John Gruber: 16-inch MacBook Pro First Impressions

John Gruber:

Apple today is releasing its much-rumored new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

It is full of good news.

Yesterday, Apple held a series of roundtable briefings for the media in New York. There was an on-the-record introduction followed by an off-the-record series of demos.1 The introduction was led by MacBook Pro product manager Shruti Haldea, along with senior director of Mac product marketing Tom Boger and Phil Schiller. Attending media received loaner units to review. Let’s not even pretend that a few hours is enough time for a proper review, but it’s more than enough time to establish some strong broad impressions. Here’s what you need to know, in what I think is the order of importance.

[…]

We got it all: a return of scissor key mechanisms in lieu of butterfly switches, a return of the inverted-T arrow key arrangement, and a hardware Escape key. Apple stated explicitly that their inspiration for this keyboard is the Magic Keyboard that ships with iMacs. At a glance, it looks very similar to the butterfly-switch keyboards on the previous 15-inch MacBook Pros. But don’t let that fool you — it feels completely different. There’s a full 1mm of key travel; the butterfly keyboards only have 0.5mm. This is a very good compromise on key travel, balancing the superior feel and accuracy of more travel with the goal of keeping the overall device thin. (The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is, in fact, a little thicker than the previous 15-inch models overall.) Calling it the “Magic Keyboard” threads the impossible marketing needle they needed to thread: it concedes everything while confessing nothing. Apple has always had a great keyboard that could fit in a MacBook — it just hasn’t been in a MacBook the last three years.

[…]

It’s hard not to speculate that all of these changes are, to some degree, a de-Jony-Ive-ification of the keyboard. For all we on the outside know, this exact same keyboard might have shipped today even if Jony Ive were still at Apple. I’m not sure I know anyone, though, who would disagree that over the last 5-6 years, Apple’s balance of how things work versus how things look has veered problematically toward making things look better — hardware and software — at the expense of how they function.

[…]

What Apple emphasized yesterday in its presentation is not that the butterfly-switch keyboards are problematic or unpopular. They can’t do that — they still include them on every MacBook other than this new 16-inch model. And even if they do eventually switch the whole lineup to this new keyboard — and I think they will, but of course, when asked about that, they had no comment on any future products — it’s not Apple’s style to throw one of their old products under the proverbial bus. What Apple emphasized is simply that they listened to the complaints from professional MacBook users. They recognized how important the Escape key is to developers — they even mentioned Vim by name during a developer tool demo. And they emphasized that they studied what makes for a good keyboard. What reduces mistakes, what increases efficiency. And they didn’t throw away the good parts of the butterfly keyboard — including excellent backlighting and especially the increased stability, where keys go down flat even when pressed off-center. The keys on this keyboard don’t wobble like the keys on pre-2016 MacBook Pro keyboards do.

[…]

The new 16-inch display has a native resolution of 3072 × 1920 pixels, with a density of 226 pixels per inch. The old 15-inch retina display was 2880 × 1800 pixels, with a density of 220 pixels per inch. Apple didn’t just use the same number of pixels and make the pixels bigger — they actually made the pixels slightly smaller and added more of them to make a bigger display. Brightness and color gamut are unchanged. No rounded corners (like on the iPad Pro and iPhone X/XS/11) — the display is still a good old-fashioned rectangle with pure corners.

[…]

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the new “big” MacBook Pro — it replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro in the lineup at the same prices: $2400 for a 6-core base model and $2800 for the 8-core base model.

The Intel chips are the same as the ones available on the May 2019 15-inch MacBook Pro. So it goes, until Apple switches to its own chips for Macs — these are still the best laptop chips Intel makes. It’s a bit unusual, to say the least, that a major update to the flagship MacBook uses the same CPUs as the generation it’s replacing.

[…]

It feels a bit silly to be excited about a classic arrow key layout, a hardware Escape key, and key switches that function reliably and feel good when you type with them, but that’s where we are. The risk of being a Mac user is that we’re captive to a single company’s whims.

