Which Mac Do You Need?

When you start shopping for a Macintosh (or Mac) computer, there are a lot of things to consider: Laptop or Desktop? Which computer chip? How much memory? How much storage? Let’s focus on these and other features to consider.

But first, let’s consider the most important factor: How will you be using your computer?

Who Are You?

You might be a person who does light computing. Email, web surfing, shopping, and a video call with family and friends from time to time.

You might be a hobbyist who does the light computing tasks as well as photo editing and throwing together a video compilation from time to time. You might be a serious hobbyist who also edits complex videos with multiple clips, transitions, and color correction from time to time.

You might be a professional who relies heavily on your Mac to help you generate professional graphics, audio, and video projects so you can get paid from time to time.

To be honest, if you’re a professional-level Mac user, you know what you need. So this article really isn’t intended for you. Go get the heavy-hitting machine and go forth to create great things!

For the rest of us, you might be wondering how much power you need for your everyday tasks. You might be wondering if you need to max out the options to be certain you can edit your home videos in iMovie. This article is for you.

Upgradability

If you’re coming from the PC world, you’re familiar with upgrading computer components after you buy a computer. Apple hardware is different. Essentially all components are permanently assembled into the computer. Hard drives and memory are often soldered to the motherboards, and batteries are not user-replaceable. This allows Apple computers to be smaller, lighter, and more reliable. And this practice is making its way to the PC world, too, especially for laptops.

So it’s important to understand the different components that will go into your Mac, because you’re going to be stuck with them.

Desktop versus Laptop

Are you going to do your computing at one place? If this is the case, a desktop computer should be considered.

Are you more comfortable doing your computing at different places in your home? And do you like to pack up your computer and take it with you to coffee shops or to work? If so, then a laptop will likely be your best option.

For laptops, weight should be considered. Generally, models with smaller screens (13″ and 14″) are lighter at about 3 lbs (1.4 kg). Models with larger screens are bigger and heavier, so they’re not as easy to pack up and take with you and the weigh in at about 4 lbs (1.8 kg). An extra pound doesn’t sound like a lot … until you’re carrying it for a while. Trust me.

Preferred Display Size

MacBook laptops and iMac all-in-one desktops come with their own displays. And Apple uses premium displays and technologies. Sizes range from 13″ to 24″, and they’re gorgeous.

If you have your own display or have a specific display requirement, then Apple also offers the Mac mini and Mac Studio desktop computers to which you can attach your own display. There’s also a Mac Pro, but it is expensive and not intended for mortals like you and me.

Keep in mind that all Mac desktops and laptops can support multiple displays. You can attach a 4K monitor to your MacBook, and use it with the built-in display. You can have two or more monitors connected to your Mac Studio. Depending on the Mac model, there may be many more possible display configurations.

Form Factor Performance 

Historically, desktops have usually performed better than their laptop counterparts. Desktops are plugged directly into a power outlet, and they dissipate heat better than laptops which allows manufacturers to use larger, more powerful components. Laptops needed to be lightweight and run on batteries for several hours. Therefore, computing components generally needed to be small and very power efficient forsaking performance.

In 2020, Apple started using its own processing chips. The company’s CPU designs offer incredible efficiency resulting in very long battery life for laptops, and the computing performance is inarguably stellar.

Some benchmark tests report some cases of diminished performance in MacBooks due to thermal throttling. The Apple laptops have very small enclosures which challenge heat dispersion, but the lowered performance is negligible. In the vast majority of computing tasks, you won’t notice any difference in performance between Mac desktops and laptops.

Connectivity

Apple’s lower-end models offer fewer ports. The number and variety of ports increase as you move up the Mac model lines.

The MacBook Air has just a couple of ports. The 14″ and 16″ models of the MacBook Pro have many more. The Mac mini has seven ports. The Mac Studio has twelve ports, and they’re more capable than the Mac mini’s ports.

So consider how many devices you’ll want to physically attach to your computer. How many monitors? How many peripherals like keyboards, mice, and printers? Is having an SD card reader important? Consider these carefully. And keep in mind you can use port expansion dongles (such as USB hubs) on computers with fewer ports. For example, with an SD card reader dongle, you can use your camera’s SD cards on your Mac mini.

