Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for March, 2022

The Missing Mid-Range Desktop Mac

Killian Bell, Cult of Mac:

The larger iMac probably isn’t gone for good. Apple is rumored to be working on a new model with a revamped design that will be powered by its latest and most powerful M1 chipsets, likely including the incredibly new M1 Ultra.

John Gruber:

I can’t speak to the rumors, but product-fit-wise, I think the 27-inch iMac doesn’t have a spot in the lineup anymore. I think the Mac Studio and Studio Display fill that spot. It even makes sense in hindsight that the consumer-level iMac went from 21 to 24 inches, if it’s going to be the one and only iMac.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

But what if you’re someone who falls in the middle, what once was called the “prosumer” market? There’s actually a surprising dearth of options on the desktop side. The Mac mini and iMac offer only the 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 processor — even in the top of the line iMac, starting at $1699. To get anything more than that, you’d have to jump to a $1999 Mac Studio, and then add a display like Apple’s new $1599 Studio Display. That’s $2000 more than that top of the line iMac.

Moreover, because of the limitations of the M1 chip, the iMac and the Mac mini offer only a maximum of 16GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt ports—the same as an M1 MacBook Air.

I think Moren is more right than Gruber on this one. The Mac Studio occupies a position more akin to the old iMac Pro. In fact, if you build a cart today with the base M1 Ultra Mac Studio model, a Studio Display — standard configuration — a Magic Keyboard, and a Magic Mouse, it is within $200 of the inflation-adjusted price of a base iMac Pro from its launch in 2017. That seems right to me.

The Mac Studio may start with an M1 Max configuration at half the price of the M1 Ultra model, but it is $200 more than the base price of the Intel 27-inch iMac. The Mac Studio’s lowest possible configuration is way better than the Intel model used to offer — 32 GB of RAM compared to just 8 GB, twice the storage, and a better port selection — but you need to buy a 5K display, too. Good luck with that.

I think a mid-range iMac is still a welcome addition to the line. Apple has been extolling the virtues of an all-in-one for decades, and its computers have a greater lifespan — how many people do you know who still used an early 2000s Mac in the late 2000s? There still seems to be space to offer something to a midrange user who has outgrown the M1 iMac, but does not need the raw performance of the Mac Studio. It seems possible to me this could take the form of a different-sized iMac as much as it could a higher-specced version of the 24-inch model.

An Early Look at the Details of M1 Ultra

Ryan Smith, AnandTech:

The net result is a chip that, without a doubt, manages to be one of the most interesting designs I’ve ever seen for a consumer SoC. As we’ll touch upon in our analysis, the M1 Ultra is not quite like any other consumer chip currently on the market. And while double die strategy benefits sprawling multi-threaded CPU and GPU workloads far more than it does more single-threaded tasks — an area where Apple is already starting to fall behind — in the process they re breaking new ground on the GPU front. By enabling the M1 Ultra’s two dies to transparently present themselves as a single GPU, Apple has kicked off a new technology race for placing multi-die GPUs in high-end consumer and workstation hardware.

As with the keynote yesterday, I struggle to translate the massive numbers in Smith’s analysis to real-world effects. For those of us with workflows that revolve mostly around email and web browsing, it can be hard to appreciate the significant leap forward represented by chips like the M1 Ultra.

I use a ten year old laptop every day. It is fine for reading and writing in the evening, and one reason it has lasted so long is because it has a solid-state drive. The raw read/write speed of the drive does not matter very much to me, but the long-term advantages have become obvious. I have to wonder how the capabilities of these high-end SoCs will trickle down over time as the chips used by consumer-grade products catch up to their performance today.

Shackleton’s Lost Ship, Found

Jonathan Amos, BBC News:

The Endurance, the lost vessel of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, was found at the weekend at the bottom of the Weddell Sea.

The ship was crushed by sea-ice and sank in 1915, forcing Shackleton and his men to make an astonishing escape on foot and in small boats.

Video of the remains show Endurance to be in remarkable condition.

