Apple’s Obsession with Thinness; How Much Thinner Can Things Get?

Apple is obsessed with thinness. With an obsession that rivals that of the CPU clock speed days, Apple touts thinness for many of its devices.

Look at the new (poorly named) iPad Air 2; the first text you see on Apple’s website is:

“So capable, you won’t want to put it down.
So thin and light, you won’t have to.”

For the iPhone 6, it’s a bit different. They start with bigness, then go to thinness:

“iPhone at its largest.
And thinnest.”

Ember

And the MacBook Air:

“Thin. Light. Powerful.
And ready for anything.”

And then there’s the iMac:

“Creating such a stunningly thin design took equally stunning feats of technological innovation.”

Apple marketed the current iMac models as being thinner, even though the thinness of a desktop computer is not a valid selling point.

Since Apple no longer touts the clock speeds of its devices – at least not as the leading argument in their marketing pitches – thin is the new fast. The problem is that this thinness is getting less and less important; with each iteration of a device such as an iPad or iPhone, the company shaves a few millimeters off the thickness, making very little difference, but giving them a marketing message that, in the end, means little.

The difference between the current iPad Air and last year’s model is so slight as to not make a difference. The newer model is 1.4 mm thinner than the previous one; the difference in weight is a mere 34 g, or just over an ounce. The iPhone 6 is only 0.7 mm thinner than the iPhone 5s, yet it’s still thicker than the iPod touch. But it doesn’t matter; the difference in thickness and weight are inconsequential.

Metric such as size are valid at certain times. When the MacBook Air was released – nearly five years ago – the difference in thickness and weight, compared to other Apple laptops, was tremendous. At 3 lbs, it was 2/3 the weight of the first aluminum MacBook with the same display size: the aluminum MacBook, released later that year, weighed in at 4.5 lbs. And the plastic MacBook, released shortly after the MacBook Air, weight 5 lbs. Those are big differences.

Yet Apple hasn’t changed the MacBook Air much in five years; it’s still just under 3 lbs (2.96 to be exact), and it’s only a few hairs thinner. The MacBook Air has hit the thinness wall. The same thing will happen to other Apple products.

Apple has nearly reached the limit of thinness. Compare the original iPad and iPhone to the current models; the differences are noticeable. But as each generation shaves a couple of millimeters off the thickness, there’s not much point any more. It’s getting harder to make devices any thinner. Already, the iPhone’s camera has to stick out because the body of the device is too thin. (This was already the case with the iPod touch, whose camera also protrudes.) Apple soon won’t be able to shave even a half a millimeter off its devices, and they’ll have to find a new marketing message.

Thin is near the end of its life as a marketing argument. Maybe it’s time to switch to something else: something that has a lot more value to users, such as battery life.

RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 – Nov 4 2014

Dearly beloved…

On this, the occasion of its 14th birthday, we’re gathered here to mark the passing of Mac OS X Hints.

While it can be hard to tell exactly when a web site has died, the signs are fairly obvious. It’s been over 45 days since the last new hint appeared on the site. There is no way for new users to sign up for an account. There’s been one new comment posted in the last two days. A sidebar box proudly proclaims Latest Mountain Lion Hints. The site design, logo, and icons were last updated when I worked for Macworld, over four years ago. To paraphrase a Star Trek character, “it’s dead, Jim.”

I worked on the Mac OS X Hints web site for many years. I got to know Rob Griffiths, who founded the site, way back when, probably a couple of years after he launched this site. I worked with him writing a few chapters of a book which collected hints (whose title was so dumb, I won’t mention it). Subsequently, I filled in for Rob when he took vacations, took time off when his kids were born, and then, when he left Macworld, I took over as site editor for a while.

I’ll miss the site. It had lots of great information.

via RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 – Nov 4 2014 | The Robservatory.

Six Colors: Review: 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display

It looks good, but feels subtle—until you turn back to a non-Retina Mac display and are confronted with the brutal reality of a low-DPI screen. “How did we live like this?,” you’ll cry out to no one. Is a Retina display absolutely necessary in life? There are very few people who need this many pixels—designers and photographers come to mind. But, then, you could argue that about high-resolution displays on any device: We got along fine without them, and they’re not necessary, but life is sure nicer now that we’ve got them.

I disagree with Jason Snell; it’s not about people like designers or photographers. It’s about anyone who works with text and wants to see crisp, clear fonts. While this is a great display for those working with photos and videos, it’s also great for anyone who works with text a lot. It’s not a luxury if you work all day on a computer.

via Six Colors: Review: 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display.

First Impressions: 5K iMac (Spoiler: Wow!)

I got my 5K iMac early this morning, and immediately migrated my data from my Mac Pro. My first impressions of this Mac are simply this: Wow!

I haven’t done much yet; nothing that taxes the processors to be able to see how fast it is. I did get the faster processor and better video card, though; I want this Mac to be future-proof for a few years.

About imac

What really stands out – and the reason I wanted this iMac – is the retina display. I’ve been using retina MacBook Pros for a couple of years, and I always missed the crisp display when I came back to my 27″ Thunderbolt display.

