Posts about Apple

Apple’s spooky M3 event

Three things struck me while watching Apple’s Halloween-themed M3 event last night.

The first observation: while Apple unveiled three chips last night, they did a better job clarifying who each machine is for than they’ve ever done before.

There are three new chips, unsurprisingly called the M3, the M3 Pro, and the M3 Max. Here’s what Apple said about the audience for each one when introducing the laptops that use them. 

For the basic M3, Apple said:

Whether you’re a student, entrepreneur, creator, or combination of all three, you’ll find everyday tasks lightning fast. And when you’re using pro apps or playing games, the advanced thermal system allows you to sustain the phenomenal performance of M3… It’s great for working with demanding content across a variety of workflows. Such as making intricate 3D models in Sketchup faster than before. Or viewing and interacting with large medical images in SurgicalAR.

This is pretty clearcut to me: machines equipped with the base-level M3 are great for aspiring creative pros, students, and entrepreneurs (which, in Apple’s parlance, I think means new business owners outside the tech sector).

For the M3 Pro, which is the next step up, Apple said the following:

(The M3 Pro) provides even greater performance and additional unified memory for users with more demanding workflows like coders, creative pros, and researchers… Stitching together and manipulating enormous panoramic photos in Photoshop is much quicker, working on large and complex data models in MATLAB is more fluid, and compiling and testing millions of lines of code in Xcode is even faster.

I think this is pretty clear too, but there are several caveats here that are worth mentioning a little later. (I look forward to Austin Mann and Tyler Stalman testing this machine though, since it seems aimed at photographers, designers, and developers.)

In theory, the M3 Pro is aimed at me. At first, I thought this was great news, because my current machine is an M1 Max, and it’d be nice to shift downmarket if I could. (Again, more on this later.)

Apple had this to say about the M3 Max:

For users with extreme workflows like AI developers, 3D artists, and video professionals, it’s an absolute beast… You can model and iterate remarkably complex 3D content in Cinema 4D with Redshift… And video post-production work on the highest resolution content is an absolute breeze thanks to two ProRes engines… M3 Max also supports up to an enormous 128GB of unified memory… This enables creators to easily work on large and complex projects spanning multiple pro apps and plugins, like Substance 3D Painter, Maya, and Arnold. Or compose huge film scores with Pro Tools, where entire orchestra libraries are instantly available from memory. 

This also seems clear cut to me. To be perfectly blunt, I am no longer the target market for these machines. The target market is well above what I do, even when I’m doing my own recording and video production.

The second observation: The configurations are weird. 

First, RAM comes in 18GB, 36GB, 48GB, 64GB, 96GB, and 128GB allotments. If you want 48GB, 64GB, or 128GB of RAM, you need the most expensive M3 Max chip. If you want 96GB of RAM, you need the least expensive M3 Max chip. It works out so that 96GB of RAM is only $100 more than 64GB, but you don’t get as many CPU cores.

This is very weird to me. Does Apple have multiple RAM providers or something? Why don’t these varieties match up? Why do I have to make this choice?

The M3 Pro, as I noted above, is the chip aimed for people like me: creative pros. But a lot of people like me need more than 36GB of RAM, which is the limit of the M3 Pro, and getting more requires a large upfront investment. The 64GB model is more expensive than my M1 Max, at least in Canada, so while you can order up to 128GB, the addition of the higher memory option hasn’t resulted in a reduction of prices elsewhere in the lineup.

I’m glad I’m not in the market for a machine right now, because I’d have to make some odd choices. This reminds me of the Intel Mac Pro configuration flow, and that’s not a compliment. It’s too complicated. I am grateful for the options, but I wish they moved in a straight line from the cheapest to the most expensive.

I’m looking forward to Anandtech’s review of these chips.

Finally, the third observation: The Apple event was shot on an iPhone. The footage looked great. Nobody knew until the credits rolled. But The Verge ran an article about how that marketing line is deceptive because of all the other pro gear involved.

On one hand, I get it. Lighting, drones, gimbals, and everything else you need for a pro setup like this isn’t cheap. There were also a wealth of special effects employed throughout the event.

But on the other hand, The Verge’s article seems to suggest that consumers will think their footage will automatically look that good without additional gear. I don’t know if that’s the case. Thanks to decades of marketing from Hollywood, I think most people who care even a little know that there’s a lot of gear involved in making stuff look good. The fog machines alone in the opening of Apple’s event make it clear that their budget goes beyond the average bedroom Youtuber’s. I don’t see how there’s a negative story here, apart from clickbait.

The bottom line is simple: the event looked great, and the iPhone is clearly a very capable videographer’s camera in the right hands.

Log is the pro” in iPhone 15 Pro. Stu Maschwitz has published a handy primer on why log recording is A Big Deal, especially for a camera that fits in your pocket.

My next Apple computer

Before the Apple Silicon transition, it was always the case the biggest MacBook Pro was the most powerful. That’s no longer the case. These days, 14″ MacBook Pro can be specced out to be just as powerful as its bigger sibling. 

Without considering the implications of this, I purchased the 16″ MacBook Pro last year — the biggest one available — out of sheer habit.

