Apple announces “Self Service Repair” program: parts and tools for customers

In a move that caught just about everyone off guard, and that is surely intended to head off any “right to repair” bills, Apple today announced a new repair program for customers. The “Self Service Repair” program makes parts, tools and manuals available to customers. At first the program will support iPhone 12 and 13 models, followed soon after by M1 Macs. It will start in the US early next year and expand to other countries throughout 2022.

From the PR:

Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “In the past three years, Apple has nearly doubled the number of service locations with access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and training, and now we’re providing an option for those who wish to complete their own repairs.”

Customers looking to repair their devices will purchase replacement parts, tools and manuals through a new online store. When the repair is completed, the user will send the defective part back to Apple and receive a credit. From the PR:

To ensure a customer can safely perform a repair, it’s important they first review the Repair Manual. Then a customer will place an order for the Apple genuine parts and tools using the Apple Self Service Repair Online Store. Following the repair, customers who return their used part for recycling will receive credit toward their purchase.”

Of course, the devil is always in the details. How much these self service repairs will cost end users remains to be seen.

Still, this is a huge course correction for Apple and a mammoth win for right to repair.

M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pro models announced

It was no surprise that we were going to see new 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pro models sporting M1 variants of the “pro” variety, but Apple still managed to throw a surprises in to the event.

First, there wasn’t much mention of 120hz refresh rates on the new OLED displays, but that’s exactly what we got. And just like the new iPhone 13 Pro, these displays use a variable refresh rate, so your display won’t be burning thru your battery while running at 120hz when it doesn’t have to. Nice.

Second, there was the unfortunate surprise of the display featuring a notch. A bloody notch. And the worst part about the notch is that it doesn’t come with the benefit of FaceID. It is what it is, but it was the one feature that made me wince during the reveal.

Most of the other stuff that was rumored – return of HDMI & SDXC I/O, MagSafe, and the abandonment of the TouchBar was spot on. Lost in those rumors was that in addition to getting the function keys back, Apple included full size function keys – a first for an Apple notebook.

Design

This design iteration is a first for Apple in their mobile space. For the first time (at least that I can remember), Apple listened to the feedback given on the prior model (the 2016 MacBook Pro refresh), and backtracked on just about every design decision made for that iteration. Specifically, Apple has finally realized that chasing the tail of the ‘thin and light’ beast is not something customers want in a laptop with a “Pro” designation. The 16″ model is a small bit larger than the prior version, and a good bit – .4 lbs – heavier. I’m sure most Pros would rather the performance not suffer at the hands of thinness and lightness. The 14″ has no direct analog on the prior iteration, so obviously it’s a bit larger and heavier than the 13″ model it is replacing.

CPUs

The real star of the show was Apple Silicon. The “pro” M1 variant got two flavors – the M1 Pro, and the M1 Max. Both the 14″ and 16″ models are configurable with either the Pro or Max. The big difference between the Pro and the Max comes down to GPU cores and Memory. The Pro features 16 GPU cores and can have up to 32GB of unified RAM. The Max features up to 32 GPU cores (there’s a 24 GPU core variant available as well), and 64GB of RAM. Of note – if you choose an M1 Max CPU, you can not get less than 32GB of RAM.

Apple did their usual proclamation of “fastest chip ever”, but as is customary at this point, didn’t provide any real meaningful specs to their testing.

While benchmarks like Geekbench and Cinebench will undoubtedly show these SoCs to be the best that Apple has produced, the real benchmarks that will really get people’s eyes to open are when encoding/decoding or rendering video with H.264/265 and ProRes/ProRes RAW formats. Apple has included an on chip Media Engine that will massively improve these tasks. And in the M1 Max, you get double the chipset for these features. If Apple hadn’t already cemented it’s position for the best laptops for video editors, these machines will certainly seal the deal.

The machines can be configured in a myriad of ways – two screen sizes, two colors (silver and space gray, as per usual), three memory configs, 5 SoC options, and SSD options from 512GB all the way up to 8TB. Also, with the base config 14″ model, you can opt for the larger 96W charger for $20. That’s a nice move.

I’m guessing the new models are popular and have a good bit of pent up demand, as Apple’s website was seriously overwhelmed for a few hours after the models went live, and nearly immediately showed most custom configs at least a month delay in delivery.

As for myself – I opted for a 14″ model, with the M1 Max using the 24-Core GPU, 64GB of RAM and 4TB of SSD storage. I’ll have a full review when it arrives sometime in early November.

Apple iPhone 13 Event

The yearly iPhone 13 event has come and gone, and pre-orders for the new devices (except for the Apple Watch Series 7) have begun. I was pretty adamant, based on the rumors, that I would skip the iPhone 13 and stick with my trusty Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro. However, a few things changed my mind.

