Tag Archives: Mac Pro

Apple Believes in “Magic…” Perhaps Too Much?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple clients reach out to me, complaining that the wireless mice that came with their brand new iMacs had “died.” Since these new mice are meant to be recharged, I explained the process of plugging them in with their included recharging cables, and letting their batteries refill, “resurrecting” the mice, as it were. I also suggested we get a backup, wired mouse for such occasions; a mouse that could be plugged in to one of the iMac’s USB ports while its wireless cousin recharged. I suggested that we could also pick up a wired keyboard, as a backup.

And then I went to the Apple Store to pick up these wired devices. To quote the poet Biz Markie, “Oh, snap! Guess what I saw!”

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All the wired devices had disappeared… like “Magic!”

I had to confirm with the Apple employee helping me out: could it be possible that they were no longer selling wired mice or keyboards?

Not only was it possible, they told me after checking their system; that’s exactly what had happened.

Unlike Apple’s controversial moves in the past (which you’re welcome to review here), this one was done without any fanfare. Nobody announced the retirement of the wired peripherals. One day they were on the store shelves; the next day, gone.

This really is a bigger deal than you’d think. Apple had included a wired mouse with every Macintosh from its first 128K model in 1984; until 25 years later, with the Mid 2009 20-inch iMac, the last to ship with a wired “Mighty Mouse.”

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No, not you! (Source: Wired.com)

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“Here I come to save the day?” Not after 2009, you don’t! (Source: Apple.com)

In October 2009, the 21.5 inch iMac would debut with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and the new, less-trademark-threatening “Magic Mouse.” It was the first time Apple gambled that new users would prefer a wireless keyboard and mouse—although the option was still available to swap out those peripherals for their wired equivalents at purchase.

The Magic Mouse connected via Bluetooth, and it took two standard AA batteries. Not long after, Apple started selling—you guessed it—AA batteries.

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Take THAT, Energizer Bunny! (Source: pindelski.org)

Not only was the Magic Mouse sleeker, but it had the same scroll functionality as the Mighty Mouse, without requiring a separate button. Indeed, the smooth scrolling surface of the Magic Mouse put the Mighty Mouse’s fussy, easily gummed-up scroll ball to shame. It was an upgrade in every sense.

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The Magic Mouse (lower) improved upon the Mighty Mouse (upper) across the board. (Source: Macworld.com)

Apple also launched the Magic Trackpad in 2010, for desktop users who preferred a laptop-like interface, as opposed to moving a mouse around on a desk. This, too, took two AA batteries. Unlike the mouse, there had never been a wired version of the Trackpad.

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The first Magic Trackpad. (Source: Amazon.com)

The tale of the keyboard was fairly straightforward. The first Apple wireless keyboard debuted in 2003, taking four AA batteries to run. Over the years, Apple was able to streamline the keyboard’s design as well, ending up in 2007 with a low-profile Aluminum model (and this one only needed three AA batteries!)

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What a difference four years make! (Source: morrick.me)

The biggest drawback to the keyboard, other than the need to replace batteries every few months, was the lack of additional USB ports. Apple’s wired USB keyboards had included extra ports on the back or sides from 1998 until 2009, when the last new wired keyboard was introduced. It was a nice feature, not having to reach around to the back of your iMac to plug in a random USB device like a flash drive (or, say, a wired mouse). But I suppose Apple’s logic was, if your keyboard is wireless, that’s one more available USB port on the back!

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An iMac keyboard, ca. 1998. Note the USB port on its side, lower-left. (Source: Pinterest.com)

Another advantage to the wired keyboard was its usability during diagnostic tests. I’ve run into many circumstances where I had to boot a Mac into Safe Mode (holding down the Shift key); Target Disk Mode (holding down “T”); or the Apple Hardware Test (holding down “D,” or sometimes “Option-D”); and a wireless keyboard just didn’t send the right signal to the computer in time.

Or how about when my own Mac mini’s Bluetooth antenna failed, and my wireless mouse and keyboard were rendered outright unusable? On that occasion, I was very glad to have a wired backup for each.

Alas, …

After the success of the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, Apple doubled down in 2015 with the Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and the new Magic Keyboard. Unlike their wireless predecessors, these three models did away with the need for AA batteries (which Apple would stop selling in 2016). These were now sealed systems with internal batteries, rechargeable via included Lightning cables, the same as those used to charge iPhones and iPads.

