Thoughts on the new Apple MacBook Pro

Having slept a few naps contemplating Apple’s new MacBook Pro. I have been a Mac user since it was the mark of eccentricity. I am writing this post on a 13″ MacBook Pro and have a house of other Macs and peripherals.

Apple launched a new range of Apple MacBook Pro’s on October 27, 2016. This was a day after Microsoft’s reinvigoration of its Surface franchise.  Apple ignores timing and tries to plough its own furrow. But comparisons by journalists and market analysts are inevitable.

Microsoft has done a very good job at presenting a device that owes its build quality to the schooling that Apple has given to the Shenzhen eco-system over the past two decades.

The focus on touch computing feels like a step on a roadmap to Minority Report style computing interfaces.  Microsoft has finally mastered the showmanship of Apple at its best.

Apple’s presentation trod a well-worn formula. Tim Cook acts as the ringmaster and provides a business update. Angela Ahrendts sits at a prominent place in the audience and appears on a few cut-in shots. Craig Federighi presented the first product setting a light self-depreciating humour with in-jokes that pull the Apple watchers through the fourth wall and draws them inside ‘Apple’. Eddy Cue plays a similar role for more content related products. In that respect they are interchangeable like pieces of Lego.

Phil Schiller came in to do the heavy lifting on the product. While the design had some points of interest including TouchID and the touchpad the ports on the machine are a major issue.

Given the Pro nature of the computer, Apple couldn’t completely hide behind ‘design’ like it has done with the MacBook. So Phil Schiller was given the job of doing the heavy lifting on the product introduction.

There was the usual Jonny Ive voiceover video on how the product was made with identikit superlatives from previous launches. It could almost be done by a bot with the voice of Jonny Ive, rather than disturbing his creative process.

It all felt like it was dialled in, there wasn’t the sense of occasion that Apple has managed in the past.

User experience
Many people have pointed out that Microsoft’s products looked more innovative and seemed to be actively courting the creatives that have been the core of Apple’s support. In reality much of it was smoke and mirrors. Yes Apple has lost some of the video market because its machines just aren’t powerful, in comparison to other workstations out there.

The touch interface is more of a red herring. Ever since the HP-150 – touch hasn’t played that well with desktop computers because content creators don’t like to take their hands too far from the keyboard when work. It ruins the flow if you can touch type; or have muscle memory for your PhotoShop shortcuts.

Apple didn’t invent the Surface Dial because it already had an equivalent made by Griffin Technology – the PowerMate. In fact the PowerMate had originally been available for Windows Vista and Linux as well, but for some reason the device software didn’t work well with Windows 7 & 8.

I can see why Apple has gravitated towards the touchpad instead. But it needed to do a better job telling the story.

Regardless of the wrong headedness of Microsoft’s announcements, the company has managed to get much of the heat that Apple used to bring to announcements. By comparison Apple ploughed exactly the same furrow as it has done for the past few years – the products themselves where interchangeable.

The design provided little enthusiasm amongst the creatives that I know, beyond agitation at the pointless port changes and inconvenience that conveyed.

While these people aren’t going to move to Microsoft, the Surface announcements provided them with a compare and contrast experience which agitated the situation further.  To quote one friend

Apple doesn’t know who it is. It doesn’t know its customers and it no longer understands professionals.

Apple’s design of the MacBook Pro shows a good deal of myopia. Yes, Apple saved weight in the laptops; but that doesn’t mean that the consumer saves weight. The move to USB C only has had a huge impact. A raft of new dongles, SD card readers and adaptors required. If like me you present to external parties, you will have a Thunderbolt to VGA dongle.

With the new laptop, you will need a new VGA dongle, and a new HDMI dongle. I have £2,000 of Thunderbolt displays that will need some way of connecting to Apple’s new USB C port. I replace my displays less often than my laptop. We have even earlier displays in the office.

Every so often I transfer files on to a disk for clients with locked down IT systems. Their IT department don’t like file transfer services like WeTransfer or FTP. They don’t like shared drives from Google or Box. I will need a USB C to USB adaptor to make this happen. Even the encrypted USB thumb drive on my ‘real life’ key chain will require an adaptor!

I will be swimming in a sea of extra cables and parts that will weigh more than the 1/2 pound that Apple managed to save. Thank you for nothing, Apple.  Where interfaces have changed before there was a strong industry argument. Apple hit the curve at the right time for standards such as USB and dispensing with optical drives.

The move to USB C seems to be more about having a long thing slot instead of a slightly taller one. Getting rid of the MagSafe power connector has actually made the laptop less safe. MagSafe is a connector that is still superior to anything else on the market.  Apple has moved from an obsession with ‘form and function’ to ‘form over function’.

The problem is one of Apple’s own making: it has obsessed about size zero design since Steve Jobs used to have a Motorola RAZR.