Next time, I’m getting the 14″. I want as much power as I can get, but when I’m portable, I want as much portability as possible.

The state of Apple’s laptop lineup in 2022

The last time I wrote about Apple’s laptops, in May 2020, I said the following:

Apple’s laptop lineup, in all honesty, hasn’t looked this good in almost a decade. Now that they’ve replaced the butterfly keyboard with the Magic Keyboard, it’s easy to recommend almost any of their laptops.

I spoke too soon. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear the lineup was about to get way better. The transition to Apple Silicon has been a boon for Mac users.

I’m writing this on a 2021 MacBook Pro with an M1 Max chip. That chip has 10 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores (!!!), and 64gb of RAM.1 It’s also got an SD card slot! It’s a miracle of a machine. I won’t oversell it: it’s the best laptop I’ve ever owned. Honestly, it might be the best computer I’ve ever owned.

This machine is faster than the Intel Xeon-powered iMac Pro desktop workstation it replaced, and not by a little. Once in a while, I run a command in Terminal that used to take some time on the iMac. When I run the same command on the MacBook Pro, I blink, and it’s over.

It blows my mind, honestly, how much faster these machines are in day-to-day use than their desktop counterparts were a couple short years ago.

We also have an M1 MacBook Air, which was my laptop before I got the new MacBook Pro, and is now my wife’s primary non-work machine. That MacBook Air is as fast as my old iMac Pro. Let me repeat that: the little laptop with no fan and Apple’s most barebones Mac CPU is faster than my old, 240w desktop workstation machine with Intel Xeon processors. How is this possible?

Oh, and apart from one machine, the Touch Bar is gone. We now have this glorious scissor keyboard with full-height function keys and a much-improved Touch ID button. I can’t praise it enough. It just works. I haven’t thought about keyboards in a while.

The ecosystem around these laptops has also improved tremendously. In April of 2021, I wrote the following:

Apple’s external display situation remains a hot mess. They offer a mismatched 24LG screen, an ugly 27LG screen with inconsistent build quality and no glass above the LCD panel, and a $6,300 (CAD) 32pro display” with an optional” $1,300 stand. To make matters worse, this $7,600 setup was outshone this week by the new 13″ iPad Pro, which offers a much better backlighting system with 2,596 local dimming zones. The pro display offers 576.

If none of that meant anything to you, let me be frank: Apple’s pro display for their Mac is outshone by their tablet range. As a friend of mine said the other day, you’d be better off taping four iPad Pros together and treating them as one extended display for your Mac than you would buying Apple’s Pro Display XDR.

In my desperation, I summed it up with this:

Whatever comes next, will Apple please, for the love of everything good in this world, rip the computer out of the iMac and just sell me the display.

With that sentence alone, I feel like I willed the Studio Display into being. True, the Studio Display lacks HDR support, but now that I’ve had one for a couple months, I’m happy to say it’s a great monitor. The camera sucks, and there’s no HDR, but guess what? It’s an iMac display without a Mac attached to it. Webcam aside, it’s probably exactly what Apple needed to make.

Apple’s new chips also enabled the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID – a wireless keyboard with Touch ID built in. When I’m working at my desk, I often have to enter my password. This keyboard has saved me so much time every day. It doesn’t hurt that it looks great. While Face ID would be fine, I’m happy with Touch ID. Face ID is more convenient, but somehow, touching a key to authenticate feels more secure than having it happen automatically. (The Face ID-equipped iPhones and iPads operate this way too: any user authentication requires double-clicking the lock button.)

Overall, I am giddy about the state of Apple’s laptop lineup.

But like anything else, there’s room for improvement. I was excited to see the new M2 MacBook Air debut last week, but the continued existence of the 13M2 MacBook Pro stymies me. That laptop still ships with a Touch Bar, the old Touch ID button, and the old chassis. It doesn’t have the extended display with the notch (which I like), and it doesn’t have MagSafe. It’s missing the SD card slot and the HDMI slot. It’s a MacBook Air with a fan and a worse chassis. Why does it exist?

Any time that somebody asks what laptop they should get, it’s a shame when there’s a model you have to warn them against. That’s the 13″ MacBook Pro.

I think it exists because people buy it, and Apple is putting in the minimum effort required to keep selling it. There are rumours on the horizon of a 15″ MacBook Air and a 12″ MacBook Pro, which could theoretically straddle the price difference between the 13″ MacBook Air and the 14″ MacBook Pro better than the existing 13″ MacBook Pro could.

(Read that paragraph again: that word salad means Apple has a problem in the lineup. This isn’t rocket science. Please forgive the word salad; it’s not my fault the lineup is hard to understand.)

In addition, there’s a major feature missing from these laptops: cellular radios. The iPad can do it — why can’t the MacBooks? I think Apple needs to do a lot of work on macOS to prevent the system from downloading too much data over cellular networks (Macs are data-hungry on wifi!), but this has to be a product on their radar. If they ever add it to a machine, I would consider upgrading for that feature alone.

