Category: Apple

November 20, 2020

Apple M1 thoughts

by dwm — Categories: Apple, ComputingLeave a comment

Apple silicon has arrived for the Mac. Not in my hands, but it has arrived.

My thoughts…

Wow. I’m hesitant to call it revolutionary, simply because they’ve been on this path for over a decade. But I’m wowed for a number of reasons.

From the benchmarks I’ve seen, as well as the reviews, the performance isn’t what has wowed me. Yes, it’s impressive. But we had seen enough from iPhones to iPad Pros to know full well what we could expect from Apple’s first generation of their own SoC for the Mac. And they hit the marks.

I think what had the most profound impact on me was just the simple fact that they delivered on a promise to themselves, their users and their company. This wasn’t a short road! In this day and age, there are almost no technology companies that can stick the landing on a 10-year roadmap. Heck, many tech companies abandon their products and users in the span of a few years. Apple quietly persevered. They didn’t fall prey to hubris and conceit. They didn’t give us empty promises. They kept plugging away behind the scenes while Intel and others floundered, or overpromised and underdelivered, or just believed that the x86 architecture would be king forever. And much of this work happened after the passing of Steve Jobs. So to those who thought Apple would flounder without him… I think you’ve been wrong all along.

It’s not like I didn’t see this coming; it’s been rumored for what seems like forever. But I hadn’t really reflected on the potential impact until it arrived. Some background…

I’m a Mac user, and I love macOS. But I’m a software developer, and the core reason I love macOS is that it’s a UNIX. Yes, I like the user interface more than any other. But I spend most of my time in a terminal window running emacs, clang++, etc. Tasks served well by any UNIX. For me, macOS has been the best of two worlds. I shunned OS 9; I loved the Mac, it just didn’t fit my needs. When OS X arrived, I was on board. Finally an OS I could use for my work AND heartily recommend to non-techies. And the things I liked about NeXT came along for the ride.

The other reason I’ve loved Macs: the quality of their laptops has been exceptional for a very long time. With the exception of the butterfly keyboard fiasco and the still-mostly-useless Touch Bar (function keys are WAY more useful for a programmer), I’ve been very happy with my Mac laptops. Literally nothing else on the market has met my needs as well as a Macbook Pro, going back longer than I can remember.

But now… wow. Apple just put a stake in the ground that’s literally many miles ahead of everyone else in the personal computing space. It’s akin to the Apollo moon landing. We all saw it coming, but now the proof has arrived.

To be clear, the current M1 lineup doesn’t fit my needs. I’m not in the market for a Macbook Air or a 13″ Macbook Pro. I need a screen larger than 13″, and some of my development needs don’t fit a 16G RAM limitation, which also rules out the M1 Mac Mini (as does the lack of 10G ethernet). And like any first generation product, there are some quirks that have yet to be resolved (issues with some ultra wide monitors), missing features (no eGPU support), etc. But… for many users, these new machines are fantastic and there is literally nothing competitive. Just look at the battery life on the M1 Macbook Air and Macbook Pro 13″. Or the Geekbench scores. Or how little power they draw whether on battery or plugged into the wall. There’s no fan in the M1 Macbook Air because it doesn’t need one.

Of course, for now, I also need full x64 compatibility. I run Windows and other VMs on my Macs for development purposes, and as of right now I can’t do that on an M1 Mac. That will come if I’m to believe Parallels, but it won’t be native x64, obviously. But at least right now, Rosetta 2 looks reasonable. And it makes sense versus the original Rosetta, for a host of reasons I won’t delve into here.

Where does this leave Intel? I don’t see it as significant right now. Apple is and was a fairly small piece of Intel’s business. Today, Intel is in much bigger trouble from AMD EPYC, Threadripper, Threadripper Pro and Ryzen 3 than Apple silicon. That could change, but I don’t see Apple threatening Intel’s primary business; Apple has no products in Intel’s primary business (servers). Yes, what Apple has done is disruptive, in a good way. But the long-term impact is yet to be seen.

