Archives For Technology

pulling away from apple

November 26, 2017

Two years ago around this date I wrote “all in with apple – part 1” in which I extolled the wondrous virtues of buying and using Apple products, from the iPhone and iPad through the Apple Watch and various Apple Macs, such as the Mac Mini and the Macbook Pro. By November 2015 I’d made the ultimate Apple purchase with an iPhone 6s Plus using Apple’s Upgrade Program. I’d use it again to update to the iPhone 7 Plus November 2016. That was the one act that began to push me away from seeing Apple through such industrial-grade rose colored glasses.

What pushed me farther along the path of dissatisfaction is the growing realization of how much money I’ve invested in Apple gear, such as in the aforementioned Macbook Pro and Apple Watch (the original as well as the Series 2) as well as other “sundry” Apple items. One item in particular was a 2015 13″ Macbook Air I purchased late November 2016 (right before Thanksgiving of that year and a trip to Japan) for my wife, which with very little effort was turned into a most expensive boat anchor.

Earlier this year my wife spilled coffee on her Air. The Mac still starts up, but there’s a problem with the display. Trying to get it fixed by Apple when it occured would have cost me at least $750. Of course, the first thought through my mind is how a very expensive computer doesn’t come with a little bit of moisture sealing, especially around the keyboard, to avoid such issues. But that’s the same question I always ask every time I see a $1,000+ camera or cell phone that isn’t environmentally sealed. How could you spend that much money on something that isn’t reasonably rugged? But we did, and suffered major damage due to a lack of rugged sealing on the Air.

And then there was the update to the iPhone 7 Plus. The 3.5″ audio plug was removed because of an arbitrary design decision on the part of Apple, requiring a dongle to be able to use my ear buds. The idea of spending another $100 to $200 for Bluetooth ear buds is ridiculous. With Air Pods I’ve got one more expensive item that needs constant charging, and the Air Pods are themselves too easy to loose. I now have first hand experience as to what can happen when someone is “brave” enough to remove a fundamentally key feature that should have never been removed in the first place.

To add insult to injury, Apple sold me the AT&T version 7 Plus, which has the Intel wireless modem in it. That meant not only a lack of performance compared to the Qualcomm modem, but an iPhone that effectively wouldn’t work overseas in either Japan or Korea. I solved the Korea problem in early 2017 by purchasing a factory unlocked Moto G4 Plus from B&H Photo for about $130. It came with Android 6, and updated OTA to Android 7 before I left to go to South Korea in March. Because it was unlocked I was able to purchase a KT SIM at the Inchon International Airport for the phone with unlimited voice and data for the two weeks I was there. That was an additional US$35.

The G4 Plus again proved its worth during Hurricane Irma. Moto phones (and the majority of Android phones in general) come with a built-in FM broadcast radio. The Moto has no SIM for local use, but I was still able to listen to the local FM radio stations for general emergency information as the storm passed overhead and knocked out all our power, including power to the area’s wireless cell towers, rendering my shiny iPhone 7 Plus all but useless. Fortunately for us the power came back on in less than 24 hours, including the wireless infrastructure. Only then was the iPhone 7 of any use for anything, especially communications.

And that $750 that was supposed to fix the Air? I spent about $600 of that on three (yes, three) Asus Chromebook 14s, each equipped with 4GB of DRAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a quad-core Intel Celeron. That was a sale price at a local Costco store. Two went to my wife (one to use and one as a backup), who’s repeatedly stated how there’s little difference between her $200 Chromebook and what she was able to do on the Air. And that includes the keyboard on the Chromebook, which is of surprisingly high quality. Even the Chromebook shell is nice, built of aluminum. If I do get the Air fixed, I’m more than inclined to do it myself using iFixit as a guide. Oh, and that third Chromebook? It’s going to be a Christmas gift.

Today’s technology in general, and Apple’s in particular, has been marketed as being something shiny and to be coveted. I’m here to tell you that the shine is definitely off and I no longer covet these very expensive baubles. I saw little reason to upgrade the iPhone 7 to an equivalent 8, and I have absolutely no use for the X. I’ve handled the X now that demo units are in the various stores, and I’m here to tell you that this isn’t a future I want to be a part of. I’ve read the glowing reviews about the X, and I’ve come to the conclusion they’re either delusional or they’ve been bought off and lying through their teeth. My wife and I are going to hang onto our 7s for as long as we possibly can. When it comes time for a replacement I’ll see what’s in the market.

