Just over a week ago I was in my local Apple Store with a few other people looking at the new MacBook, rather than with a larger gaggle checking out the Apple Watch for the first time. Interestingly there were more people clustering around a display case of all of the Watch colour and case style options rather than the table where you could actually play with one (and I think that says something). But back to the MacBook. There is no doubt that this new Mac notebook is a thing of elegant beauty, wonderfully engineered, looking impossibly thin, and available in 3 colours to match your iPhone. I’ve been watching the commentary and controversy around its design ingredients, but there is nothing like going and picking one up to understand Apple’s intentions. Is it a fashion statement or is Apple leading the way to where portable computing is going next?
It is, very definitely, a classic Apple design. It’s an illusion, but it doesn’t feel that much bigger or heavier than an iPad. 13.1 mm thick, 0.9Kg in weight, it has a gorgeous 12 inch Retina screen that goes out to the edges like a MacBook Pro, a full width, sleek looking keyboard and a big track pad. Apple are studiously keeping away from the idea of a touch screen for the Mac, and I get the separation in use case that they are following. I have a Samsung Series 5 touch screen Utlrabook and frankly I haven’t used touch anywhere as near as much I expected. Occasionally I’ll do an onscreen finger point and scroll, but the trackpad or the mouse get the lion’s share of usage, and that is partly to do with Windows 8’s failings. Even the latest version feels like two operating systems cobbled together. It’s a jarring switch between the two styles of operation. There are some very elegant hardware options out there, and I can understand the argument for something like a Surface Pro 3, but I think Apple’s approach is much more coherent with iOS and Mac OS doing different, but harmonious jobs with a lot of crossover for certain styles of mobile working — you take your choice between the two. Google have a similar thing going between Chrome OS and Android, but that’s for another post. Windows 8.1 desktop and mobile in one OS feels like a hybrid/compromise/workaround kind of an approach. And why, after over 30 years of the PC and more than 20 years of Windows is ctl alt del, turn off/turn on, reboot still a weekly, sometimes daily solution to rectifying problems on my PC? Frankly, as much as I think some of what they do is great, Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves!
When Apple removed the on board super drive from Macs there was uproar, but now we are all used to ultrabooks and notebooks that don’t take CDs and DVDs. The new MacBook only has two ports — for earphones and a USB-C port. Why no magsafe — we’ll trip over our chargers and wreck our MacBooks! How can we connect an external drive at the same time as power — that can’t be right? Actually Apple is telling us that we’ll get used to charging our MacBook overnight, just like we do our iPad, and use it during the day just on batteries. What about all that lack of connectivity and ports? Apple is saying you should go wireless — that’s the elegant solution, and of course it is. It really won’t be too long before we are used to a workhorse ultrabook that lasts the day on batteries, and which connects to most things wirelessly and we’ll laugh at these people that still have to carry a whole load of cables and connectors in the bag.
While I was playing in the Apple store, the guy opposite was talking out loud — “I have to have one!”, “how does it compare in size to the iPad?”, so I passed my iPad Air over so he could put them together properly. Then we got in to a conversation about which processor speed he should go for, and his frustrations that the lead time would be 4–6 weeks, and about the beauty of the little beast. After a further 10 minutes of banter he was ordering one. I tweeted what was going on and immediately got some replies, including my friend Maurice who has one on order never even having seen it in the flesh/aluminium.
Listening to my Enterprise Irregular friends, a lot of them have iPhone 6 Plus over the standard size and that’s interesting. I listen to Benedict Evans’ analysis of the market, and I see that the choice of size of the screen is important. I also delight in Darwin’s theory of evolution applied to business — categories divide rather than coalesce. We have more choice, more options and that’s good. For some tasks my iPhone works, and for others my iPad Air does. I don’t actually need my notebook on the road all of the time, but if it was as light as the new MacBook, maybe I would carry it all of the time. With so much on mobile and the web, the need for those desktop applications I used to be wedded to is reduced too. But I have choice, and if I want to carry them all in the bag, it still doesn’t weigh so much.
The new MacBook is, very definitely, expensive. With 8Gb of memory and 128Gb of drive it is £1,049 (here in the UK) — a very high end, premium machine if ever there was one (but just go look at it and, like that guy opposite me in the Apple store, you’ll be talking yourself in to it). If you are getting in to Mac for the first time you might consider an 11 inch Air as your cheaper, sensible entry point. But this will sell. I haven’t tracked how the order book is going, but people will desire this over the practicalities of price, and ports and speed. I asked a question at the start. The answer is that it is both fashion and a statement of direction. Plenty of people will buy this so that they look the coolest when they open their device at the cafe. Many will buy it in colours to match their phones and iPads. But it is also a statement of where the notebook market is heading, and I can see it as a healthy contributor to Apples sales in their particular, very profitable niche.
(Cross-posted @ Medium | David Terrar)