[…]

We shouldn’t be celebrating the return of longstanding features we never should have lost in the first place. But Apple’s willingness to revisit these decisions — their explicit acknowledgment that, yes, keyboards are meant to by typed upon, not gazed upon — is, if not cause for a party, at the very least cause for a jubilant toast.

John touched on more too, but these were points I found most interesting.

Apple TV, Apple TV, Apple TV, and Apple TV+

Dustin Curtis:

Apple TV is a hardware device.

Apple TV is an app on Apple TV that curates content you can buy from Apple and also content you can stream through other installed apps (but not all apps, and there is no way to tell which ones).

Apple TV is an app on iOS/iPadOS devices that operates similarly to Apple TV on Apple TV. Apple TV on iOS/iPadOS syncs playback and watch history with Apple TV on Apple TV, but only if the iOS/iPadOS device has the same apps installed as the Apple TV — and not all apps are available on all platforms. Apple TV is also an app on macOS, but it does not show content that can only be streamed from external apps on an Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS device.

Apple TV Channels can only be viewed within Apple TV; you cannot watch an Apple TV Channel service’s content on any non-Apple TV device, app, or the web. However, if you subscribe to the same service within that service’s app or through a cable TV provider, you can watch that service’s content on other devices and apps and, if you use the service’s app on Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS, its content will show up in Apple TV as though you were subscribed to the service’s Apple TV Channel (but it will play the content in the app, not within Apple TV).

Apple TV+ is a subscription streaming service from Apple that functions like an Apple TV Channel but is not an Apple TV Channel.
[…]

Other than that, though, Apple TV is relatively straightforward. 

Electron Apps Are Being Rejected from the Mac App Store for Calling Private Apis

Michael Tsai:

So there are a multiple problems here:

1. It’s (apparently) impossible for Chromium to get competitive performance and battery life without using private API, which Safari freely uses.

2. Apple probably has good reasons for keeping these APIs private.

3. Private API has always been banned, but Apple has been accepting these apps for years and then abruptly stopped without any notice.

4. Apps using Electron probably didn’t know that they were even using private API. Neither Xcode nor Application Loader reports this, and App Review was accepting the apps.

5. The rule is not being enforced equally.

Facebook says 100 developers might have improperly accessed Groups member data

Adi Robertson, writing for The Verge:

Facebook says that even after it locked down its Groups system last year, some app developers retained improper access to information about members. A company blog post reports that roughly 100 developers might have accessed user information since Facebook changed its rules in April of 2018, and at least 11 accessed member data in the last 60 days. It says it’s now cut all partners off from that data.

Facebook Group administrators can use third-party tools to manage their groups, giving apps information about its activity. Since the changes last year, developers shouldn’t be able to see individual members’ names, profile pictures, or unspecified other profile data. Facebook platform partnerships head Konstantinos Papamiltiadis says a recent security review found that some apps still had access, however.

[…]

Facebook didn’t disclose the names of these roughly 100 developers. Papamiltiadis only says that the apps were “primarily social media management and video streaming apps, designed to make it easier for group admins to manage their groups more effectively and help members share videos to their groups.” We also don’t know exactly what information was involved besides names and photos, nor how many users and groups the apps served.

Facebook locked down the Groups application programming interface (API) as part of a general crackdown after the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal. It added rules that required developers to get approval from Facebook before using the Groups API, then relaunched the system with new features in July, suggesting that it was trying to implement real oversight — so it’s a little surprising that these apps slipped through the cracks.

Jason Snell on Apple TV+

Jason Snell:

In the regular phone call with Wall Street analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook tried very hard to get investors excited about Apple’s opportunities to make lots of money while not making it seem like Apple’s lost its soul in the process.

[…]

The analysts wanted to understand why Apple, after spending billions of dollars on developing a bunch of new premium television content, was going to give it away to purchasers of Apple hardware for a year.