Storage

Apple’s storage options are painfully expensive. There’s no way around that. But you are getting quality. The solid state drives (SSDs) in Macs are very fast and very reliable over a long period of time.

Get as much storage as you need if you can afford it. You can save money with a smaller drive, but feeling limited for data storage might repeatedly frustrate you. And the good feeling from cost savings could evaporate quickly.

For exclusively light duty computing, the smallest storage option could easily suffice.

If you store a large music collection or have a lot of digital photos, then you will want more storage. You might want significantly more storage. As a rule of thumb, I suggest discovering how much storage you currently use (say, 400 GB), then double it (so 800 GB), and then round up to the next storage option (1 TB).

I would argue that storage should be the first option to consider upgrading when configuring your Mac. If you can afford only one upgrade, make a storage upgrade.

CPUs and GPUs

As mentioned earlier, Apple debuted their own processor chips in 2020. And they really are great. As of July 2022, Apple has a full M1 line of chips and a single M2 chip. The line-up is pretty straight-forward.

  • M1 – 8 core CPU, 7 or 8 core GPU, 16 core Neural Engine
  • M2 – 8 core CPU, 8 or 10 core GPU, 16 core Neural Engine
  • M1 Pro – 8 or 10 core CPU, 14 or 16 GPU, 16 core Neural Engine
  • M1 Max – 10 core CPU, 24 or 32 GPU, 16 core Neural Engine
  • M1 Ultra – 20 core CPU, 48 core GPU, 32 core Neural Engine

As you go up the model lines, you get some more CPU power. The difference between 8 and 10 CPU cores will be negligible unless you’re a business/professional user. Also notice that the M2 chip is not “twice as good” as the M1 chip. Don’t let the “2” mislead you.

Also, as you go up the line, you get more graphics power. This doesn’t translate to running higher resolutions or physically larger monitors. This graphics power means you will be able to tackle very complex graphics and video editing tasks with greater ease, and you can export your videos very, very quickly. Even the base chips can handle most complex editing tasks even for many creative professionals. So keep this in mind if you’re a hobbyist user.

For the simplest everyday computing tasks, the base M1 and M2 chips will effortlessly handle them. In the entry-level models of the MacBook Air and the iMac, Apple offers these chips with one or two fewer graphics cores. For this level of computer, you will not notice a performance difference. If you’re offered this lower-end chip, then consider it and save a little money.

The Pro model will offer better graphics and video performance for the hobbyist artist and video editor.

The Max model will provide extra performance for the computer user who uses graphics tools and performs video editing more frequently.

The Ultra model is overkill for anyone who is not running a graphics and/or video editing business. If you’re not in this league, then do not consider the Ultra chip. If you’re wondering whether you’re in this league, then you’re not.

Briefly, I want to provide a little more perspective on GPUs. For me, I really appreciate editing videos where I can freely move the playhead anywhere in the timeline (quickly or slowly) without dropping frames. This performance can be easily achieved with a M1 Pro chip with 14 GPU cores.

Neural Engine

Now, I won’t pretend to fully understand neural engines, but I know a little bit. App developers can leverage the neural engine to achieve some impressive results. It can help artists select subjects even on very complex backgrounds by using artificial intelligence. I think of it as the computing element capable of fuzzy logic. And I know there’s an engineer out there who’s probably ready to smack me for improperly using the term “fuzzy logic.”

Unified Memory (formerly Random Access Memory)

Apple include computer memory on the same chip as the processor. The overall chip architecture enables very fast access among the key computer components, and it results in a computer that runs very fast. The memory is shared among all those components, so Apple calls it Unified Memory.

For many models, 8 GB of Unified Memory is the entry-level configuration. For all everyday tasks, and even some hobbyist-level tasks. This amount of memory is adequate.

For computer users who run a few truly professional apps (graphics and video) at once, 16 GB is likely to perform very well.

When it comes to 32 GB of memory or more, those Macs are ready to work smoothly with many top-level professional graphics apps as well as video editors with extremely complex timelines (4K video clips, color correction, and transitions). If you are wondering whether you need 32 GB or more of Unified Memory, then 16 GB will likely serve you well.

Mac Models to Consider in 2022

So after reviewing all this information, which model, generally speaking, is best for which type of computer user?