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Apple’s Lightning cable. (Source: Apple.com)

It was a welcome upgrade in most cases: the Magic Keyboard was the slimmest yet, resembling the flat form factor of those found on Apple’s MacBook family of notebooks. The Magic Trackpad was wider and offered more functionality over its earlier version. And best yet, these devices did not need to go through a tedious hit-or-miss Bluetooth pairing process. Instead, one simply connected them to their computer via the included charging cables, and the device was paired, charging its battery the whole time. And while their internal batteries were charging, they could still be used—not unlike their wired equivalents from years gone by.

Except for the mouse.

For reasons known only to Apple’s Design Team, they put the charging port for the Magic Mouse 2 on the underside, rendering it unusable during pairing and charging.

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Hope you’re not planning on USING that thing while it’s charging! (Source: 9to5Mac.com)

The troubling part of this is that if an Apple user doesn’t pay attention to the mouse’s battery levels, that user could be rendered mouse-less when they need it most–as was the case of a client of mine who was in the middle of a time-sensitive writing project. We ended up getting her the Magic Trackpad 2, which she can use while it, and the mouse, are charging. I suppose there’s a sick logic on Apple’s part: instead of getting $29 for their AA battery kit back when the mouse just used AA batteries, now they got $129 for the trackpad.

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With the charging port on the back, the Magic Trackpad 2 can be used while charging. (Source: Gadgetmac.com)

So yeah, I’m not thrilled with how this went down. People shouldn’t have to buy a second pointing device to use while the other is recharging. Frankly, Apple shouldn’t be surprised if many of their users pick up an inexpensive third-party wired mouse for those occasions when the Magic Mouse runs dry.

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It may not be “Apple pretty,” but it WORKS. (Source: Amazon.com)

I’ve heard rumors that Apple’s working on wireless charging for all their devices, and I’ve even seen a mouse from Logitech that recharges wirelessly while you use it! But it’s not a perfect technology yet, and it certainly isn’t cheap. It requires a special charging mat, which still has to be plugged in somewhere.

It’s still unknown what powers Linus.

I’m also concerned by Apple’s unwavering faith in the Bluetooth standard. As I mentioned before, I had the Bluetooth go out on a Mac years ago, and I was lucky to have wired peripherals that I could rely on while troubleshooting.

It’s also not great that the rechargeable batteries aren’t removable, but Apple’s been slouching toward completely sealed systems that users can’t service for years, now. For example, the last Apple notebook with a user-removable battery was 2010’s 13-inch MacBook. I realize that ship has sailed.

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This is from Apple’s “About Mac notebook batteries” page, linked here.

It bugs me that there’s no simple solution. You can no longer request wired peripherals when buying a new iMac (the Mac mini and Mac Pro, in addition to being woefully out of date now, don’t include peripherals). It’s also too soon since the 2015 debut of the Magic Mouse 2 for them to release a new design, with a more intelligently-placed charging port.

And we’re at the mercy of Bluetooth, a technology that’s always struck me as “just good enough” since Apple first incorporated it in 2003.

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No offense, King Harald, but no technology is perfect; not even technology named after a Viking. (Source: DidYouKnowBlog.com)

Now, just watch: any day now, they’re going to release the Magic Keyboard and Mouse 3, with wireless charging and better-than-Bluetooth connectivity, and other features we can’t even imagine. After all, you can’t call it “Magic,” without having something up your sleeve!

LG’s new 5K Monitor Draws Sideways Looks

It’s an unspoken understanding in the world of computers and technology: when you buy a manufacturer’s most expensive, highest-end device, it’s supposed to be the “best” in the line. This has been the conventional wisdom at Apple for years, but today’s post is all about the frustrations that come with their latest “flagship” device, the new UltraFine 5K Display from LG.

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LG’s latest monitor, now with Apple’s seal of approval. (Source: Apple.com, click photo to go to the Apple page for this display)

First off, the conundrum: why would Apple’s newest monitor come from a third-party manufacturer? That’s anybody’s guess. Since nearly the founding of the company, Apple had made their own displays, going all the way back to the Apple Monitor III in 1980. The last standalone display manufactured by Apple was the 27″ Thunderbolt Display, introduced in July 2011, and discontinued in June 2016.

