After landing in Las Vegas yesterday to attend CES 2019 before going out of the airport I was advised to pick up my conference badge. And this is when I experienced eSIM goodness 🙂
In order to do so I had to wait in line for about 15 minutes, which should have been far less than what I would've waited to do the same close to the convention center, so I decided to get my badge at the airport.
While standing I realized I forgot my T-mobile US sim card (which probably expired anyway) and since I just came from Europe I didn't have time to buy a new one as well. I opened up Google Maps to figure out where's the closest T-mobile store, as they have the best cellular offerings for tourists.
After few seconds of searching I recalled that on the previous WWDC Apple announced (actually mentioned in only in the list of new 'other' features without any comments) an electronic sim card support for their latest devices. Since WWDC I've heard US carriers adopting eSIM one after another. And that one of the latest iOS updates actually enabled those.
So I started googling eSIM for T-mobile US and I found their separate app just for getting one! I downloaded the app via the airport's wifi, entered my credentials, credit card info and the app offered me to install a T-mobile data plan! After me accepting it and going through few setup steps my phone connected to T-mobile, but also kept connection to AT&T as a roaming carrier for my EU sim card. Now I had connection to two carriers with only one sim card in the single physical sim slot installed! How cool is that?!
And all of the above I could achieve while standing in a line for a conference badge. I not only made my time useful but saved some more by not having to re-route and go to a physical T-mobile store, wait in line there and speak to not always pleasant consultant, take off my phone's case, swap cards, etc. I would be also loosing connection to my original phone which I still need abroad to see incoming calls, get verification SMS, etc, to which I usually take a second phone with me. The second phone is also a hassle - I have to charge it separately, keep an eye on it separately as well.
But now I could avoid all of this: wasting my time by going to a physical store, managing a second phone - which in this particular case I also forgot, the same as my previous US sim card. I would probably have to buy a cheap third phone just for receiving sms on my main EU number without having to swap between US and EU sim cards each time.
I heard plenty of times rumors on Apple's plans ditching all the ports and openings with time. And if the headphone jack was (and is) an arguable port to loose, I will definitely not miss the sim card slot. And in this regard the eSIM is a wonderful replacement: not only it doesn't take away something you need - you can still use your sim slot with carriers which don't support eSIM yet. But it brings the game up in a very noticeable manner not no be worrying and dealing with sim cards with carriers that do support it. And in time most of them will, and that's when all the phones will start shipping without this truly ancient and unnecessary technology, bringing us even more seamless phones, tablets, and who knows, a cellular-enabled Mac but without a sim slot :)
As I recently mentioned in my iPhone portrait and camera zoom posts, previously it was easier to recommend Apple products to people around me.
I've touched this topic few days ago by saying how for many years I was amazed and blown away buy the sheer technical accomplishments Apple was able to achieve.
I remember the days of the Sony Vaio laptop series, how it had the thinnest, lightest and most powerful Windows devices at the time. And when I learned about Apple's MacBooks which were even more slick, powerful and compact I couldn't wrap my head around on how that was even possible. Being a teenager at that time I was very lucky to get a white polycarbonate MacBook as a gift from my dad. And that was truly an exceptional device for that time, far ahead of the competition in every imaginable manner.
But my first actual Apple device I got a year before my first MacBook. It was an iPod Nano 2g with 2GB of ram which was leaps and bounds better than my iRiver mp3 player that it replaced. The iPod was so thin and so well built and so comfortable to use with the click wheel, I to this day wonder how two similar but so different (iRiver and iPod) products could exist at the same time. The difference and superiority of the iPod was uncanny.
After my first MacBook in few years I again was lucky to upgrade it to the first unibody aluminum MacBook Pro. It was such a huge upgrade in terms of look and feel and it pushed the MacBook so far away, since not any other competitor could match the quality even of the previous white MacBook, and this new device with a chassis milled from a single piece of aluminum was just lightyears ahead of anything on the market.
And then came the original iPhone. First, I was like 'eww, it can only run 1 app at a time when my Nokia can hold 32 apps in the background no problem'. But then, when the iPhone 3G came I finally understood how good that 1 app at a time were. At that time, I was already using one of the Sony-Ericsson smartphones with a stylus and the transition to using a phone with your finger went incredibly smooth. Since the iPhone 3G I owned each version of it, since all the internal (not always the external) upgrades were compelling to push me for the latest version each year.
