I have to admit I’m a card-carrying member of the Apple fan club. But that doesn’t mean I think everything it does is perfect. And, as the editor of Macworld Australia, I’m in the privileged position of being able to try out lots of its latest and greatest gear.
However, I’m also the owner of a number of Apple devices that I’ve have paid for with my own hard earned money. That’s important because I want you all to understand I’m not approaching what I’m about to say as a commentator, but as an Apple customer.
Apple seems to be obsessed with making its devices as thin as possible. We read a lot of Apple press releases for new products and almost every single one makes mention of how the new device is thinner than its predecessor and how the designers have managed to shave a few millimetres from the size.
Back when laptops were almost two inches thick and desktop computers required a small crane to move, shaving size away was a good thing. But that obsession is now impacting on functionality in some significant ways.
When the MacBook Air was released at the start of 2008, it was a revelation. Somehow, Apple managed to shoehorn enough of what was needed in a portable computer into a body that fitted into an envelope. There were compromises – no integrated Ethernet port, just two USB ports and limited storage. However, those compromises were covered by the reduced weight, the new MagPort power connector and the use-case for the MacBook Air. It was specifically made as a computer for the traveller.
Since January 2008, the MacBook Air has remained largely unchanged. A smaller, 11in version was introduced and a SD Card port added. We’ve seen Lightning and DisplayPort connectors come as well, but these have represented progression.
The most recent iMacs have a razor-thin profile as well. But the previous models had a couple of important features that we found handy. The DVD drive and SD card slot were easily accessed on the side of the display. While I rarely lament the loss of the optical drive – I really can’t remember the last time I needed to load something from a disk to a computer – moving the SD Card to the back makes it far less accessible.
The new MacBook highlights this fascination with thinness.
While the new Force Touch touchpad works quite well, the keyboard, with its vastly reduced key movement and the single USB port are retrograde steps. And the loss of the MagSafe connector is another step back in my view.
I’m all for reducing the amount of material used in making a device in order to reduce the environmental impact. And, for frequent travellers, shaving the weight off is a good thing. But, when I take the new MacBook on the road, I have to carry an extra dongle for when I need to use a USB stick.
So, what am I looking for?
I’m happy for Apple to make its devices thinner and support new standards like USB-C, but not at the cost of making me less productive or making its devices harder to use. I’d prefer to see an iMac that is a full 10mm at the edges (shock!) if it made the USB ports easier to reach.
And the same goes with the MacBook. Would another 1.5mm have really compromised the weight and aesthetics? Another millimetre and we’d have a keyboard that was far more comfortable to type on.
Steve Jobs was once quoted in The New Times saying, “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Much of what we’re seeing from Apple reflects beautiful design that doesn’t quite work.