Dave Studies Media

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Apple Anorexia

Today at Macworld '08, Apple presented their new notebook, the MacBook Air. It's got bragging rights as the world's thinnest laptop. Although I have my doubts about how well they've balanced aesthetics and usability, I have to admit it looks very nice. Here's the guided tour:

And I thought my computer was snazzy.

In our reading of Bolter and Grusin we've become well-versed in the theory that all media are evolving toward a Strange Days-ian, "Wire"-esque state of total sense-engagement to the greatest extent that they can. (At least, that's my take on it.) Keeping that in mind, we can make some interesting observations about Apple's new baby.

"It is...a creed among interface designers," write Bolter and Grusin, "that interactivity increases the realism and effectiveness of a graphical user interface: the icons become more present to the user if she can reposition them or activate them with a click of the mouse." (pp 29-30.)

At 2:00 in the video, our good friend John begins explaining the capability of the MacBook Air's trackpad. He demonstrates how certain simple finger movements perform some common tasks such as zooming, manipulating graphics, and web browsing. Normally these tasks are performed via interface buttons or keyboard-shortcuts. If all electronic devices with some kind of interface eventually followed this trend, it would eliminate the need for many interface functions to exist and provide a more immediate experience.

At 4:52, John triumphantly proclaims that, "MacBook Air was built for the wireless world!" He goes on to explain the minimal need for wires and other cumbersome peripherals. For one thing, iTunes members now have the option of renting movies online, which saves them from having to lug around the external disc drive and going to the movie store to pick up the DVD du jour. Score. Plus, thanks to WiFi technology and features like Migration Assistant and Remote Disk, you do not have to physically connect the laptop to any additional media whatsoever if you want to copy data in any capacity.

All of this demonstrates how Bolter and Grusin's ideas about immediacy and immersive qualities have a strong presence in this particular breaking-edge medium.

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  • i enjoyed reading your thoughts on the new macbook air and what it tells us about the ongoing shift towards interface-less possibilities for computing. i'd like to read more about what these types of technological developments say about the dual logic of immediacy and hypermediacy.

    keep writing,

    By Blogger Ian Reilly, At January 16, 2008 at 11:09 AM  

  • You and I have agreed time and time again on the centrality of interface to the world of experience at our fingertips (no pun intended). I must say I was quite pleased with the inclusion of the multi-touch trackpad, having been entranced by the new UI tech's near magical appeal via my iPod touch. The all-wireless approach (at the cost of oodles of peripherals) is definitely appealing in its own right, although personally I don't feel ready to sacrifice that much power for the marginal gains in portability, say, for instance, over your blackbook. So yeah, currently, blackbook trumps air.

    My question for you, Dave, involves your take on the eventual differentiation of hardware categories: Perhaps laptops will shrink to wristwatch size? Perhaps iPhone-sized things will grow up to tablet proportions, stay the same and gain power, or maintain their current niche. For you, where are the lines currently drawn between (useful) categories of personal computers? How about in the near future?


    By Blogger jon., At January 18, 2008 at 11:37 PM  

  • Ian,
    Thanks for your comment, I'll keep that in mind.

    While I appreciate the artistry that goes into these things, I think utility should always come first, at least as far as computers are concerned. (Maybe the fact that I'm the hallmark university student who's not exactly rolling in money is jading my perspective.)

    If utility trumps aesthetic, I'd say there's a limit on how small and convenient you can go. Already with the MBA we see Apple sacrificing usability for visual and probably tactile decadence. (For example, you can't carry around an extra battery - not a very good thing if this is supposed to be the most portable laptop ever, don't you think?)

    It's pretty hard to say what direction things will take, because these progressions are made in many baby steps. Furthermore, the direction of those steps is determined by a lot of factors; everything from technology limitations to company standards to fashion trends.

    By Blogger Dave, At January 19, 2008 at 10:41 AM  

  • I've been telling people about this new Mac and many of them haven't heard about it yet. I didn't even know about it until you and Jon brought it up. Maybe this speaks to the divide between the haves and have nots, like Ian was saying a few classes ago. There are people who buy in and others who don't. I still don't own a single Mac product, despite what ‘they’ say about how good they are. I don't get how the pitch of this product works, because I think this thing looks flimsy, but that’s exactly my point. People who don’t get all of the technical “mumbo-jumbo” would buy this laptop purely for the sake novelty or for the name Mac.

    By Blogger felicia, At February 4, 2008 at 3:20 PM  

  • Couldn't agree with you more. I published a post on my other blog a while back that touched on the issue of people owning Macs for all the wrong reasons.

    I'm inclined to think that Apple has overestimated how quickly they're becoming the new "it", and that the majority of their users are still savvy enough to recognize the MBA's faults. I could easily be wrong though. Time will tell. Thanks for the comment.

    By Blogger Dave, At February 5, 2008 at 12:55 PM  

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