One thing macOS does better, one thing Windows does better

This week I’ve been using the M1 MacBook Air exclusively for work (I’ll post more on the experience soon) and as I’ve grown accustomed to using it for days at a time instead of hours, I’ve come to see how it does some things better than Windows.

But Windows still bests it in certain ways.

Here’s one way each is better than the other, in my opinion, WHICH IS OBJECTIVELY CORRECT.

macOS: Better font rendering. Fonts do not look bad in windows, but they look better on Macs. This is especially noticeable when you get into smaller font sizes or where color contrast is higher. Everything looks a little smoother on a Mac’s screen.

Windows: Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its name, but window management is better on Windows. It has easy to use options for snapping windows in place and resizing them, and has other handy features like window previews on the taskbar and more logical behavior on the taskbar vs. Apple’s dock.

I’ll expand more on which OS does things better in a future post, but I can confidently say that people who tout one being obviously superior to the other (without having some weird edge case or niche use) are big fat liars. For common tasks like browsing the web, listening to music, writing or doodling, they are both fine.

A list of all the things I like about Apple

Time to be positive for a change.

  • The Apple logo is nice
  • The M1 MacBook Air offers excellent performance
  • Apple includes the fast Thunderbolt 3/4 interface on all of its computers–and now on an iPad
  • They seem to be on the right side of user privacy
  • The Apple Watch clocks (ho ho) all other smartwatches in terms of versatility and performance
  • They’ve been around for over 40 years, they can’t be *all* bad
  • My iPhone 12 works as intended
  • My iPad Pro is really pretty good as a drawing tablet
  • Did I mention the logo is nice?

The best (worst) YouTube thumbnail for an M1 iMac review

Macrumors posted this YouTube link for their review of the M1 iMac just released.

Yes, the computer is facing away. It is backwards. It was explained by noting that the orange on the back of the iMac is much more saturated and vivid than the pastel orange found on the front-facing chin, so they wanted to show that.

I’d like to think no one would ever actually set up their iMac this way but…you just never know.

Why are wireless mice so bad on the Mac?

Seriously, this should be a solved problem, but the only way to get consistent performance on a mouse when I’m using any Mac (I have owned three in the past four years) is to use one that plugs in using old-fashioned cables.

Tonight I have been using my MacBook Air with the Logitech Marathon mouse and it started out fine, but over time the mouse cursor starts to become slow and then erratic, glitching across the screen. It improves for a bit, then starts glitching again. If I dig out one of my old wired mice it works just fine, so it seems like there’s something up with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity on Macs.

This never happens in Windows. In fact, I can take this exact same mouse and use it in Windows right now and it will operate perfectly fine. My regular Windows mouse is a Logitech G703 wireless gaming mouse. It works perfectly when untethered.

I just don’t get it. It’s like Apple optimizes the OS to only work with their mice and nothing else. It’s incredibly annoying and reminds me why I never manage to make it long whenever I try using the Mac. For an OS that gets lauded for its stability and design, it has some pretty deep flaws.

At least the keyboard works properly. Oh wait, it’s plugged in. Bleah.

EDIT: Here, have an amusing (?) semi-related gif:

MacBook Air M1, Test #2: Hooking up things

In this test I take my Apple dongle (heh heh) and hook up the following things to the Air:

  • Asus 24″ monitor via HDMI
  • Logitech M720 Marathon mouse (using USB Type-A wireless receiver)
  • CTRL mechanical keyboard via USB-C

I’ve done similar with the MacBook Po in the past and the good news is everything simply works as expected. The default mouse tracking speed is set in a way that I am convinced it is meant to test your patience as it very slowly and carefully tracks across the screen. But that is easily adjusted.

The monitor works fine and looks good once True Tone is turned off. Every time I connect an Apple laptop to this thing it makes me want a 4K monitor. Someday.

The keyboard just works, as expected.

So until my dock arrives, I can use this jury-rigged system to use the Air for writing and such activities. And I will.

Starting tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Definitely by the weekend.

I’m not kidding. Just watch.

Also, I have added a few more apps:

  • Discord. Intel-only but runs fine. It’s mainly a chat program, so it doesn’t have to do a lot (I don’t plan on streaming games from the MacBook Air, though that could prove modestly amusing)
  • Day One. Maybe I’ll finally commit to this journaling thing and record my darkest thoughts for all the world to never see but wonder about. Until I re-post everything to this blog.

