Requiem for desktop Macs

I tend to be conservative in predicting Apple’s plans for the future. Without any inside knowledge, any predictions are, at best, educated guesses. It’s far too easy to guess wrong and wind up with a bowl of “claim chowder.” But today I take that risk…

Apple’s desktop Mac lineup is headed for the graveyard. Dead. Done. Over.

Why do I believe this? Because of the unstated implications of what Apple announced (and didn’t announce) at its media event yesterday.

Let’s start with the big one: No new or updated desktop Macs were announced yesterday. This means that no new Mac models have been or will be released for the entire year 2016. That’s a significant omen all by itself. But it gets worse.


I’ve read speculation suggesting that Apple might yet release new iMacs before the year is over. Don’t bet on it.

If a new iMac is ready to go (which it would pretty much have to be at this point), I see no reason to delay the announcement by a week or two. There was certainly room to include mention of it at the media event (which ran only 90 minutes and was hardly jam-packed). Alternatively, if they wanted to keep the focus on the new MacBook Pros, they could have announced iMacs via a press release following the event. Either way, it seems preferable to waiting a few more weeks. With the holiday shopping season looming, there’s scant room for further delays. Clearly, updating the iMac is not a top priority for Apple.

Granted, the current “Late-2015” iMac is still a great machine (it’s what I’m using right now). It remains an optimal choice for some home users and even more so for education and other institutional markets. That’s why, as others have predicted, I expect to see updated iMacs, with Thunderbolt 3, arrive in 2017. Beyond that, I am skeptical that we will ever again see a significant update to the iMac. It will linger on in Apple’s catalog for several more years, but will receive scant attention. Eventually it will disappear — as laptops take over the entire Mac lineup (as I detail more below).

Speaking of desktop Macs that receive scant attention, that’s a perfect segue into the remainder of Apple’s desktop Mac models.

Mac mini and Mac Pro

The Mac mini and the Mac Pro are Dead Macs Walking. Apple still sells them, but I find it hard to believe Apple expects anyone to buy one. I fully expect they will be gone by the end of 2017. Let’s dig into this a bit deeper.

The Mac mini was last updated in 2014. For most people, it was a poor choice even when it was new. Its tech specs were always inferior to the iMac (as one example, the mini still offers no quad-core models). This was especially disappointing to those who hoped for a Mac mini that could be a viable less expensive alternative to the Mac Pro. Instead, Apple marketed the Mac mini as a “starter Mac,” geared toward people switching from a PC. It is also well-suited to be a server Mac. Overall, it’s a decent machine but Apple appears to have abandoned it.

[As an aside, with possible implications for where Apple is headed, Apple doesn’t seem to be giving much attention to macOS Server. The Sierra update is 5.2, a relatively minor change to the El Capitan 5.0 version released last year.]

The current state of the Mac Pro is an even sadder story. It was released in 2013 and has never been updated! I see no sign that Apple ever intends to do so. Let me be blunt: There is no market for the Mac Pro today. When combined with a decent 4K 27-inch monitor, the cheapest Mac Pro you can buy costs around $4000 (and goes way up from there). For the minimum price, you get only 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and Thunderbolt 2. Buy one of these and you get 3-year old technology with no indication that Apple will ever improve it. You’d have to be a fool to go in this direction. A smart company (and Apple is a smart company) doesn’t let this happen to a product that they believe has a future.

The 2013 Mac Pro had the potential to be a greater success, a worthy follow-up to the popular “cheese-grater” Mac Pro. But Apple never invested the time and resources necessary to make it so. At some point, I assume Apple concluded that the market for a desktop pro-level Mac was either no longer there or no longer worth pursuing. Rather, Apple’s sees its future tied to portable and mobile devices. In other words, the future of the Mac is laptops — which doesn’t leave room for the Mac Pro.

Desktop Macs vs. the MacBook Pro

The major news at Apple’s media event was the unveiling of the new MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar. Once again, reading between the lines, this too hinted at the demise of desktop Macs.

In particular, Apple clearly tried to position the MacBook Pro as a viable workstation-like device, an alternative to a Mac Pro or high-end iMac set-up. For example, Phil Schiller showed off a MacBook Pro connected to two 27-inch 5K displays and a RAID enclosure. Clearly, Phil wasn’t pitching this as a machine intended for keeping up with your friends on Facebook. Similarly, when showing off applications that had been redesigned to take advantage of the new Touch Bar, by far the most attention went to “pro” apps — notably Final Cut and Photoshop.

