Author Archive

The 13″ Retina MacBook Pro

2012-11-27 by Kyle Cronin. 2 comments

Some background

If you asked me six months ago what I wanted in my next MacBook, I would have said that it should have a super high-resolution screen, a fast SSD, and lots of high-speed external connectors. Yet it should be considerably thinner and lighter than the (then-)existing 13″ MacBook Pro, and be absolutely silent when running, even under load.

Of course, if you asked me how long I’d have to wait to get such a Mac, I would have said it was probably a year or two away, possibly more. Even when the retina 15″ model dropped this summer, I kept my optimism in check for a 13″ model because, historically, the 13″ MacBook Pro is usually about a cycle behind the 15″ when it comes to getting the latest tech. My [2010 13″ MacBook Pro is living proof – back when the 15″ and 17″ models switched to the much, much faster Core i5 and i7 chips, Apple still sold the 13″ MacBook Pro with a creaky Core 2 Duo processor.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight last month when the rumors about the retina 13″ MacBook Pro turned out to not only be true, but to hit every single item on my checklist for what I wanted in a new MacBook! Naturally, I went out and bought one as soon as I could manage it, and it has been everything I hoped for. The price is a bit steep – this is the most expensive computer I’ve ever owned – but I have no doubt that it’s worth it.

Why it’s awesome

First, the screen. The screen! The screen is amazing. The difference is just as profound and revolutionary as the leap from non-retina to retina on the iPhone and iPad. Little things, like reading and writing text, is just fun now. I must admit that part of the motivation for writing this post is because I really like composing text on my new MacBook Pro. I don’t even mind the fact that the “best for Retina” setting provides me with the same sized working space (i.e. 1280×800 logical pixels) as on my last two MacBooks – 90% of the time it’s just fine for what I need to do, and the remaining 10% of the time I can crank it up to get more space and still have a mostly sharp picture.

Second, this thing is light. Now, it’s not quite as light as the MacBook Air, but it’s a lot closer to the size and weight of the 13″ MacBook Air than it is to the size and weight of the old 13″ MacBook Pro. It’s actually smaller than the Air in terms of width and depth, and it stays a uniform thickness throughout instead of having that dreadful wedge shape of the Air. So, all around top marks there from me.

Third, the SSD in this thing is very fast – about 410MB/s write and 450MB/s read. This considerable speed boost manifests itself everywhere in the user interface – apps just launch faster, and the 8GB RAM ceiling doesn’t feel so limiting with the swap speed being so fast (though it’s still an order of magnitude slower than actual RAM). I’ve done some audio editing on this machine with Adobe Audition that involved converting source files to AIFF and exporting the finished product to AIFF. For those that don’t know, AIFF is like the BMP of the audio world – huge and uncompressed. The SSD was impressively fast at doing these conversions, which made the entire task considerably easier and more enjoyable.

Fourth, and I only mention it because I mentioned it in my first paragraph, but the retina MacBook Pro has two 10Gb/s Thunderbolt ports, each of which is capable of driving a 27-30″ class display as well as daisy chaining to fast external storage or pretty much anything that can be attached to a PCIe bus. Then there’s the two 5Gb/s USB 3.0 ports; not quite as fast, but much more widely available on more affordable products. This beats the pants off the FW800/USB 2.0 combination that my previous MacBook had.

Finally, there’s the little things. For one, I really like the keyboard. It looks the same as every other Apple chicklet keyboard they’ve made for the last 5-6 years, but there’s something about it that’s just really nice to type on. I might be crazy, but I suspect that there’s actually a bit more travel to the keys even though the chassis is thinner than the older version – the removal of the optical drive probably had something to do with that. There’s also stereo speakers, which is a nice touch – a first for a 13″ MacBook. It’s also really, really quiet. So quiet, in fact, that at first it makes you worried that there was an error during the assembly process that resulted in the fan not being installed correctly, and that your computer might overheat at any moment. However, after several hours of running processor-, memory-, and disk-intensive operations I can confirm that it runs just fine under heavy load. It gets warm, sure, but the fan still stays eerily quiet.

