Posts From August 2011
This Sweet App review is the first in a new type of post I’ll be writing for the site: short, mini-reviews of apps that come across my path. I’ve had it in my head that the only valid software reviews I shall ever publish to shawnblanc.net are ones which exceed 3,000 words. Moreover, I shall only write about apps which have become an integral part of my day-to-day computing life.
Well, that’s baloney. What about the apps I like but which don’t change my life? What about the apps I want to talk about but don’t have 3,000 words for? The weekly Sweet App review is the answer to these conundrums. Enjoy.
Hues is a simple and useful color finding tool for your Mac. I came across this app when its developer, Zach Waugh, emailed me to let me know about it.
I like Hues because it has the familiarity of the built-in OS X color-picker tool, yet it with a few special modifications of its own:
- It gives you the HEX, RGP, and HSL values for any color you pick. Since I design live in a browser having a light-weight app that helps me find colors and their HEX values is super helpful. I’m embarrassed to admit that used to launch Photoshop for the sole purpose of finding a color I liked and copying its HEX value. Needless to say, Hues is much more economical for that purpose than Photoshop is.
- It has 5 rows for saved swatches instead of one. (Update: news to me is that if you click and drag the little dot underneath the swatch palette you can adjust how many rows of saved swatches are visible.)
- In the app’s preferences you have the ability to remove any of the color pickers from the toolbar that you don’t use. I, for instance, only ever use the color wheel, so I removed the Sliders, the Palettes, and the Crayons.
- It works, looks, and feels just like the native color picker, just better.
From start to finish I spent about a month building Tools & Toys. It was mostly during weekends and evenings. Working on the site reminded me just how much I love designing.
As much as I love writing there is no denying the fact that it is a quiet and lonely endeavor. When writing, I need long and silent stretches of uninterrupted time. I have to shut off outside communication to avoid distractions that would derail my train of thought.
But designing, at least for me, is much more lively. It’s more inviting for frequent social feedback, and I can design with the music turned up. Moreover, designing uses the right and left sides of my brain in a way that writing does not.
Writing certainly has its creative and problem-solving elements as well, but the way design combines art and logic is different. I enjoy both outlets, but design seems to be more equal parts painting and problem solving, and I love that about it.
What I also love is the way various creative and problem-solving outlets fuel one another. Designing and building Tools & Toys helps me to write better. And being a writer helps me do better design work.
It’s different for everyone, but that’s part of the fun. Don’t you love creativity?
There is something fun about speculating and guessing. It’s part wish-list and part wild guess, and it’s fun to see how things actually turn out. And so, in the spirit of enjoyable speculation, here are my thoughts on the Amazon Tablet.
Right now there seems to be three potential concepts for what this rumored Kindle Tablet will be:
A full-fledged tablet, powered by Android and with an LCD screen and glass display. (Basically Amazon’s entry to the tablet market.)
An improved version of the current Kindle: one with no physical keyboard, a touch-sensitive black & white, e-ink display. (Basically Amazon’s version of the Nook Simple Touch.)
Something in the middle. Like option number 2 but with color e-ink.
As someone who owns an iPad already, option 3 sounds the most appealing to me. A device like this would have all the advantages of the current Kindle (such as its light weight, low price, long battery, and great use as a reading device), plus some new advantages (such as color display and no keyboard). However, as Marco points out, the cost of color e-ink is still very high and its response time on a display is still very laggy. In short, color e-ink is still too expensive and poor in performance for a Kindle. So option 3 is likely out.
Marco is convinced option 1 is what it will be. And, while I think it is very likely that we’ll see a full-fledged tabled device with Amazon’s name on it, I have a hard time seeing it as being interesting at all.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t sell well. Again, Marco:
If Amazon can deliver a $249 tablet that does a serviceable job for reading books, browsing some top newspapers and magazines, watching movies and TV shows, and playing some casual games, that’s going to be very attractive to a lot of people.
We know for sure that the Amazon Tablet will have at least two things going for it:
The Amazon brand and ecosystem: which is strong, has a great reputation, and people love their Amazon Kindles. Regardless of the details about what the device looks like, how much it costs, etc., Amazon is one of a few tech companies with a household name and a positive reputation.
The Price: Every rumor and speculation I’ve heard has pegged the Kindle Tablet as being somewhere around $250 or less.
Perhaps it will be cheaper than an iPad, and perhaps it will be better than all the other me-too Android tablets out there. But I simply cannot imagine what would be compelling about a full-fledged Amazon tablet, powered by Android, other than the fact it would be cheap and carry the Amazon brand and ecosystem.
If Amazon is going to make an inexpensive device that is backed by their brand and ecosystem, then why not make a better Kindle rather than a crappy tablet? Is the Kindle market saturated? Are they trying to increase the perceived value of the Kindle by making a secondary, more expensive device?
However, if the full-fledged tablet idea is not true, and they are just going to make a better Kindle then why did they set up the Amazon Appstore?
Here’s a thought: what if the there are two future Kindles: something like a Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch HD.
Or, put another way, what if Amazon shipped both option 1 and option 2 above?
The Kindle Touch (option 2 above) would be black and white e-ink technology, no keyboard, and a touchscreen. The Kindle Touch HD (option 1 above) is the full-fledged tablet device.
And if the Kindle Touch HD were a 7-inch tablet, then that would help make it lighter and easier to hold (one of the biggest strengths of the Kindle and biggest complaints against the iPad as a reading device).
But what about the Retina Display iPad?
There is another elephant standing just outside the room: the iPad 3. An iPad with a Retina Display is Apple’s answer to the Kindle.
If and when the next iPad ships with its Retina Display, it will obviate the need for a “better” dedicated reading device in the minds of many consumers. Amazon doesn’t need another me-too tablet. They need something that pulls on all the strengths they already have: the high readability of e-ink, a low price, lightweight, a huge ecosystem, and a strong brand. If not that, then what?
Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
I’m a web dork living in San Francisco, avoiding the sunlight and working for Flickr (primarily as the dude who breaks the site most often – sorry about that). As a side project I interview all sorts of people about their hardware and software three times a week.
I live near a park with three dogs, two kittens and one wife. I like coffee. A LOT. And you. But not you.
What is your current setup?
Quad-core i7 15 inch Macbook Pro. My last Pro had issues with the NVIDIA card, so this is a very very new beast. It’s pleasantly shiny and speedy and un-kernel-panic-y, which is nice. A Nikon D5000 and an iPhone. ATH-FC700A headphones (I am constantly destroying headphones somehow, but these are both my favourite and also not broken, so). A Time Capsule for backups/wifi, an Apple TV and a Mac Mini for streaming/watching stuff. That’s pretty much it; I like simple and minimal.
At home I sit on the floor with the laptop in my lap. I should probably think about a desk and a chair or whatever it is people use.
Why this rig?
