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Steve Jobs, I know you’re reading this

24 Mar 2008 09:23 pm

What is the point of having a blog, really, if you are not allowed from time to time to vent a personal grievance? No point, you say? I quite agree.

I am a born-again Apple devotee and recidivist iPhone-fondler. However, I am disturbed by a couple of recent developments in the Apple product line, and want to see these errors corrected. I believe I am not alone.

The first is the new “shelf-motif” Dock in Leopard. This innovation—and I use these words advisedly—is thoroughly Microsoft. It is intended to look good, whereas in fact it looks awful. Worse, far worse, its utility is less than that of the previous version. It is a riot of useless confusing reflections and bogus 3D effects, making it far harder to see which applications are active. Moving it to the side of the screen (where my Dock usually lives) helps a good deal—because you get a 2D panel in that case without reflections—but it is still annoyingly ugly and obtrusive compared to the 10.4 version. I mean, that contrasting edge effect. Where else do you see such vulgarity in the design palette? Yuck. So now I hide the Dock instead of having it on-screen all the time, which I resent having to do—another reduction in utility. Happily, Steve, the remedy is simple. Please include an option to show the 10.4 Dock—yes, complete with little black triangles—in the next OS update. There is no virtue in change for its own sake.

My second gripe concerns the Macbook Air. This is not the step forward I had been hoping for. At home I have a maxed-out Power Mac, because I am an avid landscape photographer (if you are curious, check out www.clivecrookphoto.com), and editing images of a gigabyte and up is a task that makes big demands on computer resources. But for work I use a now-defunct 12-inch Powerbook G4—which is the best, by a very wide margin, of all the many laptops I have become acquainted with over the years. It is almost an ultraportable, at just a sliver wider than its full-size keyboard. But it is also a viable desktop replacement—with a full range of ports and a DVD drive. It travels with me from office to office (so light that I have to look to make sure it is in my bag). At my various desks it happily connects to monitor, external keyboard and mouse; printer; ethernet; and two external hard drives (one firewire, one usb); all without swapping connectors.

Steve, why oh why have you failed to replace this model in the line-up? Using that same—perfect—form factor you could have given me a faster processor, a muscular graphics card, bigger hard drive, and much better battery life. Instead you have used two years of technological advance to produce a machine, the Air, that is very thin, I grant you, but in most other ways less capable. One usb port. No firewire. No ethernet. I would need a bundle of hubs and cables to get the same connectivity. And no DVD drive? Are you kidding me? How would it be possible to take a flight without taking a movie to watch? (Rent one from iTunes, you say. When you’ve as many titles as Netflix, or make that one-tenth as many, I’ll think about it.)

Again, the remedy is self-evident. Make the next Air an eighth of an inch thicker, and two ounces heavier, and use the extra volume to fit in a DVD drive and a full set of ports. In the meantime, I’m raising the retirement age of my Powerbook.

Comments (15)

I have a new MacBook that came with 10.5 installed. I find the new Dock and Piles so distracting, that I find myself using an old iMac with 10.4 instead.

I'm really surprised that Apple would commit such interface vulgarities.

Clive,

Type this into the terminal.

defaults write com.apple.dock no-glass -boolean YES; killall Dock

O.I.,

10.5.2 addresses the issues with stacks. Also adds a check box in the Desktop and Screensaver Pane to turn off the translucent menu bar.

I too was looking to replace my aged 12" powerbook with a macbook air, and I did. It's a huge improvement. My bag feels much lighter and has room for papers. Predictably, the air is a lot faster, and the screen is much brighter. I'd prefer a smaller footprint, but the extra screen width is useful for apps with palettes.

I sympathize with your desire to watch movies on planes, but I don't see bringing the air's external drive on a plane as a huge sacrifice, unless you fly very often. As for ports, I get by with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse (logitech, so it has charging station), wifi, and networked printers. If that doesn't work for you, a powered hub at each desk should work with apple's ethernet to usb adapter. It sounds like having to replace the firewire drive would be the biggest sacrifice.

Anyway, I wouldn't count on Steve revamping the air anytime soon (although there's certainly room for a second usb port). If you're not willing to rethink your peripherals, I'd hold out for a summer redesign of the macbook. If it gets a bit thinner and lighter, it'd be fairly close to the computer you want.

O.I. Loop: piles are irritating, why not try a medical preparation to soothe them? What your piles have to do with Apple I do not know.

The stacks issue has been fixed by the way.

O.I. Loop: piles are irritating, why not try a medical preparation to soothe them? What your piles have to do with Apple I do not know.

The stacks issue has been fixed by the way.

O.I. Loop: piles are irritating, why not try a medical preparation to soothe them? What your piles have to do with Apple I do not know.

The stacks issue has been fixed by the way.

Clive,

Your reaction to the Air is identical to mine: Disappointment that it's not a sufficient replacement for the 12" PowerBook. It's not that I have a problem with the Air, it's that there's still no decent replacement for the 12" PowerBook. In the meantime, I've purchased a maxed out iBook.

John: Yes, but a surprisingly tepid response, don't you think? (And who the hell is that boy in the photo?)

Sent from my iPhone

Yes, Jobs is known for circumspection. To get a rise out of him, the Atlantic Monthly needs to put him on the cover with the caption "Greetings, Earthlings." And I have the perfect feature article to go with it, a counter to the one running in Wired magazine which completely misses this point: the question is not how well is Apple doing, but how well they ought to be doing.

Headlines just announced Apple's current sales market share reached 14%, which is great growth but still pitifully below the 50-75% they might have, especially with the Vista fiasco. Apple insists on repeating the historic mistake that handed the market to Microsoft in the first place (of which the MacBook Air and iPhone are perfect examples).

I can send a proposal, if interested. :)

Tepid articles require tepid responses.

What can I say. It's not, you know, Montaigne on Air.

John: How could I not be interested? Send me an email. I don't commission pieces for the magazine but I dare say I could route it to the right person. Send me a resume as well, why don't you? Just to avoid any confusion.

The problem with "Greetings, Earthlings" is that it's been done, of course. Strangely enough, in a previous life, as deputy editor of the Economist, I put that title on the cover of the magazine, with a picture not of Steve Jobs but of Kim Jong Il. That's the Economist for you, too clever by half. (It was my finest moment at the magazine.)

One last thing. Please don't speak ill of the iPhone on my blog. Say what you want about the Air, but we brook no hard words about the iPhone.

Yes, the "Greetings Earthlings" cover is well-remembered. In the Fake Steve Jobs blog, "Jobs" often refers to himself as Dear Leader.

You know the the shelf dock isn't even an innovation at all. I was pretty surprised to see it because its exactly the same dock Sun was demoing on their Looking Glass project back in 2003. I'd have thought they'd have at least tried to make it a little different.

http://www.sun.com/software/looking_glass/

Check out the video on the demo link:

http://www.sun.com/software/looking_glass/demo.xml

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