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Apple’s last in-house display, the 27″ Thunderbolt Display. (Source: 9to5mac.com)

Apple proudly unveiled their partnership with LG, in the form of the new “UltraFine” Display line, at their October 27, 2016 keynote.

The monitor was intended to complement Apple’s new flagship notebook, the 2016 MacBook Pro. This notebook is the first from Apple to feature Thunderbolt 3, a technology I discussed in a previous post.

I’m sure the new display works like a charm on the new notebook, connected natively through the new Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable. The problem I encountered came when I connected the new monitor to Apple’s flagship desktop, the Mac Pro.

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“Remember me?” (Source: Apple.com)

The cruel irony is, that while the Mac Pro was unveiled to a great deal of fanfare in 2013,  they haven’t kept up its momentum in the past three-plus years. This may change (and I certainly hope it does), but as of this writing, the Mac Pro is currently running older interfaces than its notebook siblings the MacBook and MacBook Pro. And this is where the first issue arose.

LG’s 5K display has five connection points on its back: standard AC power, one Thunderbolt 3 in, and three USB-C out (shaped the same as the Thunderbolt port, of course—markings designate which is which). Connection is a cakewalk to an equivalently-designed notebook via the included Thunderbolt 3 cable: plug it into a 2016 MacBook Pro or even a 2015 or 2016 MacBook, and you’re all set. But what if your computer doesn’t have the appropriately-shaped port?

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The ports on the back of the 5K UltraFine Display (Source: 9to5mac.com)

Solution: Apple sells adapters. Of course they do.

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Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter, shown here plugged into a 2016 MacBook Pro’s Thunderbolt 3 port. (Source: SlashGear.com)

The one I got takes the USB-C shape and adapts it to fit a standard Thunderbolt 2/Mini DisplayPort cable (see the photo above). That Thunderbolt 2 cable then plugs into the corresponding port on the computer, and the connection is complete. Interestingly, Apple does NOT sell a cable that adapts the Thunderbolt 2 port on the computer, to fit a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable, such as the one included with the new LG monitor. If I wanted to plug the 5K UltraFine Display into a Thunderbolt 2 port via this adapter, I was going to have to buy a Thunderbolt 2 cable. Of course.

Fine; I got the cable, and the adapter, and I was able to plug this new whiz-bang monitor into my client’s Mac Pro cylinder. The picture came up bright as day, and all was well, until my client explained that he needed to rotate the screen 90 degrees into “portrait mode.”

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Viewing a rotated display can be tricky if you don’t have the right settings. (Source: giphy.com)

Now, this isn’t necessarily a non-starter. The latest iteration, macOS 10.12, “Sierra,” supports rotation at 90, 180, and 270 degrees, via the “Displays” pane in System Preferences. Once I had the monitor connected, and suitably rotated on a VESA arm, (remember those?)  I went into the Mac Pro’s settings to rotate it the 90 degrees. I selected the rotation, and then… blackness.

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macOS’s “Rotation” option in System Preferences/Displays. (Source: osxdaily.com)

Luckily, the rotation setting needs the user to confirm the new setting; if you don’t click “Confirm” within 15 seconds, the screen reverts to its original orientation.

I was surprised to see this feature, which allows users to view documents and websites in space-efficient upright orientation (see below), wasn’t working on this monitor when connected to such a powerful Mac; especially when it had worked just fine on my client’s previous monitor, a 32″ Sony display from 2013 (same vintage as the Mac Pro, remember). Why would anyone take away functionality?

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The same monitor in landscape (left) and portrait orientations, here highlighting the benefit of the latter. (Source: keyliner.blogspot.com, click the photo for a 2012 discussion on monitor rotation).

I contacted LG to get to the bottom of this riddle. They explained that they don’t support rotation, and that was that. I arranged to pick up the monitors to ship them back to Apple; and the hunt for new, rotation-friendly screens continued in earnest.

I brought my Thunderbolt adapters and cables back to the Apple Store where I bought them (unlike the LG display, these were not a special order, so I could walk them back into the store to make the return). Once the return was completed, I went over to the display table where an identical LG 5K display was connected to an identical Mac Pro. I demonstrated to the Apple folks what happens when you select 90 or 270 degree rotation. (Amusingly, Mac Pros have no problem flipping the picture 180 degrees on the 5K display, but that’s not what my client needed.) I told the Apple team about what LG had told me, that this display was not rotatable, so there you have it…

Until I went over to another Apple display: this time another 27″ LG 5K monitor, connected to a mac mini. For fun, I selected rotation, and it worked!