Price versus Value
So despite coming with a half pound less mass and a lot of inconvenience, the devices come in at $200 more expensive than their predecessors. It will be harder for Apple customers to upgrade to this device unless their current machine is at least five years old. I don’t think that this laptop will provide the injection in shipments that Apple believes it will.

A quick word on displays
Apple’s move away from external displays was an interesting one. There can’t be that much engineering difference between building the iMac and the Apple Display? Yet Apple seems to have abandoned the market. It gives some professionals a natural break point to review whether they should stay with Apple. Apple displays aren’t only a product line but a visible ambassador of Apple’s brand where you can see the sea of displays in agencies and know that they are an Apple shop. It is the classic ‘Carol Bartz’ school of technology product management.

More information
Initial thoughts on Windows 8 | renaissance chambara
Size Zero Design | renaissance chambara
Why I am sunsetting Yahoo! | renaissance chambara
Apple just told the world it has no idea who the Mac is for – Charged Tech – Medium
Apple (AAPL) removed MagSafe, its safest, smartest invention ever, from the new MacBook Pros — Quartz
How Apple’s New MacBook Pros Compare To Microsoft’s New Surface Studio | Fast Company | Business + Innovation – a subtly cutting article on the new MacBook Pro
New MacBook Pro touches at why computers still matter for Apple | CNet
Apple’s new MacBook Pro kills off most of the ports you probably need | TechCrunch

On smart watches, I’ve decided to take the plunge

So I have decided to take the plunge into wearables. My previous attempt with the Nike Fuelband didn’t go very well as I seemed to break them with frightening regularity and never really learned much from the experience apart from Nike can’t build hardware.

I haven’t gone with Samsung wrist watch, or the better looking Sony one. I will not be rocking a pre-release device from Apple. Instead I have gone to a smart watch pioneer who gave us the Data Bank in the 1980s.
blue G-shock
Casio has built a low power Bluetooth module into a G-Shock that gets up to two years on a lithium battery and is still water resistant to 200 metres. Realistically I would be happy if I got 12 months out of it. It uses its Bluetooth skills to give you basic notifications around email, incoming calls and alerts across Facebook, Twitter and Weibo.

At the mid-point in the price of G-Shock watches, it means that the upgrade path isn’t exactly painful. The G-Shock strikes the right balance between robust hardware and disposability required for technology improvements.  In fact, I’ve worn a G-Shock before when travelling to span timezones and as a timepiece that I won’t get too attached to if it gets stolen – the smart watch G-Shock has the advantage of my phone being on view less often, ideal for the crime-filled streets of Shepherds Bush or Shenzhen.

I think the smartest thing about the watch is it’s deliberately limited scope to provide notifications. I don’t think that Casio has it perfect, in fact I can see how the power-saving function on the Bluetooth module is likely to miss messages; but I think that they are on to something with this approach – and so I am willing to give it a try.

I am surprised that these watches aren’t being sold in Apple stores around the world given G-Shock’s brand presence in the street wear community. Maybe Casio hasn’t got their act together, or Apple aren’t particularly keen on the competition.

Oh and I won’t look-or-feel like a complete dick wearing it.

More information
“Generation 2 Engine” Bluetooth® v4.0 Enabled G-SHOCK | Casio – yes their marketing sucks with a naming structure only a Microsoft product manager could love
Comparison Chart of Mobile Link Functions – Casio

On wearables

The Apple Watch launch gave me a chance to go back and revisit the development of wearable computing and my experience with wearable devices.

Wearable computing had it’s genesis in academic research; some of it government funded. For instance DARPA had a hand in the US Army Land Warrior programme. France has it’s FÉLIN programme and Germany IdZ. All the programmes sought to provide soldiers with location data  and in communication with their colleagues.  Unsurprising  key issues for the soldiers involved included:

  • Weight
  • How cumbersome the equipment was
  • Battery life
  • Reliability / robust product design
  • Value of information provided

It is worth bearing in mind these criteria when thinking about wearables in a consumer context.  SonyEricsson’s LiveView remote control for Android handsets launched the current spurt in ‘smart’ watches. Sony made a deliberate decision to position the LiveView as an augmentation to the smartphone. Think of it as a thin client for your wrist.

Samsung and Apple in some of their communications have looked to muddy the water in the way that they presented their devices, despite the fact that both of them rely on the smartphone  in a slightly more sophisticated way than LiveView.

Much of the early drive in wearables has been around health and fitness where the likes of Nike and Jawbone reinvented the kind of service provided to dedicated fitness enthusiasts by the likes of Polar and Suunto. These devices are primarily about simplification of design to democratise the technology.

By contrast Samsung and Apple have a greater ambition for their devices in terms of the what they can do. I don’t know what the killer app is for a general purpose device and I suspect neither do Apple or Samsung.

