Tuesday Review: Peculier Tales; M2 Updates; AirTags and Beacons
By Graham K. Rogers
With the Q3 2022 figures due for release in a couple of days time, how is Apple really doing? Comments on M2 Macs recently released: the good and the nit-picking. Apple TV+ shows. Slow Horses author wins Theakstons Peculier award. AirTag news and successes.
With Apple's Q3 2022 results to be released later this week, there is some anticipation (as ever) about what could be expected. Although there have been several negative reports from the direction of Wall Street, most seem to be speculation, perhaps in the hope that share prices will be reduced and a profit can be taken later. While there are no predictions from Apple, because of the ongoing Covid outbreak, the last few "no guidance" quarters have seen some impressive results from Cupertino. The quarter covers April, May and June of this year, which usually see lower revenue, although these days it is all unpredictable. The new M2 Macs will not figure in the Q3 results, although there have been other products that have been selling well.
In the current economy it is worth noting that both Apple and Google have implemented hiring freezes. Google's is for 2 weeks, but Apple has put hiring on hold until next year for some teams. Oracle has discussed laying off thousands if its staff too, so the economy, rather than individual problems seem to be at the heart of this: Covid, Ukraine-Russia and other ongoing problems.
As had been expected, Apple released several updates to its current versions of operating systems and these were ready at my breakfast time for downloading. As I was working on the iPad Pro at the time, I left this until later. I also waited until late afternoon to update the tvOS so I can just start watching in the evening once the process is complete (presuming all is OK). The iPhone and iPad mini updates were problem-free, as was macOS on the MacBook Pro, although there I make several Time Machine backups before starting the download. I did not notice any problems as I was having breakfast and reading online news, but suddenly noticed the Mac login screen was waiting for me. The Apple Watch was similarly smooth, particularly when compared with the original update progress. I downloaded the watchOS update using the Watch app on the iPhone and when I had my shower (the Watch is charged then) the update was done. It was ready for when I dressed.
The iPad Pro was less efficient. I went out for business and I started this at lunchtime on my return. As with the others I just left it to do its thing, but I did check as it was taking an unusually long time, only to see that the download showed, Paused. I tried to restart this but had the same result, as did a restart of the iPad Pro. With "Paused" refusing to change, I went into another room to read. When I came back, I saw that a panel that showed there had been a problem. I started the process again and the download was immediate. The iPad restarted a couple of minutes later and all was well.
Looking through, I did notice on the Mac that the keyboard menu bar icon had retained the character icons rather than - as I had hoped - returning to the country flags. The characters are soulless, the flags had character.
There have been a number of reviews or extended comments on the latest M2 Macs: the 13" MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. Many claim to be disappointed by the lack of change in the MacBook Pro - basically the M2 chip replaced the M1, so for current users this was not such a great upgrade. For those moving from Intel Macs that are a couple of years old, this would be a good step up. I continue to be happy with the performance of the M1, both on the Mac and the iPad Pro, but the M2 was not enough for me to upgrade.
The MacBook Air is a different matter. As well as the faster chip, the body has been redesigned, losing that iconic shape that was introduced at MacWorld in 2008 when Steve Jobs walked on stage with a Manila envelope. There is no tapered edge now and the redesigned screen gives a better picture. The basic version is about 11,000 baht more expensive than the still-available M1 MacBook Air (32,900 and 43,900 baht), but in both cases I would want to add more memory (7,000 for the 16GB option, 14,000 for 24GB). And then there is the SSD.
M2 MacBook Air - Image courtesy of Apple
Many reports have pointed out that the basic, 256GB SSD is slower than that in the earlier MacBook Air. This affects the MacBook Pro too. Bringing it up to a basic 512GB is another 7,000 baht (14,000 for 1TB, 28,000 for 2TB). However, the commentary about the SSD speeds uses benchmarking references. In the real world, the differences are less likely to be obvious, although there are other, sound reasons for installing a larger disk (this must be done when ordering).
I think that 512GB is the minimum I would want, even taking into account off computer storage options (iCloud, external disks), although my late 2014 Mac mini uses the 251GB SSD. This is my spare and has little data stored on the disk. With iCloud all of my MacBook Pro data is available on this machine. I have two external disks permanently attached (data and backups). To save space on the SSD I moved the Photos library to one of the external disks.
