Apple’s Looming International Struggles

As I continue to follow news reports about the regulations arising from Europe and decreasing sales in China, in Q1 2024, Apple experienced a 25% year-over-year decrease. I can’t help but think that Apple has some heavy rowing ahead with respect to international markets. As governments are starting to take an active role in regulating smartphones and related technologies, Apple is increasingly under scrutiny.

I expect it’s only a question of time before some government demands that Apple give them a backdoor into user privacy as a condition of selling in their market. At that point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple just pulled out of that market. Indeed, I would expect it.

For years, smartphone (and social media) businesses were allowed to expand without regulation or oversight. It looks as if that is coming to an end.

Apple’s “Let Loose” Event Set for May 7

We’ve been talking about new iPads for months. It looks like it’s nearly time for release with Apple’s announcement of the “Let Loose” event, scheduled for May 7. The event, confirmed to be an all-digital affair, sure looks to be iPad-focused with the prominent display of Apple Pencil.

Mirroring the online format of last October’s “Scary Fast” event, this one will be at 7 a.m. PT (10 a.m. ET) via Apple’s website. The centerpiece of the event is expected to be the new iPad Pro lineup. Rumors suggest that both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models will feature OLED displays, making them thinner than their predecessors. This upgrade is anticipated to enhance the visual experience, offering deeper blacks and more vibrant colors.

Also, the iPad Air is rumored to get a new 12.9-inch model. This would follow other Apple product lines getting a less expensive larger model like the 15-inch MacBook Air and the iPhone Plus models.

An intriguing piece of the “Let Loose” puzzle is the tease of a new Apple Pencil. Enhanced with “Find My” integration and magnetically swappable tips, this stylus is rumored to redefine digital drawing and writing. Additionally, a potential “Squeeze” gesture feature could introduce a new layer of interactivity, adding to its versatility. It won’t be long now.

The Apple Jonathan

I enjoyed this story by Stephen Hackett on Apple’s unrealized modular computer project, “Jonathan”, from the 1980s. I remember when the idea of a modular computer was in vogue. It makes sense. Everything back then was super expensive and letting users construct their hardware by plugging the right pieces together was a popular dream. The first time I saw this go to market was with the truly dreadful Timex Sinclair.

However, I have no recollection of modular computing ever actually working. I can imagine a lot of reasons for this. Getting hardware to work in a modular fashion has never been easy, and available ports back then were slow. Instead, the market for this sort of thing drifted into build-your-own PC, which doesn’t surprise me. The only people interested in this were nerds and there was nothing nerdier than building your own PC.

Who’s Responsible For Age Verification?

There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing going on about age verification between software and hardware developers. Facebook (and now Tinder) argue that it’s up to the hardware seller to verify a user’s age. (Ben Lovejoy covers this over at 9to5Mac.) In a lot of ways, that makes sense. When you register your iPhone, it should know how old you are. That could give Apple the ability to prevent underage children from downloading dangerous social media apps. Of course, it’s not illegal to have these apps for underage children in every jurisdiction.

Likewise, the seller of these dangerous apps that can harm children should take more responsibility than just finger-pointing at the device manufacturer. There are plenty of ways for Tinder and Facebook to know when they have an underage user. And they, too, should be taking steps to protect these children.

And of course, don’t forget the parents. Some parents will want to grant their children access, and others will want to lock the devices down. In my opinion, the only way we’re going to really solve this problem is if the parents, the hardware and the software people all get together on this. I absolutely would like to see Apple take a more active role in this, but I don’t think it’s solely responsible for the solution.

The Lisa Documentary

I recently watched David Greelish’s documentaryBefore Macintosh: The Apple Lisa. It’s a love letter to the Apple Lisa. For those who’ve never heard of Lisa, it was Apple’s original attempt to make a graphical user-based computer. While not a commercial success, the lessons learned with Lisa made the Macintosh possible.

Highlights for me in the documentary:

  • The interview with Bill Atkinson. He had many details about making Lisa and even Polaroid pictures of the initial GUI experiments. (I once spent a very pleasurable hour in the Macworld Speaker Room with Bill Atkinson. He’s just as nice as he seems.)
  • The remarkable efforts people made to hack Lisa after it was released. In the early days of computing, opening up your machine and tinkering was normal. As a teenager, I opened up my Atari ST and doubled the RAM by soldering memory chips on top of the existing ones. It was nuts, and I loved it. People did the same stuff with their Lisas, and this film covers that. It brought me back.

The Mac Turns 40

There are a lot of nice articles today about the Mac’s 40th Anniversary. My favorite was at the Steve Jobs Archive. The Mac was not a big “boil-the-ocean” project at Apple but something else, designed by a small team and largely left alone by the corporate types. The later “Think Different” ad campaign easily applies to the people who brought the Mac to life. I was a junior in high school when the Mac first arrived, and it was immediately obvious to me that computers would be “just like this” going forward.

If you’re interested in more of the story behind the development of the Mac, I recommend Andy Hertzfeld’s It’s a gold mine of early Apple anecdotes. I’ll finish by saying that despite it’s age, my Mac remains the bit of Apple technology that I continue to use and rely upon the most.

Farewell, Big iMac

In Jason Snell’s (excellent, as usual) review of the new M3 24” iMac, he reports on the currently-non-existent large iMac: “Apple told me that it has no plans to develop a 27-inch iMac again.”

Apple said the same thing to The Verge.

I have received many emails and messages from listeners and Labs members wanting to get a large iMac and asking how long they will have to wait. Based on this reporting, my answer will be, “Don’t wait; it’s not coming.”

I used to be a large iMac guy. I owned several of them over the years. If they released one today, I would not be interested. I’ve found I prefer the new world of separate computers and displays. My current display (a Pro Display XDR) has now worked with three different Macs. While there’s a higher cost going in, I think the math works out over time. Moreover, you can avoid that higher cost if you buy a non-Apple display.

When you look at the Mac compared to the iPhone, it is a blip on the Apple product line. Moreover, I expect if we had the numbers, you’d find that desktop Macs are but a blip compared to laptop Macs. So, when it comes to desktop Macs, we’re talking about a blip of a blip. I can understand why Apple doesn’t want to spend the time and resources to make a large iMac.

In hindsight, their messaging on this has been pretty straightforward: They view the 24-inch iMac as halfway between the little one and the big one and good enough for an iMac. I bought my daughter (a teacher) an M1 iMac as a graduation present (in yellow!). She loves it. I asked if she thinks it should be bigger, and she declined, “It fits perfectly on my desk.”

If you want something bigger, they want you to buy a Mac mini or Mac Studio along with one of their displays. Many people will not be happy with this decision but that is the reality. That doesn’t mean Apple isn’t capable of changing its mind. Remember when they got out of the display business? But if you need new hardware, I would not plan on waiting for that day.

I don’t think Apple is being coy. I think they view themselves as out of the big iMac business.

Is AI Apple’s Siri Moonshot?

The Information has an article by Wayne Ma reporting Apple is spending “millions of dollars a day” on Artificial Intelligence initiatives. The article is pay-walled, but The Verge summarizes it nicely.

Apple has multiple teams working on different AI initiatives throughout the company, including Large Language Models (LLMs), image generation, and multi-modal AI, which can recognize and produce “images or video as well as text”.

The Information article reports Apple’s Ajax GPT was trained on more than 200 billion parameters and is more potent than GPT 3.5.

I have a few points on this.

First, this should be no surprise.

I’m sure folks will start writing about how Apple is now desperately playing catch-up. However, I’ve seen no evidence that Apple got caught with its pants down on AI. They’ve been working on Artificial Intelligence for years. Apple’s head of AI, John Giannandrea, came from Google, and he’s been with Apple for years. You’d think that people would know by now that just because Apple doesn’t talk about things doesn’t mean they are not working on things.

Second, this should dovetail into Siri and Apple Automation.

If I were driving at Apple, I’d make the Siri, Shortcuts and AI teams all share the same workspace in Apple Park. Thus far, AI has been smoke and mirrors for most people. If Apple could implement it in a way that directly impacts our lives, people will notice.

Shortcuts with its Actions give them an easy way to pull this off. Example: You leave 20 minutes late for work. When you connect to CarPlay, Siri asks, “I see you are running late for work. Do you want me to text Tom?” That seems doable with an AI and Shortcuts. The trick would be for it to self-generate. It shouldn’t require me to already have a “I’m running late” shortcut. It should make it dynamically as needed. As reported by 9to5Mac, Apple wants to incorporate language models to generate automated tasks.

Similarly, this technology could result in a massive improvement to Siri if done right. Back in reality, however, Siri still fumbles simple requests routinely. There hasn’t been the kind of improvement that users (myself included) want. Could it be that all this behind-the-scenes AI research is Apple’s ultimate answer on improving Siri? I sure hope so.