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.

the holodeck

a couple thoughts that i’ve had recently.  i was listening to the gdgt podcast on the ipad (jan. 30th).  one of the ideas that was presented was the ipad as “4 white walls.”  the gist being that the ipad was, essentially, an empty room that needed to be filled.  the initial experience is so underwhelming that you want to fill it.

does this ring a bell for anyone?  at the risk of exposing my EXTREME NERDINESS (oh wait…i’m writing a gadget blog…), it’s just like the holodeck in star trek.  this is a room that can become anything you want it to be.  you step into it and are presented with…nothing.  a few commands later, and you’re standing in times square, or the rainforest, or making out with an old girlfriend.  it’s a completely customizable experience based on what you want at that exact moment.  this is an extension of the idea of the “information appliance” that i talked about earlier.  it’s not going to do 10,000,000 things at once.  it’s going to be a focused experience.

in the holodeck, you’re not flipping back and forth between times square and the rainforest (maybe makeouts in the rainforest is ok, though).  in the holodeck, wherever you go, there you are.  funny, that’s how real life works.  we can’t skip back and forth between two places instantaneously, but we’ve gotten used to structuring our virtual lives that way. it’s too much!  the experience of now is fundamental to our existence.  we experience things only in the present moment, nowhere else.  our attempts to transcend that through computing is difficult, at best, but we still try.  the idea of “multitasking” hasn’t been getting  a lot of positive praise as of late.  just a simple google search tells us that multitasking is on its way out.

sure, TELEPORTATION could be the unspoken trump card.  “yeah?  well what if i COULD be in two places at once?  what then, huh?”  well…you’re still technically only in one place at any given moment.  but hey, i’m no expert.  unfortunately, not many people know what that’s like.  it also comes with its own problems.  like samuel l. jackson trying to kill you.

i just don’t need that in my life right now.

maybe you’re ok with that, though.  i dunno.

but anyway, i digress.  point is, you don’t really need “multitasking.”  more and more i’m seeing computing shifting towards a single-application focus.  just look at chrome os, it’s not trying to be anything but a browser.  the ipad, by comparison, is too complex, but it will work, and people will love it.  that’s all apple needs.

i was talking to a friend of mine last night, and she asked me, “are you going to get one?”  “yeah,” i said.  her eyes widened a little bit and she took a deep breath and said, “that’s exciting!”

i know.

and another thing…

just about everything that i’ve read about the lack of iPhone/iPod/iPad multitasking goes something like this:

“…which means you can’t run pandora while…”

are you serious?  this is the argument against the iPad?  everything else, it does.  what else do you need to do?  seriously.  what else are you doing?  are you encoding video?  ripping a cd?  batch-editing photos?  this is a focused machine, and SURPRISE! it will play music in the background, just like the iPhone.  you can get emails pushed, chat notifications pop up right there, right in front of you, and texts come through just fine.  meeting appointments have a little alarm, i can get stock alerts from apps pushed to me if i want.

and you’re complaining about pandora?  please.

i just don’t think that’s a valid argument.