Apple’s March 9 “Spring forward” event

Stayed up so I was ready for my laptop to arrive from Dell (according to the website it is with the local carrier so it should be either flown down or come down from Auckland on the overnight truck) and checking out Arstechnica I forgot all about the Apple event – it will be an interesting experience looking in from the outsiders perspective given that I now have no ‘vest interests’ in Apple’s product development other than pure curiosity because I doubt they would have an event simply for the watch so I’d speculate as of writing (waiting for the beginning of the event) that they’ll introduce other products as well – maybe a refresh of the iMac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air range particularly with the now widespread availability of Broadwell CPU’s for ultrabooks that are being used in the XPS 13 and other such ultrabooks. Btw, when I’m typing this I’m typing it as the presentation is going and then at the end I’ll post it so it’ll sound like a real time running commentary that is posted after the event so I guess it’ll have a strange writing style from the normal watching a video then writing a commentary afterwards.

Starting off the presentation with talking about the number of customers walking through the doors each day (the usual patting of oneself on the back) and then straight into Apple TV orientated and Apple’s new relationship with HBO with the launch of HBO Now on Apple TV – this comes within context of the large number of people moving always from traditional cable television offerings in favour of movies and television programmes on demand. Getting HBO on board is a huge win and hopefully we’ll see a global vision taking place so that it doesn’t become a “US Only” thing which so regularly happens due to contracts with local television stations. The cost in US$ is $14.99 is pretty good value as so long as you get access to the full variety of programming HBO provides, not just game of thrones but also Real Time with Bill Maher. The question is whether we’ll see HBO take back control of their content or will they once again lock out international customers from getting the latest shows. The Apple TV has dropped $30 but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we start to see ISP’s offer bundling deals for customers who sign up for 12 month contracts – “free connection plus an Apple TV with your first month to HBO NOW free of charge”.

Apple Pay is being deployed now to vending machines which should be interesting particularly within Japan where vending machines are a lot more widely spread. Keep in mind though that Apple Pay is a solution to deal with the abysmal banking system in the United States rather than it being a ‘must have’ piece of technology given that chip cards, pay wave, pay pass and NFC stickers have been available for quite some time in New Zealand and most other parts of the world.

Talking about the health, CarPlay and HomeKit – to be honest, they’re not all that interesting given that I’ve never been all that interested in ‘automation’ or having health monitors hooked up to me all day to tell me that I might need to lose a few kgs and eat a little healthier. What I think is interesting is that they’re going to make Research Kit open source but I think that has more to do with needing to have expertise putting their input into the development of the framework as well as ensuring that it complies with any regulatory requirements when it comes to medical equipment.

Now onto the Mac and its sales – baring in mind that people are keeping their computers for longer so a decrease of stagnation in sales numbers doesn’t necessarily point to a decline in the over all number of computers. This is important to keep within context given that during the peak of the economic crisis many businesses pushed back software and hardware upgrades to save money – 3-4 year cycles were pushed out to 4-5 year cycles. The impact on Microsoft was miniscule given that pretty much every enterprise business (where most of their revenue comes from) are on Microsoft Software Assurance so they automatically get access to the latest software when it is available not to mention the fact that employees get access to Microsoft Office at a discounted price as long as they remain employees of said company. The New Zealand defence force for many years had the ‘Select Licencing’ where all personal had access to Windows and Microsoft Office for their home computer as so long as they remained employees.

They’ve launched an MacBook and callling it….the MacBook with edge to edge Hi-DPI display much like what we see with the new Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook that was launched recently. From what it appears the announcement looks very much like the mockups and leaked photos that have been doing the rounds for quite some time but that is hardly surprising given that there is only a limited number of ways you can create a laptop but they have replaced the keyboard mechanism which should reduce the wobbliness of keys – they call it a ‘butterfly mechanism’. They’ve replaced the 13.3″ and 11″ with a single size which makes sense given that a 12″ is the sweet spot where the 11″ and 13.3″ purchasers – I’ve always wondered why they kept the two sizes for so long or was the rationale that they were creating two size options for the MacBook Pro so it makes sense to offer two sizes for the MacBook Air.

