November 2019 in review: Apple TV+, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro
The new top of the range 16-inch MacBook Pro arrived this month. It was sooner than expected, cheaper than feared, and with a keyboard some had dreamed of.
As ever these days, we knew a huge amount about the 16-inch MacBook Pro from leaks and rumors — but so many were wrong. Broadly speaking, the supply chain sources had been right, but they'd also been limited, and sometimes it's only Apple that knows the whole picture.
So we got that 16-inch MacBook Pro this month instead, as had variously been rumored, just about any time from September through to March next year. The price was wrong, too. Reliable sources had pegged this most powerful MacBook Pro ever as starting north of $3,000, and instead it came in at precisely the same cost as the 15-inch model it replaced.
Most significantly, it has a new keyboard.
We could talk a lot about Apple, MacBook Pro models, and keyboards. Everybody has talked a lot about it. AppleInsider has previously proved that the failure rate on late butterfly keyboards is about the same as it has been for other types, but if yours failed, you tended to be very vocal about it.
Rather than have to say that the old idea was better than the butterfly one, though, Apple has given the revised keyboard a new name as well as a redesign. It is now the Magic Keyboard, and that is a keystroke of brilliance because one of the finest keyboards around is the Magic Keyboard one Apple sells for its desktop Macs.
One of the highlights of the MacBook Pro refresh, though, was not the technology or the keyboard, but instead was just how enthused Apple's Phil Schiller was.
There was no event for him to launch the machine enthusiastically. Instead, Schiller did the rounds of interviews and podcasts, and in all of them, he was so visibly bursting with excitement that it was brilliant to watch.
It possibly wasn't so brilliant to hear, though. For at one point, when understandably bigging up Apple's machines, Schiller went a bit far in dissing Chromebooks. All his points about their perceived benefits were fair enough — you could agree or disagree, but it was a valid point of view — but then he said this.
"Kids who are really into learning and want to learn will have better success. It's not hard to understand why kids aren't engaged in a classroom without applying technology in a way that inspires them. You need to have these cutting-edge learning tools to help kids really achieve their best results," he said. "Yet Chromebooks don't do that. Chromebooks have gotten to the classroom because, frankly, they're cheap testing tools for required testing. If all you want to do is test kids, well, maybe a cheap notebook will do that. But they're not going to succeed."
Saying that computers are crucial to education is true, but saying that a Chromebook will damage kids' chances to learn did not go down well. He tried to walk it back, a bit.
Every child has the ability to succeed — helping them to do that has always been our mission. In the full conversation with CNET, we discussed giving kids and teachers the content, curriculum and tools they need to learn, explore and grow. Not just to take a test.— Philip Schiller (@pschiller) November 13, 2019
The month's other launch
It hadn't all that long since we learned we were likely to get a 16-inch MacBook Pro, so the wait wasn't enormous. But it was now seven very long months since we'd first been told about Apple TV+. And finally, it was here.
Available from November 1 for a price of $4.99 per month, or free for a year if you bought a qualifying Apple product, Apple TV+ exploded onto the screen a little quietly.
Disney+, which launched on November 12, had long been pushing its big advantage, the fact that its library of content is simply enormous while Apple's is tiny.
But now we could actually see what Apple TV+ was offering and the results were mixed. Despite all the hype over key programmes such as "The Morning Show," the real interest landed on "Dickinson" and "For All Mankind."
For other reasons, interest focused on the film "The Banker," which had been intended to premiere at the AFI Festival this month, but didn't. The cancellation appeared to be because of unspecified concerns over the film's accuracy.
Otherwise, none of the shows took the world by storm — there isn't a Baby Yoda in sight — but Apple did get to say that "millions" of people were watching. They didn't say precisely how many, and Apple probably never will reveal much detail, though.
But if this is anything to go by, Disney+ appeared to have the bigger launch because as well as announcing it had 10 million subscribers in the first day, it also had ferocious problems keeping up with demand. Maybe Apple is just better at streaming, which may well be true.
