Apple’s MacBook Pro Design Flaws

Last week, I finally got a new laptop, a shiny new MacBook Pro. (Thanks, boss!) It replaces my 44-month old one which is well past its glory days.

The new one has some nice upgrades too:

  • 2.53 Ghz i5 processor
  • 256MB SSD Drive
  • High-res, non-glossy screen

The screen upgrade is great – the 1680 by 1050 resolution gives another 468,000 pixels which means a lot less scrolling.

Apple has redesigned the MacBook Pro since I bought mine 4 years ago and it’s interesting to see how their changes address my old machine’s current maladies.

The Screen

My current LCD screen seems to have a yellow tint to it and there are some smudgy-type blemishes in various parts of the screen.

The new ones have LED, which is hopefully less susceptible to this kind of thing.

The Case

My old case is dented around all the corners. The plastic edging is broken off in places. A few screws are missing. Three of the four feet on the bottom have fallen off. I’ve got big wear marks where my palms apparently rest.

The latest model has a case which is almost entirely one piece. It will be hard to dent or break off pieces. That said, I already have a few hairline scratches on the top. The case seems to be made of a solid piece of material and does not appear painted, so I probably won’t be able to wear through the top of this one. 🙂

The Trackpad

While my old trackpad was definitely worn, the most annoying part of the old trackpad design was that things could get under the button and make the button sticky.

Well, they fixed that one by removing the button! The whole trackpad is one big button. Nice.

The Latch

The lid latch on my old machine is uh, a little broken. To actually open mine, you need to push the top lid right a bit, then hit the button to pop it out. Anne can’t open it. I call it a security feature.

Once again, Apple’s solution to this problem was to remove the component altogether. It’s just held together magnetically like the MacBooks are.

The Power Cable

Apple’s magsafe connector was pretty cool when it came out. It solved the problem of people tripping on the power cord and throwing your computer to the ground. It works a little too well on mine – my cat often pulls mine walking by. The big problem with these was that the wire would become frayed as it pulled out of the connector. Eventually, they stop charging at all. I had this happen to a bunch of mine. With some persistence, I was able to get the Apple Store to replace all of them for free.

The new cables have the wires come out perpendicular to the old ones so there’s less pressure on it. Hopefully this helps.

The Battery

I’m on my fourth battery for my trusty old MacBook pro. I found that after about 6 monts or less, I could get less than an hour out of it.

Apple claims 8-9 hours of life with the new built-in batteries. I’m skeptical. I’m not thrilled that the battery is neither swappable nor intended to be replaced by users. We’ll see how that goes.

Some other stuff

My old machine can’t burn CDs anymore. The C key doesn’t pop up anymore after the rubber piece under it broke. I had to lubricate my fan after it started making horrible noises.

It’s unclear if these problems have been addressed in the new machines. I guess I’ll see in a couple years.

Now, one could argue that these are not improvements, but fixes to Apple’s poor design choices. That might be fair, but it’s hard to argue that the current MacBook Pros aren’t very nicely built, small, powerful and efficient machines.

I should also note that I’m pretty hard on my laptops. I literally never turn them off. They only reboot for system updates. I probably use them 10 hours a day on average, so I’m probably pushing them to the extreme.

I do like my new machine though, so here’s to hoping it survives my abuse for the next few years.

Farewell, Yahoo

Yahoo!

It’s hard to believe, but today is my last day working at Yahoo. I started on Oct 1, 2001 when the LAUNCH acquisition was completed. I started at LAUNCH in April of 1999, so that’s over a decade with the same company or over three quarters of my working life.

It would be impossible for me to summarize all the things I’ve learned in that time, but it’s been a wonderful experience. I’m most proud of the teams I built, making Yahoo! News the world’s most visited news site, launching Yahoo! Tech in 2006 (may it rest in peace) and some of the fun side projects I worked on.

Leaving Yahoo! was a very difficult decision and I barely slept for a week while I mulled my options. But next week, I will join a little startup, still in stealth mode, here in Cambridge. It will be a refreshing change and fun to work in a small environment again.

