I’ve moved into the present with a Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro. That doesn’t mean everything is shiny and new. As many Mac-owning readers know, plenty of older software gets pulled into the modern age because it still runs perfectly fine even on new hardware.
I admit to being a little self-conscious when I work at coffee shops lately. After hauling around an assortment of Apple gear of varying ages in recent years, at the end of 2016 it was time to move into the present.
So now I’m the guy with the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro, an iPhone 7 and iPad Pro, listening to music on AirPods and checking notifications on my Apple Watch. The watch is the first-generation model, not the current Series 2, but you can’t tell that from a distance. I look like even more of an Apple-product poster boy than I used to (though in my experience, no one else getting coffee actually cares).
That doesn’t mean everything is shiny and new. As many Mac-owning readers are all too familiar, plenty of older software gets pulled into the modern age because it still runs perfectly fine — or well enough, at least — even on new hardware.
Case in point: I’ve used Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource menu bar utility for ages (www.rogueamoeba.com). It’s a handy tool for quickly choosing which inputs and outputs are used for audio. For example, let’s say you want to listen to music via headphones, but want sound effects (like the whoosh sound Mail makes when sending a message, or when a notification arrives) to play through the computer’s internal speakers, at half the volume.
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The menu bar volume control that’s built into macOS can do some of that when you Option-click it, but not to the same extent. For years, I’ve used the old version without issue, even though it was officially retired in 2012. (I missed that memo.)
SoundSource 3.0 has been updated with modern code and also adds a Play-Thru control for directing which inputs connect to which outputs, such as when you may want to hear the audio of a connected microphone only in a set of headphones instead of speakers (a feature from the company’s old LineIn application). The utility costs $10, but if you own current versions of any of Rogue Amoeba’s other products, it’s free.
Another example is TextExpander, from Smile Software (www.smilesoftware.com), which fills in longer snippets of text when you type an abbreviation. I often use it for including my shipping address in email messages by typing “jeffwork,” and fixing annoying frequent typos that my fingers insist on perpetuating (like “chatper” instead of “chapter”).
The old version I had mostly worked fine, with a few glitches, such as getting confused when I typed quote marks when sharing something out of Safari to Facebook or Twitter. So I finally ponied up the $20 per year upgrade fee (half the normal amount for owners of any previous version).
This was a good reminder, too, that companies often have generous upgrade pricing for customers, even if you’ve skipped some versions. Smaller companies especially tend to put more value in keeping you as a lifelong customer than in extracting the most money from a single transaction.
New life for a new machine
When I last wrote about the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I was still waiting for mine to arrive amid a brouhaha about limited RAM and battery life.
Now that it’s replaced my 2010 MacBook Pro as my main computer, I want to touch on a few items.
I’m definitely enjoying the speed increase compared to the old machine, though I suspect it’s not as dramatic if you’re upgrading from a more recent MacBook Pro.
The Touch Bar is useful, though I don’t reach for it automatically. Taking advantage of application-specific features in that space will require retraining muscle memory as much as anything, but I do often adjust volume and screen brightness, and also control iTunes, which normally exists in another desktop space in full-screen mode to keep it out of my way.
Aside from buying a USB-C dock and a few adapters, the switch to using only USB-C ports over the array of legacy ports has been a nonissue for me. Progress marches on, and now I plug just two cables into the laptop instead of five when I’m working in my home office.
The best improvement is battery life — not just because the battery in my old MacBook Pro could barely squeak out an hour’s charge, but because the macOS Sierra 10.12.3 update fixed a problem where the graphics processor would take over when it wasn’t needed. Now I can genuinely get a day’s work out of a single charge, compared to about 4 hours after I first received mine.
It’s now better about switching between the discrete GPU and the integrated graphics built into the Intel Core i7 processor. Reducing screen brightness also makes a big difference. Although Apple nixed the time estimate in the battery power menu bar item as a stopgap solution before the bug was fixed, I still get a rough idea of how much time is left on a charge from the utility FruitJuice (www.fruitjuice.com).
I also occasionally click the battery status icon in the menu bar, which reveals which running applications are using significant energy. You can also open the Activity Monitor utility, switch to the Energy tab, and see which graphics card is currently in use.
Overall, I’m quite happy with my new MacBook Pro, even if it means I’m a walking advertisement for Apple when I go out in public. I don’t care — after living for six years without a Retina display, I’m going to keep staring at this beautiful screen while I get my work done.