Both the MacBook and the iPhone was a pain to use in an environment of Windows computers and smart and dumb phones of that time. On Mac OS I had problems printing, working with office documents, working with network devices. On the iPhone I couldn't send anyone files via Bluetooth, I didn't have MMS for a while, first few iPhones had to be unlocked via a proxy sim card to work outside of US.
But all of that was worth it for what you were getting. On the MacBook there were no viruses on Mac OS (still almost virus-free), it had a stellar trackpad (still the best among all laptops), long battery life, insane build quality. The iPhone was just an all-screen device, with one of the best cameras since the 3GS era and most importantly it had a fluid intuitive UI and new, best, innovative 3rd party apps when the App Store launched in 2008.
Though the years under Steve Jobs Apple kept innovating and being far ahead of the competition in many aspects: great hardware and software design, build quality and materials, newest technologies, seamless ecosystem and hardware+software integration, first platform of choice for desktop and mobile developers. But I guess it's hard to keep the lead forever. This is why in my opinion Apple gradually lost a few of their advantages to the competitors and this is why it's now harder to recommend their products anymore.
After being misled on the promise of the 2x camera on my iPhone I felt the same thing with portrait mode.
On the iPhone Xs (and previous 2-camera lens setups) portrait mode supposedly is possible because of the second camera whereas on the Xr you can get them with one camera. Google for example does portraits with one camera on their Pixel 2 and 3 for few years already and does actually a quite job with that. The same as with digitally stabilizing video on the original Pixel which turned out to be really good comparing to OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) at that time.
Don't get me wrong, I like portraits, even the fake ones you would get from a mobile device. They look noticeably better than regular pictures we had all this time and I'm glad the whole industry moved into that direction. But forcing buying a two-camera phone for portraits is just pure marketing, the same as forcing to upgrade from an iPhone X to Xs for Smart HDR which essentially is a blown-up saturation software-wise possible on the X as well.
Previously the push to new hardware was with actual improvements in it. Now it's just purposeful limitation accompanied by better selling marketing shots. Just like with the new butterfly keyboard on the Macs (which no one actually asked for) that made the product look better on photos but made its operation worse on a daily basis. People keep dealing with it, which let Apple not to fix the flawed keyboard much for three years already. The same reason of people accepting everything lets Apple charge for features on newer devices that technically could have been on older devices as well.
All that said Apple doesn't feel being a pioneer in technology like when I started using their products twelve years ago. Nowadays formerly known copycats like Xiaomi or some even less known Chinese brands are pushing the envelope by building ideas that market leaders can't deliver. Maybe it's not Apple's fault in particular, but it's just what happens with companies that get big. Just recall the huge Nokia back in the days overrun buy a considerably small at that time company from Cupertino which was so far ahead in everything and so easy to recommend to switch to.
Yesterday I was listening to the latest episode of ATP where one of the hosts discussed what he saw on his recent flight.
The host as many of the Apple customers has few different devices in each category. And him being an independent developer he tries doing work on the go. That's where to his flight he brought his MacBook Pro which he uses for development and his iPad Pro that he uses for everything else. And this is a real case: you can't code not on an iPad because Xcode requires a proper desktop OS, in this case Mac OS. But doing everything outside coding is more often better doing on an iPad (or tablets in general, but since Android tablets are essentially non-existent, I'm using the most successful tablet for reference).
For the flight the host took an almost $3k spec'd MacBook Pro and the most current generation bezel-less $1300 iPad Pro. And what he was doing with them? As most developers do - coding on the Mac and browsing and reading Twitter on the iPad, because the former is limited to Mac OS and requires typing via a proper keyboard and the latter is done so much better via touch on an all-screen device.
From the host's story he saw a guy next to him using a Microsoft Surface Pro or Go. And that guy used it for a while like a laptop, then flipped the keyboard and used it like a tablet, adding some pen input from the stylus. And all of that in one convertible device with a touchscreen, which starts from $500 for the Go up to only $1500 for the Pro. Whereas if you're in the Mac ecosystem, you would have to have to pay 2x-3x more and struggle with two separate devices, charging and managing them separately, etc. Even if Apple is building something for a bright future, Microsoft actually delivers something already.
I've played with the Surface lineup few times and was amazed how well built the devices are and how well-thought, well-designed and sturdy their stand mechanism is. Yes, they might not have USB-C sometimes at all, so they're less future-proof, but they are well equipped for now and who knows when. I'm in the USB-C (aka dongle) world for two years already and the transition to it is painfully slow, albeit faster than before the USB-C push from Apple with their latest laptop lineups.
