Singing in the Rain

When the MacBook Air came out last year with its super-sexy new design and blazing fast SSD, I knew I was in trouble. It’s hard for me to resist the siren call of a new Apple product, but it’s even harder when the thing looks and performs as well as that li’l guy. I was even looking to upgrade my Mac Mini, and saw that as the perfect opportunity to dive into something portable. Since that day, I’ve had to fight off the urge to buy one nearly every single day.

Then I realize that I have an amazing iPad 2, and I the conversation with myself ends. I don’t need a laptop, I already have an incredible machine. Sure, there are shortcomings, and there are certain incompatibilities here and there that make it difficult and/or frustrating, but by and large the experience is incredible, and very freeing. I have something with me at all times that I can use for *gasp* serious work (almost every blog post I’ve ever written has been with the help of an iPad, and all of my Grad school papers come from this tiny beast) as well as having fun and playing games. Truth be told, this is the best computer I’ve ever owned, and the reason is baked into the OS.

What a glorious feeling!

A while back, I went to the Apple store to ask some questions to the friendly folks there about the MacBook Air, to see if I should choose that over the Mac Mini. I came away with this realization: if you already have an iPad, skip the MacBook Air, and if you already have a MacBook Air, skip the iPad. They’re pretty close in form and function, anyway (despite one being a “laptop” and one being a tablet). The reason I say that is because of the use-case. People buy a MacBook Air because they need a computer that is:

  1. Portable
  2. Fast
  3. Long-lasting
  4. Simple
  5. With a full keyboard

The MacBook Air is that machine, among other things. So is the iPad, however, and I’ve found that the pseudo-multitasking of the iPad is far more preferable to me when I’m working because I know that the apps won’t crash, won’t interfere with anything else, and won’t start to bog down. The’re lean, simple, and engage me physically, why I need when I’m writing. The MacBook Air is essentially redundant…except that it runs the full MacOS, instead of iOS. This seems great, until you start trying to manage multiple media libraries, apps, save files, etc. Then it gets to be more of a pain to work with MacOS than an iOS device. But wait…the new version of MacOS, Lion, looks and behaves a LOT like iOS, doesn’t it? I mean…Apple expressly talked about the similarities in their “Back to the Mac” event. So then there’s this:

Most people had dismissed that rumor due to the compatibility issues that would be introduced with such a transition. Another major issue is that while ARM processors are more power efficient, they presently offer significantly lower performance than their Intel counterparts.

Sure, an ARM-based A5 wouldn’t make sense running MacOS…but what about iOS? Let’s even blow it up a bit and look further down the road a year or two. Let’s focus on a time in the not-too-distant future when iOS and MacOS start to merge, when the distinctions between the various Apple OSs start to become blurry. Then, ARM chips would make sense. They sip power, and (currently) iOS sings on those chips. It’s built for exactly that type of chipset. The two work in perfect synergy, and you can bet that Apple is spending a lot of time making sure that, when it’s time to make that jump, that they’ve gotten the whole machine tuned and tweaked so the transition is beautiful. If you look at it that way, it makes a whole lot more sense to be using ARM-based chips for your supermodel MacBook Air, while the MacBook Pros would still run Intel chips due to their more “Pro” nature. I’m willing to be dollars to donuts that most people are going to start shifting away from MacOS “Classic” and will absolutely love the new look and feel of Lion. Who knows, maybe the Mac OS “Classic” look and feel will persist, while everything else will run some new version of iOS that is fully scalable across any hardware, much like HP is planning to do with their new version of WebOS.

There’s also this little nugget:

Although not mentioned in the most recent rumor, one of the largest features may be over-the-air updates that would finally make iOS independent of a computer for all but backup and local media syncing.

So…like a “real” computer? Can you see it? Can you see how the walls are disintegrating? The distinction between a “mobile” OS and a “desktop” OS is not as clear now, and I think the lines will continue to blur.
And this, too:

Talk of Apple using Nuance voice commands in iOS was already supported recently by code mentions in Lion. Most also presume that Apple’s cloud music service may play an integral role in the new mobile software.

So we can infer here that iOS and Lion are very closely related (doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, Apple said so), but that they share code is telling of Apple’s long-term strategy, and the strategies of several major players out there (Google, Microsoft, natch).

The jump from what we see in our hands and on our laps and desks and what we will be seeing over the next few years will be immense, and will change what every single person recognizes as a computer.

Mind the gap.

i want in…

so there’s this thing that happened recently, and it rocked my world.

well, actually, it happened in 2007, with the introduction of this thing called the iPhone.  see, i’ve always been a techie, always tinkered, modded, tweaked, and hacked.  i built computers from the ground up and tore them down again, and i was better for it.  i developed a special love for gadgets, and when something new hit the market, i got excited because it was an evolution of something that i understood and felt connected to.  phones got smaller, more powerful, more exciting.  computers got faster and more capable.  even commonplace things like cars started seeing upgrades in the form of LCD displays and GPS modules.  bluetooth, wifi, syncing, and more danced through my head all day.  i was a tech tornado.

