Why is Apple out to get me?

We used to be so happy.

It all started with an escape from an abusive operating system around eight years ago. The little iBook I bought was the first computer I’d ever really loved since my ZX Spectrum many years before. The combination of the 12” screen, sleek design and hard wearing nature, married to OSX which was a dream to use, amounted to everything I needed for my literary ambitions. A few years later I moved on to a new MacBook, which never quite won the same level of affection in my heart, but served me proudly for many miles. Now I stand at the crossroads. I need a new machine, as the Windows one I had to buy – while serviceable – has me shouting at it again in frustration more often than I’d like. A Mac is the obvious choice, but at the moment the choices on offer are a little baffling.

But wait, I hear the voices of a thousand Mac blogs cry, Apple’s range is the best it’s ever been! Well, no, I think I need to disagree, and here’s why.


I don’t think I’m unusual in wanting a decent amount of bang for my buck when it comes to technology. I’m perfectly happy to accept that quality costs, and it should, but I don’t want to pay extra for something I won’t use. Futureproofing is often something of a fallacy in computing terms, as we don’t tend to hold onto our devices for nearly as long as we used to – probably due to the fact that many are now pretty much impossible to repair or upgrade ourselves. So looking for value can be a Sisyphean task.

Here’s what I want – a lightweight, small size, laptop with a good screen, solid keyboard, responsive trackpad, long battery life, and a decent but not crazy amount of power. Oh yes, and a few USB ports wouldn’t go a miss….plus an SD card reader would be cool, but not essential. There, no unicorns or time machines, just pretty standard stuff. Yet, at the moment, I can’t actually get this in Apple form.

For months leading up to the recent Spring Forward Apple event in March, there were rumours of an expected MacBook Air with retina display. This would have been the absolute sweet spot for my needs. An 11” (or even 12”) retina screen would fix the one thing that makes buying a current MacBook Air not that enticing a prospect. I love the little form factor, and its weight makes it easy to throw the device in your backpack and head off into the world without the worry of a shoulder ache a few hours later. Admittedly the small screen gets a little cramped, but I’m not planning on editing any videos on the machine, so I’m sure it would be fine – plus the retina display would make things pin-sharp, mystically creating a sense of space in that small glowing rectangle.

So here I am, money in hand, waiting for the announcement so I can once again shed the shackles of Microsoft and return to the unibody embrace of the mighty fruit. Then it announces the MacBook.


The MacBook?

Yes, it’s light – very light. Yes it has a retina screen. The price…well, that’s a bit high, but I can see how the engineering has pushed that up. The power…wait, a Core M CPU? That’s, well, not powerful…at all…but maybe Apple has tweaked it to boost the performance? There’s a new keyboard design? Ok, but it looks very, very shallow. The Trackpad is a new design too? Oh, and there are no ports except for one USB 3.1 type C – which is also where you plug it in to charge.

What just happened?

Surely this is a new class of machine, the ultra ultra portable, and now Tim Cook will announce the Air Retina? Yes?


Instead there were minor spec bumps for the Air, and the same crappy screens remain. But, but, I have the money…I just want the machine to buy….I can’t go anywhere else…why are you doing this to me?!?!

It brought back memories of the time I had saved up for a new iMac, and eagerly awaited the announcement, only to be presented with the thin new design that could only be upgraded at the point of purchase, thus adding a far slab of cash on top of the price, taking it out of my grasp. In the end I bought a Mac Mini, which has been fine, but the sting is still there.

Schiller iMac

Now it’s happening again.

Yes I could move up the chain and buy a MacBook Pro, but that’s more than I need (I’m never going to use those Thunderbolt ports), and the weight is a fair bit more than the 11” Air. All I wanted was a retina screen in the little Air…hell, a HD screen and IPS panel would have done the trick. Why can’t that be done, especially when sub £300 Chromebooks can manage it?

Yes the new design is pretty, and it comes in black, which is awesome, but I like the existing keyboard and trackpad just fine. All it needed was the screen.

Life with Apple used to be so simple. Each machine was great, and you could upgrade it yourself to save a few pounds and extend the working life. Now, well, it’s getting where I’m screaming at the Apple web-store in frustration, rather than my Windows machine. I guess I’ll just have to wait a couple of generations and then get ready to buy the matured MacBook, but of course Apple will be waiting, hands clasped firmly on that rug, ready to pull it hard once more.


Review – The Griffin SeeSaw

iPad cases come in many forms, but this new offering from Griffin has to stand out as one of the most unusual I’ve ever encountered.


The reason for this is that unlike most other cases, which act as a folio-style protector or finicky external keyboard, the SeeSaw is primarily aimed at children. The first clue is the hard foamlike material from which the case is constructed. This acts as a solid enclosure that should survive a few knocks and even drops caused by any diminutive hands.

With the iPad inserted the screen is propped up at a comfortable angle for viewing content and occasional interaction. Typing is not really an option at this incline, but playing games, selecting answers to questions and such activities are easily accomplished. The case can also be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode, with both feeling sturdy and safe.

