Saying farewell to a longtime friend

iPod Nano

Apple has just announced that after a little over 20 years, they’re finally ending production of the iPod.

It’s the end of an incredibly successful run that began with Steve Jobs’s vision of a totally new product that would appeal more of the masses to Apple, and tap into the fast-growing appeal of digital music media (MP3s).

Personally, the iPod served as a personal companion on many long-haul flights. It also was a vital aide in helping me learn to speak French in the early to mid-2000s.

And I used the iPod to discover a wide variety of podcasts, itself a mainstay of explosive popularity throughout the 2000s.

For Apple, the iPod came at a time when the company was already experiencing renewed success from a new generation of Macs that dramatically revived the company’s brand image, and reinvigorated its fortunes after near-bankruptcy the previous decade.

And the iPod’s popularity further accelerated with the launch of the iTunes Store in 2003, the first such offering of legally available digital music with a hard-fought victory over the music labels to charge $0.99 per song – when for years the labels would never compromise on selling music only as complete albums – for $16.99.

In a sense, the iPod’s ultimate legacy is serving as the “gateway drug” for its massive fan base to an even more successful Apple product: the iPhone.

As the iPod continued its success into the mid-2000s, anticipation and excitement were building over a rumored new-generation “iPod” that would also serve as a phone, and feature an all-new, touch screen design beyond the familiar small screen with the famous click wheel.

Of course, that did happen, in 2007.

Steve Jobs originally envisioned the iPod as a product that would bring in new Mac customers. Instead, it single-handedly made Apple a household name for mobile products, even more so than the Mac.

Farewell to a product that lives in that rarefied air of incredible success.

Thanks to Apple, I have a totally rebuilt Mac

My main computing machine is a 15″ MacBook Pro, bought in 2017. Over the years, it’s generally been running nicely, though not perfectly.

My 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro

This is one of those Mac laptops unfortunately affected by a bad keyboard design in MacBooks and MacBook Pros from 2015 to 2019. The keyboard was based on what was supposed to be a novel and revolutionary “butterfly” switch mechanism, which allows for a slimmer keyboard profile over the more traditional “scissor” switch in laptops.

Instead, problems ensued in the form of reliability problems and vulnerability to dust particles. The issue became quite the public relations headache for Apple, to the point that a special servicing program was created to repair or replace keyboards at no cost to the customer.

In 2020, my MacBook Pro keyboard started going bad, so I decided it was time to get it serviced by Apple. But due to the pandemic and closure of Apple Stores, I had to wait until early 2021.

When I brought in my Mac for repair, I was informed that Apple techs would not only evaluate the keyboard but also perform complete system testing. I would be advised if there would be any recommended repairs and their costs.

The servicing was fast, generally speaking, with a 1-week turnaround from drop-off at the Apple Store, to overnight shipment back to my home.

While I was happy to have my Mac back in my hands again with a functional keyboard (which appeared to have been fully replaced), I was surprised to find that was far from the only repair made.

There were several other items addressed in my MacBook Pro, all complements of Apple:

  • Battery replacement. My Mac had been flashing strange warning messages about the battery nearing the end of its life. As it turns out, there was a specific battery replacement program for that.
  • Monitor cable replacement. This was part of another Apple service program to replace the flexible cable connecting the screen to the main board. The issue was known as “Flexgate.” Indeed, I noticed a few times my screen going black for a second or two.
  • Screen replacement. I was totally surprised by this. As far as I know, there is no specific program to replace screens. I can only guess that there was a defect in the screen’s backlight that resulted from damage to the monitor cable.

Here’s the report that came back with my MacBook Pro. The only indication of a keyboard replacement is where it says “ANSI.”

The component replacements apparently were part of other assemblies that were also replaced (such as the outer casings). The end result is rather close to a rebuilt machine, with all but the bottom enclosure, motherboard, and SSD changed out.

While it’s great to have a revived Mac, it’s also making it harder for me to upgrade to a shiny new 2021 MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro processor, which I had been considering – when what you have not only still works great but is now almost like new.

I’m thinking of maybe going ahead with the new M1 MacBook Pro, and make the current Mac a dedicated PC with Windows 11. It’s actually a great idea as it has the Intel processor that’s no longer in the newest Macs.

And it would finally, at long last, serve as the replacement for my 11-year old PC.

Intel has a rare window of opportunity

Last week, Intel embarked on a new campaign offensive against Macs that’s widely perceived as weird, petty, and desperate in terms of rebuilding their product image.

But a new announcement Tuesday was something entirely different – plans to invest heavily into new manufacturing facilities to make chips for other companies. Basically, Intel could become another chip foundry giant like TSMC or Samsung.