The new MacBook Air and its allegedly silent clicking

This is not a full review, as I’ve only had my 2020 M1-based MacBook Air for a day, but I can give a few impressions.

First, yes, I got a replacement for my 2016 MacBook Pro just a few weeks shy of its four-year free keyboard replacement offer ending.

After mulling over the differences between the equivalent MacBook Pro replacement and the Air, I opted to go with the Air because:

  • The Air costs a fair bit less, allowing me to increase the ram and storage without spending more
  • They have the exact same M1 chip, so general performance is pretty much identical
  • The Air only loses out on sustained performance, something my use case would rarely if ever hit
  • As a bonus to the above, the Air has no fan, so is completely silent
  • The Touch Bar still seems like a goofy, unnecessary idea
  • The extra battery life of the Pro is nice, but the Air is already way better than what I had before, so the improvement in the Pro is not worth the price premium

Setting up the Air was pretty straightforward. I have made a new rule this time, which I plan to strictly enforce (until I stop):

Only install programs I am actually using, not ones I might use or may eventually need to install. Slim (installs) is in. So far I have installed:

  • Firefox
  • Edge (to have a Chromium-flavored browser handy)
  • Ulysses
  • OneDrive

And that’s it!

For Firefox, I started with the current non-native version, but it was just janky enough to drive me to use the 84.0a beta, which is M1 native. The two issues I encountered were crashes on quitting and searches not working. Annoying and I could have probably managed, but the beta has been stable and runs fast.

Ulysses is M1 native. Edge and OneDrive are running under Rosetta 2 translation, but they both seem fine. So software-wise, I haven’t had any major issues, or nothing that couldn’t be fixed fairly easily.

I set up Touch ID and it is fast. FAST. Pretty much instant. But having the system unlock with the Apple Watch is even better.

The system wakes up almost instantly, too.

Battery life so far seems very good, though I haven’t really used the Air enough to give it a proper workout.

I selected Silent Clicking for the trackpad, but can still hear it click. Maybe I need to reboot? Maybe silent means kind of silent.

Oh, and the keyboard. This feels much closer to the keyboard on my old 2013 MacBook Air. It is still clicky (and clicks notably with my caveman typing style), but the clicks are much softer, because there is actual travel now. It no longer feels like pounding your fingertips into hard, unyielding plastic. It’s what the 2016 keyboard should have been. Better late than never, I suppose.

I’ve ordered a dock for the Air and in a few days will ship off my Mac mini for trade-in, so the Air will be doubling both as my laptop (for the future days when people can take laptops outside their homes again) and as a desktop machine, where simply plugging one cable from the dock to a Thunderbolt port should be all I need to get it working with an external monitor, keyboard, mouse and all that stuff.

So far it seems pretty good. We’ll see how it holds up over the long term. My MacBook Pro still works, but I can’t say I ever enjoyed typing on it. Considering it was my primary writing tool for a few years, that was a bit of a problem. Hopefully the Air will be a better overall experience.

Oh Siri, Part 907

John Gruber posted about a tweet from Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, in which his Apple Watch responds to the question, “What time is it in London?” by showing the time in…London, Ontario.

Gruber later found that his Watch and HomePod both gave different answers, which only underscores how fractured and broken the Siri experience is (if you didn’t click the first link, the HomePod gave the time for London, England.

While this is not the biggest error (or technically an error at all), it demonstrates how sort-of dumb Siri is. When people ask what time it is in London, they are almost certainly asking about London, England. People understand this because London, England is one of the most famous cities in the world (sorry, London, Ontario). But Siri seems to (sometimes, sometimes not) go by proximity and misses the obvious answer.

And is often slow in doing so.

And will sometimes report no connection when there is, in fact, a connection (the servers at Apple apparently lose connection from time to time and Siri will not answer even the most basic questions when it is down).

As a side note, I asked Siri on my watch what time it was in London and it gave the time for London, Ontario. But worse, it didn’t even list the province. It just said “London” because I guess I’m in Canada and should automatically know which London it’s referring to? Even though if I did, I probably wouldn’t be asking what the time was in the first place.

Oh Siri.