Truth be told, if I wasn’t such a tragic, obsessive video gamer I’d totally gun for an Air, but I need a decent enough graphics card (obviously) so I stick with the Pros. I also hate the idea of having multiple computers and I tend to use this one for both fun and for work (my actual work one is a very very very old Pro with the silver keyboard that lives a quiet life in a drawer in my desk at FlickrHQ), so I stick with laptops.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
Some sort of text editor, mostly. I’m actually having a bit of a crisis of faith over which one to use, which sounds a lot lamer when I type it out. TextMate, usually, though it likes to choke to death on enormous projects (like, say, seven years worth of Flickr code) when regaining focus. I’ve tried neckbearding in vim, but the whole home row key thing really messes with my head (I type like a mutant, I guess). Currently I’m sticking with TextMate because I have a nice custom bundle set up for work, and I’m so used to it.
Chrome for browsing, because I love the omnibar. Adium for annoying people online in real-time, because it’s multi-protocol and works well. The official Twitter client nee Tweetie for annoying people in almost real-time. Colloquy for IRC. Boot Camp and Windows 7 and Steam for gaming. So much gaming. Aperture for storing my photos and punting ‘em to Flickr — it’s pretty good, though a little slow at times. I use the new Mail in Lion for work email, and it’s pretty awesome. iTerm 2 for nerding it up (mostly for committing code or publishing interviews).
Google Apps for email and calendar fun times, mostly accessed via the browser. And I use CalendarBar to — in theory — keep track of calendars via the menubar. I’m also using OfflineIMAP to slurp in all my mail locally, just in case. Not that I don’t trust Google, or anything. Yeah.
A tag-team combination of Time Machine and CrashPlan for backing up our laptops at home.
I keep my notes and to-do lists stored in SimpleNote, which is amazing – it’s syncing that actually, like, y’know, works. On the Mac I use Notational Velocity and on the iPhone I’m actually accessing it via Listary, which lets you interpret selected notes as to-do lists. I love it — I use it to keep track of who I’ve interviewed on The Setup and which groceries I’ve forgotten to buy yet again.
Oh, and LaunchBar for launching apps — I am so totally not taking advantage of all the power under that little popup bar, that’s for sure.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
Everything just works!
How would your ideal setup look and function?
This is pretty much it. Faster and faster Interweb pipes would be nice. I basically want less stuff, not more, so give me a laptop with power and Internets and some puppies and kittens and I’m golden.
More Sweet Setups
Daniel’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
Last night, when I heard the news that Steve Jobs was stepping down as CEO, I was out with a friend. The first thing he asked me was, “Does this mean Google is going to take over?” A few minutes later, I got a text from someone else: “Does this mean the iPhone 5 is going to be delayed?” The answer to both of those questions is, of course, no.
When Steve Jobs returned to pilot Apple 15 years ago he pulled the company up from a nose dive. It was a huge comeback, and since Apple prides itself in its secrecy, we mostly see the public-facing products of that comeback. We see OS X, the PowerBooks, the MacBooks, the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, the iPad, and iCloud. And we think that without Steve none of these products would ever have happened. And that is true.
It raises the question: “Without Steve as CEO, what about the next 15 years of Apple products?”
What Steve has done over the past 15 years to build up the company is not only found in the software and hardware that Apple has made. His work is also found in the values and goals of the company itself.
There is more than one person in Cupertino who cares about quality, craftsmanship, art, and innovation in Apple’s products. Steve’s values for product design, user experience, and changing the world are seeded all throughout the company. His world-famous attention to detail is something that his fellow employees hold as a standard, not a burden. His painstaking determination to constantly improve and simplify the user experience is why people go to work there.
Steve isn’t holding Apple on his shoulders any longer. He’s built it up so it can stand on its own. And in the midst of all his innovations and ideas, perhaps the greatest “product” Steve Jobs has built isn’t a product at all — it’s a culture.
There is a common phrase that, though it makes sense as to its usage, doesn’t seem like the best option. The phrase is “consuming content”.
We say “consuming content” as a way to sum up the act of reading, listening, viewing, and other ways of taking in various forms of media and entertainment. We keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what we think it means.
Consume (verb): eat, drink, or ingest (food or drink); buy; use up.
Content (noun): everything that is included in a collection and that is held or included in something.
To say that I am “creating content” for this website is a fancy way of saying that I’m writing. The phrase creating content could be boiled down to simply creating. Or, when we talk about creating content, why not be more specific? Writing, drawing, designing, building, working.
If you were to say that you are “consuming the content” on this website, it would be a fancy way of saying you are reading. But consuming has far more relation to food than it does to words. It would be awkward for me to say that this website doesn’t have readers, it has consumers.
On the other hand, it would not be as awkward for someone to say they are “consuming a novel”. Though there are better ways to say it. In context the meaning of the phrase is meant to imply that the novel is fantastic and the reader is reading it quickly and eagerly. Therefore, in place of the word “consume”, perhaps “devour” would be better — “I am devouring this novel.” Or, if you simply must use consume, how about: “This novel has consumed me.”
Where these phrases have especially begun to irk me is in sentences like this: “The iPad is for consuming, not creating.” For one, it’s not true — you can create things using the iPad. And secondly, what does it even mean to say that the iPad is for consuming and not for creating?
Using the current lingo, I would be perfectly in line to say that I use my MacBook Air to create content and my iPad to consume it. However, what I actually mean by that sentence is that I do most of my writing, developing, and designing on my laptop, and I do most of my reading on my iPad.
When people say that the iPad is for consuming and not creating I think what they mean is that it’s better as a reading device than as a writing device; it’s better for watching videos than filming and editing them; it is better for surfing the Web than for building a website.
And I think that is fair. I know in my real-life usage I “consume” on the iPad far more than I “create” on it. But I long for a better way to describe that. A description that is more in line with what it actually means. The term “consuming” brings with it the idea of haste and need, something I don’t wish to imply when what I’m actually doing is enjoying a well-written article while drinking a fresh cup of coffee.
Content is something in a collection. Such as the contents of a magazine, the contents of a library, or the contents of my Instapaper queue. A magazine may be full of content that I read, but when would I ever say that I am “consuming content” when what I’m actually doing is “reading a magazine”? Moreover, when we use a blanket statement like “consuming content” to say what the iPad is for, then it brings in other actives and media types such as reading books and watching movies.
Would I say that Last of the Mohicans is “content”? Of course not. It’s a movie; it’s art. I’m not “consuming content” when I go to the movies — I am “watching a movie”.
On my computer I do create things — sometimes it is content for my website, but sometimes it is something else. On my iPad I don’t “consume content”. I read, I watch, I share, I learn.
Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
My name is Thomas Brand, and I am technology enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts. Before starting a career at Children’s Hospital I spent time behind the Genius Bar as a lead Mac Genius. These days I am known for my website Egg Freckles, which I write using an Apple Newton MessagePad. When I am not working or writing you can find me taking digital photographs, or preparing for the Boston Marathon.
What is your current setup?
I own a handful of Newtons, but the one I like the best is my MessagePad 130. I prefer its streamlined form factor over other MessagePads, and its capabilities fall somewhere in between the mint condition OMP I am scared to touch, and the two 2×00 series MessagePads I leave at home.
My MessagePad 130 has a 20MHz ARM processor, 2.5MBs of RAM, a telescoping stylus, and a 320×240 pressure-sensitive monochrome display with electroluminescence backlight. On its own, my MessagePad 130 weighs one pound, but for most writing assignments it is accompanied by a Newton Keyboard that attaches via the 130′s sole serial port.
I carry my MessagePad and keyboard separated in two large jacket pockets, or sandwiched together in the Newton keyboard case. When I am writing I position my MessagePad in a landscape orientation with the keyboard in front, and my wallet underneath to give my Newton the desired viewing angle. My MessagePad can only display ten lines of text at a time so I tend to write in small paragraphs correcting my prose with the stylus as I go.
When I am finished writing I return home and transfer the notes from my MessagePad 130 to a MessagePad 2100 via infrared. I use a 802.11b wireless card to email what I have written from the 2100 to whatever modern Mac I am using at the time.
Why this rig?
My MessagePad keeps me portable and on target the way no modern computer can. I can’t browse the internet with my MessagePad, I can’t use Twitter, IM, or iTunes. There are no preferences to get in the way of my writing. With my MessagePad I don’t need to be sitting at a desk to be productive. If a thought compels me I can pull out my MessagePad and jot down the idea for later. I have written whole blog posts while standing on the subway with my MessagePad.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
On my Newton I use very little additional software. Most of my articles are written in the included notes application. When I feel I need more structure there is always Newton Works, an extensible word processing application. On my MessagePad 2100 I use SimpleMail to email finished articles, and Screen Shooter to capture screen shots. Just like on my Mac I like to keep the working environment on my Newton as simple as possible. You will not find any any replacement dashboard or backdrop applications on my MessagePad.
Some of the applications I use to publish Egg Freckles on my Mac include:
- BBEdit for text editing and web page authoring.
- Transmit for FTP and folder synchronization.
- Since converting to an Adobe free workflow I do all of my image editing in Pixelmator, and all my image dithering in HyperDither.
- Twitterrific is the only bird I trust these days for tweeting.
- TaskPaper generates a nice todo list that is compatible with my Newtons.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
My Newton not only keeps me on task and portable, it also inspires. Using a MessagePad as my primary writing machine more than ten years after its untimely demise keeps my thoughts about technology in perspective. While staring into its monochrome olive colored LCD I can’t help but take a step back from the technology I am reviewing and decide wether or not today’s story is really such a big deal. Technology platforms come and go, but it is how we use them that makes a difference. My Newton has certainly strengthened my belief in open formats like like plaintext and PNG.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
What I wouldn’t give for a modern carbon fiber encased Newton with a capacitive E Ink display, and even longer lasting battery. The iPhone can keep its multimedia capabilities, and all too-colorful app store. What I want is the modern equivalent to the reporter’s notepad. A true getting things done machine built for writers, planners, and creative people that is easy on the eyes and always connected to my greater body of work in the cloud. Then again, who am I kidding. I would settle for any Newton I could comfortably fit into my pants pocket.
More Sweet Setups
Thomas’ setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
And so what in the world is Best Buy going to do with all those unsold TouchPads? If HP doesn’t take them back, here are a few suggestions for Best Buy:
Printer promotion: buy an ink jet printer, get a free TouchPad.
Give TouchPads away as an incentive for anyone who purchases an extended warranty for a new home appliance.
Christmas bonuses to Best Buy employees.
New product idea: Full-Size, Touch-Screen Head Units for Car Stereos with Twitter and Facebook Integration!
Partner with Radiohead and use the TouchPads as the delivery channel for their next digital-only, pay-what-you-want album.
Give away a free TouchPad to all Black Friday shoppers this coming November.
Turn the boxes upside down, move them closer to the Apple section of the store, and hope nobody notices.
New product idea: Digital Photo Frame with Twitter and Facebook Integration!
Attach some TouchPads to the table that has the demo units of the TouchPads and use them as interactive guides for the TouchPad demo units and see if that does anything.
Sell the hardware dirt cheap to Whoever Android Tablet Maker of the Month has an upcoming product release.
Open up the boxes and sell the USB cables for $25/each.
Sell them to gazelle.com for $237/each.
New product idea: 16 GB Jump Drive with Twitter and Facebook Integration!
A simple observation: the Internet is busiest on Mondays.
Like an alarm clock, the Internet buzzes at us on Monday to wake up from our weekend.
“It is time to get busy,” she says. “It is time to hurry up.”
The Internet thrives on the new and the now. She wants us to be concerned about what is happening, what we missed, and what we should know about. What she doesn’t tell you is that the headlines which matter will still be around on Tuesday.
For those who work with their mind, Mondays should be for dreaming and planning. They are the morning of the week, and each Monday brings with it a new beginning, a fresh start, and a sea of potential.
Mondays are my favorite day of the week for the same reason the morning is my favorite time of the day. The morning is when my mind is most clear — there is not yet the accumulation of “mental clutter” from the activities and worries of the day and the whole day looks like a blank canvas.
Hit snooze on the new and the now for 24 hours. Let Monday be a day for dreaming and thinking. Let the week’s potential sweep our imaginations away like a strong wind on open waters.
What will we dream up today? What can we accomplish this week? Where will the days take us?
About the Design
Designed by yours truly. I have always liked the use and look of gears in design. They are a fun way to conceptualize creativity as something which requires work, thought, and momentum. Gears are also a great way to communicate the idea of computers as mechanical hardware.
Also, I very much like the slogan “Computers are for Creating”. It rings true for all walks of creative professionals — writers, podcasters, photographers, musicians, designers, developers, et al. It’s a phrase for folks like us.
About the Shirts
The shirts are dark grey, 50/50 blend, ringspun American Apparel Tees. These are very high-quality shirts (I prefer them over the 100% cotton shirts), and they offer superior screen printing results.
They will be hand-printed at a professional screen-printing shop located right here in Kansas City.
Orders will be taken until 11:59 PM CST on Tuesday, August 23. The batch will then be printed and will ship around the first week in September.
I rarely link to rumors or leaks because:
Who knows if they’re ever true (many rumors are simply sensationalized posts pulled out of thin air in hopes to lure in some page views).
New rumors sprout up every day, and I have no interest in playing that game and giving momentum to the rumor mill.
Rumors have no effect on what the real product will be, when it will be released, or if it will even exist.