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Amazingly, the $499 mac mini (right) can do something the $2,999 Mac Pro (left) can’t? (Source: macheat.com)

LG’s stated “non-rotation” policy notwithstanding, here’s my theory on why this may be.

The 2014 mac mini has a maximum external resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels at 60Hz when connected via its native Thunderbolt 2 connection (adapted for a Thunderbolt 3 screen). This is known as “4K” resolution (because “3.84K” sounds less impressive).

The 2013 Mac Pro, on the other hand, outputs a maximum external resolution of 5120 by 2880 pixels via Thunderbolt (proper 5K, you see). When connected to a lower-resolution monitor (such as my client’s Sony screen), the resolution peaks at whatever the monitor can handle. The Sony’s resolution was a mere 1366 by 768 pixels, so it had no problem performing the graphical gymnastics required to rotate the screen. Likewise, a lower-resolution computer (such as the Apple Store’s mac mini) isn’t going to push the limits of the 5K LG monitor; so again, rotation isn’t a problem.

The issue only seems to occur when a 5K-capable computer attempts to rotate the picture on a 5K display. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to test this hypothesis on 5K displays from other manufacturers, such as Dell or Philips; but since we’re focusing on computers and monitors both sold under the Apple imprimatur, LG is the relevant brand.

In the meantime, my client has decided rotatability is a higher priority than monitor resolution; so we’re now shopping for displays with 4k–or even lower–resolutions. I suppose that’s a more sensible course of action than, say, keeping the 5K monitors and swapping the Mac Pro for a mini.

Given LG’s recent headaches with wifi interference, it’s probably for the best that we keep looking, anyway. I’d hate to have to switch computers, and then have to move everything to the other end of the room, away from the wireless router. My client is fiercely brand-loyal to Apple, so it’s a good thing these screens are made by LG… hey, maybe THAT’S why Apple decided to let somebody else make them! ■

 

Can You Handle macOS Sierra? Okay, But Can Your Mac?

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Apple will release “Sierra,” the latest iteration of their popular Macintosh Operating System (macOS). And for the first time in my life as a Mac user, I will not be upgrading my Mac to it.

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Nice view, isn’t it? Shame I won’t be going. (Source: TechRadar.com)

I can hear the gasps now. “Is this a form of protest?” “It can’t be about money, isn’t Sierra going to be free?” “Are you abandoning Apple and going back to Windows? Is Windows 10 really that good???”

In order: No, this is not a protest. Indeed, it’s not about money; and even if they did charge for it, I believe in paying for good software. And finally, no, I am neither abandoning Apple, nor is Windows 10 that good—and stay tuned for a future blog post about that topic.

You see, I won’t be upgrading to Sierra, because Apple won’t let me. And it’s possible they won’t let you, either. (Apologies in advance: this is going to be a long post. To skip the history lesson, and to get to how this may affect you, click here.)

Some backstory: my first Mac was 2002’s Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors). Compared to the PC it replaced, it was like going from a boxy white van to a luxury sports car. It came equipped with one of the earliest versions of the revolutionary-for-its-time Mac OS X (pronounced “ten,” as it’s the Roman numeral), 10.2, “Jaguar.”

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The Power Mac G4 Mirrored Drive Door. (Source: Apple-History.com)

A quick word about naming: Apple’s naming system for OS X took after big cats from 2001’s 10.0, “Cheetah” until 2012’s 10.8, “Mountain Lion.” In 2013, they switched to California landmarks, with 10.9, “Mavericks.”

Every time Apple issued a new OS, I would buy it, sometimes waiting in line outside the Apple Store for the privilege. And these weren’t free updates, back then (circa 2003); 10.3, “Panther,” cost a cool $129 in the US. Every other year, I would upgrade: to the aforementioned “Panther” (2003); “Tiger” (2005); and “Leopard” (2007); each for $129 a pop. And I was happy to pay up, if it extended the usability of my Mac and kept it current with all the latest features.

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Apple’s “Big Cat” Operating Systems, from “Cheetah” to “Mountain Lion.” (Source: MacWorld.com)

This was the reality of my life as a Mac user, until the G4 succumbed to old age and exhaustion in 2008. I had gotten my money’s worth out of that Mac, due in no small part to the OS upgrades, so I was eager to move forward and start the cycle anew.