despite things being very exciting for me, however, i always partied alone.  when i could wake up and check the weather on my phone, i thought it was awesome.  getting headlines delivered automagically every morning at 7:15AM made me feel like a high-powered wall-street executive, and every day i felt good knowing i was on the bleeding edge.  but it did take the wind out of my sails when i’d tell a friend about a new gadget i was jazzed about, and i’d see that all-too-familiar glassy-eyed stare take the place of what was previously excitement and empathy.  nobody likes whistling in the dark.

so, seeing the iPhone for the first time was a mixed bag.  suddenly, and i mean SUDDENLY, i was not alone.  there were people who had never cared about tech or gadgets who were calling me up and asking me if i was getting one.  they were asking me how it worked, how they did that cool thing, and what the screen was made out of.  the slow, chopped-up, wonkily-rendered interfaces that i had gotten used to clicking through was suddenly replaced by an elegant, beautiful UI thatjust worked.  i was now a part of a huge party, and i felt a little, well…cheated.

i had always kept up with the latest news, i knew about the market trends, i had cobbled together solutions for e-mail, news, and communication.  it had taken me months or even years to discover these methods, workflows, and services to patch holes or fill gaps that existed in the various devices i owned.  all that work rendered moot at the moment Steve Jobs pulled that little aluminumwünderhandy from his pocket.  i had no cause to be upset, either.  this is how it works, right?  i was supposed to be used to this.  innovation and change are the name of the game in tech, so seeing something new shouldn’t have fazed me.  but it was too much, too fast.  everything up to this point was slow, calculated, safe.  this?  this was something else entirely.  it was made for the way people want to use their phones instead of trying to give them something else to learn, another hurdle to jump.  hell, apple was even teaching AT&T a thing or two about the importance of data, customers, and the mobile web.  the mobile landscape changed too quickly, and i got upset.

instead of looking at what this device was capable of, or seeing the potential for the technology down the road, i put blinders on and decided instead to focus on what this thing couldn’t do.  no MMS?  weak.  no native apps?  ridiculous (let’s also keep in mind that the phone hadn’t even been released yet, and i was already scoffing at its lack of native app support).  this…keyboard?  inaccurate and slow!  what a weaksauce first offering.  my sony ericsson k790a was a champ compared to this flashy trash.

then i used it.

still…wasn’t impressed.  really?  this was it?  i mean…ok, safari was cool.  and the youtube app was a neat trick.  and…the call screen was really elegant.  but STILL.  lame.

then i’d find myself swinging by the apple store on my way to…somewhere.  ok fine…i would go to the apple store to play with the iPhone.  ok?  there, i said it.  i needed this thing.  it’s just…i liked it.  i loved it.

so i got one.  still, i tried to find ways to mess with it, tweak it, hack it.  i jailbroke it, unlocked it, got it doing things apple wouldn’t allow.  but…i got to that party late.  everyone already had one.  everybody was already knee deep in bookmarks and webapps and all sorts of things, and here i was, just configuring my email.

what a reversal, huh?  it was smooth, fast, and it browsed the web i was used to seeing, but better!  i didn’t care that it was EDGE only, because web developers were already building sites optimized for the iPhone interface because they knew they had to. they wanted to make sure people visiting their site got their content in a timely manner, so they slimmed down their code, stripped out unnecessary page elements.  there were no hiccups, just information.  the iPhone became something that the world was focused on.  its widespread adoption meant that content publishers had an omnipresent vehicle for delivering their stuff directly to our eyeballs.

then the 3G rolled up with its slick GPS and faster web access.  all those EDGE-optimized websites?  now they loaded lightning fast with the power of fat 3G pipes.  it all looked almost…planned.  like it was apple’s plan all along to make sure that the experience that people had with this device was seamless and, more importantly, always improving.  their device was almost future-proof.  a cutting-edge handheld gadget that fed content as quickly as it was requested, kept up with changing market conditions, and allowed people to communicate better was one thing, but having said device and knowing that the manufacturer was focused on supporting it with white-hot laser intensity was another unheard of fringe benefit in the tech industry.  developers had a fresh, new way of delivering their code, and they had the added boost of knowing that people were confident in their little gadget.  they felt safe, cared-for.

as apple rolled out updates and improvements, more and more people jumped on board, hungry for a piece of the iPhone pie.  now, the phone sells itself, and content will always be available, because your customer base is locked into this apple ecosystem (which is a whole separate discussion).  want to make the jump to android, but already have $500 in apps?  wave bye-bye to that money, that stability, and that support net that you’re used to.  you’re on your own now, cowboy.

that party that i always hung out at?  the one where i was the only one?  you can go there now.  go ahead!  go!  have fun!  i’ll be over here with all my friends…you know…partying.  i’ll envy you a little bit, on that frontier, but i won’t join you.  it’s fun for a while, scrolling through pages of forum posts to find that tweak, or downloading a hacked-up ROM because you want to eke out an extra 12% battery life.  but eventually, people will catch up.  they’ll build strip malls with starbucks where you once had campfires and farm-fresh eggs.

this is where apple is more subversive and more powerful than any of us know.  they’re taking us out into that country, they’re leading us into a place where no one’s gone, but they’re leading us there together.  i want the iPad because i like this party.  i want to be a part of this future, because i get to go there with my friends.

it’s not the iPad, or the iPhone, or the iGizmo, it’s the people.  that’s what i want.