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In mid–2013 I needed a new computer. Like many others I chose A MacBook Air instead of a Windows laptop.

It wasn’t my first Apple. In 1984 I bought one of the first 128k Macs. There were others.

Yet for twenty years my work had revolved around Microsoft Windows.

A vote against Windows

So why throw away the skills and software investment?

It came down to three reasons.

First, the 2013 MacBook Air’s all day battery. At the time no other laptop came close to this. With care you could eke out 12 hours. The best Windows laptops of the day could manage, perhaps, six hours. And that’s being generous.

Second, the MacBook Air is light and thin without compromising on the keyboard or touchpad. While many rival 2013 laptops were as light and thin, there were compromises.

Microsoft misstep

The third consideration is more complicated. It wasn’t so much that Windows 8 was an annoying, hard-to-use mess. Although that is true.

It was that Microsoft’s misstep opened the door to alternatives in ways earlier Windows upgrades did not.

Moving from Windows 8 was not going to be a wrench.

At around this time Windows 8.1 arrived. It was another dog’s breakfast. Microsoft doubled down the madness.

Windows 8.1 was meant to fix 8. It changed nothing.

The move from Windows 8 to OS X Mountain Lion proved less jarring than the move from Windows 7 to Windows 8. There was no going back.

There could have been going back.

Surface Pro
Surface Pro

Surface Pro

In mid–2013, Microsoft’s first Surface Pro was a promising alternative to the MacBook Air.

True, it was underpowered and overpriced. The first Surface models needed expensive add-on keyboards that are fine for casual use, but painful after hours of touch-typing.

Microsoft’s second generation Surface Pro was better. The keyboard wasn’t perfect but was usable.

Had they arrived a few months earlier, a Surface Pro may have graced my desk instead of the MacBook Air.

This may sound contradictory given the earlier comments about Windows 8. There is a simple explanation.

Windows 8 didn’t make sense on a two-year-old desktop computer. Nor did it make sense on a 2013 Ultrabook. Windows 8 was almost as bad on an ordinary 2013 touch screen PC.

Glimpse

You could see what Microsoft was trying to do with Window 8 when you tried it on a Surface.

Windows 8 still wasn’t great. Yet on a Surface it showed occasional glimpses of logic. There were hints of elegance.

As Apple might say; it just works.

Maybe it doesn’t work well as you’d hope. Yet on a device that acts as both a laptop and a tablet Windows 8 was no longer incoherent.

Coherence isn’t the first word that springs to mind with Windows 10. Yet, for the most part, that’s what distinguishes it from Windows 8.

If you’re using Windows 10 on a laptop without a touch screen, you won’t find yourself accidentally dropping into tablet mode. It acts like a laptop operating system.

A laptop operating system that acts like a laptop operating system shouldn’t be a big deal. But that was the problem with Windows 8. It didn’t act like a laptop operating system or a PC operating system.

Apple operating system

When I chose the MacBook, I turned to Apple for the hardware and stayed for the software.

It took time to warm to OS X.

The first thing I did after taking my new MacBook Air out of its box was install Windows 7.

For a while the MacBook Air was a Windows laptop. It may have been the best Windows possible laptop of the time. The MacBook was snappier, lighter and had longer battery life than anything that came with Windows installed.

Over time I moved to OS X. It was a revelation. Life was easier, work was easier, everything was easier. My productivity soared.

Robust alternative

OS X, or macOS as it’s now called, isn’t perfect. It has flaws and annoyances. On the plus side it is robust in ways that Windows never was. You can go months without rebooting. Try doing that with Windows 8.

These days a lot of computing takes place in the browser. You can do almost everything there.

That’s the thinking behind the Google Chromebooks. They use a browser as an operating system. With so much software now being delivered as an online service, operating systems take a back seat.

This is an area where Windows will struggle to recapture its greatness. When everything revolved around operating systems, Microsoft called the shots in the computer industry. Apple carved out a niche.

Browsers, clouds

Now the PC action is all in and around the browser and cloud computing. Today’s main battleground is with phone operating systems.

Microsoft is strong in cloud. It has first class cloud apps, but it lost the plot with phones.