Reading rumors is like shaking your Christmas present boxes and trying to guess what’s inside. Sure, there is an element of fun and mystery that comes along with trying to guess what’s inside. But if you do guess then it ruins the surprise. I much prefer surprises.
However, today there is so much flying around about the potential design of the iPhone 5 that I thought it was worth highlighting and sharing a few of my initial impressions.
Today Mac Rumors posted some 3D renderings of what the iPhone 5 might look like. They commissioned CiccareseDesign to do the renderings based on recent leaks of an iPhone case.
Also, a couple days ago this video was posted which claims to demo the leaked iPhone 5 website right on Apple.com.
As cool and polished as the video of the leaked website is, it is a fake. The Mac Rumors 3D rendering doesn’t claim to be a leak at all. In fact, I think what they did is very clever and their renderings look great.
The design of the iPhone 5 seen in the fake video is very similar to the 3D renderings that Mac Rumors commissioned. They are both, more or less, branched off of the original iPhone 5 mockup posted by This is My Next back in April.
In short, the general idea with all these various rumors and mockups is that the next iPhone will: (1) be thinner; (2) have a teardrop-shape making the top-end of the phone thicker than the bottom; and (3) implement new technology and functionality on the front where the Home Screen Button is.
What I like about the rumors of the next iPhone:
The idea of a curved back. I think the iPhone 3G and 3G S were much more comfortable to hold than the iPhone 4 is. Though I am significantly more fond of the iPhone 4′s design — it is very classy and sturdy; the iPhone 3G S felt much cheaper.
A thinner design. Who doesn’t want thinner and lighter mobile hardware? Though I have a hard time imagining the next iPhone to be as thin as the current iPod touch.
I have an iPod touch and it is thin. In fact, I’d say it’s almost too thin to be a phone. A phone needs to be extremely grip-able because it’s something you are constantly putting in and out of your pocket, waving around, texting with while walking, and more. To me, the iPod touch is not as easy to hold on to as the iPhone 4.
The matte black aluminum back. It would be so sweet looking. (But, as you’ll read in a minute, I don’t think it’ll happen.)
A more useful and functional home button. I think we’re all agreed that the home button functionality is getting broken and that there could be a better way to quickly switch between apps, especially when there are two or three apps you are using simultaneously.
What I don’t expect to see in the next iPhone:
Extreme thinness. The iPod touch is significantly thinner than the iPhone 4, but it comes with tradeoffs such as a lower-quality camera. Combined with the current state of battery technology, the need for a CDMA or GSM chip, and the other bits that the iPhone 4 which the iPod touch does not, and I have a hard time believing the next iPhone will be as thin as an iPod touch.
An Aluminum back. As cool as I think it would be, the reason Apple moved away from the aluminum back in 2008 was for the sake of needing better cellular connectivity. Do you really think Steve Jobs wanted a plastic iPhone? No way. But they needed to use plastic on the the 3G and 3G S for the sake of functionality and improving cellular connectivity.
A 4-inch screen. With a screen that big, it would no longer be a “retina” display. A 4-inch screen with resolution of 640×960 would have a pixel density of 288 PPI. The current pixel density of the iPhone 4 is 330 PPI. That would mean a 4-inch screen would suffer a 13% loss in pixel density — the same loss that’s found between the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Pro. And if you’e ever set those two laptops side by side the difference is instantly obvious. (I even said in my MacBook Air review that the 15-inch MacBook Pro now looks comically large.)
According to Apple, the whole idea of the Retina Display is that after 300 PPI our eye can’t tell the difference. So, according to that theory, they are technically safe to drop the pixel density just so long as they keep it above 300. If they were going enlarge the screen it would have to be no bigger than 3.8 inches.
If they did go to a 4-inch screen, in order to keep it a Retina Display they would need to increase the pixel resolution to something other than 960×640, and there is no way that’s going to happen.
Who are you and what do you do?
What is your current setup?
I’ve worked on nearly everything from old school pizza box Dells, to home made machines pieced together from Newegg parts; a Quad-Core Mac Pro to my current setup of a 2010 15-inch, Quad Core i7 MacBook Pro/8GB Ram/128GB SSD/Hi-Res Matte screen with an external 24-inch Cinema Display.
For the most part, I’m pretty pleased with my MacBook Pro.
Why this rig?
I’m really mobile. Last year I traveled for 2 months, this year nearly 4 months of travel. I work a lot from the road. However, I’m known to sit on the couch or bed with my laptop as well. A 17-inch monitor has always felt crazy big and seemed like a brick to lug around. 13 inches is too small. So, I opted for the 15-inch with the high-res monitor and matte display. I LOVE the matte display. I’ll never go glossy again. High-res is a bit teensy, but I still love the details and extra screen real estate.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
I use VirtualBox for running Windows 7/XP for testing. It’s still a pain and by no means ideal, but I just don’t have the will to own a Windows box and set it all up. I’d hardly use it so it’d be a waste.
For quick small screen recording sessions to explain something or describe a bug, I use Screeny by Drew Wilson. For screencasts, Quicktime. I use Sparrow for mail — it just feels simple and that simplicity drives me to want to keep it simple, to keep my inbox empty and tidy.
I’ve tried hoards of task-managing software, to-do lists, and attempted to use calendaring apps. None of them ever stuck. Except one. Fantastical. Yeah, yeah, I designed it blah blah blah, but I’ve been known to design things I never use, like whole websites n such. The magic of Fantastical isn’t so much its aesthetic (which was my part), but in the simple intuitive, natural language parsing part of it. Now, I add events to my calendar like a boss. I actually use this thing.
For rapid CSS3 production, I use Less.app. This year, I’ve been using SASS, however the more CSS-like syntax of Less combined with Mark Otto’s bootstrap.less and Less.app makes for lightning fast CSS production.
I’ve always struggled with the speed of development with editing a file, saving, going to my browser, reloading. It takes so long. Last year, I found ReCSS and it rocked my world. ReCSS enabled me to reload my CSS only and not the underlying code. Much faster. This year I found LiveReload which essentially monitors the file system, waiting for changes to underlying code, be it ruby files, CSS, or script files. When they are changed, the browser instantly refreshes. If the change is purely CSS, only the CSS reloads. Magic. So. Much. Faster.
I design all websites and user interfaces with Adobe Fireworks CS5 and until recently, I did all illustrations in Fireworks as well. Driven by a want to grow more as an illustrator (as well as the more powerful features), I made the jump to Illustrator CS4 about 2 months ago. Just last month, I purchased the upgrade to Illustrator CS5 for the refined web features.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
Two screens is huge. I split my cinema display with about 1/3 CSSEdit and 2/3 Coda and on the right display, my MacBook Pro on the left shows the current browser I am testing. I love not having to constantly minimize and maximize windows to reveal other programs — everything is right there.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think I’ve finally figured it out. I think.