Even though it has been sitting in 3km (10,000ft) of water for over a century, it looks just like it did on the November day it went down.

There are no bad days to listen to the Weakerthans’ “Our Retired Explorer”, but today is a particularly good day for doing so.

Mac Studio

Apple:

Apple today introduced Mac Studio and Studio Display, an entirely new Mac desktop and display designed to give users everything they need to build the studio of their dreams. A breakthrough in personal computing, Mac Studio is powered by M1 Max and the new M1 Ultra, the world’s most powerful chip for a personal computer. It is the first computer to deliver an unprecedented level of performance, an extensive array of connectivity, and completely new capabilities in an unbelievably compact design that sits within arm’s reach on the desk. […]

The evolution of this family of systems-on-chips is getting hard for me to fully understand. My background is digital design, so I spend a lot of time in Sketch, Photoshop, and Illustrator; I am also a front-end developer, so I use software like Nova, too. I dabble in a light video and photo editing, and I write. It is a boring workflow that has not meaningfully changed in years for someone with my lightweight needs. My 2017 iMac works fine for these needs.

I appreciated the video from today’s announcement showing what these M1 Ultra processors are capable of, because it put it into terms I can understand. It seems the fluidity of my comparative undemanding workflow is now being experienced in the motion graphics and 3D rendering world. Even with my limited knowledge, that is wild.

It was the Studio Display that also impressed me most. It truly feels like a spiritual successor to the Thunderbolt Display, one of my all-time favourite products. It is hugely expensive, but probably seems reasonably priced because the only other 5K display worth considering, the LG UltraFine 5K, is just $300 less expensive. The 4K version of that same display is $700, which makes me think the 5K model costs $1,300 because LG had no competition.

So what do you get for the $300 premium over the LG? An aluminum enclosure and stand, an A13 chip for features like Centre Stage, and an I/O package that allows it to be a complete docking station for laptops as far back as the 2016 MacBook Pro. I know it is expensive, but this seems like an attainable dream display for me.

I am looking forward to seeing the reviews of these products from people who can actually push their capabilities as intended.

So, how did I do in my Sunday speculation post? Well, the Mac Studio does not replace the Mac Mini. I dramatically underestimated the kind of product this would be. But my guesses at the end of the post about Apple’s displays are looking alright. The Studio Display is, contrary to rumours, a 5K resolution model that augmented the display lineup rather than replacing the Pro Display XDR. But kudos must go to Filipe Espósito at 9to5Mac: the name and the A13 SoC were correct.

Remember how, about five years ago, being a Mac user felt like a risky proposition? Remember how it felt like Apple did not care much for desktop computers or laptops? The last couple of years have flipped that impression on its head like nothing I can remember. What a great time to be a Mac user.

The Magical Disappearing 27-Inch iMac

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

However, as the dust of the event cleared, the existing 27-inch iMac was nowhere to be found: it’s no longer displayed on the Mac section, nor is it obviously available for purchase on Apple’s website. Putting it in the Compare tool shows no price, nor Buy button.

The M1 iMac continues to be branded the “iMac 24″” which seems to leave the door open for a different-sized model. That suggests to me that a hypothetical 27-inch would be viewed more like a size variant and have more in common with the 24-inch model, treating today’s announcement of the Mac Studio as the heir to the iMac Pro role in the line — display, keyboard, and mouse sold separately.

Even When Closely Watched, Surveillance Is Easy to Misinterpret

Trevor Timm, writing for the New York Times about what it was like to be on the other side when his wife, Kashmir Hill, surveilled him using location beacons:

Despite what some readers said in the comments section of the article and on social media, I have a trusting wife, and I was happy to play a small role in highlighting the privacy implications of emerging technology. But when I heard and saw all of these misinterpretations about my day, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who might be surveilled without their consent, whether it’s by a spouse, an employer or law enforcement.

Timm connects Hill’s mild confusion about his day to the U.S. military’s misinterpretation of video feeds last year when they killed ten civilians — including seven children and Zemari Ahmadi, an aid worker — in a drone strike. Clearly, these are not directly comparable events, but there are echoes in a failure to correctly understand surveillance.

