29 February 2016


Support for Apple’s position resisting the Justice Department’s attempt to force them to crack open their own security system is not the same as uncritical support for the company and its practices. Long time users, some as loyal as groupies, have routinely been screwed by the company as purchases have often become obsolete as soon as they are received. There is also the recurring habit of making connections obsolete, particularly in computers, constantly replacing an existing interface with a different one rendering peripherals obsolete or creating an aftermarket for adapters to bypass the change. Apple also seductively lures you into its “ecosystem” so you are stuck there, having invested so much in it. 

That is why I bought an IPad Pro a few months ago, even though I hated the IPad I already owned, because the circumstances are comparable to the relatives you are stuck with. I bought it from AT&T, complete with the cellular option sharing my IPhone line only to find that you can’t make calls with it; it only receives, or has to have the IPhone present (like the watch) which is kind of ridiculous. That makes the cellular feature primarily useful for expensive data charges if you’re stuck somewhere with no wifi. I sprang for the 128Gb maximum memory because you still can’t use any external storage, i.e. with an SD card, because I have a huge number of apps and books on it. That pushed past the capacity of my Idrive,  making it necessary to pay for additional cloud storage. The operating system still sucks, especially if you’ve used a Mac, because the IOS system is basically invisible unless you spring for apps that can do basic things like file handling. The only real improvement over the previous IPad is numbers and letters appear on an expanded keyboard instead of having to switch between them thanks to the additional real estate. To do any serious writing you have to buy an external case and keyboard, so what you wind up with in the end is basically a second rate laptop. 

On the plus side, when I had battery and other problems with the device Apple replaced the whole thing with no hassle. They also offer a hell of a lot of software for free or at a low price even for professional programs like Logic audio or Final Cut Pro, and has made the cost of IOS apps remarkably cheap. I bought the IPad Pro to use as an external surface for things that run on the Mac, supplementing it, and for use as a scratchpad on the go. You can also use finger swipes to edit photos and remote controls on audio. However typing is i still better on a PC (Apple makes lousy keyboards- for one of my Mac Pros I actually had to buy a Microsoft keyboard to type comfortably).  Documents and photos are passed through icloud to other devices that can continue editing, but remember this- Apple does not back up your Icloud documents on your computer. You have to do that yourself. So if you ever have a cloud problem, your work disappears, as happened to me one time. 

Photos is a simple program, but does allow for third party extensions making useful to serious photographers, who are now faced with two systems; Apple’s and Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photoshop and Lightroom users. Apple’s claim that all your photo are stored basically assumes you take pictures with an IPhone which I never do. I use an SLR, and at high resolution the files are huge and will quickly exhaust the space they give you. 

Clearly the emphasis now is on mobile devices, and power computer users are left hanging as desktops fade away from the mainstream. Apple’s latest desktop, which looks like an office trash can, echoes this trend. The previous Mac Pro was much better; indeed, from my experience it was the best computer ever made. It is big, but in addition to the startup drive it contains four bays that you can easily fill with hard drives and set up a multi-terabyte RAID array while enjoying the luxury of 64gb of memory on 12-core computing. Such features account for the robust aftermarket for machines that are six or more years old. Replace the boot drive with an SSD an you’re up to date on everything. 

It’s not just Apple though. The desktop market has significantly slowed down. PCs have had the same Intel processors, i.e. i3, i5, i7 for a number of years, where in the past every year brought something different. Computers still don’t have the reliability of video or audio gear or appliances etc. in terms of breaking down, but as obsolescence decreases reliability should increase. Laptops are now in much wider use, but there is a vulnerability that desktops don’t have, namely the screen. Once that goes on a laptop it’s gone. But few companies now focus on desktops, which increasingly have been relegated to serious technophiles, game enthusiasts, and server applications.

in truth what is a PC today? I would argue that smartphones; personal communicators, are the real “PCs” today, with all the things they can do. Far more people use smartphones than desktop computers, and apart from the phone function itself they are a primary Internet gateway. Those who have grown up with these things are aware of little distinction between the Internet and the device itself and have only a vague understanding of a computer as a useful stand-alone device without the Internet. 

So old “PCs” ought to be relegated to “desktops,” as the handheld devices we use increasingly are the real PCs. If you never write much more than 140 characters at a time or don’t care about grammar and syntax these things may suffice. But if you type fast, or touch type, they are painful, and the Apple “chiclet” keyboards aren’t much better  for any kind of serious writing. The best keyboard I ever used was the one on the old IBM Selectric typewriter, where words would somehow just fly across the page, and computer keyboards are only as good as they are close to that standard. 

Given the ubiquity of handheld devices, and an increasing number of other “smart” devices like televisions, DVRs, etc. things have come around full circle for the old desktop. It all began with a relatively small number of enthusiasts on the full-size computers of their day, only to come back to a base of power users who still find advantages in the desktop. For it is only with a desktop that you can pile on massive amounts of memory, multiple high capacity disks,  a motherboard that can take various expansion cards, and super sharp graphics boards that can support the largest monitors you can find in duplicate, triplicate or more. For these reasons, although relatively small in number alongside the rest of the market, in at least a few hands desktops will continue to be used and appreciated for the forseeable future. 

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