And if they want to give me more USB ports on the laptops, I won’t complain. (They could at least add a couple more to the Studio Display, while I’m thinking about it.) You could also add my voice to the choir of people asking why they don’t ship better webcams on these machines, but the 1080p webcam on the MacBook Pro is also fine.

But that’s it. This short list reflects how happy I am with the laptops in our household. I have a litany of complaints about macOS at this point. I much prefer it to Windows, but the quality of the OS is degraded by a myriad of little bugs that affect my quality of life every day. That being said, the laptops are the best they’ve ever been. That hasn’t been true since 2015. For the first time in seven years, it feels like the Mac laptop lineup is in a great place.

  1. In all honesty, I didn’t need this much RAM for my work in design and development, but I consistently use 50GB of it. 32GB wasn’t enough, but 64GB is more than I needed. ↩︎

The Studio Display: Finally

For years — literally years — I have been complaining about the monitor situation for Mac users. Here’s what I said the last time I wrote about this:

Apple’s external display situation remains a hot mess. They offer a mismatched 24LG screen, an ugly 27LG screen with inconsistent build quality and no glass above the LCD panel, and a $6,300 (CAD) 32pro display” with an optional” $1,300 stand. To make matters worse, this $7,600 setup was outshone this week by the new 13″ iPad Pro, which offers a much better backlighting system with 2,596 local dimming zones. The pro display offers 576.

I followed that up with:

I’ve been complaining about this display problem since 2019, and I don’t want to complain about it for much longer. If somebody who works at Apple somehow ends up reading this, here’s a note for you: it would be easy for you to fix this. Tear the computer out of the iMac and sell me just the screen. I (and I am sure many others) will give you up to $2,000 for this product. This is easy money for you. Please take it.

Finally, in the year of our Lord 2022, Apple sells a 5K, 27″, first-party display with 218PPI and a factory-calibrated P3 colour gamut. In Canada, it starts at $2,000. (Did somebody at Apple read my blog post?)

I’ve seen a lot of reviews that compare the Studio Display to other monitors. There are lots of cheaper options that are just as good,” is the common thought.

There are not.

If your priority is 5K resolution at 27″, with a PPI of over 200 pixels, you really only have one other option: the LG Ultrafine. It’s the option Apple previously sent Mac users to. I owned one, and it’s definitely not great.

The stand is wobbly. Sometimes the monitor doesn’t turn on, or flickers on and off until you unplug the laptop and plug it back in. It creaks when you adjust the height, and it wobbles and vibrates every time I hit a key on the keyboard (I’m a loud typist).

The LG Ultrafine is $1300 USD ($1,750 CAD), and one thing not included in that price is reliability. (It shares that theme with the butterfly keyboard.)

In fact, that monitor/​laptop combination was so bad that I sold both and bought an iMac Pro instead, relegating myself to primarily work at a desk for the past few years. I have a MacBook Air — a machine that love — but I use it exclusively when I’m away from my desk. Before I work on it, I have to spend a lot of time syncing git repos, server databases, raw photos in Capture One or Lightroom, and creative assets like font files before I can get to work. I really miss having a single computer with all my stuff on it, all the time.

So I ordered a Studio Display the minute they were available, along with a 16″ MacBook Pro with M1 Max. My display should be coming sometime in the next couple weeks, and the laptop arrived a week ago.

I’ll have more thoughts to share on both products later, but for now I just wanted to say I put my money where my mouth is. Dear Apple: thanks for listening.

The 24″ iMac, the end of M1, and more complaining about Apple displays

The new 24" iMac

First things first: the new, M1-power iMacs are visually incredible. The colours are bold. I like it a lot. I want the yellow one (above) — look at it. It’s great.

I’ve seen a lot of people say they don’t like the front of these machines. They say the white bezels are distracting and the chins are ugly. Whether or not the chins are ugly, as far as Apple is concerned, they are an iconic part of the brand.

I have an iMac Pro, which I stare at every day. I have never been bothered by the chin. I’ve also never been bothered by the size of the bezels.

My television (an old 1080p Sony Bravia) has a silver bezel on the bottom. It is ugly as sin, and serves no purpose. But I have never noticed it while watching television.

In short, I don’t think the bezels or chin are as important as everybody else. I do think the bezels and chin on this new iMac look cool, but I will not be ordering one myself.

Secondly, the new 24″ screen is a 4.5k screen. This is interesting because the 24LG monitor Apple sells in their stores is only 4k. At 24″, LG’s 4k monitor is too low-DPI to meet Apple’s qualifications for Retina.

The differences in resolution mean that buyer’s of Apple’s 24″ iMac do not have a matching second screen they could purchase, should they want one. I doubt this matters to most people in the market for the entry-level iMac, but it’s curious.

Apple’s external display situation remains a hot mess. They offer a mismatched 24LG screen, an ugly 27LG screenwith inconsistent build quality and no glass above the LCD panel, and a $6,300 (CAD) 32pro display” with an optional” $1,300 stand. To make matters worse, this $7,600 setup was outshone this week by the new 13″ iPad Pro, which offers a much better backlighting system with 2,596 local dimming zones. The pro display offers 576.

