Welcome to SoundByte – in this bumper issue:
- February Meeting
- The new Mac Mini
- M2 updates for the MacBook Pros
- Long time no see, HomePod!
- Ventura 13.2 brings added internet security while Last Pass loses it
- For better or worse – iPhone camera reviewed
- Apple has NOT left the building
- Acorns and what never was
- Deathknell sounded for landline and 3G
- Fear, uncertainty and doubt on my trip back to the Mac
- Offers for members
Join us on Zoom next Valentine’s Day at 7pm, Tuesday, February 14, for our February Meeting. We will start the evening with our regular look at Apple News in NewsByte and then we are thrilled to announce that we’ll be discussing the importance of Security on and off-line.
Why is this so vitally important to our everyday lives? As Apple’s products, services, and data become increasingly connected, our security must be stronger than ever. In February’s meeting we will discuss the latest developments in Apple security and demonstrate how these measures will ensure the safekeeping of your data.
Check the email this newsletter came in for the Zoom link and follow us on…Mastodon🐘! (@LondonMacUser@mastodon.social)
The new Mac Mini
The Mac Mini has received an upgrade to Apple’s latest M2 chip. The M2 chip offers only a modest performance improvement over the M1 but provides a huge performance boost if upgrading from an older Intel Mac. The bargain base model is also sweetened with a small price drop. In terms of value, this is the cheapest way into the Mac. Pair it with an affordable 4K monitor, plus a cheap keyboard and mouse, and you could save hundreds of pounds over an iMac. But bear in mind, that a Mini is also much more complicated to set up compared to the iMac (see my experience below).
Apple also replaced the higher-end (space grey) Mac Minis. These could be purchased with powerful Intel i7 chips and were intended for professional work at a lower cost. Their replacement is no longer space grey, but instead includes the new M2 Pro chip. You might recall that when the M1 Mini came out, comparisons were made with the (£5,500) Mac Pro. These comparisons are are louder now. The M2 Pro Mini is between 2 and 24 times(!) faster than the fastest old Intel Mini depending on the task.
M2 updates for the MacBook Pros
At the same time as updating the Mini, Apple upgraded the MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch with M2 Pro and M2 Max processors, upgraded Wifi and a more powerful HDMI port. The overall design was not changed and these remain go-to workhorse laptops for Pros on-the-go. Have a look at Apple’s full presentation on the new Macs below:
If you rely on an Apple Silicon Laptop, one feature you do need to be aware of is the Low Power mode. This mode could make all the difference between a project being on time or late because your battery died. The surprise is how little performance penalty you get from using it for longer battery life. See below:
Long time no see, HomePod
In a gentle surprise, Apple revived the full sized Home Pod from the dead, after cancelling it in 2021. The new HomePod wireless speaker looks and costs essentially the same as the old one, but includes a more powerful processor, more smart home smarts and a humidity/temperature sensor. It keeps one killer feature: buy two, and with an Apple TV, you can add Dolby Atmos (3D surround sound/spatial audio) movies and music to your living room at a fraction of the cost of a full AV system with 7.2 Atmos speakers. But otherwise, reaction is perhaps muted. It comes out in February and there are no reviews yet. See the sceptical reaction from the Waveform podcast below:
Ventura 13.2 brings added internet security while Last Pass loses it
Get your Software Update on, as Apple has released macOS Ventura 13.2. As well as squashing lots of bugs and vulnerabilities, this update includes a few key security improvements. It includes the ability to fully encrypt youriCloud data (introduced in the last iOS update) and a feature called Security Keys, where you can use a physical key for two-factor authentication. Security Keys look like something for high security/threat environments rather than for the rest of us. If you need it, you’ll probably be told you need it. See more below:
Speaking of security, there has been some very bad news for users of the Last Pass password manager. Strongly consider changing your passwords and switching to a different password manager, because Last Pass has been badly hacked. In a genuine disaster, customer vaults and personal information was lost. This stolen personal data puts Last Pass customers at high risk of phishing (fraud) to try to steal their most important passwords (e.g. to their bank account). One recommended alternative is to go for a (more secure?) open-source password manager like Bitwarden (a few other password-managers can be found below in member offers). Listen to the Security Now podcast for more details of this serious security breach.
For better or worse – iPhone camera reviewed
iPhone uses powerful image processing the get great photos out of the iPhone. But image processing is a fine art and for many people, iPhone photo’s have a look. This look comprises of preferences that Apple (and every other smartphone maker) builds into the processed image. Marques Brownlee, who has raised issues caused by poorly trained image algorithms in the past, has taken a close look at the iPhone camera and he thinks there is a problem. Watch below:
Apple has NOT left the building
Some surprising news. You might recall that due to macOS being developed from the NeXT Step operating system, it is also a certified UNIX operating system. This UNIX, which is accessed from the Terminal, has been a draw to the Mac for professional web developers. This is because much of the web is run on UNIX-like platforms. But it turns out that Apple, is now essentially, the only company still developing a Unix-certified operating system. All the others have fallen away! Read what’s happened on the Register.
