Apple Links: The Watch, the MacBook and More

It’s been trendy recently for some to rather loudly proclaim the Apple Watch a failure, or how they stopped using and sold theirs, which implies that the product is bad. I’m always curious about these kind of declarations, because honestly, what product (beyond, say, oxygen or water or food) have 100% usage and success rates? And yet because someone decides something isn’t for them, what the rest of the user population thinks doesn’t matter.

If you look beyond that to the numbers, the watch seems to be doing okay for itself. 9 to 5 Mac did a poll in December where 70% of the respondents said they were wearing it daily and only 16% said they’d stopped using it completely. Apple Watch is outselling Rolex and has taken a significant chunk of the market share for smart watch and wearables.

The Apple Watch is very much a first generation product. There are things it does well — I wear mine every day and use it primarily for the gentle reminders of the activity monitor and as a way to get notifications in a very low friction and non-thought-train-derailing way. Many of the complaints seem to be from people unwilling to consider that Apple might ship a 1.0 product, forgetting that all of Apple’s products tend to go through this ship and integrate cycle.

In the case of the Apple Watch, the design decisions made in this first release make me feel that Apple really had no idea how we were going to use the thing; there are a lot of guesses and it feels like they threw in the kitchen sink; now that they have real world experience at which pieces we find most useful and what works and doesn’t with us, I’m hoping the next big release streamlines the interface and aligns it to how we’re really using it.

I think the Apple watch has lots of potential; I also think it has a lot of flaws and weaknesses. It reminds me very much of that first iPod that Apple released — there were other MP3 players out there, but using them tended to be a royal pain. Apple made a tool that was easy to use and solved a problem, but if you look at that first iPod and compare it to later ones, you see just how much that product evolved and innovated. That’s where the Apple Watch is today: it’s that first iPod and those of us using it are seeing just the beginning of a long future for the product.

The new Macbook

Apple released a new version of its ultra-portable Macbook which has generated a lot of commentary, much of it negative. I think that commentary is misplaced. Most of the criticism boils down to It’s not the Macbook I want — which is some variation of a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air. For a good and balanced look at the update, take a look at Christina Warren’s review at Mashable or the iMore review.

I’m in the market for a new laptop, and I’m anxiously waiting for the Macbook Pro refreshes with the Skylake processors. With this Macbook refresh, I took a long hard look at whether it served my needs, and decided that it didn’t, because I want something that when I’m on the road, I can put some serious work in using Lightroom and perhaps some Final Cut video editing. When I’m out on the road with my camera, I need enough processing power that it puts me out of this machine’s weight class.

But does that mean this device is a failure? No, it doesn’t. What most of the writers are doing, consciously or not, is mixing up what I want with what this product should be. You need to take a step back and try to understand the audience for a product and think about how well that product serves that audience. The Macbook, in my mind, is the true road warrior device. It’s designed for people where weight, portability and battery life are the top priorities. It’s homes are conference room tables, trays on airplanes and laps at Starbucks, for people who’s computers are probably spending more time in email than any other app. This is likely the laptop Tim Cook or Phil Schiller would use, but not a mac for developers or photographers like me.

A lot of criticism has been aimed at it only having one port, and in some ways I sympathize, but I also think that criticism is misplaced. Way back in the ancient days, Apple released a new computer, the IIci. It only had three slots in it where previous computers like the Mac II had six. A lot of yelling among the geek echo chamber of the time about the loss of those slots, but what we knew inside Apple that the noisy complainers didn’t was that less than 10% of existing computers out there used more than two slots. In almost every computer out there, those ‘missing’ three slots were empty and gathering dust. Each of those slots also added cost, complexity and increased the risk of component failure, so effectively forcing people to buy six slot computers was making them pay more for things they weren’t using and creating computers that failed more often.

Apple went on selling six slot computers for those that needed them and the IIci went on to be one of its most popular and well-regarded models of that era and sold very well, especially to geeks that once they stopped complaining about it, opened up their Mac II’s and realized they only used two slots anyway…

Those nuances of design get lost in these discussions and are relevant for the Macbook as well. In reality, while it might be nice to have a second USB slot, you can solve the problem with an inexpensive dongle or hub that can live in your bag unless you need it, and which you don’t have to bundle into the price of the computer unless you need it. Sometimes more isn’t better, but there’s a tendency for many of us to expect those extras to be there just in case. Apple overall does a very good job of understanding what is optional and making it available as an option instead of bundling it into the device (and the price). That single port is one of those design choices that is not for everyone, but for the audience this device is aimed at, I think it makes a lot of sense.

Of Interest

  • iTunes is 13 years old — and it’s still awful: Yes, it is. ITunes is seriously in need of a major overhaul, and I keep telling myself the reason it’s the way it is is because something really great is being worked on and whatever it is is huge and complicated and taking forever to get right, but the reality is, I’m more and more convinced that Apple simply doesn’t see that iTunes and turned into this huge and complicated and unreliable heap of ugly.
  • Apple Stores on Mars: The best response I’ve seen to the reaction to the latest quarterly financials.
  • What does Apple look like without the iPhone?: Jason Snell gives us a look at Apple’s business if you took out the iPhone, and what you end up with is still a pretty big and successful company, but if nothing else, this gives you a great glimpse into just how massive the iPhone business is.