If none of that meant anything to you, let me be frank: Apple’s pro display for their Mac is outshone by their tablet range. As a friend of mine said the other day, you’d be better off taping four iPad Pros together and treating them as one extended display for your Mac than you would buying Apple’s Pro Display XDR.

I’ve been complaining about this display problem since 2019, and I don’t want to complain about it for much longer. If somebody who works at Apple somehow ends up reading this, here’s a note for you: it would be easy for you to fix this. Tear the computer out of the iMac and sell me just the screen. I (and I am sure many others) will give you up to $2,000 for this product. This is easy money for you. Please take it.

Thirdly: it looks like the M1’s story is mostly complete. Apple has released an M1-powered iPad Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, 24″ iMac, and 13″ MacBook Pro. We have never seen a computer chip across this large a range of products.That alone is revolutionary. But whatever chip powers the high-end laptops and desktops will not be the same as this M1. Undoubtedly, it will offer more computer power and better graphics.

The M1 is an incredible chip. The new MacBook Air, which I’m writing this post on now, feels as fast to me in use as the iMac Pro on my desk — yet it’s the low-powered chip. How much headroom is there above this? How far can Apple push their architecture? Will Apple have in-house GPUs that can rival what they typically purchase from AMD? How much RAM will these new machines have? How much will these machines cost?

But most importantly: Whatever comes next, will Apple please, for the love of everything good in this world, rip the computer out of the iMac and just sell me the display.

The state of Apple’s laptop lineup

About a week ago, I realized my 2017 15” MacBook Pro’s speakers are blown. I rarely use the laptop without headphones, so I’m not sure when it happened. Now the laptop is unusable as a shared screen for Zoom calls, because we can’t hear the audio when we call our friends. Or rather, we can, but everybody sounds like they’re hanging out with Aquaman underwater. It’d be a cool sound effect, if it wasn’t unintelligible. 

If we were living in the Before Time, I would have simply taken the laptop to the Apple Store to have them assess the damage. Once the After Time comes around, I might still do that.

But I really don’t like this laptop. I hate the keyboard . It feels like typing on cracker wafers, and a single speck of dust can take out the whole keyboard — which is a design failure beyond understanding. I don’t like the obnoxious space grey finish. Silver is the right colour for a MacBook, turns out. I don’t like how large it is (more on this later). And now, the speakers are unusable.

All this got me wondering: if I were to buy a new portable machine from Apple today, what would I buy?

I say portable machine” because I don’t want to discount the iPad from this list. My 10.5” iPad Pro is a great little machine, and it is very good at certain tasks.

I am in the fortunate position of using an iMac Pro as my primary computing device. I don’t need to necessarily have the same power on the go as I do at my desk. When I’m mobile, I want a small, lightweight device that lets me easily get my essential work done — and it better have a good keyboard.

My laptop fails to meet some of those metrics. The large size of the 15” MacBook Pro seems absurd. It’s too large to comfortably sit on a lap, and every extra pound of weight matters a lot when I’m travelling (not that I’m doing much of that right now). Plus, the keyboard is a failure waiting to happen.

I would love to use the iPad Pro. It’s lightweight and ultraportable, and the Magic Keyboard looks like a dream. But for many reasons, the iPad Pro isn’t for me. The Verge offered some sage advice recently: Never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow.”

Which brings me back to the laptop lineup.

Apple’s laptop lineup, in all honesty, hasn’t looked this good in almost a decade. Now that they’ve replaced the butterfly keyboard with the Magic Keyboard, it’s easy to recommend almost any of their laptops. The 16” MacBook Pro is a wonderful machine, even if it’s too big for my liking (I trialled one in November). The 13” MacBook Pro looks very good.

If I had to buy one today, I think I’d buy the MacBook Air. It’s the lightest and most svelte option. I like the taper. It doesn’t have a Touch Bar (for me, that’s a perk). I don’t need power on the go often enough to justify the extra weight or cost of a MacBook Pro. Most of the time, I’m either pushing rectangles around in Figma or writing PHP or Javascript in Visual Studio Code or Sublime. These apps don’t need a lot of CPU power to be useful.

That being said, if the rumours are true, the Mac lineup is about to get very interesting. If Apple makes its transition to ARM chips next year, their laptop lineup should become stronger. ARM chips are what makes iPads as powerful and battery efficient as they are. If a MacBook Air got one, all-day battery life is a possibility — and the laptop would be much more powerful. The most recent iPads are so much faster than the current-generation MacBook Airs, it’s not even funny.

Hopefully, Apple will share more information about the plans for its chip transition in a month or so at their annual developer conference. But they’re a secretive company. They may not share that information with developers before next year, assuming the rumours are true. (And, of course, they might share information this year about getting development work done on an iPad too — which would change the equation for me again.)

All of this puts me in a peculiar situation. I’d love a smaller, lighter laptop. I’d love to get rid of the butterfly keyboard and Touch Bar, both of which make me more prone to errors and less efficient. But if I get this year’s model, I’m potentially getting the last laptop Apple makes before a once-in-a-generation leap.

