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Stephen Hackett's weblog about Apple, Apple history, technology, journalism and design.

Dropbox overhauls Pro offering

This morning, Dropbox announced a revamped approach to the company's Pro offering.

Instead of the tiered structure in place before, all Dropbox Pro users will now have 1 TB of space on the service for $9.99/month or $99/year.

The new monthly price matches Google Drive's monthly cost for the same amount of storage. Paid annually, Dropbox is actually cheaper.

In addition to the increased space, Pro users can set passwords and expiration dates for shared links and view-only permissions for shared folders. Lastly, Dropbox Pro customers can remotely unlink and remove a Dropbox folder from a lost computer.

I've used Dropbox Pro for years, and store a ton of data on the service. It's good to see the company taking Google on in price and storage, and the new features are more than welcome.

Follow-up on the possibility of ARM-based Macs

Matt Richman really wants Apple to ship ARM-based Macs. Let's look at his latest points:

1. User Experience Would Improve

Richman — who discloses that he owns 56 shares of Apple and 50 shares of ARM — writes:

If Apple’s chip design team can create a phone processor that performs on par with Intel’s fastest tablet chip, the company’s “highest priority”, then there’s no reason to believe that the same team at Apple can’t design chips powerful enough for any Mac in the company’s lineup.

Maybe. As discussed, it's not as simple as cranking the processor machine to 11 and standing back.

He continues:

Apple has already released a line of A-series chips tailored specifically for iOS devices, and the company is most definitely working on a line of B-series chips tailored specifically for Macs. When that B-series chip — or set of B-series chips that runs in parallel — is ready, Apple will be able to switch to ARM-based Macs without sacrificing user experience. On the contrary, because the company is no doubt designing its line of B-series chips in tandem with Mac OS X, there would be iPhone-like hardware-software optimization, improving user experience.

Initially, ARM-based Macs would be a step backwards in terms of user experience. Even if Apple could ship a ARM-based Mac that's as fast x86 Macs, Apple would be sacrificing Windows compatibility, which is a huge deal for many business users, including yours truly.

Additionally, going with ARM would give Apple a slightly better opportunity for "iPhone-like hardware-software optimization," but the truth is that Apple is already heavily involved with the design of the Intel-powered hardware inside its Macs. The MacBook Air sleeps and wakes nearly as quickly as an iPad, and the Mac Pro sings a tune that no generic PC can.

2. Apple Would Make More Money Per Mac And Sell More Macs

Going from chip concept to manufactured product can be broken down into two separate and distinct steps. The first is chip design — figuring out what features the processor will have and how it will work. The second is manufacturing — turning a file that exists on a screen into a physical product you can hold in your hand.

Today, Intel designs the chips in Macs and manufactures them, profiting on both of those steps. But if Apple substituted Intel’s chips for its own ARM-based designs, an external company would profit on only one step of the chip creation process, not both, leading to a decrease in the cost of building a Mac. By my conservative estimate, Apple would be able to drop the price of the base model 11- and 13″ MacBook Airs by $50 and still make more profit per unit on each than it currently does.

As John Siracusa spoke about in episode 77 of ATP, Apple would face significant issues in fabricating a Mac-caliber desktop ARM chipset. Intel wouldn't bump their own production back to do it, and while Apple does have a shit-ton of cash, it may not be able to spin up a fab shop easily, let alone cut prices on machines.

3. Apple Would Be Able To Create Better Macs

There are clear advantages to Apple using ARM chips in their machines. Battery life could be insane and the things could run cooler than ever. There's even this, which I haven't thought about in quite a while:

Apple wouldn’t have been able to create Touch ID if the iPhone were powered by an Intel chip instead of an Apple-designed one. There wouldn’t have been a “secure enclave” on the iPhone’s processor to store the fingerprint data, nor would there have been perfect hardware-software integration. Apple was able to implement Touch ID because it designed the A7 chip in tandem with the iPhone 5S’s software and the rest of its hardware.

Touch ID would be killer on a Mac, but it's not enough to change the reality that in 2014, the possibility of an ARM-powered Mac shipping anytime soon seems low.

The best VPN client for iOS and OS X

Bradley Chambers over on The Sweet Setup:

Public Wi-Fi is great way to download podcasts, movies, and music when on the go without burning through your data cap. Even checking Twitter and sending emails can start to add up if you’re away from home a lot. Public Wi-Fi isn’t always secure, though.

The solution? A VPN service, and Bradley has some great advice on which one to use.

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The Control Strip

The original Macintosh shipped with a very simple control panel that allowed users to adjust their computer’s volume, mouse tracking speed and desktop background, among other things:

Today, System Preferences is a bloated mess compared to Susan Kare’s 1984 masterpiece:

However, the history from the original Macintosh Control Panel and Maverick’s System Preferences isn’t a linear one.