Next year, when the new iMacs are refreshed, I’m gonna grab the highest spec’d out model. No need for a SSD. I really like SSD’s but I’m not all that impressed like others. Sure, reboots and rapid file access are lightning fast. But when it comes to speed and snappiness, say in a design program, it does little for me. So I need more power, but not all the expense.
I still love my MacBook Pro, so instead of selling it, I’m gonna rock that spec’d out iMac with this couple year old, yet fully capable MacBook Pro running at it’s side. I’ll get a 27-inch Thunderbolt display to run as a secondary 27-inch monitor. Two 27-inch screens running side by side. Bliss. I’ll use the laptop for my travels or couch jam sessions.
More Sweet Setups
Rogie’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
The first computer I ever owned was a laptop. It was a Dell Inspiron that I bought after high school to take to college. It lasted a few years until my roommate bought a PowerBook G4, and that was the end of my career as a PC guy. Since that Dell, I’ve owned three more laptops: a 12-inch PowerBook G4, a 15-inch aluminum MacBook Pro, and now this 13-inch MacBook Air.
There was a brief stint where I also owned a Quad-Core Mac Pro. Doing print design on the PowerBook was no longer cutting it, and I needed a better work machine. But, when I purchased the 15-inch MacBook Pro to act as my “secondary computer” I realized that the Mac Pro was overkill and I had no need to own two professional-grade machines.
That Mac Pro was a fine computer. If you were in the next room over when the Mac Pro was turned on you could hear the fans kick in. My father-in-law used to say that if you put wings on it, it would fly. And there was something safe about owning a computer that was easily and indefinitely updatable. More RAM? No problem. More storage? No problem. New graphics card? No sweat.
As great it was, the Mac Pro is most likely the first and last desktop computer I will ever own. At least I went out with style.
Laptops have far too great of a personal value to me. Having a desktop as my only machine would be like a prison sentence. Even while I owned the Mac Pro I had a laptop as a secondary computer so I could still work and be connected away from my desk. My office is not my office, my laptop is. And because of that I have the freedom of being able to work from anywhere.
For instance, my wife’s brother recently got married in Colorado. Since both Anna’s and my family all live in the Denver area, I chose to stay in Colorado for an extra week after the wedding was over. I still worked for 8 – 10 hours each day, but thanks to the fact that all my work is contained on a laptop, I had no trouble being 600 miles from my office. I didn’t miss a beat, and I got to spend the mornings and evenings with my family.
It was from Colorado that I wrote and published my Lion review, and it was in Colorado that I bought this very MacBook Air.
In October 2010 when the MacBook Airs got their first major revision, I couldn’t justify the upgrade from my early 2008 MacBook Pro. The Air was almost the laptop I had been waiting for.
Since I had already put an SSD in my MacBook Pro, the specs between my current laptop at the time and the new Core 2 Duo Airs were nearly identical. Since my MacBook Pro was still hanging in there, I decided to wait until the next major refresh or until my current laptop died — whichever came first.
I use my laptop all day, every day. It is primarily a machine for writing, emailing, and Web browsing. I don’t do nearly as much heavy Photoshopping as I once did. The Adobe app I use the most nowadays is InDesign, and it’s relatively light on the CPU.
That 2010 refresh of the MacBook Air, as substantial as it was, was more like a warning shot — a signal to say that this is the future of the Apple laptop.
The Air is the not-so-secret forerunner laptop among Apple’s lineup. When it was introduced in 2008 it was the first Apple laptop to ditch the optical drive, it was the first to incorporate the then-new black, plastic keyboard, it was the first to offer the larger trackpad, the first to offer SSD drives as a build-to-order option, and it was the first unibody laptop.
In the 2010 refresh, the MacBook Air was the first to offer only flash storage. And now, with its powerful and battery-friendly mobile i5 and i7 processors, the Air is an extremely capable laptop. It is no longer a niche device appealing only to those who live on the bleeding edge.
But what makes the Air so appealing? The fact that it comes with just the bare necessities.
As the years go on, Apple includes less and less stuff with our computers.
The MacBook Air box is closer in size to an iPad box than to my old PowerBook box. In fact, I can fit my MacBook Air box inside my old PowerBook box. When I bought my 12-inch PowerBook in 2005 it came in a box that was almost 8 inches tall. In addition to the laptop and power cable, the box had a few CD-ROM discs, a display adapter, a telephone cable, some stickers, and a decent-sized manual.
When I bought my MacBook Pro in 2008 the case was noticeably smaller, and it came with fewer items: the power cable, the recover discs, a small manual, an Apple remote, and a very nice screen-cleaning cloth.
The MacBook Air comes with hardly anything: a power cord, instructions, and stickers. No remote, no adapters, no USB boot drive, and not even a screen cleaning cloth. Is this Apple’s way of cutting costs or saving us from junk drawers overflowing with white cords and unused adapters? Perhaps both.
The MacBook Air is, without a doubt, the most attractive laptop Apple makes. It’s sleek, silent, sturdy, and surprisingly lightweight.
The Air is most attractive when the lid is closed. Every time I pick it up I am still slightly stunned by how light and sturdy it is to hold. At just under 3 pounds the Air weighs close to half that of my previous laptops. And by nature of the unibody design, the Air’s lid closes flush against its body. The lids on those aluminum PowerBooks and MacBook Pros never sat flush against the body when closed, which meant that when holding the laptop with one hand the lid would tap and bend against the body a little bit.
When opening the lid and waking the laptop, there is no optical drive to read and no HDD to spin up. You don’t know if it’s actually going to wake up until the display turns on, which is within seconds.
And with no “breathing” light to wait for when you close the lid, you never know when it has gone to sleep. Which means, that for all intents and purposes, you don’t think about the MacBook Air going to sleep. You are either using it or not. Like the iPad.
On laptops with spinning platter drives, that breathing light is very important. I would never move my laptop until I was confident it was sleeping and thus the HDD had spun down. When I first bought my MacBook Pro, it would sometimes take as much as 45 seconds to sleep because it was writing all the contents of RAM to disk. There are Terminal commands to turn safe sleep off and allow the MBP to sleep in about 10 seconds instead of 45.
But with the MacBook Air, you just shut the lid and put it in your bag. Because there is no spinning hard drive there is nothing to worry about when moving the laptop around.
This is my first unibody Mac, which means that some of the MacBook Air’s features, though they’ve been around for a few years now, are new to me. Such as: the large glass trackpad, the magnetically locking lid, the black chicklet keyboard, the glossy display, and the headphone jack that works with and responds to the iPhone’s earbud controls.
Pixel junkies have a hard time giving up screen real estate, and the thought of downgrading from a 15- to a 13-inch screen can be enough to keep one up at night. In fact, one reason I didn’t buy a Core 2 Duo MacBook Air last October was in hopes that a 15-inch MacBook Air was just around the corner.