The cost of a new MacBook Pro also suggests a more “pro-level” target audience. The price tags are significantly higher than for the models they replace. While you can buy a base model for $1800 (plus tax), you will more likely spend upwards of $2500 for a 13-inch model and significantly more for the 15-inch version. Phil Schiller defended the pricing, noting “we don’t design for price, we design for the experience and quality.” In any case, at these prices, the Touch Bar version of the MacBook Pro is no longer a practical option as a second computer, primarily for travel; it’s meant to be your only computer (which once again pushes desktop Macs out of the picture).

The Wall Street Journal suggested that the pricing indicates Apple will be pushing the iPad Pro (and I would add the 12-inch MacBook) as the alternatives for people who don’t want to pony up for a MacBook Pro. That’s already where I am. I have largely shifted to using my iPad Pro whenever I am not using my iMac. Meanwhile, my 2012 MacBook Pro languishes. That’s the main reason I don’t expect to buy a new MacBook Pro — despite the siren call of the Touch Bar.

Let’s step back to look at the bigger picture. If you’ve just done a major overhaul of your application to make it work well with the Touch Bar, you probably hope that your users will have a Mac that includes a Touch Bar. Apple presumably hopes so as well. So, if you’re in the market for a new Mac — Apple will likely be pushing the MacBook Pro over the iMac or Mac Pro. The only way this would change (other than the complete failure of the Touch Bar) is if the iMac eventually included a Touch Bar. This could happen, but it presents some challenges — especially getting a Touch Bar to work from a wireless keyboard. The other option is for Apple to gradually give up on the iMac going forward. That’s the more likely scenario to me.

Some assorted additional thoughts…

Given that Apple makes great Retina-quality displays for the iMac, and given Apple’s preference for hardware-software integration, I found it odd (and disappointing) that Apple appears to have abandoned the market for separate external displays. Still (and I know this is a stretch), it begins to make sense if Apple is planning an exit from the iMac market, greatly reducing the need for Apple to make large displays. In any case, for those wanting a larger screen to connect to their MacBook Pro, Apple touted new 4k and 5K displays from LG.

The MacBook Air is all but dead. Apple still sells the 13-inch model, but don’t expect that to last for long. I mean when Apple itself advises you not to buy one — as it just about did at the media event yesterday — how much longer can it survive?

Apple remains committed to not combine a touchscreen display with a Mac. The Touch Bar is Apple’s answer to how best to combine touch with a traditional computer. It’s a very different vision from Microsoft’s new Surface Studio. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year or two. Although the Touch Bar is very appealing (and I can’t wait to try it out), I have doubts as to how much it would change my daily workflow. Beyond that, I reserve judgment for now.

One last thing…the most lingering feeling I have from Apple’s media event yesterday is one of sadness. I felt I was witnessing the passing of an era. I have owned a desktop Mac since 1984. They continue to be my preferred workhorse computer. Unfortunately, the way things are headed, they may not be around the next time I am in the market to buy a new Mac.

Afterthoughts [added after original posting]

When combining a MacBook with a large external display, it was common to close the MacBook lid and use an external keyboard. Clearly, this will not work with the new MacBook Pro — as this would eliminate the ability to use the Touch Bar.

While Apple is positioning the MacBook Pro to be able to function as a “workstation,” will pro users buy it? Is this the sort of setup such users desire? That remains to be seen.

To those who say that Apple did not update desktop Macs this week because it didn’t have the resources to do that and do the new MacBook Pro at same time, I give you 2013. In that year, Apple released/updated: MacBook Pro Retina display (updated in February and again in October), MacBook Air, Mac Pro, iMac, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPhone 5C and 5S, and AirPort Extreme.

Posted in Apple Inc, Mac, Technology | 24 Comments

How to get Screen Sharing in Mac OS X’s Messages to work again

Mac OS X’s Screen Sharing, by allowing me to view and control other people’s Macs from my machine at home, has long proven to be a near-essential tool for me to help my friends and relatives with their Mac problems. Screen sharing is much more effective than attempting to address such matters via a phone call. As a bonus, screen sharing serves as a live video tutorial for the recipient.

This all worked well until a few years ago when, inexplicably, Screen Sharing stopped functioning.

The break

Until the break, I had been accessing Screen Sharing via Messages (formerly iChat). Using AIM accounts, I selected my friend’s name in Messages’ Buddies list and clicked the Screen Sharing icon (two overlapping rectangles) at the bottom of the window. From here, an invitation would be issued and accepted — and we were good to go.

