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.

iPhone 13 Review

It’s hard to remember the world before the iPhone. So many things we take for granted now were the stuff of science fiction in 2007. 14 years later, and nearly an entire generation has been born in the wake of the iPhone, and they know nothing different. It’s hard for any product to keep itself relevant for a few years, yet the iPhone has evolved, improved, improvised and re-invented itself several times in that window, and is more popular today than it was in 2007 on it’s release. 

With the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, Apple focused on the main 3 areas that people want to see improvements on – battery, screen and camera. I’m going to break down the improvements in each area, and then focus on the camera, because it is clearly the biggest upgrade in this iteration.

Battery

Out of the 3 main improvement areas, battery is the least sexy. But it is probably the one that is most appreciated on a daily basis. Both Pro and Pro Max models get bigger batteries this year, and along with new efficiencies in the A15 Bionic chip, get improved battery life . 

Apple touts the Pro as receiving an increase of 1.5 hours and the Pro Max as receiving 2.5 hours more of battery life. This doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when you factor in the improvements in the second area – the screen, it’s a miracle that battery life increased and not decreased. Anyone who saw what happened when Android handset manufacturers adopted faster refresh rate panels knows what that does to battery life, and it doesn’t increase them.

Screen

The iPhone finally gets a 120hz screen. I say finally because these have been standard fare on many higher end Android phones for several years now. And yes, as I just mentioned, most of the Android phones who adopted higher refresh rate screens did so at detriment of battery life.

But Apple, being Apple, did something a bit different.

Instead of adopting a 120hz panel and calling it a day, Apple realized that having a panel refreshing at 120hz when a user is doing something static was a waste of precious power. So Apple implemented a variable refresh rate. Just sitting there looking at text on your phone screen, or a photo? The iPhone will throttle down the refresh rate to 10hz. The magic part is when you flick to scroll, the iPhone will immediately throttle up the refresh rate to the full 120hz. This adaptive refresh rate takes in to account what you are doing, and applies the necessary refresh rate all the way up to 120hz or down to 10hz. In this way, Apple took something that was done first on Android, and did it way better on iOS.

Camera

Now, Apple brought a number of camera improvements to the 13 and the 13 Pro models. The biggest is democratizing the sensor shift stabilizing that was present on the Pro Max last year, and bringing it to the Ultra Wide lens for all models, Pro and non Pro alike this year. 

Then there is the Cinematic Mode. This is feature I would have figured Apple would have saved just for the Pro models, because, well, it seems like something that could be used to justify the increased cost of the Pro or Pro Max. But since this feature really only dependent upon the improvements made in the A15 Bionic, Apple made it available to all iPhone 13 models.

But for the Pro models, Apple improved the hardware and kept the camera system the same on the Pro and Pro Max models.

The standard wide lens has been upgraded to an f/1.5 aperture. The utlra-wide lens has been upgraded to a f1/.8 aperture. And the telephoto lens, which now features a more telephoto focal length of 77m (equivalent), features a f/2.8 aperture. So you get faster glass, and you get bigger pixels. What this means is better low light performance. Of course, Apple touts better low light performance every year, so the real test is actually putting the cameras thru the paces. So let’s take a look at a bunch of photos taken with both the iPhone 12 Pro and 13 Pro. 

Conclusion

Whether you think the iPhone 13 Pro is just another iPhone or a significant entry in the iPhone’s 14 year saga will really come down to how much you value your iPhone as a camera. If you take casual pics and don’t think about things like low light photography, macro photography or portrait shots, you will probably be best served with the iPhone 13. If these details matter to you, the 13 Pro is the way to go. If you are an iPhone 12 Pro user and you are thinking of upgrading, you have to ask yourself – is $700 or so (the cost of a new iPhone after trading in your 12 or 12 Pro model) worth it to take macro pics, slightly better low light pics, or to gain a more “telephoto” telephoto lens? Are the battery improvements worth it to you? 120hz scrolling is nice, but I can tell you it’s not something I miss so much that going back to 60hz makes me feel like a caveman.

So, essentially – iPhone 13 Pro… a great upgrade for anyone not already using a 12 Pro.

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.

Apple, Google, Amazon and Parler

Big Tech creates rules of the road, and applies them inconsistently.

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 weeks or so (and if you have, I really envy you), you are probably aware of the Capital riots and the aftermath that saw Apple and Google both boot Parler from their App Stores, and then a few days later, Amazon giving Parler 24 hours to find new hosting before they kicked them off of AWS.