I am looking forward to what comes next from Apple. Something I haven’t been able to say about Intel CPUs in quite some time. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a heavy FreeBSD and Linux user as well, and despite the age of x86/x64, AMD Threadripper, EPYC and Ryzen 3 are great for many of my needs. But I believe that once Apple releases a 16″ Macbook Pro with their own silicon and enough RAM for my needs… there will literally be nothing on the market that comes even close to what I want in a laptop, for many years. It will be a solid investment.

For the long run… Apple has now finally achieved what they’ve wanted since their inception: control of their hardware and software stack across the whole product lineup. Exciting times. Real competition in the space that’s long been dominated by x86/x64, which will be good for all of us as consumers. But make no mistake: Apple’s success here isn’t easily duplicated. Their complete control over the operating system and the hardware is what has allowed them to do more (a LOT more) with less power. This has been true on mobile devices for a long time, and now Apple has brought the same synergies to bear on the PC market. As much as I appreciate Microsoft and Qualcomm SQ1 and SQ2 Surface Pro X efforts, they are far away from what Apple has achieved.

One thing that continues to befuddle me about what’s being written by some… things like “ARM is now real competition for x86/x64”. ARM’s relevance hasn’t changed. They license reference core architectures and instruction sets. Apple is not building ARM reference architectures. If ARM was the one deserving credit here, we’d have seen similar success for Windows and Linux of ARM. ARM is relevant. But to pretend that Apple M1 silicon is just a product of ARM, and that there’s now some magic ARM silicon that’s going to go head-to-head with x86/x64 across the industry, is pure uninformed folly. M1 is a product of Apple, designed specifically for macOS and nothing else. All of the secret sauce here belongs to Apple, not ARM.

I’ve also been seeing writers say that this might prompt Microsoft and others to go the SoC route. Anything is possible. But look at how long it took Apple to get to this first generation for the Mac, and consider how they did it: mobile first, which brought unprecedented profits and many generations of experience. Those profits allowed them to bring in the talent they needed, and the very rapid growth of mobile allowed them to iterate many times in a fairly short span of time. Wash, rinse, repeat. Without the overhead of owning the fab. And for what many have considered a ‘dead’ market (personal computers). Yes, PC sales have on average been on a steady decline for some time. But the big picture is more complex; it’s still the case that a smartwatch isn’t a smartphone, a smartphone isn’t a tablet, a tablet isn’t a laptop, a laptop isn’t a desktop, most desktops are not workstations, a workstation isn’t a storage server, etc. What we’ve seen is the diversification of computing. The average consumer doesn’t need a workstation. Many don’t need a desktop, and today they have other options for their needs. But the desktop and workstation market isn’t going to disappear. We just have a lot more options to better fit our needs than we did when smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks, etc. didn’t exist.

I’ve always been uneasy with those who’ve written that Apple would abandon the PC market. The Mac business, standalone, generated 28.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. That would be at spot 111 on the Fortune 500 list. Not to mention that Apple and all those writing apps for Apple devices need Macs. The fact that Apple’s desktop business is a much smaller portion of their overall revenue isn’t a product of it being a shrinking business; it’s 4X larger in revenue than it was 20 years ago. It’s a product of the explosion of growth in other areas. Which is not to say that I haven’t bemoaned the long delays between releases of Apple professional Mac desktops, not to mention the utter disaster of the 2013 Mac Pro. But Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about their internal work until it’s ready to ship, and it’s clear now that they wisely directed their resources at decoupling their PC fates from Intel.

So we enter a new era of Apple. Rejoice, whether you’re an Apple user or not. Innovation spurs further innovation.

February 22, 2013

Unicomp mechanical keyboards: still king after 20 years

by dwm — Categories: Apple, Computing, UncategorizedLeave a comment

I’ve recently been looking at some of the heavily marketed mechanical keyboards on the market. Take your pick of companies… Razer, Das, CoolerMaster, Ducky, Matias, others.