I’m not exactly certain when things went south, but I believe it was after Mavericks was released. The Screen Sharing icon was now typically grayed out and unselectable.

At first, I hoped this was due to a bug in Apple’s software and it would be fixed in the next OS X update. It was not.

The most likely alternative was that my Screen Sharing’s settings were not correct — possibly because Apple had changed the rules in an OS X update. I was getting warmer here — but initially I could find nothing wrong. Both at my end and the recipient end — all seemed well.

[Note: The Screen Sharing settings in the System Preferences Sharing pane have no bearing on Screen Sharing in Messages; they are independent of each other. The System Preferences method is for sharing outside of the Messages app, typically within a single network. I considered trying to get Screen Sharing to work via this alternative route, but it seemed too likely to fail — especially when dealing with persons on the other end that usually have very limited technical skills.]

In the end, I gave up without ever identifying the culprit. I periodically checked back to see if I could get Screen Sharing in Messages to work again, but never succeeded. Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard.

The fix

A few weeks ago, I renewed my interest in Messages’ Screen Sharing. This time, I was determined to find a solution. And, with some detective work and a few helpful Google searches, I had success.

What I discovered was quite a surprise: Screen Sharing in Messages’ Buddies window no longer works. Period! At least not in the latest versions of OS X. Maybe there is some combination of settings, software and hardware that can get it to function, but I couldn’t find it (although someone else apparently did; see the comment below). The reason for this, according to what I’ve read, is that Apple no longer supports the protocols necessary to get Screen Sharing to function from here.

This raises the question as to why Apple still retains the Screen Sharing icon in the Buddies window. If it no longer works, get rid of it. At the very least, provide a warning that you are likely wasting your time here.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Screen Sharing in Messages still works — just not from the Buddies window. Rather, you access it from the Messages window. The methodology is a bit more obscure – but I can vouch that it does work. Here’s what you need to do:

1. From Messages app, open the Messages (not the Buddies) window. This is where you’ll find all your iMessage text conversations.

2. Locate and select the name of the person whose screen you want to access. If necessary, start a new message to this person so that their name appears in the left-hand column listing.

For this method to work in El Capitan or later, both users need to have iMessage accounts enabled. If necessary, check the Accounts section of Messages’ Preferences to determine if you have this set up.

[Note: An Apple support document covering Yosemite states: “You can share screens using AIM, Jabber, Google Talk, and Bonjour. You can’t share screens using Yahoo! or iMessage.” In contrast, the same article, updated for El Capitan, states: “You can share screens using iMessage. You must be logged into the same Apple ID in the iCloud pane of System Preferences and in Messages.“]

3. In the upper right corner of the Messages window, you’ll notice the word Details in blue. Click this and a mini-window pops up that contains the three icons for audio, video and screen sharing connections (as seen below).

4. Click on the Screen Sharing icon and select the “Ask to Share Screen” item that appears. This will initiate an invitation to the other person. Assuming the recipient has an iMessage account set up, she will see the invite. Once she agrees to the request, her screen will appear on your Mac!

[Note: This method opens a Screen Sharing application on your Mac, located in the System/Library folder at CoreServices/Applications. After a connection is established, the recipient’s Mac will display a Screen Sharing item in the menu bar, containing several options.]

5. Initially, you will likely be limited to viewing the person’s screen; you cannot control it. To change this, select the Control icon (rather than the binoculars “observe” icon) in the upper left of the window. After the person again gives their consent, you will have control of their Mac. At last!

There are third-party apps, such as TeamViewer, that can similarly enable screen sharing, bypassing Messages altogether. However, Messages has the advantage that all OS X users already have the app and almost all already have the needed iCloud/iMessage account set up.

As for me, I’m glad I didn’t give up on getting Messages’ Screen Sharing to work. I’m once again using it on a regular basis. It looks like the solution has been around for awhile. I might have found it sooner if I’d been more persistent earlier on. But, as they say, better late than never.

On the other hand, given the multiplicity and complexity of Screen Sharing options in Mac OS X, Apple could do a better job of making the distinctions clear. You shouldn’t have to work this hard to figure out what’s going on.

Posted in Apple Inc, Mac, Technology | 2 Comments

Welcome to the new normal: Donald Trump

In his searing take-down of Donald Trump, Garrison Keillor laments: “If the man is not defeated, then we are not the country we imagine we are. All of the trillions spent on education was a waste. The churches should close up shop. The nation that elects this man president is not a civilized society.”

