We go over what we’re excited about with iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion and what we don’t quite understand.
We also discuss how the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display completely changes my computer plans for this summer. I had been planning on buying a 13-inch MacBook Air and 27-inch Thunderbolt Display for so long. But now?
We also discuss Microsoft Surface. Is this the first real iPad competitor?
High DPI (dots per inch) displays are the future of computing (Apple calls these Retina Displays). These displays are already taking over on cell phones and tablets. I wouldn’t recommend getting anything less than a cell phone with a least 300 DPI or a tablet with at least 250 DPI. Your eyes will thank you.
And so, why would I recommend going with a non-high DPI laptop now that one is available? The new MacBook Pro has 220 pixels per inch (PPI). The 13-inch MacBook AIr has 128. We’re not talking about remotely comparable experiences here (the farther away you use a computing display, the lower the PPI needed for a good experience, which is why cell phones really need a lot of pixels per inch).
Yet, I’m conflicted. I’d prefer something lighter than the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The MacBook Air that I had my sights set on is about 1.5 lbs. lighter. That’s a big deal when you’re on the go a lot, and I will be traveling to school a few times a week and working from different locations with my laptop.
I also never saw myself seriously considering a 15-inch laptop. I find that 13-inch displays are the sweet spot. They work well in a desk or on the go. The 11-inch Air and similar laptops also make more sense to me as laptops than 15-inch ones do, but they really benefit from an external display for longer work sessions.
But that Retina Display. 220 pixels per inch. 2880 by 1880.
How could I go with anything but a high DPI display if I have the choice? Within two years, I would expect all Macs to ship with Retina Dislays. Within five years, the only way to get a non-high DPI display will be to buy a really bottom-of-the-barrel computer — something that I wouldn’t recommend for work purposes. Buying a non-Retina Display Mac is buying into the past.
I don’t think I could do that. I’ve suffered from eye strain for several years, and the high DPI displays on the latest iPad and the last two iPhones have made a real difference in my life.
My eyes became less fatigued. It’s easier for me to read, write and get work done. A lot of people will discover that their eyes feel a lot better when they start using displays with higher pixel densities.
Eye strain doesn’t just manifest itself with pain. Eyes train can cause chronic dry eyes, headaches, migraines and other physical issues. It can also cause you to must not want to work anymore.
It’s a serious issue.
As a person studying usability and computer interfaces, I’m torn between the increased usability of a higher DPI display and the increased usability of a lighter, smaller computer. And my back and shoulders would prefer the lighter laptop.
I expect it to be at least a year (more likely two) until we see Retina Displays in MacBook Airs do to the GPU and battery demands. We may see a 13-inch MacBook Pro before then, but that will still be a bit heavier than a MacBook Air. I need to buy a new computer this summer.
Obviously, I’m leaning heavily towards the MacBook Pro, despite it’s bigger size. But I haven’t made up my mind yet.
Note: It’s not the resolution that matters but rather the resolution / display size while also taking operating distance into account. Sitting on a couch, text is perfectly readable on an HDTV, but get up close and everything goes to hell.
That Thunderbolt Display is definitely not happening, however. There is no sense in spending $1,000 on a display that will be obsolete in a year or two and that will look out of place next to a high DPI laptop screen.
What are your thoughts? Will you be buying a non-high DPI display again? How big of a laptop would you buy?
But there are caveats, and these caveats won’t be solved that quickly. We’re in for a bumping ride to a high pixel density future for laptops and desktops.
The biggest and most glaring issue are all the applications and websites that are not Retina Display ready. As we have seen with watching standard definition content on a high definition TV, non-Retina content looks worse on the new Macbook Pro than it does on traditional displays. This leads people to purchase a top-of-the-line computer to get an inferior experience.
Applications like Word are significantly less usable on the new Macbook Pro. Here is an application built for writing, and it displays blurry, out-of-place text.
The applications and websites that are updated look gorgeous and are more usable. High pixel density displays are the future. Make no mistake about that.
Getting to the future is often a bumpy road. How long will it take applications and websites to be updated to support high pixel density displays? That’s the real issue that has to be cracked with the new Macbook Pro and future high pixel density displays like the Retina Display.
