June 4, 2015

Eloquent Roundup: The New MacBook

Eloquent Roundup, Week Four takes a different course and discusses the new MacBook, while providing a variety of links on the subject.

This week’s Weekly Roundup is a bit different; it takes the form of a discussion of the new Apple MacBook. Links are embedded in the text and listed in full at the bottom of the post; all links are included in the list whether they are used in the text or not. Enjoy!


The New MacBook

New Tech Dreams

Being a tech guy, I immediately started thinking about how the new MacBook could fit into my life. Just as some others have written, I don’t plug much into my machine generally and the thought of something that thin and light was too much to ignore. I state that last line with a bit of a caveat: when I am at my desk, I do plug in power and a Thunderbolt docking station into my MacBook Pro. However, with an admittedly expensive adapter, I could technically do that same thing with the new MacBook, but I digress. New tech is always fun to dream about.

As the articles list below can attest, I have read a lot about the new MacBook, trying to fit time in to read every review and thought post. The reviews span the gamut of viewpoints, from Marco Arment’s Mistake One (and the subsequent ridiculous amounts of follow up on the Accidental Tech Podcast) to the exclamations that the MacBook is the best computer ever made. Through all of this reading, I continue to come back to the fact that yet again Apple has created a very personal and very polarizing device. Frankly, there is no difference in how the Apple Watch or the iPhone and iPad before it were viewed; some derided these devices for their design decisions while others immediately saw utility and a future in them.

Reading the thoughts and reviews of tech people like me and dreams of new technology aside, the thing that really got me thinking critically about the MacBook was my wife, Lexi. Lexi is nothing like the authors of the articles listed and when I come home after an Apple Keynote Day, she is always the one who talks me down from my new tech high; every tech guy needs someone like this, in my opinion.

The Regular” User Perspective

To put my wife’s thoughts in perspective, John Kitzmiller wrote up a post with which I mostly agree. However, one sentiment with which I have had trouble reconciling was this:

I want to remind everyone who is balking at the idea of a laptop with only a single port that this is intended to be a portable device. The average user doesn’t have much need for ports anymore. As we venture ever further into a post-pc world, where most work can be done through a web browser, a wireless connection is really all most users will need.

While I agree that a wireless connection is all that is needed anymore, I think John might be wrong about who has a problem with this computer. I explained to Lexi the fact that the new MacBook had basically done away with ports and her initial reaction was simply, Why?” I went on to explain that most things can be done wirelessly now, so the thought is that in the future, one only needs to charge a laptop. Her reaction was not enthusiastic. Instead, and surprisingly, she asked the following:

To which I responded with a resounding, Hmm.”

You see, the problem with the future and Apple’s way of bringing it about sooner than one would expect is that it scares people. John is correct, wireless everything is the future, just as CDs were the future when everyone freaked out about the iMac’s lack of 3.5″ floppy drive, but without the infrastructure in place, that future is not yet here. I still know people who email pictures to themselves to transfer them between devices; the services to do this more simply and efficiently have existed for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean people use them, let alone know about them.

The Pro” User Perspective

Meanwhile, as a progressive pro user (even if I am a Mac Administrator), I love the idea of this computer, but I have a few caveats that I wanted to get out in the open, specifically dealing with its relationship to the iPad. First of all, as I had to explain to Lexi and Benjamin Brooks explained to the world, the design cues from the iPad are more than just skin deep. Apple doesn’t expect iPad owners to really ever use the device while plugged in; so, too, for these new MacBook owners.1 In addition to simple charging habits, the fanless design and general hardware look and feel screams iPad, not Mac.

  1. The keyboard has less travel than a normal” Apple keyboard and it is more suited for those who can and do type on an iPad touch screen.
  2. The Force Touch trackpad feels decidedly different from its mechanical counterparts.
  3. The number of ports are the same between the new MacBook and the iPad.
  4. Dongles are necessary for any type of current external connection.
  5. Even the MacBook purchasing screen is more like the iPad’s than the other MacBook lines.

Which brings me to the idea of an iPad workstation. The one major thing that iPads do better than Macs are notifications and that will never change. Mac lids get closed, Macs get turned off; even instant-on behavior doesn’t replace the fact that an iPad’s screen is always available to display things. Of course, by design, Macs interface with the world in different ways than iPads do or are even able. People expect a Mac to be able to use a standard flash drive, but the iPad was created without those things, so people got used to it. The road to a wireless world may be harder for Macs, just like the limitations of the Mac App Store were more difficult for developers than the limitations of the iOS App Store. If Apple were to give iPads the ability to do more, perhaps this idea would change, but I have a feeling that iPads will always be given more creative license than Macs, at least initially; no one expects the next iPad to have a plethora of ports, especially now that there is a Mac that only has two.2

Miscellanious Thoughts

A word on interaction models. Force touch from what I understand will come to the iPhone; I expect that it will eventually come to the iPad as well. One could say that the Mac got this technology first (the Apple Watch aside) and the technology will be a cool addition to Mac interactions for the foreseeable future, but the interaction model makes more sense on touch screens, period. Giving the iPad Force Touch will skyrocket the possibilities of what the iPad can do.3

Is Lightning dead? It’s a question I have had since the announcement of the new MacBook. Of course, there are things that USB-C can do out of box that the Lightning port cannot. In addition, USB-C is a standard, so support from third parties will be better. But then wouldn’t an iPad with the USB-C connector be better than one with a Lightning connector, given these new capabilities? At Google’s I/O conference this year, they announcement Android support of the USB-C connector, which makes sense since they have been using miniature USB connectors since the beginning of Android. Personally, I would have liked to see Apple try to get all their devices on a single standard, Lightning. We shall see if they decide to go the other way on that and bring USB-C to iOS devices.

Is Thunderbolt as we know it dead? The recent revelation that Thunderbolt 3 will use the USB-C standard means that the Thunderbolt ports currently in use may not be long for this world. Looking at my current 15″ MacBook Pro, none of the other ports would fit on a design that is any slimmer either. With these and other questions, I suppose we will just have to wait and see.

Conclusion

In short, the new MacBook is the stuff of which dreams are made. The future is definitely in there somewhere, no matter where we are today. Apple has yet again drawn a line in the sand; this will be the computer that everyone complains about now and copies in the years to come. I have no doubt that I will do one of two things in the future: move to an iPad-only setup or purchase this computer a few generations down the line and never look back.


Article Links

These links are listed in no particular order:


Last Minute & Off-Topic

I couldn’t resist sharing a couple interesting items over at NPR: New: Don’t Write Off Paper Just Yet

He’s not worried about paper’s future. A paperless society, he says, citing an old adage, is about as plausible as a paperless bathroom.”

Old, but ahead of its (and our) time: This Climate Fix Might Be Decades Ahead Of Its Time

Maybe someday Eisenberger could get paid to clean up the atmosphere by sucking out the CO2 and burying it underground, though there’s no market for that now.4


  1. Note that my initial statement was about the iPad, but for all intents and purposes, I could have been speaking of either device.

  2. Yes, I count the headphone jack.

  3. Think pressure sensitivity, tactile keyboard feedback, texture-based design methodologies, to say nothing of what games could potentially do with the technology.

  4. (See Eloquent Roundup, Week 1 for an retrospectively ironic Wired article on Carbon Capture and Storage.)

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