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The New Apple Advantage (daringfireball.net)
364 points by aaronbrethorst on Sept 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 337 comments

What I grasp from this is that John Gruber and Peter Bright are just too dim to understand basic online stores.

This qualifies for mockery from Gruber/Bright:

> "Everyday Computing"

But this is good understandable product description:

> "The ultimate everyday notebook"

(that second one is Apple's marketing copy for the Macbook Air).

The low-end Macbook Air is $999 in Canada. Let's compare. I just priced a Lenovo X220 with a 50% faster processor, twice the ram, twice the SSD size, larger, better screen - which are all minimum choices for this laptop, I can't choose any lower to match the Macbook - and I came out to $84 more than the Macbook. Let's see, if I look at the other versions... I'd say the Macbook has about a $200-$300 price premium compared to the Lenovo. The two laptops weigh almost exactly the same and are the same thickness at the thickest point, although the Lenovo doesn't have the pretty tapered edge.

The economy of scale advantage that he's talking about doesn't exist, or at least doesn't make it to the consumer (Apple may be keeping economy of scale profits, but that's not the point Gruber is trying to make).

Gruber is just utterly full of shit and I fail to see why his articles merit any discussion. "Apple is great because [make up bullshit reason of the week]". Isn't that boring? Even if you love Apple products, isn't it boring?

The problem is not using "everyday computing" as a descriptive element in the marketing copy. It's using it as a category differentiator.

Let's go laptop shopping!

store.apple.com. Presented with pictures of things, with the name of the line under them. I can see (I don't even have to read or select a menu, I can just see!) two types of laptops: the Air and the Pro. One is little and the other is big. Do I want a little laptop or a big laptop? Little! Click on the little one, then click through "select a macbook air." Presented with two more pictures: 11" and 13", each with text underneath offering two options (more or less HDD space). At every point, the gist of what the difference is between the various selections is painfully clear to the shopper.

shop.lenovo.com. Presented with: promo for IdeaPad U300s. What if I want other laptops? Shop -> Laptops & Notebooks in the small text below the big promo. Now I'm presented with three lines of laptops. Aside from color, they look the same. How do I differentiate? One is for "basic everyday computing" the other for "dazzling multimedia experience" and the other for "tools to save time and money." Whereas I didn't even read the marketing copy on the Apple site, because I had pictures that got to the heart of the differences between the models, here I'm stuck reading marketing copy to make a decision. If I select "prices you'll love" does that mean the others will have "prices I'll hate"? Luckily Lenovo has given me a matrix to help me choose. The matrix has 38 rows... Say I blindly click on the ThinkPad. Now I'm presented with 6 series. The bold text to help me differentiate is more marketing copy: "environmentally friendly" versus "mobile freedom." Are some of these laptops not environmentally friendly? Do some lack mobile freedom? The information that is most pertinent to me as a laptop buyer (weight and screen size) is actually at the bottom of the lists in the same font size as the footnotes and legalese!

Notebook shopping for "dummies":

If you are not sure what you want, make a list of things you want to do with your laptop and ask someone who knows about computers to tell you what you would need for it (gaming -> number of decent chip names, writing and internet -> nothing matters, storing a lot of movies/games -> more than XX Gigabytes of harddisk space, video chatting -> webcam & microphone, etc)

Make a checklist of the things you want/need.

Browse for notebooks and write down those that fit all of your criteria.

Choose the one that has the shiniest finish or cutest name.


Make a checklist, hire a personal shopping technical consultant (may come for free in exchange for friendship/family brownie points), learn a new vocabulary, navigate a complex product matrix and finally, hopefully, purchase.


Click on the picture that looks like what you want, tweak a few straightforward options (or leave them to default, knowing they're probably fine), buy.

Startup idea: Automate this process and charge a 5% markup on the laptops sold through your site.

The difference is, you either ask a knowlegable friend for advice so you can make a decision based on your needs - or you rely on a knowlegable Apple marketing / tech department to make the decision for you.

Once again Apple provides simplicity at the cost of freedom of choice.