Oh Siri, Part 87

Adding containers to a shopping list.

Attempt #1: Kool Aid
Attempt #2: Cooler
Attempt #3: Containers. Hooray.

I pronounced the word “container” the same way, with the same inflection each time. This is why the reports that say Siri is better than Alexa ring false to me (or they are testing something else, like depth of trivia knowledge). When Alexa fails, it’s usually because it can’t process the command, either because I’m asking something impossible, or just phrasing it in a way that it’s not been programmed to recognize. It could be as simple as omitting a key word.

Siri is different. Siri will sometimes just fail completely, offering up a baffling “no internet connection” error when the internet is right there, or asking me to try again later because maybe someone at Apple has tripped over the server’s power cord again or worse, insisting that I have no such list to add an item to, after which I will ask Siri to show me that list and it does–then still refuses to let me add items to the list because it still doesn’t exist. But more often than these, Siri will misinterpret what I am saying, giving me Kool Aid instead of containers.

It does this often enough that it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t even bother me, really, I just accept that it’s part of the whole Siri experience. But Siri has been around since the iPhone 4S (2011)–it really should be a whole lot better than it is. Bad Apple.

Death of a butterfly

Today Apple released the updated 13 inch MacBook Pro. As updates go it was pretty tepid. The lower end version is essentially unchanged, still shipping with 8th gen Intel processors, but now with more base storage and the revised Magic keyboard. The magic part is that it’s not prone to fail like the butterfly keyboard. The higher end models include 10th gen processors, but are otherwise pretty much the same as well.

This has led people to speculate that another update is coming later this year, that may include a larger display and other niceties. We shall see.

The important thing here, though, is that with today’s update, Apple is no longer selling any laptops with the butterfly keyboard. From the introduction of the new MacBook in 2015 to today that means that users have been suffering through one of the worst keyboards to ever be fitted into a laptop for five years.

Watching Apple’s flailing attempts to fix the design (multiple times) was painful. And nothing could fix the actual typing experience that some loved, but many actively disliked, or even found uncomfortable (raises hand).

At long last, though, the butterfly keyboard is dead. Hopefully it has taken along with it the obsession with thinness over function that seemed to have Apple designers in its thrall. Yes, the butterfly keyboard was thin. It was also terrible. I still find it amazing that it made it into an actual shipping product (ironically that first product, the new MacBook, was killed after only four years).

Anyway, good job, Apple, for finally purging the butterfly keyboard. But next time don’t make your users suffer through years of a deeply flawed product, OK?

The new Mac Pro wheels

The internet is aflutter over the announced price for adding wheels to the new Mac Pro. They cost $400 ($480 Canadian). The jokes, of course, write themselves.

Could these $400 wheels on a $6,000 computer turn out to be a surprisingly reasonable value?

No, of course not. They’re wheels. I’m pretty sure the fourth wheel will start wobbling in a few years just the same as any cart-like wheels would.

The only weird part is these ludicrous transportation units or whatever Jony Ive might call them (if he still worked at Apple) stand out against some actual reasonable things Apple has done recently, like upgrading the 15 inch MacBook Pro to a 16 inch model without raising the price (though it ain’t exactly cheap to start with), and actually dropping the price of this year’s equivalent to the iPhone XR while improving the specs.

The price doesn’t actually bother me as the Mac Pro is very much in the “maybe if I win the lottery” category and it probably still sucks for gaming. But given Apple’s track record with Macs (inconsistent at best, a disaster of neglect and quality control issues at worst), if I were one of those so-called pros who wants a pro-level machine, I’d be casting back to 2013 when Apple released the last Mac Pro.

It didn’t receive any updates in 2014.

Or 2015.

Or 2016.

Or 2017.

Or 2018 or 2019. It was, in fact, never updated. Apple essentially killed it the day it was released, they just never formally announced its death until four years later, then they continued to sell it for two more years before finally re-inventing a basic, modular PC that optionally comes with $400 wheels.

What I’m saying is if you want to get a new Mac Pro, keep in mind that what you unbox may be the exact same thing you might unbox in six years. And it will be the same price, too.

So will the wheels.

