Apple without Steve Jobs

Why I am completely uninterested in Apple’s current product line

I remember many years ago Apple licensed third party manufacturers to design and create Mac clones, they were ugly, poorly made, unreliable and down right unsexy.

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For me those were some of the darkest days of Apple products. All Apple made back then was computers and basic stuff like monitors, keyboards, mice etc.

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Apple seemed to be out of step with the computer world, proprietary connectors, odd bus architectures and what seemed even at the time to be outdated i/o technologies. Apple was moribund and worst of all nobody cared what products they were about to launch. The thought of someone, anyone, queuing outside of a store the night before to be one of the first to own the latest Apple product was unheard of and down right inconceivable!

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Then something very significant happened, Steve Jobs came back to work for Apple. It wasn’t long after that the world received the very first “i” product, the iMac! It was as if Steve Jobs had a direct high speed line to the future and was channelling that power into Apples design and product development. The iMac changed things, computers were no longer grey tarp boxes that made lots of noise, now they could be colourful, translucent, funky, quiet, playful, but more importantly it was something you wanted have in your stylish apartment, or equally in the reception of your hip business premises. Suddenly it was cool to have a computer. Who cares if it only had a 13inch CRT screen, tiny hard drive, little ram and distinctly average processing power. None of that mattered. Steve Jobs had reinvented the PC.

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As if guided by the illuminate, Steve then went on to change the way we used the internet, listened to music, not to mention mobile phones; which have become something we happily spend almost £800 to own!

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Looking back, Apple managed to drag its ass off the floor and go on to design some of the worlds most desired, beautifully engineered, stylish products ever. How it managed to about-turn and become a wonder company is beguiling, one can only dream of what went on behind those R&D doors in Cupertino! It seemed that Apple could do no wrong, if Apple decided it was going to reinvent the handkerchief they could do it in such a way that you would immediately discard all your existing handkerchiefs and be willing to pay incredible amounts of money to own this new Apple handkerchief, which required you camping outside the Apple store days before the launch!! Apples profitability and net worth rose exponentially, indeed I watched as shares in Apple rose from $25 (1984) to a record $700!!! (September 2012) Apple was the benchmark, they had a team who could seemingly see the future, and that future had a once-bitten fruit emblazoned on it!

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So that brings me back to the present day, sadly without Steve Jobs (1955-2011), Apple seems to be concentrating a vast amount of its time and energies on suing other companies, even their own suppliers!!! Alright, maybe they are trying to protect all that “from the future” intellectual property, so lets concentrate instead on Apples current product line.

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I’ll start with the iOS devices, we have the iPhone 5, don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of the iPhone, I use two and its changed the way I work, I literally couldn’t work as I do without them. But with the iPhone 5, essentially we have a longer screen version of the iPhone 4 in a slightly different case. One that IMHO is not as stylish, innovative and “cool” as its predecessors. Its almost as if they have lost that feel for the future and have created what looks like a combination of the present and the past!

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Moving on through the product line, so now we have an iPad mini, big deal, so its like an iPad but smaller…. but then doesn’t that make my iPhone 4 an iPhone mini when compared to the iPhone 5? What I’m saying is Apples vision of the future is to make the screen of our smart phones larger, and the screen of our tablets smaller. Is that it!!! I remember when Apple created new products like the iPod, Magic Trackpad and Mouse, the iPod Touch, Timecapsule and of course the original iPhone and iPad etc. Is this the best they can do? Have they lost the divining stick to the future, or did Steve Jobs take it with him?

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OK forget iOS products for a minute, Apple has made some great Mac products right! Well When I look at the current Mac product line I cant help think Apple is starting the great decline, back to those dark old days of the Mac clones and boring grey irrelevant boxes of the past. Am I being a bit negative? I don’t think so, am I being unfair? I don’t believe so. Bare with me, the Mac mini, it was a nice idea and I even owned one for a while, and I liked it, but did I ever use it for work, or any serious projects? Not a chance! I really don’t see the point of the Mac mini, its not cheap enough to be an entry level Mac for the user on a shoe string budget. Its not powerful enough to justify its price, its clever diminutive proportions make it unsuitable for most applications (non software definition).

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Next in line is the MacBook Air. Now I have had two of these lovely machines, both from the unibody generation, all flash architecture and I loved them. Did I use them for serious work? Yes! I did! But the limited I/O is an issue, besides Apple has something far better that takes up almost the same space and weight!

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It’s the amazing Retina display MacBook Pro’s. These machines are without doubt the last word in laptop design, I firmly believe there isn’t a finer laptop out there. They look good, are designed well and are a reasonably powerful work tool.

