The Flock: Another tech podcast


Design is Not About the Past

1 December 2018

The history of design is full of tradeoffs. The future of design holds even more tradeoffs. Despite the protests of those who hold on to the past, industries are swept forward in the unstoppable flow of progress. Swimming against the current is, in the end, futile.

Now that you can reflect on this rather bleak picture of technological improvement, let us observe as yet another swimmer takes on the tide.

Writing for Business Insider, Christopher Curley throws down his gauntlet and declares, “I’ve used Apple computers my entire life. Here’s why I’m never buying one again.”

There is a slight jokiness and drama to Curley’s tone. Thus Uluroo hopes no one will object if he employs some slight jokiness and drama in response.

Curley starts off strong, establishing his status not as an Apple hater but as a street-cred-worthy friend of the family.

For most of my life, I’ve been more than just an Apple fanboy — I’ve been an Apple disciple.

Oh, man. We feel you.

My first computer was a Macintosh 512Ke, released the year I was born (1986), and I’ve been using Apple computers ever since.

No. A lifelong bond! Could this breakup get any worse? This is like a soap opera episode. Our hearts are already bleeding and we’re two paragraphs in.

I once got thrown out of a class in fifth grade for pitching a fit when my teacher had the gall to suggest that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates worked together to create the Mac.

A martyr for the cause! The religious parallels are intensifying.

So when I say I’m leaving Apple computers behind, it feels a little like leaving the church. But I am, and here’s why.

What, oh what, could have shaken this saint’s faith?

The answer is, sadly, progress.

Uluroo will spare his readers the “let’s recap Apple history” section of Curley’s piece and move right along to the segment titled, “It’s not me, it’s you.” This section contains more Apple history, the TL;DR being that Apple’s super-thin and light laptop designs came with tradeoffs in upgradeability and repairability.

The 2008 Air represented a break from convention that presaged the next decade of Apple’s design choices — away from the consumer and toward its own Genius repair techs.

And, of course, the Air’s precedent was reinforced across the Mac lineup. Keyboards, logic boards, RAM — we can’t repair anything anymore!

(Uluroo has to assume that this is the scene where the dramatic orchestral music kicks in, but as this is a text-based blog, you’ll have to play it in your head. It probably sounds similar to the track cued when Anakin leaves Tatooine in The Phantom Menace.)

The final nail in the proverbial coffin for me and Apple was the discovery in 2018 that new Macs would include Apple’s T2 chip, a processor that handles security features, including what kind of replacement parts are allowed in the machine.

As an afterthought, Curley then goes on to mention that iFixit was perfectly able to operate on the latest MacBook Air, which contains the T2 chip, without getting shut down. He simply assumes Apple is doing this out of the worst possible intentions without hard evidence either way.

“It’s really easy to paint Apple as a villain,” [iFixit engineer Taylor] Dixon said. ”I don’t think it’s necessarily for us to say.”

And then Curley painted Apple as a villain. Something seems off here.

I don’t like owning things I can’t tinker with or fix even a little, out of both frugality and a desire to create a little less waste in the world.

Sarcasm aside, those are admirable goals. But people who actually want or need upgradeability are becoming few and far between. Apple doesn’t design its products for the desires of a shrinking percentage of its user base.

I’ve decided my current MacBook Pro laptop will be my last. Apple’s just not the computer company for me anymore — and it would probably agree.

Is there any computer company that’s for you?

Curley himself acknowledged the impact the MacBook Air had on its industry. The computer world is trending toward thinness and lightness, neither of which play nice with repairability. There are certainly PC manufacturers who make upgradeable machines, but that’s a dying design choice. By the time Curley seeks out his next dream laptop, he’ll have to complain about why he’s ditching computers altogether: soon there will be no modular laptops that are worth buying.

Features die for a reason. This time around, the reason is that the majority of people don’t need upgradeability anymore. Curley says the problem is Apple, not him — but he is the outlier here. Even now, he’s searching in a sparsely populated market that is only getting drier.

Holding on to the past has never treated people like Curley well. As nice as floppy disk drives were, they weren’t the future. As nice as the headphone jack was, it wasn’t and isn’t the future. Apple’s status as an industry trendsetter has proven these things true.

Design is full of tradeoffs: upgradeability for portability, wires for wireless, physical buttons for bigger screens. Not only are the holdouts in the minority, they’re ultimately missing out on overall better products.

Disagree though you may with Apple’s choices, is it really worth pitching a fit over? Is it really worth rejecting the brand altogether when before long, the industry will follow Apple’s footsteps? Or are we maybe taking things to the extreme because that gets us more clicks?

To reiterate, Uluroo doesn’t have a problem with Curley’s desire for better repairability. But putting the blame on Apple is where Curley gets it wrong.

Apple has been faced with a tradeoff. It has taken the route preferred by the majority of its consumers. Those who don’t like it can leave if they want, but Uluroo bids them good luck in finding a better solution in a linear world that is moving toward the future and not the past.