Bad Decisions

As someone who considers himself a technology enthusiast I take pride in my ability to know how best to apply technological solutions to everyday problems. Part of knowing how to do this is the ability to know what the options are and when to choose which option. Few decisions in technology demonstrate this abundance of options better than the selection process for a new computer.

I have had a MacBook as my primary computer for the past 6 years. In that time, my first Mac has helped me to accomplish a number of goals. It has been my main machine for all of my technological pursuits. Pretty much Avery blog post and podcast episode I've produced was conceived of, written recorded and released on that machine. I has travelled with me own dozens of trips and has supported my rather amateurish attempts at being an amateur photographer.

A trend that has persisted for the past decade or so is that the advances in personal computing technology have continued at a faster rate than the increased computing demands of most of the population. 15 years ago it made a lot of sense to spend ore money to get a higher-end computer in hopes that the system would last you more than a couple of years. Fast-forward to today where most computer users need little more from their system than a means of getting to the Internet, and we see that most mid-to-low range computers could easily serve their users for 4-5 years.

With that philosophy in mind earlier this year I decided to make the leap from a mid-range laptop to a tablet as my main mobile computing platform. Many wolf the tasks at I like to undertake on a mobile device we well within the capabilities of most tablets, and I figured that the light weight and small form factor would make the device much easier to carry around with me. I've had the iPad for about three months now. I have tried to incorporate it as a working device, rather than just a content consumption device. I have successfully written a number of blog posts on the device and sent a few emails. But there are limitations as to how the iPad can be used as a content-creation platform, and the majority of those limitations are a result of the device's form factor.

Trying to write anything for any length on the iPad is challenging with the on-screen keyboard. The touch screen is very responsive and I can write on it far better than I can write on the iPhone, but there are still 4-5x the number of typos in my work which take time to correct. Autocorrect is both a help and a hindrance when writing on the iOS devices. If you allow it to do its job you can have a number of your mistakes fixed, but if you hit the spacebar instead of the intended letter key you will most likely create a typo that will need to be fixed manually. Writing with a physical keyboard hooked up either via Bluetooth or the Dock. On rector provides better a curry when typing, but requires the user to place the iPad and the keyboard on a flat surface like a desk or a table, greatly reducing the mobility of the device.

After the first month, it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to replace the laptop n my life with an iPad. It simply didn't fit my way of working. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not having thought things through and for not hanging figured it out ahead of time, but I soon realized that the iPad had other virtues and it hadn't been a waste. It has been a fantastic content consumption device and has allowed our whole family an alternate avenue to enjoy. Intent that we love when we may not be particularly interested in what someone else has put on the big TV.

So I stepped back and took a look at the options for laptops. The machine that I've been using is getting to be a bit slow, and for some of what I want to use it for the two GB memory limit is a bit, well, limiting. my first instinct was to pick p the new MacBook Pro. That's the model which most closely replaces the old MacBook I won't get into the reasons behind why I'm sticking to a Mac since they aren't really material to my point. Based on a number of factors I outlined in a previous post my ad choice of replacement laptop was the MacBook Air. It was plenty powerful for the types of things I typically use the computer for and it was small and light which was a nice change from the rather weighty MacBook White.

It's Great But...

I was thrilled when the unit arrived and wanted to get it set up as soon as possible. That's when I discovered my first error. I hadn't realized that the mini DisplayPort connector on the new machine was something different than the connector on the existing Mac (which I realized later was mini-DVI). I would need an adapter to attach the New computer to my monitor. Looking at the two side-by-side it's pretty clear that they're nothing alike.

So I began migrating data over to it the first night. That's when I realized that I had made my second error. I knew that the new machine's 128GB solid-state drive would be significantly more cramped than the current 320 GB drive I was using. But I failed to actually check how much data I would want to store on the machine. As it turned out, my Aperture library was larger than the entire SSD drive in the new machine. I bought an external hard drive and was willing to live with the compromise because I did 99% of my photo work at my desk anyway, so I woldn't need to transport the drive anywhere.

A week or so later I was to have a Skype chat with Dave and Knightwise. I had planned to use the new machine and that's when I realized that I wouldn't be able to record on the new machine -- it had no line-in jack. To use my existing podcasting gear I would need to buy a new USB sound device, or a USB mixer. This proved a rather frustrating discovery for me. It was the third time in a week that I had realized that the MacBook Air purchase was not sufficiently thought out. And it was maddening as this is specifically the kind of thing that I talk with people about when they are asking for advice on new systems: what will you use it for?

The Solution

The obvious answer to this is simple: do your homework. I could have realized two of these problems if I would have put a bit more time into looking at the options and precisely how I intended to use the machine. Looking into things more closely the MacBook Pro was clearly a better choice for how I use my computers.

  1. I have a machine that does most of what I need it to do on a day to day basis. Some expiring hardware and lack of ability to run the last two versions of OS X have precipitated the move to a new machine.
  2. I'm a podcaster. I need a line-in port to be able to do that without investing in more podcasting gear. While the lack of that port in and of itself likely wouldn't push me to one machine or the other, it's certainly a contributing factor.
  3. External drives are great -- and they're a pain in the ass. Needing to attach an external drive to your computer with any kind of frequency is a good indicator that you don't have enough on-board storage. I needed an external drive on day 1 with the new MacBook Air.
  4. Expandability breeds longer life. Almost every computer I've owned has lasted me longer than 5 years. In many cases hardware upgrades have helped prolong the useful life of these devices. Having the ability to have the memory and hard drive upgraded is something I typically need.

I'm still doing some additional reading and research to make sure I don't make another bad decision when I bring in a replacement model, but it certainly seems as though I should have ordered the 13" MacBook Pro to begin with as it fits far more closely with how I do my day-to-day computing.