Macs, move to ARM already

I think, hidden in my last two blog posts, was this undeclared conclusion:

At this point, there’s no reason for Apple to stick to Intel chips in Macs. Almost nothing of significance* runs on the latest MacOS anymore that can’t be recompiled by its developer to run on Apple A-chips (ARM) in an afternoon’s work.

So I guess it is high time that Apple switches from Intel to Apple chipsets. I, for one, will not be upgrading my 2016 MacBook Pro until that happens.

*To the existence of the Mac as its own platform separate from iPad or Windows PCs

Apple Arcade

As a quick follow-up to my last post, I’d like to point out that MacOS and iOS both have the new Apple Arcade subscription.

Apple Arcade doesn’t have any AAA titles. Blockbusters.

It’s not exciting. These subscriptions include a boatload of games, but nothing big and exciting. Nobody talks about these games. Imagine if Netflix had all the shows it did but none ever became popular and attracted people to the service for it.

For a computer system like the Mac, Apple Arcade doesn’t seem compelling. It looks and feels like you’re subscribing to be able to play a bunch of mini games.

This may be ‘OK’ for iOS devices… but not for the Mac. Not as a way to save the situation described in my previous post.

Mac vs. PC (gaming and VR)

Gaming on desktop computers is still important. My two sons love playing games on our desktop computers. They both started with MacOS. They both were using MacOS on iMacs.

But a year ago, one of them asked to install Windows. I bought a copy of Windows and we installed it. Because of games. He has never since loaded MacOS again. His next computer will be a Windows PC. His favorite game just recently announced dropping support for the Mac. Now I can’t play it (I love my MacBook Pro and my desktop setup with it, I have so far refused to dual boot Windows or get a second computer, a PC).

My other son also installed Windows on his iMac recently. But then wanted to switch to a laptop. We sold the iMac and bought an Alienware laptop. The MacBook Pro was completely and utterly wrong for this purpose. The 144hz display on the Alienware is amazing for games.

I don’t think these two will ever go back to MacOS the way things are.

The state of gaming on the Mac is dismal right now. Here are some facts. Some are old news, some are new:

  • Steam is a great game platform many people use. It supports the Mac.
  • Steam just today dropped VR support on MacOS.
  • With the latest MacOS, Catalina, many Steam games no longer work. Most of the games I bought for my Mac no longer work. Most likely this is the same reason new game software doesn’t support the Mac.
  • If Macs move to Apple chips, that’s not going to help at all. Nail in the coffin?
  • Overwatch by Blizzard, MTG Arena, and many other cool titles don’t work on MacOS.
  • The MacOS App Store doesn’t have what people want. Game developers just find it to be too much trouble, or the system access is too restricted, or the “deal” is just not good enough on the App Store. So the good stuff isn’t on MacOS.
  • Apple claims iMacs are great for VR. Steam just today dropped VR support on MacOS.
  • Macs don’t support things like greater than 60hz displays, even now.
  • There are at least 3 big MMORPG games that support Mac still, at least there’s that. World of Warcraft (Blizzard) has the money to convert their game to “Metal” (the API for using Mac/MacOS hardware graphics to get the most out of the machine) but who else has that kind of time and money? Apparently not many.

Apple may have been thinking they have so many iOS developers that can now make games for the Mac. But the gaming world does not revolve around iOS.

Apple doesn’t seem to be doing “whatever it takes” to make MacOS great for game developers to support. Perhaps this is “niche”, and they don’t care so much. Perhaps they think the iPad is the future of computers. I doubt that. But something’s wrong then.

It looks like, if I want to play “computer games” (not console, not iPhone), I will have to switch to using a Windows PC. My options are getting more limited every month, it seems.

Rethinking Cars If You Make the iPhone

This is fiction. It is what I imagine Apple is exploring.

You create and sell the iPhone, the world’s most successful product. You want to reinvent the automobile. One that will change how people use and think about cars. One that will also change how cars are built.

You have a clean slate. You can deeply integrate the car with iPhone, your wearables, your cloud services, in a way nobody else can. You can even count on the users having an iPhone on them. You question everything that you think needs to be in a car. You remember that there are a thousand No’s for every Yes. You can make bold moves.