Commercial applications that are under going ongoing development should be updated quickly. Some already have been, and I would expect most applications that are sold in the Mac App Store to be updated by the end of the year, if not significantly sooner.
Many people use applications that are open source or that are no longer regularly updated. These applications may lag considerably behind other applications in getting updated. Unfortunately, applications that are no longer being developed will not be updated, leaving users to either put up with a worse user experience or to hopefully find a suitable replacement.
In the business world, we often put up with old applications and websites because they help us get our jobs done, and we don’t have suitable modern replacements. It is these tools that will hold back high pixel density computing the most.
The Web transition will take much longer and legacy websites will remain with low pixel densities indefinitely. HTML text will immediately look great, but photos, videos and art assets may look quite bad.
The new iPad has been out for months and has sold millions. It will sell tens of millions this year. Despite that fact, few websites have been optimized to display photos and art assets at a high pixel density.
This leads me to believe that the new Macbook Pro will not cause many websites to be updated with high resolution assets anytime soon. What will it take?
To get broad Web adoption, we’ll need more than Apple products to ship with high pixel density displays. Specifically, high pixel density Windows laptops would give Web designers and site owners the kick in the pants necessary to update their websites.
Windows 8 does come with support for displays with high pixel densities. While Android tablets aren’t selling that well (Kindle Fire and Nook Color excluded), if they get on the high pixel density display bandwagon, this will further push application and website developers to update their products.
Many reviewers are saying that the new Macbook Pro is the Mac to get. That may be the case, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to fully utilize its beautiful display for a few years. If you get the new Macbook Pro, you’ll have a front row seat to history, as we transition from a blurry, pixelated, anti-alised computing world to a crisp, rich, no compromise computing world.
New technology helps push us forward, but it can take time. This new computer is a landmark day in computing. We’re finally beginning to see displays that no longer look like we’re staring at a computer. What we see just looks real, living, breathing.
Don’t underestimate the usability benefits that these high resolution displays will give us. People will get less eyestrain, text will be easier to read and we’ll be able to display details that we’ve never been able to before.
This is a brave new world for computing. It’ll be a bumpy ride to get there, but in five years, our computing world will look so much better and clearer.
Daniel Hooper made the above demo to show how text editing could be made much faster and more efficient on the iPad.
The iPad is a good device for writing text (I start a lot of the posts that appear here on the iPad), but it’s not great for editing text. It’s much slower than a standard keyboard and mouse setup for editing text, especially for the rearranging of text, as Hooper points out:
Tapping directly on text to move the cursor works well for small portions of text, but we don’t just write short portions of text anymore! When performing lots of edits in larger documents the direct interaction metaphor falls apart for cursor control. Even short portions of text can be painful to edit when you need to move the cursor to a precise location. Would you ever want to write a document on your computer without using the arrow keys? This is the reality iPad users face because they do not have the equivalent of arrow keys. There is a better way.
I think it would be difficult to write a long paper or article on the iPad because text selection is so slow to do, and a large part of writing is figuring out where the pieces fit.
That’s a shame because I do like to use my iPad to edit and proofread longer posts that I start on my computer, and I know the editing process could be even better. There is just something about editing writing on a separate device in a different atmosphere. I might do the bulk of my writing at my desk in my office, but I really like to sit back and relax on the couch with the iPad for editing.
The above prototype shows how Apple could make editing text much faster. I think Apple’s current setup should stay, but they should add something similar to what this video is showing for power users. Apple”s current text editing capabilities are very obvious, which is important, but they are too slow for power users.
Offering provisions for both power users and regular users is what Apple has been doing for years with OS X. It’s about time we started seeing the same with iOS.
This is my current setup (although my office has some new toys). It’s a Mac Mini hooked up to dual 22-inch monitors, Bluetooth Apple keyboard and mouse, external hard drive, Harman-Kardon Soundsticks and more.
I’ll be starting a Master’s program in Human-Computer Interaction this fall at the University of Maryland College Park. I’ll have more to come on that later, but I wanted to discuss the computer setup that I plan on using for graduate school, and I hope that you’ll share your academic computer setups as well.