If you’ve read many other reviews about the 13-inch MacBook Air and its 1440×900 resolution, you’ll likely know that the transition from a 15-inch laptop to this 13-inch Air is virtually painless. Moreover, content on the 15-inch MacBook Pro now looks comically large. I’m looking at the same graphics and the same icons, but they look bloated and fuzzy.
All in all, the high-res screen on the MacBook Air is fantastic. Text is crisper and images are sharper. Though it has taken some time to get used to everything being a wee-bit tinier due to higher pixel density.
I have always been a die-hard matte fan. The only thing I do not like about the Air’s screen is that it is glossy. Fortunately it is not the same glossy found on the MacBook Pros, iMacs, and Cinema Displays. In those screens there’s a giant slab of glass over the whole bezel. On the Air there is only a thin slice of glass that sits under the bezel. It is more glossy than the beloved matte displays of old, but it is not as glossy as the newfangled machines.
Fortunately, there is still a matte display at my disposal. When at my desk I put the Air in clamshell mode and plug it into my 23-inch Aluminum Cinema Display. The Cinema Display has an even lower pixel density than the 15-inch MacBook Pro but it does not have the same “comically large” feel that the MacBook Pro does. Since I sit farther away from the monitor and since the screen is quite a bit larger, the Cinema Display still looks fine. Though I am sure that a higher pixel density would look even better.
Here’s a look at the screens I am now using, compared to past screens I’ve owned and compared to some of the latest devices Apple is selling today.
|Device||Width (px)||Height (px)||PPI|
|23-inch Aluminum Cinema Display||1920||1200||98|
|12-inch PowerBook G4||1024||768||107|
|27-inch Cinema Display (Mid 2011)||2560||1440||109|
|15-inch MacBook Pro (2011)||1440||900||110|
|15-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2008) 1||1440||900||112|
|13-inch MacBook Pro||1280||800||113|
|13-inch MacBook Air||1440||900||128|
|17-inch MacBook Pro (2011)||1920||1200||133|
|11-inch MacBook Air||1366||768||135|
One more minor point about the screen is that the lid hinge opens wider than my 15-inch MacBook Pro did. Though it still doesn’t open quite as wide as my old PowerBook did, the Air’s obtusity is more than welcome in this regard.
Full-Screen Mode and the Full-Screen Conundrum
The smaller the screen the more delightful a full-screen app becomes.
Only a few full-screen apps looked good on my 15-inch MacBook Pro: writing apps (such as Byword and iA Writer) and Safari.
On the MacBook Air almost all the apps that support full-screen mode look good. Right now not many of the apps I use support full-screen mode in Lion, but the ones that do look great. Byword and Safari of course, also Mail and iCal (well, all things considered, iCal looks good in full-screen). And Reeder? Well, Reeder looks amazing in full-screen mode.
Thanks to the MacBook Air, full-screen mode is growing on me in a way that it never did when I tried to use it on my MacBook Pro. Perhaps what I like the most about apps in full-screen mode is the non-cluttered and organized tidiness that seems to come with full-screen mode apps. Each app is in its place, and when I’m using that app no other windows are floating behind it pestering me or getting in my way.
Something clever about Safari when in full-screen mode is that the title of the page you’re on appears in the Address Bar just after the URL. And if the URL is so long that it takes up the whole address bar, you get an ellipsis at the end with enough room to still display the title.
Safari’s title display in full-screen mode:
Safari’s title display in non-full-screen mode:
However, there are a few quibbles I still have. For one, the transition between screens is extremely slow. But it’s only slow when you are switching between screens — switching between apps causes a faster screen-slide transition. Meaning, if you use the four-finger gesture to switch from one full-screen app to the other, the speed at which the screens slide over is slower than if you use Command-Tab to switch between the full-screen apps. I would love for that faster switch to be the default speed.
Secondly is the issue of when I plug the Air into the 23-inch Cinema Display. You can have too much of a good thing, and full-screen apps on the Cinema Display are certainly too much. And so, when I switch to clamshell mode I have to exit all those apps out of full-screen. A system utility that recognized this would be much appreciated.
The larger, glass trackpad of the Air is much nicer than the trackpad I’ve been accustomed to on my older MacBook Pro. Especially when it comes to multi-touch gestures. However, due to the larger size of the trackpad and the smaller chassis of the Air, trackpad is under the inside of my palms when typing and it often throws me off. The Air is smart enough not to respond to mouse movements when typing but there’s still a natural desire to avoid touching the trackpad while typing.
Clicking with your thumb while two fingers are on the trackpad does not always register the “right-click”. You have to click right towards the bottom of the trackpad. Though it works on the Magic Trackpad, and it’s what I got used to for right-click on my MacBook Pro (the kind that still had the actual trackpad button). Moreover, there is no option in System Preferences to enable 3-finger click.
USB and Thunderbolt Ports
My external HDDs are all FireWire — my primary backup drive uses FW800 and the secondary is FW400. I will now have to connect them via USB until I upgrade to either a Thunderbolt-equipped external drive or a Thunderbolt hub. It would be great to get the functionality of the new cinema displays without the cinema display. A Thunderbolt hub with FW800, FW400, USB, and additional Thunderbolt ports would be fantastic.
My 23-inch aluminum Apple Cinema Display works fine with the MacBook Air via a Mini-Display Port to DVI adaptor plugged into the Thunderbolt port. And, worth noting is that the Thunderbolt port in the Air is one-half the power and capacity of a standard Thunderbolt connection.
Since the Air has no optical drive, what would be the eject key on any of Apple’s other keyboards is instead the power button.
Moreover, the F4 key on the Air now brings up Launchpad instead of Dashboard. All of Apple’s new keyboards do this. It’s unfortunate for someone like me who never uses Launchpad, but does use the Dashboard dozens of times a day. There is a workaround, however, using a handy utility called Function Flip.
As you know, the top row of an Apple keyboard has the default hardware control buttons and the row of function buttons. What Function Flip does is swap the default action of those keys. And so when pressing the Launchpad/F4 button, I can use Function Flip to have it default to react to the F4 command rather than the Launchpad command.
With Function Flip installed I go into System Preferences → Keyboard → Keyboard Shortcuts → Mission Control and set “Show Dashboard” to be F4. Now I have my Dashboard hotkey back, and if I want to activate Launchpad then I can hit fn+F4.
The Air is the first laptop I’ve ever owned where I feel that putting it in a case is unfair — I’d rather carry it around caseless like I do my iPhone 4. But it still needs a good carrying case because a laptop and its carrying case go together like a suit and tie.
I am big-bag-averse — I much prefer smaller, rugged bags that don’t look like they belong on a space mission. I never did find a bag that fit my MacBook Pro that was just right. But, for the Air, I already have an old, rugged Timbuk2 bag that is full of character and happens to be exactly the right size for the new laptop.