What could be better

So, I think it’s a given that I like this new MacBook. Sure, some of that might be the honeymoon phase I’m still in with the product, but I’d like to think that a lot of it has to do with the merits of the product. However, as good as it is, there are of course some small things that could be better:

First, the price, The base model is $1699, but that has a paltry 128GB SSD, which absolutely won’t cut it anymore if you want to use it as your main computer, as I do. The $1999 256GB option is what I got, but mainly because I found the price jump of $500 to the 512GB size extremely hard to swallow/justify. I know SSD is expensive, and I know that I just extolled the virtues of the particular SSD Apple is putting into these machines, but I still can’t help but suspect that Apple could probably get that price down if they really tried, especially since entire 512GB SSDs can be had for less than $400 on Newegg.

Second, the 8GB RAM ceiling is annoying, especially since it’s soldered onto the motherboard and can’t be upgraded at all. The SSD, even being a nonstandard size, can theoretically be swapped out for a larger one, but the 8GB RAM limit is permanent. It’s a decent amount of memory in 2012, but in two to three years I think it’s going to seem pretty small. Planned obsolescence?

Third, the GPU could be better. As noted by Patrick Gibson, scrolling some media-rich pages like The Verge can cause some choppiness. I don’t think it’s particularly bad, but it is noticeable. The retina display is most certainly the culprit – the GPU can scroll pages like The Verge just fine on external displays, it’s just on the built-in screen that there are some minor issues. Of course, most pages aren’t as complex as The Verge, and consequently scroll very smoothly.

And finally, the battery life could always be better (though this can be said for every single battery-powered device ever made), and the fact that they’re still using dual-core processors instead of quad-core is disappointing. All in all, however, I think these are minor complaints that pale in comparison to the numerous strengths of the product. I am a completely satisfied customer, and I hope to be enjoying this machine for many years to come!

The New iPad Review / Part 1: Standing in Line

2012-03-27 by Kyle Cronin. 4 comments

Two years ago

Back in the summer of 2010 Apple announced the iPhone 4. At the time I had been using an iPhone 3G for about a year and a half, and I had grown impatient with how slow the device had been operating. When I saw the announcement of the retina screen, the gorgeous case, and the snappiness of the operating system of the new iPhone 4, I knew I had to have one. And when Apple announced that they were moving up the upgrade date for some AT&T customers, I knew I wanted one on launch day. So that’s what I tried to do.

However, my launch day experience for the iPhone 4 was terrible. At the time, I lived two hours away from my nearest Apple Store, and, although I had hit the road around 3:45AM, by the time I got to the mall housing my Apple Store around 5:45, there was already a considerable line for the door opening at 6AM, and the store didn’t even begin selling them until 8AM. I got in line and waited for hours, hoping they wouldn’t run out of stock while they continued to let in people with in-store pickups and kept the line for people that didn’t have one (like me) at a standstill. I was getting hungry, tired, and my feet hurt.

more »

App Review: Sparrow for iPhone

2012-03-15 by Kyle Cronin. 7 comments


I’ve been a longtime user of Sparrow for Mac. As a Gmail user and a fan of its Tweedie-inspired interface, it just felt like a much better fit for how I like to interact with my email than the stodgier or Postbox, providing nearly all the benefits of the Gmail web interface in a beautiful native app. So I was very excited this morning to discover that, after months of waiting, Sparrow for iPhone has finally been released.

First Impressions

Sparrow for iPhone looks good, and it’s mostly consistent with Sparrow for Mac. This isn’t a great surprise, as Sparrow for Mac takes its design cues from the now-defunct Tweedie for iOS. The whole interface is very fluid and responsive as well, unlike the official Gmail app for iOS which can be laggy and slow. One thing that I like from the Mac client that I was pleased to see that they brought over to Sparrow for iPhone is showing the avatars of the senders next to their messages in my message list. more »

Of Mountain Lions and Men

2012-02-17 by Kyle Cronin. 0 comments


I awoke yesterday morning to a sea of posts about Apple’s latest operating system, Mountain Lion. Instead of holding a press event or waiting until WWDC to announce the next Mac OS X, Apple chose to secretly meet with an indeterminate number of journalists in both California and on the east coast to provide presentations of Mountain Lion to journalists individually. The journalists were then given a MacBook Air with Mountain Lion preloaded and an embargo not to publish until yesterday. My feelings about this were long a little angry, so I cut them from this article and posted them here.

