I have recently bought the single biggest mechanical hard drive I have ever owned, or want to own. The reason for this is simple. Apple’s Media Services is a state of flux, dithering between downloads and streaming. It sells movies that you can stream from any of your Apple devices. Anywhere. Anytime. Going where there is no internet? Download it!

Surely Apple doesn’t expect you to download ALL your movies and TV shows – it takes up so much space?! With internal drives for MacBook Pros costing up to £2k for 8Tb, nobody is going to have all that money to keep their digital movie and TV collection on their Mac, safe and sound?

Apple recommends that you download your purchases because they told me (but they never make it clear in any of their advertising, nor through the user interfaces of their online stores) that titles can be pulled from the local iTunes store for a variety of reasons and unless you’ve downloaded your purchase, you’ll lose it forever. This, despite people buying digital content and streaming content directly from Apple’s servers – as this is the easiest way, and indeed, the way it was designed to be so. Rarely does a computer enter into the whole purchase thing. Got an Apple TV device? Just buy straight from your armchair. Buy from your iPhone or iPad. Easy.

Apple iTunes Store movie purchases are only downloadable up to HD quality only. Any advertised features such as 4K and iTunes Extras cannot be downloaded – they’re streamable only.

Still, I have nearly 500 movies in my collection which would be a considerable pain in the arse to store as physical media in the small house I live in. So I really ought to back up everything I got. Having something is better than nothing.

I looked at a number of options:

  • NAS device with at least 8Tb capacity, in RAID 1 configuration to ensure that both drives are mirrored simulataneously in case one drive fails.
  • Multiple WD Passport bus-powered 5Tb drives, splitting movies and TV shows across each device, and backing each one up to Amazon’s S3 Deep Glacier which charges just $1/Tb per month.
  • Single big drive, along with multiple WD Passport bus-powered drives to back up movies and TV shows separately as a backup.

The problem with the NAS device is that the enclosure alone is pricey. And that’s without any disks. Add the disks and it becomes very expensive. And the disks themselves are not going to be fast. So copying nearly 4Tb of data off the WD Passport 4Tb bus-powered, 5,400RPM drive I was using to back up everything was not going to be fast.

I looked at the Western Digital MyBook Duo range of drives, eyeing up a massive 24Tb beast. The advantage here is that the drives are WD Reds which are best designed for long term use, plus with the MyBook Duo enclosure, you can swap the drives out easily – and even upgrade. Downside was that the enclosure is plastic, plus there were many reports of it overheating as a result of that (though these reports go back to 2017/2018), and it was noisy. Plus they wanted £530 for it. And the disk performance wasn’t exactly great, either.

I started looking at Western Digital’s new WD_BLACK range. These are designed primarily for gamers, incorporating fast storage and plenty of capacity. What really caught my eye with the WD_Black D10 Game Drive for the Xbox One: 7,200RPM 3.5″ drive rated up to 250MB/S and a USB 3.2 gen 1 interface. The drive can be positioned horizontally (it has rubber feet) or vertically (comes with a stand).

WD_BLACK D10 Game Drive for Xbox One. Xbox One is purely optional.

Interestingly, the type of drives installed in these units appear to be datacentre-grade drives that are typically found in servers (Ultrastar DC 500 series drives, apparently). This means that they will keep up with demanding performance from reading/writing, and for a long time. And it was a bargain at £262. The only downside is that the drive comes with a 3-year limited warranty rather than the Ultrastar’s typical 5-year warranty.

So I bought one. Plus it came with 3 months Xbox One Game Pass Ultimate, so that’s extended my subscription to February 2021 (in case anybody’s wondering: the Xbox One Game pass is very much worthwhile if you’re an Xbox owner).

And I absolutely love the drive. The downside was that the WD Passport drive was so slow in transferring data, it was quicker to download the whole 4Tb from Apple’s servers. That took 2 days. But the drive performance is indeed excellent, reaching up to around 215MB/S write and 235MB/S read during my own tests.

3.9Tb of iTunes Store movie and TV show purchases

Apple’s Apple TV app on macOS Catalina is a massive pain in the arse, however. It’s so fragile about where data is stored. Get something every so slightly wrong and you’d need to download the movie/TV show again even if it exists on the filesystem. As I don’t have the drive going all the time, I created a new library by pressing the Option key down when opening the Apple TV app. I created a new library on the external drive and downloaded everything from there. The Mac and the drive were on for two solid days, and the D10 drive never once felt hot. Warm, yes, but never hot – and this is in the horizontal position.

What I need to remember is if I want to use the Apple TV app when the external drive is off, I need to press Option whilst opening the app to select the local internal SSD library. However, Apple TV seems very insistent on holding on to an internal database file which results in this:

This crops up (even in macOS Catalina 10.15.5) when Apple TV app isn’t running

and the only way to get around is to determine the process ID of whatever is holding onto the TV library database and kill it off:

I love UNIX.

which then allows me to open the other library. I’m not sure what effect killing off the process like that has on the internal Apple TV library, but so far I’ve found no ill effects. But it does suggest that maybe Apple needs to spend a bit more time working on closing files when the application closes..