One should never make purchasing decisions based on the rumours of future gear, but this aphorism is still true: there is never a good time to upgrade your kit.

Can I use an iPad Pro for professional creative work?

Every year around this time, just before Apple unveils the latest versions of their operating systems at their annual developer conference, I like to re-evaluate whether or not I can use my iPad to get work done.

The iPad Pro is really a perfect portable machine. It’s small, insanely light, and easy to use in almost any situation — even tight plane seats. You can even get a cellular-equipped iPad if you want consistent and reliable internet when you’re away from a wifi connection. (And the new Magic Keyboard is a wonder.)

I really like using my iPad, and I always wish I could use it to get more work done. And every year, I ask the same question: can I use it as a laptop yet? Can it be my only portable device?

There are a lot of people I know, follow, and admire who use the iPad as their only machine, or as their dedicated portable device. I trust each of these people; they each represent a different class of person who is well-suited by the iPad’s strengths. They are writers, photographers, and entrepreneurs. The iPad is great for those people.

Writers are blessed with the iPad. There are more writing apps for the iPad than I could count. It is the best writing device I have ever used.

Photographers can almost complete their whole workflow on an iPad. With apps like Affinity Photo, Photoshop, and Lightroom on the iPad (and the USB‑C connection on the latest iPad Pros), it’s never been easier to use the iPad for photography[^1].

And for entrepreneurs, it’s easier than ever to use the iPad as your only computer. It’s great for project management and email, and the cellular model makes it easy to manage your business anywhere.

For many people, the iPad is all they’ll ever need. But I am a designer, photographer, and writer who codes websites. This adds several wrinkles to this setup.

Somehow, the iPad is ten years old, and there still isn’t a great web design app available. Sketch and Figma are noticeably absent from the App Store, and Adobe seems uninterested in porting XD to the iPad.

On that note, we don’t have any great print design apps either. InDesign does not exist for the iPad. (I use InDesign on my Macs all the time.) Its competition, as limited as it is, isn’t on the iPad either. Publication design and professional page layout on the iPad is a non-starter. 

Even if InDesign or its competition arrived on the iPad, those apps require so many other simultaneous computing contexts that I’m not sure an iPad experience would ever be great. (I often have Photoshop, Finder, Illustrator, and InDesign open at the same time, all working on the same publication.)

Speaking of Photoshop: while you can edit photos with an iPad, I’m not sure anybody should manage them with it. The only DAM available for photography on the iPad is Lightroom. If you use Capture One, DxO, or any other alternatives, you can’t manage your photo library on the iPad. I’m currently a Lightroom user, but I don’t want to be bound to Adobe because of my hardware. (I’ve been considering Capture One for some time now.)

This isn’t necessarily about avoiding Adobe’s subscription fees. I am happy to pay for the tools I use to make a living. But as a working professional, I don’t want one option from one company. Competition breeds creativity and makes all the tools better. Philosophically, I don’t want Adobe to ever be the only option.

Finally, it’s also difficult to get web development done on an iPad. It’s not impossible, but without a desktop-class web inspector, and without local virtual machines or code compilers, the job becomes an arduous series of gotchas. (And the desktop-class Safari” on iPad works until it doesn’t. Without hover states or anything else we take for granted on a PC, the internet is a lot harder to use.)

Most people do not have jobs with requirements like mine. I’m sure many people can use an iPad every day for all their computing needs. And I’m sure there are some people in my situation who choose an iPad, and jump through its hurdles to use what is admittedly a more tactile device. 

But I just want to get work done. 

The real problems are edge cases. Many small tasks take much more effort on an iPad than they do a Mac. 

The other day, I made some quick edits to a Markdown document for a client. I needed to export the document as rich text and attach it to an email. This takes two clicks on my Mac; on an iPad, I had to fumble around for a few minutes until I got it done. 

My sister is a teacher. If she needs a new machine, she could very well use an iPad. However, if the website she uses to track student attendance and report grades doesn’t work on Safari in iPadOS, then it’s moot. She won’t install iCab to get the job done. She’ll be rightly frustrated, return the iPad, and get a Mac instead. 

I love my iPad. I genuinely like using it. I wrote this post as a way to talk myself into using the iPad more, but it slowly morphed. Here’s my basic problem, in a nutshell: if it’s faster to accomplish basic tasks with my laptop, I’d rather use that. I remain impressed by folks who use the iPad for their work every day, but for people like me, the iPad makes enough tradeoffs that I don’t think I could make the switch.

You can throw all the Magic Keyboards and Apple Pencils you want at this thing; it doesn’t make it any better at running the tools I need to get my job done.

[^1]: Because Lightroom CC relies on cloud storage, I’m not sure most professional photographers could rely on the iPad as their only computing device, but it can certainly be the mobile solution.

How to force your MacBook Pro to use its discrete graphics card when it’s plugged in

Note: This is only relevant if you are using a MacBook with a discrete graphics card. This includes modern 15” and 16” MacBook Pros. This will not work on any MacBook Air.

Now that I’m used to the consistently excellent performance of my iMac Pro, using my MacBook Pro is an exercise in frustration. It’s not just the terrible keyboard (although that’s a big part of it), it’s also the consistent feeling of lag I experience whenever I’m using the device.

