No Ports, No Problem – Computing Doesn’t Belong To Us Anymore

"An Apple Engineer Talks About The New 2015 MacBook" has, as of 3/15/15, over 3.2m views.

“An Apple Engineer Talks About The New 2015 MacBook” has, as of 3/17/15, over 4.3m views.

On January 28th, 2008, Apple unveiled their latest notebook, the MacBook Air. At the time, the Air was the thinnest and lightest notebook ever produced. To achieve this design, Apple used a custom designed CPU from Intel’s Merom architecture, a low-power, and much slower, version of their flagship Core 2 CPUs. Physically, the design required Apple to remove the CD/DVD drive, Firewire port, as well as limit USB ports to 2. Even more controversial, Apple decided to make the Air non-user upgradable – the RAM and SSD are physically soldered into the motherboard. Predictably, the technology press general reaction was, “great looking, but too underpowered, too expensive and, where’s the ports?”. Then the Air turn into Apple’s best selling notebook. So popular, in fact, that it quickly moved to become Apple’s entry-level notebook and the old, plastic, MacBook line, and name, was retired.

So, on Monday, March 9th, 2015, when Apple took the “MacBook” name out of cold-storage and slapped it on their newest thinnest and lightest notebook ever, I was not altogether surprised at the reaction. Again, the chorus of, “too underpowered, too expensive, and where’s the ports?” was heard. But, this time there’s also PortGate; Apple’s decision to drop all USB-3, Thunderbolt and MageSafe connectors, replaced with the very new USB-C. This video nicely summarizes the collective reactions from the technology media and lots of old-school Computer Geeks.

For my particular uses, the new Apple MacBook is not the computer for me. But, if we follow the MacBook Air example (which was, and remains, not the computer for me too), Apple is probably going to sell a ton of these new machines. Why? Well, it could be because Apple is a cultish status-symbol and millions of people will feel oddly compelled to buy one. Or, it appeals to millions of people. I’m an Occam’s Razor guy.

That's not a computer, that's a computer.

That’s not a computer, that’s a computer.

Some PC gamers, old school computer geeks and hobbyists carry the baggage of our own experiences, which, in turn, color our expectations. For many years, new computers and hardware would be designed and released specifically for us. There were computer shows, computer clubs, computer fairs, LAN parties, and more. But, in the mid 1990’s, things began to change. For the vast majority of people, computers were for work and not particularly fun in any way. These folks didn’t have interest in computer games or tinkering on PC’s to squeeze out extra performance. As the Internet emerged, millions of people had a legitimate use for a computer, and computing has never been the same.

Top selling PC games of all time. Not the handful of 'hard core' titles.

Top selling PC games of all time. Note the dominance of mainstream, non hard core, titles.

As it democratized, computing has evolved. My computer needs, once catered-to by an entire industry, are now a small minority in an ocean of potential customers to target. In my extended family, computers exist for a very limited set of uses:

  1. Storing data – mostly photos, music, some videos and documents.
  2. A keyboard for composing documents, or very long emails.

That’s it. Everything else is done (web, email, chat, light gaming, etc) on second generation iPad’s, with a Kindle Fire tablet in there too. My Dad has a USB drive hooked up to the computer for backups. But, outside of that, the only person plugging devices into the USB ports is me, when I’m visiting. In talking with friends, I almost always hear similar stories. “No Ports!” I guess, but why buy a car if all you need is a bicycle?

That's not a computer either...

That’s not a computer either…

Historically, if computing has shown anything, it is that it will continue to get smaller, which is going to make it more portable. While the 1st generation Apple Watch is little more than a second screen for an iPhone, it’s only a matter of time before the watch is a full blown computing device in its own right. It’s probable that, in 5-6 years, the Apple Watch will approach 70-80% of the computing power of the iPhone. If it could AirPlay to a larger screen and connect to a bluetooth keyboard, that will pretty much cover the needs for a vast number of people.

As computers get smaller and wearable, what-to-buy becomes a matter of personal style, not technical specifications – as long as the devices can meet the needs of the user. Projecting our needs onto theirs is the root of the, “how can people be buying these things?” reactions. Build your multi-thousand dollar gaming rig, and have fun! But, computing isn’t ‘ours’ anymore.

No ports, no problem.

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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