You will be doubted. Many will not understand. Doesn’t matter. You are not Tesla, your goal is not to usher in the electric vehicle. That ship has sailed. You are Apple, you will change the game.

You will have three teams, each exploring a different avenue for controlling the car. The first team is tasked with designing a fully autonomous car. This team has the cleanest slate. The second team is tasked with designing a car to be actively controlled by a driver, though the team has the freedom to completely reinvent the way the car is controlled. The third team must design a car that is controlled by a driver that sits facing forward, with a steering wheel and pedals. Everything else in the car’s design, though, is up for grabs.

This post explores the “change how cars are built” part, not the “how people use and think about cars” part, and focuses on the things the third team will be looking at.

Team 3 isn’t designing a driverless car, but obtains and benefits from all the technology and software that the other teams must develop to achieve their goals. All three teams approach the design from Apple’s modus operandi. Fewer mechanical parts means more Foxconn, less weight and more range, more automation, more compactness, better sales margins. Most of all, a greater ability to scale the production of the vehicle to previously unthinkable levels. The Nokias and Blackberrys will be unable to compete.

Here are some of the non-software things your (all-star) team is perfecting:

Wheel module. Same one for all four wheels. We’ll come back to this later. It is just a lovely consequence.

Brake lines. Gone. No tubes with fluids routed everywhere to communicate and actuate the brakes. No hydraulics to install and maintain. No brake pad dust everywhere. No disc brakes to wear out. Instead, develop or license powerful electromagnetic brakes, that can handle emergency braking, drawing upon the all-electric vehicle’s large power reserves.

Keys. Gone. One more contraption we used to carry, now replaced by smartphones and/or watches. No Touch ID on the doors. No Siri outside the car. No emergency key. You will be able to get in and get going when you need to, even if your iPhone is lost.

Door handles. Gone. You signal that you want to open the door by force-touching the window (while the owner/users of the car are standing near it), and the door unlatches (and is smoothly pushed open a bit) so you can pull it open the rest of the way.

Dashboard. Gone. A single touchscreen running carOS will handle everything. Tesla Model 3 has stolen some of your steam here.

Steering column. Gone. Not even drive-by-wire. All electronic, high-framerate. Your team can rely on the electronics to work at all times and in all conditions, thanks to Team 1’s requirements.

Steering wheel. All significant new Apple product designs start with a new or completely rethought input method. The Mac’s mouse. The iPod’s click wheel. The PowerBook’s touchpad. The iPhone’s Touchscreen. The Apple Watch Digital Crown. For Team 3, the Steering wheel has to remain, but how it is used can be reinvented. It will be touch and rotation sensitive. It will have haptic feedback. You’ll feel the road through it, thanks to the car’s software and sensors, better than any mechanical steering wheel ever could. It won’t have its own display. There will be no horn button.

Turn signal levers. Gone. The software will do it for you. It knows everything it needs to, and you’ll also be able to inform it in advance or your intentions, casually, without taking your hand(s) off the redesigned steering wheel.

Mechanical brake pedal. Gone. Completely electronic. Same for the emergency brake. The car’s autopilot systems will handle them most of the time anyway.

Sound system. Gone. No SD card slots, no knobs, buttons, optical drive, nothing. Just speakers. No AUX IN. No satellite radio.

Mirrors. Gone. The car’s software and sensors will inform you of all conditions you need to know about, in a way far more reliable than mirrors that require you to turn your head and take your eyes off the road.

Buttons to adjust the seats. Nope. Also, the car knows your preferences because it knows who you are thanks to your iPhone or Apple Watch.

Buttons to open and close windows. Nope. There’s a tablet in the back, too.

Interior latch to manually open the doors. Nope. No way. A simple physical button attached to redundant electronics to unlatch the door.

Switches to turn on lights. Nope.

4-wheel steering. Yep. With electronics, four-wheel steering is back, and with nothing mechanical in between any of the wheels, there’s more space to make the car more compact and/or have more space within the car’s confines. The wheels also don’t have to turn as much, so the wheel wells can be thinner, too.

Motor on each and every wheel. Yep. Smaller motors, developed or licensed by Apple. All-wheel drive, all the time¹.

Shock absorbers and springs. Gone. Replaced with electronic actuators, for a ride that’s absolutely flat over the bumpiest of roads and around sharp corners.