So the drive is proving itself worthy. But isn’t it a single point of failure? Yes. But I intend to buy another one and clone this drive to it, keeping the second drive as a backup. And maybe later down the road, getting a MyBook Duo or NAS as an additional backup. Speed won’t matter too much, and it’ll just sit in the corner being idle for large amounts of time.

Speaking of backups, Apple’s Time Machine has become a massive pain in the arse, and I’ve stopped using it. In its place I’m using Acronis’ True Image 2020 which is so much faster, provides versioning and tidying up of versions older than X days/months old. It backs up to the 12Tb drive, naturally, and gives me plenty of space for a good while alongside the media library.

Acronis True Image 2020 for Mac – a better Time Machine replacement

I realise that I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but being able to easily back up, retain and watch movie and TV purchases from the iTunes store is important to me – and it should be for anybody who regularly uses the iTunes store.

I’m struggling to understand Apple’s approach to how it stores and manages music, movies and TV show purchases through the iTunes store. Apple is actively promoting the iTunes Store’s ability to buy and watch purchases everywhere because it stores everything you purchase on its own servers.

But they have the right to remove content at any time and strongly advocate that you need to download it so you can keep your purchase. However, with that comes some major disadvantages: you lose 4K and you lose iTunes Extras if they come with the film. It takes away a lot of the features that attract people to the platform (name me any other online video retailer that offers audio commentaries and featurettes). Apple needs to significantly improve in this area because it’s not inspiring consumer confidence in cloud computing and services if content you’ve bought is removed without knowledge or compensation, leaving either nothing or significantly less than what you bough. Cloud computing something Apple is keen to increase its interest in, especially after it’s been revealed that Apple has gone on a hiring spree.

To avoid you having to go through my previous rambling rants, I’ll summarise the key points here as I understand the situation:

  • Apple can remove any music, movie or TV show title you’ve purchased from your library at any time, for any reason. The most likely explanation is the ownership of copyright has changed rights owners and Apple hasn’t been granted permission to continue selling that title. Apple doesn’t give any notice if this happens. Nor are you entitled to any kind of refund or compensation. Then again, it’s also possible that you could potentially still access your purchase. In summary: it’s effectively completely random as to whether you keep your purchase with all its features to stream or download from Apple’s servers. You might keep a title forever, a week, a month, a year, 5 years, 10 years. You just don’t know.
  • Apple recommends downloading and backing up your purchased media content. Music purchases are DRM-free, usually small, and this is usually no problem for the majority of people to keep backups of their music files. Movies and TV shows, on the other hand, are large, multi-gigabyte files which are DRM protected, meaning that this restricts playback to your Apple account and devices that you own. iPhones, iPads, Macs and Windows machines can playback downloaded movies and TV shows. If they’re not downloaded, they’re streamed from Apple’s servers. iTunes Extras after the 10th July, 2014 are streaming only and cannot be downloaded. 4K content is streaming only, restricted to certain devices, and cannot be downloaded. So they cannot be backed up.
  • Apple TV HD and 4K devices are streaming devices only. iTunes purchases are not officially supported being accessed from NAS devices. Home Share doesn’t seem to support a new movie/TV show container format that I’ve found which is being used for newer titles in the iTunes Store. AirPlay should be used to stream to an Apple TV device from an iPhone, iPad and Mac/Windows machines if the title is not available anymore from Apple’s servers. Again, a reminder: you will lose access to 4K (if it was offered in that format) and iTunes Extras if the film is pulled from Apple’s servers. Your movie download only consists of the HD movie (or SD if not available in HD).
  • iTunes purchases downloaded to iPad and iPhone are not backed up if the device is set to only backup to iCloud. You’d need to connect your device to a computer running iTunes and macOS Catalina and back up the entire contents of the device there.

It should be noted that the terms of Apple’s Media Services are extremely ambiguous (for example, streaming is barely mentioned – just “redownloads”) and in my initial dealings with Apple Support, it feels as if they’re making excuses on the spot to get around their flawed and consumer unfriendly policies.

So, with regards to not being able to play newer iTunes movie purchases through Home Share (to test backup strategies), I reached out to Apple Support on a separate ticket and used examples such as Warner Bros. Birds of Prey, Lionsgate’s Knives Out and Warner Bros. Joker. All recent films, and all appear to use a new container format (HLS) when downloaded from the iTunes Store to a computer via the Apple TV app (on macOS Catalina). I discuss the symptoms on my previous post.

Apple Support and I have had some interesting conversations about this – nearly 90 minutes spent on the phone. The first revelation is that Apple does not officially support Network Attached Drives (or NAS). So if anybody is using Synology or similar NAS tech to share media libraries with an Apple (TV) device – Apple won’t support you.

The second was that AirPlay is the recommended method by which to play this type of content to the Apple TV. From your Mac, iPhone or iPad, you start playing the content and select the AirPlay symbol, select the device you want to stream it to, and it starts playing there.

