macOS 10.12 and iOS 10.0.2 Review

Background: I have finally upgraded both of my computers to macOS 10.12 and it has been around a week worth of usage so feel confident at this point that I can write up a decent review on how things are going so far. I have to note at this point that I have a general rule of thumb when upgrading from one major version of macOS to another, for example from 10.11 to 10.11 that I do a clean install which involves clearing the internal storage and then installing the new version of macOS without any trace of the old install left behind. The reason why I do that is because it reduces the chances of old settings files and random ‘crap’ being left around from the old install to cause problems as demonstrated by the ‘growing open/save dialogue’ bug that is only reproducible when upgrading a system but on a clean install it doesn’t appear. As I’ve always said, when in doubt wipe it out and start with a clean foundation.

When it comes to my iPhone 6s Plus I also do the same thing as well as I move between major versions I do a DFU upgrade which puts it into a special boot mode and I then do a clean install of iOS which, like macOS clean install, removes the possibility of things going pear shaped by ensuring that old settings etc. are not migrated across. The net result of this conscious decision to have a clean install also ensures that any sort of evaluation is based on the quality of the software release as it stands on its own rather than evaluating it based on variables that may impact the reliability of the software experience.

One thing that needs to be taken into account when thinking of both operating system upgrades will install a firmware upgrade if required. In the case of the iPhone you tend to find that what comes with updates and upgrades are baseband upgrades which can have a noticeable impact on battery life and reception when using the phone. In the case of a Mac you’ll find that it isn’t necessarily going to be the SMC but more likely the BootROM in which ensures that all systems of that model are bought in line as in many cases there are minor revisions during a product run then all of it harmonised with a update or a new version of macOS.

Installation: With the macOS installation I downloaded via the ‘App Store’ and whilst that was doing its thing I cleared off a 16GB USB3 thumb drive (I chose one that has good throughput as to avoid the installation taking ages) and once the download was complete I then followed the following instructions ( link ) on how to create a USB bootable drive (remember to tweak the path names as to point to the Install macOS directory).

When it comes to my iPhone 6s Plus I plugged it in and then turned off the phone so then I can start the DFU boot up process ( link ) – I tend to plug in the phone and then get the download rolling then shut down the phone so then by the time the download has finished it’ll be ready to install. Why do I do that? It appears that DFU mode does have a ‘time out’ limit where if nothing is done after a period of time it reboots and thus you ‘fall out’ of DFU mode.

When macOS has finished installing the first thing to do after changing some settings (choosing English UK, dark mode and reducing transparency) was to run the ‘App Store’ which greeted me with an update to iTunes which was a quick upgrade. Side note: Thank god for fibre internet combined with a good content distribution network because I’m able to get some good speed when downloading. After going with fibre I would never want to go back to the old days of a VDSL connection and having to deal with a great theoretical connection but still having to deal with the old backhaul that just isn’t up to to the task these days.

After Installation, Changes and Conclusion: After macOS booted up and after the changes I made the first thing I noticed was the presence of Siri which, to be perfectly frank, I really don’t care about. For months after the release I’ve been hearing the talking heads in the tech media whip themselves into a frenzy over it and I’m sitting here trying to work out what the heck the attraction actually is and what am I supposed to gain out of it. I know it sounds like a rant but really when it was offered I decided not to enable it mainly because I don’t see it as a major feature. I put this in here as to avoid the usual question, “oh, did you try Siri yet?” thus the question will not needed to be asked. Oh, and side note, I view Siri and other voice activated technology in the same ball park a touch screens – great for demonstrations and specific scenarios but have no place on the desktop.

The first thing I noticed was unlike past releases at this stage it didn’t suffer from the usual x.0 bugginess and/or stuttering due to poorly optimised code or drivers. All the effects are buttery smooth and the applications I use have been fairly reliable so far even before the Sierra updates had hit the App Store which probably goes to re-enforce that as long as you stay within the straight and narrow of macOS’s public APIs then things will continue rocking along without too many problems. Microsoft and Adobe right now are playing catch up because rather than updating their code base they instead layer more crap onto old code and the net result are the messes we see today where as clean code bases like Pixelmator, Hype etc. keep rocking along without any problems.

