more gadgetology

Tonight is the first night since receiving my new SE that I did any playing around with the other iPhones under my purview. I made sure my old SE was up to date and backed up, then put it in the drawer, possibly for good. It might go in the memory box with my original iPhone, my Moto X, my Z520 and my MOTOFONE F3 – the phones that captured my imagination and have memories attached to them – or it might get donated, assuming it gets updates to iOS 14. Which is why I pulled out the work-owned iPhone X, made sure it was wiped clean, then fitted it with my personal SIM and restored the contents of the old SE to it.

The SE had been configured as a shutdown-night phone, only equipped with the things I need to get through a pub evening: Kindle, notes apps, music apps (both RTE and SomaFM alike), something to stream minor league baseball games on if we ever get those again, basic stuff. No local media aside from Kindle books, no work or productivity software to speak of, none of the extra bells and whistles. I updated everything and topped it all up, charged it to 90%, and turned it off to await next week. Because with WWDC on June 22 will come our first look at the next iteration of Apple’s OS, whether the long-debated 10.16 for work or the equally-debated iOS 14. And I need a reasonably current device capable of running the developer beta, with enough software that I can usefully test against, but not on a production device or one with a bunch of iTunes content. I learned my lesson the hard way last year, when the highly-suspect iOS 13 beta basically duplicated my entire music library. Won’t be going down that road again, and glad of it. The X is still a reasonably cromulent device – it has all the modern accoutrements that Apple is looking for, an A11 processor, 40 GB of free space to work with, FaceID and the like – but is unlikely to compete with my sidearm SE.

For one thing, it’s still too big. The 5.8” display still looks good, but there’s so damn much of it and the main benefit is being easier to read some things, while the hand size is still uncomfortable in a way the SE actually isn’t. (The old gold SE is obviously one-handed and feels sleek and modern, but an A9 processor and clicky physical home button and 4” display are finally all too old for me to deal with.) This all ensures that the X will be the tackling dummy, the sacrificial device, something I use to see what’s doing and not to get serious work done. Which might make it a shutdown night device again, if I really want to get away from it all (there’s a lot to get away from these days, of which). 

But for another, it’s not mine. I’m happy to wreck someone else’s phone, even if it has my own SIM in it. I also took the opportunity tonight of putting all my work-required apps on the SE into a single folder, so when the time comes, I can delete that folder, delete the AirWatch profiles and app, switch the SIMs out and toss the X on my boss’s desk and walk away. And I could happily do so…on a mobile device. At home, the iMac is still viable enough for me to be typing this, and it’s my Zoom machine during the workday and the font of all media for my iTunes and the base station for iCloud and the like…but it’s a desktop iMac. And if I were to quit, I don’t know that I could get through life with just an iMac and an iPhone.

So what goes in between? I would have said iPad for a long time, even though my iPad mini is six and a half years old and my full-size iPad even older (and an 8-inch iPad is doubly worthless when you have access to a Kindle Paperwhite and your iPhone has a 5.8” display, as I learned these last two years). If I needed a personal portable computer, I would probably have just bought an iPad Air and maybe a Logitech Crayon and paired my cheap Amazon bluetooth keyboard to it for text work…until the rumors came out about what’s coming next week.

Cut to the chase: much as the Pope is assured of the existence of the Blessed Virgin, I am assured that macOS has in fact been running on ARM-equipped hardware somewhere on Infinite Loop for years, just as it did on Intel for years before the jaw-dropper at WWDC 2005 (and the fifteen year old giveaway backpack from that conference presently reposes on my windowsill next to the iMac). I am further assured that there will be some sort of transition device; just as there was a PowerMac G5 body with Intel Pentium 4 processors, there is probably a Mac Mini configured with some sort of ARM chipset that will be available for developers who want to write close to the metal. I am even further assured that there will be an update to Xcode and it will have a tick box for compiling your app to run on ARM, just as there was once a tick box for Intel next to PPC in earlier versions. 

And this is where things get interesting. I’ve had the peculiar privilege to be on the bleeding edge of every Mac processor transition. My first Mac was a Power Macintosh 6100, the original PPC 601 pizza-box. When I was at Apple, I wheedled for – and got – the original MagSafe-equipped, camera-in-the-lid MacBook Pro with an Intel CoreDuo processor (which ran hot as balls) as my personal device. And now…what? Is it possible Apple might bring back something like the 12” MacBook, only with ARM under the hood instead of the feeble Intel CoreM? The old 12” PowerBook G4 was known as “the blogger’s delight” in the days when it first took off, and that size device has always held sway with me. I had the MacBook briefly at work, I never passed up an opportunity to trade down from 15” to 13” on a work laptop, and the 13” MacBook in black polycarbonate was my lovely parting loaner from Apple for years. 

So if there were to be an ultralight 12” ARMbook, something without a fan that could still run for 10 hours on a charge, something suitable for FaceTime calls and blogging and web browsing – would that be a better use of my money than an iPad at this point? Especially with the likelihood of more iPad apps making their way to the MacBook with ARM under the hood? A lot would depend on the backward compatibility for Intel apps though…if only because I would insist on Kentucky Route Zero being available on my new ARMbook before I spent my own cash on it. 

Tim Cook has insisted for years that there is no great convergence coming in which macOS and iOS (and hell, tvOS and watchOS) will be merged and converged and made one in a sort of appleOS to rule the all. Those denials are getting harder to credit with every passing year, as macOS becomes ever more security-restricted by default and MDM dependent for enterprise management and iOS gains file browsers and mouse support and multiple user options. But it’s possible we could settle on one confluent appleOS and be happy with it.

Not quite yet though. I would be content to still have iPhone, ARMbook and Apple Watch by Christmas, each with their own distinct OS. Easy does it, Auburn Man.

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