Friday, July 20, 2007

Are the boring years over for the Mac?

You might think I'm nuts for saying so, and I'd really like you to put my words into the right perspective, but here is what I have to say: the history of the Mac has been a pretty boring ride lately, and I hope it will change soon. In fact, I think it will change in a matter of weeks, as Apple releases the revamped iMac.

Let's see. Over the turn of the millennium, Apple changed the Mac drastically. It simplified the Mac product matrix. It threw out a lot of technologies, and adopted some new ones. USB, FireWire, WiFi, UATA (then SATA) took over from the likes of SCSI and ADB. The floppy was killed. And perhaps most significantly, Mac OS X was born. In addition, industrial design started to matter.

And that was it. Nothing has happened ever since.

What could a true Mac watcher rejoice about in the last six years or so? New enclosures.

They have been great, they have been sexy, and yes, I have raved about many of them, just check out the Applelust archives. Apple has shown us all that computers can be beautiful. But as far as technological innovation goes, Apple's huge advances in industrial design are only skin deep.

The iMac now ships in six colors! Now in three! It now looks psychedelic! It has DVD! Now it has CD-RW! Now it looks like a sunflower! Now it's like a monitor! I'm going to swoon!

No wonder the Dark Side ridicules us, Mac fanboys.

I desperately yearn for something really new. The iSight, while unoriginal, was quite a relief, as was the Apple Remote: simple, yet greatly useful touches… And finally, hardware additions! The scrolling trackpad was also a step in the right direction.

But while Apple serves as an R&D lab for the entire software industry, its hardware is decidedly conservative. Couldn't we really use some new keys on the keyboard? All Command-something keystrokes are reserved now for some Mac OS X function. All Function keys already do something, and really, however futuristic and useful Exposé is, launching it by pressing a key that's labeled something as geeky as "F9" instantly throws you back to the days of DOS.

I desperately yearn for new gestures, new metaphors, new input devices. New hardware directions. Are we stuck forever in 1984, or what? If Apple can't deliver the future, who will?

But I think that future is just around the corner. The iPhone shows that Apple can still think outside the box. We have proof that Apple has still got it.

And while people can argue whether or not the iPhone is a Mac, its modest cousin, the Apple TV, is undeniably one, and is taking the Mac platform to places it hasn't gone before. We have a Mac that feeds content to a TV, and is operated by a remote control. To me, this is a much more significant development than yet another iMac facelift, or any transition from titanium to aluminum.

Rumors abound about the new iMac. It is said to have a redesigned keyboard, with lots of new features. Hoorray! I can't wait to see what else the revision will bring. And I have a gut feeling that Apple and the Mac will re-ignite a hardware revolution that goes beyond prettier and prettier boxes that essentially do the same thing they have been doing for decades.

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