I’d like to mention that before I got my hands on a Macbook, the only Apple products I had ever used were the old iPods. I’d never touched an iPhone, iPad or Mac.
To those who love the range of products that Apple have on the market, you may not agree with my opinion on this matter, but I’d appreciate if you give it a read through, so that maybe you see the coin from my side. Feel free to discuss your points of view in the comments!
It feels odd to be writing this post on a Macbook.
Ever since I watched the biographical film: ‘Steve Jobs’; I’ve been trying to decide whether a closed system with standardised preferences was the right choice for the Macintosh.
Since their rise to power, I’ve not been able to afford a Macbook and I looked at the Apple store with contempt each time I passed it. My best friend at university had only two things to say about Apple:
- “They made the right decision basing the OS on UNIX.”
- “Their business model is genius with hindsight, absurd without.”
I can’t disagree with either point. UNIX has outstripped Windows since its conception, and vastly overcharging for a sense of superiority only gained by owning the prettiest gadget on the market definitely panned out.
I have however, an issue with the business model on a moral level. I can only usefully explain it by talking about fruit. Lets use apples.
If you find out that someone is selling apples for 20 pence (cents for the Euro and Dollar users that find themselves reading this article), and decide to sell apples for 15 pence to undercut the market because you can afford to, then sure, go for it.
Maybe even do something to the apples to make them more valuable, like coat them in toffee, so you can sell them for a profit above your overhead costs of apples and toffee and the work that goes into the process, lets say 50 pence per apple.
But you wouldn’t dream of trying to build a brand that sold aesthetically pleasing apples for £1.00 each if there were an existing market of apple vendors, whose apples taste very similar (because they’re almost exactly the same on the inside), would you?
But it seems that the new vendor, selling the aesthetically pleasing apples, had a trick up their sleeve: Their apples were easier to eat! Because they were so user friendly and intuitive to consume, they found that other apples just weren’t satisfying to use. They felt clunky and outdated. They told all their friends and then everybody who could afford them, became hooked.
Each time a new type of apple came to market, people would flock to it, admiring its sleek curves and internal subtleties, noting features that they liked and others that they didn’t. Within weeks of their reviews, a sign appeared on the market stall “We’ve looked at the worms feature that you didn’t like. Now you can choose whether or not to have them (we still think they’re a good idea).” — okay, maybe this wasn’t the best analogy.
And each time a new type of apple appeared in the stall, people barely noticed the price rising steadily — at least, those buying the apples didn’t. They simply didn’t care. They couldn’t face the possibility of going back to the old malformed apples they had once cherished.
After a time, it became apparent that the apple pickers had been working very hard to keep up with this market shift, and had been creating vast cratefuls of features to pack into their apples. The people still buying the cheaper apples found that when a new apple became available on the prettier stall, it had a banner above the table with the words, “All new features included in this new apple.” But the features were almost entirely recycled from the other vendors ideas.
I won’t tell you how many apples I just ate whilst writing that part.
Since I had never been into the Apple Store, or spent any substantial time using an iPhone, iPad or Macbook, I didn’t think I’d ever understand what my peers saw in their beloved machines.
I wondered if when I started my journey with Sparta Global to become a consultant with them, I’d survive the 3 months training, having to do it on a Macbook.
Before I signed the contract, I decided to test drive an Apple Macbook. I braced myself for the torrent of so-called ‘Genius’es who I expected would be forcing their sales pitches on me as soon as I stepped into the store.
I walk in, heading towards the laptop section, and stand myself in-front of a Macbook Air 13". It looks quite nice. I pick it up and am surprised at how slim and lightweight it is. I open it up and look at the screensaver, enjoying its simple elegance. I note some differences on the keyboard immediately.
- It’s a US keyboard layout. No real complaints, but to my eyes, it’s slightly foreign.
- It’s backlit. I like this a lot. I later find out that the backlight can be adjusted using the function keys.
- Command and Alternate keys envelope the Space bar. Function and Control are swapped. This distresses me slightly, but at least they are still there.
- The delete key is missing!
I move to the machine next to mine. It has no delete key either. I feel like an idiot. I simply must be looking in the wrong place!
They told me it was user friendly!
I persevere. “I can modify my typing to hit cursor right followed by backspace quite easily,” I tell myself.
Opening up Safari, I wonder why it was named so, then my thoughts flick through Chrome, past Canary and Edge to Firefox and suddenly I mind much less. I type “codecademy” into the search box and was greeted by a familiar sight: Google. This reassures me — “Thank goodness it’s not Bing,” I think, using much fouler language.
I get into some HTML and CSS on Codecademy and feel much more competent about using the Mac. Then it happens. A boy whose eyes are level with the table, reaches up and does something to the touchpad of the machine next to me. The entire screen clears, showing the background. I’m mesmerised. I imagine that he is a re-incarnation of Mr. Jobs himself.
I pinch myself and ask him what he just did. He gives me a 30 second demo of the touchpad and all its wonderful features. I’d used multiple finger gestures before, and wasn’t surprised by 2 finger scrolling, pinch-zooming and rotating, but when he said that 3 fingers would move the windows around, I got impressed. For his next trick, he put 3 fingers on the touchpad, then swiped his thumb towards them (a 4 finger pinch) and the screen displayed every installed application as tiles. I’m in awe of this kid. His dad is standing behind him — obviously learning something too. I ask him how old he is. He’s eight. Eight! I thank him and his dad, then leave him to his witchcraft.
About 10 minutes later, when the kid and his dad have gone, I wonder if the kid had any gaps in his knowledge that a ‘Genius’ could fill. The store isn’t so busy now, so I ask one. The guy gives me an almost word for word copy of what the kid said. No gaps at all. So if you go into your local Apple Store and find a ‘Genius’ who can only just reach the products, he’s your guy!
I decide to ask if there is any way to replicate the effect of the ‘Del’ key. He looks at me like I was born yesterday, which in this world, it feels like I was. ‘Fn’ + ‘Backspace’.
They told me it was user friendly!
I finish the course on Codecademy and decide to leave. My feet hurt from standing up all afternoon.
I check my email on my laptop when I get back — my phone had died. The mousepad feels imprecise and jerky. I type my email into the field on gmail, I typed “ instead of ‘@’. My password may or may not contain a ‘#’, I may or may not have inserted an alt option belonging to ‘3’. Everything feels off.
After 10 minutes, I’m back into the swing of things but I’m having to consciously check myself each time I think I need to type certain characters. It makes me feel a bit stupid.
I decide to go back to the Apple Store the following week. This time I’m learning Ruby. I plug in my headphones, luckily they haven’t gotten rid of the jack on the Macbook yet! Spotify playlist started, I whiz through the exercises feeling in total control.
Having studied Human Factors of Engineering as a module at university, I’m reminding myself of some of the considerations designers make when choosing and modifying features. It’s clear that either a lot of very hard work and market testing — or buckets of luck — have gone into each element of the design. The keys give a good movement, with enough resistance that it is hard to feel like you’ve not depressed the key enough. I go back to the touchpad and I’m impressed at the smoothness of the surface and its accuracy. I see why everyone falls in love with these things.
It’s pretty user friendly!
At the end of this silo coding session, I have mastered Ruby, listened to a load of music I’d never come across before, and compared every Macbook in the range.
The only thing I can’t get over is the price-tag.
It’s lovely to use and very pretty to look at, but does that make it worth between 3 to 6 times the laptop that has the same specifications (and can have a new version of Linux installed as the operating system for free)?