I actually own a das Model S Professional for Mac that I bought less than 6 months ago but have already retired. I was using it on my hackintosh. For some reason its KRO is poor. I don’t know if it’s a Mac issue or a keyboard issue, but I regularly had problems with missed keys even though I am certain the keys were struck. I know because it’s repeatable. So even though there are many who regard the das Model S Professional as a very good keyboard, I think it’s not worth anywhere near its price. Cherry MX blue switches are nice, but the das is doing something between the switches and USB that renders the whole experience rather suboptimal.

And of course the keycaps on the das for Mac are low quality. The printing wears off very quickly, and isn’t very readable even when new. For someone that switches keyboards and operating systems multiple times per day by necessity, poor keycap printing is a problem. I replaced the keycaps with a custom set I designed myself and bought from wasdkeyboards.com. I used black on white and had no signs of the keycap printing wearing off after many months of every day use. If you insist on buying a das keyboard for your Mac, I highly recommend replacing the keycaps with ones that are actually useful. You can find my design here.

My conclusion: the Unicomp buckling-spring keyboards are still king of mechanical keyboards, being based on the venerable IBM Model M. For the Mac, you want the Spacesaver M, in black or white.

I’ll give the Matias Tactile Pro the runner-up spot. Note that I have not yet tried their Quiet Pro, which has modified Alps white switches and is quieter than the old Tactile Pro.

What am I using right now? A moshi luna backlit keyboard. Yes, it has scissor switches, which most mechanical keyboard lovers despise. However, the moshi luna is the closest thing I’ve found to my Macbook Pro’s keyboard, so it’s at least familiar to me. And I do like the backlighting, though I could live without the silly bling of the lighted acrylic surrounding the keyboard. In fact I might paint it or cover it with very thin aluminum.

January 24, 2013

An Apple TV with a big screen? Nonsense, I hope

by dwm — Categories: Apple, UncategorizedLeave a comment

I’m so tired of the arguments from pundits saying that Apple needs to make a television.

There is little to no profit in television sets; they’re commodities. Let’s take some of the Japanese companies as examples. Sharp, Panasonic and Sony lost a combined $20 billion dollars in 2012. If Sony hadn’t sold off a chemical unit and didn’t have the PlayStation and content, it might be dead. Sharp is unlikely to survive much longer without a merger/acquisition. Panasonic… dunno.

I won’t go into the details, but I’ll be the first to admit that these 3 companies have made many missteps in the last several years that made them bleed a lot more than they should have. Panasonic made some major losing bets like building new plasma panel factories starting in 2003 and dumping a lot of cash into their purchase of Sanyo for what are now struggling businesses (solar panels and batteries). Sharp completely missed out on smartphones (their phone sales have been halved from 2007 to 2012) and outsourcing, and like Panasonic made missteps in solar. Sony’s television business has been losing money for 8 years running.

The problems here are many. For starters, the competition from China and Korea is difficult to overcome. Large LCD panels (regardless of backlighting technology) are now a commodity. LG and Samsung will continue to make TVs with near-slave labor. And despite what some would like you to believe, people are not starting to change their TV sets every 2 to 3 years. Or even every 4 years. The reality is that the recent trend has been to replace aging non-HD sets with HD sets. I hate to break it to the idiots masquerading as experts, but HD has been with us for more than 10 years. It has taken that long for the average consumer to adopt a single HD set. Once the swing is over, the buying will stop again. Sure, they’ll eventually replace each set in the home. But they’ll then stop for a long time, unless the sets fail. And it would never have happened in the first place if the prices hadn’t dropped dramatically in the last 5 years.

Look at the trend for PCs. It’s not significantly different than televisions. Apple is a publically traded company and they’re making their money in mobile (phones and tablets, plus their content stores). The money they’re making from iMac, Mac Mini and the nearly-dead Mac Pro is a very small piece of their profits today.