EDIT: to the downvoters - your inability to acknowledge a simple truth astounds me.

>ask a knowlegable friend

As the "knowlegable friend" in my circles this just means that I get swamped with requests for assistance in selecting laptops which means I get the joys of navigating shitty PC websites for a machine that I will never use (until it breaks).

I made the decision a long time ago to tell folks asking for help "if you want a Mac, I'll give you all the assistance you want but if you want a PC, you're on your own."

Do you need to give assistance if someone wants a mac? ;)

Sorry but I can't see where Apple limits your choice... Is that because they don't offer configurations for each component of their computers? Simplicity by definition is something simple. 10 configurations are simpler than 1000.

You are missing my point.

Yes, simplicity by definition is something simple. But that's not the issue. I'm talking about the way that simplicity is offered at the expense of freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice by definition needs choices.

If you have twenty choices vs. two; by definition, the former offers more freedom of choice.

You can have the Model T in any colour so long as it's black.

More seriously, you have all the choices you want - no one is forcing you to buy a Mac. For the 0.5% of the population who want that freedom, it's there, for a price (both financial and in terms of quality, hassle, ease of purchase, etc).

For the other 99.5%, who want the simplicity, it's there too.

While I agree with you, I don't think 99.5% of the population owns a mac.

There will always be a benefit to being able to choose. I'd rather have to acquire knowledge, and be able to make an informed choice - than have someone else make that decision for me. I know I'm not the only one.

EDIT: Okay - so why the down-vote? Commenting on any Apple-centric post, with any comment that can be considered even slightly disparaging towards Apple is hazardous.

When it comes to Apple, some people seem to end up exchanging their brains for shiny-hardware. Depressing.

I've come to view downvotes when commenting on a Gruber post on HN as a sign that I'm doing something right. (Disclaimer: this post is a generalization, valid and relevant 80% of the time, but I will make it sound universal anyway. It will not provide good experience for some users, but that's okay.)

I'm a huge geek and even I would hate to do that. How can you expect that from ordinary non-geeky people?

They can always just pick the one that looks best.

So, you really wanna claim that Apple has an equally confusing product lineup compared to other manufactures? That’s a quite daring claim (and also some impressive misleading quoting you are doing there).

Apple doesn’t ask you to decide based on non-sensical marketing blabber like that. They use it, sure, but it isn’t central in the decision process of the buyer.

Go to their store and check out how they do it: http://store.apple.com/us

If you want a laptop you are asked to make only one decision: Do you want a MacBook Pro or Air? Finding out what those two laptops are all about is easy, if only because it’s only two and not four or more. They are also clearly different from each other, in a way that’s obvious even to someone who doesn’t know anything or doesn’t want to know anything about technological details. Just looking at them is more or less enough to figure out what they are all about.

When you have made that decision, you more or less only have to decide on the screen size you would like: 11" or 13" if you want an Air, 13", 15" or 17" if you want a Pro.

I would love it if other manufacturers did the same. Shopping for PCs is just so damn frustrating. It’s no fun at all.

So, you really wanna claim that Apple has an equally confusing product lineup compared to other manufactures? That’s a quite daring claim (and also some impressive misleading quoting you are doing there).

Apple doesn’t ask you to decide based on non-sensical marketing blabber like that. They use it, sure, but it isn’t central in the decision process of the buyer.

One other point: all three Macs I've owned were ready to use out of the box. No stickers, no crapware, no nothing. Contrast this with a recent Anandtech review of a recent Sony Vaio that, hardware-wise, is quite nice, but:

Because of that initial bloat I have a hard time recommending the VAIO S to any end user that can't fix it (including but not limited to just plain physically upgrading the hard drive) or doesn't know someone who can. This is an otherwise fantastic notebook with a lot of potential just looking for the right user, but if you're not comfortable getting elbow deep in cleaning it out (or preferably doing a clean Windows 7 installation), it's not going to be the notebook for you. For those of you who are willing and able to put in the time, though, you'll likely be very well served by the Sony VAIO S.


I read something like that and think, "Where's the MacBook Air link again..."