Acorns and what never was
Staying in the mid-to-late 1980s, if you are over-40 you might have a distant memory of the BBC Micro and the successor machine the Acorn computer. It was the Acorn that led to the development of the ARM chip which is the great ancestral grandfather of the ARM64-bit chips in modern Macs. But back in the mid-80s, British-based Acorn hoped to rule the world with their new low power processor and they created an OS called RISC OS to do it. The OS failed of course. But somehow it is still on life-support all these years later. If you are interested, have a look at this interview with the person maintaining this relic distant brother from another maternal line (to the macOS) operating system.
Finally and going even further back in time, a new computer museum has opened in Leigh, Greater Manchester. It includes the early ARM powered Acorn computer, relic games consoles and even a replica Apple 1. Have a look at this BBC article and the delightfully retro webpage for the North West Computer Museum.
Deathknell sounded for landline and 3G
Landlines are the copper wire that comes into the house and connects to your home telephone. If you are under-40 and you grew up with mobile phones you might not be certain what this home telephone is. For the rest of us, the news is, the PSTN analogue phone system, like analogue TV before it, has been given a switch off date in favour of digital phones, and this date is probably sooner that you might guess. The shutdown will occur in 2025, just 2 years away! Read the details from OFCOM here and get ready.
But wait there’s more. You don’t still have an old 3G mobile phone do you (iPhone 3GS and earlier)? Because that phone service is being switched off too! The first 3G network to go offline will be Vodaphone’s this December.
Comment from LMUG’s technical editor
Each mobile provider is setting its own timetable for their 3G network switch-off. These timings might change and you should check your mobile provider’s website for the latest update:
- Vodafone is starting its switch-off in early 2023.
- EE plans to start its switch-off in early 2024.
- Three expects to switch-off by the end of 2024.
- O2 has not yet announced any switch-off plans.
These are the four main mobile network providers in the UK. All other mobile companies provide their services over these networks. For example:
|Lebara Mobile, Asda Mobile and Talk Mobile. Virgin Mobile also currently uses the Vodafone network, but will move to the O2 network in future.
|Your Co-op, Utility Warehouse, Plusnet and BT Mobile
|Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile
3G switch-off timings for these providers will be the same as the network they are using.
Older (dumb phone) 2G networks are expected to outlast 3G because of wide coverage and comparatively lower power requirements that make it an ideal standard for mass IoT (Internet of Things e.g. smart home) deployments that require long battery life and minimal bandwidth.
Some elderly and rural users require 2G, as does the government’s smart meter project, that connects vehicles to emergency services in the event of an airbag deployment. BT also noted that it was necessary to maintain 2G because of certain roaming requirements.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt on my trip back to the Mac
Your editor has been writing SoundByte on iPad Pro for several years now, but this one was written on a Mac Mini with M2 Pro. This is the first Mac I have purchased since 2006, when I purchased my one and only iMac. I wish I could say it has been a smooth ride, but I have learned a few things that I’ll share here.
Where to start? First the buying decision. I knew when the M1 Mac mini came out that I wanted the next version. I already knew the power of Apple Silicon from my iPad Pro, but there were edge cases that the iPad couldn’t do well. I had found that for certain life events, I needed a PC with Word for Windows and after buying the iPad Pro in 2018 I couldn’t afford a Mac so thought I would buy a pure Intel PC. I got an Intel Compute Stick. Costing under £100 second-hand this was truly terrible, but just good enough with a barebones Windows 10 install to run Word and finicky templates for the print shops I had to use for family events. But this meant I had the screen, keyboard and mouse ready for a Mac Mini. When the M2 Mini was announced I ordered it with the upgrades I thought I wanted: 1TB hard drive, and 16GB ram. But the next day I looked again at the Apple Store and saw the base M2 Pro Mini was only £150 more expensive, and that came with better ports as well as a better GPU. This is the famous Apple up-sell, and I couldn’t resist it. I feared I was missing out on a really good deal (later confirmed) and discovered it is really easy to cancel your Apple order. You can’t change it, but you can cancel it up to the last moment. So I got the Pro.
Uncertainty crept in when I picked up the Mac from the Apple Store in Bromley. ‘Ooh, that’s a powerful one! What are you planning to use it for?’ said the store employee. I said I wanted to edit Raw photos from my new camera (although really Photos on the iPad can do that) and edit 4k video (which the iPad sails through in iMovie/Luma Fusion) and er some edge cases the iPad can’t do well like accessing my hard drive. Saying it out loud sounded like quite a weak justification for spending over £1200. Anyway, I got it home and set it up, where the trouble began.