In early 2008, I bought Apple’s top-of-the-line tower, the Mac Pro. Weighing in at over 40 lbs., this thing was massive. If my last Mac was a luxury sports car, this was a Humvee. I had no doubt it would handle anything I threw at it, not least of which OS upgrades.

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The Mac Pro tower. (Source: MacTracker)

The best thing about my Mac Pro tower was its upgradability. It initially shipped with 2 gigabytes (GB) of memory—more than adequate for the time—and a 320GB hard drive. But the magic of this model was its room to grow over time. With its eight memory slots, it had the capability to support a maximum of 32GB of memory! That’s still on the high end today, but in 2008, it was an absurd amount.

For hard drive upgrades, I wouldn’t have to touch the drive that came with the computer; there were three empty drive bays in a row next to it, to which I could add new drives for my data. Were I feeling adventurous, I could even put in a new drive with an entirely different OS on it. This was the dawn of “Boot Camp,” which let Macs natively run Windows for the first time. A dedicated hard drive for that purpose made a lot of sense.

Finally, the Mac Pro’s tower form factor kept it competitive with Windows PCs from makers like Dell. I could add component cards as new standards were introduced, so I could augment the computer’s capabilities beyond its original design. For example, the Mac Pro shipped in early 2008 with USB 2.0 ports. November of that year would bring USB 3.0, capable of speeds about ten times as fast as the USB 2.0 standard. Luckily, several third-party manufacturers would jump on the opportunity to sell USB 3.0 upgrade cards for Mac Pro towers.

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So much room for activities! (Source: EveryMac.com)

As you can imagine, over the past 8 years, I’ve upgraded my hardware as needed (and sometimes, as not needed): my memory is now at a healthy if not outrageous 10GB. I have two hard drives running in tandem: a super fast Solid State Drive (SSD) for my OS, and a large Hard Disk Drive (HDD) for my files. I’ve added cards for USB 3.0 and Serial ATA ports. I even upgraded my graphics card to support Apple’s 27” LED Cinema Display, which requires a Mini DisplayPort connector, not standard in my Mac’s model year.

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The 27-inch Cinema Display (right), next to the Mac Pro. (Source: TurboSquid.com)

Along with those hardware upgrades, I made sure to keep the OS up to date. The good news is that when Apple released 10.6, “Snow Leopard” in 2009, they slashed the price to a mere $29 for a single-user license. With 2011’s 10.7, “Lion,” Apple stopped selling their OS upgrades on a disc in a box, altogether; this was their foray into selling the upgrade on their Mac App Store for $29.99. In July of 2012, they sold 10.8, “Mountain Lion,” for $19.99, an unheard-of price for an OS not named “Linux.”

Apple would double-down on the generosity by issuing their first “California” themed upgrade, 10.9, “Mavericks,” for free. And this wasn’t just “free to upgrade;” it was the full-fledged software, capable of being installed on a blank hard drive with no previous version on it. (Below, watch Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, wow the crowd in 2013 by announcing the new pricing scheme.)

After “Mavericks” came 10.10 “Yosemite” in 2014, and 10.11, “El Capitan,” in 2015, each still free. I downloaded each with gusto from the Mac App Store and upgraded as fast as I could. Most recently, I used the DiskMaker X app to create a USB installation stick; I installed a new SSD in my tower; and I installed El Capitan directly from the USB installer onto the clean drive. There’s just no substitute for a fresh OS install on a clean drive, something I heartily encourage for computers as old as mine had become. And it had indeed become old, despite all my tweaks and upgrades.

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DiskMaker X (click the logo for its site, DiskMakerX.com).

That’s the insidious truth of computers: eventually, no matter how many component cards you add; no matter how big or fast a hard drive you install; no matter how much memory you put in; there’s going to come a time when at its core, the Central Processing Unit (CPU) just can’t keep up with the latest software. Which brings us to the present.

In anticipation of Tuesday’s release of Sierra for free download, I went to Apple’s Sierra page on their website: http://www.apple.com/macos/sierra/

The headline there reads, “What can your Mac do now? Just ask.” This is in reference to the arrival of voice-interface Siri to the desktop (and laptop), when it had until now existed on every other Apple platform: iOS, watchOS, and most recently, tvOS.

