All posts by Andrew Cunningham

macOS High Sierra tech preview: A quick look at the stuff you can’t see

Enlarge / High Sierra's default desktop wallpaper. (credit: Apple)

Even by the standards of recent macOS releases, this year’s High Sierra is shaping up to be a low-key release with few high-profile user-visible improvements. Apple’s highlight page covers quite a few things, but in most cases they’re iterative tweaks that would mostly belong in the “grab bag” section of an overview of, say, Leopard or even Yosemite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to iCloud-backed iMessages and family iCloud storage plans, but support for tables in Notes and flight status updates in Spotlight aren’t exactly life changing (not unless your life is continuously interrupted by extremely small and specific problems).

But to call High Sierra a minor release is to ignore the big under-the-covers changes it brings to the Mac, some of which have been in the works for years now. New filesystems and graphics APIs may be hard to demo to more casual users, but there’s plenty in this release that lays the foundation for more visible changes somewhere down the line.

In lieu of a traditional preview of High Sierra, we’ve browsed the dev docs and talked with Apple to get some more details of the update’s foundational changes.

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Mini-review: The 2017 MacBook could actually be your everyday laptop

Andrew Cunningham

The MacBook Air has been one of Apple's most popular, most enduring laptop designs, but that wasn't always the case. When the first version of the laptop was released back in 2008, you had to pay too high a price for its thinness and lightness. And I'm not just talking about the literal price of the thing, either, although its $1,799 starting price was steep by any standard.

No, the main problems were that its anemic port selection made it annoying to use with the accessories of the day, while the available processors and hard drives made for a really slow, frustrating computer. It was way thinner and lighter than anything else you could get at the time, but most of the compromises weren't worth it.

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Mini-review: How much faster have high-end iMacs gotten in the last 5 years?

Andrew Cunningham

Apple seems committed to the Mac Pro and iMac Pro for now, but the company says that its most popular desktops with pro users remains the 27-inch iMac.

Unlike phones and tablets, which can still post big performance gains from year to year, desktops age more slowly and gracefully. A typical replacement cycle in many businesses and schools is three or four years, and, as long as they don’t break, you can easily keep using them for years after that.

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Review: 10.5-inch iPad Pro is “pro” hardware waiting for pro software

Andrew Cunningham

Nothing Apple has done in the last three years has reversed the iPad’s sales decline, or stopped it, or even really slowed it down all that much. But 2017 has made clear that if the iPad keeps falling, it won’t be for lack of trying.

On the software side, you’ve got iOS 11, an update that makes iOS 9’s multitasking additions look rudimentary and quaint. It adds a distinctly Mac-like application dock and dramatically changes how the device runs and interacts with multiple apps at the same time. The changes allow for much-improved "window" and file management, and you can easily drag-and-drop content between apps.

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Stuff to know about all the Macs Apple updated this week

Enlarge / A MacBook Pro connected to one of Apple's external graphics devkits. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

I’ve had a new 15-inch MacBook Pro for about a day, and a 27-inch iMac is en route to my house as we speak. As such, I’m not currently in a position to post a “review” of either system. But I can tell you at least a few things about the surprisingly comprehensive Mac refresh that Apple dropped on us this week at this year's WorldWide Developers Conference.

What follows is a list of collected minutiae about the half-dozen different Macs I got to handle at the conference. This list is gleaned from conversations with Apple as well as my own observations in the limited amount of time I’ve had to study the devices. Based on the questions I've gotten about the Macs so far, this should hopefully satisfy your curiosity while I crank away on more comprehensive reviews.

The MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is still around and Apple didn't not update it on Monday, though you could be forgiven for missing the single sentence it merited during the keynote.

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Here’s hoping the iMac Pro learns from the Mac Pro’s mistakes

Andrew Cunningham

No one was allowed to touch the single iMac Pro that Apple had in its hands-on area following the WWDC keynote today. Big and dark and imposing, the computer is the first step toward making good on Apple's promises to recommit to its desktop users. It's not a new Mac Pro (a computer that's still coming, I've been assured), but it is a more concrete commitment to high-end desktops than the (nice, but straightforward) standard iMac refresh we got Tuesday.