Time Machine just works, right? I plugged in my old hard drive which had my last Time Machine from 2016 when my user account was on the LMUG MacBook Air (long since sold). Maybe I could restore from that Time Machine and pick up where I left off 7 years ago. Well, Ventura 13.2 said yes, I’ll take that, and it preceded to ingest what seems to have been some sort of mouldy old food. After the restore, nothing seemed to work, passwords failed to process and system performance was very laggy. Applications was full of out-of-date Intel apps and stuff I didn’t remember having – delete delete delete! Also there were extra accounts I didn’t need and couldn’t remember having. Doubts crept in that this was a bad mistake. But I slept on it and decided to start again, and do it the iOS way. Start blank and restore from iCloud as if it’s a new iPhone. Surprisingly the Apple guidance is really quite vague on how to wipe and clean install macOS. Watch this video below for straightforward instructions, if you need it.
The first surprise was on the first boot, it asked me what image to use for my new account and offered an emoji. I have one based on me, but you can only use that once you have signed in to Apple ID after set up. But when it was set-up, its a delight. I go to log in and my Memoji of me is asleep. It wakes up and watches me type the password and shakes its head disapprovingly if I get it wrong, then smiles and waves me through if I get it right. Everything else sailed though and I could really see the speed when installing apps and transferring files.
Immediately though I noticed that macOS is plagued by password prompts. All very sensible but now irritating. Why hadn’t I noticed this on the iPad? FaceID does away with passwords with a biometric glance. I know the new Apple Keyboards have Touch ID, but why should I buy one (£150!) when I’m wearing an Apple Watch which lets me authenticate payments by just being on my wrist? It turns out Apple thought of this, but they have not fully baked it into Mac OS Ventura. Find this under Login Password in System Settings (the new Control Panel) you can set Apple Watch to unlock your applications and Mac. I found this mostly means web passwords and the screen when waking from sleep, but doesn’t cover all the password operations like adjusting protected system settings. When a password prompt appears, a screen pops-up on the watch asking me to double-tap the side button to approve. Hopefully in later versions of macOS this is adopted system wide.
The next minor issue I discovered was my new monitor. It will work, but not optimally, for me, without a dongle. This is ridiculous, but this time its not Apple’s fault. The monitor supports 4K 60hz (and looks glorious with macOS), but not through its HDMI port (WHAT?). The monitor supports this full resolution only through USB-C (which I use for my work laptop) and Mini-DisplayPort (which Apple stopped using a few years ago). I had an HDMI to Mini-DisplayPort cable (from my time with the old LMUG MacBook Air), but this didn’t work because Apple no longer supports DisplayPort over HMDI… Apple now say to use a USB-C to DisplayPort (dongle) adapter and the (Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort) cable the monitor came with. So that’s what I’m going to have to do, using up one of the 4 Thunderbolt ports.
The next order of business was installing Parallels and Windows 11. This was an extremely smooth almost 1-click installation. Far simpler and quicker than setting up a real PC. What surprised me was there was no hint of forcing you to activate or pay for Windows. Instead Windows put a water mark in the bottom-right corner asking you to activate Windows. But this doesn’t prevent Windows updates occurring and I did not need to join the Insider Program, where you are running on a Beta. Apart from not being able to ‘personalise’ Windows (but themes work) there appear to be few downsides to not paying. This install on Apple Silicon isn’t supported, but the only issues I found were with apps. My anti-virus would not run, but Windows has a good built-in one now, and my anti-virus offers a web browser plug-in (for Microsoft Edge) to detect dodgy websites, which I think is good enough alternative. Something was wrong with the Windows partition on my external Hard Drive, but I was able to find a Windows app working on ARM that could tell me the drive was corrupted (Mac OS couldn’t read it at all). No problem as I had a second backup to restore manually from (always keep a second backup!).
But this Windows 11 for ARM seems very fast (faster than any of the PC ARM laptops!) for the simple tasks I might need Windows for. If I do need a license at some point I’ll have to consider dishing out around £100 for one from Microsoft. You can find much cheaper Windows licenses sold online, but these are usually excess licenses from institutional or corporate bulk orders of Windows. Your cheap license may be tied to the contract with the institution remaining in effect. If the contract ends, your license may go with it and be cancelled. A key point for cheaper Windows licenses (sometimes under £10 a pop!) is that the companies selling them operate in a shady grey economy. Never give your credit card to those companies, protect yourself by paying through PayPal or just pay more to buy direct from Microsoft. Parallels has some licensing advice on this page.
Finally as it seems with all new Macs, one serious issue. Whereas the previous Mini had Bluetooth issues, Wifi in mine, has been unreliable and unusable from day 1. Luckily I have a mesh wifi in the room that I can run a long ethernet cable from, but users are getting irate on the Apple forums. Hopefully Apple Support finds a solution or a fix in a software update is issued soon so I can enjoy this Mac for years to come.
Offers for members
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