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Another advantage to the design is that it’s very light, so children can pick it up with ease, especially as there is a carrying groove in the back to aid grip. Next to this is also a handy slot for storing a stylus. The unit comes in two colours – bright yellow and blue – but I must admit if Griffin were to make one that looked like the original iMacs then they might capture a much wider market of adults who would love to have something as cool as that sitting on their desks.

One of these please Griffin!
One of these please Griffin!

To test the target appeal of the SeeSaw required the employment of two laboratory children, who were immediately drawn to the colourful exterior. Within minutes they’d fitted the iPad and were lost in Youtube. One slight problem they encountered was that the volume controls required quite a degree of force to get through to the iPad underneath. This may be a purposeful restriction to aid teachers in classrooms from having umpteen iPads blaring out at full volume, and if that’s the case then it’s a sensible choice. The one main issue I can see with the design in relation to being used in a classroom is how you would store the cases when not in use? Removing the iPads every time would soon get tiresome (not to mention probably loosen the cases grip), but as the screen is afforded no protection you wouldn’t want to pile them on top of each other.

For home use though the SeeSaw is a fascinating and quite charming little innovation. If you have an older iPad then handing it down to your progeny in one of these would make a great TV-lite device for their bedroom, or a perfect study companion for their homework.

The SeeSaw retails for £29.99 and would be a cool addition to any child’s desk. Now, just give me the iMac one to put on mine…

Living With the… Lenovo Yoga 13

Recently I was tasked with writing an in-depth comparison between Windows 8 and Apple’s Mountain Lion OSX operating systems. To achieve this required the loaning of a machine from each respective camp, which sounds easier than you might think. The Mountain Lion option actually was pretty easy, with the 13″ Macbook Air being a  most flexible and portable platform on which to work – certainly a lot handier than dragging an iMac down to the coffee shop…although that has happened before.

Choosing the Windows machine was far more of a poser. You see I wanted to give the Microsoft creation the best possible chance to show off all its touch based features, but I know from my own experience that traditional Windows users don’t work that way, and therefore needed to show the OS in a more normal setting. So after lots of deliberation between a large touchscreen desktop machine, a tablet/laptop hybrid, or one of the many other form factors manufacturers were seemingly throwing out at random, I ended up plumping for the Lenovo Yoga 13.

Why this one then? Well, Lenovo have obviously thought long and hard about the Windows 8 user experience and divined that tablet and laptop functionality are, of course, rather different. We’ve probably all heard the ‘Gorilla Arm’ arguments about touchscreens by now (if not then it’s the idea that stretching out to interact with your screen all the time will make one of your arms bigger than the other due to the extra exercise it’s receiving – oh yes, and this isn’t regarded as a positive thing), so Lenovo have come up with something just a little bit clever.

At first glance the Yoga 13 looks like a normal laptop, albeit with rather chunky hinges, and in many ways it is exactly that. The specs are what you would expect of  a premium notebook, with an i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, and of course that all important touchscreen. Where the Yoga differs from its less pliable brethren, and gets its name, is those hinges. Open the Yoga 13 up and you can use it as a touchscreen laptop, but if you decide that you want a tablet instead then you can bend it back even more until it looks like an upside down V. Now you can use the tablet functions while the Yoga stands itself up on a table, pretty nifty. Of course this could prove disastrous if you borrow a friends laptop, forget that it isn’t a Yoga, and promptly rip it in half while trying to play Angry Birds.

In use the Yoga 13 is a pretty fast and responsive machine. The touchscreen works most of the time, although there were some occasions where you had to drag a menu in from the side several times before it actually did as you asked.  The matt plastic inner casings were comfortable to lay your wrists on as you typed, but here lay one of the biggest problems I have with the device…the damn keyboard.

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As someone who spends an inordinate amount of my day typing I’m a bit picky about keyboards. For the most part this one is fine, the keys are well spaced, they feel comfortable, and you know when you’ve pressed one. No, the problem that made this actually a nearly unusable macine for me was the extra row of buttons to the right of the enter key. As a touch typist, although an admittedly scruffy one, I have quite a rapid rate of finger speed. So it became something of a problem when I’d automatically hit the furthest right key expecting a new line only to find myself half way back up the page…especially if I didn’t notice straight away and then started adding sentences randomly into previous paragraphs. I know Lenovo are not the only ones to use a different layout like this, but I found it a real problem. Add to that the confusion of Windows 8 and it becomes a potent mixture for tearing out hair, shouting quite obscene language in the middle of Costa, and thinking just how much nicer that 13″ Macbook Air really was.

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Dispensing with the keyboard and going all tablet didn’t really improve things. The Yoga can obviously cope with any of the Modern UI apps that you throw at it, but having a laptop standing on it’s head doesn’t really feel that elegant. It also negates the advantage of a tablet in that it’s lightweight and can be held in your hands for extended periods, something you most definitely couldn’t do with the Lenovo.