Times have changed since I was last embarking on college in 2002. I went off to college with a PowerMac rocking OS X Jaguar (10.2). My computer had originally shipped with 10.1, and OS X was a much rawer OS back then, but it was still a big step up over Mac OS 9 and Windows (OS X has always been stable and beautiful). But you’ll notice that I had a PowerMac, a beast of a computer, large and heavy by even desktop standards.
There weren’t a lot of good laptop options in the spring of 2002 when I purchased my PowerMac (I bought it early so I could use it on my senior project, which involved myself and four friends building a new website for our township). At the time I made my decision I had felt that the PowerBooks and iBooks were not powerful enough for the work I would be doing: desktop publishing, movie editing, Web design, 3D animation, to name a few of the things that I did in college. It was a tough decision to go between power/expandability and portability. Today, laptops are incredibly powerful, and desktops are reserved for either the really low end of computing or the really high end that needs a lot of power.
In my last two day jobs, I’ve been given laptops. It’s becoming rare to even see desktops in the enterprise.
This time, I’ll be going with a laptop. Portability is paramount. When I was in college, no one brought a computer to class. Today, computers are in the classroom all the time — for note taking, for doing assignments, for communicating, etc. Just six years ago almost everyone took notes by hand.
I’ll also be working full time and continuing to edit the Interchange Project. I’ll be doing work from a variety of locations — home, work, campus, coffee shops, libraries, etc. — and need something light, something that can be carried around for a half mile walk and not break my back after lugging it around .all day. Battery life has also improved considerably, making laptops truly portable, where they once required a power outlet always nearby.
I’ll be going with a 13-inch Macbook Air. The ultrabook class of computers, of which the Macbook Air was the original, is probably the best computer choice for most people entering college today. The Macbook Air and its peers are very lightweight — easy to take to class and around campus — while also being very capable. I’m waiting for the new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel before I buy my machine, and I’m hoping that the new Macbook Airs will support 8 GBs of ram. If you are in the market for a laptop of any kind, wait until Intel’s new processors launch over the next few months.
The 13-inch Air has the perfect balance between power and portability. At under 3 pounds, it’s not just portable in the sense that you can throw it in your car and take it somewhere, but rather it’s portable in the sense that you can take public transportation and walk around campus or town a lot with it. It’s light enough that it can pretty much go anywhere with you.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago wifi was not ubiquitous. The big thing when I was in college was adding ethernet jacks all over the library and into classrooms. Yes, a mere 10 years ago, ubiquitous ethernet jacks, not wifi, was considered the best way to allow students to access the Internet when they weren’t in their dorm rooms. I don’t know if those ethernet jacks are still around, but had my school, and others, had strong wifi networks, I might have been tempted to go with a laptop, however underpowered it was.
Today, wifi is everywhere. I have 3G on my phone that I can use to create a wifi network for my laptop to get on. The value of a portable computer goes up exponentially when you can connect to the Internet away from a desktop ethernet jack.
Below is the full setup that I hope to be rocking:
This will be the core of my hardware configuration for the next several years.
Macbook Air — 13-inch model, because from what I’ve read and seen from other people, the 11-inch model is a great portable machine, but the screen can be too limiting for getting serious work done. I don’t want to do a two-machine setup. I want one machine that can handle all of my work. The biggest decision for me will be how big of a hard drive do I go with. Do I go with the standard 128 GB SSD (could be bumped up) and use an external drive to store music, photos, videos and other hard drive clogging files or do I go with the 256 GB SSD and try to fit as much of my stuff on it as possible? SSDS are blazing fast, but they are expensive. Even 256 GB won’t be enough long term. I’ll most likely be going with whatever the standard amount of hard drive space on the 13-inch Macbook Air is at the time that I buy my computer and then I’ll get a good, fast 1 TB external hard drive.