Back to that wheel module.

With each wheel having identical parts: A motor, electromagnetic brakes, ability to steer, and actuators for a suspension, it can be placed nicely and easily in any position. Front, back, left, right. It can be replaced. It can be upgraded (how un-Apple-like though). It takes care of everything,  so the rest of the car is free to have the most space available.

Bolts to change the tires. Nope. If there is even a spare tire, it will be designed to be changeable in a more convenient way. But then again, if the wheel module is compact enough, there could even be an entire spare wheel module instead of a spare tire. Changeable at pit-stop speeds.

Food for thought.

¹ A less expensive version of the car could have only two wheel modules with motors in them.

 

 

 

 

 

Revisited: Larger iPhone @ 264 PPI

Perhaps Apple could call a larger iPhone “Retina” even if it was “only” 264 PPI. The problem with a 264 PPI display is that it seems to be a dead-end resolution. There’s no obvious upgrade path for that display. The iPad mini, introduced at a relatively low 163 PPI,  does have an upgrade path: Apple just has to move it to the standard 326 PPI display resolution.

Yes, Apple can have a 264 PPI product while others are in the 300+ range, because when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is if that 264 PPI display is beautiful enough, on an absolute scale (or relative to iPhone 5) to be able to stay there for a good while.

So, I now believe, Apple will have given the 264 PPI 4.9″ display a trial run on some prototype devices, and if it looked superb despite the lower number PPI, that would be grounds to make the appropriate compromise (lower PPI, but easier for developers) and release at 264 PPI. If it doesn’t look superb, then they’ll go to my previously predicted 326 PPI and force developers to do more work.

[Edit Feb. 22 2014: Competitors are announcing smartphones with 500-600 PPI screens, and while it seems to be overkill, they’re still doing it. Perhaps it is just another form of the “megapixel race” camera manufacturers participate in, but still, we’ll have to see these screens before dismissing them outright as “marketing”.]

My take on the larger iPhone’s resolution

My favorite Apple bloggers (DF, RR, MA) seem to have come to a consensus on what they think a larger iPhone’s screen size and resolution would be. Their money is on 4.94″ @ 264PPI with the same 1136×640 resolution of the iPhone 5.

The argument looks good because this has a lot of similarities with what Apple did with the iPad mini. The iPad mini has the same resolution as an iPad 2, but with 163PPI instead of 132PPI. The touch targets on the iPad mini still work because they are exactly the same size as those of the iPhone’s. It is great because apps run as-is on an iPad mini. Developers have nothing to do.

But the iPad mini’s 163PPI has a clear upgrade path: good old 326 PPI retina. Super obvious.

However, a 4.94″ @ 264 PPI iPhone would be a dead-end. There’s nowhere for it to go but 528 PPI, which is overkill even by skate-to-where-the-puck-will-be standards. Furthermore, a 4.94″ @ 264PPI iPhone with a resolution of 1136 x 640 would not be retina. It also wouldn’t be competitive. That’s 3 important negatives right there.

Consider a 5.0″ iPhone at 1420×800 though. That’s exactly 326PPI. It happens to be 1.25X the iPhone 5’s resolution in each dimension. Same aspect ratio. If bezels get thinner, this size seems to make more sense. Here are the considerations:

– It is retina. It won’t need to get any better.
– It is a competitive resolution.
– It uses the same panels as the iPhone 5.

The downside I read that is being argued, is that apps need to be modified to use this new resolution. Well, guess what, we iPhone devs already have to support 1136×640 in addition to 960×640. That means we’re already trained for arbitrary extra rows of pixels. Having one more of those (with extra rows and columns) isn’t that much worse. It might be a good idea for us devs to take one for the team, to avoid our apps being letterboxed on the larger iPhone.

I’m going to go out on a limb and put my money on a nice-sounding 5.0″ @ 326PPI retina display larger iPhone 🙂

The dock connector shrinks, but stays around for the environment?

“[the dock connector is] a fantastic invention… so fantastic that, even after ten years, Apple has no reason to abandon it. The only thing they need to do to keep the Dock Connector relevant is slim it down by ditching the pins no one needs anymore. And once Apple does that with the iPhone 5, expect the new, slimmer, 19-Pin Apple Dock Connector to last another ten years… until we finally ditch tethering our iDevices to other gadgets once and for all.