First, the upgrades this year are pretty modest. But, when you are dealing with a product as mature as the iPhone, you aren’t going to get revolutionary features every year.

What did we get? With the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13, we got bigger batteries, slightly better camera lenses and sensors (though still limited to 12 megapixels), a new sensor shift (ie, image stabilization) feature, and of course, a new processor – the A15 Bionic. The new processor is the key feature, as it powers some nice new software features. Specifically, the Cinematic Mode that is present on all the iPhone 13 models. This feature allows you to perform rack focus in video, something that is sure to elevate the iPhone 13 from a nice tool to augment filmmakers, to one that can be at the center of their workflows. Another software upgrade to the camera app, Photograph Styles, allows you to apply photo filters to the live image while you are shooting to see what the filters will look like before you capture the shot. Apple claims that these filters apply only to the areas of the photo that you would want them to – specifically, leaving skin tones as natural.

The Pro models now feature the same identical camera systems, so the only real differentiator between the Pro and the Pro Max now are battery life and screen size.

What Apple did to differentiate the standard models from the Pro models this year is small tweaks throughout the features. These consist of:

  • 120hz refresh rate. This adaptive refresh rate ramps up and down depending upon what you are doing. But with support at 120hz for games, the gaming experience on the Pro models is going to feel significantly more premium than the base models. The big question is how will this affect battery life. I’ll let you know when my iPhone 13 Pro arrives.
  • More RAM (4GB on the iPhone 13 Mini/13, 6GB on the Pro/Pro Max)
  • Extra GPU Core – 4 on the standard models, 5 on the Pro
  • Batter cameras with faster apertures for the wide, ultra wide. Ultra wide cameras on the Pro models also feature auto focusing capabilities, giving them the ability to perform macro shots.
  • Ability to shoot in ProRes video recording. This is coming in a software update later this year. The ability to shoot in 4K ProRes is limited to the 256GB models (ProRes video formats created incredibly large files, and 128GB wouldn’t be enough to store more than a few minutes of 4K footage). 128GB models can shoot in 1080p ProRes.

So the value proposition is this: Apple improved the overall base model iPhone 13 experience in the batteries, cameras, processors, and added some nice video features (Cinematic Mode/Photograph Styles). The main reason to buy the 12 Pro (apart from the larger screen/battery of the 12 Pro Max), comes down to a better gaming experience, better photographic and video hardware and software), and the increased RAM giving your device the ability to keep more apps running simultaneously. I find the Pro value proposition quite smaller and more targeted this year than most other years. I’d really recommend the Pro models to people who either have to have the larger display size of the Pro Max, or people who actually use their phones for semi-pro or professional video applications. Everyone else will be better served to stick with the iPhone 13 standard models.

Apple Watch

So the Series 7 Apple Watch is one of the smaller updates to date. It received a small upgrade in screen size, and really… not much else. There’s speculation based upon supply chain leaks about what was expected vs what was delivered that Apple scrapped the real Series 7 plans a few months ago, and instead scrambled at the last minute to put together a substitute release. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it definitely feels like this release is small compared to other years. No new ground breaking applications for the Series 7, just small refinements to screen size and some other software editions. If you have a Series 6, you can save your money until next year and not feel like you are missing out on a lot.

iPad

The iPad mini got an update that brings it inline with the iPad Air. There’s no more Home Screen button, replaced with the fingerprint reader on the power button like the iPad Air. I’m not a fan of this design, as you get a mixed experience – navigating your iPad with gestures like you have FaceID, but authenticating with putting your finger on the power button, which, depending upon how you are holding the device, can be a bit of a disruption.

Otherwise, you get a slightly underclocked A15 chip in the mini, 5G support (in the cellular models, but no mmWave support), and some new colors. Fans of the minis form factor will probably be happy that it got some love, but at a $499/649 price point. for 64GB/256GB configurations, the mini isn’t the value proposition it once was.

The base model iPad got a small update as well. It is now sporting an A13 processor and a true-tone display. The base model also went form 32GB to 64GB. The entry level iPad remains one of the better technology buys at $329, not just from Apple, but from any company. The spec bumped version now features 256GB of storage, but at an increased cost of $479. Otherwise both still use the same accessories and case sizes as before.