The trouble with downloading content to an iPad and iPhone is the limited space available, and you’d still need to back the whole device up to a computer (Mac or Windows) to be able to backup any purchased media content because it won’t be backed up to the iCloud.

So what you really need to back up your movies and TV shows is a Mac (I can’t speak for Windows too much because I have no idea at what state it has move on from iTunes and transitioned to separate apps like the Mac) – but you need to either download the entire library to your Mac’s internal SSD/HD, or to an external drive. If the latter, you’d have to find your own way of ensuring that you have backups of that drive. Apple recommends using Time Machine to back up the Apple’s internal drive(s), though (again, see previous post) – this doesn’t always yield favourable results and I had to rely on the Apple cloud to restore everything for Apple Music. I only hope it was because of the separation of iTunes and library folder layout which was the problem (dramatically different layouts when I compared my Time Machine backup to that of the new Apple Musics app).

Note: Any iTunes Extras content made after 10th July, 2014 cannot be downloaded – it’s streaming only. So if Apple pulls the plug on a title, you’ll only have access to the file(s) containing the movie (up to HD quality only).

What Apple told me about the HLS container files is that it’s possible that the DRM is preventing playback on the Apple TV device via Home Share. If so, that’s crazy – especially as I’m using an all Apple ecosystem. And that this is not a bug. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t (I say isn’t), it seems that me that Home Sharing could be for the chop in a later tvOS/macOS. If it’s not able to handle these new container formats, it makes future iTunes purchases impossible to play via Home Share. Obviously one would use the Apple cloud service to stream in all cases where possible – but if Apple removes the content (without notice), you’ll be forced to use the method described above.

UPDATE (19th May, 2020) – the issue of the HLS package download can be resolved by going to Preferences -> Playback in the Apple TV app in macOS Catalina and ensuring that Download Multichannel Audio and Download HDR when available are both unticked.

I’ve still yet to hear back from Apple why this has to be done, and why Apple TV devices can’t see the HLS format (and what good does it do anyway if the download has no effect whatsoever).

Fix .movpkg / HLS file downloads in Apple TV app by deselecting the above

I’ve asked Apple Support to continue investigating and raise this accordingly with the technical engineering teams responsible. But I still say that Apple needs to keep all previous iTunes Store purchases on Apple’s servers even if the seller has pulled the title from the Apple platform – unless it is a genuine mistake by the seller, and then compensation needs to be organised accordingly. I don’t care about the legalities of this – and neither should the average consumer – we shouldn’t care about what licenses or agreements Apple has with their sellers. Keep the purchases on Apple servers indefinitely!

Downloading and managing files is the very least thing I want to be doing – I chose Apple because the process of purchasing and watching movies and TV content across multiple devices using their servers is quick and convenient. When you start to bring in backups (and only half-arsed backups at that due to the strange download/streaming hybrid Apple has found itself in), it becomes inconvenient and you see the cracks in the system that Apple has spent decades building up.

It also has to be said that we really need better consumer law surrounding digital content and protecting consumer purchases – especially if it’s being stored in the cloud.

Well, pretty much. They wash their hands of any responsibility, pocketing your money without a clear and concise method of allowing customers to back up their purchases, and without retaining the full feature set (essentially the 4K element and any iTunes Extras if they come with them).

The senior advisor at Apple keeps referring to the right to cancellation, but this isn’t the case at all. I did not cancel. Apple (and remember my contract is with them, not the studio or distributor) took my money for a purchase, not a rental, and then removed the film from its servers without any notice, or refund or partial refund. This insist everybody should be downloading their purchases.

So what if I did download all movies? Can I play my entire iTunes/Apple TV library through Home Sharing?

No.

I decided to enable Home Sharing on my MacBook Pro (which has moved from the apps into System Preferences -> Sharing -> Media Sharing). I’ve downloaded a number of films that I think could be at risk from being removed from Apple’s stores by the distributor for whatever reason. And to that, I added the most recent Warner Bros. film, Bird of Prey, which is offered with iTunes Extras and – more importantly for my test – 4K/HDR. According to Apple TV’s app, HDR download is actually supported!

You can download HDR movies, but not 4K ones

This is what I can see in the Downloads section of my Apple TV app on macOS Catalina:

The Apple TV store allowed me to buy a movie twice when it wasn’t able to find an existing purchase.

Note that you’ll see two copies of Amelie there. Two reasons for this that I can ascertain. The first is that the Apple TV app on macOS Catalina is utterly bloody useless. I was quite panicy that Amelie had been removed. Turns out that’s not the case, but the Apple TV store itself didn’t think it was the same version I had already purchased and downloaded, so offered it for me to buy. Which I did. And that’s when I found out that I’ve bought exactly the same content twice. No safeguards at all.

Anyway, when I went and enabled Home Sharing on the Apple TV (which is the 4K device, and running the latest non-beta version of tvOS), I see all the regular HD content, but not Birds of Prey. Surely logic dictates that although I cannot download the 4K version of the title, the Apple TV should still see an HD version of it? Well, it can’t. It sees nothing.

Well, this convinces me to buy a NAS, it really does. (facepalm)

The files for Bird of Prey are definitely sitting on my Mac:

Why won’t a downloaded copy of Birds of Prey work with Apple TV via Home Share?

