Thoughts on Apple’s MacBook Event

October 17th, 2008

I started following Apple news in January 2005, when Apple released the Mac Mini. That was the first Mac I lusted for, mostly for the simple reason that it was the only Mac I could remotely afford as a jobless high school student.

That was not very long ago, but following Apple has changed since the Mac’s transition to Intel. Each event created a large fervor, and despite a rash of rumors, we never really knew what Jobs would introduce.

We still have that fervor, and we still have those rumors, but the difference is we more or less know what is going to be introduced at each event.

The single-biggest reason is Apple is a much looser organization now with its secrets. Some of this is due to its partners, and some of it to sources in Apple itself.

But another reason is the switch to Intel. When Apple moved to Intel, their plans became much more easy to predict. Apple would tend to release updated Macs when Intel released new processors or chipsets.

The Mac suddenly became much more like any other PC. Great design, great software, sure, but the differentiation between a Mac and a PC is much less when they are based on the same hardware and are updated on similar schedules.

The MacBook event is the beginning of Apple’s move to distinguish the Mac from the PC again.


After MobileMe’s announcement, some people argued that Apple was making the Apple experience hardware-agnostic by moving it to the web. I wrote in June:

If Apple intends to focus on the web by creating a web platform, they are also declaring a key tenet of their philosophy since Jobs’s return, that companies which create both hardware and software make better products, outdated and invalid. It would not necessarily mean that Apple would stop making Macs and iPhones, but it would mean that they think the hardware used to interact with software is no longer important. Software would be separated from hardware.

The PC-ization of the Mac seems to make sense within this strategy — Apple’s focus is on selling the “experience” and not the Mac (as an idea), so making them more familiar to the general consumer would seem like a smart thing to do.

If Apple’s MacBook event means anything, though, I think it is that Apple is not abandoning its belief that hardware and software are intimately connected. Indeed, just the opposite; with the new MacBook and MacBook Pro, Apple has re-affirmed this.

Apple is a hardware company. If there was any question, Jonathan Ive’s long presentation on how the old MacBook Pro was designed and how the new one completely upends it answers the question quite nicely. Let’s put that into perspective: Apple placed a large portion of a 50 minute presentation on the manufacturing technique for the notebook’s structure. Ive and Jobs gushed at how amazing this new technique is.

And it is. But only a company that really cares about the tiniest details of their product’s design would spend so much time on something most consumers care little about.

This is Apple at its best — focusing on something that seems trivial, because they know that the final product’s value is a series of little details.

Or look at the trackpad. Apple’s notebooks are routinely criticized for having only a single button on the trackpad. Rather than give in to criticism and put two buttons on their trackpad, though, Apple removed the trackpad button altogether from the new MacBook and MacBook Pro, and turned the entire trackpad into a button. It is typical Apple — they do something few of us ever expected, but it makes all kinds of sense to do.

Moving to an NVIDIA chipset, too, seems indicative of Apple’s dedication to the Mac platform. With Snow Leopard, and the NVIDIA chipset, Apple is attempting to distinguish the Mac from the PC by abandoning the processor-dictates-speed orthodoxy, and sidestepping the slowing of processor clock speed growth, by making the GPU available to any application. When Snow Leopard is released, and applications begin using OpenCL, current Macs should get a nice speed boost.

This indicates that Apple is not going to sideline the Mac in favor of a new “mobile web” experience. Rather, they are forming a cohesive Apple experience, whether you are using a computer (Mac), mobile device (iPhone), or the web (MobileMe). Apple has always believed in building the whole rather than just parts, and the latest MacBook event is a sign they have not changed.