You can still get phones that run Windows 10. Almost no-one buys them. Microsoft has little interest in selling Windows Phones. That may undermine other parts of the business.

Integration

In contrast Apple not only has the popular iPhone, but has found ways to integrate the iPhone with its laptop operating system.

It feels like magic when an incoming iPhone call gets the Apple Watch tapping your wrist and a notification appears on the MacBook. You can answer the call or respond to a text message on any of these devices. They act as a coordinated team.

Windows 10 fixes a lot of the Windows 8 problems. It’s the operating system Microsoft should have had in 2013.

The damage from a failed version will echo down the years at Microsoft. And elsewhere. While it isn’t the reason why PC sales plummeted in recent years, the Windows 8 debacle did not help.

Big numbers

Last month Microsoft trumpet that 400 million computers now run Windows 10. It’s an achievement. But let’s not forget in most cases Microsoft gave the software away.

Today it costs more than $100 for an everyday user to buy a Windows 10 upgrade. At that price Microsoft missed $40 billion in revenue.

It’s not just the money. Nor is it the loss of prestige or the distraction. There’s also a loss of momentum. Above all these, there’s the dawning realisation that Windows is no longer centre stage.

Nothing is going to fix that.

Although the 2016 MacBook has changed little since last year, it is much improved.

If the song remains the same, it now lasts longer and has a faster tempo.

That’s because Apple uses newer Intel Core M processors. Intel’s updated chip gives the MacBook a speed boost and at least an extra hour of battery life.

Apple Core

The review model has a 1.1GHz Intel Core m3 processor. It is the anchor model in the range and costs NZ$2400.

Pay NZ$2900 and you can move up to a 2016 MacBook with a 1.2GHz Intel Core m5 processor. If you go down the built-to-order route, there’s an optional 1.3GHz Core m7 model at NZ$3170.

That option might not be the best approach if you’re looking for more mobile power. You wouldn’t choose a MacBook for grunt.

And anyway, reports say Apple will launch a new Retina screen MacBook Pro later this year. It is likely to more compact than existing MacBook Pros.

More than a speed bump

The newer Intel chips represent more than a simple speed bump. My review MacBook was faster than last year’s model. Some applications run 25 percent faster.

That speed boost is significant. The 2015 MacBook was more than enough for most office type applications. It could be sluggish at times if you pushed it with more advanced creative tasks.

To be fair, I never found that’s a problem. It struggled with games. I’m not a gamer, at best I dabble, but the old MacBook would sometimes lag. You wouldn’t say that about the 2016 model. The difference is like night and day.

Computer power is a curious thing. For years constant upgrades were essential because software demands ran ahead of hardware capability. That hasn’t been the case for over a decade, yet people often think they need more power.

Often they don’t. Most of the time we browse, answering mail, write, listen to music, watch videos and using cloud apps. Only a tiny fraction of users push the limits with apps like video rendering. Unless you know you plan to use demanding apps, the 2016 MacBook will more than meet your power needs.

Gimme just a little more time

For most mobile worker battery life is more important than processor power. This is where the Intel processor upgrade is more important.

My older MacBook Air can go a full working day away from home on a single charge. The battery doesn’t last as long as it once did, but it is still good for nine hours.

The 2015 MacBook couldn’t make it to the end of eight hours without charging. By about 4 PM on a normal, away-from-home working day I’d be getting battery alerts. I’d put that at about 7.5 hours of usable life.

In comparison the 2016 MacBook has at least another hour in the tank. In testing it would go for almost nine hours before the alerts started. I’d be making my way home before needing a charger.

An extra 90 minutes and 25 percent more processing power amount to a big improvement.

This, by the way, has been Apple’s launch pattern: a new product appears, then a year later it gets a performance boost.

A rose by any other name

The only other change of note is cosmetic. The 2016 MacBook now comes in Apple’s ‘rose gold’ finish.

Otherwise it’s still the same beautiful tapered aluminium slab. Sitting closed it looks like it could be a tablet. The body is 13mm deep at its thickest point and about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The 2016 MacBook weighs 900 grams.