[…]

Yeah, it’s it’s a gift to our users, and from a business point of view, we’re really proud of the content, we’d like as many people as possible to to view it. And so this allows us to focus on maximizing subscribers, particularly in the early going.

Read Jason’s entire article, it’s great.

Google buys Fitbit for $2.1 billion

The Verge:

Google has just announced that it’s buying wearable company Fitbit for $2.1 billion. In a blog post announcing the news, Google SVP of devices and services Rick Osterloh said that the Fitbit purchase is “an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market.”

The news comes just days after a report from Reuters, which claimed that Google was in talks to buy the popular fitness tracker company.

Under the deal, Fitbit will be joining Google itself. (It’s similar to the current situation with Nest, which is wholly under Google now, compared to when Alphabet had originally acquired the smart home company but left it as a separate division under the corporate structure.)

According to a separate press release issued by Fitbit, the company will still take privacy for health and fitness data seriously, noting that “Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads.”

The acquisition makes a lot of sense: Google has spent years trying (and largely failing) to break into the wearables market with its Wear OS platform, but it’s struggled to make a real impact.

Fitbit’s hardware chops have always been great, giving Google a much stronger foundation to build on for future Android-integrated wearables devices. And the company’s strong focus on fitness tracking could naturally be integrated into Google’s existing Google Fit apps, too, offering Google a solid alternative to the Apple Watch’s deep fitness tracking integration with the iPhone.

On the flip side, Google’s software skills and wide developer support could help Fitbit’s smartwatches like the Versa get a little smarter, alongside the deeper software integration with Android that a closer relationship could offer.

John Gruber on the AirPods Pro

John Gruber:

Wearing noise-canceling earbuds on the subway and walking through the city is going to take some getting used to. It’s so good you really do lose sense of your surrounding aural environment.

[…]

The “Transparency” mode is interesting and a little mind-bending. It really does make it possible to conduct a conversation while still enjoying the benefits of noise cancellation.

[…]

Transparency lets you hear parts of the world around you. One obvious use case for this: jogging or running and maybe just plain walking on streets where you want to hear the sounds of traffic.

[…]

The force sensor — the flat section on the earbuds stem that faces forward when in your ear — is effectively a button. But it’s not a button. It doesn’t actually move, and it doesn’t provide haptic feedback. But it acts like a button and — most importantly — sounds like a button. When you press it, the AirPod Pro plays a click.

Foxconn finally admits its empty Wisconsin ‘innovation centers’ aren’t being developed

Nick Statt, for The Verge:

Electronics manufacturer Foxconn’s promised Wisconsin “innovation centers,” which are to employ hundreds of people in the state if they ever get built, are officially on hold after spending months empty and unused, as the company focuses on meeting revised deadlines on the LCD factory it promised would now open by next year. The news, reported earlier today by Wisconsin Public Radio, is another inexplicable twist in the nearly two-year train wreck that is Foxconn’s US manufacturing plans.

The company originally promised five so-called innovation centers throughout the state would that employ as many as 100 to 200 people each in high-skilled jobs, with the Milwaukee center promising as many as 500. Those jobs were to complement the more than 13,000 jobs Foxconn said its initial Wisconsin electronics manufacturing factory would bring to the US, in exchange for billions in tax breaks and incentives that Governor Scott Walker granted the company back in 2017.

Yet after purchasing a building in Milwaukee and announcing plans to build the centers in other Wisconsin cities, Foxconn has done virtually nothing with the plans. In April, The Verge reported that the buildings Foxconn had purchased were empty, a report that the company disputed without providing any specific corrections or evidence to the contrary — and the company still hasn’t provided any 194 days later. 

According to WPR, Foxconn has installed an HVAC system in one of two buildings it said it would purchase in Eau Claire, but no additional work has been completed. “That’s been about the extent of it, it’s pretty minimal,” Aaron White, Eau Claire’s economic development manager, told WPR. “We did get a visit from four Foxconn staffers and they reinforced their intent to move forward, but they gave no indication of a timeline.” 