Well, if we’re speaking generally, let’s speak in terms of Macs with standard configurations for each of the types of users: Everyday users, Hobbyist users, and Professional/Business users.

Everyday users: Aim for the MacBook Air, iMac, or Mac mini. With Apple’s chips in these models, they are essentially powerhouses for everyday computing.

Hobbyist users: Focus on a Mac mini with an upgrade of 16 GB Unified Memory or a MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro processor.

Serious Hobbyist user: If you just know your Mac will need a bit more gusto to do your tasks, then look closely at the MacBook Pro with the M1 Max processor or the Mac Studio. Both have a heavy hitting processor with 32 GB of Unified Memory. If you need more than this, then you’re probably a business owner in the graphics and/or video field.

I have a quick warning for the 13″ MacBook Pro. This model sits in a weird place. I argue that most people should not consider this model. Consider the MacBook Air with its similar specs, or consider the MacBook Pro models with M1 Pro chips. Unless the unique feature (the Touch Bar) of the 13″ MacBook Pro exactly meet your needs, other models are likely a better solution.

I hope this discussion has given you a bit of insight into each area that affects a Mac’s performance. If you feel you need to fine tune your thoughts before making a decision, reach out to an Apple Specialist. Make an appointment in a Apple Store if one is around you, or reach out to them via the Apple website.

All the best to you in your Mac purchase!

Digitally Scan Documents in iOS

Your iPhone has an impressive camera for taking pictures, but it can also scan documents and save them as Portable Document Format (PDF) files. There are many solutions. Let’s look at one that is included in iOS. And then let’s look at some advanced features available in an app with a compelling subscription option.

The Files App

Files is part of iOS and is already installed on your iPhone. Nestled away in a corner of this app is the ability to create electronic documents using your camera to scan physical (aka, paper) documents.

The resulting PDF will be essentially an image within the PDF file. You will not be able to select or search the document’s text.

Let’s go.

  1. Open the Files app and navigate to the folder to which you’ll want to save you scanned document.
  2. Find and tap the ellipse icon in the upper right corner.
  3. Tap Scan Documents.
  4. When the camera screen opens, I recommend immediately tapping Auto in the upper right to change the image capture mode to Manual. I found that Auto is kinda trigger happy, several captures of the same page before I could stop it. Also, Auto mode won’t allow you to adjust the document edges following your page captures while the Manual mode will.
  5. Hover the camera over your document. You’ll see a blue overlay as the iPhone interprets the document edges.
  6. Tap the shutter button to capture the image. If you kept the Auto setting on, the document page will be captured once the software recognizes the page.
  7. If you used the Manual setting in the previous step, you can use your finger to adjust the edges of your scan to get the results you wish.
  8. Tap Keep Scan.
  9. Repeat for all pages of your document.
  10. Once you’re satisfied, tap Save.
  11. Find the PDF named Scanned Document in the file listing. If you wish to rename it, simply long-press the name and tap Rename. Edit the name and tap Done.

Scanner Pro (with Plus Subscription)

If you frequently scan documents and save them as PDFs, then you’re likely interested in advanced features. I recommend Scanner Pro by Readdle. While its advanced features require a Plus subscription (currently US$19.95), those features are compelling.

Side note: You might recognize Readdle as the maker of the excellent Spark email app.

Here’s the feature comparison.

FeatureFreePlus
Document ScanningYY
Share files (with watermarks)YY
Sync with iCloudYY
Smart CategoriesYY
Watermark-free documents Y
Auto upload to cloud Y
Optical character recognition (Text Vision) Y
Password protection for app and PDFs Y

To be brutally honest, I would not recommend the free version just because of the watermarks.

If the subscription isn’t a dealbreaker for you, then you will likely enjoy the smart categories, optical character recognition, and password protection.

Visit Scanner Pro by Readdle

Where’s the Black Unity Face? [Updated]

UPDATE Mar 15, 2022: With watchOS 8.5 release, my Unity watchface is back to normal!

Recently, the Black Unity watch face on my Apple Watch 5 went mostly blank on me. This is what I see on my 44mm Apple Watch 5 (standard). Only the seconds hand spinning around.

I’ve rebooted. I’ve also deleted it from my Faces in the Watch utility app and re-added it. No luck. Suffering through the un-pairing and re-pairing process is too much effort for any watch face, especially without assurance that it would resolve the issue.