This is the conclusion in this pretty detailed article.

Well, I guess (once again), I’m thinking too far ahead. In my mind (and in this post), the time was supposed to be now. I’m going to owe some colleagues some beer. I had bet them that the dock connector was not going to be for data anymore. Just power.

Okay, 7.85″ it is

It has been a while since I published this post about the difference between a 7″ ‘iPad’ and a 7.85″ ‘iPad’.

However, since then, I’ve heard lots of convincing arguments that Apple is working on a device with a 7.85″ screen, which implies it would run iPad applications and would therefore be an “iPad mini” and not an “iPod maxi”.

This post on Daring Fireball was the final nail in the coffin, I’m convinced now. Check it out.

Another good reason is that I remembered that Steve Jobs (and therefore Apple) believes the greater invention is not the iPhone, but the iPad. Along those lines, I’d also subscribe to “iPad mini” vs. “iPod maxi”.

The difference between 7″ and 7.85″ is everything

Here’s why I think there will be a tablet from Apple that’s optimized for reading and has a 7″ retina display that runs iPhone apps unmodified, not a tablet with a 7.85″ display that runs iPad apps unmodified.

Perhaps you’ve read these Steve Jobs quotes before, they go something like this:

The 7-inch form factor is not a good size for tablet applications” and “7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper, so that users can file down their fingers so they can use them.

Note the words in bold.

Every rumor and theory about a smaller iPad I have seen seems to claim it will be 7.85″ with a 1024×768 screen. If that were the case, Steve Jobs would be right on the money with the above quotes. A 7.85″ 1024×768 display would be appropriate if the smaller tablet were designed to run iPad applications, because these applications could run unscaled on the device, at a 1:1 pixel ratio. However, the PPI of that 7.85″ screen would be 163. But the size of the user interface elements on iPad applications are tailored for a 132 PPI screen. If squeezed into 163 PPI, every button and control would become smaller, harder to accurately touch. Hence the need for sandpaper.

The same argument applies if the 7.85″ tablet had a retina display with the same resolution as the new iPad’s 2048×1536. It would have 326 PPI, but the UI elements of retina iPad applications are designed for 264 PPI. Sandpaper required.

But consider if the new tablet had a 7″ screen. What’s so special about 7″? A couple of very interesting things.

A 7″ diagonal screen (7.08″ to be exact) just happens to be the exact size of two by two iPod touch retina displays. That’s a 4″ x 6″ display surface. An iPod touch screen has 326 PPI. The 7″ screen would also have 326 PPI just like iPhones and iPods. This would yield a resolution of 1920 x 1280. This resolution would be able to run current retina iPhone applications pixel perfect using the traditional 4:1 pixel scaling, like retina displays do with non-retina apps.

What’s so special about that? By running iPhone applications on a larger screen, as opposed to running iPad applications on a smaller screen, you don’t need the sandpaper anymore. Heck, if you have fat fingers, you’ll rejoice. Larger touch targets are just easier to hit, but still look amazing, especially text, which will be drawn using the full 1920 x 1280 resolution. Anyone that finds the iPod touch or iPhone screen slightly cramped would love it, and could continue to enjoy amazing apps like iMovie, iPhoto, and other apps designed for iPhone.

So a 7″ tablet wouldn’t be an “iPad mini”, it would actually be more like an “iPod maxi”. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. A 7″ or 7.85″ tablet still has to have a clear purpose. To be able to do something far better than the smaller devices (iPod touch and iPhone) and far better than larger devices (the iPads).

The answer is: reading, and long “consumption” sessions. Reading is something that is not comfortably done on an iPad, compared to a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle. That’s because it is relatively very heavy (over 600 grams), and too large. The new iPad is even heavier. You can’t hold these up comfortably. They are also rather expensive, starting at $400, compared to a dedicated e-reader. That’s why my friends with iPads that like reading also bought and use a Kindle. Reading is also cumbersome on an iPod and iPhone, because they are just too cramped and tiny. For comfortable reading, you need a device that’s not more than 400 grams (determined by reading reviews of various e-readers), with a long lasting battery, a screen more tailored to reading than other iOS devices, and it has to be more affordable than an iPad.