In 1994, with the System 7.1-running PowerBook 500 series of notebooks and the Duo 280c,[1] Apple introduced the Control Strip, which can be seen in the lower left of this screenshot:

(For you pedantic readers, yes, my screenshot is of 7.5.3., but as that’s the first version of MacOS to ship with the Control Strip enabled for all models of Mac.)

The Control Strip took commonly-changed settings and made them more accessible by putting them on the screen at all times. The entire strip could be collapsed or opened up with a hot key and could be moved fairly easily via the Control Strip Control Panel.

(Really.)

With System 7, the Control Strip was fairly simple, but over time it grew. By the time Mac OS 9 rolled around, these were the default Control Strip tiles Apple was shipping:

  • AirPort
  • AppleTalk
  • Battery Monitor
  • CDStrip (worked as a miniature audio CD player)
  • Energy Settings
  • File Sharing
  • Keychain
  • Location Manager
  • Media Bay (for owners of PowerBook G3s with dual docking bays)
  • Monitor BitDepth (to adjust color settings)
  • Monitor Resolution
  • Printer Selector
  • Remote Access
  • Sound Volume
  • SoundSource (for use when recording audio)
  • Speakable Items
  • TV Mirroring (supported by some PowerMacintosh models)
  • Video Mirroring
  • Web Sharing

Additionally, users could add their own Control Strip tiles, customizing the tool to meet their specific needs.

Many of these Control Strip tiles were representatives of Control Panels buried deeper in the system. A user put their Mac to sleep or change between “Better Conservation” and “Better Performance” settings on a PowerBook using the Energy Saving tile, but fine-tuning sleep settings required a trip to a Control Panel. Likewise, the AppleTalk tile could make simple adjustments, but dealing with anything complex was out of the Control Strip’s reach.

That’s a situation that should sound familiar, as it’s how Apple’s menu bar applications work today.

Let’s take Time Machine as an example. Its menu bar application is really just a list of shortcuts, which are helpful, but any setting changes must be done within Time Machine’s preference pane:

Some of Apple’s menu bar applications have tricks up their sleeves, like the Airport menu, which shows additional connectivity information if invoked when the Option key is held:

For the most part, the spirit of System 7’s Control Strip is still very much alive on the Mac. While OS X’s menu bar can become crowded with third-party utilities that do all sorts of crazy things, Cupertino is continuing to do what it’s done for two decades in this corner of their desktop OS.


  1. The PowerBook Duos are cool machines for lots of reasons, not the least of which is their range of Apple-made docking stations.  ↩

On Mac menu bar apps

Zach Hamed:

Ask any Mac power user about their menubar and you’ll get a different list of 5-10 must-have applications and utilities that boost productivity. The menubar is the mission control of a user’s computer, giving them an at-a-glance view of stats and apps that are important to them. The menubar can become so crowded, in fact, that’s there’s a menubar app that collects menubar apps. So meta.

Hamed's breakdown of popular menu bar (Apple uses it as two words) apps is an excellent example of how parts of OS X feel out of control.

via @sabbatical

Big Week

On Monday, Relay FM went live. We published the first episode of each of our five shows first thing in the morning.

Myke interviewed Marco Arment on Inquisitive, we spoke about the history of the iPod on Connected while the Nintendo DS and PS 4 were the topics of choice on Virtual.

Since Analog(ue) with Casey Liss is a new show, he and Myke spoke about launching things. However on the venerable Pen Addict podcast, Myke and Brad jumped right back in.

While we had planned on re-directing our old 5by5 feeds, we ran into some technical issues, and decided it was best for everyone if we simply started with new feeds. Thankfully, the awesome developers behind apps like Overcast, Pocketcasts, Instacast and Castro were all very supportive, featuring us in their directories and helping us test things before launch.

Monday afternoon, Relay FM was featured in the iTunes Store:

All of this means that Relay FM has had a very, very healthy week, but that simply wouldn't be possible without our listeners. Our inboxes and Twitter clients are full of encouragement, and our shows are all highly-ranked in the iTunes charts.

(Speaking of that, reviewing the shows in iTunes is one of the best ways for new people to find us. If you have a second, help us out.)

Next week, we get back to the business of making our shows. Almost everything will stream live, which is both exciting and a little terrifying, but we're ready to get back behind the mic and create some awesome stuff.

Apple launches iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program

Apple:

Apple has determined that a very small percentage of iPhone 5 devices may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The affected iPhone 5 devices were sold between September 2012 and January 2013 and fall within a limited serial number range.

If your iPhone 5 is experiencing these symptoms and meets the eligibility requirements noted below, Apple will replace your iPhone 5 battery, free of charge.

Hit the link to check your device's eligibility.