The fools who equate the HD screen buying to people buying smartphones every 2 to 3 years should be fired from their writing positions. Tip for the ignoranti: phones are an order of magnitude less costly than 55″ HD televisions. They’re also with us 24 hours a day, and your average smartphone is an order of magnitude more useful than a 55″ television simply due to the fact that it fits in your pocket. They’re also an order of magnitude easier to recycle. But more importantly… most people aren’t buying phones every 2 years just to get a new display. They’re buying a new phone to get new features, often only software features or software features supported by a small bit of updated hardware (say LTE or accelerometer or GPS). And of course to replace the phone they’ve beat up by dropping it, spilling their McDonalds on it, and using it. And to get a new battery.

I should also point out that for many of us, the television is no longer our main consumption device. We’re consuming much or most of our content on tablets and our phones. In part, this is just due to convenience. It’s also in no small part due to being busier than ever. And nearly all of us are using our televisions as simple HDMI targets (often only HDMI video with the audio going to a home theater receiver). What makes the big difference in our experience is the HDMI source, not the HDMI target. Most, if not all of us don’t want to replace a $1000 to $3000 device every few years just to get a decent bump in the source and maybe a small bump in the display. The people who think we’d like to do this are probably the same people that thought refrigerators with built-in smart displays would be a game-changer in the kitchen. Why would I want a smart refrigerator if I can’t put it in my pocket to take it with me to the grocery store? How was that ever a better idea than putting Grocery iQ and Red Laser on my iPhone?

And of course Apple understands these issues. It’s part of the reason that the MacBook Pro has no ethernet port and no built-in CD/DVD player, but instead has USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port. All the smarts inside, but none of the non-essential parts that would take up space and weight. Of course, I consider an ethernet port essential, but not a built-in CD/DVD player. It’s part of the reason Apple has AirPlay… I don’t need or even want my TV to manage content; I want the device that’s in my hands or pocket or bag all day to be the device that manages my content. Even better if it can hold a lot of it too. I don’t care to have to use my TV to manage content. I want to be able to do it anywhere, anytime.

The difficult battle for a game-changing event in the TV world isn’t over the TV. It’s over the content and the delivery and the contracts that bind the two together. The same reason that the game-changing event in the music world wasn’t the iPod or any other mp3 player, it was content in the iTunes store and other stores like Amazon.

The cable companies are not going to hand over their bandwidth to any company that directly competes with their offerings. And most of the content delivery companies, who also own nearly all of the last mile and then some for residential Internet service, move like snails. And make much of their money with bundled content packages. Anything that disrupts their cash flow is going to be met with loads of resistance. They’re already using caps in many places, and if it weren’t for the net neutrality laws, they’d be blocking all streaming and downloads that they viewed as competing with their offerings.
In fact they’ve done that before (Comcast P2P fiasco, for example) and would still be doing it if there had not been an uproar with some legal footing.

I don’t need or want a TV with a lot of built-in obsolescence. Maybe some people do, but those people represent a tiny piece of the market (those with tons of disposable income for home electronics). What I want is a better content management device and a screen that’s about as dumb as possible that will last 10 years. Keep the screen for a long time, and update the content management device frequently at a much lower cost. The existing Apple TV is a pretty good device at $99. Replace it with something about halfway to a Mac Mini, and you’d have a device more than capable of receiving, storing, managing and delivering content in just about any form. But it’s a problem that doesn’t exist until that content is readily available in a form that such a device could use. In real time as it’s broadcasted, not a week later. And Apple isn’t currently in a position to fix the entire problem. Even if they spent tons of money to acquire the rights to the content, they won’t be able to deliver it if it competes with the last mile provider’s services. And there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they themselves can deliver a significant live event, say the Superbowl. Even if they could, it would never fly past the last-mile providers who’ve paid big money to be the providers of such content.

I’m all for a better home entertainment experience. But an Apple TV with a screen, in and of itself, isn’t going to change the game. And it’s unlikely to make money. It also won’t be significantly better than sets from the established television set producers. 4K display? Who cares at this point given that there’s essentially no 4K content to consume and 4K sets start above $10,000 at this point? 4K will get here eventually, but its audience will be limited for a long time. Most of us don’t need an 84″ or 110″ screen, and many of us would never get it past a significant other even if it was cheap. Well, there’s an argument in Apple’s favor… if you’re going to have a 110″ screen, it’d be easier to get spousal approval if it looked like a piece of art. The problem is that it’ll cost more than $20,000 at this point, and it’ll likely depreciate to $1000 in 5 to 10 years.

