eXtensions - Wednesday 1 March 2017

Speculation on What will Come from Apple's Magic Hat Next (Bangkok Post, Life)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Now that dates for WWDC are known, commentators are speculating about what comes next from Apple. Last year they were sure that the iPhone 7 was to be a dud and that worked out well. It is possible that a March event will have new iPads and even new Macs: some love from Apple is needed here.

The rumour mill grinds into action now that Apple has announced WWDC for 2017. You may remember last year with the approach of the iPhone 7, we were told by countless pundits that this was to be a failure, compounded by the lack of innovation and (paradoxically) the removal of the headphone jack. The Earbuds were to be connected via the Lightning port and this was to be a disaster.

iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone 7 Plus models - Image courtesy of Apple

Fast forward a few months and the picture is different. Few who bought the iPhone 7 missed a beat with the Lightning connectors, and if anyone insisted on using devices with a 3.5mm jack, Apple provided an adapter in the box.

Earpods and 3.5mm adapter
Earpods with iPhone 7 models plus Lightning to 3.5mm adapter

Conveniently that also works with medical devices, like the blood-glucose monitor I bought.

Blood-glucose monitoring unit
Blood-glucose monitoring unit

We have already been told by some experts that Apple is not going to innovate with the iPhone 8, or iPhoneX that some want to call it as a reminder that we have had 10 years of iPhones. Apple will just consolidate existing technologies. This may include an OLED (Organic Light-emitting Diode) screen, with Bloomberg reporting that Applied Materials Inc. has increased orders for machines to make these screens. We should also expect to see a newer, faster processor and no one has any firm idea what the A11 might do.

Previous A-series chips had a secure enclave for storage of mathematical fingerprint data (not the print itself), while the A10 had fusion technology allowing some resources to be used for power apps (like games) while other cores looked after more workaday processes such as mail. Don't forget 64-bit computing too. Some developers have and their apps will stop working soon. Face-recognition technology may be on the way and Apple recently bought RealFace: an Israeli company that specialises in this area.

It is good to make incremental improvements to existing technology rather than add on unnecessary bells and whistles: the Asus Padfone was a wonderful example of this; but there have been other manufacturers who include tricks because they can. Apple has been tarred with this brush over its Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, but this is mainly by those who haven't used the computer.

I compare the limited use of the Touch Bar with the preference of some users to stick to the mouse (or touchpad) when for years power users of Macs have used keystrokes: a far more efficient way to work. Once these are incorporated into the mental toolset we each develop, the workflow improves. I have noticed a similar adaptation to the way I work when the Touch Bar is available.

Touch Bar
MacBook Pro Touch Bar - Safari

Most of the time, if I am writing in my preferred third-party text editor, there are no related options on the Touch Bar, so I stick to the cursor and keystrokes. However, even in this non-adaptive state, Volume, Brightness, Siri and other options are available on the Touch Bar if I want them.

Touch Bar
MacBook Pro Touch Bar - Affinity Photo

Switching to an application that is optimised for the Touch Bar, I have a set of tools available that I can use if I wish. I have found that initially, I tend not to try these, sticking to better-known keys or menus, but gradually I begin to incorporate the Touch Bar tools into my workflow, and that includes spelling suggestions as I type in certain applications.

iPad Pro
iPad Pro - Image courtesy of Apple

There is some speculation that Apple might be planning a special event in March. This makes sense as most previous iPad introductions have been early in the month and some hardware updates are overdue.

Favourite for the event (if it happens) are updated iPad Pro models, with the smaller of the two going up to a 10.5" screen. That would make much sense. The 12.9" version is my preferred device for productive work, and several graphic artists prefer the larger screen area, and the Apple Pencil. The small increase from 9.7" might be just the boost the smaller Pro model needs. There is no news on the iPad mini or iPad Air.

Apple Pencil
Apple Pencil with 12.9" iPad Pro

Some commentators hope that new Macs could also be announced if this March event takes place. It is possible, but would make the presentation cluttered. A second event in early April if there are indeed new Macs (and I hope so), would spread the load better: for Apple, reviewers and distributors. The iMacs need a refresh at least, but there is also some talk of a separate keyboard with a Touch bar.

Touch Bar
iMac models - Image courtesy of Apple

The workhorse Mac mini needs much love from Apple right now too. I have owned several of these underrated, small machines and they churn away out of sight as servers or in offices. Several colleagues have these and we have two labs full of them. Then there is the Mac Pro which arrived in a blaze of glory in 2013 with Xeon chips. Some commentators expect this to be phased out, but there is some optimism that this may see at least a speed bump.

My BeatsX headphones arrived on Monday so I will be reviewing them for the eXtensions column next week: I am not over-impressed at my early examination of them and far prefer the Air Pods, despite some advantages.

Touch Bar
BeatsX with Apple Air Pods

See also:

  • Apple's Suppliers Gear Up to Bring New Screens to 2017 iPhone (Alex Webb and Ian King, Bloomberg)

  • Universal Display Jumps 20%: iPhone X Just the Beginning, Say Bulls (Tiernan Ray, Barron's)

  • Apple reportedly snaps up Israeli facial recognition company RealFace for $2 million (Mike Wuerthele, AppleInsider)

  • BeatsX in Blue: First Impressions - Not a Replacement for Air Pods

    Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)

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