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So why don’t I like them or the Airs? Well, specifically for what they are, Laptops, and IMHO laptops are a dying product. Sure we’re gonna see laptops being made and sold for many years, but for those who are looking to the future for cutting edge design, powerful tools for on the move, then laptops isn’t where its at. These guys have got it somewhere in the right direction, but even then its not right. http://www.modbook.com/

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And the reason this is not quite right, is because Apple didn’t design and engineer it, but more specifically Apple didn’t design and engineer it with the direction of Steve Jobs! That is my point. Laptops are dead, tablets will rule, or some hybrid of the two will lead to a completely new product line, dare I suggest the iPad Pro? Apple should be the company to bring this new marvel to our hands, sadly I just don’t think they will.

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Then we have the most disappointing of them all, the iMac, the product that started it all, Steve Jobs gift to the world. Again I’m going to sound sort of contradictory here, as I’m currently typing this on an iMac. I think the 27inch iMac is the best Mac ever made to date without a shadow of a doubt. The perfect screen, the stylish sexy design, the quality materials used, attention to detail, functionality, processing speed etc its an amazing computer product. So why do I find the latest iMac so disappointing? Again its like the iPhone getting bigger and the iPad getting smaller. This isn’t the future, it’s a loss of clear vision!!

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When you looked at the previous generation 27inch iMac, the one thing you noticed was its lovely screen. You never really noticed the back or the sides unless you were plugging something in or carrying it. So why then would you create an iMac that is incredibly thin on the one axis that for most of the time you will be completely unaware of?

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Oh and you can forget an optical drive by the way. Those of you who hoped Blu-ray would have to come to the Mac, sadly your day will never shine. I rarely use my optical drive but when I do I’m really glad to have it, and would I like to be able to slot a Blu-Ray disk in there and watch a film in lovely HD on that amazing screen, you bet I would! Would I like to be able to edit and author my own films onto blank blu-ray media all from within my iMac? You better believe it!! Sadly I cant. Oh and the SD card slot on the back, am yeah that’s a step backwards. It was already a fumble to insert an SD card into the side mounted SD slot, but now I have to get up out of my chair, lean over the back of my iMac and struggle to find a slot that I can’t clearly see due the curvature of the rear of the case. How stupid!?

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I think the new iMac with its 5mm edge is amazing to look at, from the side, but as I spend most of my time looking straight at mine, I’m not going to appreciate all the engineering that went into making it so thin. Does it yield more desk space? No it doesn’t, I can just push the previous generation iMac back an inch on the desk and I have the same result. I am also concerned that heat issues will be a problem and therefore fan noise will result for this new iMac. I like the laminated screen with etched antiglare treatment, I like USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports, about bloody time!!! I just think the effort that went into making it thinner could have been put into making it more energy and therefore heat efficient, ultimately aiming to make it quieter if not silent. Fusion drive is a good idea, but to be honest once you have used SSD you don’t ever want a mechanical HD inside you computer ever again. I’d rather use external HD’s via USB 3 for data storage and simply keep the system and software on the internal SSD for silent, speedy operation.

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If it were in my control, I would develop two kinds of iMac, one for mums, dads, kids, students etc which would be pretty much like the previous generation iMac but with the screen and connectivity etc of the new iMac. Then I would have the iMac Pro, It would be similar to the aforementioned with the exceptions that its processor range pushed the limits of current technology, it had 6 USB 3 ports, 3 TB ports, a blu-ray super drive, ram expandability beyond the standard iMac, SSD as standard and fusion as an option for freaks. I would include two card slots, one for SD and the other for CF. These are without a doubt the industry standard memory card media for almost all our acquisition tech. I would make sure the case was well vented and cooling was a priority design element to keep fan noise to an absolute minimum. Why would I split the iMac range into two? Well lets consider the Mac Pro!

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Have you ever spec’d up a Mac Pro on the Apple website? If you haven’t give it a go just for a laugh. What you will see is it doesn’t take long to generate a cost figure that is normally associated with second hand luxary cars or brand new vehicles for that matter. What do you get for all that money? You get a thudding great box of space eating, noise generating, heat emitting history. Even if they updated it to have USB 3 and TB ports (absolutely shameful they didn’t do so long ago!!!) Its still not worth considering. Why? Well you buy a Mac Pro coz it has options for installing third party products that allow for specialist tasks to be achieved in less time and more integration with high end software products. Things like Digidesign’s ProTools or Avid’s Media Composer etc. Mac Pro’s are basically all about their enclosures, which allow for expansion. Expansion within the computer enclosure was how things were done in the olden days. We don’t need that any more. We have Thunderbolt! You cant find a faster data throughput interface, its adaptable and broad architecture opens up a world of possibilities. If you want expansion there are already TB based solutions that allow you to use PCI and PCIe hardware with any TB ported Mac, even your Mac mini (as if you would). TB is the future for now, its bandwidth is immense, possibilities are endless and it opens up a new industry of expansion hardware products based around this new interface. Simple plug and play for the big boys and girls! So no I cant see the point in buying a Mac Pro. An iMac Pro would make a much better choice. Lets not forget the larger iMac already comes with its amazing 27inch screen, maybe they could go wild with a 32inch iMac Pro?!? Either way its got to be more space, time and money efficient than the Mac Pro.

