $799 with a 3.6GHz 4-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and Intel UHD 630 graphics. We would for sure want more RAM (which can be upgraded after the fact), more storage ($400 for at least 512GB, more likely $800 for 1TB), and potentially processor (3.2GHz 6-core i7 for $300). Couple this with an eGPU and a large display, and I would likely come out well under the price of the 2019 Mac Pro.

I would love an iPhone XR, XS, or XS Max, but my 8 Plus still works great. Neither of us would need more than the 64GB of base storage, but we still have a little less than a year of payments left to make on each phone. My current 2017 12.9” iPad Pro works great, and I see no reason to upgrade to the new model. If anything, we need to upgrade Chloe’s iPad, and she’s eyeing the 32GB 9.7” model. What concerns me are the rising prices of all these devices. $750+ for an iPhone or $799+ for an iPad Pro seem a bit much!

The other rumors for Apple have revolved around them transitioning their computers from Intel’s chips to their own ARM processors. I am intrigued because of the power their A-chips have demonstrated in the iPhones and iPads, but I am scared by what this transition could potentially mean for the future of the Mac. Will major developers of Mac software (Microsoft, Adobe, Steinberg, etc.) transition quickly and adequately to the new architecture? Will Marzipan have a positive effect on this transition? What will this mean for Boot Camp and running Windows on a Mac (some of the games I’m interested are only on Windows)? What will it mean for graphics processing?

One of the other things I have considered is building my own Hackintosh. There are several communities out there of people who have figured out how to install macOS on custom hardware. Part of this helps me learn about how the guts of a computer work, but there is a mountain of information out there. The advantages of a Hackintosh would be my own components that would be nearly infinitely customizable and upgradeable. The disadvantage would be in the support necessary to maintain macOS on the device, and with the potential transition to ARM, how long would that device be able to run macOS? I’m intrigued by Intel’s ninth generation core processors, NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX series graphics cards, and the M.2 interface. This could be an expensive hobby.

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Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.