27-inch Thunderbolt display — The 13-inch Air has a big enough screen that it can be used as a primary display for getting work done. However, there are times when having more screen real estate really comes in handy. The 27-inch Thunderbolt display from Apple really makes the perfect partner for the Macbook Air, because it functions as a dock for Thunderbolt-equipped Apple laptops. The Thunderbolt display has USB, Thunderbolt and ethernet ports. You can dock in your laptop and have the display give you an external mouse and keyboard, several external hard drives and even a wired Internet connection for fast file transfers on your internal network. It also packs a pretty decent 2.1 sound setup and the ability to power and charge your laptop. It’s a great way to transform a very portable laptop into a full-featured desktop with minimal clutter. Thanks to Thunderbolt, external hard drives can be as fast as internal ones.
iPad — I’ll be using the iPad a lot for reading and doing research, and the new screen really makes it a compelling option for textbooks. I’ve used textbooks before on the original iPad, but the screen was a bit tiring to look at. Using a non-Retina Display iPad for reading books is a less than ideal experience. The new iPad, on the other hand, really offers a great book reading experience, complete with note taking, highlighting and dictionary look up. Any textbooks that I can get in ebook form will be run on the iPad. I’d rather not have to deal with lugging around textbooks that are as heavy as my laptop. It’s also great to have all of my textbooks with me at all times. On a Saturday, I could take my iPad with me to a coffee shop and do some pleasure reading. After a little bit, I can then open up a textbook and get some school work done.
iPhone — I currently have an iPhone 4. I’ll be using that until an LTE phone really catches my attention. What I like about the iPhone is that it has a great screen, much like the iPad. As someone who suffers from eyestrain, the quality of my computing screens matters greatly and helps to reduce and even eliminate eyestrain. The original iPhone really bothered my eyes after long use and most smartphones do too. I won’t get rid of my iPhone for an inferior screen. I hope the next iPhone maintains its strong batter life while also adding LTE, because I really want LTE for the hotspot function. There are times when wifi is far too slow to get work done, but 3G can be painful to use. Having the ability to use LTE with my laptop and iPad would be big.
External hard drives — I currently have one for hourly Time Machine backups. I’ll most likely add a second one as extra storage for my computer. I don’t need my photos, music and videos with me wherever I go, but a big external hard drive can give me a lot of extra space for not a lot of money.
External mouse and keyboard — When sitting at a desk, an external mouse and keyboard is much more ergonomic than what laptops offers. For long sessions at my desk, I really like having a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard (I prefer as few wires as possible). I highly recommend the same for everyone else. Find a keyboard and mouse/external trackpad that is really comfortable and set up your laptop like a desktop when you are using it from your main workstation. Your laptop should also be on something to raise the top of the screen up to eye level.
I use a lot of different software, and I’m always trying new software. Below is some of the key software that I’ll be using to maintain my professional, personal and academic lives.
Dropbox — The best backup and syncing solution I’ve found yet. I’m writing this post in Byword on my Mac. It is being backed up and synced to Dropbox as we speak. I’m going to pick up my dog from doggie camp in a little bit. If I have a few minutes to burn while I’m waiting for her to come out, I can edit this post on my iPhone, and it will sync back to my Mac. I cannot recommend Dropbox any higher. It’s a must have.
Alfred — I don’t know how people use computers without task launchers like Alfred. By simply holding down control and then hitting spacebar, I can use Alfred to launch Safari by just typing in “Sa” or find a file or do a simple math calculation. Mice do make computing easier, but they are slow and cause RSI. The more you can do with the keyboard with less effort, the more efficient you’ll be with a computer and the easier you’ll be your body. Alfred makes computing fun and fast.
Byword — I do a lot of writing. I’m always looking for ways to make writing more pleasurable and efficient. What I really like about Byword is it lacks chrome, unlike word processors such as Word and Pages; it’s just you and your words. Byword is a text editor, not a modern word processor, and its intent is for writing words, not producing documents to print. It’s an important distinction, but most of the writing I do is for Web consumption. If I need more formatting, I can copy and paste this text into a Pages document, which I prefer over Word. Byword also syncs between OS X and iOS. I started this post on my Mac and edited it on my iPad. It’s hard to go back to using a text editor that doesn’t sync between my computer, tablet and smartphone.