In the Timbuk2 bag I use a sleeve for the MacBook Air: Acme Made Skinny Sleeve. If I didn’t already have the Timbuk2 bag then I would likely get the Acme Made Clutch bag or the Bomber Jacket Messenger bag from Levenger.
Guts and Glory
My history with computers is that I use them for about 3 – 4 years. Therefore, I wanted to get the most specced-out MacBook Air available. And I did. I picked up the dual-core i7 MacBook Air with 256 GB of SSD storage and 4 GB of RAM. If the Air had wings, it would fly.
Ordering the i7 seemed like an easy decision at first. For only $100 I could get a newer generation processor with a faster clock speed and more L3 cache. For the 13-inch model, going from the 1.7 i5 chip to the 1.8 i7 chip does not offer a huge jump in performance. In fact, it’s likely that in day-to-day use I wouldn’t even notice the difference. But, since I plan to have this computer for a few years, I wanted to future-proof it a bit by going with the i7 rather than the i5.
The i7 turned out to have a bit of drama attached. But now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that the i7 build-to-order option was the right choice.
When the new Airs were first announced, Apple listed the i7 as being build-to-order only. When buying a new computer, it’s always harder to order it online and wait for it to be built and shipped than to simply drive to the Apple store and buy one that day. However, I was in Colorado at the time and I knew that I wanted the i7 model. So I ordered online, expecting it to arrive back in Kansas City by the time I flew home. However, once I relieved my email confirmation from Apple, the shipping time had already changed from 24 hours into 5 – 7 business days.
The longer the wait, the harder it is to be noble and deny the temptation for instant gratification. So I called the local Apple Store to see if they had any of the new Airs in stock, but, alas, they did not.
The next day, at 7:15 am Mountain Time I got a message from a friend on the East Coast. He was just leaving his local Apple Store with a new i7 MacBook Air in hand. I was shocked that the i7 Airs were available in-store. I decided to do some research about the differences between the i5 and i7 processors — were the speed bumps really worth the extra cost and (in my current case) the extra wait.
I had a very hard time finding accurate reports and information about the latest, mobile Sandy Bridge processors. And therefore, my initial research was way off. At first, it appeared that the i5 chips did not have Hyper Threading enabled and that the i7 chips did. If this were true it would make the i7 chips far superior to the i5.
However, as it turned out, the i5 chip does have Hyper Threading enabled. Making the speed bump to the i7 nice, but negligible. I decided to cancel my online order, drive to the local Apple Store and buy the best MacBook Air they had. If, like my friend on the East Coast, I was lucky enough to get an i7, then great. If not, then I’d be content with the i5.
Fortunately, they had the i7 MacBook Airs in stock and I happily picked one up.
According to Macworld’s lab tests, upgrading to the i7 chip in the 13-inch Air (which comes with a 1.7 GHz i5 chip) is a negligible gain. Upgrading to the i7 in the 11-inch Air is much more noticeable because the 11-inch Air comes with a 1.6 GHz i5 chip.
Now that I had the i7, next came the concerns of battery life. Sure I had a faster MacBook Air, but just how much is my battery suffering for it?
In my real-world, this-is-how-Shawn-uses-his-laptop tests, the battery easily lasts 5.5 hours. This is with brightness at 80%, a select few utility applications running in the Menu bar (Dropbox, Text Expander, Fantastical, Droplr), and doing work with Safari, MarsEdit, Mail, Yojimbo, Twitter, and iTunes.
No doubt I could get 6 or more hours out of the battery with the brightness turned down. The worst I’ve gotten out of the battery so far has been 4.5 hours. During that time I had Rdio streaming music the whole time, except for a 70 minute stint where I recorded an episode of The B&B Podcast and powered my USB microphone.
When the battery gets down to the red (less than 10%) I still get 45 minutes worth of use. And what else is so impressive about the battery is how quickly it recharges. Just 30 or 40 minutes plugged in and the battery will charge back up and I’ll easily get another 3 – 4 hours.
In short, having a battery that lasts for so long inspires a lot of confidence in your machine. The guaranteed 5 hours of use isn’t mind-blowing, but it isn’t poor by any means either. When you’ve got a portable office, you want to grab it and go.
Moreover, recent tests by Anand Tech show that the battery life of the i5 compared to the i7 was nearly identical. Though the i7 draws more power, it works faster and therefore gets approximately the same battery life as an i5 MacBook Air. However, This Is My Next was able to get just under 7 hours of battery life on an i5 MacBook Air.
Solid State Drive
My MacBook Air cold boots in under 20 seconds. Faster than any other device in the house.
Speedy launch times like these are becoming more and more common, but most of us have been around computers long enough to remember when you would start your computer and then go down to make coffee. Just because a 20 second boot-up is less rare doesn’t make it any less delightful.
In addition to the speed, having a drive with no moving parts can be a relief when you’re using a laptop. No need to wait for the drive to spin down before you toss it in your bag because, other than the fans, everything in the MacBook Air is stationary.
Not every SSD has been manufactured equally. Some of the MacBook Air drives are made my Samsung and some are made by Toshiba. The Samsung drives are slightly faster than the Toshiba drives.
According to Disk Speed Test, the Samsung drive in my MacBook Air has a write speed of 248 MB/s and a reed speed of 265 MB/s.
Compare that to the Toshiba which, according to Engadget’s review of their Air with a Toshiba SSD, has a write speed of 184 MB/s and a read speed of 202 MB/s.
They say the speed difference between the faster Samsung drive and the slower Toshiba drive is not even noticeable. However, as a nerd, that’s not the point. Buying something new that’s even the slightest bit slower than another available option makes you want to shake your fist in the air and shout, “Arrg!”
Fortunately, the 256 GB SSD that came with my MacBook Air is made by Samsung, which means that I have the fastest MacBook Air I could possibly own. And that feels good because I plan to use this machine for several years.
Even if I had gotten a Toshiba SSD, it still would have been faster than the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro that I put into my MacBook Pro less than a year ago. Using Disk Speed Test, my OWC reports a write speed of 109 MB/s and a read speed of 134 MB/s — or, about half the speed of the Samsung SSD that’s in the MacBook Air.
One of my favorite “features” of the Air is its lack of an optical drive. Too many times have I opened the lid to my MacBook Pro and been forced to listen to that horrendous wailing cry of the optical drive as it checked for physical media.
Moreover, I cannot remember the last time I used the Super Drive on my MacBook Pro. All the music I buy is digital; all the music I listen to is on my iPod or iPhone; all my software is downloaded (now, even my OS); and all my movies I get from Netflix or iTunes.
The only time I need to put a physical disc into my computer is to reinstall Adobe Creative Suite, or if I am sending a large file to print and I have to burn it onto a DVD. You can buy a USB-powered external Super Drive from Apple, or you can use another computer’s optical drive and connect to it remotely. The latter is aptly named Remote Disc.
