Summer 2019 MacBooks

A year ago, I was faced with the decision of having to replace my ten year old MacBook. Incidentally, I couldn’t find a buyer for my old MacBook (and didn’t want to place it on eBay), so my 11 year old son is continuing to use it to watch YouTube videos.

Right now, I’m standing in an Apple Store, and I remember how challenging it was to settle on a new MacBook. I wanted the Touch Bar, and 16GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive…pretty much the configuration I would recommend to anyone else (Touch Bar is optional, of course) that wants their MacBook to last until Apple declares it obsolete.

This time of year is a great time to buy a MacBook with the education discount, as well as a discount on Apple Care (I can’t recommend this enough), and a free set of Beats.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy the MacBook at this time of year (I really didn’t need the Beats…I wish Apple would offer other incentives, such as a discount on an iPad or AirPods or something else). So I waited for last summer’s MacBooks to hit the refurbished store, which took a couple of months. I then bought my current MacBook which is great–exactly what I wanted–at a lower cost than the education discount (but perhaps more expensive if you throw in the Beats promotion).

A couple of weeks ago, Apple refreshed their MacBook line up, making things simpler and even dropping a model (the 12″ MacBook).

As I look around, I think the MacBook to buy is the MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM and the 500GB hard drive for $1700. You can’t get into a similar configuration of a MacBook Pro for less than $2200. Or you can wait for these to hit the refurbished store, too. Or buy a 2018 MacBook Pro with TouchPad from the refurbished store, like I did.

If your heart is drawn to the $999 MacBook Air (Education pricing), go for it. It will work fine, but I do think there are benefits to more RAM and storage. And I also think Apple’s 2 TB iCloud storage plan is a pretty good deal…and I expect that value to increase in the future (someday they’ll offer even more storage for the same price). And don’t forget that if you have family sharing enabled, all the members of your family can tap into that 2 TB of data! iCloud had a bumpy start but really works well these days. There is a reason why Dropbox has so drastically changed its user experience!

And if you are a Windows user, I don’t expect you to buy a Mac–I’ve simply migrated to the Apple side of the technology world, and the Apple environment works best for the work that I do.


Thoughts on the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

For the record, I’m not buying a new iPad Pro, nor am I buying a new Apple Pencil.  My current iPad Pro is still (as of today) the most recent version, and it is fine for the work that I do.  As I mentioned in my last post, I just bought a new (refurbished) MacBook Pro, and I won’t even think of updating my iPad Pro until this device is paid for.

The new iPad Pro is incredibly fast–it runs at speeds faster than my new MacBook Pro!  It also loses the home button, the lightning port, and gains Face ID.  I have no problems with any of these improvements–and they only align for an amazing upgrade in a year an a half (or sooner) when I buy my next iPad Pro.  It’s hard to know when Apple is going to update hardware, so I can’t really guarantee that Apple will come out with the next iPad Pro in November 2019.  It will be a “wait and see” situation.  All I know is that I will eventually move to a new iPad model at a natural time in my own upgrade cycle that matches Apple’s upgrade cycle.

The item that surprised me the most was the new Apple Pencil and its incompatibility with the old iPads–including the current 9.7″ iPad.  Our school bought a bunch of the new iPads last summer as our new building houses about 300 additional students (this year).  The old Apple Pencil and the Logitech Crayon work with that iPad (I just ordered two Logitech Crayons for my boys own 9.7″ iPads as a Christmas gift), but the new Apple Pencil will only work with the iPad Pro.

I would have expected some kind of backwards compatibility with the new Pencil, considering the 9.7″ iPad.  But things will go back to normal where the Pencil will only work with the new iPad Pro (that’s how it used to be).  I’d actually like to see an owner be able to use a Pencil with all their devices, particularly their iPad and iPhone, as I have attempted to write on my iPhone many times.

The issue, I believe, comes in charging.  The iPad has a built-in inductive charger that charges the new Apple Pencil (no more lost end caps!), and the iPad has added USB-C in place of the lightning port.  This means the old way of charging wouldn’t work any more. So I think it’s the right move for Apple–USB-C, inductive charging, etc.  I just hope Apple keeps the old Pencil around for schools for a little while, and that they update all of the devices to use and charge the Apple Pencil, too.

If you’re in the market for a new iPad, I can’t recommend the new Apple iPad Pro and the new Apple Pencil enough.   While I think I will always default to the 12.9″ iPad from this time out, the new 11″ iPad should be the equal to a sheet of paper.  This would be a great time to buy an incredibly powerful machine, and it will be fun to see what developers do to take advantage of the new speed of these devices.