So what swayed me to get the iPhone 13 Pro instead of holding steady with my 12 Pro? First off, the new Cinematic Video features look impressive, and will be a welcome addition to my videography toolset. Second, the addition of macro photography is another feature that I could justify upgrading for. Finally, the improvement in battery life sealed the deal. Battery life on my 12 Pro hasn’t been bad, but I’ve noticed in the last month or so that I’m running out of battery regularly before the day is over. The Battery Health is rated at 88%, so I’ve had 12% degradation in about a year of everyday use. This isn’t terrible, but it’s enough that had I kept my iPhone 12 Pro, I probably would have opted for a battery upgrade before the year was out. Upgrading to the new model solves that problem for me, and gets me some very nice photo/video features as well.

WWDC 2021: No new hardware

World Wide Developers Conference 2021

All the rumors pointed to new M1X MacBook Pros being released today at WWDC, but it did not come to pass. Perhaps the global chop shortage is to blame. Or maybe it’s the constrained availability of the mini LED displays expected to be used in the 14″ version. Whatever the reason, we will have to keep waiting for new professional M1 powered Mac laptops.

Hopefully Apple drops these before July. I have a kid heading off to college in August, and I was hoping to send her with my current work machine, the M1 MacBook Air, while I moved up to the 14″ MacBook Pro. But I’m kind of torn about it, as the M1 MacBook Air I have been using as my main work computer is working quite well now that Docker and Homebrew are M1 native. There have been a few quirks to work through (mostly related to NodeJS and the lack of an M1 native version for any Node version earlier than 15), but overall, it’s been a lightweight very capable dev machine. If they offered a version with 32GB of RAM and a few more USB-C ports, I’d probably not even need the 14″ MacBook Pro.

Here’s hoping to an Apple event in July.

How to tell if an application is Apple Silicon native

If you are using one of the new M1 Apple Silicon Macs, you may be wondering how to tell if an app you have is optimized for Apple Silicon. There are a couple of ways to deduce this.

  1. Get Info: The first option is to use the “Get Info” option in the Finder. Navigate to the app’s location (usually in /Applications), click on the app, and the use Command-I. Under the “General” heading will be listing for “Kind:”, with three possible options – Application(Universal), Application(Intel), Application (Apple Silicon). The Intel and Apple Silicon options should be self explanatory. The “Universal” option means that the app is a “fat binary”, containing the code for both Intel and Apple Silicon versions. “Fat Binaries” have more coverage than an app compiled for either architectures, but they are also nearly twice the size of a standard binary.
  2. Activity Monitor: If the app is already running, you can open the Activity Monitor (located in /Applications/Utilities). Here you will see a list of all running applications. In the column labeled ‘Architecture’, you will see either Intel or Apple Silicon listed. Activity Monitor shows you the code that is being executed, so even if the application is a fat binary, it will only show the platform code that is currently being run.

More benchmarks: Blender – MacBook Air M1 vs. MacBook Pro 16″ i9

A few other comparative benchmarks on the new MacBook Air M1 (16GB/512GB configuration), pitted against a MacBook Pro 16” (i9/64GB/4TB/Radeon 5500M-8GB).

Blender (running in Rosetta 2 on the M1). Demo files can be found here.

Fishy Cat (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 1 min 35 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 37 sec

Mr. Elephant (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 2 min 18 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 1 min 13 sec

Racing Car (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 13 min 22 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 8 min 52 sec

Now, of course this is hardly a fair fight. The i9 MacBook Pro has a discrete GPU (in this case, a Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB). And Blender is being run via Rosetta. But in the wake of the ridiculous walloping all the Intel Macs are receiving by these entry level M1 machines, I thought it’d be nice to share an area where the Intel Macs are still (at least for the moment) worth their money.

Apple Silicon Macs are here, and wow.

Ok, I’ll admit my previous post about the release of Apple Silicon powered Macs gave the impression that there wasn’t much exciting about the CPU switch, but boy, was I wrong.

I’ve had my hands on the M1 powered MacBook Air (with 16GB RAM/512GB SSD) for just a few hours now, and after putting it thru it’s paces, I’m floored.

I’ve run two benchmarks – XcodeBenchmark and Bruce X. These are more akin to real world benchmarks. I’m not knocking Geekbench of Cinebench, but these benchmarks involve actual applications that people will use, and actual projects that simulate what real world performance will look like. And after running each of these, and comparing it against my $4400 MacBook Pro 16″ i9/64GB RAM/4TB SSD machine, I’m floored.

Bruce X Benchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 16.03 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 11.69 seconds

XcodeBenchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 223.016 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 127.713 seconds

Again, these are real world benchmarks using real projects for Xcode and Final Cut Pro. And the MacBook Air doesn’t even have a fan. During the Xcode benchmark, the MacBook Pro’s fans spun up and were quite loud. The MacBook Air was dead silent. Of course, during sustained CPU usage the fan will be a benefit, as it will keep the CPU cooler, whereas with the MacBook Air M1, the CPU will throttle down to prevent the computer from overheating.

