AMITIAE - Wednesday 12 March 2014

Apple Notebooks - Then and Now - Bangkok Post, Life (Amended)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


In the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller related, in the chapter "Think Different: Jobs as iCEO", that on his return to Apple, Jobs drew a horizontal and vertical line on a whiteboard to make a matrix with four quadrants. At the top he wrote, "Consumer" and "Pro". The two rows were labeled Desktop and Portable. While Gil Amelio had been trying to have more products approved, Steve said that fewer were needed.

The lines are blurred now with iPad and iPhone hand-held devices - Jobs had killed the Newton on his return - and the far smaller differences between Consumer and Pro. Another erosion (of sorts) occurred when it became possible to run Windows on Macs: using Apple's BootCamp, Parallels Desktop 9 or VMWare Fusion 6. It is also possible to run a single application using Codeweavers Crossover.

Apple computers are split between desktops and portable devices. The desktop computers include the under-rated Mac mini, the iMac and the new Mac Pro which is just arriving in Bangkok. I saw one recently in Siam Discovery Center. Although I have an older iMac, my preference is for portable devices. I include my iPhone and iPad as I am able to do a surprising amount of work on these when away from home.

MacBook Pro x 2
MacBook Pro Computers - 15" and 13" with Retina display

These days, all of the notebook computers (Apple does not like the term, "laptop") are used by both those at home and by professionals: even iPads are used at home and in the enterprise. The notebooks are the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro ranges. There are no MacBook computers these days and only the bottom of the range 13" MacBook Pro has a disk drive. That is rumoured to be due for replacement soon, with some suggestions being that a 12" device will replace it.

PowerBook 520c One of my favourite notebooks was a 12" G4 PowerBook (amended) I had (until it was stolen in a burglary) so this screen size is certainly usable. That was not the first portable Mac I had. In pre-OS X days there were a couple of PowerBooks powered by Motorola chips. These were quite heavy.

I still have a PowerBook 520c from 1995 in my office. I was surprised last week when, after about 10 years, it started up first time (running System 7.6.1), although deterioration of the 9.5" screen means it is almost unreadable.

I was at the San Francisco release of the MacBook Air in January 2008. The intended market then was for the "on-the-go professional": the type of user who already has a home computer, and perhaps a notebook too, who attends conferences or business meetings and who is a regular user of air transport. The thin design (soon copied by others) was a real weight-saver (1.4 Kg).

With the low weight and the ability to turn the screen on instantly, it was easy to see why it became popular. That instant-on was helped in a big way by the use of a solid state drive (SSD). The main drawbacks for me are the smaller disk size and the lower processor speed. I want a computer that I can use at home, at the office and travel with: it has to be my main computer, not an extra.

Many get round the hard disk space problem with external disks. These are small enough and cheap enough these days. I have a couple of these that were only a couple of thousand baht each. I have one small enough to fit right inside a shirt pocket.

external HD external HD

Imation 1TB disk and Imation 500 GB disk - Both shirt-pocket sized

I currently own two MacBook Pro computers: an older 15" with the i7 processor; and a recently-bought 13" with Retina display, which has an i5 processor, 512 GB SSD and 16 GB RAM. The SSD, improved bus and the memory make it really fast.

While the older one sometimes balked at an SD card with a couple of hundred RAW pictures from my Nikon D7000, the new computer doesn't even start to get warm. That older MacBook Pro often had both fans spinning up to 6,000 rpm, which even an increase to the maximum of 8 GB of RAM failed to ease.

The latest McBook Pro has a newer generation of processor from Intel that is designed specifically for notebook computers. It runs cooler and battery life is markedly better. I can teach for a morning, running video via a projector and still have enough battery charge left for most of the afternoon.

There are losses with the new Macs. I can no longer use the infra-red remote control and there is (oddly) no power light. Also gone are the optical disk drive and Ethernet, signalling Apple's focus on Wi-Fi connection: enhanced with the latest (802.11ac) standard. That will mean much faster data transfers, so synchronising data between devices (Mac, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV) will be almost instantaneous.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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