I suspect 1) the bug is associated with the face being the first to use raytracing, and 2) the bug was introduced with the recent watchOS update (8.4.2). Note the coding-style labels showing the the Edit interfaces.

If you’re experiencing this issue, as well, consider submitting feedback to Apple at https://www.apple.com/feedback/.

Here’s to hoping an upcoming update will fix this issue. That watch face looks awesome and celebrates a topic about which I feel strongly.

Improving Apple’s Product Names

Over the years, Apple has come up with excellent names for its products. Monikers like iPhone, Mac, and iPad are immediately recognizable and descriptive enough to know what these products are.

When it comes to sub-branding in the product lines, Apple is clumsy. And this clumsiness leads to consumer confusion. For instance, what “Air” means for MacBook is different from what “Air” means to iPad. Another example: “Pro” and “Max” relating to iPhone is very different from what these terms mean for the M-series chips that Apple installs in the Mac, iMac, and MacBook products.

Every now and then, confusion due to clumsy marketing creeps into conversations I have with friends and family members who are seeking input on Apple products.

Them: “So MacBook Air and iPad Air are the least expensive models, right?”

Me: “Not exactly. The MacBook Air is the least expensive MacBook, but the iPad Air is more expensive than the base model iPad.”

Them: [Looking at me confused]

So one day I found myself thinking about the Apple product lines as they are and how I wish they were. Yes, this probably sounds dumb. I don’t have all that much free time in my day, but I can’t stop thinking about such dumbness in the universe, especially when said dumbness comes from a company with a multi-trillion dollar market cap.

My Wish List for Apple Product Names

iPhones

  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 14
  • iPhone 14 Plus
  • iPhone 14 Pro
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max

iPads

  • iPad Air [formerly base iPad)
  • iPad mini
  • iPad [formerly iPad Air]
  • iPad Pro (11″ & 12.9″)

MacBook Laptops

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook (13″; M1-based) [formerly MacBook Pro 13″]
  • MacBook Pro (14″ & 16″; M1 Pro & M1 Max)

iMac All-in-One Desktops

  • iMac (24″; M1-based)
  • iMac Pro (27+”;  M1 Pro & M1 Max)

Mac Desktops

  • Mac mini (M1-based)
  • Mac Pro  (M1 Pro & M1 Max)
  • Mac Pro Max  (multiple M1 Pro & M1 Max chips)

M-Series Chips

  • M1
  • M1X [formerly M1 Pro]
  • M1Z [formerly M1 Max]

Okay, it’s off my chest. I’ll let you know when Tim Cook calls to express his gratitude to me…

HP PageWide Printing Problem [UPDATED]

UPDATE Nov 1, 2021: A recent firmware update for the HP PageWide 477 appears to have fixed the printing problem. The firmware is version MAVEDWPP1N001.2142A.00, and it is dated 2021-10-13.

Are you a Mac user who is experiencing a bug when printing from Microsoft Office applications to your HP PageWide printer? Even when you save from Office as a PDF and then try to print that PDF?

You are probably getting boxed question marks instead of text characters.

If so, the this might help.

A Laborious Workaround, But It Works.

This allows me to print without uninstalling my PageWide print drivers. I still need my printer’s scanning functionality, so replacing my PageWide drivers with a simple PostScript driver is not an option.

  1. With an Office document open, click the File pull-down menu and click Print.
  2. In the Print dialog box, find and click the PDF drop-down menu in the lower left.
  3. From that menu, click Save as PostScript.
  4. In the Save dialog box, provide a name for this file (maintain the .ps extension), and save it to a temporary location (perhaps the Desktop).
  5. Once the file saves, find it and right-click it.
  6. Hover over Open With, the click Preview.

The Preview app will open that PostScript file and convert it to a PDF. Print from the Preview app. Important: This conversion process from PostScript to PDF will allow the Office document to print to your PageWide printer. Printing to PDF from the Office app will still print the boxed question marks.

After you’re done printing, you can delete that PostScript file.

My 2 Cents

Dear HP: Shame on you for preventing customers of your expensive printers from printing Office documents. It’s completely unacceptable.