Mac mini with external disks
The redesign of the MacBook Air has also brought back the MagSafe connector, which frees up one of the USB-C ports. I do not have much problem with the lack of ports on the MacBook Pro, even though my last Intel Mac had 4 ports. With Macs, iPad Pro and iPad mini all using USB-C most of my external devices also use this method of connection, with the latest ones also being Thunderbolt 4-capable. I have cables to match. When the M1 MacBook Pro was announced, equipment manufacturers produced a number of useful accessories.
I had not used a hub before (although have several adapters) and with the 4 ports of the earlier Mac was able to manage well. I knew that with 2 ports, there would come a time when I would be short of ports so ordered a powered hub from which has 4 Thunderbolt ports, a USB power port for the Mac, and a USB-A port that I use for the HP display. That is a enough for most tasks I do, including conference calls and online teaching. Most of the time I have a spare port on the hub and one on the Mac too.
Apple is getting into the swing of things with new series on its AppleTV+ service. Not everything has been to my taste and one or two, like Severance and Loot have left me with questions. With the nature of both, I think that was the idea. Of course the oddball Coach Lasso was enjoyable partly because it was so unexpected. A third series is coming, but it is rumored this could be the last: better to end it when ahead than drag along a corpse. Not that I have seen it, but Juli Clover (MacRumors) reports that For All Mankind has just been renewed for a fourth season on AppleTV+. One of my favorites has been Slow Horses which is due to return for a second series soon with a wonderfully jaded Gary Oldman as one of the leads. There are likely to be more series after number two.
The show is based on books by British Author Mick Herron and this week the seventh in the series, Slough House was awarded the Theakston Old Peculier Prize for crime novel of the year (Sarah Shaffi, Guardian). When I looked at the name, which is a well-know beer from the UK with a formidable reputation, I was surprised at the spelling. The normal spelling of the adjective is Peculiar, but here Peculier is used. The Guardian has had a reputation for spelling problems for a while now and is sometimes referred to as The Guarniad. I checked of course. On the Theakston company website, it is indeed shown as Peculier. The site explains that, "The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of Masham as a 'Court of the Peculier'". It comes from a Norman word meaning "particular". We live and learn.
There have been many stories - good and bad - about the use of AirTags. Most of the stories refer to unauthorized tracking and harassment, which is not a feature of the AirTag but of those who misuse them. The iPhone can also be used for such tracking if it is set up with the right software, or people have gained access to the device, so it is a human problem not a device problem. With the most recent update to iOS, the information in Find My about AirTags has been changed and it no longer shows the charge level. This is apparently intentional as this is also now missing in iOS 16 beta releases (Tim Hardwick, MacRumors). A notification is sent to the user if the battery is low, but the icon is now not shown.
Another way to track a person, although more expensive (and the battery does not last as long), is through AirPods. Joe Wituschek (iMore) reports that after a series of thefts, the police in LA used pings from recently stolen AirPods to locate suspects. What followed was a widely reported (and lengthy) car chase that ended in a crash. Joe Wituschek also reports this week on a recovered SUV that was traced because the owner had hidden an AirTag in the vehicle after suffering an attempted theft earlier.
Although the intention of AirTags is to find a lost item, if something is stolen, the firs thing a thief would do is to remove the AirTag and avoid being tracked. This means that although the AirTags I use with my keys are a real aid to finding them, there is no way I could use these on my DSLR although Apple devices are covered by the availability of Find My. I have been using one AirTag hidden inside a bag that I use often and this works quite well. Indeed, when the bag went for a repair and I forgot to remove the AirTag, I was warned (on the Apple Watch) that I had left it behind only a few minutes after leaving the premises. The same happens when I leave the bag at the laundry. It is no surprise, therefore, to read several reports of people using these to track their bags with the current chaos at airports in Europe and the USA.
When Bluetooth beacons first appeared I bought three and used them to teste the technology, but did put one in my luggage for when it arrived at the baggage carousel. As the case (and device) came near enough to my iPhone, so a warning was displayed. In practice, as these were then proximity devices, it was only when they were really close - about the same time as the case came up the ramp - that they were of use, although by that time I could see the case. The AirTag piggybacks on any signal that is available and enables tracking much more easily.
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. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)