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Apple and Beautiful Things

Apple prides itself on making beautiful things. Few devices are as arresting as a MacBook, iPad, or iPhone on an empty table, caseless and cordless. The visual is striking and inviting. Apple wants us to love its products, and love using them, and their careful design makes them light and beautiful, encouraging us to carry and use them. Their trackpads and displays are top notch, and interacting with them is fluid and smooth. Apple products have all day battery life, wake instantaneously, and perform basic tasks with fluid panache. The new MacBook Pros are in this vein, striking in their appearance with nothing plugged in our hooked up to them. The Thunderbolt ports along the sides are very handsome.

On the Apple webpage for the new MacBook Pro, there is a simple drawing of a MacBook Pro driving two 5k displays and 2 external RAID drives, but look – no wires are shown! They couldn’t quite bring themselves to put the spaghetti mess of wires in a photo or a drawing, so it was sketched without those details. Apple is quietly saying, “You CAN hook your new machine to external devices, but you really shouldn’t. Please don’t.”

Ironically, few people use them in such stark ways. For most all people, iPhones and iPads are in cases (people get nervous when they see a naked iPhone), or under stacks of papers, or hooked up to a bunch of cables. There’s a dongle for DisplayPort, a different one for connecting an iPhone, another for ethernet over Thunderbolt, another for traditional wired headphones and the iPhone 7.

The ugly secret for the MacBooks and MacBook Pros is that they will demand a lot of unsightly dongles for serious users who have wired ethernet, backup drives, servers, and so on. Apple loves a cordless WiFi world and wants to drive us to such a place, but the truth is that only casual users can live there right now. I know plenty of people with MacBook Airs who only plug them in at night to charge, and these are users that Apple really loves. Unfortunately, with current technology standards, wires have a more solid connection to things.

In this way, the iMac is perhaps the most Apple-y professional device there is, since it can hide its cords and connectors in the back while appearing to float mid-air. You can interact wirelessly with an iMac through your bluetooth peripherals. One would think that, along these lines, Apple would be very interested in docking stations for its MacBooks, which could obscure wired connections while enabling power and mobility. But Apple has steadfastly refused to build docks. Devices should be plugged in only at night; otherwise, use them during the day, preferably on an empty table where they can really stand out.

I was in an Apple store last year, and an employee said something very interesting. I was getting something replaced with a refurbished unit under AppleCare. I asked a bit how that process worked. The employee said that all the touchable elements of the device had been replaced, because, as he put it, “we don’t really like it when people touch things.” He was serious about his comment, that Apple wants to replace things that have been used, scratched, or damaged. But it had an unintentional, humorous meaning as well. Apple’s products are warm and inviting, absolutely gorgeous devices – as long as we don’t use them. Their greatest moment is at the unpacking of the device, where the beautiful box and virgin glass proudly wait for you (and then gasp as you throw the box away and shove the device in a case).

I love Apple, and have lots of Apple products. I want the new MacBook Pro. It’s a beautiful, awesome product that I would love using. It would look beautiful on my desk – as long as I don’t hook it up to an external monitor, iPhone charger, USB microphone, or external drive. It will be awesome to carry around at 3 pounds of weight, but if I forget my dongle bag with its connectors for HDMI, ethernet, VGA, and Lightning, then I am in trouble. The two great fears in life are forgetting the diaper bag, and forgetting your dongles.

This is the problem with beautiful things.

The 19th Century and Netflix

Old school pens and paper