This display is simply amazing. If you’re thinking of getting this iMac for the display, you have to see it; it will blow you away. Finally, with a display like this, computing is moving to a new level. When you work on a computer all day long, as I do, especially with text, it should look like this.

I’m a bit perplexed about the number of pixels in the display. The Displays preferences say it has the same relative number of pixels as the 27″ Thunderbolt display, but when I fired it up, after transferring all my data from the Mac Pro, all the windows show more than before.

One thing I’ve had to do is up the size of the sidebar icons (System Preferences > General > Sidebar Icon Size) and the iTunes list font (iTunes > Preferences > General > List Size). It seems that everything, at the default resolution, is smaller than before, even though the Displays preferences says the relative resolution is 256 x 1440. On the other hand, I haven’t changed my font sizes in Mail; they look fine, perhaps because they are so crisp.

The display is also very bright. With my Thunderbolt display, I usually had the brightness at the highest setting (during the day); with the iMac, I’ve got it about two thirds of the way up.

I’ll do some real-world testing later, when I get the additional RAM I’ve ordered (I’m adding another 16 GB, though, so far, even with 8 GB, everything seems to run just fine; I could probably have settled with only adding another 8 GB, but I’m thinking ahead.) For now, if you have a chanced to see this Mac, go take a gander at the display. It’s amazing!

Update: I decided to convert a video with Handbrake and see what happens. The fan is quite audible; not “loud” as such, but getting there. The Mac Pro, on the other hand, is ventilated better, so even when doing the same type of activity, you can barely hear the fan. The vent is on the back of the iMac, in the center; this may have been the case with other iMacs; I haven’t had one in years, but my Thunderbolt display had a vent at the bottom left of the display.

The noise is loud enough that I wouldn’t want to do this kind of activity while I’m working, whereas, with the Mac Pro, it didn’t bother me. It quiets down within about 30 seconds after Handbrake stops.

Update: After using the iMac for a while with only 8 GB RAM, I started running into a few issues: I couldn’t past graphics into Messages without it beachballing; I had typing lags in an app; and there were some graphics glitches. I got my additional RAM late in the day, and now have 24 GB in the iMac, but this underscores an interesting point. Apple shouldn’t sell a Mac like this with only 8 GB RAM. Sure, they want to upset you on more factory-installed RAM at a high price, but this leads to a bad customer experience. The Mac Pro, which is a tad slower than the iMac (in its base configuration) comes with 12 GB; the iMac should come with more. I probably don’t need 24 GB; 16 would be sufficient. But 8 is not enough.

How Will Apple Implement Touch ID on Macs?

Last year, after I had had my iPhone 5s for a while, I wrote about how I want Touch ID everywhere. I have a new iPad Air 2, which has Touch ID, so the two mobile devices I use most let me unlock them with my fingerprints. It’s not as big a deal on the iPad, because I don’t use it anywhere near as much as my iPhone, but it’s nice to have.

But I want Touch ID everywhere (at least on all my Apple products).

I’ve been wondering how Apple can implement Touch ID on Macs. The sensor is very small; the size of a home button on an iOS device, so it would fit on the corner of a trackpad; I can imagine Apple release the Magic Trackpad Touch with this feature.

Some have suggested using an iPhone to unlock an Mac. While this is an interesting idea, I think I could do it faster by typing my password on my Mac. Using the phone, you would have to a) unlock the phone with Touch ID, then b) activate something that lets you then choose to unlock the Mac. With the Handoff technology built into iOs 8 and OS X Yosemite, this is certainly possible, but I wonder if it would save any time.

I can imagine that future Mac laptops may have a Touch ID sensor built into a power button; it’s about the same size as the old power buttons on MacBooks Pro of years past. But that wouldn’t work with desktop Macs.

I hope Apple does something in that direction. It would make life easier, saving just a bit of annoyance when I want to access my Mac.

The New Mac Pro Collects Dust

I’ve loved my Mac Pro since I got it back in June. It looks cool, it’s fast, and it’s really quiet. But I’ve recently noticed a smell in my office; a burning smell, the kind you get when you turn on a light bulb that’s been off for a long time. Yesterday, I picked up the Mac Pro – something I hadn’t done in a while – and saw that there was a lot of dust collected outside the vents on the bottom. I leaned over the top of the Mac Pro, and breathed in the air coming out the top, and it did, indeed, smell a bit of burning dust.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.47.36 PM.pngI took off the cover, and held it by my window, then blew through the vents from the bottom to the top; a lot of dust came out. I’m going to get a can of compressed air, and try and give it a good cleaning. Any dust that goes in the bottom may accumulate inside the “unified thermal core,” and that would be what smells a bit.

The problem with the Mac Pro is that it sits flush on a desk or shelf. Dust settles on flat surfaces, and having the vents directly on a flat surface means that this computer will likely pull in more dust than, say, an iMac, where the vent is on the bottom-right of the display, a few inches above your desk.

If you have a Mac Pro, you might want to look at the bottom vents, and see if they’ve got dust around them. I could blame Titus the Cat, whose hair is certainly everywhere in the house, but, since he doesn’t go on my desk, I’d say it’s not really his fault. The design of the Mac Pro is such that it’s going to pick up any dust on your desk, and slowly pull that dust inside the computer.