Last week, I had dinner with a good friend of mine who lives in San Diego. Sitting on the Southern California coastline near the Mexico border, San Diego is famous for its climate: 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a cloudless sky, 365 days a year. “I could never live in a place like that,” I often tell him. “I like a place with actual, you know, seasons.”
I am now back home in New England. It's winter. The snowbanks by the sides of the road are mile-long scrapbooks that lovingly preserve two months' worth of trash, dirt, grit, oil, and the remains of various animals that have made a Darwinian contribution to the speed and cleverness of its species' gene pool. We're down to about forty minutes' worth of sunlight per day. And last Tuesday I slipped on some ice in front of a gaggle of really mean girls, one of whom filmed the whole thing on her camera phone.
Yes, my outlook on life is a foul one. So if I've decided to devote an entire column to Things I Don't Like About Apple's Newest Products, please blame it on the season.
The iLife '06 edition of iPhoto is finally a practical and useful tool for users of digital cameras: but just barely. I'm glad to discover that I can now launch iPhoto and be looking at my photo library in less time than it takes to have a pizza delivered. In fact, my expectations of the application had been so worn down that when I learned that the new version allows me to compare two photos side-by-side, I wrote a cheque to the Red Cross in a fit of altruistic pride in Humanity's potential.
Still, iPhoto is a museum piece, a monument to digital photography as it existed in 2001, when a storage card held only fifty pictures and you couldn't do much with them. I need to organise and navigate through thousands of files. Why does a website-based photo service like Flickr.com make it far easier to describe, tag and locate photos than a standalone Mac application? Why do I need a big fat button for ordering prints online, when the drugstore near my house can give me prints in ten minutes instead of a week? And if I want to put a photo online, it's going to Flickr.com, not my iMac account. Yet I can't reconfigure any of those useless (to me) single-task buttons at the bottom of the window.
I don't think iPhoto should be chloroformed, but it needs to be rethought with the needs of modern users in mind: people with 230 images on a camera card and a need to weed out 211 of them. I remember what the world was like in 2001. It's a period of history best forgotten and there's no need to celebrate The Way Things Were every time I need to import some photos from my camera. On the other hand, chloroforming is too peaceful and humane for iWeb. I want it to be dropped into shark-infested waters wearing halibut-flavoured swim trunks, armed only with a rolled-up newspaper. Yes, that's cruel, but fair. I ran it past an Amnesty International spokesperson, herself an iWeb user; she argued violently against my letting the app have any weapons at all.
And that's not even the worst thing I can say about iWeb: it looks like something that Microsoft would have shipped. It is indeed the easiest way to publish information on the web, but only in a “my friend mooned my camera and bet me ten bucks I couldn't create a website around it in less than five minutes” sort of way. If you want to build and maintain a conventional personal website, though, and be in command of adding content and predicting how it'll look when it finally goes online, iWeb is in the bottom 50 per cent of all of the solutions I've tried. And I started out in 1994 hand-coding HTML files with a text editor!
Even if you take the simplest route and publish directly to .Mac instead of your own web server, what's with the URLs that iWeb generates? I created a podcast with GarageBand and iWeb. I'm proud of the result, but I can't share the URL with you here. In length and complexity, it resembles an ENIGMA-enciphered communiqué advising General Rommel about fuel shortages. This is a very bad thing when you want to email your grandmother a link to the latest baby pictures.
As for the new Intel-based iMac, well, I'm sure that my Macworld compatriots have already exhaustively documented its capabilities from every legitimate technical angle. So allow me to take the snarky angle and point out that these third-generation iMacs look like an enormous Polaroid picture.
That's what I thought from the moment this new design replaced my beloved, second-generation ‘thin screen floating above a white hemisphere as though borne by wishes and dream-dust' iMac. Look, I like this iMac. As I write this, my dual G5 tower Mac sits in a corner, right where it's been since I got it back from repair. I simply can't summon the courage to cantilever it back onto the desk and redo a million connections. Operating-system features and flashy software get the spotlight these days, but physical form is a feature in itself. If I had to settle on one, and only one Mac, I'd take the convenience of a compact, all-in-one design like the iMac over the power of a tower any day.
But the previous iMac's floating screen was a pretty powerful feature, too. No matter what sort of work mode I was in – from a casual final glance at my inbox before leaving for the night to the full-blown, fear-and-loathing prosecution of creative brilliance – I could nudge the screen into the perfect operating angle. I could even replicate the low, easy-on-the-neck angle of a PowerBook screen. It was glorious. Alas, these newer iMacs pivot up and down, period.
See what I mean? That last sentence wasn't one of my best: God only knows what sort of magic I could have conjured if the screen had been positioned precisely where I wanted it. Instead, I'm blaming all my creative shortcomings on my tools. Now that I think of it, that feature's way more valuable than the Floating Screen thing. So actually, forget I said anything; the new iMac design is fabulous. In fact, I already find my mood brightening. Since the Winter Solstice, each day has been about 0.005% longer than the previous one and I think yesterday's dosage of daylight finally got me around the corner on this whole seasonal depression.
Still, January was a hard month to be a longtime Mac user and a technology journalist. Being reminded that, on occasion, Apple is capable of producing products that fail to meet your expectations is like being reminded that your parents had sex at some point. That is, of course, you never pretended otherwise, but just try writing 1,000-2,000 words on the subject for a major metropolitan newspaper. MW