Finally…a new MacBook…

New 13″ 2018 MacBook Pro on the left, old 13″ Aluminum MacBook on the right, migrating from one device to the other using Migration Assistant.

After several years of debating the issue and putting it off, I am writing this post on my new 2018 MacBook Pro.  This has been a long time coming, as my previous MacBook was purchased just over 10 years ago (October 2008), and I have not been able to update the operating system on that computer for three years.

I might have continued to use my 2008 MacBook if Apple’s own programs would have worked on it, but last year’s updates to the “iWork” apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) would no longer work on my old operating system.  On the other hand, all of my other productivity software, including Finale 26 and Notion, worked just fine on my old MacBook.  My old MacBook wasn’t in its original condition, however…I had upgraded it to the maximum of useable memory (4GB on that device) and to a 512GB SSD, because it was so slow.  That solved the problem–but didn’t solve my issues with Apple’s own software, which I use a lot.

So…what did I buy?  A refurbished 13″ 2018 MacBook Pro, i5, 2.3GHz Quad Core with Touch Bar, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB Hard Drive (I wouldn’t suggest buying a MacBook with anything less).  I also bought the extended Apple Care+ warranty (there is an educator’s discount).  I decided to go with the MacBook Pro versus the new MacBook Air because the new Air with the same memory configuration would have been $140 less, with a much slower processor (1.6GHz Dual Core) and no Touch Bar.  So in the end, the speed and TouchBar won me over.  I could have bought a i7 MacBook Pro, but didn’t want to spend any more on the computer (there are other things to buy).

The stereo speakers are a little bit of a surprise, too.  I just sent an e-mail message and was shocked to hear the message “wooosh” from one side of the computer to the other as it was sent.  I guess there is no longer any Mac C-major start-up chime, either.

I’ll also miss the “glowing apple” on the back of my 2008 MacBook.  There is no CD-ROM drive, either.  Other than DVDs, can’t remember the last time I loaded a CD, and I’m not buying music on CD, either.  Actually, with Apple Music (family subscription), we’re not buying any music–just paying for streaming.

I bought the Apple HDMI and VGA USB-C adapters, which will give me a traditional USB port (on each adapter).  I like the future of USB-C.  USB-C is coming on the new iPad Pros, and I think we’ll see it on all of Apple’s products soon.

I won’t buy a new iPad Pro until this computer is paid off (interest free financing from Apple), so I have a double incentive to get this device paid off as soon as possible.

So far, the TouchBar has been useful, and it is surprising to see my 2008 Aluminum MacBook in comparison.  The devices are clearly related–but 10 years has definitely refined the device.  I traveled through Europe with that computer in the summer of 2009, when we accompanied my high school’s Spanish teachers on a European trip.  The MacBook has some dents and bruises, but it has kept working like a champ (even if I have replaced the hard drive various times for size and performance).

I’m getting used to the new keyboard (new to me), which was redesigned for 2018.  I might have considered a 2017 refurbished MacBook Pro, but there were a lot of keyboard problems (my friend and fellow music techie Robbie Burns has suffered through a number of repairs) and I wanted to avoid that model.

I also bought the $199 Education Pro Apps Bundle with the computer…it’s going to take some time to figure out how to use the programs…but it is nice to have them.

Apple’s migration assistant worked flawlessly.  It took a LONG time…4 hours or so…but everything from my old MacBook seemed to come over…and all of my important files are backed up in my 2 TB of data with iCloud anyway.  This is the first time I have migrated a Mac, whereas I have migrated many iPods, iPhones, and iPads over the past ten years.  My wife and her parents recently updated their iPhone 7 models to the new iPhone XR, and Apple has really made the migration from device to device a very simple process.  I’m impressed.

While this isn’t a cheap purchase–it is a device that will be used a lot in the coming years–by me and by my family.  My work flow may even change away from the iPad a little bit as I will have a reliable MacBook to work with (my old MacBook would occasionally power off for no good reason, even when plugged in).  This will be my birthday (just a couple days away) and Christmas present…perhaps for a couple of years. And I have not bought any ukuleles for a couple months (that’s a record).

I hope your school year is going well–mine has been enjoyable so far!  It is hard to believe that we are in November already!