As I’ve spread the word of my departure, I’ve gotten many nice notes back and they’ve been great to read. That said, I don’t think you should wait until someone is leaving to tell them how much you appreciate them.

So my challenge to you, whether you work at Yahoo! or elsewhere, is to reach out to just one person you like working with and tell them that. You can send them an email, an instant message, call, text or tell them in person, but just do it, RIGHT NOW.

Thanks, Yahoos. I’ll be watching with much interest to see what what the future brings to a company that gave me so much.

Bye!

Email from 1999

I ran across this email today which I sent out to friends and family in April of 1999. It was a start of some interesting times for me and was fun to read again.


Exactly one year ago today I emailed many of you and announced that Anne and
I were moving to Seattle as the company I was working for in Cambridge
(Firefly) was bought by Microsoft.

Not to make a habit of this, but I’m moving again.

I’ve decided to trade in my galoshes for suntan lotion and move to Santa
Monica, California (on the beach, just a few miles west of LA) to work for a
company called Launch Media. Launch is probably most known for its monthly
CD-ROM magazine which helps people find new music. Check out it on any
magazine rack.

More recently they’ve been building out their cool web site at
http://www.launch.com/. Check it out. They’re all about building communities
around music and helping people find new music they like. The web site has a
lot of potential to make that happen. In addition, if you can’t stand
watching MTV anymore, you can watch any number of music videos on their
site.

Why am I going to Launch? As many of you know I’ve been tinkering with a pet
project in personalized internet radio. I’ve found personalized radio so
much better than regular radio or my own CD collection that I’ve all but
thrown out my CD changer and stopped listening the radio in my car. I’m
totally convinced that that’s where the music industry is heading. I hope to
be one of the people that starts the revolution in how people listen to
music. Launch is a great place to make that happen. They hope to be the next
MTV. As an added bonus, their stock is going public this month, so that
should work out pretty well too.

Anne is just about finished with her graduate program at the University of
Washington. She will graduate on June 10 with her Masters in Social Work,
finally ready for the real world. After some family visits, she (and all our
stuff) be joining me in California later in July. Meanwhile, I’ll be scoping
out a couch somewhere in LA for a few months. No one said moving was easy.

It’s hard to believe that only after I year, I’m going to leave Seattle.
This whole opportunity came up rather unexpectedly which makes it both
exciting and overwhelming. I have one more week at Microsoft and I’ll be
going down to LA around the beginning of May. Microsoft was fun and I may
end up back here someday, but my passions are elsewhere right now. Most
people here are pretty excited for me. The weather was pretty rotten all
winter (though not so cold as the east coast), but last summer was really
nice and I’m sorry I’ll miss another summer in Seattle. Then again, I guess
I won’t be able to complain about Southern California weather.

So I’m pretty excited about things and I just wanted to let you all know. I
hope things are going well for all of you too.

If you want to get in touch with me over the next few months, email
(jeff@boulter.com) is probably your best bet. Other than that, check out
PlanetAll (link below) for the latest on the continuing saga of where I
physically reside.

Jeff

Todd and I went to LAUNCH and created LAUNCHcast, which was pretty darn cool. LAUNCH’s stock crashed with the rest of the dotcoms, but things turned out ok for us when we were acquired by Yahoo.

I still miss PlanetAll.

I have used an iPad and you still shouldn’t buy one

Soon after the iPad was released, I wrote about how I thought Apple missed the mark with this product. Not everyone agreed.

Today I got to play with one for a few hours and I stand by my initial impressions.

Reviewing my original comments:

10. It doesn’t replace your laptop or phone. Definitely true. There’s a lot you can’t do with an iPad (yet). In fact, the first thing you have to do when you turn it on is connect it to a computer. Clearly, it’s not something you could give to someone who doesn’t already own a computer.

9. It doesn’t have a camera. I can’t understand why they didn’t include one. You can make calls with Skype on it, but it would be ideal as a video conferencing device.

