My Current Take On Apple

I thought I’d write a bit about Apple for a change, seeing as the Mac was the whole point of this site to begin with, and the lack of an October event didn’t stop them from launching new stuff. But they didn’t launch the stuff I wanted, so I’m going to do what every random person on the Internet does these days, which is to rant on about things from a totally egotistical perspective.

Another reason for returning to topic, as it were, is that most of my personal projects are temporarily on hold, since I’m currently either waiting for miscellaneous electronics parts to arrive from China or bereft of ideas and headspace to deal with software–plus real life keeps impinging on me.

So let’s get going.

AirPods Pro

Just to get that out of the way, I find them interesting but completely illogical from a personal budget perspective–spending 279 EUR on something with less than a 4-year lifespan and which provides less bang for the buck than my current daily driver (30 EUR TaoTronics TT-BH042 earbuds with active noice cancellation, actual volume controls, and a cable that makes it impossible to lose half of them) makes exactly zero sense.

The Sony WH-1000MX3 I bought during my last trip to Seattle were a much better purchase, and if you can tolerate over-ear headphones (a sticking point for many folk in open space offices, but one that I have made peace with), I think that kind of audio gear is a much better investment.

Apple TV+

I am genuinely intrigued. Let’s cast aside for a moment the broader picture–the implications of their digging further into the services revenue rabbit hole, the challenge of entering an already saturated market and all the wallet share considerations.

Focusing on it from a purely end user standpoint, For All Mankind is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to watch, and even considering I’ve (so far) resisted subscribing to Netflix or HBO, I am certain to jump on the free 1-year subscription whenever I get a new piece of Apple hardware just to check out the experience.

It’s a trap, I know, but given that most evenings we watch either YouTube or Plex on the Apple TV instead of the (quite sizable) channel bundle we get from Vodafone Portugal, it is one I am quite likely to fall into, although I suspect we will eventually move to Netflix for better quality content.

After all, other than cartoons and occasional news coverage, everything we watch at home is on-demand, and to be honest telcos (even Vodafone Portugal, which is our current provider and where I worked for over a decade) have yet to deliver a seamless, highly interactive on-demand experience like I get from the Apple TV.

The sticking point here is not just the UI and basic UX, it’s core EPG functionality being broken: my kids keep complaining about truncated episodes whenever they try to watch on-demand, and losing the last five minutes of a movie (picked from catch-up TV highlights) is so much of a put-off that we mostly avoid it–and to pay for a movie, I’d rather get a 4K version from Apple or Netflix.

OTT has been in the cards for a long time now, and we will be tweaking our service bundle towards more bandwidth (we’re at 200Mbps fiber, which is great but could be better) and less channels we never actually watch, and which are somewhat frustrating when we do.

It also bears noting that RTP, the national Portuguese broadcasting company, has a pretty decent Apple TV application, but they botched it by not having any way to turn off ads, so that’s a missed opportunity right there (although I suspect they would never get the pricing right if they charged for it).

The Mac

I haven’t upgraded to Catalina yet, and still don’t think I will until it gets a proper point release–i.e., one that does not eat my e-mail and has less visibility on Twitter.

Apple’s software QA has become so much of a risk to my personal productivity that I’m (again) considering switching to a Linux desktop, and only a combination of inertia, real life and my working at Microsoft has prevented that from happening.

This is not news–I did the research, have the hardware (it’s currently put to use as a KVM server that runs a Windows 10 VM and a bunch of development containers), and although it would pain me to get rid of my 27” iMac, I know it’s feasible for me personally and for what I need to do on a conventional machine.

After all, how can you trust an operating system where the content filter can bring down the entire operating system? How can something like that, an essential feature for parental control, be so fundamentally broken to the point of rebooting the machine?

I haven’t pulled the trigger yet because I can make do with Windows, and spent so much time using a Surface Laptop that the ghost of “bad PC hardware” has all but been exorcised.

The upshot of all this is that, surprisingly enough, until Apple fixes their keyboards1 and desktop OS, I am much more likely to spend my own money on a Surface device than a new MacBook. It has, surprisingly enough, become the rational choice.

I don’t like Windows, but it is currently the lesser evil as far as destroying my personal productivity is concerned, and being able to run Linux on it makes it so much more viable for me.

iOS and the iPad

The only thing that Apple had going for them was iOS, and all of a sudden 13.x (and the flurry of rushed updates leading up to 13.2) is so bad that it defies explanation–and I won’t even try to provide one.

I too got bit by the sudden death of background applications in 13.2 (even as I type this on my iPad Mini, Safari keeps reloading, and Mail takes forever to re-sync) and, in a variant of the long-standing tradition of alarms failing to go off on time, it completely bungled Do Not Disturb during the DST shift last weekend.

But the real annoyance for me was the iPad Pro refresh cycle skipping this October–I was seriously considering buying an iPad Pro this Autumn (both as an upgrade to my Mini 4 and as a hub for my music hobby), and it looks like I’ll have to either get a new Mini 5 (always a viable option, and far more budget-friendly) or wait six months.

And yes, getting a Surface Go on sale and sticking Ableton Live Lite on it was an option I considered, but I quite like the iOS music app ecosystem.

WatchOS (and a note on FitBit)

I won’t go into much detail for now (there will be a separate post with a long-term review in a few weeks, maybe months), but I got myself a Series 5 recently, and even though it too is buggy (some complications only update when the watch face is fully active, and it often requires two taps to fully wake up), the thing has already paid for itself health-wise.

Apple has zero real competition in smartwatches at this point, and as such I was more than a bit amused to see FitBit getting acquired by Alphabet this week.

So far, I have only two things to say on the matter:

  • I don’t think they’ll reboot WearOS with it (I too think this is has a lot more to do with user data).
  • I am deeply sad to see Pebble’s heritage (small such as it was at this point) to be further dissolved into a corporate conglomerate that is so utterly disconnected from their user base.

More to the point, I don’t think that we’ll ever get anything as nice as the Pebble user experience out of that deal, nor that Android users will get decent smartwatches anytime soon.

My dream non-Apple smartwatch would be a slim, Pebble-like device built (and massively marketed) by the likes of Swatch, but I don’t think traditional watch manufacturers will ever pull it off successfully, since they lack both the supply chain and integration skills required to even come close and the tech chops to build an open, Pebble-like ecosystem.

Now that I think of it, developing a product like that would be an interesting challenge for someone like me… But I digress.

Best to enjoy these rainy afternoons with a good book and take my mind off what could be–I have plenty on my plate right now, on all fronts.

  1. And I’m not just talking about the Esc key here, although rumors point to sanity having prevailed and its return on future MacBooks. I could go on about utter lack of understanding of what customers actually expect from their laptops, but a reliable keyboard that actually outlasts the rest of the hardware seems like a pretty obvious thing to prioritize over thinness. ↩︎