These Recent Apple Hardware Rumours Are Adding Up All Funny

Have you been looking at these recent Apple hardware rumours? I have, and they are adding up all weird.

On Friday, Filipe Espósito of 9to5Mac reported that Apple was developing a 7K resolution “Studio Display”:

By comparison, Pro Display XDR has a 32-inch 6K (6016 x 3384) panel with 218 pixels per inch. A higher resolution could mean that the new Apple Studio Display will have a higher pixel density of 245 PPI or that it will keep the same 218 PPI as the Pro Display XDR but on a larger 36-inch panel.

Separately, a Mac Mini-based “Mac Studio” is also apparently being worked on:

Based on information seen by 9to5Mac, the new Mac Studio is primarily based on the Mac mini, but with much more powerful hardware. Apple has two versions of Mac Studio under development. One features the M1 Max chip (the same as the 2021 MacBook Pro) and the other a variant of the Apple Silicon chip that is even more powerful than the current M1 Max.

Espósito did not give any timeline for either product’s launch.

Today, Ming-Chi Kuo acknowledged a few forthcoming products in a single tweet:

Predictions for Apple’s new desktop products:

1. 2022: More powerful Mac mini and more affordable external display (27-inch without mini-LED).

2. 2023: Mac Pro and iMac Pro.

Sami Fathi, of MacRumors, reporting on Kuo’s tweet:

Kuo’s prediction that Apple does not plan to release an iMac Pro until next year is at odds with information shared by display analyst Ross Young. Young, who also boasts a credible track record regarding Apple products, has said an iMac Pro could launch as soon as June this year.

The iMac Pro is expected to replace the 27-inch Intel-based iMac currently in the lineup and be sold alongside the 24-inch desktop computer announced in April 2021. Young has said the iMac Pro will feature mini-LED and previous rumors suggest a similar design to the 24-inch size.

I am trying to combine these rumours into a coherent narrative, but I am finding that difficult so far. Before I get into it, I know this is a little waste of time: we are only a couple of days away from Apple’s first product launch of the year, and these products will eventually launch regardless of speculation. But there are worse ways to spend a Sunday evening than indulging in some careless speculation.

The “Mac Studio”, “more powerful Mac Mini”, and “smaller Mac Pro” reported by Mark Gurman in 2020 are likely all the same product. I bet whatever this is replaces the current Mac Mini in a similar way to how, in 2018, a much more powerful Mac Mini replaced its predecessor and effectively changed its role in the lineup. No longer was it the cheap Mac for someone just trying to replace their tower Windows box at the lowest price. Overnight, it became a computer that worked as well for someone exploring the Mac world for the first time as it did for an experienced developer who was not in the market for a standalone model as hardcore as the Mac Pro.

The timing of the new iMac Pro seems like a question of supply chain capacity. When it announced its transition to its own systems-on-chips in June 2020, Apple said it expected its lineup to be fully transitioned in two years. Perhaps this is simply a case of priorities changing so systems more closely related to existing processors — like this new Mac Studio product — can launch ahead of the iMac Pro and Mac Pro.

These new displays, though — that is where I am having the most trouble reconciling these rumours. Kuo is calling for a lower-cost non-mini-LED display, but Espósito says the “Studio Display” will be a 7K model. Gurman has said Apple is working on two displays, and the report from Young — who is a display analyst — says the iMac Pro will have a mini-LED panel. All that indicates, to me, at least three different types of display: a standalone 27-inch model without mini-LEDs, a mini-LED model built into the iMac Pro — which I assume will stay around 27 inches — and a bigger display also with mini-LEDs to replace the Pro Display XDR.

Silly season seems to come earlier every year.

iCloud Plus Custom Email Domains Should Be Better

Dominic Lautner collected a good series of omissions and problems with the current implementation of custom email domains in iCloud. I think this one is worth highlighting:

If something goes wrong, you’ll get an error message along the lines of:

There was a problem with adding this email address. Please try again later.