Wearables are not particularly robust by design. I have had three Nike Fuelbands fail in 12 months or so. Compare this to the Casio G-Shock and IWC watches that I generally wear. I don’t have to think about wearing my watch; I didn’t worry about washing my hands or stepping in the shower or the swimming pool with it on. You couldn’t do that with a Samsung Gear.

A second unknown factor is how often consumers would be willing to upgrade a smart watch? When one thinks about the expected price point of Apple’s premium watches, it is similar to the products coming out of Switzerland. The cases and straps are well made, but the price of buying an Omega watch is also about buying into a service centre that will keep the watch going for decades to come. Apple’s iPod Classic barely lasted 13 years. The electronic innards of an iWatch would be built from components that would become obsolete, even if Apple wanted to service them.

Would Apple compromise with a modular design that could make it easy to swap out smart watch innards in a case as an analogy to having a watch serviced? I don’t think so, if one looks at Apple’s design move over the past decade towards sealed computing appliances: the iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air and the Retina MacBook.

More information
FÉLIN | Army Technology
SonyEricsson LiveView remote and the changing face of mobile computing | renaissance chambara

Is it just me or do these adverts make wearables look awkward?

Samsung have been using pretty much the same imagery across print and out-of-doors advertising which I think makes the Galaxy suite of phablet, stylus and watch look awkward.

I first noticed it on the front page takeover of the free Chinese language paper Metro (HK edition)

A lady version inside the South China Morning Post

Pop-up store in Cityplaza

MTR advert

A lady version, this time with a pink phone, again on the MTR

The adverts manage to destroy the user context of wearable devices with their awkwardness

The London Fashion Week post: Five hidden social media gems of fashion brands #LFW

Whilst former football hooligan favourite Burberry gets a lot of kudos for its work using Facebook for brand engagement, I think that there are other fashion and luxury brands doing possibly smarter, and certainly more targeted narrowcast social media work. Here are five of them:

  1. Whilst Louis Vuitton’s adverts make me feel queasy with their odd positioning with the likes of Bono, Mikael Gorbachev and Angelina Jolie with the gaudy holdall woven into awkward-looking photo-shoots, LV have been much smarter in their use of location services; notably Foursquare and Chinese counterpart Jiepang. Louis Vuitton uses it very carefully to curate a Louis Vuitton life and encourage store engagement. Recommendations for London include the Southbank Centre, Connaught Hotel and the Fifth Floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols. This is also likely to filter out all about the most ardent hangers on
  2. Comptoir des Cotonniers (CDC) have a blog with a distinctly homespun look and feel that talks about brand news coverage and the kind of things that influence them. There is a playlist module of saccharin soul on the left-hand side of the page. Even if you can’t use Google Translate to get a feel of what the French language content is about you, can tell by the kind of imagery that accompanies the posts
  3. In a similar vein, Sir Paul Smith has a personal blog that acts as the voice for his fashion brand. It doesn’t give you a sense of their collection but does give a strong sense of who or what Paul Smith the brand actually is. He has a good eye for curating interesting and eclectic imagery and the site feels like it wasn’t pulled together by an intern
  4. At the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of production values is Dunhill; despite the site using Amazon Web Services as a content delivery network this can be a beast to load down anything but the fattest broadband pipe. Their Day 8 section of the site sits somewhere between a magazine and a blog and is stuffed with a range of quality thought-provoking content. Interestingly it hasn’t been updated in the past 80 days. They do publish Day 8 as an iPad application, but it would have been nice if there was an RSS feed for the content, being a busy person I don’t have time to fanny around. If I was the publisher of Esquire magazine I would have a good look at Day 8; as this is what quality men’s interest content feels like
  5. Whilst lots of different fashion houses have used live video to extend the audience of their runway shows (primarily spurred on by trying to crack the massive Chinese market) most of them require you to watch the show from in front of your computer. If you are getting hold of the kind of money it takes to shop with these brands; time in front of your computer is likely to be time wasted. Menswear fashion brand Ermenegildo Zegna put it on an iPhone application so you can follow the show whilst waiting for a flight or traveling to a business meeting in a taxi; if you like what you see you can even buy some of the items in-application. Previously this kind of mobile content | m-commerce integration had only been seen in more mainstream brands like Tokyo Girls Collection. Rather than create their own social content on the Zegna site they have started to have fashion bloggers create their own Zegna looks and ‘guest post’ on the Zegna site. Again no RSS though

I like: Wayward Gallery opium t-shirt | 我喜欢 Wayward Gallery opium t-shirt

I picked up this design by the Wayward Gallery before Christmas. Nothing like a bit of old school brandjacking parody for a t-shirt design.
Wayward Gallery t-shirt

Stüssy Deluxe versus Masterpiece

Japanese bag makers Master-Piece have teamed up with Stüssy for a set of retro looking rucksacks and messenger bags. They aren’t my cup of tea but I am impressed by the way they are made: screen printed canvas, with suede parts to strengthen the bag and leather securing straps.
Stussy v Masterpiece

I like: Stüssy make beats contest

Veteran streetwear label Stüssy is something that is often now overlooked because of the number of vibrant premium streetwear brands out there is better known for raiding its archives and churning out collaborations (some better than others).