Now, whatever your thoughts are on Parler, you should be concerned about this concerted effort by the titans of tech to remove an upstart social media platform simply because of it’s political slant.

Google removed Parler from it’s Play Store with nary a reason. Apple at least tried to feign impartiality by giving Parler time to outline a plan it could implement that would tackle it’s “moderation problem”. Parler’s response to Apple’s query was that it would improve it’s tools to allow for ‘self policing’, meaning it would rely on other users to report bad behavior. Apple didn’t like that answer, and booted Parler from the App Store, with the condition that they could be re-instated if they improved their moderation practices.

Amazon didn’t give Parler any such “consideration”, and instead just gave Parler 24 hours notice before it deactivated their AWS account.

The rub here is that Twitter uses AWS as it’s backend. And Twitter, by distinction of being a larger platform, was used far more than Parler for any violence that was incited at the Capital and many other riots that have taken place over the last year. Hell, you could argue that violent idea domestic terrorists Antifa have used Twitter for organization and incitement of violence for four years. As if to make the point as clearly as it could be made, the same day that Parler was being booted from AWS for “incitement to violence” and lack of moderation, the phrase #HangPence was being promoted and trending on Twitter.

Yet Twitter remains an AWS customer, and is still available for download in both Google and Apple App Stores.

Tech has long told conservatives that if they don’t like the rules of the liberal platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et all, that they should go and build their own platforms.

With Parler, they did just that. Parler was a hot mess of UI and app issues, and it’s infrastructure was constantly falling over. But in spite of that, it was growing like gang busters. It was the #1 app in the Apple App Store for many months, right up until Apple booted it. Conservatives had built their own social media platform, and at the first opportunity, Google, Apple and Amazon got their guns out and shot it right in the head.

Amazon’s move is the most egregious, because without the breadth and scale of AWS, it’s hard for any up and coming social media platform to compete with the likes of Twitter. Twitter has used AWS to handle their scalability and infrastructure problems as it moved from a desktop micro blogging platform to a tool on millions of peoples phones. That Amazon took out a competitor to Twitter for purporting to incite violence, when Twitter has been used to incite violence since it’s very inception and continues to be used still, reeks of collusion. At the very least it is a demonstrable case of a company unequally applying a set of rules to two different companies.

Parler has launched a lawsuit against Amazon, and I feel they have a good shot at winning it. In the interim, Parler is working to restore it’s service, though with the bad press garnered from the shunning by Amazon, Apple and Google, they will find it hard to find a new infrastructure provider who can give them what Amazon did. Building out your own infrastructure at this scale is difficult and costly, and extremely risky when you have the titans of tech gunning for you and able to cut you off at the knees at every chance they get.

The time for Big Tech to be regulated has passed. It’s not just the repeal of Section 230 that is needed. New restrictions on these companies that hold immense power need to be enacted. Sadly, with the Biden administration in power, these companies will be publicly chided, and privately courted by those with the power. The best free speech advocates (and those persecuted by Big Tech) can hope for is wins in the courts that will make it harder for these companies to hide behind the mantra that they are “platforms and not publishers”.

Until then, expect freedom of speech online to continue to be attacked and driven to extinction.

Final Cut Pro X 10.5.1 – what kind of bullshit is this?

I use Final Cut Pro X for all my videos. I love the feature set, and I’ve been happy with the way that Apple has constantly updated it since it’s release 9 years ago and haven’t charged any users for upgrades in that time.

That said, the latest update released – 10.5.1, features a major downgrade.

Prior to this release, you could export and upload your video in one step thru the sharing feature to YouTube. This made it extremely convenient to render and upload, and set your title, keywords and description all from within the Final Cut Pro X export dialog.

With 10.5.1, Apple has replaced this with a “YouTube and Facebook” option, which just exports the video to your disk at the “recommended” export settings for those services. This is a huge step back and takes what was a once step process before, and turns it in to a multi step process.

Now, I have to export the video. Then I have to login to YouTube, navigate to the Creator portal, click Upload Video, and then find the video on my filesystem and drag it to the browser. The main thing that’s annoying is that during this upload, I feel the need not to do any serious browsing, because if I somehow cause the browser to be unstable, and it crashes, I have to start the entire upload over again.

I’m sure Apple took this route because keeping compatibility with YouTube’s upload API was resource consuming. But it was a major friction point that Apple had turned in to a simple one step process.

I really hope they listen to their users and roll this feature back to how it was.

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.