Pages — Even though I really like Byword (and TextEdit and Google Docs and other programs), I still use Pages. It read Word files pretty well, and it’s a good program to use when I need to track changes or do a bit with layout. Pages would be a lot more useful if it synced with the iOS versions, which are quite good. Ironically, lots of third party text programs sync with iCloud between OS X and iOS, but Apple’s own program does not. With OS X Mountain Lion, this will be changing. When this changes, Pages may become a much more interesting and important program.
Sparrow — The best desktop email program I have ever found. Lightweight, great UI and fun to use. I highly recommend it.
Reeder — The best RSS app I have ever seen. I have to keep up with a lot of news sources. This is a must have, and it works on both OS X and iOS.
Coda — This is what I use for Web design. It’s a great program for writing HTML, CSS, PHP and other languages. It also has a built in FTP program. Other programs may be stronger for development, but I really like this program for Web design work.
Pixelmator — Photoshop does way too much and costs way too much. This is the image editing and design program for the rest of us. It also starts up way faster and is much less bloated than Photoshop.
Omnifocus — The best GTD (Getting Things Done) task management program I have found. It helps you stay organized and on top of projects, which is kind of a big deal both professionally and academically. This also syncs very well with its iOS brothers. In fact, the iPad version is the best version. If you are always with your iPad and iPhone, the Mac version of Omnifocus isn’t really necessary.
Omnioutliner — The iPad version is how I take notes in meetings, and it’s fantastic. The OS X version is a favorite of college students everywhere for taking notes. I used it in undergrad to make outlines of textbooks. It doesn’t support syncing yet, but Omni Group promising that the next version of Omnioutliner for OS X will sync with the iOS version. That’s a big deal, because if it doesn’t happen soon, I may have to use something else for note taking. I may take notes in class on my Mac, but I’ll most likely read them over on my iPad.
Numbers– I prefer Numbers to Excel because it’s A) less convoluted to use and B) makes much nicer looking charts. I’m not a spreadsheet jockey, so I have this luxury. You may not. For grad school I may have to bite the bullet and get a Office license, particularly for Excel and perhaps Word. Mostly for compatibility, but there may be data sets that I need Excel for.
TextExpander — I’ve recently added this program to my arsenal. It allows me to make little character strings and then have my Mac automatically expand them into a longer strings or several sentences. For instance, I have one snippet called — “msig” that automatically ads my signature to any program. My main signature, which is what “msig” stands for, is four lines long. This is a big time saver. I also have snippets for frequently used computer code. There is also an iOS version that allows snippets to work with some — but not all — iOS apps. It would be nice if TextExpander could work with all iOS apps, but that is beyond their control.
TextEdit — Despite having several fuller-featured text editors on my Mac, I still like to use TextEdit for taking quick notes or as a scratch sheet of paper. The program launches incredibly fast. It’s instantaneous. Combined with my use of Alfred for quick launching of apps using the keyboard, I can have a blank TextEdit document up in a second or two.
GarageBand — This is what I use to edit our podcast. I may one day switch to Logic Pro, but for the time being our recording and editing setup is Audio Hijack Pro and GarageBand.
Jeremy is concerned. I’m taking a wait and see approach.
Then we have a big discussion about computers and computing systems automatically installing updates and patches for users. Most users don’t keep their computers and computing systems up to date. So doesn’t it make sense that more computers and computing systems are auto updating? Won’t this lead to less malware and a better user experience?
But what happens if that computing system being updated is within the car you’re driving?
It’s a serious usability discussion. Both sides have drawbacks and benefits. Perhaps the answer comes down to the user and the use case.
We breakdown the This American Life mess that surrounds Apple, Foxconn and Mike Daisey.
This American Life ran an episode about Apple’s main supplier Foxconn that included troubling allegations by Mike Daisey. The episode has now been retracted, as Daisey did not do the reporting that he said he did. We discuss how this could have happened, why fact checking is important and why good journalism isn’t always good storytelling.
I also give my review of the new iPad. If you like to read, it’s a great upgrade. Text looks amazing — except on iPad news all that haven’t been updated yet.