This summer, Apple is planning to release their next iteration of Mac OS X, 10.7 (codenamed “Lion”). From the looks of things, their primary focus this time around is interface improvements to make the user experience more fluid and effective. In general, I’m liking what I’ve been seeing, though looking at the system requirements that have been coming out suggests that I’ll be on the hairy edge of being able to run it at all (a Core 2 Duo or higher is required, of which I’m running the first Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro they offered), so I’m not sure how much real benefit I’ll be seeing in the near future. That said, one of the design changes they’re making seems like a horrible idea: they’re moving the Dashboard into its own space, rather than continuing to work as an overlay over whatever screen you’re on.
Given that the dashboard is for quick-reach, simple widgets, this seems remarkably backwards, and more like something you’d do to get people to not use it so it can be phased out of a later release. Think about it for a second: widgets are meant to show information at a glance, i.e. without significantly interfering or distracting the user from their task at hand. While several widgets seem like simply a bad idea to be shoved into their own space, there are a few that will have their usefulness significantly reduced, most notably the calculator.
To be clear, the dashboard calculator is not especially robust. It has no history or “tape”, no special functions, just your basic arithmetic. About the extent of its bells and whistles is that it accepts numeric input instead of being forced to use the buttons. But you know what? That’s the point. It’s a simple calculator for when you want to run some numbers really quickly, without interfering with the rest of your workflow. More often than not, these numbers will be pulled off a website or email, or chat. You aren’t particularly invested in running the numbers, you just want to check them really quickly. This, specifically, is the value of the dashboard calculator: just pull up the dashboard, and you can punch in the numbers, which are still visible, into the calculator for a quick total, without going through the process of loading up a separate application. I don’t want to have to constantly page back and forth between two screens just to run a quick number check. At that point, why not just use the actual Calculator app?
I doubt I’ll ever know, but I would love to find who made this particular design decision and ask them what on earth they were thinking.
As I’m sure many are aware, Apple updated their laptop line today. There are some interesting technological advances going on, but (and their stock fluctuations today can attest) there seems to be a large backlash against several changes they made to their lineup — some justifiable, some spurious. Let’s look at the spurious complaints first:
- “There’s no DVI port!” — and were you making the same complaint when DVI started to supersede VGA? Let’s be objective about this: DisplayPort is a VESA-certified industry standard meant specifically to address the needs of the computing market, in the same way that HDMI is meant to address the consumer electronics market. There are adapters already in existence to convert from DisplayPort to DVI (or even VGA) and back again. I know it’s hard when new standards come out, but you need to recognize that they’re coming out because what we have is no longer suitable for moving forward. HDMI is a marked improvement over Component. Well, DisplayPort is a marked improvement over DVI.
- “There’s no button on the trackpad!” — anyone who has been paying attention could see this coming — look at the iPhone and iPod Touch and tell me you couldn’t foresee virtualized buttons coming. There are some complaints that they hate “tap-to-click,” and I can certainly concede that, but from looking at hands-on reports of the new setup, the system is designed in such a way that your muscle memory to hit the button with your thumb will still work in exactly the same fashion. The current button on the trackpads drops a millimeter, maybe two — you are in effect already “tapping” the button. The short of it is that by going to a virtualized solution, it becomes easier to adapt the trackpad to specific needs and solutions. I’m certain I can’t be the only who sees this.
There are definitely some very real gripes to be had, however:
- “The black keyboard and black bezel are ugly.” — yes, I’m counting this as a real gripe. While from the exterior, the new laptops are sexy, when you open them up, the result a step backward; it is reminiscent of several offerings by Sony, Acer, even HP. Some are heralding it as a return to the Powerbook Titanium design philosophy, but I don’t really see that as a good thing. Why go back, when they clearly had so many options to move forward? Their external keyboards use a white on silver color scheme that would be markedly less jarring, let alone going with a silver-silver like they did with prior MacBook Pros. I consider this a valid complaint because part of what gets people to buy a Mac instead of a PC isn’t just the OS, it’s the hardware. The more it looks like everyone else’s offerings, the less reason there is to purchase the (more expensive) Mac option. Black on silver does not look good, I’m sorry. If they were going to go with the black bezel and black keyboard, in my opinion they should have gone with a black body. Either anodized or powder-coated black aluminum would still qualify for their EPEAT Gold rating, and yet would overall be more aesthetically unified.
- “No firewire in the MacBooks!” — completely agreed. I don’t know what the hell Apple was thinking. Adding a FireWire 800 port would not have been difficult, even in the smaller enclosure, and yet by doing so, there would be a wealth of devices that would become available, including daisy chained hard drives and their own Target Disk Mode. Yes, that’s right, they’ve removed a technology that makes it easier to buy more of their products (by easing the process of migration). I understand the desire to further delineate between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, but this is a grievous oversight.
- “The dual graphics cards are neat, but can only use one or the other!” — I’m on the fence as to whether this is a valid or invalid complaint. My suspicion is that when 10.6 rolls out and OpenCL and Grand Central becomes more of a reality, we’ll start seeing the ability to prioritize processes and send some to one card, and others to another. If not Apple, then a third party developer. Given that nVidia has gone on record saying they’re supporting OpenCL, I think this is a reasonable prognostication. In the meantime, however, it’s just a “shiny-shiny” to give the marketers something to chew on. I really don’t care about the difference between a 4 hour and a 5 hour battery life — more often than not, if I’m in one place for that long, I’m able to plug in somewhere. So why not save the space in the laptop and just do the high end graphics card? (Of course, I consider this yet another reason to believe that there WILL be communication across the two cards in the future.)
I’m still very interested in getting a new MacBook Pro, as my current machine is starting to get long in the tooth and showing its age. Once I have a job that I can justify the expense, I imagine I’ll be getting one of the new machines, but if you’re in the generation immediately prior, I’d be hard pressed to encourage an upgrade. Honestly, a part of me (as lustful for a new machine as I am) wants to wait and see if they start offering a gun-metal-black iteration in 6 months.
1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or work because I had not read them carefully enough.
3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “Making.”
6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.
I originally read this in an introduction to A.D. Coleman’s Critical Focus, written by noted Magnum photographer, Bill Jay. There are a few reasons I’m posting this, not the least of which being to make it easier to search for when I’m talking about the state of criticism with people. Which is ultimately the other big reason I’m posting it: the state of criticism needs to be addressed.
I’m not sure I really want to get into all the issues right now, as it’s a substantial topic, and I have lot to say about it once I’m a bit more together. The short of it is this: recently, several new media (in particular, I’m speaking of webcomics and gaming) have been publically criticized for their lack of “journalistic rigor” and poor overall quality. While I feel some of that criticism has been crude and exaggerated, I do agree with the general sentiment that most writing in these fields has been sub-par at best, filled with buzzwords, fan bias, and self-important egoism. That said, I honestly believe that the biggest problem is that most people (both viewers and authors) don’t understand the purpose of critique. As I see it, the most effective method to improve the situation is to teach people what it is they are supposed to be doing when writing a critical review of title. W.H. Auden’s succinct rules for critics (more of guidelines, really) does an excellent job (in my opinion) of illuminating the critic’s role.