However, there was one number that Apple TV+ definitely won on. According to an independent industry report, Apple TV+ boasted the highest bitrate of any streaming service.
China has barely ever been out of the news for Apple in 2019, though in November it was more of a background factor. The China/US trade disputes were unquestionably the reason Apple made the Mac Pro in Texas — for all Tim Cook has talked about US manufacturing, a Chinese firm appeared to have originally been tapped to produce this machine months ago.
That was then, but now we saw the fruits of that as Tim Cook showed President Trump around the Texas facility it was using to make the 2019 Mac Pro. There was an issue where Cook was criticized for not correcting the President's assertion that he had "opened" Apple's new Mac Pro factory, though.
It wasn't Apple's factory, and it wasn't new.
The closest Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had come to politics was when President Reagan awarded them the National Medal of Technology back in 1985. But today, Tim Cook has to be a politician, so doubtlessly his mind was less on a detail of the tour and more on Apple's political position.
Consequently, even as the factory readied the Mac Pro and Cook arranged the tour with the White House, Apple also hired a pro-Trump lobbyist.
It's not clear what precise duties Jeffrey Miller, former vice finance chairman of Trump's inaugural committee, has been hired to perform. However, CNBC reports that his field will be "trade issues as they relate to technological goods and services."
He may not have been on board at Apple when there was a US congressional hearing into Chinese influence on the tech industry. But we'll never know because for once Apple didn't send anyone to the hearing.
If we can't ever escape China-related news in 2019, we did by November seem to have had a couple of months free of Facebook privacy and security issues. Which may be why the company chose now to unveil Facebook Pay, a rival to Apple Pay.
"People already use payments across our apps to shop, donate to causes and send money to each other," said Deborah Liu, Facebook vice president, Marketplace & Commerce, in a statement.
"Facebook Pay will make these transactions easier while continuing to ensure your payment information is secure and protected," she continued.
Facebook Pay can't be used in bricks and mortar stores, only online, and only within specific apps. Initially, it's limited to Facebook itself, but the company says that it will expand to Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.
It does require you to give Facebook your credit card details, and there can't be anything troubling about that idea. Not when on the same day that Facebook Pay was announced, the company had yet another security problem revealed.
Facebook was shown to be accessing iPhone cameras without the user's knowledge.
You had to be running iOS 13.2.2, and you had to have previously given Facebook permission to use the camera, and you had to go through precisely the right steps in the app to trigger the problem. It's a bug, said Facebook, and they fixed it.
By the end of the month, we'd become used to Apple TV+ being around — and maybe we were increasing finding more to enjoy on the new Apple Arcade.
And we were spending a lot on Apple Card as Goldman Sachs reportedly extended $10 billion in credit over the card's first month.
It just may have done that chiefly for men. Statistically, small but disturbing accounts of disparities in credit limits extended to women sparked increasing concern throughout the month.
By the end of the month, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown were pushing for Apple Card probe by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Apple giveth and taketh away
Doubtlessly, Apple Card saw some heavy use at November's traditional Black Friday sales, where every online and retail store offered great bargains — except Apple.
As ever, Apple talked up its Black Friday offers, but as always, there were no discounts per se, just gift cards. If you bought a specific Apple product, you would get a store gift card worth up to $200. So if you were already planning to buy two Apple products, you could get the first and apply the gift card to the second.
It's not much, compared to the cost of a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but every cent costs when you're an Apple customer.
And as of this month, that's what Jony Ive is. After his departure "later in the year" was announced in June, it turned out to be in November that his face disappeared from Apple's official leadership page.
So you could call November the end of the Jony Ive era and the beginning of the Apple TV+ one.
But by the time Ive's removal from the website was spotted, we long since moved on — to December. For it was in the middle of November that Apple announced what we had been waiting for.
The Mac Pro, and the Pro Display XDR, would begin shipping in December.