Nearly every tech company in the world tries to sell parachutes to people who are already falling. The only reason PC makers can’t sell their parachutes for $25,000 is that during free-fall there are about forty other companies in jetboots hovering around the consumer vying for the sale.
Apple’s different. It’s in the parachute business, yes, but it’s taken the unusual tack of selling them to people on the ground. Even more impressive: they convince these people that throwing themselves out of aeroplanes for fun is the greatest thing ever.
Think of what it did in July. Apple introduced two updated Airs, as expected, and discontinued the entry-level MacBook, which took many by surprise. In retrospect, I can’t understand why I didn’t see that move coming. The MacBook Nothing was the awkward freak of the MacBook line... and not just because of its quaint, retro-2003 looks. It was – steady yourself – a conventionally designed laptop with a familiar and reassuring feature set (DVD drive, lots of storage, lots of ports), which Apple sold at a price that was competitive with similarly outfitted premium Windows notebooks.
Does this sound like an Apple product to you? No. Clearly, it was way too sensible and it had to go.
By deleting the MacBook Nothing from the line-up, the 11in and 13in Airs each take one step forward and define themselves as the centre of the MacBook world. The quirky and overpriced design fribble of 2008 has emerged, after considerable growing pains felt by everyone who bought its previous incarnations, as Apple’s ‘default’ mobile Mac.
And what seemed like a risky idea last year now seems inevitable: next year, there most certainly will be a 15in MacBook that’s as powerful as a MacBook Pro, but which is designed along the Air’s lines. The 15in Air’s most glaring limitation – no optical drive – will be touted as a feature. By chucking out an increasingly marginal component, Apple will be free to design a desktop-class laptop that’s lighter, trimmer, and less prone to failure.
I bought a new MacBook Pro a few months ago and if I knew then what the new Airs would be like – well, if I had known for sure – I’d still have bought it. My MacBook Pro is my daily driver and I’d trade a little bulk for a lot more features any day. Still, I have to admit that I’ve used the DVD drive only four or five times: first to install Adobe Creative Suite, and thereafter to rip the odd DVD and CD into digital files. Deleting an optical drive from a laptop doesn’t seem like a silly idea any more.
I look at my MacBook Pro and I wonder what other hardware features Apple could delete.
I have to believe that Apple has the same sort of feelings about USB ports that Gargamel has about Smurfs: it’s a white-hot hatred that expresses itself as a passionate, irrational desire to annihilate, even though they know deep, deep down that the damned things are indestructible. I imagine that the first Air (armed with just one port) was a test that failed. USB is just too useful. But now Apple can tell you to use cloud storage instead of a flash drive, built-in 4G instead of a mobile broadband stick, WiFi network printers instead of cabled ones, and that if you still want to whine about a lack of USB, then just buy a Thunderbolt USB hub.
Thunderbolt has a long list of technical features but I can’t help but think that the feature that matters the most inside Apple is that it’s a universal “oh, shut up and stop complaining, you babies” port; it’s a feature that relieves their engineers of the need to keep cutting holes in that lovely case. So: no Ethernet, definitely no FireWire, and – in time – no USB ports. Apple’s answer to the inevitable outrage will be “If you must have that connector, buy a Thunderbolt dongle.”
Memory card slot? See “USB”. Apple wants to live in a world where photos are almost always shot with phones and immediately streamed to the cloud.
Keyboard: Well, obviously, they can’t…
I mean, they wouldn’t…
No, they absolutely would. This goes to my above point of how Apple goes about selling parachutes. If there’s one company with the vision to divest the MacBook from the size and mechanical limitations of physical keyboards, and the arrogance to convince themselves that they can make it work... it’s Apple.
A tablet Mac? Naw. Think deeper. Apple, thanks largely to its ability to get developers on board fast, could be the first company to make a ‘folio’ computer work. Keyboards are most appropriate for applications that require lots of typing. A virtual lower keyboard – with fancy-pants haptic feedback – could be a credible typing surface but also reconfigure itself into the perfect control deck for whatever task is at hand, whether you’re editing video, organising files, or defending the cosmos.
Actually, the ultimate Apple device would be a Mac with no ports, no keyboard, and no display. Imagine the brain of a MacBook Air inside the body of an Apple TV. It lives on your network, serenely projecting Mac OS application services to any device. Any of these ideas could work, because of one of Apple’s unique and enviable company assets: a core percentage of faithful users who are game for anything.
Repeat-offender Apple users are the sort of people who are drawn to the rush of an unfamiliar experience, and intrigued by the possibility that this thing that conflicts with the most obvious, sensible instincts might in fact be the most wonderful thing in the world.