The Apple “e-reader” I’m about to describe wouldn’t just be a great, inexpensive and sufficiently light reading device with a color retina display, it would also be a full iOS device capable of beautifully running iPhone apps.

An iPod touch costs $200. It is 0.28″ thick (7.2mm). It weighs 105 grams. If you think of a 7″ iOS “reader” device that is essentially 4 iPod touches put together in 2 x 2 formation, this device would end up being about 0.29″ thick (7.5mm), weigh 350g, and beautifully run retina iPhone apps unmodified using a perfect 4:1 pixel ratio. It would be slightly thicker for structural strength and extra battery space. It wouldn’t cost $800 because you don’t need 4 times the electronics.  It would have more battery life than an iPod touch thanks to far more battery space. It would also weigh less than 4 iPod touches because not everything is multiplied by 4. Cost? I’d say $250 because the larger 1920×1280 display would cost slightly more, even if it would be iPod touch quality (inferior to iPhone or iPad display quality) and Apple factories are already perfectly tooled to make 326 PPI iPod-quality displays.

Apple would also optimize the display for “reading”, meaning, applying anti-reflection, more precise dimming and other technologies to it that it normally wouldn’t need or desire for iPods, iPhones or iPads. Yet iPhone apps would still run nicely on it, making it far more multi-purpose than a mere Kindle with e-ink, even if still not as awesome for reading in bright daylight.

E-readers are a nice market segment exploited by Amazon, wide open for Apple to expand into and dominate with iOS.

Why the iPhone 5 will drop the 30-pin iPod connector

Image

The iPod connector is, quite simply, no longer needed. Not only do I think it will disappear with iPhone 5, but if it is replaced with another connector, it will be used solely for power. Not data.

Consider the following new technologies and capabilities that have recently been introduced by Apple. Each of these replaces capabilities previously possible only through the iPod connector:

  • PC-free setup: no longer requires you to plug into a PC/Mac for initial setup.
  • WiFi sync to iTunes: iOS backup, music/videos/app sync when plugged into power.
  • iCloud: Over-the-air iOS updates, backup, restore, app locker.
  • iTunes in the cloud and iTunes Match: – you don’t even need iTunes.exe for music.
  • Stream your home library: The iOS Music app now lets you do this over Wi-Fi (It’s true!)
And a couple more new things that are quite relevant:
  • AirPlay: Lets your devices output audio and video to 3rd party devices. Clock radios, home theater receivers, etc. It is the new way of sending audio to devices, and 3rd parties are already supporting it. The dock connector is used less and less.
  • Bluetooth 4.0: hours of low power communications on iOS devices.

So what’s left to keep the iPod connector? Transfer speed? Nope, if it work’s for WiFi sync and the other above listed features, it’s not key. iOS developers tell me that debugging is done through the connector cable. That’s something. Enough to keep the connector? I wouldn’t bet on it. iPad might keep it for projector use, but, hey, Airplay could help there.

But why would Apple want to get rid of the iPod connector? Why stir up trouble?

  • Design. Without the iPod connector, Apple has more design freedom for the iPhone. Edges can be tapered or thinner, the internals can be rearranged, a larger speaker can be added to the bottom edge, etc.
  • Harder to jailbreak. The connector is used by hackers as a point of entry for jail breaking. With the connector gone, it might be harder to hack the iPhone.
  • It’s ugly. It’s a connector. Things Apple usually likes to get rid of when possible.
  • No cable to include. Less materials to waste. Less cost.
  • Better for the user. The message that you’d want (or need in any way) to use a cable, gone.
  • 3rd party market entropy. New opportunity for 3rd party device makers to exploit.
  • The sooner, the better. iPhone 5 will probably outsell all previous iPhones combined, so it’s an excellent time to “move on”.
So here you have it. With no connector, power still needs to get into the iPhone, so I think we’ll see the MagSafe for iPhone or, less likely I would say, inductive charging.
I think I also need a blog post on why iTunes.exe is on the way out, too.

Bonus thought: I suppose it is too early to suggest that after the iPod connector, the next thing to go will be the stereo headphone jack. Bluetooth headphones must be pretty cheap to make now, and with Bluetooth 4.0, their battery would last pretty long. I would just not enjoy having to charge yet another device… So no, I guess.