Many people who read this will likely already know, but 15” and 16” MacBook Pros have two graphics cards. One is the integrated card, which is part of your machine’s regular CPU. The other is the discrete graphics card. The discrete graphics card is the machine’s isolated GPU; it runs separately from the onboard CPU. It’s much faster, runs hotter, and uses way more power.

After some googling, I figured out that my lag problem is related to the laptop’s integrated graphics card. You may experience similar issues with your machine; it’s not uncommon. The solution is to use the machine’s discrete graphics card instead.

Because the discrete GPU uses more energy, I don’t want to use it when I’m on battery power. It would quickly drain the battery. When I’m on the go, I want to optimize for long-lasting battery above almost all else.

But when I’m plugged in and charging the laptop, I always want to use the discrete graphics card. It makes the machine run much more smoothly, and removes any scrolling or keyboard or lag I experience in regular use.

That being said, there is no setting to change this in System Preferences. If you want better laptop performance while plugged in, and your laptop has a discrete GPU (i.e. a 15” or 16” MacBook Pro), then you need to use the command line.

Here’s what you want to type in the command line (in the Terminal app):

sudo pmset -c gpuswitch 1

You’ll be asked for your password (sudo tells the machine you’re the administrator), and then you’re done.

For people who are new to the command line, here’s an explainer of how this works.

This command adjusts the power management settings for the laptop’s chipset using something called pmset. You can adjust the power management settings while you’re on battery (pmset b), while you’re charging (pmset c), and all at once (pmset a).

The above command began with pmset c, which tells the machine you want to adjust power management settings for situations when you’re charging. Then, it tells the computer to always use the discrete GPU while charging (that’s what gpuswitch 1 does).

To reset this, you just need to type the following:

sudo pmset -c gpuswitch 2

gpuswitch 2 tells the machine to automatically switch between discrete and integrated graphics.

You can also run sudo pmset -c gpuswitch 0 if you want to always use the integrated graphics card while you’re plugged in.

You can modify any of these settings for different battery status situations. If you want to make these changes for situations when you’re running on battery power, any of the following will work (note we’ve just swapped pmset -c with pmset -b):

# Always use the integrated graphics card while running on battery power
sudo pmset -b gpuswitch 0

# Always use the discrete graphics card while running on battery power
sudo pmset -b gpuswitch 1

# Switch between discrete and integrated graphics cards automatically while running on battery power
sudo pmset -b gpuswitch 2

And if you want to control this setting globally, whether your laptop is plugged in or not, you just need to change pmset -b to pmset -c.

# Always use the integrated graphics card
sudo pmset -a gpuswitch 0

# Always use the discrete graphics card
sudo pmset -a gpuswitch 1

# Automatically switch between discrete and integrated graphics card (this is your laptop's default setting)
sudo pmset -a gpuswitch 2

And now you have finer control over your laptop’s power settings! If you want to make sure this is working, you can open Activity Monitor and view the Energy pane. The Graphics Card setting near the bottom of the window will tell you which card is operating.

(And thanks to Reddit user Freneboom, who gave me just enough information in this Reddit thread to figure all this out.)

Eleven tips for migrating a new Mac with Migration Assistant

I did it. I caved and I bought myself one of the new MacBook Pros with the scissors keyboard switches. (Which hopefully mean I can leave the house with my laptop without living in fear.) But that meant I had to migrate all my files and settings to this new machine.

I like setting things up from scratch and starting with a completely new setup, but that’s rarely feasible these days. Between my Linux VMs, my Git repositories, and even all the fonts I have installed, setting up a new machine would be a laborious practice.

So I used Migration Assistant for the first time. I wanted to write some tips and tricks about this process, because Apple’s kbase article isn’t particularly clear. And next time I need to do this, I’ll refer to this post as a starting point.

In the past, I’ve used SuperDuper to handle my migrations. That takes a lot of time and often encounters strange bugs. Rather than go down that route this time, Migration Assistant — which I’ve only ever heard good things about — seemed like a good bet.

But it’s not all smooth, of course. Here are some tips, tricks, and gotchas about this migration.