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In summary then basically I am saying the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro tower are all dead products. The iMac or some variant of it for power users is the way forward but not as some ultra thin design quest, engineered out of lacklustre imagination. iPhones will continue to be the best smart phone for some time, that is until some other company sees the future and brings us the next development in mobile internet communications devices. Tablets are here to stay for a while but they need to be complemented by some kind of tablet laptop hybrid type product for power users etc. I sincerely hope Apple gets its priorities right in the coming months and years and continues to be a trailblazer in the product design and development world, providing us with the future of technology to assist us in work and play. My concern however is that its already too late.

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Thunderbolt and USB 3

Why are they important to filmmakers?

I use Mac computers for all my work, from pre-production all the way through to post and authoring. If you’re a filmmaker or photographer you know just how important getting footage from the cameras memory cards onto a drive and backed up is a key part of workflow. Having a fast and reliable method of data transfer is crucial. After a video shoot I could have 4-5 32GB CF cards and 2-3 64GB SDXC cards full of rushes. So potentially I am looking in the region of 250-350GB of rushes to get into my computer, swiftly and safely. Most Macs these days have an SDXC card slot and Sandisk make a rather tacky looking but so far reliable USB 3 multi card reader. I have experimented with CF to SATA adaptors and HD docks, that have also proven fast and reliable. But for a simple, safe, reliable and fast transfer of all that data the Macs built in SDXC slot in conjunction with a Sandisk USB 3 card reader does the trick.

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For me this is one reason why USB 3 is so important. USB 3 is significantly faster than USB 2 and off the charts compared to USB 1. USB 3 is our best friend at this point, its fast enough to allow the best HD’s to run at their full potential without bottlenecking. Its also cheap, USB 3 builds on USB 2 and is relatively cheap to manufacture external caddies etc. Its fast enough to edit HD video footage. OK you might struggle with 8K pro res but we can leave that to the big guns right now. For the serious pro shooting HD USB 3 is just fine.

When I have copied all my rushes to an external HD, transcoded and edited my footage I then like to make a shelf back up. Usually the entire project will range from as little as 350GB to 900GB of data. Now copying 900GB of data at USB 2 speeds takes time, lots and lots of time. Will USB 3 make that significantly shorter? Well yes and no, it will definitely take less time but it all boils down to the weakest link in the chain. In most cases that will be the speed of the HD’s that are being read and copied to. In a best case scenario we could expect two USB 3 drives interfacing at USB 3 to transfer data at approx 150-180mbits. That’s nowhere near USB 3’s theoretical limit of 5Gb/s, not even close. But it will be faster than USB 2, which typically works out at about 30mbits or so. So we should see data transfer times reduce to about a fifth, theoretically. The limiting factor in the USB 3 scenario is the HDrive’s data rates, not the interface. In the case of the USB 2 scenario the bottleneck is the USB 2 interface. So your HDrives aren’t approaching anywhere near their potential. This is what makes USB 3 important for me. Time saved acquiring the rushes to HDrives and time saved backing the project up. There are huge time savings to be had with USB 3. That’s great news for all of us! Speeding up the more tedious aspects of our workflow.

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Thunderbolt (TB) is very important because it not only has a bonkers theoretical 10Gb/s data rate, it also allows for almost limitless expansion possibilities. TB can be used to interface HD’s, SSD’s, monitors, adaptors, PCI and PCIe expansion chassis and hardware yet to be invented! TB is the port that allows us to adapt our Mac computers to do very specific high end tasks such as turning them into audio post production work stations, or film edit suites, of the highest level and specification! TB is like Firewire in that it can be used to connect drives but it can also be used to connect other kinds of peripherals, except its so so much more than that, TB is the high speed jack point right into your Mac’s brains! TB allows me to use high end expansion hardware hooked up to my desktop machine and when I need to go portable, hook it up in exactly the same way to my laptop! The potential here is awesome!

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This for me is why USB 3 and Thunderbolt is so important.