Editor’s Desk: Screen Time problems, Mac Pro price, Apple Card mixed message

Mac Pro workflow

This week’s Editor’s Desk spotlights the unfortunate problem with iOS 13.3’s new Screen Time communication limits option, the controversy over the high price of the new Mac Pro, and Apple’s mixed holiday message on spending.

iOS 13.3’s Communications Limits snafu

iOS and iPadOS 13.3 were released this past week, after a month and a half long beta test. The new update doesn’t bring forth a slew of new hallmark features, but there are a couple of notable changes, including the ability to remove Memoji characters from your Emoji keyboard and the implementation of Screen Time communication limits.

The new Screen Time communication limits preference enables parents to set limits for who can communicate with the device by calling, FaceTiming, and messaging, and when those communications can occur (we have a detailed tutorial explaining the feature in more detail).

We all recognize that left unchecked, device use among children and adolescents lead to problems. And Apple’s goal with communication limits is to provide a tool for parents to help control their children’s device use. But no sooner was the new software out in the world for the general public than a flaw was discovered with it:

CNBC discovered that the bug exists, and has a great breakdown of the issues at hand. Communication Limits is designed to set communication rules for either Contacts Only or Everyone. However, if an unknown number texts a kid, they can then add that number to their Contacts, allowing them to FaceTime, call, or text that number without express parental permission.

Apple’s patching the hole presently. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 13.3.1 update, a “supplemental update” or something similar pop up to address the issue. But it’s an important issue to understand if you’re a parent looking to keep a handle on how your kids using their device.

The Mac Pro, price, and value

The new Mac Pro went on sale this week along with the Pro Display XDR. The base Mac Pro costs $5,999, making it the most expensive base model Mac you can buy. If you top out the Mac Pro from the Apple Store with every conceivable option, you’ll spend more than $50,000. Predictably, the critics came out in force this week to complain about the high cost of the new Mac and the display.

Some cited the old “Apple tax” trope. Apple charges more, according to this theory, because its rabid enthusiasts will pay more. Others generates bills of materials to create what they thought would be comparable Windows or Linux-equipped PCs operating with similar specifications, demonstrating how much more Apple charges.

For the most part, I find the comparison builds to be specious at best. Building a comparable PC from a reputable manufacturer isn’t easy and doesn’t net huge savings. The Mac Pro uses a very specialized set of hardware that isn’t easy to replicate elsewhere. The Mac Pro is a workstation designed for a very specific set of needs. It is simply not a consumer-grade desktop computer. And comparisons to other computers fall apart because they’re not Macs.

Now, there’s certainly some areas for cost savings on the Mac Pro, most notably with the memory. Apple charges a premium for its RAM: maxing out a Mac Pro with 1.5 TB of Apple-supplied RAM adds a staggering $25,000 to the cost of your Mac Pro. DDR4 ECC RAM is available from other vendors for a lot less money. Apple’s decision to charge $400 for a set of wheels for the thing left me scratching my head, too.

But quibbling about internal components aside, people aren’t buying the Mac Pro because it’s a fantastic value. People are buying it because it’s the right tool for the tasks at hand, whether that’s editing multiple streams of 8K video simultaneously, handling dozens of music tracks, ultra-realistic 3D visualization and rendering, or any one of the other myriad tasks this parallel-processing powerhouse is designed to do very well.

They’re buying the Mac Pro because it’s the fastest Mac they can get their hands on, and it’ll help them make money and stay productive.

In his play “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” Oscar Wilde wrote that a cynic was a person “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

A sentimentalist, Wilde said, was someone “who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.”

The truth of the Mac Pro, and its value, lies somewhere in between.

Apple’s mixed message on spending

Apple pitched the Apple Card as “designed to help customers lead a healthier financial life.” Apple Card provides weekly and monthly spending summaries, for example, eschews fees, and shows you different payment options so you can calculate interest paid over time.

But lest we forget, it’s still a credit card – and it’s in Apple and Apple partner Goldman Sachs’ best interest to make you use it as much as possible. So it’s little wonder that Apple is, at least through the end of the year, doubling its Daily Cash back award from 3% to 6%, for Apple Card purchases made at Apple retail stores or through the Apple web site or Apple Store app.

What’s more, Apple this past week started selling iPhones to Apple Card customers on an interest-free payment plan.

This is the time of year that many of us live beyond our means, thanks to a lot of external pressure to spend. Consumers do spend this time of year, and if you’re buying Apple gear for yourself or for loved ones, it’s nice to get a bit of extra incentive to make the purchase.

The important thing, though, is not to go overboard. 6% cash back on a shiny new Mac or iPhone sounds good, but if you’re still going to be paying it off for the next year, it’s still debt. No matter what kind of face is on it, high amounts of revolving debt affect your credit rating and your buying power.

Signing off

That’s it for me this week. What news from the Apple world has you interested this week? Let me know in the comments.