In any case, I am not a journalist. I didn’t attend a presentation and I don’t have a pre-release copy of Mountain Lion. I’m also not in the developer program, so I’m unable to download and install Mountain Lion on my own hardware. I do not have the ability to run this software in any capacity. My impressions and opinions in this article are necessarily influenced by reading the articles and watching the videos produced by the people that have; namely, news sites like The Verge, Macworld, and Daring Fireball. However, this has not stopped me from already forming an opinion…

First impressions (from reading

My initial impressions from reading Apple’s overview page on Mountain Lion were that the new features were a bit underwhelming. I initially felt that by featuring apps like Reminders and Notes so heavily, it betrayed the fact that the rest of their updates were comparatively weak as well. Then I flipped over to the features page and saw that there were a few other, more significant features. Here are my thoughts on them briefly:

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Welcome new moderators Jason Salaz, Daniel, and bmike!

2012-02-15 by Kyle Cronin. 2 comments

The Ask Different 2012 community moderator election has been underway for the past two weeks, and yesterday the polls finally came to a close. We had many qualified candidates in this election, and three very capable moderators have been elected.

The winners are:

Jason Salaz unsuccessfully ran for moderator last year, but since then has been actively involved with Ask Different, is one of the regular hosts of the Ask Different Podcast, and is all around a great asset to the community.

Daniel holds the record on Ask Different for the greatest number of helpful moderator flags. In a lot of ways, he’s been performing the role of moderator for months, at least now he has the diamond to prove it.

Mike is the most prolific Ask Different member, and he also has the highest reputation score. Deservedly so – I’ve come to realize that there’s very little about Apple products that he doesn’t know, and I’m glad to have him on board the moderation team.

Congratulations! I look forward to working with the three of them, as well as Nathan Greenstein, in making Ask Different even more awesome. Members of the site feel free to ping any one of us in chat if you have any questions or issues.


2011-10-12 by Kyle Cronin. 9 comments

John Gruber is on a roll countering the notion that the iPhone 4S is disappointing by citing record-breaking preorder numbers. And yes, by sales, the iPhone 4S is doing extremely well, and many people are speaking with their wallets in approval of the new device.

However, a device can be both a commercial success and still be a bit of a disappointment. Being disappointed in a product update doesn’t mean that the update makes the product worse, or that you won’t buy it, it just means that it’s below your expectations of what the update would improve.

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My predictions for the October 4 event

2011-09-30 by Kyle Cronin. 3 comments

There’s lots of speculation about what Apple will announce at their event next week, and very little actual information has been leaked. This makes for an ideal climate to speculate about what will and won’t be announced at the event. So that’s what I’m going to do. more »

Ask Different turns one year old

2011-08-17 by Kyle Cronin. 0 comments

On August 17, 2010, exactly one year ago today, Ask Different (then called Apple) launched into private beta.

In the past year we’ve seen phenomenal growth. We now have:

  • 7k questions
  • 13.5k answers
  • 9k users
  • 13.5k visits per day (average)

I just wanted to say a big “thanks” to everyone that has helped us get here today, from the people that believed in the potential of this site when it was only an Area 51 proposal, to those early adopters that helped make our private and public betas successful, culminating in our launch as a full, permanent part of Stack Exchange earlier this year, to Jin, our site designer who perfectly captured the balance between Apple’s and Stack Exchange’s design aesthetic, and finally to our loyal users, who have been tirelessly helping to answer nearly any question thrown their way.

Here’s to many years to come!

p.s. – you early adopters should start to see your yearling badges soon!

Podcast #4: Google I/O, Ditching the Mac OS X DVD, Reeder

2011-05-24 by Kyle Cronin. 0 comments

This is the fourth episode of the Ask Different Podcast, an unofficial podcast created by members of the Ask Different community about Apple and related technologies.

Your hosts this week are Kyle CroninJason Salaz, and Nathan Greenstein.