Similarly, in his powerful denouncement of Trump at Stanford’s commencement, Ken Burns pleads: “Let us pledge here today that we will not let this [Trump’s election] happen to the exquisite, yet deeply flawed, land we all love and cherish…

I unreservedly endorse all that these (and a growing chorus of others) have said regarding the disaster that is Donald Trump. And I am glad to see these statements getting so much attention, hopeful that they will contribute to a backlash against Trump (further assisted by his own recent implosions) that will assure his defeat this fall. But I also have to ask these writers:

“If you think Trump is really that much of a threat to the Republic, if you truly believe that his election would mean that our nation is no longer a ‘civilized society,’ what does it mean that millions of people have already voted for this person and that he has emerged as the presidential nominee of one of our two major parties? Isn’t that already an indication that things have gone too far? How could a narcissistic demagogue so obviously unqualified and so clearly reprehensible ever have gotten to this point — if we are still the great country you hope to save?”

I fear that the answer is that we are already “not the country we imagine we are.” I know I no longer feel the same way about us as I did even a year ago. We now live in a country where, I expect, at least a third of the voters (maybe much more) will vote for Trump in November. Think about that when you’re walking down the street: on average, at least one out of every three people you pass is a Trump supporter.

I understand that many people voted for Trump out of frustration with their current economic and social situation. Not all Trump supporters are ignorant bigoted xenophobes. But believing that government is the major source of all their problems and Trump is the solution is so clearly not true that it’s hard to know how to even begin a conversation with such people. Supporters claim they like that Trump “tells it like it is.” The truth, however, is that most of what Trump “tells,” when he isn’t spewing hatred, ranges from inaccurate to outright lies.

As for the Republican leaders who have decided, however reluctantly, to support Trump, I have nothing but disdain. They are morally bankrupt. And to those (Democrats and Republicans) who claim that Hillary Clinton is no better than Trump, you are simply wrong. Way wrong. Hillary has her problems. But Trump lives in a different galaxy altogether.

With some luck, Trump will lose big this fall and, a few years from now, the country will have corrected course. At some point, we’ll be able to look back on this season as an aberration — a weird nightmare that we’d like to forget — much like the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy. Perhaps. But I fear it is just as likely that this is only the beginning. Even if Trump loses, his supporters will remain. The country will not have substantially changed course. And the descent into political disaster that threatened us this year will continue unabated as we move forward. Welcome to the new normal.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Why AppleCare+ is still not worth it

Thinking of getting AppleCare+ for your next iPhone? Think again.

Back in 2014, I strongly recommended against AppleCare+. Following my own advice, I skipped getting it when I upgraded to an iPhone 6s this past fall.

Last month, my decision collided with a worst-case-scenario accident to my phone. This gave me a “real-life” opportunity to assess the financial wisdom of my choice. As it turned out, the accident, while unfortunate, only served to reinforce that I had chosen wisely.

At the time, I had no protective case on my iPhone (a decision I made for aesthetic reasons). While the wisdom of “going naked” can be debated, that’s a separate matter from the AppleCare+ one.

On the fateful day, while taking the iPhone out of my pocket, it slipped through my hand and dropped to a concrete sidewalk. Upon examining the phone, I was relieved to see that the screen was still intact and all functions were working. I had dodged a bullet. Or so I thought.

I was wrong. A day later, I noticed that the protruding sapphire cover over the camera lens, that little piece that annoyingly sticks out from the back of the phone, had cracked. I could still take photos but, under many lighting conditions, the crack resulted in significant flaring visible in photos. Not good. I immediately made an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store to see what could be done.

As I had anticipated, the news was bad. The Apple Genius informed me that, despite what might seem minimal damage, there was no way to repair it. My only option was to get a replacement phone. As accidental damage is not covered by the standard warranty (which was still in effect, as my iPhone was less than a year old), the replacement would cost me $300.

Ugh! Feeling that I didn’t have much choice, I handed over the cash and walked out with a new iPhone. As a bonus, the employee threw in a case for free.

At this point, I can hear at least some readers chiding: “Hah! Now I bet you wish you had purchased AppleCare+.”

Nope. While I wasn’t happy to shell out $300, I did so knowing that I was still ahead of the game. How so? Here’s how:

AppleCare+ for the iPhone 6s costs $129. Even had I paid for this coverage, I would still have to pay an additional $99 (accident coverage service fee) to get a replacement phone. That adds up to $228. In other words, ignoring any sales tax issues, not having AppleCare+ cost me only $72.