Apple stuck with the 12-inch Retina display. At first sight it looks small in comparison with other laptop screens. In use, the lit 2304 by 1440 pixels look beautiful. Photos display in great detail. Text is always crisp and easy to read, even at small point sizes.

Can you feel the force?

The Force Touch keypad feels great, although there are few applications making use of it.

Not everyone warms to the keyboard. It’s shallow and offers little travel. You may take a while to adapt to it. Here’s the odd thing about the MacBook keyboard.

When I’m working on the MacBook, it feels fine to me. I don’t notice any obvious shortcomings. There are no ringing alarm bells in my head. My typing productivity is normal. Perhaps a few more typos, but the speed is still there.

And yet when I returned to my MacBook Air after a month with the 2016 MacBook, I was like going back to a warm, comfy chair. I didn’t feel the step down to the 2016 MacBook, I did feel the step up back to my regular keyboard.

Oddities for now

Many reviewers and users complain about the lack of ports on the MacBook. You get one headphone jack and one USB-C port. This handles power supply as well as any wired peripherals.

Critics say if you buy a MacBook you need an adaptor to back-up to an external drive or use a monitor while charging. It’s clumsy looking and jars with the MacBook’s minimal vibe.

That’s true. Yet in practice I found I never need to use an external screen with the MacBook. My back-ups are all handled by wireless connections. For that matter, I use Bluetooth to connect external speakers.

The MacBook forced me to update some old-fashioned ideas. I still have a cable back-up drive, but it’s third level back-up behind a NAS drive and a Seagate wireless drive. That clumsy looking adaptor spends most of its life in a drawer.

The future MacBook

In some ways the MacBook is still ahead of its time. Many users, particularly those working for companies with strict technology policies may feel restricted. I find it liberating.

For me mobility, simplicity and all-day battery life trump most other considerations. One day most laptops will be like this.

abstract desktop

David Sparks hits the spot with his post on Apple Notes:

When I showed up at WWDC last year, Apple Notes was nothing more than a target for my derision. When they announced during the keynote that they had an “all-new” Apple Notes I chortled and rolled my eyes.

Then I stated using Apple Notes and the strangest thing happened. I liked it.

This echoes my experience. At first I ignored Notes, only using it as a way to collect and manage clips of cut and pasted text. Then I dived in and found the answer to many of my needs.

Sparks makes the obvious connection with Evernote. I can’t put my finger on a date, but sometime in the last year or so I lost patience with Evernote. It went from being useful to being annoying.

At that time I moved everything from Evernote to Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is the unsung hero of Office. I still like the app, but now I work on Apple hardware the integration in Apple Notes means it is central. I keep finding new ways to use it.

Sparks mentions a problem with Apple Notes: The tiny text size on a Mac screen.

…the text size on the Mac version is just too small. They keep adding new features with the betas and it keeps amazing me that they don’t address this problem.

At the moment this doesn’t bother me, my eyes are working well. I have macular degeneration which means at times I struggle to see small text. Notes’ tiny text may be a problem when that happens.

My main concern about Apple Notes is that it chews my precious iCloud data allowance. Apple only gives 5GB of free storage per customer, if you have more than one device that runs out fast. It looks like I’ll need to buy an iCloud data plan.

The WordPress.com OS X app is beautiful. It’s also almost pointless.

The app is wrapped around the most recent browser version of the blogging software. That’s it.

It runs well enough, but it doesn’t do anything that can’t be done in the browser. Many of those tasks work better in the browser. Moreover, there are some things it doesn’t do, so you are sent back to the browser version anyway.

There are only three reasons to use the app:

  • To keep Safari or another browser set aside for non-WordPress tasks.
  • To go straight to WordPress.com from the Dock or Application launcher.
  • If you want to store data locally on your Mac.

None of these are compelling:

  • WordPress.com works well in Safari. But even if you hate working that way. like it or not, there will be times when the app sends you there.
  • If you keep WordPress in your Safari bookmarks you can get there in two clicks instead of one.
  • Local data may help if you have a poor internet connection, otherwise, it’s rarely an issue. When I feel the need to compose a post outside of the site, I use a Markdown editor like iA Writer or Byword. iA Writer integrates well with WordPress.