The thing is, in my case, it might as well have said, “What can’t your Mac do now? Don’t ask.”

I took a good look at the system requirements for Sierra, and I was shocked at what I read.

“Chances are, your Mac can run macOS Sierra,” the page read, optimistically. “Mac computers introduced in late 2009 or later can be upgraded to macOS Sierra.”

I’m sorry, late when?

I couldn’t believe that my 2008 Mac Pro, which has handled El Capitan so masterfully, would have any trouble meeting Sierra’s requirements. Scrolling down, I found the “Mac Hardware Requirements” list:

• MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
• MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
• MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
• Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
• iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
• Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

For the record, there have been nine Mac Pro models since the line debuted in 2006. Mine was the third model, and Sierra won’t work on anything older than the fifth model, released only two and a half years later.

I am must admit, I was in denial upon reading this news. After all, when the first Macs with Intel chips came out in 2006, ingenious programmers found a way to run Microsoft Windows on them, not at all sanctioned by Apple or Intel, to say nothing of Microsoft! But within mere months, Apple would include official support in the form of Boot Camp, allowing Windows to run on Macs on its own, without emulators or virtual machines. Perhaps this enterprising spirit would help me to run Sierra on my obsolete er, “vintage” Mac Pro?

Indeed, there is a method for shoehorning Sierra onto unsupported Macs, thanks to the fine folks at dosdude1.com (a URL that honestly, doesn’t instill the most confidence, but hey, beggars and choosers…)

I was preparing to run this patch. I was even going to go out and buy a new SSD for it, as I didn’t want to endanger my current El Capitan installation by running this potentially shaky upgrade on top of it. But then I gave things a second look.

TrustedReviews.com is where I found the dosdude1.com link in the first place, but they placed this warning before the link:

All the usual caveats apply: installing macOS Sierra on an unsupported computer could bork it (and your data), as well as likely voiding your warranty.

On certain devices, too, the workaround will kill your Wi-Fi functionality. These are the late-2008 and mid-2009 MacBook Air, early-2008 and mid-2008 MacBook Pro, early-2008 iMac and early-2008 Mac Pro.

Barring a completely successful installation, at best I was looking at losing wifi functionality (a nonstarter in this wireless age); and at worst, a “borked” computer.

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With all due respect, Chef, nobody wants a “borked” Mac. (Source: Benjamin Higginbotham, MacDesktops.com)

It was at this point that I stopped shopping for a new SSD (and the required bracket to get it to fit in one of the available drive bays in my tower). I made the decision not to invest any more money in this tower. In whatever remaining time it has left, I’m going to stop trying to soup it up; El Capitan will be its last OS upgrade. It doesn’t need any more memory or upgrade cards. When the time comes to sell it, I’ll take out my drives and install a clean drive with none of my data on it (always good advice before selling a computer). Until that point, I will continue to use it as I have been, without spending too much mental energy on keeping up with the proverbial “Joneses.” This computer has not only served me well day in and day out since 2008; it still serves me well, and I expect it will serve its next owner well, into the future.

“That’s great,” you’re saying. “Good for you for coming to terms with the ‘circle of computer life.’ But what about MY Mac???”

(And if you skipped to this point, welcome back.)

 Again, here’s Apple’s official list of Macs that can run Sierra:

• MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
• MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
• MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
• Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
• iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
• Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

This is the first place to start, but it isn’t the last. You see, once meeting Apple’s hardware requirements, there are still the software features in Sierra that your Mac may or may not run.

Below is a chart I’ve made, covering the six models of Mac (three notebooks and three desktops), based on the new features at https://www.apple.com/macos/how-to-upgrade/

sierrachart

The upshot of all this is, if your Mac is from 2013 or later, you’re in luck. Depending on what features you can live without, many models can go even older than that. The one model with tighter restrictions is the MacBook, and that’s only because Apple hadn’t made any new MacBooks between July 2011 and April 2015.

If you’re not sure which Mac you own, click the Apple icon at the top left of your screen, choose “About This Mac,” then choose “More Info.” If you still can’t tell from that point, contact me, and I can look it up for you.

Looking closer at the requirements for the Mac Pro to get the most out of Sierra, even if I were somehow able to get it to run on my tower, the best stuff only works on the redesigned Mac Pro cylinder from late 2013. And frankly, that’s a pretty major upgrade ($2,999 at its cheapest) just so I can run the latest OS from Apple.

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The compact, new Mac Pro cylinder (left), next to its big brother. (Source: MacWorld.com)

My next computer will likely be an iMac or a MacBook Pro, unless something amazing happens with the Mac mini line (and I’m not holding my breath). I’ll miss being able to upgrade the internals as needed, but Apple’s trend away from internal upgradability isn’t exactly new. Eventually, I predict everything will be sealed with no option to add or change out parts (much to the chagrin of DIY sites like iFixit). In many cases that time is already here: none of Apple’s laptops can have its memory upgraded anymore (the last being 2012’s MacBook Pro). Macs mini have been sealed since 2014; same for the 21.5-inch iMac. 27-inch iMacs and the Mac Pro cylinder can still have their memory upgraded, and it is even possible to upgrade the storage inside the Mac Pro—but Apple would encourage you to use the zippy Thunderbolt ports on all their models and add external storage, instead.

With external storage, to say nothing of cloud-based solutions like Dropbox and Apple’s own iCloud, I could foresee a future in which the files that make our computers unique are no longer kept in internal storage where the OS lives, but outside. When it’s time to upgrade, no longer would it be a question of, “can my hardware handle the software?” Instead, we would lease our computers, the way many of us have begun to do with our iPhones, through the iPhone Upgrade Program. When the new model comes out, featuring updated hardware and software alike, we can just turn in our old model, and pick up the new device, syncing it with our externally-stored files without missing a beat.

It’s strange to think of a future where we wouldn’t own our computers; but then, the future is always hard to imagine until it’s staring you in the face, telling you your computer is too old.

Hit the Road, Jack: Saying Goodbye to a 3.5mm Hole

On Wednesday, Apple announced that their new iPhone 7 would be the first in the line not to have a dedicated headphone jack. This was met with some controversy and consternation, and I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the matter.

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The lonely Lightning port of the new iPhone 7. (Source: WhatHiFi.com, click photo for their article.)

This is Apple’s M.O.

The first thing that surprises me about the response, honestly, is anyone’s surprise at the move. Apple is notorious for moving away from older technology when they create new devices, or new versions of existing devices. Here’s a brief timeline:

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The original Macintosh (right) and the first iMac (left). (Source: MacWorld.co.uk)

1984: While IBM-styled PC manufacturers are still including 5.25” floppy drives, Apple unveils the first Macintosh computer, equipped with the smaller, yet higher-capacity 3.5” diskette drive. Apple’s last computer with a 5.25” drive would be in their II (“two”) series, the last of that line being 1988’s  Apple IIc Plus. PC makers would eventually phase out the 5.25” floppy by the early 1990s.

1998: With the iMac, Apple courts controversy again by removing the 3.5” diskette drive from this new all-in-one form factor, opting strictly for optical media; first in the form of CD-ROM, then DVD-ROM, and finally, rewritable DVD “SuperDrive,” first appearing in 2002’s Flat Panel iMac. Apple would remove the “floppy” drive from its laptops, as well; 1999’s PowerBook G3 would be the first Apple notebook to exclude the diskette drive, in favor of an optical drive.

2008: Speaking of laptops, Apple invents a new model, the MacBook Air (below), boasting unprecedented (for Apple) thinness and lightness in a fully-featured computer. One feature that is notably absent is its optical drive.

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2008’s wafer-thin MacBook Air. (Source: nextmedia.com.au)

Apple is confident, not only that users could rely upon the optional USB SuperDrive for their disk-based needs; but that program installations and media downloads would be performed over the internet, instead of coming from CDs and DVDs. This change coincides with the growth of the iTunes Store (selling music in 2003, TV shows in 2005, and movies in 2006); followed by the arrival of the App Store in 2011, from which users could download their programs directly from Apple, instead of having to insert an installation disc. Ambitiously, Apple both predicts and precipitates the massive shakeup of the disc-based media and software industries.

Apple would eliminate optical drives from its iMac and MacBook Pro in 2012, and it would redesign the Mac Pro desktop tower in 2013 and MacBook in 2015, each without optical drives as a matter of design.

2015: The aforementioned MacBook (below) marks another design change by tossing out all ports but one universal USB-C port for both charging and data interface.

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2015’s redesigned MacBook. Note the single port on the corner. (Source: abc.net.au)

This move would be a boon to the after-market USB hub industry, for users who need to plug in more than one device at the same time, to say nothing of charging the battery in the process.

