Archive for January, 2008

Thoughts/Followup on Macbook Air

Transmitted on Jan 16 2008 to technology

I wanted to take a moment to reaffirm what I had stated in the previous post on Macbook Air, and to respond to some criticism about my thinking. Now that it’s actually been released, and we’ve actually seen it, I hope to explain my ideas in greater depth (while, presumably, being a little less long-winded!).

So we didn’t get inductive charging--yet--and we didn’t get an always-on wireless connection. What we did get is 802.11n, a wider-range wireless standard, a backlight keyboard, and dimensions even less than we expected. The Macbook Air fits in a manilla envelope, for God’s sake. It’s got more than its fair share of design compromises, but it’s also got a virtually unheard-of flexibility.

Going back to why I was convinced of the importance of this product, it’s essentially because we will very soon be entering a world in which cords simply don’t exist. The internet has already reduced physical space requirements dramatically: what we’re seeing now is design beginning to reflect our innately human need to move and be and do, wherever we are.
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“Macbook Air”– And What It (Maybe) Means

Transmitted on Jan 14 2008 to technology

I really must be a nerd, somehow, or one who’s really just affected by design in some (possibly-twisted) way, but…

Macbook Air (Wired Render)
Macbook Air (Wired Render)
(Images from Wired Blog: this is a mockup (not a photo) of an envisioned ultra-thin Apple laptop featuring wireless charging, a multi-touch input system, and an always-on, ubiquitous wireless connection that replaces the need for ethernet ports.)

I don’t know how else to express it, but this look–even though I know it probably isn’t quite the real thing– is so beautiful, so absolutely essential to our time, that I hesitate in saying that this might in fact change our entire sense of what technology is. Not now, oh no… not with Leopard’s bugs and a window-based interface and the clumsy hacked-together kludge of the Web at this particular moment. Not even, maybe, for ten or fifteen years. But this is the first object that may well be designed for who we really are as people. We are explorers. We were out there hunting and gathering and using our hands–that is, until we recently decided to take that little industrialized break and coop ourselves up in our homes. We spend a lot of our time feeling like we aren’t really doing enough, and that worry leaks out in our aggressive spending, our internal dramas, our petty goals. We stopped being in touch with what it really felt like to be alive. We built great tools, and gradually our tools became our focus; somewhere along the line, we lost track of the absurdity of this compromise.

The real promise of the Web has always been its omniscience. It has nothing to do with information, or information overload– it has to do with ubiquity and transparency. It has to do with offloading the sum of human consciousness and leaving it floating out there, a sea of awareness permeating us like a second soul. Think different, people. This has nothing to do with specs. Nothing to do with current technology–or the lack of an optical drive. This is about coming a step closer to organic technology.

Like the iPhone, which was the result of a realization that people like to control THINGS, not the abstract representations of them, this Macbook Air heralds a different kind of future. One in which our primary untethered-ness is finally understood; one in which our need to just live life is finally brought back into focus. Computers are a long long way from being truly intuitive, but this design evokes something incredible, something thrilling in me. We are leaving behind the wires, the force, the efforts of communicating with a stupid machine. We are free, and so is it. We are endlessly capable, and so (battery life willing) is it.

When Apple does its best work, they create products that are so perfect in their approach that they literally cannot be reimagined.

Looking at this machine, I can honestly say that it is this level of perfection. Not necessarily in specs, in its minutae or in daily use; I mean as an idea, as a created object, as a trendsetter. The iPod wasn’t perfect either when it first debuted, but it was obvious why it was needed. It removed everything but the experience of choosing what to listen to and hearing it. It removed the technology and became an extension of one’s life.

The Macbook Air, with inductive-based charging and ubiquitous networking, if such things ever came together (and if they came together tomorrow? oh my god) is another of these ideas. Something so radically ahead on a fundamental level that we don’t even know how amazing it will become.

For Apple to come back to the “tiny laptop” game, they realized they needed something new, something revolutionary to justify the absence. We’ve been expecting decent upgrades from them, but we forget that this is a brand-new Apple, one so visionary as to often arrive at solutions before anyone understands the depth of the problem; a company that innovates even when no one understands what it is they can see. When they made a music player, they made the iPod, for god’s sake. When they made a phone, it wasn’t a phone– it was a new way to communicate with technology.

Well, they’re back, and they removed such a huge part of the “computer” from the equation–the charging cables, ethernet, tethered disks (Time Machine backup to AirPort MUST be coming…) the extra weight, and maybe even the need for wi-fi tethering–that it is now the digital equivalent of a notebook. It is ever-present, yet completely unobtrusive. It is as ready as you are. Long ago I envisioned (as many have– it’s not at all an original concept) a device I called “the Reader”–a notebook-type wireless communication system. This device simply existed to tap into the framework of human awareness in as unobtrusive a manner as possible. Gesture-based, context-sensitive, intelligent and uncomplicated, it would express a nearly infinite potential without ever feeling overwhelming.

Many of these ideas may make their way more readily into an Apple tablet, but I can see that their design language is definitely on to something. It’s the teardrop shape. The colors (neutrals yet superbly beautiful). The organic, weightless feeling of it. It’s the sense that this is no longer a foreign object. It’s the first step towards something altogether new–a true fusion. And it’s weightless the way we are weightless, ultimately free of any connection to anything but the earth we’re born on and the identity we give ourselves.

I know it’s all hyperbolic, and perhaps I’m simply overthinking, but if the device Apple releases tomorrow is anything like this image, it’s a bigger deal than anyone but a few people at Apple realize.

Just think about it.

(And I really don’t comment on technology much, as you know, but I feel that this is truly significant)

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