“Okay,” you may counter, “You didn’t lose $300. But you still lost $72. That’s still a loss. Doesn’t that make AppleCare+ worth getting in the end?”

The answer remains no. That’s because assessing my true cost involves more than simply looking at this incident in isolation. The question is not: “Would AppleCare+ have saved me money this one time?” Rather it is: “Does getting AppleCare+ save me money in the long run?” This requires estimating how often I expect to to damage my iPhone over the course of several years. This can be tricky to determine, as it involves making probability judgments. Just as with predicting election results, there is a margin of error involved. Still, reasonable judgments can be made.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I get a new iPhone every two years. Let’s also say that I expect to damage my phone once every 4 years on average. [In reality, I’m more careful than that. In fact, prior to this incident, I’d never had any accidental damage to any of my iPhones — going back to 2007. So I’m actually stacking the numbers against me here.] Assuming I get AppleCare+ during this four year period, I will have paid $129 x 2 (for AppleCare+ for each phone) and $99 for the damage replacement phone — for a total of $357. That’s $57 more than if I had skipped AppleCare+ and just paid the $300 for a lone replacement. [Note: If all you need is a screen repair, rather than a replacement phone, the downside of AppleCare+ is even greater.]

In my particular case, given that I had never purchased AppleCare for any of my iPhones and that this was the first time I ever paid for a replacement iPhone, I was clearly way ahead of the game — by much more than $57.

Moving beyond the cost of damage replacement…

AppleCare+ does add a second year of standard warranty coverage (the first year is included with your iPhone, even without AppleCare+). However, I contend that this is almost worthless — as iPhones very rarely need non-accident-related repairs in the second year. Further, if you’re the type of person that gets a new iPhone every year, the second year of standard coverage is entirely irrelevant.

AppleCare+ also extends the period for free telephone support. However, I again contend this is not of great consequence for most people, given the availability of free online and Genius Bar support.

Finally, there’s Apple’s new iPhone Upgrade Program. This is designed especially for people who want to get a new iPhone every year, trading in their old one. The cost of the program includes paying $129 for AppleCare+, spread over installments. Solely in terms of the standard warranty, the iPhone Upgrade Program is a terrible idea. As you’re getting a new iPhone every year, you never get the benefit of the extended second year of coverage. With this program, the only rationale for AppleCare+ is for its accident protection. Here’s where it gets interesting: Unique to this program, Apple doesn’t charge $129 for AppleCare+ each year — even though you’re getting a new iPhone annually. You only pay once every two years. In contrast, if you instead purchased a new iPhone with AppleCare+ every year from a carrier (such as AT&T or Verizon), you’d pay $129 each year.

Regardless, under the Upgrade Program, the calculations regarding accident damage remain exactly as described above. Over 4 years, you will have paid $64.50 x 4, or $258, for AppleCare+. If you only damage your iPhone once during this 4 year period (for a cost of another $99 to replace the phone), you still lose $57 by getting AppleCare+. If you get AppleCare+ from a carrier, and thus pay $129 each year, the disadvantage of AppleCare+ becomes much worse. So the best I can say here is that, if you plan to get a new iPhone every year and insist on getting AppleCare+, get it via Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program.

Bottom line

The above calculations were based on my personal history. Given my track record, assuming that I would need to replace an accidentally damaged iPhone no more than once every 4 years was a reasonable one. And it meant that getting AppleCare+ was a poor financial decision.

Your mileage may vary. What if your personal history suggests that you are likely to need to replace a damaged iPhone about once a year? In this case, AppleCare+ will work out to your advantage. However, you might instead work on out how to take better care of your iPhone so it doesn’t get damaged as often.

At a minimum, all of this means you should not automatically assume that AppleCare+ is worthwhile. Before making a decision, consider your track record. Unless you are accident-prone, AppleCare+ is a bad deal. You’ll wind up paying more for the insurance than you would spend on non-insured repairs. And the more years you go without any accident, the more you save by skipping AppleCare+.

Of course, in the end, you’re taking a gamble no matter what you do. You place a bet based on what you expect to happen in the future. If you guess wrong, you lose. For some, the peace of mind obtained by getting AppleCare+ may be worth it, even if you are more likely to lose money by doing so. However, if you are willing to take a small risk, I contend that the long-run odds most often favor a win if you skip AppleCare+. It has certainly worked that way for me. Having to shell out $300 for a replacement phone last month did not change that.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPad, iPhone, Technology | 2 Comments