In short, there may be a  case for people who spend all day managing their sites to use the app, but for most people it’s just clutter.

Update: There is one flaw with the app I forgot to mention. It doesn’t appear to automatically update. If it does, then the updates are infrequent. And there’s no obvious refresh button to hurry updates along. This matters if, say, you want to watch the traffic roll in after a new post.

 

ipad pro apple pencil

While the iPad Pro and the 2015 MacBook have much in common, you’d choose one over the other for quite different reasons.

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

So which would you choose?1

In the end it comes down to whether you want a touch screen or not, your taste in keyboards and whether you can find the apps you need. Let’s look closer:

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.

Here we’re talking about full-blown computers with a half-decent keyboard2, 12-inch screen, desktop operating system and all the things that collective potted spec list implies.

Despite its 12-inch display, the 2015 MacBook is dwarfed by the 13-inch MacBook Air. It looks just as tiny next to the iPad Pro.

It is slim, light and silent. So slim, light and silent you might easily forget it is there. In fact I often did. Only last week I left home with the MacBook in a briefcase only to stop after a few minutes to check I hadn’t left it behind.

Unlike the MacBook Air, no fan starts humming when you push the processor too hard. Indeed, the 2015 MacBook barely warms up in use. You can rest it on your lap without burning your thighs.

For a while the MacBook felt like the future of personal computing. That was before I used the iPad Pro.

Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

It may be an iPad, but when you add the keyboard case, it starts to feel a lot like a laptop.

Apple wasn’t first to realise the barriers between the classes of device are breaking down. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is now in its fourth generation and represents a credible alternative to both the MacBook and the iPad Pro.

The key to the iPad Pro is that it is far more powerful than the 2015 MacBook3. This is noticeable when running video or audio editing apps. It handles HD movie editing with aplomb. Complex graphics and photography jobs are a cinch. Add the Apple Pencil to this and you have a superb design tool.

My feeling is this is where developers will focus on the iPad Pro. I’ve seen demonstrations of architectural and medicine apps that push the graphics beyond anything you would find on a conventional laptop. The touch-screen interactivity takes this to a new level.

So which one?

If you want grunt, graphics or work with any creative apps, the iPad Pro stands head and shoulders above the MacBook in terms of raw capability. However, it runs iOS and that operating system still lacks the level of software support you will find in the OS X world. Some creative types may need to wait for their software developers to come up with iOS versions of their favourite apps.

If portability trumps everything, then the MacBook will be your first choice. The keyboard is better than the iPad Pro’s keyboard cover. Unlike the iPad Pro, it has a touch pad. This means you don’t need to constantly  lift your fingers from the keys and touch the screen4.

It’s early days for the iPad Pro, I’ve only had it in my hands for 24 hours, but I’m starting to think It could be my main portable device. That will depend on how I get on with the keyboard. All my important work apps are there and I find the bigger screen improves my overall productivity.

Which means it’s possible I may not need a new OS X computer. For the moment there are a few non-work apps that don’t exist in iOS. I’m due for a technology refresh in the middle of next year, right now I’m not sure which way I’m going to leap. But my next computer might not be a computer in the traditional sense.

For more recent thoughts read about the time I should have had more faith in my iPad Pro.


  1. I’m sure some Geekzone readers will answer the question with “none of the above”.
  2. This is controversial in some circles. Not everyone likes the 2015 MacBook keyboard. I’m a touch typist and I’ve used it for the last three months. During that time I have written around 100,000 paid words without a hitch. I never thought the keyboard was a problem. On the other hand, I’m writing this post using my MacBook Air and typing feels more comfortable. So maybe the critics have a point.
  3. In terms of raw processing power the MacBook is quite modest by 2015 standards. You wouldn’t choose one to run demanding applications.
  4. Since this was written I’ve changed my view about this. The point still applies, but apart from the need to touch the screen, the keyboard functions as well as the MacBook keyboard. See iPad Pro, 2015 MacBook, MacBook Air productivity.