In Racine, another planned innovation center destination, there does not appear to have been any work done whatsoever. “Foxconn is focusing on the (Mount) Pleasant campus,” Shannon Powell, a spokesman for Racine Mayor Cory Mason, told WPR. “Should an innovation center in the city get up and running there would certainly be a grand opening event.”

This isn’t really much of a surprise.

A month on, Apple Arcade is too cheap to quit

Engadget:

It’s been almost exactly a month since Apple Arcade launched. That means that a lot of free trials are about to expire, and it’s time to decide: Is it actually worth your $5 a month? Like you, a number of Engadget editors have been testing out Arcade’s various games in our spare time and, for us, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The subscription gaming service has won us over in a very short time, including those that were initially on the fence.

We all have our own reasons, whether it’s seeing Arcade as a potential solution to skeezy free-to-play mechanics, a tool to play titles across various devices or just a way to play some good games without paying a lot. Join four of us as we dig in a little deeper, and highlight some of our favorite games from the service along the way.

Is Phone-based VR officially over?

Adi Robertson, for The Verge:Mobile virtual reality headsets helped millions of people try out VR, but as of yesterday, they’re all but officially a thing of the past. Oculus CTO John Carmack offered a “eulogy” last month for the phone-powered Gear VR mobile headset, saying that the headset’s days were numbered. And Google just revealed that it’s discontinuing the similar Daydream View mobile headset, in addition to omitting Daydream support from the new Pixel 4 phone. The app will still work on older phones, but Google has now given up on a platform it once portrayed as an integral part of Android.

Daydream was announced in 2016, following up on Google’s simpler phone-powered Cardboard headset. At that point, Google projected having “hundreds of millions of users” on Daydream-compatible phones within a couple of years. In 2019, though, not a single current-generation phone supports it. There simply “hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset,” a spokesperson told The Verge.

The reasons aren’t surprising. Cardboard had made simple VR accessible. The New York Times shipped a million headsets to its subscribers for free. But it was a super cheap, disposable product meant for enjoying short experiences. Making the leap to a consumer headset proved difficult. “We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR — being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution,” said the spokesperson.

Google says that people didn’t like losing access to their phones since Daydream effectively required launching into a separate app ecosystem. That wasn’t the only problem with phone-based VR. Carmack noted that immersive 3D apps drained precious battery, and the Gear VR, in particular, was annoying to set up. “Far and away I think the biggest issue was just the friction of getting into it,” said Carmack.

[..]

Phone-based VR also couldn’t deliver the same intense physical experiences as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or PlayStation VR. As developers began learning what really worked in VR, the gap became increasingly obvious. Mobile headsets were great for playing virtual reality videos, but VR video was hard to make and monetize, and early cinematic VR companies like Jaunt and Within slowly switched their focus to augmented reality instead. Google acquired several well-known VR apps, including the beloved painting tool Tilt Brush, but most required high-end headsets.

Meanwhile, self-contained headsets got cheaper and more sophisticated, adding hand controllers and inside-out tracking. Oculus filled the Gear VR’s old spot with the Oculus Go mobile headset, and it’s now nudging users toward the Oculus Quest, a more expensive but also far more capable device. When you can pay $200 for the standalone Oculus Go or even $400 for the Quest, a $100 plastic shell doesn’t seem like such a good deal.

Google hasn’t really tried to catch the wave of standalone VR. It initially partnered with HTC and Lenovo on two self-contained Daydream headsets, but HTC backed out of the deal and Lenovo’s Mirage Solo was effectively a development kit. Before this year’s I/O conference, Google virtual and augmented reality head Clay Bavor said the team was in “deep R&D” for VR hardware, “building the Lego bricks that we’re going to need in order to snap together and make some really compelling experiences.” A Google spokesperson also emphasized the company’s work on AR features for mobile search and Maps.

I’ve been there with the original Oculus, the Gear VR, the Daydream, PSVR, the Oculus Go and now the Oculus Quest and the Quest is my favourite far above any other VR headset. I can see where the phone VR is dying.