I now recommend to anyone I know that's nontechnical that they buy their new laptops at the Microsoft Store (we have one nearby). All the computers they sell are crapware free, and even come preloaded with the free, near-invisible MSE instead of the awful antivirus trialware most other Windows computers are afflicted with.

The Microsoft stores feel like really bad rip-offs of the Apple stores and overall their employees do not seem to be knowledgeable about the stuff they are selling. That has been my experience when walking into a Microsoft store.

To counterbalance this, I'll point out I've heard some pretty clueless things come out of the mouths of Apple Store employees too - e.g. "plugging in your macbook air into a macbook pro PSU will damage the battery" and other silly stuff.

Granted, but I don't expect store employees to know that voltage is the only thing that matters, not amps. What I do care about is people knowing what software comes with the new machine, what is installed by default, how much it would cost to get an upgrade to Professional, where Office is discounted with a laptop, what kind of graphics card is in it, how many gigs of memory and other basic questions.

The guys at the Microsoft store I visited made clueless look bright. Apparently they keep getting new machines in with no training at all.

What an odd way to decide which machine you'll use every day for the next year or more.

A clean install is really easy -- maybe one hour if you sit and watch it, fifteen minutes if you use your old laptop while it's going... why would you let a cost of <one hour drive your buying decision?

Setup time is part of the cost of a system. I'm sure that the apple machine isn't actually ready for you to use it out of the box -- if you're like most HN readers you'll have tons of tweaks you need to install before the computer actually works the way you want it to.

I'm writing this on a x220 with a 240GB Vertex3 under the hood, which is 4-10x faster than my coworker's13" 240GB macbook air for bioinformatics workloads. It cost about $100 more, and yes it required a clean install as part of setup.

The profit I've made on that $100 + 1 hour is insane... probably 100x return so far this year on decreased compile & run times (calculated as delta in experiments per day times my annual salary)

Bioinformatic workloads, huh? Sounds important.

I don't believe you.

If it was major number crunching, you'd batch that crap on the fastest servers you could afford.

If it's interactive, the computer is waiting on you more than doing work.

Just admit it: you're a technophile that likes to fiddle with all the knobs. Fine. Whatever floats your boat.

But don't play stupid about the OP's article.

HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc. have TERRIBLE marketing communications supported by TERRIBLE product family line ups.

The OP's point (hello!) is Apple's simplified product family allows them to achieve better economies of scale then their competitors.

Very simple.

First of all, the thing you are replying to isn't in reply to OP's article. It's in reply to a particularly stupid comment.

Secondly, the HN crowd doesn't seem to consider that when selling to large corporations the Dell, Lenovo, etc. "overly complex" approach makes sense -- that there might be a reason that apple isn't the #1 computer manufacturer, especially for institutional purchases.

Fourthly, before talking about "mostly waiting on user input" you should consider the research. ("1.0 second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted") start with http://www.useit.com/papers/responsetime.html

Fifthly, you seem unfamiliar with how scientific computing works. Here's the process:

1. Hypothesis (usually but not always done by professor or adviser)

2. Find a dataset, or multiple datasets that should be able to falsify #1

3. Code up an initial test in R or Mathematica (or Matlab if you don't like FP) -- does the correlation even exist? How well do the off-the-shelf methods work?

4. If you think you can do better, write it up in C++/Java, testing as you go

5. If the process requires a lot of CPU time for near perfection (NN / RBM / GA / GP), run task on server for use in your publication (graphs / discrimination percentages)

Only #5 is really effective to put on the server... Working with Mathematica remotely is a PITA with non-university hardware (licences), and remote interfaces have annoyingly high latency IMHO.

Sixthly, I do like fiddling with knobs, but to use your own turn of phrase back at you... just admit it: you didn't think before writing what you wrote. You're not analyzing and trying to understand anything in your post, only stating an opinion backed up with no facts. Like a child wandering in to a university lecture and announcing that there are no negative numbers because your teacher told you so.

That you were not downvoted to oblivion before I saw this is merely symptomatic of HNs irrational love of apple products.