When it comes to areas such as wifi performance performance, reliability, speed, coverage – I upgraded router and access point to the latest firmware (as at the time of writing the version of the UniFi controller was 5.2.9) and the reliability is slightly better than with macOS 10.11 but keeping in mind that I never had a major issue. Firstly, Apple hasn’t done anything silly like they did last time when they replaced mDNSresponder with discoveryd resulting in all manner of wifi and networking problems which resulted in its removal in 10.10.4 update. Side note, they never went into great detail as to what they were trying to accomplish by moving to discoveryd nor did I notice any material benefits when they did make the move which leaves me wondering to this day what it was trying to accomplish. The network I run uses a Ubiquiti USG and AC AP (Access Point) which runs on the 5GHz frequency (channel 36 and 80MHz wide channel) primarily to avoid the 6-10 wifi networks running on 2.4GHz which can cause interference. In regards to how strong the connection is, within the same room I’m hitting a slightly higher rate than before but then again that all very much depends on a number of factors not to mention that when the wifi network chip isn’t in use I assume it runs in a reduced power state to save power and run cooler so the exact numbers are difficult to gage but what I can say is that we (the user base) aren’t going to experience the step backwards that came with 10.10 along with some bad experiences some felt with 10.11 (keep in mind that many seem to have horribly crappy base stations combined with having their devices at the edge of their coverage area not to mention trying to use 2.4GHz in a crowded area).

When it comes to Safari 10 I haven’t experienced any instability and the one great thing is that they’ve seen to have addressed the video playback bug that I was experiencing where it would momentarily freeze (the UI would freeze but I could still move the cursor/mouse) then recover (with 10.11 running the latest version of Safari) but the problem hasn’t occurred on macOS 10.12 which makes me believe it was a subsystem related issue and not anything to do with Safari. Regarding memory usage, it is around the same although I do find that when running complex javascript based websites that the browser is a lot more responsive so I guess the extra work they’ve done has really paid off.

For the rest of the operating system there aren’t any major changes but rather more refinement which for some might annoy them slightly but for me I’d much sooner have a smooth cycle of step by step improvements than trying to quickly ram through broken enhancements which then take months to make them stable enough to be useful. When it comes to the other areas there are minor tweaks such as the preferences dialogue in Mail has been changed and I have found that it is a lot more reliable when it comes to the ‘pushing’ of emails where as in the past there would be a massive lag with my phone receiving first and then my computer receiving it long after. The Disk Utility is slightly more refined although I’m hoping that developments are being held back for when they introduced APFS that’ll arrive with 10.13 which will hopefully mean a return for RAID support (although I prefer Drobo devices which abstract that RAID away from the end user thus all the end user needs to do format the device) although it’ll be interesting to see how AFPS evolves whether we see new features being added to Disk Utility so there is greater integration between not only Disk Utility and AFPS but also Finder as well. Regarding AFPS and Finder integration, if they maintain case sensitivity I’d say that Apple will use the Spotlight/Core Data structure as a way to search which works as a way to get around the issue of case sensitivity (the file system layer the names are case sensitive but searching through a Core Data database is case insensitive) whilst ensuring that AFPS doesn’t incorporate needless complexity.

When it comes to iOS the improvements are very much a situation of refinement rather than major revolutionary changes. The Music application is a lot more responsive and better integrated especially for large collections of music which, in my case, I have up to 60GB worth of music loaded onto my iPhone 6s Plus at anyone time. The other improvement I noticed was the fact that the modem firmware on my phone was upgraded to 2.30.0 which was an interesting change where I have noticed a slight improvement in reception and also responsiveness/lag when it comes to the time when I click on a link and the link actually loading in the browser itself. Regarding the battery life, I would really have to put it under a stress test taking advantage of the modem’s capacity but as so far with what I’m currently using it for I haven’t noticed a drop in battery life during the day but then again that is in part due to the fact that I don’t run things like Facebook which have a horrible reputation for being battery hogging messes that cause most of the battery drainage issues reporting on Apple orientated forums.

The Mail and Safari applications are stable with Safari, like the macOS version, which has an improved Javascript engine which makes me wonder whether the massive improvement made to LLVM ARM back end (which Apple leverages for their Javascript engine) have floated back through so that its JIT environment. This particularly important to the system over all when you consider the fact that Apple has also done a lot of work when it comes to the native libc++ library that the LLVM project has built up over the years and has become a critical component of their operating system along with many benchmarks (check out the LLVM conference slides and videos) demonstrating a huge leap of performance over the old GNU libc++ based library which Apple used to use in past versions. Regarding the stability, personally I’ve found iOS 10.0.2 to be rock solid but then again I keep my application installed to a minimum and I also ensure that those applications I do have are from vendors who maintain their software for the long term given that a misbehaving application can cause instability especially if it is taking advantage of extensions and the application vendor hasn’t properly maintained their application for a while.

