R.I.P., MacBook

Eleven years after Steve Jobs introduced it to the world, the original 12-inch MacBook is done and dusted, designated to the scrap heap of laptop designs. The news made me very sad. I have appreciated the design and aesthetics of this machine, and to me, it will always represent the Apple design team’s willingness to dare. Of course, we are living with a whole new Apple these days.

The word is that, with folks buying the new MacBook Air (which boasts Retina screens and powerful machines) and eschewing the MacBook, it makes sense that Apple would cut the old model from its product line-up. But the new Air isn’t for me. (Granted, I am also the guy who will never buy Allbirds or own a Prius.) I will always remain a fan of the MacBook.

As someone with minimalist tendencies, it is not a surprise that I fell in love with the idea of a super-skinny and minimal laptop that could slide into a manila envelope. I was on a hospital bed when Apple introduced the clearly underpowered and feature-challenged notebook in 2008. It was called MacBook Air then, though eventually, it became just a MacBook. The initial response to the laptop was harsh – I mean, everyone hated it.

Except me.

I couldn’t wait to get better, get to the Apple store and buy one of these thin, feather-light machines. I didn’t care that it wheezed like an overweight smoker running on a treadmill, or that it got so hot, you could easily keep a cup of tea warm on it. I just loved the design and the possibilities of the computer. The $1800 device had an 80 GB hard drive, a mere 2GB of memory and an underpowered 1.6 GHz processor. During the first week of use, I was on the fence about the device as my primary computer, but I soldiered on.

What made the MacBook Air then (and now) was its constraints. I have always appreciated objects which force you to focus on the very essentials. It is why I like my Leica film camera. This is why a simple black leather slip-on is an ideal shoe, and there is nothing more beautiful than a plain white shirt. It took me a couple of months before arriving at that conclusion about the MacBook. And a few months later, I wrote:

I realized that the machine and post-recovery me have a lot in common. I have to be very careful as to how I use my mental and physical resources, for there is a high risk of relapse. Similarly, the Macbook Air comes with miniscule amount of storage space, so one needs to be careful about how to use it. The machine’s battery power limitations remind me of how much time I have to devote to work on a daily basis.

It has been hard to use the Macbook Air as my primary computer, just as it’s been hard to change all those pesky “little things.” Indeed, the Macbook Air is an acquired taste. It’s also an apt reflection of an effective “simplification through elimination” strategy.

A lot of us have forgotten that MacBook and Netbook, the Windows version of the concept, were devices designed for a future that was yet to arrive. MacBook was a perfect testimonial to how we humans – and especially those in the media – have limited imaginations about the future. The machine was so prescient. There was no need for optical drives because we were moving toward a connected world in which everything is available to be on-demand. Everything – software, movies, music, data – would be coming over the network. Today, with Spotify, Netflix, and on-demand delivery services, it all seems so obvious. But in 2008, Apple decided that it was a bet worth making.

That machine eventually evolved into the new MacBook Air (2010) and the original MacBook Air concept became the new MacBook. The 2015 version was my ideal laptop. From the very beginning, I have felt a deep affection for the MacBook. It is hardly a surprise that I have always owned one, upgrading faithfully with every revision.

For a long time, it was my primary computer on short trips. But lately, I admit, I have shifted my entire workload during quick travels to an iPad Pro, which is just an easier device to manage when on the road thanks to its built-in LTE connection. The iPad keyboard could be better, but it is good enough to do emails and write short notes. Darkroom and Lightroom have made editing photos on the go much easier. Still, I am saddened by the loss of a design icon like the MacBook.


July 9, 2019, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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