Another situation was when we went to our friends and one of them was swiping pictures on her laptop. My wife was blown away with a touch screen on a laptop, since she has been surrounded with non-touch MacBooks all the time. And although a laptop with a touchscreen looks like a mess from all of those fingerprints, people actually enjoy using them, the same as everyone does enjoy using their smartphones despite them being covered with skin oil 🙂
Sometimes it feels stronger than ever that Apple lives in their own universe where people use what Apple thinks is best and not what people actually enjoy and understand using. On one hand Apple brought the touchscreens into the masses, but on the other they refuse bringing them to the laptops despite people nowadays trying to touch each screen by default and then revert to physical controls. Having an iPad in Apple's lineup helps but its OS still is very limited to let the iPad replace traditional computers.
Speaking of OSes, for me having Windows on the Surface is the big downside. I worked with both Mac OS and Windows for years and Mac OS is so much better for work. Although I would admit, with Apple's major focus on the iPhone and iOS, Mac OS becomes more and more overlooked overtime with clumsy bugs creeping in over and over again. I wish we would get a touch-based Mac OS device or a major improvement in iOS's productivity, so Apple users would be also able to get a one for all device in the nearest future. And I hope Apple's direction is not just towards the PC market at all.
This release like all previous ones were accompanied by a lot of controversies. That Apple might not have fixed the faulty butterfly keyboard regarding which they are facing now three class action lawsuits. The keyboard scandal also resulted in a keyboard service program which brings free defective keyboards replacements in all MacBooks and MacBook Pros produced since 2015. And if you have one of these laptops you'll be covered by this program for the next four years!
People also blamed Apple for only now allowing to opt-in for 32GB of DDR4 ram, previously supposedly unavailable due to higher energy consumption and leaving everyone with one option of having only 16GB of energy efficient LPDDR3 memory when competitors offered 32GB DD4 ram even before 2016.
Besides that Apple is under fire for taking up so long to bring the 8-th gen Intel CPUs, high prices, no chassis changes, #donglelife was brought up, etc.
I personally think this is a good update. Yes, from the outside everything looks the same (except probably the screen is now enabled with True Tone) but on the inside is the real deal. Or at least it should have been.
The new MacBook Pros are carrying even faster than their already pretty fast nVME SSDs with read and write speeds now up to 3GB/s which is the fastest on the market. I wish their Radeon 555X and 560X GPUs where that advanced, when the portable PC market has Nvidia's GTX 1060, 1070 and sometimes even 1080s onboard. The same is for screen resolution - Apple ships the same 2880x1800px since 2012 when at that time it definitely was a blast and on which it's still hard to recognize individual pixels on a 15" diagonal. But in the meantime the competing devices in the high-end market like the Surface Book 2 from Microsoft caught up with screens as dense as 3000x2000px on a 13" area!
So besides the fastest storage and irreplaceable MacOS limited to Apple's hardware the only real advantage of MacBook Pros was the CPU.
I'm the owner of a 2016 top of the line Macbook Pro 15". Maybe I'm lucky or because I use it in clamshell mode most of the time, I got only one stuck key in the 16 months of owning this device. But oh I couldn't escape the issues with dongles and expensive USB-C cables which in real life is far from mass adoption and except being able to charge my laptop from both sides was mostly a pain to use.
But the main reason I chose the laptop at that time was to have a more powerful machine then my previous 2015 MacBook Pro 13" which wasn't a slouch either but when it comes to compiling (which I do most of the time) the more horsepower you have - the better. And moving from 2 cores of the 13" to 4 cores in the 15" resulted in 3-4x faster compiling times.
At that time I was more than satisfied with my 15", using it daily at home and on the go. Among all possible options it was the most CPU power you could have in a small light chassis, period. I'm still not considering a desktop because I don't want to manage project files sync between a desktop and mobile computer so I wanted as much performance in as little footprint I can have - and the MacBook Pro is the best candidate for that role. Especially when you don't consider much Windows as your primary work OS 🙂
During my use of the laptop I ignored few messages on Twitter about thermal throttling in the 2016-2017 MacBook Pros. For example when you connect it to a HiDPI screen, the integrated Intel GPU switches to the discrete Radeon GPU and that automatically increases the baseline heat the laptop has to deal with. And you can beat heat in two ways: increasing fan speed and cooling the system more, or decreasing CPU clock speed, make it less efficient in heat production but also in it's own performance.