However, if you open your browser’s developer console and inspect the response payload from a POST request going to https://p31-maildomainws.icloud.com/v1/alias/add, you’ll see what’s actually going on: […]

I have snipped the code block, but the relevant portion is an error message in the response that reads “mx record not pointing to iCloud”. This is a useful, well-written message, but it is not exposed to the user. Why does it display the vague error and not this much better one? Someone who is adding a custom email domain is going to be configuring MX records for that domain, so this message is neither too technical nor unexpected.

This is a frequent problem with recent software from Apple and other companies. Vague and, worse, cutesy error messages do not fill me with confidence. If there is a problem, please tell users exactly what is wrong and, as much as possible, how to fix it.

Goodreads Apparently Deleted Nelson Minar’s Entire Account

Nelson Minar:

Goodreads lost my entire account last week. Nine years as a user, some 600 books and 250 carefully written reviews all deleted and unrecoverable. Their support has not been helpful. In 35 years of being online I’ve never encountered a company with such callous disregard for their users’ data.

First, this sucks.

Second, Minar suggests backing up your data from cloud services. This is probably good advice, but it is made needlessly difficult because users do not — and arguably should not — need to ensure for themselves that big companies with lots of redundant servers are able to host files reliably and securely. Yet, here we are. While writing this paragraph, I had to quit and relaunch Music on MacOS because it thought the album I was streaming was no longer available, but it was only some sort of bug. This is software from the world’s most valuable company.

Goodreads is not some scrappy start-up. It has been owned by Amazon for nine years. These are big companies with big budgets and lots of customers, but they still act like they are just figuring this stuff out. That era is long over. Software needs a warranty, and so do services.

Facebook’s ‘Transparency Center’ Says Its Most Popular Page in Q4 2021 Was Removed for ‘Violating Community Standards’

Facebook today published a new version of its “Widely Viewed Content Report” in its “Transparency Center”. Ryan Broderick, in his Garbage Day newsletter, shares a notable highlight:

According to Facebook, the most widely viewed page in the US was taken down “for violating Community Standards.” And the platform won’t say what those standards are. Even more curious, the most viewed link on Facebook was from a TikTok page that doesn’t exist anymore either. And if you search the ID number of the now-deleted page, you get Google search results for a page with the same name as the now deleted TikTok account. They both belong to some kind of viral publisher called “That ain’t right”.

According to what we can see from Google’s cache, the That ain’t right page was posting an incredible amount of junk, but it was also posting a very specific kind of junk. Most of the posts, which can be seen here, are image macros that ask for some kind of engagement. Like the picture of french fries up there, which is captioned, “only pick 2.” Which would then led users to argue about their favorite french fries in the comments.

This standards-violating page has been popular for a while. Unfortunately, Facebook decided against creating permalinks to all previous reports; it requires you to download them in a big zip file, which makes it seem like either the company had no idea it would produce these reports every quarter or it is trying to bury older copies. But if you start poking around a little, you will find coverage showing that the page in question was the seventh most popular in Facebook’s Q3 2021 report. This was a massive page among U.S. Facebook audiences, yet only recently strayed over the line? I do not buy that. Someone on Reddit claimed the comments on the page were full of scammers, but I bet that is a side effect of the page’s popularity. I bet it was banned for juicing its popularity — but Facebook will not say.

There is so much junk in this report. Three of the most widely viewed links are from the sibling TikTok account to the banned page; the sixteenth most popular link was removed by Facebook, but the company will not acknowledge what it was or why it was removed. The fourteenth most popular link is apparently this YouTube channel which has, as of the time I write this, just twenty subscribers and no videos. Over thirty million users saw it. How does that make any sense?

