Exciting Possibilities for the Trackpad on ARM-based MacBook Pros

2020 MacBook Pro 13-inch

Apple Silicon Opens Doors

Tom’s Guide, once again this week, has the top story about new thinking regarding the Trackpad on ARM-based MacBook Pros.

… this area would be “illuminated by an array of light-emitting elements (or a single light-emitting element) to create a configurable or customizable boundary of the active input area,” which would basically highlight the space you can touch …

If I read the implications correctly, part of the trackpad area could become a virtual touchpad area akin to an iPhone’s display. Perfect for running iOS apps on Big Sur on an Apple Silicon MacBook Pro. Without getting the dreaded “gorilla arm” syndrome.

Apple remains committed, it seems, to not having a touch sensitive full MacBook display that we would have to reach out to. Author Casey writes:

With the news of iOS apps coming to the Mac in the era of Apple Silicon, this sounds less implausible than it could have months ago. You’d want to customize the touchpad to be a vertical space to match the iPhone’s layout, right? I know I would.

This idea would be instantly copied by other notebook makers, but, odds are, they wouldn’t implement it as well as a next generation, dynamic trackpad on ARM-based MacBook Pros

The Week’s Apple News Debris

new iMac is fabulous
The ultimate WFH Mac.

• Dan Ackerman at CNET takes a look at the new 2020 iMac from the perspective of its new FaceTime camera and the nano-texture display. “New Apple iMac: Hands-on with a 27-inch work-from-home beast.

I live (and now work) in an apartment that gets a lot of afternoon sun from its westward-facing windows, so I know all about screen glare. I’m always moving out of the way of the light, and my TV is unwatchable for a big chunk of the day because of it. The matte-like nano-texture screen, however, was nearly glare-proof. At extreme angles, I still caught some reflection, but it’s a big improvement over what I’m used to.

This nano-texture display iMac option looks to be one to not disregard out of hand.

• Speaking of the 2020 iMac, Cult of Mac has collected some benchmarks. “2020 iMac benchmarks show substantial speed boost.

• Samuel Axon, at ars technica, interviews both John Giannandrea, Apple’s Senior Vice President for Machine Learning and AI Strategy and Bob Borchers, VP of Product Marketing. “Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong.

This is a major, major article about Apple and AI. Check it out.

• Apple passed on buying Arm holdings, but experienced analyst Bob Cringely believes the company’s future acquisition target is TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), the company that makes Apple’s ARM chips so brilliantly. “After switching to ARM, expect Apple to buy TSMC, too.

TSMC also happens to be the best semiconductor manufacturer on the planet right now and worth whatever Apple has to pay.

Bob explores the technical, financial and political implications.

• Have you been amused, dismayed, intrigued, boggled, outraged by what Apple charges for a set of Mac Pro wheels? (US$699). Other World Computing (OWC) has designed a nice set for just $199. The OWC Rover Pro arrives in September.

• Finally, if you are ultra-conservative when it comes to iPhone privacy, see this set of recommendations. “Beware of find-my-phone, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, NSA tells mobile users.” Disabling Find My (app) may be over-the-top for most users, but the rest of the article has good info as a starting for your personal privacy review—even if you don’t implement every technique.


Particle Debris is generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

5 thoughts on “Exciting Possibilities for the Trackpad on ARM-based MacBook Pros

  • John:
     
    The Ars Technica piece on AI and machine learning is, from many angles, the one with the greatest portent for the Apple platform, the immediate effects of Apple Silicon on their products notwithstanding. 
     
    I remain convinced that one of the principal drivers of Apple’s move away from Intel was AI and its uniform and performance-consistent integration across the platform, which would not have been possible with the x86 CPU, and that Apple would have made this switch irrespective of Intel CPU performance. The following quote from Apple’s Giannandrea is correspondingly revealing and illustrative, referring to the development of the Apple Neural Engine or ANE that lies at the heart of this SOC technology, “It’s a multi-year journey because the hardware had not been available to do this at the edge five years ago,” Giannandrea said. “The ANE design is entirely scalable. There’s a bigger ANE in an iPad than there is in a phone, than there is in an Apple Watch, but the CoreML API layer for our apps and also for developer apps is basically the same across the entire line of products”.
     
