iFixit Tears down the new Macbook Pro keyboard

Sam Lionheart for iFixit:

The 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard is a wealth of secrets—it just keeps surprising us. Just when we think we’ve exhausted one vein of tasty tech ore, we find something new. And today, we bring this trove to you. If you’re not excited for a deep dive, check out our keyboard teardown for a more photo-driven experience.

[…]

We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!). Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules. On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet. Time will tell how long the barrier will hold up.

[…]

Apple’s patent application is pretty broad, basically taking ownership of any flexible barrier under a keyboard. This implementation lacks the “bellows” function intended to blow particulate away from the mechanism; the gaps in the membrane are for keycap attachment, and to allow key presses without interference from an air cushion. Figure 2 in the patent lays out the layers we saw in our teardown, but showcases a secondary keycap layer not present in this design. What we found is closer in spirit to Figure 5, wherein the keycap clips pass through the membrane to attach to the butterfly mechanism. The membrane in its present form covers more of the central area of the switch than Figure 5 shows, and does not “couple” to either the keycap or mechanism, but lies sandwiched between them.

[…]

Okay, so why does all this matter? Apple has a proven track record of failure for these keyboards. They’re being accused, by way of several class-action lawsuits, of knowingly selling failure-prone keyboards. Apple may claim that they design products to last—and that designing for repairability compromises the durability of a device—but this keyboard misadventure belies those points. If a single grain of sand can bring a computer to a grinding halt, that’s not built to last. If said computer can only be fixed by throwing half of it away and starting over, that’s not built to last. We’re definitely excited to see improved protection on these machines—consumers deserve it with the prices they’re paying. But if Apple had designed their keyboards for longevity in the first place, instead of chasing thinness at all cost, maybe we’d be in a whole different timeline, where MacBooks are repairable, and they never canceled Firefly

Adobe Working on a Full Version of Photoshop for the iPad

Mark Gurman and Nico Grant writing for Bloomberg:

Adobe Systems Inc., the maker of popular digital design programs for creatives, is planning to launch the full version of its Photoshop app for Apple Inc.’s iPad as part of a new strategy to make its products compatible across multiple devices and boost subscription sales.

The software developer is planning to unveil the new app at its annual MAX creative conference in October, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The app is slated to hit the market in 2019, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private product plans. Engineering delays could still alter that timeline.

This is part of multiyear plan by rewrite most, if not all, of the Creative Cloud tools for tablets as more and more creatives work off tablets rather than traditional workstations.

Ex-Apple worker charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

U.S. authorities on Monday charged a former Apple Inc employee with theft of trade secrets, alleging that the person downloaded a secret blueprint related to a self-driving car to a personal laptop and later trying to flee the country, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

The complaint said that the former employee, Xiaolang Zhang, disclosed intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car startup and booked a last-minute flight to China after downloading the plan for a circuit board for the self-driving car. Authorities arrested Zhang on July 7 at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint.

“Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously,” Apple said in a statement. “We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”

[…]

In April, Zhang took paternity leave following the birth of a child and traveled with his family to China, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

When Zhang returned, he told his supervisor he planned to resign, move back to China and work for Xiaopeng Motors, an intelligent electric vehicle company headquartered there with offices in Silicon Valley, the complaint said.

Since leaving Apple, Zhang had been employed by Xiaopeng Motors’ wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary XMotors.

Zhang’s supervisor called Apple security officials, who discovered that Zhang had run extensive searches of secret databases and had come on to Apple’s campus on April 28, when he was supposed to be on paternity leave, the complaint alleged.

While on campus, the complaint alleges, Zhang took circuit boards and a computer server from a self-driving car hardware lab, and his Apple co-workers showed him a “proprietary chip.”

XMotors said in a statement on Wednesday that it is “highly concerned” and that “there is no indication that (Zhang) has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors.”

[…]

Zhang told Apple officials he had taken the hardware from the lab because he wanted to transfer to a new position within Apple and thought it would be useful to him, the complaint said.

Zhang also allegedly downloaded data to a personally owned computer, including a 25-page secret blueprint of a circuit board for a self-driving car, which investigators described as “the single file” that “serves as the basis for the instant criminal charge.”

FBI agents questioned Zhang and served a search warrant at his house on June 27, according to the complaint. Agents learned he had purchased a “last-minute” round-trip airline ticket for China on July 7 and arrested Zhang at the airport, according to the complaint.

Wow, that’s some real life corporate espionage right there from the sounds of it.