8. There’s no keyboard. Typing wasn’t hard, but it was slow. There’s no way I could use it for any type of serious work. It’s awkward to try to rest it somewhere while you peck away.

7. The battery life isn’t great. In my couple of hours of use, the battery drained about 20%, so I believe Apple’s 10-hour estimate is accurate. Of course the battery life will degrade over time and you can’t replace it yourself.

6. It doesn’t multitask. This will be fixed soon with iPad/iPhone OS 4.0, but I was reminded of it as I tried to listen to NPR while I surfed the web.

5. 3G Internet access is expensive. I tried the Wifi-only version, but I still wouldn’t pay the $130 premium and $14/month.

4. The screen resolution is relatively poor. The screen is pretty nice and bright, but I really could have used more pixels for viewing whole web pages.

3. It’s twice as expensive as a Kindle. Yup.

2. It doesn’t support Flash. It was annoying when I encountered sites that required Flash and they didn’t work. That said, the iPad’s hype has motivated a lot of sites (including Yahoo!) to build HTML5 versions of their video pages. Well played, Steve Jobs.

1. You can’t run OS X software on it. There’s not a lot of apps built for the iPad, but I’m sure that will change quickly. That said, you’ll have to rebuy software you already have for your laptop or desktop. This $500 device might become a $700 or $800 device once you’ve got all the software you need.

Other observations

  • I was confused that the iTunes application is only for buying content. To play it, you have to use the “iPod” app. (Huh, I thought an iPod was a device, not an App?) People who have an iPhone probably already knew this, but I didn’t get it.
  • You can’t subscribe to podcasts, only download individual episodes, confirming again that you need a computer to own an iPad.
  • The bigger screen and touch interface was great for browsing maps. It felt much more like using a paper map. But it would be even better on a bigger screen like a real laptop.
  • If there’s a way to find text in Safari, I couldn’t figure it out. This was irritating on a big web page where I wanted to find a particular word.
  • There’s a noticeable heft to it. It’s not as thin or light as a Kindle. Holding it for a long time would get tiring.

Conclusions

The iPad is of course, a slick device. It’s well designed and easy to use. Would I take one if someone gave it to me? Of course. It’s a nice device for watching videos. But I would never attempt to write something like this on an iPad. As someone who uses their laptop 10 hours a day, I don’t see when I would use an iPad.

I’m sure it will evolve over time and add a camera, multitasking and more free and useful apps. For now, it’s a fun device to play with for a few hours, but not something anyone needs.

UPDATE: some supporting articles are at The New York Times and Walt Mossberg’s column.

Norway won the Olympics

There’s been a lot of talk about the US vs. Canada in terms of who “won” the Olympics. The US had more medals won, but Canada won more gold medals. What they should be measuring is how productive each country is by population. Here’s a list of countries who won at least one medal, sorted by most productive:

Norway won 23 medals with only 4.89 million people. That’s way above #2, Austria, with 1.93 medals per million people. Canada is 8th and the US is 20th out of 26. The big loser is China with 0.01 medals per million.

So, congrats Norway, you must really like the snow up there.

Giving my MacBook a Lube and Oil Change

A few days ago, my trusty 3.5 year old MacBook Pro started making some strange sounds. It was just a little rattling at first, then it got louder. And louder. And louder until it sounded like this:

It was impossible to concentrate or watch a video on it with all the buzzing and vibration. At work the next day I exiled myself to a conference room all day, partly embarrassed by the noise and partly to save my coworkers’ sanity.

I installed iStat Menus (a great little utility, by the way) to see what my fans were doing and clearly the left one – where the noise was coming from – was not doing well. When the right one was running at 3000 rpm, the left one was barely around 1000 rpm.

Not only was this noise annoying, but the left fan wasn’t doing its job, making it possible for my computer to overheat.

Luckily, I’m not the first person to have this problem. I found a nice blog post with instructions on how to take apart the computer, get to the fan, take it apart and lubricate it with some WD-40. I cleaned the right one too while I was in there in case it has problems in the future. I also used some compressed air to clean out all the accumulated dust in there. The whole process took me a little over an hour.