For the foreseeable future (meaning years in my case) I’m done buying Apple or recommending Apple. If anything, buy practically only if you really need it and it doesn’t impact a budget. Apple doesn’t fit there.

NOTE: Apple icon by Dave Gandy:

There has been talk for some time about how Apple devices running iOS are contenders for replacing standard Intel architecture computers, such as MacBook Pros. Since I have a number of Apple devices, I thought I’d install Geekbench 4 (version 4.1) and run it across three of my Apple devices. I’ve put the results in a simple table below, with the results in the first three rows.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus iPad Pro 2016
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082
Compute 38117 12296 14764
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

The MBP I own is a 15″ Retina MBP with 16GB of memory and the 2.8GHz quad-core i7. I wasn’t surprised to see the MBP be the leader across the board, particularly in multi-core scoring. The MBP is certainly the brawniest of the three with its Intel processor and eight times the memory over both the iPhone and iPad. Keep in mind that the MBP is the oldest of the three devices.

What I found rather interesting is the GPU-based Compute score. The iOS version of Geekbench uses Metal, the graphical framework that’s a part of iOS. Geekbench on the MBP uses OpenCL and because I’m too cheap to buy a copy, the built-in Iris Pro on the i7 processor was used instead of the beefier AMD Radeon R9 M370X. So even though I’m using the “lesser” graphics processor and “poorer” graphics software framework, the MBP still scored a solid two to three times faster than either iOS device. Of further note is the sizable performance lead of the iPad over the iPhone, even though the iPhone’s CPU is clocked faster and it’s using a more current Apple SoC.

So, am I ready to trade in the MBP for either iOS device? It all depends on the use case.

For general uses involving reading content and typing, I could easily switch to the iPad Pro. I use it with a Logitech keyboard-and-cover in landscape mode, which, when attached to the iPad using the Smart Connector gives me a decent keyboard with back-lit keys. It’s not as efficient and comfortable as the MBP keyboard, but it’s more than serviceable especially over a period of hours. I can do writing and other types of textual creation, as well as fairly sophisticated graphical content creation and photo/video post processing. There are, however, limits to the iPad Pro.

For the ultimate web experience I prefer the MBP and my selection of browsers, which includes Chrome, Firefox, and Vivaldi. I am not a fan of Safari on either iOS or macOS, and I don’t think I ever will be. What makes web browsing on iOS truly annoying is Apple’s insistence of forcing every other browser to use the Apple web engine used by iOS Safari; it is buggy and poorly performant.

When I need to develop software I much prefer the MBP. When I need to do light code editing on the iPad Pro I use Textastic with Working Copy. I have iOS Terminus that allows me to ssh into machines around my home running Linux and macOS (nothing like that for Windows, unfortunately). Under ssh I tend to use vim with extensive vim customizations and colorizations. And I can use scp and git to move things around that need moving. So the iPad Pro makes a pretty decent work platform when I don’t want to fire up the MBP, especially when I need to put it down due to interruptions.

I haven’t even mentioned the iPhone, but it’s decent enough that it can fill in for the iPad when all I can carry with me is just the iPhone. I use a Microsoft Folding Bluetooth keyboard to type on, and I have an SDHC to Lightening card reader for reading JPEG and RAW files produced by my Olympus cameras. The same apps I would use on my iPad to post process work just fine on the iPhone 7 Plus. And when I don’t want to, or can’t have, my Olympus camera, then the iPhone 7 Plus camera is just fine.

Finally, there’s the truly heavy lifting that the MBP is called upon to do. For example, I have a number of Linux virtual machines I power up to perform testing and development in parallel with work on the MBP. I use Xcode to develop iOS applications, as well as Android Studio to develop Android applications. If I want to develop using a full Javascript stack starting with node.js, then the MBP is the only way to go. If I want to develop in Java or Python or Go or Rust, only the MBP allows me to do that.

And the 15″ screen on the MBP is the easiest of all the screens to read, which is important due to my poor eyesight (20/700 and near sighted).

There is no easy answer to the original question, except to say it all depends. As long as I can choose which to use for which task, I will choose all three based on the work at hand that needs to be done.

But I am impressed with what the Apple SoCs can accomplish. While the MBP rules them all, for single core scoring all three devices are fairly close together, compared to multi-core and compute. This bodes well for Apple’s continued evolution of its ARM-based processors, and if I were Intel, I really would be looking over my shoulder at ARM in general and Apple in particular.