Linux apps on Chrome OS coming to 18 more Chromebooks

Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:

Eighteen more Chromebooks are getting support for Linux apps on Chrome OS, with laptops based in Intel’s Apollo Lake architecture now able to run the applications, via XDA Developers.

That list includes computers from Lenovo (Thinkpad 11e Chromebook), Acer (Chromebook Spin 11 and Chromebook 15), Asus (Chromebook Flip), and Dell (Dell Chromebook 11) — check the full list at XDA’s site to see if your machine is included.

Previously, Linux apps worked on the Google Pixelbook and Samsung Chromebook Plus, but support for the Apollo Lake machines should open it up to a much wider range of users — and more importantly, to a much wider range of laptop price points.

The update is still in the works, so Canary and Developer channel users will see the added support first, with customers on the main, final Chrome OS branch not set to get the update until the next version of Chrome (Chrome 69) rolls out later this year.

I’ve been testing this on my Pixelbook for the last couple weeks and it’s been pretty handy, so seeing more devices getting support is nice.

Apple Engineers Its Own Downfall With the Macbook Pro Keyboard

  • March, 2015: Apple introduces butterfly keys in the 2015 MacBook
  • October, 2016: Apple introduces butterfly 2.0 in the Late 2016 MacBook Pro. We note in our teardown, “The keycaps are a little taller at the edges, making keys easier to find with your fingers. The switches have likewise gained some heft.”
  • Late 2017: Keyboard complaints begin to roll in
  • June 2018: Apple announces keyboard replacement program

The first-gen butterfly keyboard showed up in 2015, but the real root of the problem dates back to 2012 in the very first Retina MacBook Pro. That radical redesign replaced their rugged, modular workhorse with a slimmed-down frame and first-of-its-kind retina display.

And a battery glued to the keyboard.

The new notebook was universally applauded by tech pundits, with one notable exception: my team at iFixit. Unlike the rest of the tech media, we don’t judge products for their release-day usability or aesthetics—we focus on what will happen when the device (inevitably) fails. How time-consuming (and therefore expensive) is it to open? Can broken components be replaced individually, or will you have to swap out more expensive larger modules? Our score provides a consumer with an educated guess of repair costs before they buy the product.

The basic flaw is that these ultra-thin keys are easily paralyzed by particulate matter. Dust can block the keycap from pressing the switch, or disable the return mechanism. I’ll show you how in a minute.

[…]

So you can’t switch key caps. And it gets worse. The keyboard itself can’t simply be swapped out. You can’t even swap out the upper case containing the keyboard on its own. You also have to replace the glued-in battery, trackpad, and speakers at the same time. For Apple’s service team, the entire upper half of the laptop is a single component. That’s why Apple has been charging through the nose and taking forever on these repairs. And that’s why it’s such a big deal—for customers and for shareholders—that Apple is extending the warranty. It’s a damned expensive way to dust a laptop.

[…]

Thin may be in, but it has tradeoffs. Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.

This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.

 

Jason Snell on Macos Mojave

Jason Snell:

Personally, I’m more excited about macOS Mojave than any recent macOS beta. The new dark mode alone is a huge change in what we have come to think of as the Mac interface, and the changes to Finder have an awful lot of potential. I’m also really happy to be able to control my HomeKit devices directly from my Mac, either via the Home app or Siri.

Free Trials from Apple’s Perspective

Drew McCormack:

I don’t want to get into a point-by-point debate on the topic; instead, I want to do something that I haven’t seen anyone do: try to understand why Apple don’t want the sort of free trials that are being demanded.

Apple currently allows free trials in two forms: if you sell subscriptions, you can give customers a free month to try the app; and, you can give your app away free, and offer a free In-App Purchase (IAP) to unlock all features for a fixed period of time.

So why does Apple allow these forms, but not offer a more formal version of free trials? Most developers seem to assume they are deliberately ignoring their protests, for no good reason, or that they simply are not willing to dedicate the resources to solve the problem. I doubt both of these assumptions. I think Apple have probably thought long and hard about it, and concluded that the options they have introduced are actually better than the free trials developer’s are requesting.

How Apple can fix 3D Touch

Eliz Kilic:

It’s been almost 4 years since its first introduction, yet people don’t know/use 3D Touch. Why would they? Even tech-savvy users don’t know which buttons offer 3D touch. Let alone regular users.

What would happen if we decide to make all links same color and style as the regular text? People would not know what to click on right? Why is 3D Touch be any different? We rely on our vision to decide actionability before anything else. If you can’t distinguish 3D Touchable buttons from those that are not, how are you supposed to know you can press on them?