In my opinion, anyone that argues that we’ll all be replacing our big screens in our family rooms every few years is a shill or just clueless.

If Apple really wants to change the TV game within the next 5 to 10 years… make a set-top box that has all the capabilities of the Apple TV and more, plus the ability to replace the DVR or cable box that we’re using now (including handling encrypted channels, not just clear QCAM). I know they’ve explored this arena, but haven’t broken the barriers yet. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I think our best hope is that the cable companies eventually provide all content over IP (presumably IPv6) and back out of the set-top box business. Don’t hold your breath; those rentals are a source of income for them. One could argue that they could just increase the price of their service and ditch the set top box rentals, but… today they do both (price increases on their service and continued reliance on set-top box rentals).

January 19, 2013

Now running Clover bootloader on my hackintosh

by dwm — Categories: Apple, ComputingLeave a comment

I’ve been wanting to try the Clover bootloader on my hackintosh for quite some time. I just didn’t have an impetus to bother with it. That is, until the issue with iMessage appeared in late December 2012 and the various Chameleon developers and their branches did nothing about it (including Chimera, which is what I was originally using before switching to Chameleon and now Clover).

Clover is working great for me, and I don’t see myself going back to Chameleon or a Chameleon derivative like Chimera. The reality is that development is MUCH more active on Clover, and given that it has much better support for UEFI (including a built-in EFI shell), it’s the right thing for me to use on future builds. Plus it already has the infrastructure to cope with issues like the iMessage snafu.

Since I consider this switch permanent, I spent a little time creating a Clover theme since I wanted an orange-colored theme. Here’s a screenshot from the theme package I uploaded to insanelymac.com:

Soapbox on…

I feel sorry for the many people on the tonymacx86 forum that don’t seem to realize that moving from Chimera to Clover is not terribly difficult. The bootloader is a tiny portion of what they’ve gotten from tonymacx86 and Chimera is not significantly different than a vanilla Chameleon build. In fact I had been using Chameleon for the last few months before I switched to Clover. The last time I diffed Chimera and Chameleon source tree trunks, the differences were purely cosmetic. I feel really sorry for the folks who gave money to tonymacx86 recently for the fixes for iMessage, given that the tonymacx86 team did NOTHING to resolve the issue. AS of today, that thread on tonymacx86 is 68 pages and growing, with almost 100,000 views. The fix is to use Clover, and the tips on getting that done were all provided by members, not the tonymacx86 team. I’m starting to understand why some other sites’ members despise the tonymacx86 site. You can’t blame the members of the tonymacx86 site, they’re completely innocent. And I guess I can’t blame the tonymacx86 team for the ignorance of some of the members that have given them money, but… it still feels underhanded to me. Especially given the fact that the tonymacx86 tools are primitive and somewhat braindead. MultiBeast might work for some users who really don’t know what they’re doing (and I was once one of those people), but at the same time, stomping on kernel extensions without showing the user what’s being done (and not providing a means for them to revert the changes) is downright user-unfriendly and amateurish from a software engineering perspective.

July 22, 2012

My first hackintosh

by dwm — Categories: Apple, ComputingLeave a comment

Two weeks ago I assembled my first hackintosh. I had hoped to buy a new Mac Pro. Unfortunately Apple has not updated it in over 2 years, and the price hurts for hardware that’s 2 years behind. No Thunderbolt, lame video card options without sufficient power supply output to run a modern 3D card, etc. It’s a great machine, but the price is fairly obscene for the age of the components and the power supply weaknesses.

