I hate cables. The overgrown yellow “mesh network” above would hospitalize me if encountered in person. Cables offend my minimalist sensibilities while triggering my obsessive-compulsive need to always have the perfect cable on hand. I hide most of my dirty little secrets in big Rubbermaid tubs in the closet–all those combinations of type, length, color–but guests bear witness to the public shame that my workstation has become:
I’m not a huge fan of wireless technologies either; they’re slower, less secure, less robust, and often require batteries. Being saturated by a hundred low-power radio transmitters just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Bluetooth and the alphabet soup of 802.11 can be handy, but they always betray me when I need them most. That’s why I still have a land line with at least one regular, corded phone attached at all times. That’s also why I laid gigabit Ethernet and fiber all around the apartment after the walls came down.
Along comes the Macbook Air. I drooled like a teen-aged fanboy at first, but it’s really starting to annoy me. Others find fault with the lack of an optical drive and no removable battery; understandable concerns for road warriors and jet setters. The average laptop battery barely makes it to cruising altitude, and now there’s all this nonsense about not carrying on extra batteries. As if I needed another reason to never fly again. How much worse of an experience can flying become?
What personally ticks me off is another Apple laptop without anything resembling a docking station or unified connector. I attach my computers via a KVM to a big monitor and a full-sized natural keyboard; the laptop’s poor ergonomics would reduce me to a cramped, gnarly mess of digits and vertebrae in days. So the trade-off is physical health for mental, having to look at a cramped, gnarly mess of cables all day long.
Another trade-off is treating the laptop like a desktop. I end up lugging around my old Powerbook15 instead of my smaller, lighter, more powerful Macbook because I dread having to cold connect/disconnect the eight cables that integrate the Macbook into my workstation. I’ll go through that hassle if I’m doing a weekly commute, but it’s too much work to throw into the backpack in case I have a few spare cycles while wandering the city.
Even Leopard’s getting on my bad side lately: Stability as a whole took a hit in this release, but I’ve had much more trouble with my KVM. The Macbook stops recognizing the keyboard; even fiddling with the USB cables won’t fix it. Reboot time. Imagine how much worse those issues are going to be when crowding everything into the Macbook Air’s one USB port instead of the two USBs and one firewire on a Macbook.
Maybe I’m being a bit paleolithic here. A lighter laptop with faster 802.11 appeals to people who lug their laptops everywhere. I’ve wanted to do that since I first held a TRS-80 Model 100, but it’s just not practical for a computer professional who needs tons of screen real estate and will be grafted to his tech for hours at a time. I would really rather have seen Apple release a jumbo iPod Touch or uber-Newton. A 5×7 multi-touch glass slab that wirelessly melds with my computer when in range would be perfect. It would also close the casket on eBook readers like the Kindle, another recent annoyance. There are two things that nobody in the eBook community seems to get:
First, this is the age of convergence. A device that does one and only one thing is a step backwards for a generation with phones that also take pictures, play music, and make coffee. Books are just another form of media, so give us a media player with enough real estate to make print (and video) as convenient as audio. Podcast pundits with Kindles have even been saying that they prefer reading books on their iPhones, devices they’d always have with them anyway. A 5×7 high-res multi-touch display in landscape mode could show two swipeable, pinchable side-by-side pages as well as playing movies in a space bigger than a postage stamp. The Touch is at the lower end of tolerable as far as video real estate goes.
Second, the average fiction junkie doesn’t need to carry around a hundred harlequin romances. The real market for a stand-alone reader with lots of capacity is somebody like me, a freelancer that travels for work and a techie who lugs around a massive technical library. I’d also want my books available on my other devices: Don’t give me a single device that hoards my stuff. Give me a system that handles my entire physical library (video, print, records, etc.) like iTunes handles my music across multiple computers and iPods. My inner minimalist quivers with delight at the mental image of bookshelves devoid of everything but that glass slab on a plate stand.
My initial infatuation with the Macbook Air has faded. It’s back to waiting for the tablet that’s a media device, eBook reader, portable home directory, and espresso maker. Just don’t make it a phone too. Apple’s involvement with AT&T and that whole plague-ridden industry has tainted its products and tarnished its reputation.