In the end the real litmus test was having the two different devices on loan for around a month, really wanting to like the Lenovo – actually being quite excited before it turned up – but finding that whenever I wanted to get stuff done I immediately, and without any hesitation, reached for the Air. It’s boring and predictable I know, and I didn’t want it to go this way as I really want to find an alternative to Apple hardware so that I’m not trapped into a single vendor scenario, but the Lenovo 13 really isn’t the solution. Much like many elements of Windows 8 the Yoga 13 feels like it’s trying to solve problems that just don’t need to exist, and just causes other ones instead.

If you want to read the comparison piece between Windows 8 and OSX Mountain Lion then please visit the PC Advisor website here.

The Day Apple Discontinued Its Users

I’d long suspected it to be true, but I didn’t want to believe it.

There had been rumours of course, whispers in the canteen, strange pitiful looks from friends as I passed them in corridors. The feeling that those around me knew something I didn’t. Something important.

Then I saw it…and my heart was finally broken. It all made sense in that moment. How could I have been so blind?

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

Perhaps the thing that hurt the most was the way in which this revelation took place.

There I was sitting on my sofa enjoying the new app I’d recently installed on my Apple TV which allowed me to watch their latest product release. Phil Schiller was talking about Macs, something dear to my heart since switching to the platform nearly a decade ago, and hinted that finally the iMac would be updated. Now, I turned forty this year and as a way of staving off the onslaught of a mid-life crisis my family had surprised me with the offer of a new iMac – because they are wonderful people. We knew that the latest model was a year old and didn’t support USB 3, so we elected to wait for the refresh we expected in June. Well, the laptops got the bump then but the iMac news remained silent. My birthday came and went with nary a word on the machine’s arrival. The summer faded, autumnal leaves began to fall, but still the Cupertino fellowship kept quiet their counsel. As the year threatened to pass away un-iMaced suddenly there was hope, an October event with the promise of rebirth.

So that’s were I was, agitated on my sofa in anticipation for the delayed deliverance. Phil said he’d built a new iMac, it was finally happening, they ran a video, could it really be that thin? Wow! That’s amazing! Fusion drive? Part SSD Part HD, cool! It seemed a dream come true. After all these years of laptops I would now, at last, return to the opulence of a huge screen and envious power. Like a giddy child I awaited the Apple online store’s reappearance and within the hour there it was. Beautiful, elegant, expensive, but worth the wait.

Until I delved a little deeper.

You couldn’t actually order the new model yet, not until November, but under the technical specifications section I found the things that would cause the pain. Those dark grey words might as well have been lipstick on a collar.

The base model (the only one I could possibly, at a large stretch, afford) retailed for £1099, but featured not a Fusion drive, instead the more standard and quickly becoming outmoded 1TB hard drive. So I’d have to upgrade if I wanted the machine to remain quick and potent for the five to seven years that I hoped it would serve. Replacing a drive in iMacs is a difficult task, even for someone like myself who holds little fear of tinkering around the innards of computers. You need to remove the large glass screen, then disassemble half the machine to access the drive bays – not exactly a straightforward job – and, of course, there’s the issue of having a dust free room to stop any buildup on the inside of the screen itself.

It takes a brave user to venture here…

Ok, it was a pain but I’d have to order the drive with the machine. But wait…what’s this? The base machine doesn’t come with the option to upgrade the HD? That can’t be right…It was right. In fact the only upgrade the base model was capable of was to 16GB of RAM. Unlike the previous model though the RAM couldn’t be changed by the user. Instead it had to ordered at the time of purchase. In fact to upgrade to a better, faster HD I’d have to step up to the £1249 model, then pay an additional £200 for a Fusion drive. I know the calculations and processing that Fusion involves might make it too much for the processor in the base model, but why not an option for an SSD? I recently replaced the HD in my 2007 MacBook with an SSD and it now works great. Why couldn’t Apple let the user decide to buy a smaller internal drive and supplement storage with a cheaper, external drive?  The answer seemed blindingly simple. They don’t want the machines to last. You’re no longer paying for top quality and durability…just looks and decent specs that will last long enough for the Applecare period to expire.

This non-serviceable trend, of which I am not an advocate, at least makes more sense to me with the MacBook Air. To achieve those tiny bodies and faster operating speeds I can just about see why you’d need to make it closed and prebuilt. But on a desktop? I don’t need wafer thin bodies and light weight machines at home, my desk is made of wood not bubbles.

Then I thought back to the announcement. How Schiller had strategically positioned the iMac at a two thirds profile to the camera so they just caught the edge of the screen rather than the bulb at the back where the hardware lives. How Jony Ive and the other senior Apple team sat on the front row grinning to themselves. That’s when it hit me. Such was their position now, their cultural currency, that hubris had finally overcome them. The user was no longer even in the equation any more. Design awards, positions in the museum of modern art, and self congratulating back slapping was the goal and reward that Apple valued and pursued.

See here? This is what we really care about…


I guess I’m not the customer that decadence wants. Someone who can buy the high price item only rarely, and who expects it to last and be maintained while I save for the next one. I can’t keep up with this crazy pace of changing phones, tablets, and now desktops every two to three years, so I’m being fazed out.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not the first older model with an expanding waistline to be dumped for a slimmer, younger alternative.