Here’s another comparison: I have a Logic Pro X project I’m working on that contains about a twenty tracks – 16 of which are audio tracks, the other 4 are software instruments, and of course, there are various effects applied to all the tracks. This project couldn’t play smoothly without stuttering on my MacBook Air 2020 i5 16/512GB machine. On the M1 MacBook Air, it plays as smooth as butter.

App performance isn’t the whole story though. The entire OS feels much faster. Apps (those that are Apple Silicon enabled) open incredibly fast. I’ve only tried a few apps that weren’t optimized for Apple Silicon, and the results have been great. For example, the original Pixelmator, which I still use for day to day graphics tasks, isn’t optimized for Apple Silicon. It opens quickly, and using it feels just as fast and performant as it does on my i9 MacBook Pro. Every app is different, of course, but Rosetta 2 looks like another incredible feat of engineering from Apple.

On the software development front outside of Xcode, things are a different story. There isn’t much of my everyday work toolchain that is ready for Apple Silicon yet. Stuff like HomeBrew, NodeJS, Docker and other web technologies are not quite ready for Apple’s new chip, and anyone who works with these technologies would be advised to wait before upgrading to the new machines.

But for everyone else – come on in, the water is fine.

The short of this is: If you are using your Mac for Xcode, Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X, you are going to be blown away at what these Macs with the M1 chip are capable of.

Amazon is currently dropping $50 off the price of the M1 powered MacBook Air and Pro.

Apple Silicon Macs are here, and meh.

Some quick takeaways from the Apple event today that heralded the release of the first Apple Silicon Macs.

  • Apple is still including 720p cameras in the Air and the 13″ Pro. In the age of COVID where everyone is doing virtual meetings, this is disappointing. I’m not entirely faulting Apple here, as a 1080p camera that can fit in a thin laptop LCD doesn’t exist yet (as far as I can tell, I haven’t seen one in a laptop display). Apple is claiming that the M1 chip can improve the quality of the picture in sharpness and shadows.
  • Apple is using the M1 chip in the Air, 13″ Pro, and the mini. The low end Air is using a 7-core GPU vs. an 8-core GPU in the higher end air. But apart from that, there’s no differentiation given between the models. This falls in line with Apple trying to keep the specs of it’s hardware as vague as possible. But it makes you wonder if the performance of the higher end Air and the 13″ Pro are going to be comparable. The Air doesn’t have a fan, so it will be constrained thermally compared with the Pro, but for workloads that are not sustained, it should be just as powerful as the Pro. We will see once the real world benchmarks start appearing.
  • All three of these machines max out at 16GB of RAM. The RAM is built in to the CPU itself, which should mean RAM throughput should be quite fast. But it also means no user upgradeable RAM (which allowed people buying a Mac mini to save a good bit of money handling the RAM upgrade themselves). For the Air, topping out at 16GB is fine. For the 13″ Pro, it’s acceptable – this is the low end 13″ Pro, after all, the one with only 2 Thunderbolt ports… the real 13″ Pro (with 4 ports and better RAM upgrade options should come later). For the Mac mini, it’s a letdown. You can configure the last Intel Mac mini with up to 64GB RAM. 16GB just isn’t enough to handle things like opening 100GB Photoshop files, or opening Final Cut Pro projects that are several gigabytes in size. Now, maybe Apple has optimized the architecture of these news to more efficiently page out to the SSD, but for real pros, there is no substitute for having ample RAM. I’m anxiously awaiting to see how well these RAM constrained Macs can perform with large files. We will see.
  • None of these Macs can utilize an external GPU. That’s a bummer.
  • The Mac mini is once again available in Silver, and not Space Gray like the last version. I suspect this might be because Apple is going to have a ‘Mac mini Pro’ available at some point in the future, which would (theoretically) have higher RAM options.
  • With Apple utilizing RAM on the chip, they have buyers over a barrel. Apple can charge whatever they want for a RAM upgrade (and at present they are charing a $200 differential between 8 and 16GB). This isn’t going to sit well with many users (myself included). This makes me very nervous for an Apple Silicon Mac Pro or iMac. These machines are geared towards people who usually demand gobs of RAM, and don’t want to pay Apple exorbitant fees. If these machines don’t have user upgradeable RAM, there’s going to a lot of disgruntled Pro users.
  • All three M1 Macs can drive Apple’s 6K display.
  • The M1 Mac mini features two Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 ports, and 2 USB-A ports. This is a downgrade from the last Intel Mac mini’s 4 Thunderbolt and 2 USB-3 ports. No Thunderbolt 4.
  • All the new Macs feature Wifi 6.
  • I’m surprised the Touch Bar survives on the 13″ Pro. I was convinced Apple would drop it. But it seems it does serve a purpose in differentiating the Air from the 13″ Pro. Even with powering the Touch Bar, the 13″ Pro gets significantly better battery life than the Air. A slightly chunkier chassis goes a long way towards more battery capacity.