  • We begin with site discussion: What, exactly, is the scope of Ask Different? Are questions about Windows XP graphics drivers acceptable? What about Mac-compatible Unix distros? Kyle tells us the vision he had for the site when he proposed it, and how recent questions do and don’t fit in.
  • The recently released iMacs ship with a new feature! A new style SATA power connector replaces a thermal sensor cable. We discuss the purpose, and the positive and negative merits of this recent change.
  • We discuss the onslaught of Google I/O news, starting with Google Music. Users can upload 20,000 songs from their own computer. Google Music only works on devices supporting Flash, and Android phones.
  • Chromebooks”, based on the Cr-48 prototype, to be released next month.
    • Also announced was the Chromebook rental program. While originally announced as a flat rate $20/month rental for students, and businesses for $28/month, these prices vary depending on the exact model rented. Also, these rental programs with have a 3 year contract in tow.
    • A flat rate purchase with no contract will range from ~$350-$500 depending on vendor (ASUS / Samsung) and features (WiFi only, 3G). Currently it appears that certain models will be available from Best Buy, and all from Amazon. Engadget has all currently known details.
  • The war of attrition took another step between Facebook and Google, as we learn of Facebook’s attempt at smearing Google’s over privacy claims. An ad agency hired by Facebook promised placement in major periodicals to a independent blogger, but instead of writing articles the blogger released the correspondence between him and the ad agency.
  • Microsoft now owns Skype! And they paid approximately $8.5 billion in cash. Not equity, not stock, all cash. Skype will continue to support all current versions (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android) of it’s software. We also muse over separation of the Skype Engine from the desktop application GUI.
  • Kyle reflects on the current state of software distribution by Apple. We talk about the current trends of shipping software digitally, the shrinking physical software selection in Apple retail stores, and how you install Mac OS X on computers devoid of an optical drive. Adding to this that Xcode and the Developer Previews of Lion are distributed via the Mac App Store, we consider how Apple may distribute Lion officially, possibly announcing it this summer at WWDC.
  • Our Question of the Week is “Is There a Way to Password Protect Individual Apps”, asked by Rabskatran. This question spawned a discussion on “The XY Problem” that occurs commonly on the Stack Exchange network, what it is, and what may be the best answer to officially accept in these cases.
  • Our App of the Week is Reeder. An iOS and desktop RSS reader that requires the use of Google Reader, but provides a much more attractive, functional, and native interface. We debate the merit of single-site apps, and the contrast between pushing functionality to the web and making them into webapps via Fluid, or building a specifically tailored interface for it like Reeder.

This episode was recorded on Saturday, May 14th. You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or iTunes. If you have any feedback or questions you’d like for us to answer on air, leave a comment on this post or e-mail us at


Podcast #3: iMac upgrades, Spotlight tips, Tiny Wings

2011-05-18 by Kyle Cronin. 0 comments

This is the third episode of the Ask Different Podcast, an unofficial podcast created by members of the Ask Different community about Apple and related technologies.

Your hosts this week are Kyle CroninJason Salaz, and Nathan Greenstein.

  • Kyle begins with some news about this podcast: We’ve launched! We want to thank everyone that has sent us feedback, we appreciate it. Also, we’re now featured on the Super User Blog.
  • Nathan describes Stack Exchange’s recent efforts to boost voting on questions, especially relative to answers. Verdict: if you see a great question on Ask Different, vote it up!
  • Jason discusses LastPass’ recent possible security breach, what this means, how LastPass is responding, and what users of the service should do as a result. Jason also brings us a correction to a previous episode regarding which features are available in the free vs paid plans.
  • Nathan updates us with hard data about the white iPhone 4’s alleged width gain, and discusses whether or not the color of the actually makes a difference.
  • Kyle delivers an iPhone tracking update: Official iOS update released. What it changes, and how it helps you stay more secure. Jason discusses Apple’s impressive response to the tracking issue.
  • We discuss the fact that, while Android phones are more popular than the iPhone, the iPad is much more popular than the slew of available Android tablets. Do Android and iOS tablet customers expect different things from their tablets? Are the iPad’s main advantages timing and price?
  • Nathan takes us through the recent upgrades to the iMac line, we discuss if it’s worth getting the 21-inch model, and whether or not the two Thunderbolt ports on the 27-inch model eliminate most of the need for a Mac Pro.
  • Kyle compares how (relatively) easy it is to service the newer iMacs compared with the older iMac G3 and iMac G4.
  • We share some tips on how to get Spotlight to work for you, including excluding certain directories and search paramaters (pdf) based on the file metadata.
  • Our Question of the Week was asked by CarlosSnow Leopard Server as main (everyday) OS, and we discuss whether it’s a good idea to run desktop apps on a server.
  • Our App of the Week is Tiny Wings, a game for iPhone and iPad where you play as a bird and try to fly as far as you can before the sun sets. Tiny Wings is available on the App Store.

This episode was recorded on Saturday, May 7th. You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or iTunes. If you have any feedback or questions you’d like for us to answer on air, leave a comment on this post or e-mail us at