Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Apple Frustration

Apple announced new iMacs today and they look great. The problem is that they're really not a huge improvement over what has already been released. More than ever before, I feel as though Apple is trying to woo (and wow) me with design. It's bigger in all the right places (the display) and smaller in all the right places (thickness), shinier, a little faster, a little cheaper ($300), and has a new keyboard design. I get the feeling Steve Jobs is waving the new computer in front of the Mac faithful and saying, 'look, pretty!'

Unfortunately, the beauty of the thin, elegant iMac also brings some drawbacks for the user which make me avoid buying a new Mac (again, I was pondering one awhile back). One has to realize that Mac Mini and iMac models are essentially laptop computer components re-oriented in a different box. In the case of the Mini, it's a headless laptop. In the case of the iMac, all the guts or the computer are stuck behind and under the display rather than under a built-in keyboard. This makes for a nice small footprint but creates some usability issues.

The biggest problem I have on a regular basis is that the low power innards of these types of models will cause your USB ports to act wonky on occasion, and not in a way which is uncommon or inconsistent in normal (read: NOT POWER USER) use. Since they are notebook components, they are designed to reduce power consumption while on battery power so shutting off ports that are drawing too much juice works to the user's advantage on a MacBook model. On a desktop model which is always plugged in, it's utterly maddening. I can't tell you how many times I've had one of my two USB ports shut down because I attached my camera, printer (which is externally powered itself!), Palm, or even mouse and had a "low power/port disabled" message pop up from my Mini. Once the port is disabled, it won't re-enable in most cases unless I restart.

The other problem for me personally with these models is that I want my next Macintosh to cover for both a Mac and a PC so I can live la vida dual platform without two machines. The main problem here is that the Mini and iMac models come with irreplaceable and relatively crappy video cards for gaming and that's what I mainly use a PC for. What I need and Apple refuses to give me is a mid-range Mac model, preferably a tower with a lot of expansion capability so I can upgrade the video. A Macintosh Pro model is not only more computer than I need but more cash than I'm willing to pay.

There are, of course, other issues with these consumer models (the Mini and iMac). They often have slow hard drives, limited RAM expansion capability, and no ability to add functionality with cards like a tower or box model do. That would all be just fine if there were a less compact (display-less) model which looked less gorgeous which you could opt for at around the $800-$1200 range but Stevie-boy isn't interested in these models because he's afraid it'll eat away at the more lucrative pro model line-up's sales. He knows the Mac faithful fear the boogey-man that is Windows (or these days, a bit of PC hardware) and those who really want a better Mac are far more likely to frequently buy completely new consumer models or opt for more machine than they require rather than dance with the Windows devil. Well, Steve, I'm not afraid.

Given the choice of waiting to buy a new computer, buying a new Mac which isn't what I want or buying a PC, I'm going to opt for waiting it out. However, when the time comes, I'll be looking more favorably at a PC if Apple doesn't come up with something that reflects my needs more than their marketing priorities.


Sean P. Aune said...

See, this is the kind of info I need and no one ever shares!

Shari said...

That's because Mac users can never speak ill of a Mac and PC users can only speak ill of them.

It's pretty rare that you find someone like me who has lapsed in her faith enough to tell it like it is. Of course, there will be a price to pay when the MacKnights Templar discover my heresy and come for attack.

Not to worry...I've fortified the battlements.

Sean P. Aune said...

Dammit... I need to figure this out. I *need* a Mac. Feel free to come over to my site and argue with Roy who is yelling at me to get a 24" model *laugh*

CMUwriter said...

You have to admit, it sure is shiny! I grew up using PCs, but throughout high school and college had used macs regularly. It wasn't until I got out of college and began working on a mac full time did i lose my PC goggles and see that macs had a lot of good things to offer. I don't think i'll ever take sides and become a fanboy of one system or the other. It does seem though that apple has been coming out with products (re: iPhone) that are marketed as the end all, be all product for that niche, when they have a lot of drawbacks to them.

Durf said...

I'm no gamer so the iMac on my desk now is fine for my purposes. I do get the USB wonkiness but I've never had to reboot to get it to go away.

There are countless Mac users who want a headless tower between the Mini and the Mac Pro. If you go to Ars Technica and peek in the forums you'll find any number of threads talking about the mythical "xMac."

I won't be getting one of these new iMacs due to the glossy screen, by the way . . . It's acceptable on the MacBook I just bought (because I paid half of what I was about to on the 17" hi-def pro version) but I'd find it annoying on my desk all the time.

Shari said...

cmuwriter: Apple does make nice products but there is a price/benefit ratio that one has to keep in mind. Macs are much more attractive and the OS is generally a bit nicer to use though, as a long time Mac user, I'm all too aware of how many Mac conventions were altered to suit Windows users (and not always for the better in terms of overall usability). Macs feel nicer to use but PCs aren't greatly different. If prices were equal, the Mac would win every time but prices aren't equal.

Durf: I'm not a power gamer or anything. My needs are relatively modest but most on-line games need a decent video card. The main issue is that, with an iMac or Mini, even if the current card/chip is okay for games at the time the machine is purchased, it can't be replaced when it becomes outdated so you need a whole new machine or you can't play the next incarnation of your favorite game if the requirements have been beefed up (and they are always beefed).

I've run through a wide range of ridiculous fixes for my port problems. I even tried to attached a powered hub to the Mini so I wouldn't drain its resources but it claimed the powered hub drew too much power and disabled the port I put it on! I've also swapped the mouse to disabled ports and they've reactivated but sometimes the whole keyboard gets disconnected from these types of attempts to circumvent a restart.

I don't consider a mid-range Mac a "myth". I consider it a wish that won't be fulfilled. You'd think Apple would see this demand and fill it but I guess they're confident enough in their users' unconditional love to force people to purchase too low or too high.

Thanks to both of you for your comments!