Setting up Remote Disc is a piece of cake (I used it to install Adobe CS3 onto my Air).
- On the Mac that has the optical drive, go to System Preferences → Sharing, and turn on “DVD or CD Sharing”.
- On the MacBook Air, go to Remote Disc, which is found in the sidebar of the Finder window, and you’ll see the computer that has the optical drive shared.
- Choose “Ask to Use” and a dialog box will appear asking if you want to give permission for the MacBook Air to access the CD drive.
- Say yes, and then in the MacBook Air’s Finder, you’ll see what’s in the optical drive as if it were on the Air itself.
The downside to Remote Disk is that it slower than if the optical drive were internal. It took 40 minutes to install the 2.4 GB of Adobe Creative Suite software (Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop) over Remote Disk. An install speed of about 1.02 MB/s
An alternative to Remote Disk is to create a Disc Image (
.dmg) of the physical media and install it that way. This is also a great way to digitally store your physical media and finally toss out those boxes of CD-ROMs.
If you want to take your software that still exists on physical media and turn it into digital disk image files, the process is quite simple. With the disc in the optical drive, go into Disk Utility, select the CD or DVD that is in the optical drive, choose “New Image”, and then save the
.dmg file to your computer.
When installing a new operating system or setting up a new computer I love to start from scratch. Or, as I said earlier this month, it’s when I do my most serious tinkering.
Starting fresh is a perfect way to re-evaluate what I want to keep on an app-by-app basis. It also assures me that any cruft which slowly accumulated on the previous system is left in the dust.
Nothing makes you appreciate building out your clean install more than the Mac App Store. Once I had unboxed my MacBook Air and done the initial admin setup, I logged into the Mac App Store and downloaded half a dozen apps right off the bat (Byword, Twitter, Take Five, and a few others). There are more in the Mac App Store available for download, but I wanted to wait until I needed or wanted them before I downloaded them.
While the Mac App Store apps were downloading I downloaded and installed Dropbox to get it syncing.
Then I installed LaunchBar and Keyboard Maestro because without them I can barely navigate my Mac. Once these two apps were installed I replaced their Application Support files with those from my MacBook Pro, instantly re-enstating my LaunchBar preferences and Keyboard Maestro macros.
While everything was downloading, I took a lunch break. When I returned, and Dropbox had fully synced up, I then installed the rest of my necessary apps:
For Yojimbo and MarsEdit I manually imported the Application Support folders, just like I had with LaunchBar and Keyboard Maestro. OmniFocus and 1Password both sync with the cloud so I just logged in and let them do their thing. For Transmit and Coda I simply exported their keychains from the my previous system and installed it onto the Air.
The only other files I needed to manually move over were my music, all my fonts, and a few document folders. Previously I’d been storing my iTunes library on an external drive because my MacBook Pro’s 120 GB SSD wasn’t big enough to hold my music and movies. Since the Air has a 256 GB SSD, I was able to bring my music back to the local drive.
All in all, it took me a whole work day to buy the computer and get it set up and ready to use. I’ve since installed a few more apps, such as iWork and Adobe CS3. And the grand total ads up to 68 applications currently installed and 86 GB total in use.
Nothing beats a new machine running clean.
The New 12-inch PowerBook
After using the 13-inch MacBook Air for almost two weeks, it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about this laptop that makes it so great. I don’t think it’s so much in what the Air is, but rather what it is not — or rather, what it doesn’t have. The Air doesn’t have an optical drive, it doesn’t have many ports, it doesn’t have a removable battery, and it doesn’t have much weight.
It’s the subtraction of all these things that adds up to make the Air such an attractive and incredible computer.
Everyone I know who has owned a 12-inch PowerBook G4 looks back with fondness about that being the best Mac they have ever owned. It was a perfect blend of power and portability, and it invoked an affinity from its owners that few Macs in history have.
A few years from now, I believe we’ll look back and say the 12-inch PowerBook was the best laptop we ever owned until our MacBook Airs. The MacBook Air is the new 12-inch PowerBook — the new blend of power and portability that also invokes a fondness that few Macs in the lineup can.
- Lest you think my math is wrong: the aluminum 15-inch MacBook Pro has a viewable area of 15.2 inches, the unibody has a viewable area of 15.4 inches. Since they both have the same number of pixels it means the pixel density of the older model is just slightly higher than that of the newer model. ↵
Jeremy W. Peters wrote an article for The New York Times, stating that the reason The New Yorker is more successful on the iPad than its sister publications (such as Wired) is because The New Yorker app has a more simple design:
Magazines are still in the early stages of app experimentation, and the number of buyers is small in the context of The New Yorker’s one million print subscribers. But the figures are the highest of any iPad edition sold by Condé Nast, which also publishes Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour and others on the Apple tablet. [...]
The New Yorker, a magazine that has always been heavy on text, took a different tack from its peers. Instead of loading its iPad app with interactive features, the magazine focused on presenting its articles in a clean, readable format.
Via Khoi Vinh, who adds:
In short, the best way to serve a reading audience is to focus on providing a terrific reading experience and to de-emphasize the showy, buggy and difficult-to-use extras that have become synonymous with the ‘iPad magazine app’ format.
I am still convinced that magazine publishers see the iPad as an unstable market, and, as John Gruber put it, they believe the print edition is the “real” version of the magazine. Which means they’re not willing to take risks on the iPad and therefore end result of their product is an over-designed, bloated magazine app. But the publishers have to do it that way because they’re afraid that if they don’t ship an app that “looks just like the magazine” then the consumer’s perceived value of the app will drop and nobody will buy the app anymore.
It’s no secret that the publishing industry is struggling to stay profitable as things switch to digital. But building a digital business that leans heavily on the old-and-dying value of the physical printed publication is not the way forward.
Here are my considerations for moving digital magazines forward.
Focus on usability over eye candy. Make it as easy and wonderful as possible for your readership to use and read your publication.
Value attention over subscriptions. This requires making qualitative value judgment in place of a quantitative result. But what’s more important than people buying your app is people actually reading it. How many people are subscribers to The New Yorker iPad app that don’t actually read for whatever reason? If the app were easier to use and quicker to access, then you’d have users, not just subscribers. And users tell their friends about the recent article they read; users read the app in front of their co-workers during lunch break; users actually get invested in the app. If you can garner the attention of your subscriber base, and not just their money, then your road to growth gets significantly easier.
Cut the fat. track how your users are using the app. Are people interacting with those extra multi-media additions that come with the iPad version of the magazine? If not, cut them out so the app downloads quicker and has less stuff in it.
Study how people are reading on the iPad. There are some successful and well-made reading apps out there (such as the Kindle app and Instapaper). Users interact with these apps regularly without complaint. Learn from their strengths.