Apple Silicon looks like it’s going to be extremely competitive with Intel chips on the low end. Hopefully they can outshine Intel on the high end end as well.

Thoughts on Apple Silicon

WWDC has come and gone, and the rumors were largely true: Apple will begin a migration to its own CPUs (which Apple is currently just calling ‘Apple Silicon‘) sometime later this year. This move had been rumored for a few years now, so it came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Apple has long strived to control the entire widget, and with this move, it will remove Intel from the product matrix, giving Apple near total control over it’s Mac’s technological composition.

Now, Apple didn’t say anything about future Macs, apart from telling us they will use Apple Silicon. But if you watched enough technical presentations from WWDC, and paid attention to some of the details, there are some pretty obvious tells.

One of the biggest tells was Apple declaring in their keynote video that future Apple Silicon based Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps directly. These apps will be available in the Mac App Store automatically, unless Developers check a box that will restrict them from appearing there. Now, many iPad apps have been gaining mouse/trackpad input support, so these apps running on an Apple Silicon Mac will probably perform as good on a Mac as they will on an iPad. But what about iPhone apps? These apps generally do not have input device support beyond touch. How will these apps function on a Mac?

Touchscreen Macs.

Apple has been saying for a decade that adding touch input to a Mac was a bad idea. But during that same time, Apple has brought mouse/trackpad/keyboard/pen input to the iPad, something it said was best controlled with touch. So all the while Apple has been claiming that the Mac with a touchscreen would be a terrible compromise, they were bringing the Mac-ness of using a keyboard/mouse/pen to the iPad. So it clearly thinks that an iPad with expanded input support beyond touch is now a good idea.

If you’ve used the macOS Big Sur beta, you’ve no doubt noticed some of the big changes to the user interface/experience. Much of the UI looks more like iPad OS now. Apple is pushing for the Macs icons to use the same ‘squircle’ shape that the iPad/iOS use. It’s made the menu bar’s top items more spaced out, as if to allow for a larger touch target. They’ve applied the same spacing to the menu bar icons as well. The modal save/don’t save/cancel dialogs now feature larger buttons, as if to accommodate fingers instead of mouse cursors.

Control Center in macOS Big Sur. It sure does look like a lot of these UI elements are optimized for touch, doesn’t it?

So basically, Apple has made numerous UI enhancements that all seem to drive towards one goal – better input with something as imprecise as a finger.

Now, maybe we won’t get touch support when the first Macs with Apple Silicon ship later this year. Nobody knows which Macs will go first, but if it is a Mac with a built in screen, there’s a strong likelihood that it will feature a touchscreen.

There’s one other observation I’d like to make. Just a few years ago, Craig Federighi said during a keynote that Apple was not merging iOS and macOS. Well, they may both remain distinct OSes particular to their own hardware, but Apple has definitely gone just about as far as merging them as you can go without actually merging them.

The Proof:

  • iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur share a common design language.
  • With Apple Silicon, you can now develop for both platforms in one app codebase, using SwiftUI.
  • You can easily bring your UIKit iPad app over to the Mac, thanks to the work of project Catalyst.

And if the above two scenarios don’t work for your iPad app scenario, you can just run the iPad app as-is on your Apple Silicon based Mac.

Now, there are still some major distinctions between the two platforms. For instance, the iPad still lacks a window manager. It is reliant on the App Store for installing new apps. The iPad security model is more restricted than the Macs. It doesn’t have legacy hardware support for the devices like the Mac does. There is still a feature chasm between the two platforms. But that chasm has grown considerably smaller. It’s small enough now that comparing the high end of the iPad (the iPad Pro), and the low end of the Mac (Macbook Air), can make choosing one of these devices for a particular task difficult. Once the Macbook Air/Pro can run all of the same software that you can run on an iPad, along with software that’s not restricted to the App Store, the chasm will be even smaller between the two platforms.

That sure does sound like the two products have merged to me.

Oh, and one final thought. The TouchBar is a goner. There was no mention of any improvements to the TouchBar API during WWDC. With touchscreen capability coming to future screen enabled Macs, the TouchBar becomes relegated to the long list of Apple technologies that never quite made sense.

Now, if we could just get Apple to add the AppleTV remote to that list.