Yet my copy of What We Left Behind, an excellent documentary on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is available. That’s available in 4K on the Apple TV if I play it directly from Apple’s servers. Via the download on Home Sharing, it will only play in HD. The downside is that the iTunes Extras are missing. So no, you cannot make adequate backups of your movies, Apple.

Apple’s iTunes/Apple TV store (whatever the hell they call it these days) is massively misleading. The “advice” I’ve received from Apple’s support is both wrong and deceptive.

Home sharing is set-up correctly on the Mac

I’ll tell you something else about Apple and backups: when macOS Catalina came on the scene, removing iTunes and replacing it with separate apps, I struggled substantially to get my music library working with a new Mac. Something between iTunes and Apple Music had changed which meant there were syncing issues with the Apple Music subscription. I tried manually importing the music files. I tried restoring a Time Machine backup. No joy. In the end, I had to rely on the music in Apple’s cloud to download and use that as the backup moving forward.

(Well, more of a mugging than a robbery, I suppose)

Yesterday evening I was looking for something to watch. Something I hadn’t seen in a while. I was sure I had purchased it, but according to the Apple TV app running on macOS Catalina 10.15.4.1, it wasn’t able to find it when I did a search.

But I did find it within my library when sorted alphabetically. Phew! It just looked as if Apple was no longer selling that particular title. But at least I could stream and download it. That title was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a wonderfully comic French film about the arms industry (got to love the French sense of humour!).

Oh, really? Tell that to the Apple TV app on macOS Catalina and Apple removing content without notice

But I decided that I’d leave it until I’m off on holiday next week when I can really start binging on movies (many of whom were purchased via Apple’s iTunes store recently) – I’ve got:

  • Knives Out
  • Once upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Rocketman
  • Birds of Prey

as well as a few older titles that I’ve not seen in a while that were on sale.

While I was reminiscing over Sylvain Chomet‘s The Illusionist (which is based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script, and was directly responsible for me falling in love with the city of Edinburgh and have not regretted it since), I thought about his other film, Attila Marcel. I hadn’t seen that for a very long while, and thought it’d make for a good evening’s viewing.

ALAS!

Like MicMacs, I couldn’t see it in Apple TV’s search function. What was worse: I couldn’t see it listed alphabetically in the library either. Yet I was damn sure I bought it on iTunes.

Thankfully Apple keeps all orders and invoices going back many years – though they could consider introducing a text search function within the Apple TV and Apple Music apps to make it easier to find particular titles – otherwise it’s you need to do a LOT of scrolling. That, plusan export function for any and all invoices as CSV or Excel format.

I managed to find the original order/invoice:

So that confirms I wasn’t going stark raving mad (entirely possible during this lockdown phase). Tried to go through the usual route of reporting a problem with Apple, but the order was so old. I managed to set-up a generic support ticket with Apple Support. After an hour or two I got a reply:

It’s important to note that I quoted the original order ID when establishing contact. I replied to say that I’ve never hidden any purchases and gave them a screenshot to prove there was nothing being hidden. I then received the following:

Effectively:

“The content provider decided to stop selling their movie on our platform, and either we don’t have the file or are not allowed to give it out – even if you’ve purchased it.”

Where it gets unnecessarily complicated is that Apple sells the Apple TV 4K device which has limited storage – 32Gb or 64Gb. They also sell the iPhone which has a maximum storage capacity of 512Gb. They also have the iPad which goes all the way up to 1Tb. My entire Apple TV/iTunes library sits in around 1.75Tb. And until recently my MacBook Pros have only had a maximum of 1Tb of internal storage – and half of that was being used by Apple Photos and project work.

The entire point of buying from the likes of Apple is to make it easy to access and view my film collection (haha, I’m trying to find another word for collection as it’s not really such if some swine can just come along remove stuff from it at any time without my permission or notice) via the Apple TV device, my iPhone, my iPad or my MacBook Pro.

In the UK, the fair use law prevents us legally from ripping content from physical media that we’ve purchased. Apple seems the best option – especially as they generally give you a similar set of extra features content that you’d find on a DVD or Blu-Ray release.

Now, even if I download all ~4Tb of my content to my Mac and back that content up either to the likes of Backblaze or an external hard drive or NAS, I cannot download the 4K version of the film, nor the iTunes Extras content. Then we have issues of presenting films that have been removed from iTunes like Attila Marcel to the Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. There are options for this:

  • AirPlay (think Google’s Chromecast)
  • Home Share (sharing media library direct from Mac or NAS)

But this isn’t a consistent or nice experience – something that Apple does so very well in almost all other areas of the business.

Some questions:

  • Why Apple doesn’t inform you of any content that’s about to be removed from your library?
  • Apple has seriously screwed the pooch because there is a difference between download and streaming, which is the heart of the matter here (and especially so with the Apple TV device). I keep the movies in their “cloud” to save space and to be able to stream because I generally always have the bandwidth to do so. There is very little need for me to download an entire movie. I think this applies to the vast majority of Apple’s customers, too. This hybrid download/streaming system is an utter mess.