Bad Design: Apple’s iOS Photos app

The Photos app Apple has is roughly the same on all of its devices, if you are on the latest version of the device’s OOS–in this case I refer to iOS 13.x, iPad OS 13.x and macOS 10.15x (Catalina), but for this post I am specifically referring to the iPhone version.

Generally for looking over your photos, sharing them with friends, cursed social media or other apps, the Photos app works well enough. iOS 13 even adds a surprisingly robust set of editing tools, so the typical user will never need to use another app to apply hideous, Instagram-style filters. Smiles all around, as they say.

But let’s say you want to do something like duplicate the photo, because you want to keep two copies–the original, and the version you have applied hideous Instagram-style filters to. Let’s take this image of me holding a bottle of delicious Clubhouse La Grille Signature Steakhouse marinade. This marinade is so good I want to, I don’t know, add stars to the image or something. So I tap on the square with the arrow pointing up. This opens the share sheet, which gives you options for sharing the photo (and lots of other stuff).

And here you can see some share options (I have obscured two AirDrop contacts in keeping with Apple’s much-ballyhooed privacy). This is mostly a list of other apps. Where’s the ability to copy, duplicate or do other things? They are not here. I am very sad.

But wait, those options are actually here. Do you see the sliver of white at the bottom of the screenshot, with the rounded corners? That’s the rest of the interface, almost completely obscured from view. In fact, if you wiggle the page slightly you can make that small visible portion completely vanish, while still showing everything above it. This is bad design.

If I swipe down I get so many additional options I have to swipe again to see all of them. This is what the first swipe gets me on an iPhone 8:

This is a perfectly clear, usable list of options. Apple has listed everything in plain text with a little icon for easy visual scanning. This is all really nice–if you actually scroll down and find it.

Obscure UI is something that has been discussed a lot with the touch interfaces used on phones and tablets. Without the “traditional” scrollbars, arrows and so on, a lot of the options you may have at your disposal are effectively hidden like treasure, waiting to be uncovered by swiping or long-pressing or tapping x number of fingers on the screen, or something else entirely. Some suggest that Apple’s own 3D Touch (or Force Touch) was removed on the 2019 phones (replaced by “Haptic Touch”, which is just a long press with a bit of vibration attached to it) because no one knew it existed. Most discovered it by accident–by pressing harder than needed for a long press and invoking the 3D Touch pop-up.

3D Touch is pretty handy once you know to look for it, but even then it’s not a system-wide feature. Apps don’t have to support it, and since Apple always sold phones that didn’t include it, a lot of app developers ignored it. And now it’s gone, with a lot of people never knowing it existed.

But back to the Photos app–burying a long list of options at the bottom of a page is not a bad thing in itself. Where Apple fumbles here is not giving the user any concrete visual clue that the options are even there. A few obvious fixes come to mind:

  • Add a “More options…” button to the initial photo screen. Currently there are three choices: Share sheet, Favorite and Trash. They could squeeze in another icon here.
  • Another choice would be to add it after tapping the Share sheet icon. And look! Do you see at the top where it clearly says Options already? You might think that’s where you would find all of these extra options. But instead it’s where you find exactly two options concerning sending the photo as “automatic”/an individual photo/iCloud link and whether to include location/all photo data. The additional options could simply be added here. But this has two problems of its own: it adds an extra tap to get to the options, and it doesn’t necessarily address the original issue, which is the options not being clearly visible.
  • A third choice, then, is to make the additional options more obvious. One way would be to turf the AirDrop contacts, since there’s already an AirDrop button and I suspect people are not AirDropping photos all over the place, anyway (I could be wrong). This would leave enough room for the list of other options to be more visible.
  • A fourth choice would be to provide a visual indicator that there are more options available if you swipe up. This could be done several ways:
    • Adding a scroll bar. This will never ever happen.
    • Adding a floating arrow pointing down to indicate you can swipe to see more. This has the advantage of being something that could be used universally, much like scrollbars.
    • Some other visual indicator that I haven’t thought of. Let’s face it, I’m not a UX/UI designer, I just know bad design when I see it.

I have no expectations that Apple will move away from the “obscure gesture” interface. One need only look at iPad OS to see how, if anything, they have embraced it even more. There are now large swathes of the iPad interface that most people don’t know about–and never will. This is in part due to obscurity, but also in part due to questionable interface choices. But that’s a whole other post. Soon™.