This time of year I'm often asked to recommend technology. One might think that the plethora of choice might be construed as plethora of technical innovation, but I submit that the hype is greater than reality (shocker!). I'm going to explain my bias in several, platform-centric installments, rather than wax adoringly about any of them, because the manufacturers already know how to brag. So (spoiler)... bah, humbug and meh.
Like many mortals, I can't afford to go all in with any manufacturer's version of we're the best for everyone hype, particularly Apple (arguably the most expensive). Instead I must pick/choose a few from each type and infer the rest. I own several non-tablet computers (at least 6) running Windows operating systems, but none with touch screens, making Windows 8 a tough sell (more in the next blog post). I also own several Mac devices, from the Mac Air that is my daily toss about workhorse, an iPod Touch (4G), a Mac Mini (a media center device) and I just gave an iPad (the only one for now) to my daughter (I'm over it and I miss it, will probably go for Mini soon). My phone runs Android and I recently purchased a Nexus 7 tablet because I thought the Android ecosystem might merit a hike through its woods. Unlike most users I must maintain some Windows interoperability with all of them because my day job (IT) is supporting Windows users.
Tech consumers live in an evolving ecosystem, wherein mutants are hatched, then evolve, may the best mutant win by a nose. But therein one finds a sad reality, that is, all the major platforms are attempting to outdo the others by providing eye candy over substance. In Apple's case, a gated ecosystem substitutes for apparent simplicity. It may take more than a few iterations before clear winners emerge in the traditional laptop/desktop marketplace. Even then I suspect, hope, that a decisive winner is not on today's radar, because the current crop of stuff excites me less than cold canned beans (with the exception of mobile, the real hot marketplace).
It's easy to get caught up in the new, next best thing. For many, including me, there exists a fascination with a learning the new gadget, assuming no noticeable diminution of stability, safety and base bling from the prior model or type. I found iPad to be a perfect example; a marvelous machine with the sweetness of candy, it invites all manner of tapping, swiping and gesturing, raising a hope that some under-the-hood innovation will just pop out and cause intellectual orgasm. But I crave more than candy, I crave the main course, and iPad didn't deliver (yet).
If you gift an iPad no doubt the giftee will be delighted, particularly cats, children and web consumers. But any serious computer user will want more functionality, that's my major burn regarding Apple iOS (the operating system for iPads/iPhones, some iPads); Apple dumbs iOS down to enforce arbitrary limitations that aren't defined by hardware/software at all. That's how Apple avoids competing with itself, as giddy, non-discriminating Apple fanpeople will purchase at least one of every Apple device that rolls off the dehumanizing Chinese assembly line (to be fair, most manufacturers have some thumb in the unacceptable Chinese labor pie).
I justified the purchase of iPad because I needed a long-lived writing tool; portable, light weight, reasonable screen size, stable. I didn't expect that the iPad/iOS experience would slam the door in my face early on because it seemed, on the surface, an almost perfect device (with the addition of an external keyboard). Not to be outdone by a machine, I painfully worked around the most aggravating aspects, but not with Apple's help; it was third party hardware/software that almost saved my bacon.
Even the Mac Air, arguably the dreamiest piece of hardware ever devised, has lousy battery life, less than half of the iPad, and is bound by a cloistered and restricted ecosystem. Per a comment by Andy Ihnatko of The Chicago Sun Times, Apple innovates at the launch of a product, then iterates slowly. So don't purchase an Apple device and expect that dramatic innovation will be inserted over time.
Which brings up another point. Modern Apple products are becoming tomorrow's trash much faster than their predecessors because chip, screen and battery design can't keep up with an annual shopping season. Apple has sacrificed longevity for appeal and owner turnover, so I predict that my Air might replace several coffee table coasters in about three years. Internal parts, like the SSD (or Solid State Drive, a non-mechanical storage device that replaces the hard drive) and battery are designed for a limited run. So unless your pocket protector is stuffed with proprietary tools and you're willing to pry apart cases/unglue components, the most expensive, arguably most attractive computing platforms (so far) are scheduled to die at the same broad moment. AppleCare, the premium Apple warranty, lasts two years (duh!), standard warranty only one. The battery might even go before that if repeatedly drained beyond the 50% level, but even if carefully cared for lithium polymer technology is nominally restricted by chemistry to about three years. A very expensive (disposable?) device that might not make it through an undergraduate degree. And so, BTW, iPad follows in that path. Not that volatility exists only within the Apple domain, but a Blade Runner-type, replicant death schedule is not enlightened design.
Great machines, designed in an atmosphere of self-protection and arrogance; Apple profits from hardware sales (unlike the competition) so hardware must turn over for Apple to continue its meteoric climb. Steve Jobs didn't listen to users, he was a genius and benevolent dictator.
'Nuf said for now, perhaps Tim Cook will open this up.
Next up, several months trying to live with Windows 8.