You do know you're not the typical laptop buyer, right? The majority of people buy a laptop, take it home, and want it to just work.

Do you buy a new refrigerator expecting to have to clean out the compressor the minute you take it home? I certainly hope not.

If I could make a 100x profit on my time doing it, you bet.

To put more forcefully: if I needed to maintain one of those room sized refrigerators, and could save $10,000 for a couple hours of messing with a compressor the decision is a no brainer.

I agree that mortals can't/won't do this -- doesn't mean the HN crowd is being intelligent when they say what the guy I replied to was saying :p

EDIT: Downvoters, please explain -- For people with high computing requirements who insist on the x220 / Macbook air form factor, this is an accurate picture of the ROI.

Look at the performance differences between the macbook air ssd (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3991/apples-2010-macbook-air-1...) and the vertex 3 (http://www.anandtech.com/show/4316/ocz-vertex-3-240gb-review...). If your job commonly has you IO bound you will see at least 100 hours of your life saved over the 2,000 hours of a year of 40 hour work weeks (a 5% savings -- not all your time will be spent IO bound). And that's not including the difference between a 2.7 Ghz and a 1.7 Ghz processor...

Because you are missing the point. The discussion is on basic marketing which implies to the general populace, not HNers who are comfortable re-installing their OS. And you preface with "How odd..." either unknowingly or just plain condescendingly describing 95% of the computer buying public. Then you fib that Macs are not ready for use out-of-the-box. Then you put forth the classic defense of exaggerating the value of your work.

ps I did not downvote.

Thanks for the reply. It cleared up my misunderstanding -- I think HN readers don't do a good job thinking when it comes to Apple stories.

(for those curious here is the breakdown of why pbreit is wrong:

1. The guy I was replying to is by definition an HNer, and was talking about buying an air over a sony SB due to reinstall concerns. My "how odd" was in reply / directly to him.

2. Macs aren't ready to use out of the box. No computer is. You need to, at the very least, install all the apps you use and copy over your data. This takes considerable time. Did it come with Chrome? Did it come with Office? Did it come with (your editor of choice)? Did it come with Little Snitch? 1password? The caps-lock key switched to a control key? Inconsolata installed? No. And that's not a complete list by a long shot. Adding an hour long reinstall to this list isn't a big deal.

3. The x220 and Macbook air do have the same form factor from a functional perspective. They both are quite easy to keep with you at all times, hence both inhabiting the thin and light category used by most review sites. Yes the air is thinner, but it gives up being able to accept good hard drives to do so... making the x220 the smallest you can go and still get good performance.

4. I wasn't exaggerating the value of my work. I don't even think my numbers were above average for engineer pay...)

With #2 you're being disingenuous. All computers need some work, but PCs require much more work to uninstall crapware.

As for #3, only one of the laptops you listed fits comfortably in my girlfriend's purse. As for the Air's hard drive? She has zero complaints, and I doubt her (or many others) would notice tiny differences in sequential read times (which is, I think, a measure of app-opening performance).

Okay, last reply and then I leave you guys to the fate of irrational happiness paying more for worse hardware.

re 2: It takes an hour to reinstall windows. If you swap out the hard drive (so a vertex 3 in a MBP), this is something you have to do with an apple anyway. One hour is not "much more work". Don't kid yourself.

re 3: If the MBA owner does anything CPU intensive they will likely profit by upgrading to the x220. Look at the real world numbers (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3991/apples-2010-macbook-air-1...) to get a better picture here. x220 numbers are harder to show, as no reviewers saw fit to review with a good hard drive in it -- just compare with the MBP in that review and know that the x220 with a vertex 3 is between 2 and 10x the 2010 15" MBP on those benchmarks (http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=6056&re...).

But really, I think you're probably right -- it sounds like a mac would be better for you

You're here linking benchmark charts, because as a power user you believe power users represent a large subset of computer owners. We don't. We're in the minority.

