Touching Titanium comment

I got to touch an Apple PowerBook G4 Titanium today. It's beautiful. It's small. It's sleek- it's sexy. It has more in common with a Mont Blanc pen than any laptop I have ever had the opportunity to stroke, except maybe Apples old G3 Powerbook, Wall Street edition. No, hold that, the Wall Street is too heavy, it is so heavy it's more like a Mont Blanc typewriter than a pen, if ever there was such a thing.


The Titanium definitely looks more like a Porsche Boxter than a computing device. When I got down to some pointing, clicking and typing is was a different experience however, this did not feel like driving a Boxter. The lip of the trackpad button, the piece between the front edge of the machine and the trackpad button- it's enormous!

Forget angling your thumb comfortably across the edge of the machine to click at leisure. Here you have to take great strides and move inland, resulting in the palm of your hand being of the table. Not so great if you are concerned about carpal tunnel.

This is amazing. The Wall Street PowerBook has the most comfortable trackpad button position, which got made worse with the bronze book which replaced it, the Lombard model. And now with the G4 Titanium it's even larger and more uncomfortable.What happened?

Trying to come to terms with the uncomfortable track pad position I moved my hands up to do some typing, which was more comfortable. They keys feel smart and responsive. Until I had to reach for the space bar, which is hidden below the palm rest height. You cannot have your thumb gently tap it, you have to make another journey forward and down.

Jonathan Ive, you and your team has, in addition to changing computer culture with the iMac and G4's, you have created some of my most cherished techno-items, including the Wall Street PowerBook I have been going on and on about and the Newton 2000/1.

Remember the effort you put into that one? Remember the effort you put into just the pen, making it supremely elegant and wonderfully comfortable to hold? Can I just ask you: Have you stopped making life-size models to play around with and get a feel for? Do you test with role-playing doing actual work before production? Do you sit down and make love to the machine? A major difference between Mac and PC is how people get in to their Macs and it becomes a part of them. It is truly an intimate machine. The way it looks, feels and responds.

In addition to the obvious tradeoff between power and portability every laptop has to contend with, there is also the issue of screen angle when used. The most comfortable screen height for the user is pretty much straight ahead. A laptop obviously has a much lower screen height. Often this can be helped a little bit if the user so prefers, by placing something under the back end of the laptop which lifts the screen up, even by an inch or two. This also gives the extra benefit of a more sloped and comfortable keyboard angle. With the Titanium, this cannot be done, as the machine is built to dissipate heat, which it produces a lot of, best when it is level.

The weight, or rather the lack of weight is deservedly one of the Titanium's major selling points, but Apple, so proud of delivering a complete computer use experience, with close control over and thus integration between the hardware and operating system seem to have forgotten that a Titanium by itself is light and wonderful, but the cables not quite so. The transformer box is not so bad at all, but the normal cable which goes from the transformer to the wall is not so great here in the UK where it has to be a lumbering large three prong metal monster. So why not provide a plug which slots right into the transformer and into the wall, without and additional long cable? Shorter it will be, but also a lot lighter and less cumbersome. Just a small thought.

More of an engineering issue than a design issue is the amazingly small amount of VRAM in the new PowerBook, just, 8MB. That is the same as in the old model it replaces and not much more than in the ancient Wall Street which has 6MB. That just isn't cutting it in a world where 16MB is the low end on the desktop and 32MB more normal. I know you don't have a lot of choice in the market at the moment, but if Apple leans on ATI or NVIDIA miracles might just happen :)

With the old Wall Street, the whole machine screams out to be touched, used and connected with. Its comfortable keyboard and trackpad button as well as the way the screen curves to pull me in. It makes me want to work with it. The Titanium is simply more of a beautiful but stand-ofish object, the way the keyboard is framed- not smoothly connected to the rest of the machine and the way that the palm rest area does not make any allowances to the human hand.




It's not just the Titanium which has questionable ergonomics. The new desktop keyboard without a power button, what happened there? Why assume everyone will buy a Cube and put it on their desk or that they want their G4 within arms reach?

I am also concerned about another engineering decision- the decision to build and sell only such sophisticated and elegant monitors which will not work on non-shipping Macs, even recent ones, unless (if the machine supports it) you get yourself an ATI Radeon. Not even an adaptor. Imagine my brothers disappointment when he couldn't replace his 19" Apple monitor which he bought with his G3 and subsequently banged. He finally got a pretty good Sony monitor. But what a terrible loss of revenue, something which doesn't just affect Apple, but the whole Mac community. When Apple does bad, we suffer too, through less faith in the platform by corporations and all that. We want you guys to make money, it benefits us as well.

While writing this piece I get an email from a friend: "I made the mistake of buying Pro speakers from the UK store on the web last week. Since I went away they upgraded them and they only work on the G4s now! :o(( It has cost them a courier to collect and me a whole load of extra admin." Is this for real? As a staunch Apple user and investor running a 100% Microsoft free (MacOS 9.1 & LINUX with no Microsoft applications) business I have to say this worries me a bit.




My trip to the shop today reminded me of when the first Mac came out, how it helped sell the Apple II. People flocked to see the Mac, but bought the Apple II as they couldn't afford the Mac. Today I felt happy that I still use my old Wall Street. It's heavy, but an absolute joy to work with.



The sharp and stylish Titanium. Notice the long trip from the edge to the trackpad button. What's harder to see is the low space-bar. The comfortable and ancient Wall Street with it's sexy, tight lip, smoothly curving around the edge to the trackpad button. And it doesn't look half bad either.


Post script January 2002. I am now the happy owner of a late 2001 model Titanium. The lip is still an issue, but less that I thought it would be. The trackpad catches too easily while typing and the screen, while nice and bright, feels a it low, maybe due to its width.


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