Editor’s desk: MacBook Pro devolution, Apple Watch and Research, Vaping nannying

16-inch MacBook Pro

This week’s was dominated by a few headlines that caught my attention. The first, of course, was Apple’s long-awaited introduction of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. The next came when Apple announced the release of its Research app and announced three studies designed to work with it, all on the same day as Stanford researchers offered up the full results of their 2017 Apple Watch heart study. The final thing was Apple’s controversial decision to nix the availability of vaping apps on the App Store – which isn’t sitting right with medical marijuana advocates, especially. Let’s dive right in.

The new MacBook Pro: a step back in the right direction

Most of the big Apple news of the week revolved around the company’s introduction of a new MacBook Pro model, the long-awaited 16-inch unit we’ve been hearing about for months. It’s on sale now starting at $2,399, same as its predecessor. And early reports from folks who got seed units prior to its official announcement have been quite complementary.

Sixteen inches is the new 15 inches. The bigger screen is higher-resolution than the previous model, mated to faster graphics processing units, newer-gen CPUs, and more storage and memory than ever before. But most importantly for countless Internet pundits and complainers, the keyboard mechanism is all-new too.

Well, maybe not that new. I noticed right off the bat that Apple referred to the MacBook Pro keyboard as a Magic Keyboard, and that’s the same ridiculous turn of phrase it uses to describe the desktop keyboard it includes with the iMac and makes available for sale as an accessory to other Mac models.

The bottom line is that Apple’s gotten rid of the much-reviled “butterfly” mechanism used in the last four generations of MacBook Pro keyboards. For years, Apple laptop users have complained about the butterfly mechanism keyboards. They provided a much flatter amount of key travel than the scissor mechanism found in earlier MacBook Pros, which enabled Apple to make its laptops thinner than ever. The first three generations were also prone to breaking at the drop of a hat when any sort of external contaminant such as dirt or the stray poppy seed from a bagel would get wedged underneath the key.

It got so bad that Apple has a standing service program to replace such keyboards when they fail, regardless of the laptop’s warranty status. So it was only a matter of time before Apple got rid of them altogether and replaced them with something new. Apple says the new keyboard is more responsive. It also sports an inverted T arrangement for arrow keys, undoing another unnecessary change made with the butterfly keyboards, and returns the physical Escape key in place of a virtual one on the Touch Bar of earlier models.

In an interview, Apple marketing head Phil Schiller said the company continues to design both the butterfly keyboards and the new Magic Keyboards, but I don’t see any of the butterfly keyboards long for this world, especially if Apple’s able to adapt and scale the tech to suit its smaller units like the MacBook Air. Even if Apple’s worked out most of the butterfly problems with the fourth-generation keyboard it’s currently manufacturing, it’s guilt by association at this point – and too many people buying new Macs are aware of, and wary of, the problem.

Apple Watch: Health accessory becomes health research tool

On the same day that Stanford University researchers published the full report of its Apple Watch Heart Study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Apple announced the release of its Research App for iPhone and three new research studies developed to work with it.

The Research app is available for download from the App Store, and it works with iPhones and with the Apple Watch. Each of the new research studies is being conducted with different university research groups to focus on different health areas. One program seeks to garner information on women’s reproductive health issues; another will study factors related to heart health; and the third focuses on noise and hearing health.

The earlier Stanford study was largely a pilot project, although Apple has made its ResearchKit technology available to scientists and medical researchers for several years. But the studies have been fairly limited-scale and controlled. With the release of the Research app as a regular tool that anyone with an iPhone (and an Apple Watch) can download, Apple’s throwing the doors open to much more widespread use of this technology in the future.

Stanford researchers were careful not endorse the Apple Watch specifically, but they did note that it did a really good job of identifying users who potentially suffered from Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), a serious medical condition involving heart rhythm that, left untreated, can lead to blood clots, strokes, heart failure and other cardiovascular problems.

Apple’s done an excellent job already of differentiating the Apple Watch from other wearables as more than simply a mere fitness device that simply tracks activity and steps. The Research app and these three new studies bolster the Apple Watch’s reputation as a legitimate device to assist people with medical health issues. This should help Apple continue the momentum of its explosive wearables growth – 54% year over year, as reported during its most recent quarterly earnings report.

Apple’s nannying solution to vaping leaves users in the lurch

Vaping – and more specifically, potential health issues related to vaping – continue to dominate the American news landscape. As of mid-November the CDC reports that more than 2,100 people in the United States have been reported as having lung illnesses related to vaping, with 42 deaths confirmed.

What’s actually causing the lung illness problems and what to do about that is still a fast-moving target. At least preliminarily, it appears that many, if not most, of the illnesses are related to vitamin E acetate. It’s a thickening agent used in some illicit THC-containing vape cartridges. But that hasn’t stopped Apple from employing a draconian solution this week.

After putting the kibosh on approving any new vaping-related apps early this summer, Apple followed up this past week by removing all vaping apps from the App Store – more than 180 in all. The apps included games and social networking tools related to vaping, as well apps that help vaping device users control their intake.

In a statement to Axios, Apple fell back on the tried-and-true “think of the children” cliché to justify its decision, indicating that they agree with the CDC and American Heart Association’s description of vaping as a “youth epidemic” and therefore worthy of censure on the App Store.

The youth abuse of vaping products is a very real concern, I don’t want to minimize that. But lots of adults use these products too. Some have managed to wean themselves off of crippling addictions to cigarettes by using nicotine-based vaping products instead. Medical marijuana patients also use these apps, which can help them more effectively and cleanly manage the dosage and intake of THC compared to other methods, like smoking a joint.

Apple’s ban on vaping products may indeed stop some kids from using these apps, but they also leave adults in the lurch. Adults who have made their own rational, measured decisions to use these products. This especially inconveniences those consumers who have already bought devices which they, in good faith, expected to continue to use with their phones unmolested.

Vaping apps already downloaded to iPhones won’t stop working. At least until Apple makes essential changes in iOS that break compatibility. But it also means that continued development of those iOS apps is dead in the water.

If iPhone users want to continue to use new apps or see the development of new features for their vaping products, there’s no solution except to sell their iPhone and go Android.

At least until Google does the same.

At least until Jailvaping is a thing.

Well, that’s it from the editor’s desk today. What do you think about the week in Apple news? Any of these items pique your curiosity? Or is other stuff on your mind? Sound off in the comments – I want to hear from you.