Epic Games Acquires Bandcamp

Ethan Diamond of Bandcamp:

Since our founding in 2008, we’ve been motivated by the pursuit of our mission, which is to help spread the healing power of music by building a community where artists thrive through the direct support of their fans. That simple idea has worked well, with payments to artists and labels closing in on $1 billion USD. And while over the years we’ve heard from other companies who wanted us to join them, we’ve always felt that doing so would only be exciting if they strongly believed in our mission, were aligned with our values, and not only wanted to see Bandcamp continue, but also wanted to provide the resources to bring a lot more benefit to the artists, labels, and fans who use the site. Epic ticks all those boxes. We share a vision of building the most open, artist-friendly ecosystem in the world, and together we’ll be able to create even more opportunities for artists to be compensated fairly for their work.

Bummed as I am that yet another independent business gets swallowed up by a much larger company — itself 40% owned by Tencent — this kind of makes sense to me from a business perspective. Take a look at this 2020 conversation between Twitter user “Productive Citizen” and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney:

Sweeney: Let’s math this. 500 reviewers * 40 hours per week / 100,000 apps = 12 minutes of review time per app.

So, A developer spends 1000’s of hours creating an app, and 100’s of hours updating it. Apple spends 12 minutes reviewing the update and takes 30%.

Productive Citizen: Tim, why not approach this with the model Bandcamp uses? They don’t do in-app purchases, but instead use the mobile browser to allow purchases. I think the fact that Bandcamp exists on iOS will ultimately hurt your case against Apple.

Sweeney: That’s a bad customer experience which Apple forces on developers in order to prevent fair competition for payment processing. It would be wrong to play along with that.

This was retweeted into my timeline as something that “aged badly”, but I think it speaks to a rationale for why Epic and Bandcamp make a good match. To avoid Apple’s 30% surcharge on in-app purchases of digital goods, the Bandcamp app is limited to being a front-end for streaming music and purchasing physical products. Digital files are “not available for purchase on this device”, according to the app, with no explanation for how someone may go about acquiring them.

This is not the only hurdle. Even if you figure out that you must visit the album page through Safari and complete your purchase there,1 you cannot add the songs to your Music library on an iPhone or iPad. Those shortcomings really are a crappy customer experience; they sure make the iTunes Store or Apple Music look more compelling for a user.

I can see why Epic would want a non-gaming angle for its antitrust arguments, and I can see why Bandcamp would want the lawyers afforded to a larger company. It cannot be the only reason for this acquisition, but I bet Epic’s disagreement with Apple and Google is a rationale for buying Bandcamp. A subsidiary like Bandcamp will help strengthen Epic’s case. But it also feels like a bummer for the artists whose output and livelihood is treated almost as an interchangeable commodity by these platforms. It is all just “content” to them.


  1. Which, by the way, Apple’s rules make needlessly cumbersome. While you can share an album page using the system-standard share sheet, the URL is treated as plain text, so no “Open in Safari” option in presented in the sheet. You must copy the URL and then paste it into Safari. A minor inconvenience, for sure, but one of those seemingly petty things done solely to appease App Review. ↩︎

J. Kenji López-Alt on Technique

I spent the early part of 2020 distracting myself from the rapidly shifting pandemic world by, in part, making a concerted effort to improve my cooking technique — not in a competitive or performative way, but because I wanted a better understanding of what I was doing. It was around that time I stumbled across one of J. Kenji López-Alt’s YouTube videos — I think it was maybe late night sesame noodles — and I was hooked. Here is a YouTube channel filled with technique and, most often, coherent explanations for what is happening and what decisions he is making — the “late night” videos being the exception — without getting dry or prescriptive.

Helen Rosner, of the New Yorker, interviewed López-Alt ahead of the release of his new book about the wok. Here is what he said about the difference between technique and recipes:

The technique is something that has wide applications. It’s a method, as opposed to a recipe, which is just the one thing. If I ask my phone, “How do I get from here to the post office?,” it gives me a recipe to the post office. I can just stare at my phone and see how many feet I have to walk this way, which way I turn, and then I get to the post office. Whereas learning a technique is like being handed the map. It allows you to choose other destinations—it allows you to choose alternate routes. That’s basically the difference to me: a recipe is turn-by-turn directions, a technique is a map.

This is a good interview. Even if you are not a keen cook, I think there is a lot to appreciate from a discussion with a person so passionate about their work.