Magically, it worked. When I booted up again, my Mac was whisper quiet – quieter than I can ever remember it being. iStat menus reported that the fans were running at the same speed again.

Even better, the lubrication and dusting allows the fans to do their job better which means my computer is running cooler and the battery is lasting longer since its spending less time whirring fans around.

I can even watch YouTube videos without my computer sounding like it’s getting ready for takeoff.

You can buy replacement fans for your MacBook, but they’re $50 and take almost as much work to install as just cleaning your noisy ones.
I highly recommend giving your Mac an occasional lube and oil change. It makes a big difference!

My next challenge is to perform surgery on my wife’s MacBook with its sticky mouse button. I suspect there will be some interesting bits of food and who-knows-what in there to find.

10 reasons you shouldn’t buy an iPad

The iPad was announced yesterday after months of speculation and rumors. I didn’t think I needed a tablet computer and tried to ignore all the coverage, but with so much hype, I couldn’t help but be drawn into it and watch the live coverage as it was demoed.

iPad

Steve Jobs unveiled one of his typical sexy devices in his demo, but I think it will fail. Here’s just a few reasons why.

10. It doesn’t replace your laptop or your phone. It’s not a full laptop and it’s intended to be synced to a computer for content. It’s clearly too big to use as a phone even if it did have phone functionality. This means if you buy into an iPad, you’re buying and maintaining a 3rd device (and upgrading every few years). Few people would be able to use an iPad in place of a traditional laptop or desktop.

9. It doesn’t have a camera. As something like a kitchen computer, it would be ideal if it could do video conferencing, but there’s no camera on it. This is something they could easily add in a future revision, but it’s not there now.

8. There’s no keyboard. Yes, there’s an optional keyboard accessory and theoretically you could pair a bluetooth keyboard with it, but now you’re just pushing up the price of a device further into a price range that could get you a reasonable laptop or a very capable desktop. It’s hard to call this a credible email device when there’s no real keyboard on it.

7. The battery life isn’t great. The quoted life is 10 hours, but Apple wasn’t specific about what kind of usage that included, be it web surfing or watching videos. In contrast, the Kindle’s battery lasts for weeks. If I’m going to own a third device, I don’t want to have to remember to charge it nightly too.

6. It doesn’t multitask. Want to listen to music while you surf the web? Sorry, the iPad is not for you. Considering the beefy custom processor they put in it, this is highly surprising.

5. 3G Internet access is expensive. $14 a month for 250GB of usage on top of the $130(!) extra for an iPad with the 3G modem. There’s got to be some serious profits in that upgrade or they’re using the profits to pay AT&T. The Kindle’s wireless internet access is free. Admittedly, the web browsing experience on the iPad is a lot better than the Kindle.

4. The screen resolution is relatively poor. It’s 1024 x 768 vs 1280 x 800 for a MacBook. Many laptops at this price range have even bigger 15 inch screens. 1024 x 768 is a bit cramped for web browsing, even if it’s full-screen.

3. It’s twice as expensive as a Kindle. It is superior in most ways, but if what you want to do is read books, the Kindle is a way better deal.

2. It doesn’t support Flash. Steve Jobs touted the iPad as having the full web experience moments before he displayed a web page with a big hole in it where the Flash content couldn’t load. The fact is that most video on the web uses Flash today because Flash support is so ubiquitous in browsers. So if you want to watch video, you need Flash, not to mention all the other games and other sites that require it.

1. You can’t run OS X software on it. Apple chose to use iPhone’s software store meaning the only way you can install software is through the App Store. This is terrible because you have this device that’s kind of a laptop that’s restricted as to what you can run on it. You can’t just download some software on the web and you can’t customize it unless Apple has approved that software. Apple has gotten a terrible reputation by rejecting applications from their App Store for questionable reasons. Their justification was that you didn’t want some rogue piece of software breaking your phone. The iPad is not a phone, so why does Apple want control over what software you can install on it? They take a cut of every software purchase through the App Store, that’s why.