On The Sad State of Macintosh Hardware

Quentin Carnicelli:

At the time of the writing, with the exception of the $5,000 iMac Pro, no Macintosh has been updated at all in the past year.

  • iMac Pro: 182 days ago
  • iMac: 374 days ago
  • MacBook: 374 days ago
  • MacBook Air: 374 days ago
  • MacBook Pro: 374 days ago
  • Mac Pro: 436 days ago
  • Mac Mini: 1337 days ago:

Worse, most of these counts are misleading, with the machines not seeing a true update in quite a bit longer. The Mac Mini hasn’t seen an update of any kind in almost 4 years (nor, for that matter, a price drop). The once-solid Mac Pro was replaced by the dead-end cylindrical version all the way back in 2013, which was then left to stagnate. I don’t even want to get started on the MacBook Pro’s questionable keyboard, or the MacBook’s sole port (USB-C which must also be used to provide power).

[…]

Rather than attempting to wow the world with “innovative” new designs like the failed Mac Pro, Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Apple finally has the right attitude about notifications in iOS 12

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

There were a lot of great features announced last week at Apple’s WWDC, but the one that’s going to have the biggest effect on my day-to-day life is the overhaul to how notifications are managed in iOS 12.

Back in April, I detailed four things that Android does better than the iPhone when it comes to notifications. With iOS 12, Apple has taken care of three of them. Notifications can be grouped, it’s easier to make them silently appear, and, most importantly, you can directly manage settings from the notification itself. Android P still claims to do a better job of prioritizing notifications, but three out of four isn’t bad.

I suspect that the features Apple added to iOS 12 will go a very long way toward helping people get control over their notifications. Dealing with notifications was one of the iPhone’s most glaring UI deficiencies compared to Android, and I am glad to see something a little closer to parity coming.

[…]

More important than a bulleted list of features is what I think is a change in attitude about notifications inside Apple. In years past when I’d complain about them, I would basically hear a message that trying to manage your entire phone experience through a notification center was a recipe for a bad experience. That’s perhaps true, but it also missed the point: the increasing influx of notifications was real, and we need a better way to handle them.

With iOS 12, I see Apple actually contending with that bare fact. Along with the basic changes to managing the notifications, it also added the Screen Time feature to help you manage how much time you spend on your phone. (Google announced a similar thing for Android P, but the likelihood that a majority of Android users will get P in the next six months is tiny.) Apple also added more nuanced controls for Do Not Disturb.

Taken together, I see a shift away from treating notifications as a feed of information you just dip in and out of. It’s a recognition that notifications are like email: some are very important, most are not, and we need ways to differentiate between them.

Some of the iPhone’s new notification features are deeper and more interesting than I first realized. You can set time limits and location limits for when DND should end, but Apple is also using on-device analysis to suggest it. When a meeting pops up, Siri might send a notification saying your meeting “looks important! Turn on Do Not Disturb until the end of this event.”

[…]

What’s important about this attitude shift is that Apple is adding quite a bit of complexity to iOS. It’s a recognition that hard problems like notifications sometimes require complicated solutions. Whether or not Apple has struck the right balance of simplicity and complexity is a matter for the review, but for right now, I think I can speak to the philosophy of it.

Apple is leaving the default behavior pretty simple but giving us slightly faster ways to dive into its complex underpinnings. For example, tapping “Deliver Quietly” doesn’t do anything magical. It just sets up some already-existing settings for how a notification should arrive. Preventing notifications from buzzing your phone in one step is a great, helpful thing that tons of people will use. If you want more complexity, you can go in and mess with more discrete settings like Temporary vs. Persistent banners yourself. But you don’t have to.

Another example of contending with complexity is that Apple is finally recognizing that a ton of apps have their own in-app notification settings in addition to the global settings. For example, a news app has different categories of news, and a sports app has notifications for your team. Apple has made it easy for developers to deep-link into their in-app settings and put those links at the bottom of the global settings. It also put them in the pop-up for when you want to turn off notifications, giving developers one last chance to stay on your lock screen.

There’s another change that didn’t get mentioned on the main keynote stage but inside one of the developer sessions instead: Designing Notifications. Until now, developers only had a blunt instrument for sending you notifications: a pop-up asking if you want them. With iOS 12, developers can send their first notification directly to the Notification Center without asking your permission. That sounds awful, but the first time one appears, it will do so along with a prompt asking if you really want them or not.