In the last few years that's where CPU design generally was heading. In order to achieve longer battery life and potential high performance, Intel, the main CPU supplier was making CPUs more efficient when idle to preserve battery on light tasks and to give performance bursts on more demanding ones. That's why CPU clock speeds are no more static like they were before. Now instead of '3.1 Ghz' clock speed, you would see '2.6-4.3 Ghz' on the box, which means 2.6 Ghz as base clock with bursts up to 4.3Ghz. And when a CPU generates heat, it can't sustain being in the high (called 'Boost') levels for long and has to lower the clock speed not to overheat. That's what Thermal Throttling means
My laptop was also thermal throttling, I just didn't know how much. I knew it did, but I wasn't giving it much attention. But this week I did.
The thing is the new MacBook Pros introduced new 6 core CPUs in the 15" line and bumped the core count from 2 to 4 in 13" and I was really excited about the increased core counts recalling how much performance I gained last time after switching from 2 to 4 cores. I was thinking whether to switch to a smaller lighter 13" from my 15" and keep my current 4 cores or upgrade to 6 cores and achieve ultimate mobile power. Usually preferring more power I was leaning more towards the latter. And by latter I mean I was looking again into the top of the line option of the 15" MacBook Pro with an Core i9 CPU.
And this is when thermal throttling concerns came back:
But when it comes to this CPU being under load for a long time, it's results are not so promising. Being hot for a long time, combined with Apple's love to spin down the fans to reduce noice and making the laptops unnecessary thin with sacrifices to cooling, this results in CPU thermal throttling when its clock speed is not only not capable of Boosting up to 4.8Ghz but sometimes drops even lower it's 2.9Ghz baseline! This way the CPU and thus the whole laptop at high loads works only on a fraction of it's potential. And a last year's less powerful CPU with less cores throttling less blows the new 6 core i9 chip out of the water!
What does this mean for a regular customer? That it's not worth paying extra for the high tier model since at peaks it may be slower than the low tier model within the same line. And for a non-regular user that means Apple tries selling you more expensive laptop that performs worse than cheaper models. And all of that on top of the already increased prices introduced along the new USB-C only design in 2016.
One of the reasonable theories of putting a hot CPU in the chassis that wasn't really designed for it that I've heard is that Apple while designing the chassis long before 2016 was relying on Intel's promises to reduce their technology process in timely manner which would help building and using less hot CPUs in 2018 and onwards. And when Intel couldn't keep up with their promises, it was too late for Apple to design new chassis for that. But the main question remains: if Apple knew they won't get more efficient and cooler CPUs, why they even put the severely throttling i9 version in their Stores in the first place? I surely hope it was a mistake rather than trying to earn on top models despite knowing their limitations upfront.
Update Jul 24 Apple released a software fix for throttling in the whole 2018 Macbook Pro line. They claim they fixed an issue with power management and didn't address the supposedly VRM throttling problem that was revealed in one of the Reddit threads. In any case that is good news, the CPU frequency spikes aren't there anymore according to users with the i9 MacBook Pro. Unfortunately the fix won't change the state of the case not being able to handle higher thermals and limiting the i9 from boosting. But at least the frequency now shouldn't fall below it's baseline which is better than nothing 🙂
After backing up in around March, today I got my PowerPod Case in about a week after getting an email of it being shipped. Everything happened according to schedule, with shipping aimed at July, and I'm really happy with that.
In short PowerPod is a silicon case for your AirPods that not only protects their case but enables them with wireless charging from any Qi-enabled charger.
The PowerPod fits the AirPods really nicely. The case doesn't flop around and the headphone's case sits there nice and firm.
In my tests the PowerPod added about 18% to the AirPod's case battery within 15 minutes of charging. The case got a bit warm though, while using with my standing Samsung Wireless Charger.
One thing I got puzzled about was that the charging case wasn't reaching the middle of the charger. A quick 180 degree turn later and it started charging nicely. That's not what Apple would approve but since their AirPower is delayed almost for a year now it's better than nothing. And by the way, even Apple can't handle their own design each time right 🙂
You probably already noticed the single con of the PowerPod - the rubber that it's built of collects all the lint in all of your pockets. But on the flip side it keeps your AirPods safe from falls (mine are chipped a bit after a year of use) and scratches and even helps opening the lid easier with that additional grip.
Overall I can highly recommend the PowerPod Case for those who wants to secure and charge his AirPods wirelessly along with their other Qi-enabled devices.