  1. Everything from your user account appears to get migrated over. This even includes anything you may have installed on the command line, which is great. It included all my virtual machines, which is also great. It does not include the cache, which is also probably for the best.
  2. It does not appear to matter if one machine is on a different OS from the other. I upgraded from Mojave to Catalina and, for the most part, everything went smoothly. (Related: Catalina is nicer than I thought it would be, although I’m unsure how to approach Zsh.)
  3. The fastest way to do this is to boot up your old machine in target disk mode and connect them via a cable. If you just run Migration Assistant on your old machine, the entire process will run over wifi. That’s too slow and unreliable for my liking. Boot into target disk mode and save yourself some trouble.
  4. Target disk mode means you can connect your two machines together with a good old Thunderbolt or USB‑C cable. You can use the USB‑C cable that came with your Mac. Generally, that’s a good idea. I bought this Thunderbolt cable to make this process faster, but the transfer was never faster than 90mb/​s. And you don’t need Thunderbolt 3 for that throughput. USB‑C will be just fine. (Because of this, I’ll be returning the cable I bought.)
  5. Most of your software does not need to be re-authenticated. 1Password, for example, was automatic. This was very nice.
  6. Some software, like Office, needs to be re-activated. Office is the only major culprit I’ve found, but I like to fix this stuff right away, so give each of your major apps a first-run experience. 
  7. If you use Git, you’ll need to hop into your directories and run git status to force the connection. (Or, at least, I had to.)
  8. I don’t know if this was because of Catalina or because of Migration Assistant, but I had to upgrade my VM software (VirtualBox) to the latest version. The documentation said to uninstall VirtualBox and re-install it. Uninstalling VirtualBox did not work, but reinstalling it did. If you encounter any issues with your local server setup (i.e. Homestead for Laravel or anything like that), your VM software is likely corrupted from the transfer.
  9. Similarly, Creative Cloud breaks when you run Migration Assistant. (It refused to let me log in and kept crashing.) I couldn’t uninstall Creative Cloud because that required uninstalling and later re-installing Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign, Illustrator, Première, and Audition. Ain’t nobody got time for that. It turns out, if you simply run the Creative Cloud installer again, the CC app will run without issue.
  10. None of your wallpapers migrate (boo!), but all your virtual desktops and their settings do (yay!).
  11. Finally: if you run Backblaze, read their kbase article before upgrading or you’ll have a rough time.

Apple’s new MacBook Pro

As a designer, developer, photographer, and writer, almost everything about the new MacBook Pro appeals to me. I’ve been through four laptops with their terribly butterfly keyboard, and I cannot wait to get something more reliable. The developer in me is so glad to get the inverted arrow keys back, and as somebody who writes a lot of words every day, I’m thrilled to have a reliable keyboard again.

All they had to do to make me happy was change the keyboard, but 64GB of RAM and 8TB of storage(!!!) is an unexpected perk. I’m also glad to see that the price has not jumped (actually, considering they’ve doubled the base hard drive size, it’s cheaper than it used to be).

This is the laptop I wanted Apple to drop in 2016. That we had to wait this long for them to fix the keyboard is unconscionable, but I’m glad to hear that they’ve finally done it.

A couple other quick thoughts:

  1. We still don’t have great external monitor options for these laptops (I’ve written about this before).
  2. If you have the means (or you work as a colourist for a major film studio), you can look forward to extending this laptop with two — two! — 6K Pro Display XDR screens. (The dream.)

I look forward to picking one of these laptops up when my budget allows. Probably not that 6K display though, Apple. Please just put the LG 5K display in a nice enclosure with a glass front, ok?

Thoughts on the new Mac Pro and Apple’s Studio Display

I’m a Mac fanboy, and the new Mac Pro looks astounding. The Afterburner card, as Apple’s calling it, makes it possible to render three 8K video streams of RAW footage in real time. Mind-blowing.

Of course, the Afterburner is a module that can be installed after purchase, or when you order a Mac Pro. Every Mac Pro can be configured to the user’s needs. So while I don’t need to edit three 8K streams of video without proxy files, I definitely need a ton of RAM and some solid GPU options (seriously, Lightroom turns every machine into a jet at takeoff). I could see a future version of myself relying on a version of the Mac Pro Apple unveiled this week.

The display looks incredible too. The Pro Display XDR (seriously, why didn’t they just call it the Pro Display?) looks amazing. But it’s going to cost nearly $10k in Canada to get the display and the stand — because the stand alone comes in at $999 USD. And that’s without the Mac Pro. That’s just the monitor.

For some professional environments, that cost is minimal. But for me, it’s more than it’s worth.

And I get it: I’m not necessarily the target market. The freelancing creative pro is not the upper echelon Apple is going for. But despite that, I miss the days of the Thunderbolt Display. I’d love to see Apple take the 5K display out of their iMacs and put that in a nice enclosure again, just like the old times. 

There’s a serious gap in the market where a Retina-resolution, well-designed monitor could exist.

If you wanted a standalone Retina 27”-class monitor, you’d better order the LG UltraFine 5K display. Before it sells out. But it’s also nearly $2000 Canadian, and it frankly isn’t that great of a display. (The screen is lovely, but the enclosure is garbage. I’m currently rocking the old 21.54K display, which is nice, but cramped.)

This all causes a problem: currently, there is no good way to live a single-machine lifestyle. Back in 2012, you could buy a quad-core 15” MacBook Pro and a top-of-the-line display for a few grand. That was a great setup: you got an excellent, fast machine with a great (Retina) display, and a nice way to get work done at a desk, all without the hassle of syncing files across machines.

There isn’t a great way to do that today. The current lineup of MacBook Pros are largely lacking (thanks mostly to the keyboard), and there are no great low-end external monitors. Most professionals who can afford it will likely end up with a desktop in their production environment and a laptop on the go. In between, you’ll be syncing everything between a combination of Dropbox/​iCloud/​OneDrive, Git, and external disks (hello again, Lightroom). It’s not ideal.