I also considered a 27″ iMac, which is a very nice machine for an all-in-one, but the reality is that I need expandability that doesn’t exist on the iMac. I don’t want external drive enclosures. I also want USB 3.0. And I have a pair of 24″ 1920×1200 monitors I wanted to continue using, if just for the sake of saving money.

So in the end, my best option was a hackintosh. I considered a dual Xeon setup, but the price is high and power management is essentially non-functional on the dual Xeon hackintosh machines. My main goals here were maximum compatibility, reasonable speed, low noise (no screaming CPU fan), and simple maintenance. So I built a fairly simple (and relatively inexpensive) hackintosh based on a Gigabyte Z68 board and Intel I7-2700K CPU with an EVGA GTX570 video card. I am using a USB Bluetooth adapter and an Apple Magic Trackpad since I’ve become addicted to all of the gestures over the last few years. I considered a watercooled video card, but in the end decided I didn’t want the maintenance I’ve had to deal with on my watercooled machines. The Corsair H100 is dandy for my CPU, and since I don’t play 3D games on my computer, my video card isn’t really subject to high heat conditions.

The gory details can be found on my hackintosh1 page. As of today, I have most everything working, including (finally!) sleep and wake. There are some nits with USB connections with my iPhone, but it works if I use particular ports. I have a few items left on the wish list like the SSD, 16G more memory and a new keyboard, plus software. But I’ve been using the machine as my primary desktop for the last 2 weeks and I’m a happy camper. My libDwm library compiles in 7 seconds with no overclocking, which is much faster than was possible with my old dual 32-bit Xeon FreeBSD workstation. I’m also not memory-constrained as I was on that machine. At this point, I can settle in and just use the machine and add my planned upgrades at my leisure.

Kudos to the web sites that support those of us with hardware needs that aren’t met by Apple: tonymacx86.com, insanelymac.com, osx86.net and others. While I’m a strong supporter of Apple and own (and love) some of their hardware (and have spent many thousands of dollars on it over the years), right now they don’t have desktop hardware that meets my needs at a price point I can tolerate. Hopefully that will change in 2013, but I’ve become very wary of waiting for Apple desktops that meet my needs. The hackintosh fits my needs for now and at the moment is working nearly flawlessly running OS X Lion (10.7.4).

June 16, 2012

finally upgraded to iPhone 4S

by dwm — Categories: AppleLeave a comment

I’ve been limping by with an iPhone 3G since its introduction. I was hoping to wait for the iPhone 5, mostly for LTE and hopefully better battery life (I couldn’t care less about the rumored slightly larger screen size). However, my iPhone 3G has had a crack in the back of the case for a while, and its reception has been sub-par for the last 6 months or more. Most importantly, MobileMe service expires at the end of this month, and the 3G will not run the current iOS in order to use iCloud. In addition, the 3G is slow when running any 4.x version of iOS.

So I had to buy a new iPhone.

I debated switching to Verizon, since my contract with AT&T expired years ago. However, AT&T’s plans better meet my needs. I need to be able to tether, and I need more than 2G data per month. Their 5G plan with hotspot works for me. I had to give up my unlimited data plan, of course. The reality is that I don’t need an unlimited plan without tethering; I use my WiFi at home for most fat content. The hotspot allows me to use my phone as a 3G modem for my MacBook Pro, which I need when I’m working somewhere without WiFi.

I bought a white 32G iPhone 4S with AT&T. I bought it at the Apple Store in the Twelve Oaks shopping mall in Novi, Michigan. If buying an iPhone, I can’t more heartily recommend going to an Apple Store instead of the carrier. The brick-and-mortar Apple Store experience continues to be fantastic, and you’ll leave the store feeling like you just had a glimpse of what the face-to-face retail experience should be. And if you’re using the Apple Store app,you might feel like you’re stealing. 🙂

I’m using a Speck Candyshell Grip case, in yellow. It’s not really the one I want, but of the cases available in the local Apple Store, it’s the one I like the most.

I’m enjoying Siri and other features sorely missing from my old iPhone 3G, but most importantly… I’ve made the switch from MobileMe to iCloud and can rest a little easier.

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