Technology doesn’t always move forward. Sometimes you have a solar flare, or maybe a robot revolution, and in the end the collective decides that it might be better off living a simpler life.
Sometimes the decision is made for you, by people who claim to know better than you.
Apple decided to resurrect the Macbook a couple weeks ago, to the usual media circus and fanboys (or fanpeople, to be more equal) collapsing in seizures of ecstasy. The laptop’s primary feature is that it is even thinner, as per Pope Steve‘s papal bull issued in time immemorial. All other features, apparently, are secondary. Coming in at a gaunt 13mm and just a hair over two pounds, the new Macbook continues to solidify Apple’s stance as the heroin chic of the computer industry. After seeing the absurdly-extended marathon of anorexia Jony Ive and his coworkers seem compelled to display, I’m surprised I haven’t yet seen a Macbook regurgitate some part of its mainboard live on stage.
Unsurprisingly, it has had to give up some of those pesky internal organs to maintain its girlish figure. While optical drives have been vanishing on thinner laptops for some years now, Apple decided motherboards were just too damn big. The more features you want, the more circuit board there needs to be, and who really wants either of those, right? Hard drive connections, memory slots…those are all just vestiges of previous generations that need to be evolved out. And that’s why we have Apple. To tell us what we need and don’t need.
Among the earth-shattering changes wrought upon humanity with this model is the improved runtime. The new Macbook includes a “stepped battery” design, to fit the laptop’s frame as closely as possible, and pack in that ever-so-coveted battery life. Combined with the tiny mainboard, this means the laptop’s footprint is around 90% battery. And none of these are removable. Everything is soldered, screwed and glued in, to make serviceability as impossible as possible.
Now, I’m not an engineer or anything, but it seems to me the Macbook would get even better battery life if it just had a slightly thicker battery with a few more layers. Or a user-replaceable battery that could be swapped for an extended model. Or even two batteries, allowing the user to swap between them on the road without powering down. Nope. Apparently the future is in paper-thin batteries you can’t touch or replace without destroying half of the fucking machine.
But one more thing…the new Macbook actually does possess one feature that everyone agrees is the future: a USB “C” port. This nifty new guy promises to eliminate long-standing frustrations, will increase the bandwidth to 10Gbps and carry up to 100 watts, allowing phones and even laptops to charge over a USB connection. And guess what? The new Macbook will do exactly that. It’s a fairly brilliant move–future proofing, if nothing else–and I can’t wait for a future where I don’t need to lug my laptop’s charger around, just a USB cable and wall outlet adapter. I can remember the last time a change like this had so much convenience potential. And it was glorious.
Problem is, apparently the future doesn’t include multiple ports. That’s right. The new Macbook includes exactly one USB connector. And that’s it. Oh, it also has a 3.5mm for headphones. But it has no HDMI-out (or any AV-out for that matter), no SD slot…nothing else. If you have to charge your laptop and use an external drive, you have to pick one. You have to read an SD card and use an ethernet adapter because your Macbook’s wifi crapped out? You’re SOL. The Mac world’s response basically amounts to “more ports bad, more accessories good!” Yes, because external add-ons are exactly the thing to complement portability. I mean, it’s not like this laptop is going to be on the road, right?
What makes this whole thing really entertaining (or depressing, whichever works for you) is that Asus beat them at their own game. The Zenbook UX305 is superior to the new Macbook in almost every imaginable category: While the processor is (possibly) not as powerful, the memory is user-upgradeable, as is the hard drive. The screen is capable of up to 282 pixels per inch, versus Apple’s 226 much-trumpeted Retina display. And this even comes with two free kicks in the nuts: Asus’ Zenbook has a bigger battery, has three USB ports (granted, not v3.1 “C” ports), is thinner than the Macbook, and will be almost half the price. It boggles the mind, it really does. It makes me want to buy the Zenbook just so I can stand outside an Apple store as people build their hoovervilles and wait desperately for a chance to breathe the same air the new Macbook used as intake and exhaust.
Personally I don’t see why laptops need to be thin enough to double as filet knives. I have no problem with a laptop in the 1-2cm range, and if manufacturers are going to impulsively shrink the electronics with each new generation, why not instead work on replacing that newly-empty space with more battery? That way everyone wins. Laptops are thin enough, damn it.