    The article is also revealing as to how Apple not simply envisions AI and machine learning, but how they are prosecuting its application on their devices and services, an approach that enhances and safeguards both privacy and security, two core and essential features of the Apple user experience. Apple’s approach, as distinct from that of their competitors, is to perform all machine learning on the device, rather than on the backend on massive remote servers, as is currently done by FB, Google and Amazon – often supplemented by human intervention, which let’s not even discuss today. 
     
    Nor does it stop there, this on-device approach also improves performance. As Giannandrea points out, “So, trying to understand if you have an iPad with a lidar scanner on it and you’re moving around, what does it see? And building up a 3D model of what it’s actually seeing. That today uses deep learning and you need to be able to do it in real time. It wouldn’t make sense if you’re waving your iPad around and then perhaps having to do that at the data center”. 
     
    Importantly, and this is what makes Apple’s approach so foresightful, Apple links privacy, and therefore security, with performance and sees them, not as a trade off, but as integral and symbiotic to a superior user experience. Giannandrea explains, in response to critics of Apple not using massive server centres to process user data for optimal AI and machine learning responsiveness, “Yes, I understand this perception of bigger models in data centers somehow are more accurate, but it’s actually wrong. It’s actually technically wrong. It’s better to run the model close to the data, rather than moving the data around. And whether that’s location data—like what are you doing— [or] exercise data—what’s the accelerometer doing in your phone—it’s just better to be close to the source of the data, and so it’s also privacy preserving.” 
     
    Wow. I can almost guarantee, based on corporate philosophy and business model on public record; FB, Google and Amazon didn’t even see that coming – the very definition of vulnerability. And that assessment, a rebuke actually, from a former Googler. 
     
    Giannandrea goes onto explain all of these limitations before dropping the ultimate performance hammer on remote vs on-device machine learning (ML), latency. G5, no matter how much it reduces the latter, will not be able to overcome the time differential between on-device vs remote processing for realtime performance, barring faster-than-light (FTL) workarounds (don’t hold your breath – subspace technology is nowhere near becoming a thing). This means, as on-device ML such as Apple’s ANE continues to gain proficiency, we’re really going to notice latency impacts on key performance indicators of ML, and not just in more futuristic applications like augmented reality, but in every sphere from high-end remote surgery to automated travel to everyday photography and handwriting apps. 
     
    FB, Google and Amazon have raced, headlong, into one of Aesop’s Fables, the tortoise and the hare. By taking the quick route to apparent performance enhancement of their machine learning, ie massive remote servers, not only are their AI services no more secure than the best resourced bad guy, (I’m guessing that these services have long ago been compromised), but they will progressively fall behind in important user-specific performance metrics and they are going virtually to die on the hill of latency. 
     
    Back to the Mac, it will now gain the benefit of this technology in an integrated SOC complete with its own ANE, enabling a harmonised user experience on par with that of its native ARM-powered sister devices, lifting it firmly into the 21st Century with new capabilities and with immediate effect on the user experience. 
     
    Finally, expect novel expressions of this technology to be pioneered, as they currently appear to be, first on the iPad, which uniquely integrates touch, keyboard, pen and voice interface unlike any other single device, and then to find appropriate adaptation to iOS, Mac and watchOS (and tvOS as relevant), once again underscoring what Apple meant by this testbed being the future of computing. It’s not the device that they’re talking about; it’s what can be done with that technology. 

  • Couple of comments:
     
    Apple’s approach to keeping AI local and less server-dependent than the big 3 data snoops. I look at this as Apple, again, skating to where the puck is going to be. They are anticipating the day when mobile computing hardware gets to the point where keeping it local beats server-dependency hands down. And they’re not just sitting back waiting for the hardware to arrive, they are driving it, at full throttle no less, and they will again be miles ahead of everyone else when that particular puck arrives.
     
    TSMC happens to be the golden child of the Taiwan stock market and a point of pride for the Taiwanese. I doubt that citizen opinion, and the Taiwanese government itself, would let any foreign entity just scoop it up. Though I don’t think they would mind a major investment by Apple in exchange for a substantial ownership stake.

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