It’s a rare, narrow window of opportunity for Intel since, as you well know, there are currently major chip shortages worldwide affecting a multitude of industries – thereby stressing TSMC, Samsung, and other foundries to their limits.

But it’s also an opportunity Intel could very well leverage successfully. In the process, they would be re-transforming themselves again, just as they did in the early 1980s in the transition from making memory chips to designing and building microprocessors.

There are uncertainties, however. It’s very well-known Intel has long struggled with its 7 nm chip manufacturing processes, yielding market share to rivals like TSMC with no such problems.

TSMC is manufacturing Apple’s M1 silicon for Macs based on a 5 nm architecture. Intel can’t do that right now.

Needless to say, it’s now absolutely critical Intel catch up in very short order by addressing their 7 nm manufacturing issues, and move toward becoming more of a real competitor to TSMC or Samsung.

Intel’s new, but lame PR offensive against Macs

With a newly minted CEO and a desire to fight back against negative market momentum, Intel just launched a new marketing campaign to position itself against Macs.

The problem is, Intel is using some fundamentally weak, even rehashed arguments to make their case in opposition to Apple’s latest-generation M1 Macs.

They’re also up against a fairly extensive history of their own failures to successfully commercialize their grand visions of a modern PC.

In comparing the PC with the Mac, Intel touts boring or unoriginal feature disadvantages, such as lacking touchable screens, MacBook color options limited to two shades of gray, and the M1 Macs only able to support one external monitor.

The latter is especially striking – Intel knows full well that Apple will overcome that in short order, likely with a major refresh of the MacBook Pro lineup later this year.

What Intel can’t measure up to is the combination of sheer performance, power efficiency, enhanced battery life, and cool running operation of the latest Macs powered by the Apple M1 silicon.

We all know Intel tried, over and over again, to win customers over with promises of power-sipping chips delivering excellent battery life and high processing performance at the same time.

Unfortunately, they failed to meet even their own expectations, over and over again.

And really, the new commercials Intel produced are nothing more than just pop shots at Macs because they can’t come up with a better answer in terms of technical performance.

Apple’s new products are so striking in that they greatly exceeded expectations when first announcing their new M1 silicon last year.

Intel wants to do battle, and it looks like they’re going to have to try, yet once more, to deliver outstanding performance and efficiency.

This time, they’re going up against not only a firce competitor in Apple, but also AMD. Tough times are surely ahead.

BTW, if you’re looking for laughable enjoyment, check out this guy picking part all 5 of Intel’s commercials in their new campaign.

Was the AWS outage a big deal?

On November 25, 2020, Amazon’s AWS operations in North America were extensively disrupted, impacting wide swaths of businesses and in turn, their customers.

The outage hit AWS clients for a very large part of the day and even into the evening. Ultimately, Amazon reported complete problem resolution early the next morning.

AWS service health dashboard on November 25, 2020

High-profile companies such as Adobe, Twilio, and Roku were affected, along with countless smaller business operations that rely on AWS to keep themselves humming along.

If you had problems signing on to one of your online accounts, or trying to make an online transaction, or noticed a smart device in your home wasn’t functioning properly, then chances are you were directly affected (as I believe I was).

Just imagine a vaguely similar but far larger-scale impact to a manufacturing facility’s sensitive software systems reliant on AWS. Think about the hours or even a full day’s worth of lost productivity and business revenue!

Is this really a big deal?

In the grand scheme of things, IT system-related outages are not unusual at all. They happen all the time, whether public cloud infrastructure, an on-premises data center, or an individual server.

While multi-hour service disruptions are not uncommon with cloud or online services, they’re also not exactly desirable, either. In the IT world, “five nines” or 99.999% reliability is the gold standard. But achieving high availability on that level would mean downtime of no more than 5.5 minutes per year.

“Three nines” or 99.9% is more achievable with up to about 9 hours of allowable downtime. This is probably close to realistic expectations for AWS’s uptime reliability.

There hasn’t been notable disruption to AWS’s reliability or service for about two years. But when it does occur, it always should serve as an important reminder:

AWS, by far the largest cloud computing provider by market share, has the remote but non-zero probability of taking down tens if not hundreds of thousands of clients along with it – including corporations valued at billions of dollars.

Many companies have, or are seriously considering, distributing their operations between multiple cloud providers for redundancy and fail-safe reasons.

Another common approach is to have at least some of the system architecture housed within the on-premises data center.

It’s vital to remember that if your business runs on the public cloud, and something happens to it, your customers don’t care that it was the cloud’s fault – or that it’s beyond your control.

All they think about is the fact that your company screwed them over in some way.