As history has shown, the iPhone 7’s removal of the headphone jack is just the latest in a long string of bold moves. Anyone who wasn’t prepared for it just hasn’t been paying attention.

Thin is In

During his segment of the keynote, Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, asked the question outright: “Why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone?” He would go on to answer:

Our smartphones are packed with technologies and we all want more. We want bigger, just brighter displays. We want larger batteries, we want faster processors, we want stereo speakers, we want Taptic Engines, we want all of that and it’s all fighting for space within that same enclosure. And maintaining an ancient single purpose analog big connector doesn’t make sense because that space is at a premium.

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Phil Schiller’s inside look at the new iPhone 7. (Source: Reuters)

And he’s right. We demand a certain thinness from our mobile devices (as long as they’re not prone to bending, as was the case with 2014’s iPhone 6 Plus, shown below).

Removing the analog headphone jack not only frees up that much space on the phone’s shell, but it also allows for further technological expansion inside the phone. This could result in longer battery life, more processing power, or ideally, both.

This also means the removal of an oft-taken-for-granted component in all other smartphones: the digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Translating digital audio to conform to analog headphones requires a dedicated chip. Apple has this time opted to leave the audio processing to the headphones; be they from Apple, or from other manufacturers who can focus on higher-quality DACs without the limitations of an iPhone’s internal real estate. These chips can be built in to the plug, the cord, or the headphone itself. Some predict this will mean higher quality sound than an iPhone’s native DAC could have generated. Time will tell.

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An X-ray of last year’s iPhone 6S. Note the headphone jack in the lower-left. (Source: iFixit.com, click photo for their full teardown.)

Moving Toward A Wireless Future: CHARGE!

Apple doesn’t expect its users simply to use the iPhone’s built-in speakers for all future audio needs. After all, not only are they bundling with the new iPhone wired headphones that connect directly to the multi-purpose Lightning jack, but they’re also including an adapter (below) to allow users to plug their existing analog headphones into that jack.

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Apple’s included Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter (Source: Apple.com)

Third party companies like Belkin have already announced splitters, such as their RockStar™ (below) to allow for lightning headphone use while simultaneously charging the iPhone.

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Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar™ (Source: Belkin.com, click photo for their page.)

But wired headphones may themselves be the next thing to go. At the same keynote where they announced the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled AirPods (below): wireless earbuds that promise high-quality audio while leaving the Lightning jack free for charging (or other purposes, like an SD Card reader).

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Apple’s wireless AirPods. (Source: Apple.com, click photo for press release.)

But what if the iPhone didn’t need to plug in a cable even to recharge its battery?

Apple’s latest gadget du jour, the Watch, doesn’t require a cable to be inserted into a hole to recharge its battery; it uses a magnetic pad placed on the bottom of the watch (shown in this video narrated by Apple designer Jony Ive).

Likewise, Apple’s latest flagship tablet, the iPad Pro, features the “Smart Connector,” a row of three small circles (shown below), through which electricity can travel from the iPad to devices like keyboards; or to the iPad, from devices like the Logi BASE Charging Station. In both cases, the power goes strictly through touch, through the process of “inductive charging.”

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iPad Pro’s new Smart Connector on the edge. (Source: MacWorld.com)

Third-party manufacturers have been working toward a future with touch-only charging for years. Mophie’s Juice Pack battery case now comes in a model allowing for wireless charging, through their “Charge Force” line (see their video below to learn more).

Even furniture maker IKEA (below) has gotten in on the trend, selling wireless charging pads, and building the technology into some of their lamps and nightstands.

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IKEA’s SELJE Nightstand with wireless charging. (Source: IKEA, click photo for its page.)

I predict that iPhones will eventually have built-in wireless charging technology to take advantage of these options without needing a special case or adapter, just like some Android phones do already.

Eventually, the iPhone may not have any holes for any purpose: not charging, headphones, or anything else. This could bring about a near-hermetically sealed iPhone, with greatly improved water and dust resistance.

Conclusion

I don’t expect the removal of the headphone jack to go over smoothly, and I encourage debate on the subject. I just think that knowing Apple’s history, design philosophy, and ambitions for the future have made this a foregone conclusion. Personally, I’m ready to have one fewer wire to have to untangle.

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