Security is Probably Why: A couple of months back, Microsoft had to completely overhaul it’s print mechanism due to a significant security threat. I suspect this could be the root reason why we poor Mac users are dealing with this nasty print bug. I could be totally wrong, though. But the coincidence seems suspicious.

Lossless Apple Music Prevents Rewind and Fast Forward

Apple Lossless icon with standard play control buttons of which Rewind and Fast Forward are crossed out.

Well, that’s disappointing.

I use Apple CarPlay and frequently play music while driving. Every now and then, I like to fast forward in some music tracks by long pressing the Fast Forward button. Recently, I noticed that I could no longer do this in most music tracks.

Some yes, most no.

On my iPhone and iPad, I was still able to use the Progress Bar to scrub through any track, but long pressing the Fast Forward button on those devices still did not work on most tracks. The Progress Bar is not part of the CarPlay interface, so I can only use the Rewind and Fast Forward buttons there.

I started troubleshooting, and I eventually noticed that Rewind and Fast Forward did not function in any lossless tracks. In non-lossless tracks, the buttons worked just fine.

In Settings/Music, I turned off Lossless and Dolby Atmos, and Rewind and Fast Forward came back to life in all tracks.

Sigh.

Did Apple really release Lossless, Dolby Atmos, and Spatial Audio in Apple Music in a way that kills the Rewind and Fast Forward feature?

For my own solution, I have disabled Lossless and Dolby Atmos on my iPhone. This is the device I connect to CarPlay, so this solves my CarPlay problem. On my iPad, I kept Lossless and Dolby Atmos enabled.

Hopefully Apple will address this in a future update.

Fix a Slow Spotlight on Your Mac

I updated my 2018 Mac mini to macOS Big Sur, and then Spotlight’s performance tanked. If you’re in the same boat I was, here is your answer.

Attached to my Mac is an external drive that I use for Time Machine backups. When this drive is attached, Spotlight slogs through most of my inquiries, especially inquiries for definitions and weather. I would wait 10 to 15 seconds for Spotlight to render its answers. When I ejected that external drive, then Spotlight returned to its spry self with nearly instant responses.

So the Time Machine drive is the culprit, but we still need backups.

Thankfully, the fix is fairly simple. Just prevent Spotlight from looking at the Time Machine drive.

  1. Go to System Preferences/Spotlight.
  2. Click the Privacy tab.
  3. Click the + button.
  4. Navigate to the Time Machine drive and select it.
    (Be sure to select the top-level drive and not any of its folders or subfolders.)
  5. Click Choose.

macOS will reindex briefly, and then Spotlight performance should be significantly improved.

My Travails with Xfinity xFi

Stylized image of the xFi Gateway device with a swirl of light around it

The Coronavirus pandemic changed the way my family and I used our Internet service. Spoilers: Our data use went WAY up.

At first, Xfinity (aka, Comcast) lifted data caps, and that was appreciated. Then in July, they reimposed the data limits, so I had to make some adjustments. I decided to dump my personally owned equipment and adopt the xFi Gateway.

It was impressive. And it was terrible.

Adopting the xFi Gateway

In July 2020, Xfinity announced they would charge for data beyond 1.2 TB each month. And we were definitely using more than that. Xfinity offered Unlimited Data for $30/month with your own equipment or $25/month with xFi Complete that included the xFi Gateway which offered mesh abilities.

I’ve always preferred to own my own modem and router for our Internet service. I can access all the router settings, and I can research how to solve issues when they arise.

But I figured I’d give Xfinity a shot. (Cue the foreboding music here.)

xFi Gateway with xFi Pods

I received the xFi Gateway and deployed it easily. The mobile app really is good. I could label devices and assign them to people in our home. This allowed me to set schedules and even unceremoniously yank a connection when a kid became disrespectful. That said, I never set a schedule or disconnected my offspring.

After a week or so, the gateway’s self-diagnostics qualified me for xFi Pods, the mesh network components. They worked really well, too.

Until…

The Unexplained Blips & Xfinity’s Tech Support

Whether wired and wireless, all connected devices would experience about 3 blips per week. These “blips” weren’t just simple bandwidth congestion where the connection would stutter and recover. These instances were hard connection resets. When a blip occurred while anyone was using Zoom or Microsoft Teams, we were disconnected from the meetings completely, forcing us to connect from scratch. This was not conducive for telework and virtual learning.