Apple Education Event, March 27, 2018

Earlier this morning, Apple held an education event, where it offered some new solutions for education.  I’ll be visiting with Robby Burns in the near future on his podcast about the education event, but I wanted to cover some highlights and offer some initial reactions.  I work in a 1:1 iPad environment and have done so for five years.  I have “hands on” experience with teaching and iPads.

First, Google Chome has been kicking the hind end of the competition—including Apple—as it comes to education.  School districts are simply too tempted by low cost devices that have a keyboard and offer free services/apps/storage.  If you are a music educator, you are fully aware that you need more tools than the Google Suite, and that those services (rightfully) charge a key.  There is also a very good chance that your school district isn’t budgeting any extra money for you to have those services.   We’re also actively ignoring Google’s willingness to sell data to provide those low cost services. As reported widely today, Chrome represents 60% of the education business in the United States right now, and Apple only 11%.  Just yesterday, Google announced a Chrome-based Tablet, set to compete with the iPad for $329.  It will be interesting to see if these devices become “accepted” in Chromebook schools—proving that the choice of Chrome devices over Apple devices isn’t really form factor, it is an anti-Apple bias, which still exists.

Second, what was really announced today?  As I wasn’t there (I would have loved to have been there, and as I’m on Spring Break, I could have made that happen), here’s the list as I know it:

  • A new 9.7” iPad that is faster and works with the Apple Pencil for the previous price point of $329 for end users and $299 for schools.
  • Apple Pencils will sell for $89 to education
  • There are new cases, including a good looking Logitech armored keyboard case for $99
  • iWork has been reworked to allow for annotations.  This is cool in Pages—but will be positively AWESOME in Keynote.  I’ve used PowerPoint and I have used Google Sheets, but I find Keynote to be the best tool for what I do.  I have always said that Keynote is a program that acts as if PowerPoint and SMART Notebook had a baby.  At this point, I would rather work on a mirrored iPad in KeyNote than on SMART Notebook on a SMART Board.  My school recently decided against getting SMART Boards in every room in our new school—a decision that will pay for itself with this announcement.  SMART activities are great, but many have been messed up on the Mac platform for years with Flash anyway.
  • Apple Classroom will now work on MacBooks, too (a major request)
  • It appears that iBooks Author is somehow integrated to Pages on iPad, allowing you to finally create iBooks content on the iPad (This has kept me from updating my own iBooks, to be honest).
  • There is a new homework hub that will integrate with education apps, allowing teachers to assign work and track completion.
  • And school assigned accounts now get 200GB of free storage per account.  That is a nice change.

Third, it is unclear how some existing services will decide to work with Apple.  Can Schoology tap into the new homework hub?  I think Apple has made a poor decision in not acquiring JAMF, which is what most schools use for Mass Device Management (MDM).  MDM should also be free for schools, provided by Apple.  You want the market?  Eliminate the extra costs to run Apple products in schools. I also did not see Apple address the problem of in-app purchases for school apps (there is currently no way for a school to pay these costs).  Apple also didn’t solve the situation where students can stop management simply by going to Airplane Mode or restarting their device (Yes, kids do this—all the time).

Finally, I wish we could be honest and admit that part of the problem is that Google refuses to provide their own suite on iOS with the same functionality it offers on its own platform.  I am very aware of this as I work with Google Slides.  I have to work on a computer in Chrome or on a Chromebook to have full functionality, whereas even working in Chrome on an iPad isn’t enough.  There is a “nod” to provide basic functionality—but if you really want to work, you need to move to another device.  That is a purposeful choice by Google, and if Apple did such a thing, they would be mocked for it by the press (you can run most Apple iWork apps through, by the way).

All in all, the biggest changes in my life due to today’s announcement will be the ability to write and draw in Keynote and the ability to create an iBook on the iPad.  I don’t see schools buying Apple Pencils for students, but I can see some students opting to buy them (what happens when they are stolen or broken, I do not know).  It sounds as if Logitech is making an Apple Pencil device for education—I need to read more about it.  Perhaps this opens the door for 3rd party Apple Pencil devices?  That wouldn’t be so bad.

We are also going to have to update my own children’s 4th Generation iPad Minis, as those devices are getting dated (and are in rough shape).  As a parent, I can see myself buying a 9.7” iPad in the place of those iPad Minis, with a keyboard case from Logitech and a Logitech “pencil.”  I could also see buying the new iPad for my parents (my mom has the previous generation 9.7” iPad).  I just wish Apple would start those devices at 128GB these days.

I don’t know if this is enough for Apple to “win,” and I’m not sure Apple wants to “win.”  I think these changes make it possible for Apple to keep competing, and today’s announcements certainly do that.

A few days with the new 12.9″ iPad Pro

As I mentioned in a previous post, when Apple announced the new iPad Pro (there is a 10″ version) they also announced the same updates to the 12.9″ model.

I have been putting off the purchase of a new iPad for some time–and it was time to upgrade.  This was facilitated with 0% financing from Apple for 18 months.  

That iPad arrived on Tuesday, and I have been using the iPad Pro in my daily life for the past three days.  I have been reading a lot about the iPad Pro models on all of the technology news outlets.  The general consensus is that the iPad Pro is wonderful, but it costs a lot.  This sounds like typical Apple to me.  That said, my 2008 MacBook (which I am still using) was pretty expensive ($1500 if memory serves), but it is still working for me nearly 9 years later.  

I have been integrating the iPad Pro into my life, and for the most part, what I have to say is this: it is a big iPad that does what iPads do.  I am able to do some more split screen activities as the size better allows for it, and it is wonderful for reading music.  I have now attended two ukulele functions with my iPad Pro, my PageFlip Dragonfly, and my AirTurn GoStand/Manos Mount.  Music reading on a digital device doesn’t get any better (although I would recommend Michelle Mastin’s thoughts on using Samsung Chromebook Plus as a music reader...she prefers the Chromebook–which can run Android Apps–to a Windows Surface!).

My iPad is used as a tool to run my class (everything is organized in Keynote), as well as a music reader.  The primary reason that I wanted the 12.9″ iPad was to read music, so it is doing exactly what I want it to do.  Did I need the latest version of the 12.9″ iPad to read music?  No!  I could buy a used model for that task.  But when buying an iPad or iPhone, I do believe in buying the latest version so as to give it the longest possible shelf life.  

The pencil is a fantastic tool…I love it.  I hope they make the iPhone a pencil-friendly device this fall.  I don’t have an Apple keyboard…I just have the keyboard from a very inexpensive New Trent iPad case (previous model) that I use, and that works for what I need.  My iPad/Tablet stand is from IKEA and cost $3.  I will say that I have spent some time with drawing music into the iPad, and I am amazed at how well Notion’s handwriting works for a $7 in-app purchase.  I don’t see handwriting as a great way to enter a lot of music into an iPad, but if you need to write something quickly and have an iPad Pro–and are not overly familiar with technology–handwriting is an amazing solution.

The limitations of the 12.9″ are its size and weight…which aren’t really limitations.  They are the reality of the device.  The limitations of the iPad Pro are found in the operating system and the available apps.  Don’t get me wrong…and iPad can do more things than a computer used to be able to do.  Apple is addressing the operating system with new iPad features this fall; and chances are that apps will continue to develop as the operating system changes.

For example, I have been doing a lot of work on my MacBook creating ukulele play along videos.  I use these videos in my classes, and they are fun to make.  I also know that some ukulele groups use these videos.  Here is my latest effort: 

I simply can’t do all of the steps to make these videos on an iPad.  Currently, I cannot save a YouTube video from iOS (Even the Workflow App is broken in that regard), I cannot open that video as an audio file and make changes to it, and I cannot use the timeline to make a “Picture-In-Picture” bouncing ball icon to follow chords.  In regards to the initial creation in Keynote, I cannot attach an audio recording to the entire document, record timings, and export as a video file.

In the long run, I CAN do some of this on the iPad, but I cannot do all of it.  I might be able to do some hacked things, such as opening a video in Explain Everything and using the “pointer” to show chords…this last part might be easier, but one of the fun things to do is to make the “bouncing ball” into something that relates to the song.  One of my favorite such icons was using a VW Beetle for the Beatles’ “All My Loving.”

All that said, my new iPad Pro has a much faster processor and a much more advanced graphics processor than my old 2008 MacBook.  It could handle everything that my MacBook could do…but the apps have to allow for it.  Hopefully that will come!

As for the speed on the iPad…the iPad Pro runs everything that I ran before at the same perceptible speed…so I wouldn’t upgrade for that reason.  I would say that if you have an iPad older than the original iPad Air, it is probably time to upgrade.  There are three new iPads…the $329 9.7″ iPad, the new 10″ iPad Pro, and the updated 12.9″ iPad.  You really can’t go wrong with any of them.