Apple’s own storefront web site makes absolutely no mention that content can be withdrawn. This is what it has to say (at the time of writing, 5th May 2020):

Oh, really?

Buy. Rent. Watch. All inside the app. Welcome to the new home of thousands of films, including the latest blockbusters from iTunes. Now you can buy, rent and watch, all from inside the app — as well as watch everything you’ve previously purchased from iTunes.”

But Apple has done a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy style maneuver. To quote from the book written by Douglas Adams, who was a big fan of Apple:

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

The search for Apple’s Terms of Service in a nutshell

Apple’s Terms of Service (which, strangely, I found only through a third party web stite) only stipulate redownloads, NOT streaming – which is how I use iTunes/Apple TV content. Again, we’re back to the problem which is a legacy hangover from the early days of iTunes where you had to download everything to be able to watch it. Then the iPhone, the iPad and Apple TV came along. Especially the Apple TV which MUST stream the content.

REDOWNLOADS

You may be able to redownload previously acquired Content (“Redownload”) to your devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID (“Associated Devices”). You can see Content types available for Redownload in your Home Country at https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204632. Content may not be available for Redownload if that Content is no longer offered on our Services.

Associated Devices Rules (except Apple Arcade): You can have up to ten
devices (but only a maximum of five computers) signed in with your Apple ID at one time. Each computer must also be authorised using the same Apple ID (to learn more about authorisation of computers, visit
https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201251). Devices can be associated
with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Associated Devices Rules for Apple Arcade: You can have up to 10 devices
signed in to Apple Arcade per Family member at one time. Devices can be associated with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Redownloads vs streaming – nowt mentioned about streaming, necessary for Apple TV

The link in the above only mentions general availability of Apple Media Services. It does not mention the conditions in which content may be removed (and event then, only referring to downloadable content), nor that you will not be notified that the content is no long available.

Not if they’ve pulled the title from their servers you can’t. Be prepared for fiddling with file transfers and AirPlay instead – and extra features going missing as they’re streaming only and can’t be downloaded.

Compare this against Amazon Prime Video’s Terms which are linked to at every option to rent or “buy” (and I use that term loosely now). Amazon are much clearer on the point whereas Apple has been super vague for the past 7 years despite constantly removing content from people’s libraries.

4. DIGITAL CONTENT

i. Availability of Purchased Digital Content. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions or for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.

Amazon’s Terms for “buying” digital movie or TV content from them – this is very clearly set out: don’t use them for buying film or TV content.

Amazon have made it very clear anything you “buy” from them can vanish at any point. That they don’t have to give you any notice. That they owe you nothing if this occurs. Apple’s terms are more ambiguous because it merely states “redownloads”. Yet the service is primary a streaming service; downloads are a legacy from when iTunes first started when streaming wasn’t available and which just happens to be convenient these days for going offline (for travelling).

  • Why Apple doesn’t offer an immediate refund or compensation if content is removed – people make the assumption that if you purchase something from these services, they have access to it indefinitely. There’s no big massive asterisk next to the purchase button warning you about Apple or the content provider’s ability to remove the film from your cloud library. It should not be considered an extended rental. If you buy a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray – you don’t have somebody turn up at your doorstep from the shop that sold it to you and demand it back because their supplier no longer sells to them. Just because something is intangible should not bring about Houdini style hijinks.
  • Why Apple hasn’t thought about and solved this problem already? There have been sporadic reports of content being removed from people’s libraries since at least 2013.
  • If Apple can’t sold this problem technically, then why doesn’t it try to resolve this through its significant legal resources and the major film studios and distributors? If Apple truly is a consumer champion, dedicated to the likes of privacy et. al, it needs to be seen doing a heck of a lot more for protecting consumer’s rights. (Ironic, given the whole right to repair fiasco which is stil ongoing.)

Some experiences of other people:

There are plenty more articles about this, but the point is that in an age where we’re relying more and more on cloud services (including storage), it seems highly unreasonable for Apple to expect us to download every single title we buy from them and keep it somewhere local.

I’ve reach out further to Apple Support and Tim Cook to see what they have to say on the matter and have asked them what they intend to do in the future to protect consumers’ purchases. Apple needs to resolve its issue with the legacy iTunes stuff because it’s now becoming a major problem. Until then, I’m extremely damn nervous to buy anything more from the Apple TV/iTunes store knowing that at any time a content provider can pull the plug just like that.

I’d reach out to Metrodome who distributes (or at least did) Atilla Marcel and ask them what the bloody hell they’re playing at, even though my contract for the purchase is with Apple. But they went into administration in 2016. Maybe the rights reverted to Pathé? Though this doesn’t explain why it has taken this long for the title to be removed from iTunes – I’m pretty sure it was still there at the end of last year (2019). In any event, Amazon’s Prime Video has the title to rent or buy. I may reach out to Pathé and ask them what the hell THEY’RE playing at – especially as there a good number of titles from them happily existing on iTunes that I “own”.

Apple, live up to your creed: Think Different. Yet just don’t think different – do something!

BTW, when the BBC Store closed down, I had around £150 worth of purchases refunded to me in its entirety by BBC Worldwide PLUS a voucher for Amazon which could be used to buy physical or digital content by way of an apology. More companies – especially Apple – need to take note.

Since Apple started producing its own silicon for the iPhone, the A-series of ARM-based chips has gone from strength to strength. No better device to demonstrate the muscle of the Apple designed SoCs is the iPad Pro. It’s a very capable multitasker – great with media consumption and even pretty decent when it comes to media creation too. But is iOS and iPadOS limiting the series’ potential?

If Apple intends to put their own silicon at the heart of the Mac, it needs to be able to run all current software at the same or better performance than that which is offered on the current Intel platform. Apple has only just released the Mac Pro, a full on Intel-based Mac with up to 28 cores (56 threads) and is a beast (and possibly one of the best design PCs in existence according to several reviews I’ve seen – it’s so clean and manageable inside!). It seems they intend to release a 14″ 10th generation Intel based MacBook Pro at some point this year too.

Yet in the PC world, AMD has the Ryzen 3990X processor with a stupidly insane number of cores: 64 (128 threads) and is an overkill for all but the most intensive applications. For those that need the performance, I don’t think the ARM64 architecture has got to the point where it can compete in that space for a good number of years. Certainly, if Apple were to release a Mac in 2021 with an Apple designed SoC – even if it’s the standard MacBook (not the Pro) model – this means introducing tools to convert existing x86 code to ARM64 and vice versa. Nobody is ever going to run Logic Pro or Final Cut Pro on a simple MacBook, but how powerful does the Apple processor got to be in order to perform the code translation. Or how much work will the developer have to put in to create a universal binary that runs on both platforms? It’s Rosetta all over again.

Then there is the question of Windows. Intel Macs can run Windows natively via Boot Camp. Or via virtualisation within macOS. But if Apple starts moving to ARM processors, this obviously will break that feature – which is very useful for those that develop for both the macOS and Windows platforms.

Microsoft has done some legwork porting Windows to ARM. They’ve even released a Surface Pro laptop (the Surface Pro X) which runs Windows under ARM. But there are so many limitations with the platform which make adoption pretty terrible (and expensive) right now. Apple could potentially update Boot Camp for use with ARM Windows, but until the Windows on ARM platform is sufficiently mature – I don’t think it’s worth it. Even through x86 emulation, it’s not going to be good enough.

Then there are the Thunderbolt 3 ports on current Macs. Dongle city. Thunderbolt is very much an Intel thing, so Apple would still have to continue licensing it from them as well as perform extensive testing to ensure existing peripherals continue to work.

The important thing for me is that Apple doesn’t try to force an iPad-like experience on macOS. If macOS is going to go ARM, I want the macOS experience and to see the performance from applications around the same mark as the Core i9 and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M in my MacBook Pro (which has got to last me 4 -5 years before I can afford another major Apple purchase).

So at what point do you release an ARM-based Mac (if at all)? Difficult to say, but I’d say it’s 2021 would still be far too early. It’s not as though we’ve reached a plateau of power/performance which was certainly the case with the G4 and G5 processors. IBM pretty much forced Apple’s hand, because it just wasn’t possible to put a G5 processor into a laptop.

So maybe Apple should keep ARM to the mobile devices, and switch to AMD for its processors instead. They’ve leapfrogged Intel at an important milestone when it comes to die shrinkage – and, after all, they devised the whole x64 architecture anyway. And AMD must be pretty decent given that both Microsoft and Sony will be using their CPU and GPU technology in the PS5 and Xbox Series X. So any all-AMD Mac/MacBook Pro would be a decent all rounder.

It’s been argued that he x86 architecture is old and out of date – and it has been around for a very long time, this is true. But ultimately it’s allowed those of us with feet both in the Windows/PC world and Mac world the ability to co-operate with each other like never before and do stuff that just wasn’t possible back in the days when Macs where running 68000 or G4/G5 processors.

As a long term Apple user, I’ve seen a lot happen with Apple’s services division over the past 20 years. When they work, they bring me great joy and they are absolutely worth the money. But when they don’t, they are a bigger pain in the arse than South Western Railways and Network Rail.

Having moved over to the 16″ MacBook Pro, one of the first things I did before the move was:

  • Create a current, up-to-date Time Machine backup
  • Copy all data – including Apple Photos and Apple Music/TV to a separate hard drive and copy them back over manually

iCloudy with a chance of rain

When the new machine was running, I copied all my data back over. The first problem was that because I use iCloud Photo Library, Apple immediately enables it even if you don’t want to use it (a bug, perhaps?) – creating a Photos library catalogue. About 99% of having copied the data from the separate hard drive to the Photos directory on the new Mac terminated and told me there was already data there, and then terminated the transfer.

So I thought I’d give Apple the benefit of the doubt and download all my photos and videos stored in iCloud Photo Library (around ~130Gb) and start a new catalogue from scratch. It did work, but it takes forever for the Apple Photos app in macOS Catalina to do its stuff before downloading can happen. It took about 3-4 hours in total to download 10,443 photos and 463 videos. Speaking of iCloud Photo Library – Apple had better start considering offering a 4Tb tier. I’m nowhere near that level yet, but as storage becomes cheaper on MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Pros, and as the cameras improve on iPhones, people will start putting everything in iCloud. Obviously I back everything up religiously to Time Machine, Backblaze, Google Drive and separate hard drives, but as we’ve just discovered – it doesn’t always work out the way you think it does. At least I can access all the old photos from the backups manually.

Ch..ch..ch..changes

What is interesting to note is that with macOS Catalina’s Photos app, Apple has made some internal restructuring to the package contents of the catalogue. No longer is there a masters directory containing your original files and filenames, but a directory called originals which contain the original files. But with Apple-encoded filenames. Original filenames appear to be stored as metadata within an internal, locally-stored Apple database.

Apple Music is just as buggy as iTunes

With regards to Apple Music, I originally didn’t have any problems copying that across. The only real issue is that the artwork to albums and playlists was missing. I tried everything I could to try and get them back through the Apple Music app on Catalina, but no joy. The closest I got was to nuke everything in the Music directory and copy back over from the Time Machine backup. They seemed to work – except that every single file was available to download through iCloud. Downloading only doubled the amount of space being used by macOS.

So I completely deleted my Music directory again and tried to get Apple Music to start afresh. Except it didn’t. It picked up my account details and some album artwork straight away. And iCloud Errors galore.

At one point, Apple Music got REALLY confused.

So I did a bit of digging around. There aren’t many articles about Apple Music on Catalina and how to fix problems. But this is how I “fixed” mine – where “fixed” was to get Apple Music to start from scratch – newly created directory, no files downloaded, all music stored in iCloud – then start to download music as an when needed. Over 56,000 tracks is a bit much.

I hate Windows registry, but Apple’s Library can just as bad…

Having closed Apple Music and deleted the Music subdirectory from within the Music directory in my home directory, I opened a terminal, I navigated to

~/Library/Caches

and nuked any files or directories that mention iTunes or Music in their file/directory names. This gets rid of any caches built up by Apple Music/iTunes. So it should forget anything you’ve done so far. But this isn’t enough. I then changed to:

~/Library/Preferences

and nuked any files or directories that mention iTunes or Music in the file/directory names. From there I fired up Apple Music and was greeted by the Apple Music welcome screen. And everything worked as expected from that point onwards. I downloaded my playlist music just fine, along with a number of albums. All good. And everything has been fine for the past 24 hours.

More internal local changes

Again, with macOS Catalina, Apple has re-arranged the internal file structure for Apple Music. My backups had an iTunes directory with all the media stored in there, and a Music directory which had a single package file within it. When starting Apple Music anew, there is a Music subdirectory containing the same package, followed by a media directory.

Within the Media subdirectory, you can see that (when arranged alphabetically) Apple Music files are stored separately from purchased/uploaded music.

When attempting to get things working from backup, it seemed Apple Music was completely confused. I’ve got to say, Apple, that you’ve made a right pig’s ear of this and I’m not happy. When I’ve set-up Apple Music on my work Mac, it was fine because I hadn’t any existing files. But if I had brought them in, I’m sure I’d suffer similar problems.

What is the point of backups if they don’t work properly – especially if the issue is being caused by bugs or changes made by the same company you’ve bought the hardware AND software from?

macOS Catalina – a steaming pile of horse poop

Regardless of whether its new hardware or existing hardware, the macOS Catalina experience has been awful. My work Mac Mini (2018) was bricked by the update and required a logic board replacement. The 2018 MacBook Pro was fine, but clearly the backups I’ve been making haven’t been suitable for transferring to a new machine – or even to the same machine because of all the changes between Mojave and Catalina.

A while back, I spoke to some people from a VERY big international games company, and the problems they were having with Catalina were numerous. Don’t forget that Catalina drops support for 32-bit apps. And many of them are games.

There are so many game titles which are all 32-bit, and not compatible with macOS Catalina, making Steam for macOS pretty redundant right now. At least there’s Apple Arcade, right?

I do love my 16″ MacBook Pro, but I want to see Apple seriously step up their services/macOS game because right now it’s simply not good enough.

The 16″ mega beast of a MacBook Pro arrived yesterday and it was glorious. It had already run up 5,700-odd miles making its way from Shanghai to Reading (hang on, it’s not a car..) before eventually reaching me.

Despite having a 16″ screen, the unit is not that much better than the 15″ machine it replaces. It fits fine into my existing sleeve and backpack, so there’s no need to go out replacing existing carrying cases/sleeves if you already have them.

The slightly higher resolution is quite noticeable, as is the thinner screen bezels. But what really stands out is how good the reworked keyboard is. It’s very much on par with the external Magic Keyboard that I use when the machine is docked to my Dell 23.5″ monitor.

After the usual macOS set-up, it was time to start shifting data over from the old MacBook Pro. I keep a few external hard drives about for such purposes, so had been copying my data to them throughout the day. The first software to be installed was Chrome and 1Password, my password manager. Then iStats Menu, which gives me an overview of system resources along the Mac’s menubar.

Then it was a case of copying over the 133Gb of photos to the system. Alas, Apple switches on iCloud Photos by default which creates an existing Apple Photos library catalogue “file” which caused a problem with the external hard drive copy. So I had to stop the copy, delete the catalogue file which was there, restart Apple Photos and then – just to see how fast it would take to download all 10,443 photos and 463 videos over a 300Mbs connection – enabled iCloud Photos. Turns out its about 3 hours. Though you need to be VERY patient with the macOS Apple Photos app because it’ll need to do a bit of housekeeping first before it starts downloading anything.

Apple Music was a little better. I copied over 103Gb of music, fired up Apple Music, signed in and.. it told me I hadn’t signed in. So I had to log out and log back in again, forcing another resync. I could now play my music. The downloaded files were playable – they didn’t have to be re-downloaded again, thank goodness. But all the album artwork had vanished in listing mode. Even now, despite manually attempting to force through updates, it’s very slow or has completely stopped (I’m not currently sure which).

During all these tasks, I was watching a YouTube video in Chrome with a number of open tabs. Now, Chrome is notorious for memory usage. Which is why I specced out 32Gb RAM for this machine. Yet, the entire system froze. The video continued to play for a while, but even that stopped. Completely unresponsive – couldn’t even force quit anything. So I had to hold down the power button down and restart the machine. Now, I hadn’t logged out or rebooted since I first went through setting up the machine – so it could be a leftover/hung process or something that caused it to go haywire. It’s been fine since, and I’ve pushed the CPU and the fans to their limits on a number of occasisons.

Speaking of the CPU and the fans, the 9th generation 8-core Intel Core i9 processor is a definitely a bit of a step-up from my 8th generation 6-core Intel Core i7, even though the minimum speed is 300Mhz lower on the newer machine. But with each generation comes improvements in efficiency and you could really see it here. The 4Tb SSD speed is not much different than that of the older MacBook Pro, but bloody hell, it’s nice to have the space!

The AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with its 8Gb RAM feels like a significant improvement over the 560X with 4Gb RAM. I tested performance in the game Fortnite and got between 50-80 frames a second in my first test – settings at high, and a resolution of 1920×1080. With the older Mac, the frame rate varied greatly and barely got between 28-40 fps.

Overall I’m very happy with the new 16″ MacBook Pro. It’ll keep me going for a lot longer – and maybe even in the ARM-based era of the MacBook/MacBook Pro. I’m still a bit concerned about the total system freeze, but as I’ve said, I hadn’t rebooted since the initial switch on, and it may just be a small glitch. macOS Catalina hasn’t exactly been the most stable of operating systems since the release – but Apple is rolling out updates regularly and they nothing if not committed to making it one of the best Macs (and OSes) yet.

Look for another review coming soon – the AirPods Pro. Perhaps Apple’s greatest contribution to audio yet (aside from the 16″ MacBook Pro speakers which are apparently awesome – though I’ve yet to test them).

Thanks to overpaying for insurance which I didn’t need (thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger for the push), I am – for the first time in ages (and without the need for credit) – able to make a generational upgrade to my Mac hardware. This is likely to be the last upgrade for 4 years (or so) and the very last Intel CPU-based Mac that I’ll own.

While it’s been predicted that Apple will start to shift Mac CPUs to their own silicon ARM-based processors, with the delivery of the 16″ MacBook Pro and the crazy-expensive, but crazy-powerful Mac Pro that utilise Intel’s 9th generation processors (though that’s now been superseded by the 10th generation processors which are just hitting the market) – I very much doubt we’ll see Macs using AXX chips for another 2-3 years. 5 at a push.

So I’m replacing my 2018 15″ MacBook Pro (2.6Ghz 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor with 6 cores, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb SSD, AMD Radeon 560X graphics with 4Gb RAM) with the new late 2019 16″ MacBook Pro (2.3Ghz 9th generation Intel Core i9 with 8 cores, 32Gb RAM, 4Tb SSD, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics with 8Gb RAM). Bigger screen, smaller bezels, higher resolution, 2x faster graphics and more RAM and storage to play with (which will come in handy when helping to digitise and arrange Dad’s many, many photos, as well as learning to set-up a new Active Directory system from scratch using virtual machines). It’ll be used for work quite a bit too. This is effectively a geek’s car upgrade.

If anybody is interested in taking the old machine off my hands, please do get in touch. I’m looking for around £2,000 (or nearest offer) – but that does include AppleCare up until 19th July 2021, and will remain part of Apple’s free keyboard replacement program until 2022 (though I haven’t used the keyboard much – I tend to use my MacBook Pro with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse). Includes original packaging and power supply brick, etc.

I’ll let you know what I think of the new 16″ MacBook Pro when it arrives, but with a redesigned keyboard (including the return of a physical Escape key which, as a systems administrator, is essential) – the reviews of this new Mac have been extremely encouraging. I just wish it didn’t cost so much!