The original iPad mini should be dead (but it isn’t)

Allen Pike, talking last week about Apple keeping the original iPad mini around for another year:

Apple still sells the [2012] original iPad mini…If they follow their usual pattern of leaving the iPad line as-is until next fall, the iPad 2’s internals will live on for 4.5 years.

I’ve been thinking about this move over the past few days, and like Allen, I’m not a fan. Sure, it sounds great for Apple to have a $249 iPad in a market with budget tablets from Amazon, Google, and the like. But as much as I loved the original iPad mini two years ago, it’s filled with early-2011 technology and an Apple A5 chip—the same three-generations-ago processor used in the iPhone 4S.

The 2014 iPad line in "iPad technology years"

The 2014 iPad line in “iPad technology years.” (The iPad mini 3 has Touch ID, but it’s otherwise the same as the 2013 iPad mini.)

From a consumer standpoint, this means that if you buy a $249 iPad mini today and expect to get the “full” iPad experience, you’ll likely be disappointed. Sure, the original iPad mini will run iOS 8, but performance is noticeably inferior to that of more-recent devices—in fact, a good number of demanding games and apps simply won’t run on it. The camera performance isn’t as good as that of 2010’s iPhone 4. And, of course, the original mini doesn’t have the Retina display that’s come to define Apple’s recent iOS devices. In short, as good as it was when it debuted, the original iPad offers an inferior iPad experience today—and that experience will likely be even worse under the next version of iOS, as if past patterns hold, iOS 9 will be more demanding of our devices than iOS 8.

For developers, Apple keeping the original iPad mini in the lineup means that apps have to either continue to support the A5, or require a bunch of disclaimers and caveats in their App Store descriptions (that many users will never read). In a perfect world, developers would be able to drop support for the original mini by requiring a particular version of iOS—say, iOS 8 or next year’s iOS 9. But with the 2012 iPad mini being a “current” product, Allen points out that developers probably won’t be able to use this approach until iOS 10 in 2017.

Given that the iPad mini 2, the 2013 model with a Retina display and upgraded hardware across the board, is just $50 more ($299), keeping the original iPad mini feels like a checkbox approach to product lines (“We sell a $249 tablet!”), and Apple hasn’t been a checkbox-marking company since the days of the Performa.1 (The closest thing was the iPod line, but while it hit a nice range of price points, each model was distinct and compelling in its own way.)

You could argue that the budget tablets from Apple’s competitors aren’t best-in-class products, either, but that’s not a compelling argument to me—I don’t think Apple wants to get into the “It’s not nearly as good, but it’s cheap” business.2 Apple has long been about providing a premium experience, even if that means charging a premium price, going relatively cheap only if the experience is still great (see: Mac mini). In fact, that’s the stock comment Apple’s execs give when asked about the lack of a particular Apple product at a lower price point. Which is why I’m puzzled by this move.

I’ve got a bunch of related thoughts about Apple continuing to support older devices with newer versions of iOS, but I’ll save those for another article…

  1. Speaking of Performas: As I tweeted last week, Apple now sells 22 different iPad models. When you include color options, you get 56 models—and that doesn’t account for different SKUs for different cellular carriers.
  2. Sure, Apple has been keeping two-year-old iPhone models (or at least models with two-year-old internals—the iPhone 5c this year) in each year’s product lineup, but (a) this year’s “old, free” iPhone is still using an A6 processor; and (b) I would argue that the mobile-phone market, with its subsidized prices and lower performance expectations, is very different from the tablet and computer markets.

Ole Begemann reviews the Backblaze cloud-backup service:

Backblaze is the second online backup service (after CrashPlan) I have tried for a significant amount of time. Now that I have been using Backblaze for the past nine months, I believe I can make a fair evaluation of the service.

This isn’t your usual casual review. Ole covers all of Backblaze’s flaws, from the client software to issues with external drives to metadata loss to limitations when moving and restoring files. In the end, despite these problems, he’s sticking with Backblaze “for its unobtrusiveness and convenience,” but he continues to look for the perfect online backup.

(I currently use Backblaze for online backups, but for me, it’s my Worst Case Scenario solution. For “normal” backups, I use Time Machine along with nightly and weekly clone backups, rotating the weekly clone offsite.)


Milen Dzhumerov on the problems with Apple’s Mac App Store:

The MAS is the best place to get your software, it comes bundled with your OS, it’s very convenient, but when all the issues compound, developers will vote with their feet and continue the slow exodus.

I don’t completely agree with everything here, but it’s a nice summary of the complaints developers have with the Mac App Store—complaints that are causing some respected developers to abandon the store.

My review of OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Speaking of Yosemite, I reviewed Apple’s new OS for LaptopMag. The conclusion:

Each year, Apple announces a new version of OS X, usually proclaiming the release to be the largest update yet. But OS X 10.10 Yosemite really does feel, and look, like it’s worthy of the hype, especially if you own multiple Apple devices. It’s the first version of OS X that truly embraces Apple’s ever-widening ecosystem by letting you use your Macs, iPhones and iPads as part of a coherent computing system, rather than as disparate devices fighting for your attention. And for iOS users who are new to the Mac, Yosemite makes the transition from mobile to desktop (and back again) as seamless as I’ve seen to date.