I forgave the blips, at first. But they became more frequent. So I started calling Xfinity Internet Support.

It went exactly how you’d expect.

I would describe my issue to the reps. I should have recorded this because I repeated more times that I can count.

In the beginning, the Tier 1 techs would vaguely troubleshoot my gateway and pronounce success. And a few days later, the blips would return.

After calling several times, I started getting more advanced technicians who were more transparent with their troubleshooting. But the results were the same: After a few days, the blips returned.

Then I had the Big Conversation with one of the advanced techs. We discussed and troubleshot many things. And then the conversation abruptly ended with his diagnosis.

He claimed I had too many devices attached to my network, and he suggested that I upgrade to a faster Internet package. And then he essentially stopped listening to me.

I respectfully disagreed with him and explained that my 5-year-old non-mesh router had handled the same number of connected devices (e.g., computers, tablets, phones, IoT devices) without any issues. Unfazed, the tech repeated that I needed faster Internet.

My Solution

If the tech can quit on me, then I could quit on the xFi Gateway. I packed it up and returned it.

I dug out my old modem and reconnected it. I enjoyed the call to Xfinity support so they could recognize the modem’s MAC address. I connected the tried-and-true modem to a new Netgear Orbi mesh network router.

Guess how many blips we’ve had…

Zero. Not a single one.

Arris modem with Netgear Orbi mesh router system

So this blog post is an ode I wish I could sing outside the home of that dismissive Xfinity support technician.

Fix: macOS Mail Disconnects from Gmail

I use macOS Mail in Catalina, and I noticed a frequent issue with my Gmail account disconnecting and not updating messages for that account. This would occur at least daily.

My research suggests that this repeated disconnection could be related to the fact that I did not have the Google Calendar synchronizing (I actually use iCloud Calendar for better Siri integration). After I configured my Mac to sync the Google Calendar, the connection issue with Gmail seems to have been resolved.

But what if you don’t want the Google Calendar entries cluttering your macOS Calendar? Thankfully, that’s a fairly easy fix, too.

Sync Your Google Calendar

  1. On your Mac, open System Preferences.
  2. Click Internet Accounts.
  3. Click Gmail.
  4. Verify that Calendars are set to synchronize. If needed, click to add that checkmark.

Hide Google Calendar Entries

  1. On your Mac, open macOS Calendar.
  2. In the upper left, find and click the Calendars button.
  3. In the list, uncheck all the boxes under the Gmail section.

Hope this works for you!

Analogy: A Backdoor to Encryption

There is a lot of discussion around device security and using encryption for data storage and transmission. Security and privacy are good things. However, recent investigations into homicides and terrorist activities have led law enforcement officials to seek assistance to break encryption on alleged perpetrator’s smartphones. Specifically, US federal government officials have pressured Apple, Inc., to assist in breaking encryption on iPhones owned by alleged domestic terrorists.

I think a lot of people jump to a quick conclusion that breaking encryption in these instances is a good thing. Further, they feel implementing a government backdoor to easily bypass encryption is probably a good idea, too.

Unfortunately, these people are wrong.

Here’s an analogy:

Let’s say you have a door lock on your house with a 4-digit code to unlock it. Now, let’s say there is one code that only law enforcement can use to gain access to your home. You are not given that secret code, of course. It’s only for law enforcement officials. Even if you fully trust them, how comfortable are you with this scenario?

Once criminals know this code exists, how long would it take for them to learn that code? Answer: Not long. And then your home is vulnerable, and you have no way to update your lock to prevent criminals from entering your home whenever they wish.

So, we can increase your security by going from a 4-digit code to a 16-digit code (this is analogous to implementing stronger encryption). Now, it is much more difficult to guess your home’s door lock code. Meanwhile, law enforcement still has a single 16-digit code that can gain entry into your home.

How long before criminals would learn this more complex code? Answer: Again, not long.

So before you conclude that a backdoor to encryption is a fine solution for trusted law enforcement, think about this analogy.

If we find backdoors acceptable, then it defeats the entire purpose for encryption and security. And if that is acceptable, then we should abolish encryption and be comfortable with the lack of privacy.

I’m not being facetious. We can exist without the privacy and security afforded by encryption. But let’s not live with the illusion of privacy and security when it isn’t authentic.

[Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash]