Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I'm a Mac fanboy.

This doesn't really come as a surprise to those who know me, but it's more about admitting this to myself. This means that I can't be cool and aloof about these products, there are no rational arguments that would stop me from wanting them. So all that remains is to try to rationalise why I like them.

First and foremost, I'm thoroughly impressed by the attention to detail and the depth of innovation that has been invested in all these systems. For example, take the absolutely gorgeous, amazing, beautiful, graceful and stunning new MacBook Air. It was launched today at the annual Macworld event that features the "Stevenote", or the keynote address by the Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

This beauty is so thin, it fits in an envelope. But Macs, although they are also among the most powerful personal computers out there at the moment, are never satisfactorily summarised by numbers only. In Macs, the design really means more than just stunning looks. This one, BTW, has a family resemblance with the new iPod nano (which doesn't impress in pictures, but see one live and hold it and you will most certainly want it).

Design for Macs goes deep. It's in the clever little things, like the Magsafe, which means the power cord attaches to the notebook with a magnet. So if someone trips on your cord, it just cleanly snaps out and doesn't drag the computer to the floor with it. Or the latch that also works with magnets, eliminating hooks that are ugly and inconvenient. Or, in the MB Air, there's this drop-down door with connector ports, which looks good and is convenient. It is in the multi-touch pad, which recognises a number of gestures, like pinching for zooming in and out, swooping to change page and rotating for... well, rotating things on screen.

But it goes deeper than that. The problem with ultraportable laptops is that because they need to be small and light, they compromise on other things, usually battery life, speed and hardware features like displays, keyboards, optical drives and ports. Now, the Air seems to be fast and have a decent battery life, it has a proper-sized display and keyboard, but I really like what they've done about the last items: they've not just left out the optical drive and LAN port, they've eliminated the need for them.

There is a HUGE difference and in my opinion this is what sets Apple apart. They think holistically about these things, it's a heritage they have as a house used to doing everything themselves. On the PC side you have thousands of companies, all carving their small specialist niches. This has its advantages, but it often means that it is easy to just leave any problematic issues at someone else's responsibility if you ever get around to thinking about them in the first place.

So, Apple doesn't need a LAN port or an optical disk, because they have other ways of doing things. It's all wireless. And the most impressive feature of this new wireless existence is not the stuff you can do on the net with the iTunes video rental (which is cool) or other media services. It's a close tie between their new wireless backup system, Time Capsule, and the Remote Drive -innovation.

The Time Capsule is cool, it's like all those 500GB external hard drives that everyone sells and buys these days (I got mine a couple of months ago), except that it is wireless, automatic (if you want), it looks cute and is "aggressively priced". But the Remote Drive is the winner. Every MacBook Air comes with a piece of software that can be run on every Mac or PC, and allows the MB Air to "borrow" their optical drives, again using a wireless link. And as most people who would buy an ultraportable also have a desktop or other laptop, they can use it to do all the optical drive work that is necessary, such as install new software or burn music disks. This is simply brilliant, and I think it shows how the people at Apple really thought this one through. It wasn't just a simple "optical drive is obviously too fat, so we will just leave it out" -issue, or just a simple PR trick to try and convince everyone they don't need the DVD drive in their ultraportable. They innovated, solved a problem. And just to be safe, launched a USB-powered, small and cute external DVD-player on the same day.

This similar focus on customer experience and ease of use dominates all their user interface design and system design on a deeper level. This is impressive. It is something that you get very quickly used to when using Apple products. It is therefore good that there is the annual Stevenote to remind us about all the ways in which Macs are cool.

(Pic:, the new, extremely desirable MacBook Air)

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