I’d still like to see the Finder, and OS X’s file-management features as a whole, get the overhaul they deserve, so that both basic and power users can work more efficiently. (Open and save dialogs, for example, haven’t changed much in years.) It’s also a shame, if technologically understandable, that so many of the best features of Yosemite require newer hardware, on both the Mac and iOS side. And like any new OS, Yosemite’s initial release has a few glitches. But Yosemite will likely change—for the better—how many users work every day.


How to make a bootable OS X 10.10 Yosemite installer drive

[Backstory: One of my favorite annual Macworld projects was writing a comprehensive installation guide for each year's version of OS X. (Here's last year's OS X 10.9 Mavericks edition.) Alas, for reasons you probably already know, this won’t be happening with OS X 10.10 Yosemite, for the first time since OS X 10.6.

The most popular of those articles each year, by far, was my guide to creating a bootable OS X installer. Back in July, I wrote a version of that tutorial for pre-release versions of Yosemite, but since I'm no longer at Macworld, I can't update that article for the final release of Yosemite. So I'm publishing final instructions here.]

I’ve long recommended creating a bootable installer drive—on an external hard drive or a thumb drive (USB stick)—for the version of OS X you’re running on your Mac. It’s great for installing the OS on multiple Macs, because you don’t have to download the 5+ GB installer onto each computer. It also serves as a handy emergency disk if your Mac is experiencing problems. In fact, I think it’s a better emergency disk than OS X Recovery, because a bootable installer drive includes the full OS X installer, whereas OS X Recovery requires you to download 5+ GB of installer data if you ever need to reinstall the OS. (And don’t forget that not all Macs have OS X Recovery.)

What you need

Creating a bootable Yosemite installer drive is actually pretty easy. You just need the Yosemite installer, which you download from the Mac App Store, and a Mac-formatted drive (a hard drive, solid-state drive [SSD], thumb drive, or USB stick) that’s big enough to hold the installer and all its data. An 8GB thumb drive is perfect. Your OS X user account must also have administrator privileges.

Your drive must be formatted as a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) volume with a GUID Partition Table. Macworld has a nice tutorial that explains how to properly format the drive.

One other important thing: After downloading the Yosemite installer, but before installing the new OS, you should either move the downloaded installer out of your Applications folder (which is where the Mac App Store puts it), or make a copy of it in another folder or on another drive. The reason is that when you install Yosemite, if the installer is in its default location, it deletes itself after installation finishes. If you don’t move or copy the installer elsewhere, you’ll need to re-download it to make your bootable installer drive.

The best option: createinstallmedia

In my older Macworld articles on creating a bootable installer drive, I provided three, or even four, different ways to perform the procedure. This time around, I’m sticking with a single method: using OS X’s own createinstallmedia tool.

Starting with Mavericks, hidden inside the OS X installer is a Unix program called createinstallmedia, provided by Apple specifically for creating a bootable installer drive. Using it does require the use of Terminal, but it works well, it’s official, and the procedure is easy enough: If you can copy and paste, you can do it.

The only real drawback to createinstallmedia is that it doesn’t work under OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard—it requires OS X 10.7 Lion or later. But I suspect that the vast (vast) majority of people installing Yosemite will have access to a Mac running 10.7 or later.

createinstallmedia's Terminal output

The steps

  1. Connect to your Mac a properly formatted 8GB (or larger) drive, and rename the drive Untitled. (The Terminal command I provide here assumes that the drive is named Untitled.) Also, make sure the Yosemite installer (or at least a copy of it), called Install OS X, is in its default location in your main Applications folder (/Applications)—if you moved it from that location before installing Yosemite, now is the time to move it back.
  2. Select the text of the following Terminal command and copy it:
    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ --nointeraction
  3. Launch Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities).
  4. Warning: This step will erase the destination drive or partition, so make sure that it doesn’t contain any valuable data. Paste the copied command into Terminal and press Return.
  5. Type your admin-level account password when prompted, and then press Return.

The Terminal window displays createinstallmedia’s progress as a textual representation of a progress bar: Erasing Disk: 0%… 10 percent…20 percent… and so on. You also see a list of the program’s tasks as they occur: Copying installer files to disk… Copy complete. Making disk bootable… Copying boot files… Copy complete. The procedure can take as long as 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how fast your Mac can copy data to your destination drive. The process is finished once you see Copy Complete. Done., as shown in the screenshot above. If you like, you can then rename the drive (in the Finder) from its default name of Install OS X Yosemite.

Booting from the installer drive

You can boot any Yosemite-compatible Mac from your new installer drive. First, connect the drive to your Mac. Then, if your Mac is already booted into OS X, choose the install drive in the Startup Disk pane of System Preferences and restart; or, if your Mac is currently shut down, hold down the Option key at startup and choose the install drive when OS X’s Startup Manager appears.

Once booted from your installer drive, you can perform any of the tasks available from the OS X installer’s special recovery and restore features. In fact, you’ll see the same OS X Utilities screen you get when you boot into OS X Recovery—but unlike with recovery mode, your bootable installer includes the entire installer.

Almost there…

As you can see, I’m in the process of setting up my new blog. I hope to be up and running sometime in the next week with this temporary theme; I’ll be adding a nicer-looking custom theme in the near future. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to check back soon. (You can also subscribe to the RSS feed to see any new posts in your favorite feed reader.)