Notes From Apple’s October 2016 Event

new-macbooks
Macbook Pro photo by Apple

Apple held an event today at their Town Hall in Cupertino to announce new Macs. Here’s what got announced.

Accessibility

Apple opened with a video produced using their accessibility features, and announced a new accessibility website demonstrating them. As I get older I find myself using more of these features, so I am glad they are there for everyone. We will all need to use accessibility features eventually.

Apple TV

Tim Cook announced Minecraft coming to the Apple TV before the end of the year.

The big Apple TV announcement was a new app simply called TV. Apple’s Jen Folse demonstrated the new app that gathers together all of the shows and movies you are watching from any source (iTunes, Showtime, CBS, etc) in one place. It’ll keep track of what you’re watching, and let you know when a new episode is available. Or offer new suggestions from whatever apps support the feature.

The TV app will also keep track of your television service authentication. So, if you’ve  signed into your brother’s Comcast account, you shouldn’t need to re-authenticate into every new app that supports that login.

Folse also demonstrated viewing live programming via Siri. Tuning into the news or football worked smoothly, but It is kind of strange that live TV isn’t part of the TV app.

TV will be available for Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad, this December.

Touch Bar & New Macs

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Macbook Pro photo by Apple

Tim Cook introduced a video featuring their new MacBook Pro with a touchscreen bar at the top of the keyboard that dynamically changes to suit whatever applications you’re using. It’ll replace the row of function keys. Phil Schiller was on stage to introduce the new Macs and explain Apple’s reasoning behind the change. The marketing name for the touchscreen bar is Touch Bar. That sounds like a place I wouldn’t like to drink.

Schiller’s reasoning for this change was that the function keys are 45 years old, and that Apple had been replacing them by default for years with various overlaid functions like laptop brightness, multimedia keys for playback and volume, and other functions specific to macOS.

These overlays on the function key strip have changed to accommodate new features in macOS over the years, and it was always strange if you had a laptop that didn’t have the most current function-key overlay to launch features like expose that gave you an overview of all your open application windows.

The function keys are still available by holding down the function-key (fn) modifier on the keyboard, but the Touch Bar is split into a few sections.

An application area to the left displays functions relevant to the currently running application, like a photo carousel to swipe through. Craig Federighi demonstrated a series of functions for Mail that give quick access to replying to a message and then once you’re typing the Touch Bar will display suggestions similar to an iPhone’s predictive suggestions. While typing up these impressions and switching between the Notes app on my Mac and iPhone I noticed how much more annoying it is to have to reach into the right-click menu on the Mac, which is full of options, just to get the most important ones like replacing a spelling mistake with a suggested word.

As someone who is frequently in the terminal, I appreciated that Apple demonstrated a set of touch bar keys for their Terminal application. That is particularly handy for getting back an escape key even if it is virtual. While macOS is going to offer a setting to use caps-lock as the escape key, I would probably still prefer a permanent physical escape key on the keyboard over a virtual one.

To the right of that, in about a third of the Touch Bar area is the control strip that gives you access to all of the features that were previously overlaid on the function-key area like volume control. Since macOS Sierra introduced Siri to the Mac, there’s a button to access Siri in the Control Strip and that is a feature you might have previously expected to replace a physical key on the keyboard.

Each of these first two sections, the application area and the control strip, are customizable to display the controls you want.

Many of the new virtual controls on the Touch Bar will offer functionality that was previously only available through keyboard shortcuts, but will now be surfaced to anyone who jumps into an application on one of these MacBook Pro laptops.

All of the way to the right of the Touch Bar is a Touch ID sensor as seen on the iPhone. In addition to replacing the power button, this fingerprint reader logs you into your Mac and authorizes Apple Pay purchases through websites that support the functionality. Users can also switch to their desktop by scanning their fingerprint.

The new MacBook Pro laptops have a T1 chip which includes a version of what Apple calls the Secure Enclave that stores your fingerprints and protects them from being accessed by malicious software.

This is the first major MacBook Pro redesign in a long time and both the 13 and 15 inch versions are thinner and weigh less than the previous versions of the MacBook Pro. The new design is more in-line with the MacBook. New color options for the finish are silver and space gray.

Unfortunately these new MacBook Pro’s are losing the MagSafe connector. Before it was introduced, I had broken at least two laptops by tripping over the power cord and pulling my MacBook off a table like an idiot. The magnetic connector of MagSafe was one of the most important quality of life improvements to Mac laptops and a feature that I can’t ever recall a Windows laptop successfully cloning.

Replacing the MagSafe power connector, and all of the older USB options, are four USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C ports. Intel and Apple call these  Thunderbolt 3 ports. Any of the USB-C connections can be your power adapter port. Apple demonstrated them alongside a new 5K monitor from LG that also charges the laptop. It’s called the LG UltraFine 5K display, it is also a signal that Apple is unlikely to be in the monitor business in the foreseeable future.

Although both laptops are faster than their previous-generation counterparts, the 13 inch MacBook Pro only has integrated graphics while Apple has chosen AMD’s Polaris architecture chips for the 15 inch MacBook instead of Nvidia’s 10-series.

There is also a new 13 inch MacBook Pro without some of the new improvements like the Touch Bar. It’s designed to be a step up from the regular MacBook and MacBook Air. The Air is now the thickest laptop Apple sells, which is kind of ridiculous given the name.

All of the new MacBook Pro laptops have a base configuration with 256 gigabyte SSDs, the 13 inch models have 8 gigabytes of RAM. The 15 inch has 16 gigs.

They’re all available from Apple to order today, although the 13 and 15 inch models with the Touch Bar won’t ship for a few weeks.

The new 15 inch MacBook Pro looks like a great laptop to replace my late 2013 15 inch MacBook Pro some day, but it has been 742 days since the Mac Mini was updated, and 1,044 days since the Mac Pro was updated. Apple sells a lot of laptops, but I’m disappointed that desktop Macs without integrated screens are dying and Apple did not address users looking for those options during this event.

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Jack Slater

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