So finally we have new MacBooks and MacBook Pros from Apple. Sturdy suckers hand-crafted from blocks of pure Reardon Metal by John Galt himself.
OK, it’s aluminum, and they are machined by robots. But they are sturdy!
Watching Steve present these new little wonders I was struck by the emphasis he placed on the manufacturing. They found a new way to make laptops. Then they showed what looked a lot like the vocational films I was shown in class as a young teen about 100 years ago, that taught me if I worked hard and learned my math real good, someday I could get a high-paying union job at a stamping plant.
It was just machining. This may be a new way to make laptops, but it’s certainly not ‘new’. This is how light-but-strong parts are made for all kinds of high-performance machines like airplanes, space ships and race cars. Now laptops. Laptops from Apple, the only company with a chance in hell of getting more than a tiny very exclusive fraction of the population to buy such a thing. They are priced accordingly, starting at $1,300 and topping off damn near $3,000. This at a time when other manufacturers are in a race for the bottom of the market with sub-$500 netbooks.
My first reaction was that Steve Jobs was off his rocker, not paying any attention to the market he is in. After watching the presentation though, I realize this is not new. Steve has never paid attention to the market. He dreams of something nicer, and creates a market for it. I’m glad he does, even if I chafe at the price of admission to his dreams.
Steve loves his bricks. This is just the latest in a long line. First was the original Mac itself. Made of plastic, it was a shocking design flying in the face of the stamped steel IBM-compatible boxes of the time.
Then, when John Scully convinced Apple that Steve Jobs’ vision was a liability and they kicked him out, he just thought even bigger and the result was the NeXT Cube and later the NeXTStation. These were made from extruded and/or machined magnesium, so in a pinch you could light them with a blow torch and use them as very large incendiary flares. They were years ahead of the Mac, on par with the most advanced Unix workstations, were under-powered and outrageously over-priced. I think NeXT made computers for about two years before falling back to just selling their advanced operating system and development environment.
Ten years later when Apple came back to their senses and saw that what Steve had been doing at NeXT was what Apple should have done with the Mac, they bought NeXT and Steve turned the Mac in to the NeXT by releasing (among other things) the Mac Cube. An 8-inch square block of 1/2 inch thick transparent acrylic with a convection-cooled computer wedged inside. Ingenious, sturdy, stunning, and of course expensive to manufacture. Lasted for about 1 year on the market. Soon after, the reincarnation of the NeXT OS and development system was released as OS X.
Then in 2005 Steve satisfied his metal cube-lust again with the introduction of the Mac Mini. At it’s introduction I believe he said it was the most beautiful computer Apple had ever made. An aluminum block six little inches square and just a couple inches high, it is surely still the smallest full-featured desktop computer ever made. Having survived the move from PowerPC to Intel intact it has become kind of an orphan. I think they use them for doorstops at the Apple Store now.
And now, the MacBook gets the cube treatment. They are gorgeous. Almost stunning. And of course, they are over-priced. I get it now Steve, this is not a mistake. This is the way of things. Make us lust, then make us pay.
Thank you sir, may I have another?
(How about a desktop cube with good graphics and a slot or two? You could call it the Macintosh.)