The fundamental problem with the iPad that it’s a larger iPhone instead of a smaller MacBook. Give me a touchscreen MacBook and I’ll be happy. If the iPad had one killer feature, like perhaps facial recognition or camera-based gestures, it might make it more compelling, but for now it’s a little of this, a little of that and not enough of anything.

Today’s Nonsensical Google Voice Transcription

We have our home phone forwarding to a Google Voice number on no answer. It replaces the crappy Verizon voicemail service we used before. Best of all, Verizon set up the call forwarding for free.

While it’s convenient to be able to check our voicemail via email, the transcriptions are not always helpful. Today’s example:

“Hey and and stabbed calling. I wanted to wish you guys lock today and let me know if you need anything and let me know how everything I don’t take care bye.”

The other day we had one that was even better:

“They brought up much to meet you at it. I will affect your insurance benefits. Rick diabetic supplies. We’ll but if it’s Peacock or restricted. Because of this diabetic experts has created a survey for research and educational purposes together, fax I can help diabetic if I wait your insurance benefits, during this historic debate, so if you are diabetic or know someone who it is and currently using, or would like to use insurance to pay for your diabetic supplies, please press 1 now to take part in involuntary servitude and your voice heard about benefits diabetic Snead again press one now, or press 2, to decline. Thank you.”

What they lack in usefulness, the make up for in amusement.

Week one: The GoodBerry and the BadBerry

It’s been a week since I got my BlackBerry Tour (for cheap) and I’m getting used to it. There’s lots to notice, but here’s the highlights:

The good

  1. The keyboard is nice. It’s easy to peck away at and lights up when dark.
  2. The camera takes good pictures. With 3.2 megapixels and autofocus, it’s light years ahead of my old Treos.
  3. The screen is beautiful. It’s bright, detailed and clearly visible even in broad daylight.
  4. There are plenty of apps. I have Google Maps, Facebook, SlingPlayer, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Messenger, Amazon and bunch of games. They’re not as sophisticated as iPhone apps, but they’re sufficient. I can download them from anywhere without anyone (Apple) telling me whether or not I’m allowed to install them. Unfortunately, there’s such a wide variety of BlackBerries out there that you’re not guaranteed that any particular app will work, especially on a new device like the Tour. Some only work on the Storm or other devices. Some say they work, but once you run them, you realize you can’t use an app because you don’t have a touchscreen. That’s frustrating.

The bad

  1. It’s surprisingly bad at handling email. For a company that started making devices that originally ONLY did email, I’m startled at how bad it is. Messages are not threaded. When using an IMAP account, it doesn’t keep in sync with messages on the server. You can’t view folders.

    The built-in IMAP client is so bad, I moved all my work email to an Exchange server so I could use their push service and moved my personal email to Gmail so I could use the Gmail App. There are some third-party IMAP clients out there, but they’re very immature.

  2. It sometimes freezes for long periods of time. Inexplicably, it will just stop responding for 10 seconds or so every once in a while. It doesn’t crash, but it’s annoying to just have to sit and stare at it.
  3. It doesn’t have a touchscreen. This was obvious to me before I bought it of course, but it doesn’t make it less frustating when I can’t figure out how to do something that would be simple if I could just tap the stupid screen. It’s a hard habit to break after many years of Treos. RIM, you seriously need to fix this. It’s 2009 for crickes sake. The trackball is pretty agile, but it’s still limited in apps where you can use it to click anywhere.

I’m still working on getting it configured to all my likes. I prefer to have my phone always on vibrate except when it’s charging. I can’t figure out how to do that. The default seems to be for it to vibrate and ding for every email, SMS or calendar alert that pops up. If I left that in the morning, I would be throwing it out the window by noon.

I haven’t figured out how to get it to tether with my Mac for free. The best solution seems like the $50(!) TetherBerry.

It’s still a pretty nice device and for the price, you can’t beat it.