We always say things were simpler back in the old days, but 2012 wasn’t that long ago, and frankly, things were simpler then.

The best laptop ever made

From Marco Arment’s blog, writing about the 152012 – 2015 MacBook Pros:

It was the debut of high-DPI Macs, starting down the long road (which we still haven’t finished) to an all-Retina lineup. And with all-SSD storage, quad-core i7 processors, and a healthy amount of RAM all standard, every configuration was fast, capable, and pleasant to use. At its introduction, it was criticized only for ditching the optical drive and Ethernet port, but these were defensible, well-timed removals: neither could’ve even come close to physically fitting in the new design, very few MacBook Pro users were still using either on a regular basis, and almost none of us needed to buy external optical drives or Ethernet adapters to fit the new laptop into our lives. In exchange for those removals, we got substantial reductions in thickness and weight, and a huge new battery. There were no other downsides. Everything else about this machine was an upgrade: thinner, lighter, faster, better battery life, quieter fans, better speakers, better microphones, a second Thunderbolt port, and a convenient new HDMI port.

Two thoughts.

First, this is a brilliant essay, and a year in to using my 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I almost entirely agree. The Touch Bar is a bad idea, poorly implemented. I’m almost certain it won’t make it to the desktop line.

The new keyboard feels wonderful to me, but I completely understand why many people say it’s a bad keyboard. It’s too opinionated. I’d be happier if it had a bit more travel, too. I miss all the ports. Basically, I want the old machine with Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports where the Thunderbolt 2 ones were before. That was a great port arrangement and layout.

I do, however, strongly disagree with him about the trackpad. Using the old models makes my fingers feel cramped. That was a good move, in retrospect.

Finally, my second thought: Marco’s post felt like something Stephen Hackett would write.

The new MacBook Pro keyboard is ruining our lives

Casey Johnston has an article at The Outline about how bad the MacBook Pro keyboard is, which is an issue that has plagued many people I know — including myself.

In March of this year, a scant five months after I bought my 2016 13” MacBook Pro With Touch Bar (Apple could stand to shorten the name too), my space bar got stuck.

At first, I thought it was me. In my ten+ years of owning Apple equipment, I couldn’t accept that the fault was the laptop. I actively thought I was hitting the key wrong. This was before there was a ton of hubbub about these keyboards, or at least before I was aware of the hubbub.

About a week after I first noticed the issue, it was to the point where the space bar never worked. No matter how I hit it. So I brought it to an Apple Store tout suite. First, they told me I was hitting it wrong.

I’m not joking. The Apple Store Genius told me I was typing wrong.

Then, after trying it himself, he agreed this was a real problem. He set out to fix the issue, and told me they were going to replace the space bar on my keyboard.

He came out about an hour later and told me the problem was solved, and that they had removed and replaced the space bar. There was a piece of dust, I was told, and they had removed it. This fixed” my issue, he claimed.

But the keyboard still didn’t work.

I tested it before I left the store, and promptly returned the laptop to the Genius’ hands. First, he assured me (again) that I was typing wrong. Then, he tried it, and agreed there was still a problem.

Keep in mind, this was the same Genius who helped me before.

He took my laptop away and told me they’d let me know” when they identified the issue. I was told they’d keep my computer overnight to run some diagnostics and take a look at it, since they had never encountered” this issue before.

Twenty-four hours later, they called me mid-afternoon to ask if I had a recent backup of my hard drive. They took my space bar off, but they couldn’t get the space bar back on because they key had snapped. So they needed to replace the entire bottom case on my laptop, and that part order and replacement would take three days or less. They were going to rush it because they knew my business relied on my laptop. It should go fine, they said, but they wanted to make sure I had a backup in case something happened.

Two days and twenty-three hours later, they called me with good news and bad news. The good news was that my part had arrived. The bad news was that the keyboard was somehow associated with the Touch Bar, and the connection there had gone faulty, which meant they had to replace the Touch Bar. They said that all of my keys were mis-aligned, because the keyboard wasn’t properly set in the factory to begin with, and that was when the problem started. I was lucky to have made it five months into my usage.

But Touch ID is connected to the Touch Bar, so they had to replace that too. And Touch ID is connected to the logic board, so that was getting replaced. And the hard drive and the RAM were both soldered to the logic board, so…

Well, you get the picture.

Then, instead of replacing the laptop, which would have made more sense at that point, they replaced the logic board, SSD, RAM, Touch Bar with Touch ID, and external casing on my MacBook Pro. I got it back eight days after I handed it to the Genius Bar.

Just the other day, I realized that my warranty was coming up to a close on this MacBook Pro. I’m approaching my first full year of ownership. So I spent $375 (Canadian), including taxes, on AppleCare for my $3,000 laptop. Because for the first time since I started buying Apple products, I absolutely do not trust this machine.

But it’s my daily driver. What can I do?

I really like typing on this keyboard, but I hate this keyboard.

iPhone XX Futurology

Designer Mike Rundle put together an incredibly detailed blog post about a potential iPhone XX in 2027. I don’t normally bet on patents, but Mike is a smart guy and has done some terrific (and plausible) research here.