Apple has made some cool tweaks to the iMac to earn it that "pro" moniker, specs aside. The cooling system and the vents have been entirely redesigned. A regular iMac has a single fan plus one vent in back, above the power cord and below where the stand meets the body of the computer. The Pro has two fans inside plus what appears to be a pair of long horizontal vents across the bottom, visible in the photos above. It also adds four Thunderbolt 3 ports to the normal USB 3.0 ports, plus a 10 gigabit Ethernet port. The neat black keyboard, mouse, and trackpad (sadly unavailable for purchase separately) are a nice touch, too.

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Checking out the new iPad Pros and their fancy 120Hz screens

Andrew Cunningham

I have seen the new iPad Pros, and they are about what you'd expect, not that that's a bad thing. Since the "hands on" process is basically the same as handling any other iPad, let's focus on answering questions.

The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the easiest to describe, since its physical design is the same as the original model. It's still a 0.27-inch (6.9mm) thick, 1.49 pound (677g) tablet that looks like a stretched-out version of the iPad design Apple has been selling since 2013 or so. The difference is that some of the features introduced in last year's 9.7-inch iPad Pro weren't ready for the first 12.9-inch version. That list of features includes:

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iOS 11 drops the iPhone 5 and 5C and the fourth-gen iPad

Enlarge / The iPhone 5 running iOS 10. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

SAN JOSE, Calif.—When Apple releases the next version of iOS in the fall, it’s going to leave a handful of older iDevices behind. This year, two phones and one tablet are getting the axe: 2012’s iPhone 5 and fourth-generation iPad, and 2013’s iPhone 5C.

These iPhones and iPads are definitely slower than their newer counterparts, but this time around the compatibility cutoff has less to do with things like RAM or raw performance. These three gadgets are the last iDevices to use 32-bit processors (the Apple A6 in the iPhones, the A6X in the iPad); beginning with the iPhone 5S and the iPad Air in 2013, all of Apple’s iPhones, iPads, and iPods since have included 64-bit chips.

iOS 11 will run on:

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Apple introduces a redesigned 10.5-inch iPad Pro starting at $649.99

Enlarge / The ecosystem keeps growing.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Apple's WWDC isn't usually about hardware, but the company used its keynote today to introduce a fairly major new product: a fully redesigned iPad Pro, designed to replace the current 9.7-inch tablet that debuted back in March of 2016.

The new tablet's defining feature is its new slim-bezeled design, which lets Apple fit a 10.5-inch screen into a body that's not all that different from the 9.7-inch tablet's. That larger screen is also used to fit more information: like the big iPad Pro, the 10.5-inch version can fit two "full" iPad apps side-by-side in Split View mode instead of one full app and one narrower, more phone-like app.

The new iPad pro features a bump to a spec we don't often hear much about on iPad screens: the refresh rate. Under the cover of a feature called "Pro Motion," the device's display will use a 120Hz refresh rate instead of the default 60Hz. Apple claims this will result in a better Apple Pencil input experience. The iPad Pro can also dynamically adjust its display refresh rate to fit its native content refresh rate, like with 48Hz movies.

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Apple gives the MacBook and MacBook Pros a Kaby Lake refresh

Enlarge / The one-ported MacBook. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is usually all about software, but every once in a while it brings some hardware along with it too. Today Apple provided a minor but wide-ranging refresh to its modern MacBooks and MacBook Pros, adding new processors from Intel and making a handful of other tweaks.

The new processors are from Intel’s “Kaby Lake” family, and some of them have been available for the better part of a year. Compared to the outgoing Skylake architecture, Kaby Lake introduces a gently tweaked version of Intel’s 14nm manufacturing process, provides small boosts to CPU clock speeds, and supports native acceleration for decoding and encoding some kinds of 4K video streams.

The 12-inch MacBook, last updated in April of 2016, stands to benefit the most. The low-power Y-series chips the MacBook uses see the biggest performance boost from the Kaby Lake upgrade, and Apple has also added the refined butterfly switch keyboard introduced in the MacBook Pros last year. The keyboards both have the same layout and offer the same amount of key travel, but the newer version of the keyboard has a slightly more satisfying feel. The new MacBook will also get a faster SSD.

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