As for what I’dl like to see improved in both systems supporting dark mode where as although I can put macOS into dark mode along with reduced transparency there is still the jarring effect of the notifications area that is still a nasty white/off-white colour where as a dark black would have been a whole lot nicer given that I prefer a much more toned down UI experience. Although there was initial love for the ‘lickable’ UI with the jelly like scroll bars and pinstripe look/feel it did age pretty badly which meant that over time the pinstripe was made more subtle then eventually removed around 4-5 years ago and since then the simply feel gives it a sense of sophistication where as the ‘invasion’ of the whole transparency seems to have been missing a point as to why it was done in the first place not to mention the ‘light white’ menu bar that comes as standard which becomes rather glaring after a day of using a computer hence my preference for a black menu bar at the top. On iOS I find it rather frustrating that there isn’t the option of having a more ‘dark mode’ experience with a lot less transparency not to mention a preference I have for more of a flat minimalistic look and feel akin to the material design that Google has gone for it in Android.

For me I see these two release in the same vein as the old ‘tick-tock’ cycle that Intel would engage in where there would be a jump forward followed by refinement then another jump forward. In the case of Apple it appears that we’ve had a refinement and under the hood improvements with the next release of macOS and iOS being the time when those big changes come out of which most will be relating to the inclusion of AFPS. Why do I say that? The ability for example to have native snapshots of the file system rather than the mess that exists now of something bolted onto the side of the system rather than integrated into the system. When it comes to the the server and client side of the SMB equation it should mean that the strange translation layers and work arounds for HFS+ peculiarities relying to legacy issues that go way back to the MacOS ‘Classic’ days then it should mean a more reliable experience for all concerned. When it comes to developers, the movement to a case sensitive file system should mean an end to craziness when it comes dealing with downloading and uploading source code changes along with preserving and respecting the case of the file or directory. When it comes to SSD performance, given the way in which HFS+ has been designed the movement to AFPS will also enable end users to really take advantage of the benefits of flash and the massive speed that is available which should mean data base performance should improve considerably (check out the MySQL benchmarks of OS X to see how HFS+ holds back the performance).

As for what will be happening in macOS 10.13 and iOS, if it is anything to go by I could see them doing a lot more work in making the iCloud a lot more omnipresent within the lives of the average macOS and iOS which leads me to wonder whether the schedule for future changes has more to do with the rumour of a ‘Project McQueen’ as to avoid the Microsoft misfortune of “unlimited storage for all” only to turn around and change their mind after they realised that people were actually taking Microsoft up on the offer of unlimited storage in the cloud. Now, that isn’t to say that Apple will have unlimited storage but I could image them wanting to develop iCloud further but do not want to run into the same fiasco they’ve had in the past. If anything I think that Apple is becoming a lot more cautious particularly when it comes to the potential of really entering into the enterprise market in a big way and thus want to demonstrate to the enterprise market that they’ve got through their ‘crazy changes’ phase and now are settling down tor progress forward but at a measured pace. As an end user I would sooner see a measured pace where the focus isn’t just delivering new features but also ensuring that when the features are delivered they’re useable on day one rather than being told, “oh, btw, it is as buggy as a flea ridden dog but just wait a few months and we’ll sort the mess out”. Regarding their public beta programme, I am still not really convinced as to whether their feedback/contributions are actually beneficial as those working on the project have to sift through poorly written and inadequately diagnosed problems resulting in time wasted chasing ones tail rather than fixing problems. I say that because when I did have a look at the Windows 10 feedback tool the experience was just simply horrible. Half baked bitching and whining by people who keep requesting things that have already been delivered in the latest version of Windows 10 not to mention saying something sucks but going into no detail as to why it sucks and what Microsoft can do to fix the problem. At some point I really have to wonder whether Apple and Microsoft would be a lot better off having a small group of testers who can actually write well written bug reports so then it is possible for engineers to liaison with the testers and know exactly what the problem is because the information is well written (and the person writing it has a background in information technology) rather than sifting through garbage to find the one gem.

Anyway, apologises for the long delay for the review although I wanted to make sure that it had depth but at the same time approachable not to mention the over time I’ve done at work which pretty much made my brain all mushy by the end of the day. Hopefully going forward there will be more posts particularly as Apple is currently working on iOS 10.1 and macOS 10.12.1.

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