A lot of Shawn Stüssy’s inspiration came from music and culture, so it was interesting to see that the label has been trying to get back to that with its Make Beats competition and it should be no surprise that they have launched a t-shirt and ball-cap collection to go along with it.

Shawn himself moved on in the mid-1990s and is doing his own thing at S-Double – it’s well worth checking out as well.

I like Filson computer bag

I tend to use bags with technical fabrics from Porter Tokyo, Timbuk2 and Mystery Ranch but I was struck by how nice this Filson bag was. Filson are an American outfitter that goes back to the 19th century making tough and comfortable clothing and accessories. The bag is made from a similar kind of cotton fabric to Carhartt workwear and with saddle leather accents it looks like the kind of bag that could turn into a family heirloom.
Filson computer bag
You can buy one online through Manufactum.

Whatever happened to luxury brand Chloé’s online push in China? | 被遗弃的奢侈品牌的营销活动?

French luxury ready-to-wear pioneer and Richemont Group fashion brand Chloé drove forward with an expansionist strategy for the Chinese market earlier this year with a webcast fashion show, corporate blog and an ambitious e-commerce strategy.
je suis chloe Wonder Girls screenshot
The webcast fashion show was supposed to be about the fifth anniversary of the brand, but was more about expanding their share of the Chinese marketplace.

As using social media in luxury goes, it was an ambitious strategy so I decided to revisit the site to see how they were getting on and what innovations they were up to. I went to the web address and got this page.
I’ve tried it a number of times on different networks and computers to make sure that it wasn’t an error on my part.

I know that the site is supposed to be based on servers in Shanghai and that the domain name doesn’t run out until the end of October.

I was surprised to see such an interesting brand exercise apparently given up on so quickly, the Chinese corporate blog would have been about establishing an ongoing relationship with existing, prospective and aspiring customers rather than rolling out what seems to have been a short-term campaign.

More information

Chloé targets Chinese rich online – Marketing Interactive

Chloé Readies Shanghai Runway Show, Launches Chinese-Language Blog – Jing Daily

Chloé Celebrates 5th Anniversary In China With Runway Show Webstream – Jing Daily

Chloé to unveil Chinese-language blog and global e-commerce site – Lady Lux

I like: Think Geek x Marvel super hero hoodies

A full body print on a zip hooded top with designs based on Spiderman, Venom and Captain America.
think geek hoody

I like: WTAPS Japan Stay Strong t-shirt

WTAPS always deliver products with nice styling and detail but I really like this t-shirt design designed to benefit victims of the Tohuku earthquake. It reminds me of the now-dying trade/art/craft of coach-painting that you used to see in everything from shop signs to hand-painted tractor units of road haulage companies.
WTAPS: Japan stand strong
When my Dad started working in the shipyard, he had a house sign painted on a piece of oak wood from my grandparents farm by one of the painters on site. Apparently lots of notices on the ships were hand-painted. Now it is easy to print labels and cut signs with computerised equipment.

I like: Kineda’s tribute to Bruce Lee

Kineda has a t-shirt in it’s originals collection that is a tribute to Bruce Lee’s character Hai Tien from the Game of Death.

Classic Stüssy tribe footage

Impeccably shot footage by film director, hair dresser and streetwear dandy: James Lebon, Shawn Stüssy breaks down the streetwear formula that Neighborhood and Bape went on to follow.

I love the way he makes word-of-mouth and the product-as-marketing concepts which are considered to be cutting edge marketing ideas now, yet spells them out simply back in the day. It also shows how vibrant the culture was in the late 1980s.

I haven’t bought much Stüssy recently mainly because the original label felt like it was treading old ground and many pieces were almost a parody of the Stüssy brand. Some of their best work now is collaborations with newer fresher brands like Porter Tokyo, Clot and Neighborhood. Check it out.

Shawn Stüssy has taken it back to basics going out on his own with S-Double and has more of the cognoscenti vibe that Stüssy label had in the late 1980s and that is where more of my wardrobe is now coming from.

Lebon unfortunately past away in 2008, but you can see more of his work here on his YouTube channel. Hat tip: Stüssy Inc.

Bring back the baggy pants, rather than the nut crushers that are currently the vogue. I’ve still got a vintage Stüssy varsity jacket in brown and cream that I am known to wear during spring and early summer; I used to have one in black with the IST logo on it but it fell apart last year.