The screen appears to have taken some lessons from the iMac 5K where one of the big achievements they made was the reduction in power usage of the LCD technology they were employing. When I saw the iMac 5K released and there was mentioning of this new LCD technology I said to myself, “this will go really good in their mobile offerings” and here we are with the technology paying dividends of a high DPI screen without a negative impact on batter life. Something that was observed recently where there was a comparison between the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 and the Dell lasted 7 minutes longer even though there was a higher DPI screen being powered.

The mainboard on which the CPU mounts has decreased in size and it has gone fanless – one of my major concerns with this is heat; are we going to see a rash of people pushing their computer to the edge only to find that their laptop prematurely dies due to a reduced lifespan bought on by long periods of high temperature? only time can tell but I would have thought with the recent crop of GPU failures in the MacBook Pro and iMac that they would have played it safe but alas it is a situation of ‘watch this space’. Interesting part is how they’ve replaced all their ports with a single USB-C connector which makes sense but it raises questions regarding what is going to happen to Thunderbolt going forward given that right now USB 3.1 is good enough for the vast majority of people and Thunderbolt appears to be a niche ala Firewire that has its technical merits but like so often there is a good enough cheaper alternative that does what the majority of people want at a reasonable price. As noted in a past post about my Drobo device – there is no speed difference between using Thunderbolt over USB3 and I’d hazard to guess that is the situation for most people. There is only one port and I can understand the rationale that USB flash storage is on the way out with the availability of high speed internet making cloud storage a more viable option to share files between friends along AirDrop but it still has the problem where if you want to recharge your USB device and computer at the same time – are there going to be USB-C hubs out there that will fit into that niche to provide more ports? I can imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth by some, “Oh, not another thing I have to carry around” I hear them lament.

Just having gotten through that the price and specifications are announced and to be honest I feel a lot better now that I’ve made the decision I did. Price performance for what is on offer it appears that I got a pretty good deal going with the Dell – not that I’m gloating or anything but it is nice to feel ‘vindicated’ (for the lack of a better word) about ones purchase. It appears that Apple will keep the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with the MacBook Air receiving a small refresh to bring it up to date along with the MacBook Pro. I wonder whether the MacBook is an attempt at an ultra book given that the MacBook Air’s pricing puts it at the entry price point of where the old plastic white MacBook’s used to occupy.

Now this is the part where I get bored – they’re going to talk about the Apple Watch. Honestly, I feel like as though I’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t actually give a crap about smart watches. Sure, it took me a while to jump onto the whole smartphone bandwagon which was partially due to the fact that mobile data costs were so bloody high and devices were out of reach price wise but what the watch appears to be as nothing more than a glorified remote control with some monitoring equipment built in for good luck. At this point it actually makes me feel good that I jumped off the Apple bandwagon back when I did – if the Apple Watch is any indicator of their future direction then it appears that their vision and what I want to use technology for are heading in opposite directions. I hate to say this but it appears that what Microsoft is doing appears to, at least for me, when it comes to wearable computing makes a whole lot more sense or maybe it is the fact that since they haven’t hyped it up so much like Apple has done with their Watch that the very idea isn’t grating on me. Oh, and btw, the Gold Apple Watch will sell for the low, low price of US$10,000 but unfortunately there will be limited quantities for those of us with more dollars than sense and wanted to buy one for each family member.

Well, that is the end of the presentation – no iMac refresh, no Mac Pro refresh (which is sorely needed); it was an uneventful and unspectacular presentation where in the past I would get excited I’m sitting here, letting out a sigh and then reaching for the bottle of Diet Coke sitting on my Drobo device. Maybe when there is the Build 2015 keynote I might be a little more excited at that event where we’ll see more low level details regarding Windows 10, WDDM, DirectX 12, a more or less ‘release candidate quality’ or close to it build although personally I can wait till the end of the year for Windows 10 before getting anxious. Side note though, I thought it was funny that the reviewer on Arstechnica was complaining that the Dell XPS 13 only came with a maximum of 8GB because Chrome uses up so much memory. I say it is funny because I would have thought what would be more fruitful to complain about is Chrome’s bloatedness and how it needs to be addressed rather than accommodated by throwing more memory at it. Btw, I use Internet Explorer for my browser and have Ad Blocker Plus installed – and to be honest I find it funny that seemingly rational IT people evaluate Internet Explorer not based on what it is today but because of some crappy experience they had 8 years ago. I personally find nothing wrong with it, I’m able to synchronise all my stuff to the cloud no problems which to me is the important part of all this.

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