My girlfriend, and everyone else in the humongous non-power-user subset, does not care about how a Vertex 3 can bury an Air's SSD. She doesn't know the Vertex exists! If she did, she'd probably ask why she should spend $300 on it if her Air already works amazingly well.

We're talking about different groups here. You're talking about the type of people who read computer hardware blogs like Anandtech. I'm talking about everyone else in the world.

> implying that power users are the only ones who should think about performance.

1.0 second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted. This turns out to make a big difference in productivity. See http://www.useit.com/papers/responsetime.html

I'm talking about anyone who values their time. You're talking about secretaries looking at cat pictures. You're also doing that on a thread started when a HNer said he purchases laptops via the same method.


1. Read the whole thread to ensure your "points" weren't already made elsewhere

2. Consider not replying when you don't have any information not obviously inferable from your previous post.

I'm talking about anyone who values their time. You're talking about secretaries looking at cat pictures.

Calm down there, Sparky. Are you really suggesting someone doesn't value their time because they bought an Air over an X220 with a SSD? You understand that such an assertion is ridiculous, right?

Here's a "point" for you: given the economic concept of utility, are you shocked that someone would pass on an X220 + Vertex in favor of an Air and a month of groceries? How about the idea that the marginal benefit of a Vertex 3 over an Air may be tiny enough to some that they'll pass?

We haven't even discussed failure rates, which are anecdotally bad on older Vertexes; can you blame someone for choosing an Air, along with 3 years of service at any Apple Store?

Also, another "point" for you: I sincerely doubt you would've responded like that in person, so you should probably re-read HN's commenting rules and think twice next time.

1. I accept your point that those with limited capital sometimes need to sacrifice their potential -- if you can't afford college then your annual income will be lower (though perhaps not lifetime income).

2. Diminishing marginal utility is not usually considered to apply to time -- are you saying that your girlfriend would rather use a mac than add an additional ~year of work/play time to her lifespan?

3. Note that the concept of diminishing marginal utility is different than the concept of utility.

4. I'm like this in person.

Why would you be doing something CPU intensive on a MBA like computer? Surely you just ssh into the beefy workstation in the corner or in the data centre to do the heavy lifting? Seems like a non-argument to me.

That was my point: you wouldn't on a MBA like computer. You would on a high-performance small formfactor laptop like the x220. See my other replies for more information

No, you'd do it on a Mac Pro, or, if you want to try and save money, on a PC hidden in a closet somewhere. You'll need a PC hidden in a closet somewhere as soon as you need a cluster anyway. Same for compilation, Xcode even makes it easier for you to set up a distributed build.

Now, there are reasons to get a strong laptop. A good one is if you need some serious power on the go. Are you running that bioinformatics software while on an airplane?

No, you'd use EC2 servers to avoid doing your own maintenance, and you'd do so as a last resort because GUIs are useful and remote development is laggy. http://www.useit.com/papers/responsetime.html

That's the 2010 Macbook Air, which did indeed have a brutally slow Core 2 Duo. It would be more useful to look at the mid-2011 model, which has a processor three generations newer (due to some sort of tedious dispute between Intel and NVidia, there were never embedded NVidia chipsets for Nehalem, so Apple waited until Intel GPUs got good enough, in Sandy Bridge; they never made a Nehalem Air).

Wait, I thought Apple hardware just works and delivers exceptional user experience without concerning the user with "2010" vs "mid-2011" or specifics of which CPU it uses and why.

Who's claiming that? For a while, the Macbook Air was in fact a particularly bad choice if you wanted high processor performance (which is a big if; computers are now fast enough that for many users it hardly matters). This is no longer the case. Simple enough.

As we're talking about the X220 here, it might be worthwhile to mention that Thinkpads do not ship with crapware. Period.

Regarding #2: plug in your previous Mac's Time Machine drive and it takes two minutes to initiate a restore. All your apps and data are restored automatically for you while you sit back and have lunch. What's that process like on Windows?

Windows also has backup solutions. If you use one of those setup time is similarly decreased. Please google first next time.

I've used Windows for decades and have yet to find a solution that is satisfactory for reinstalling apps. Documents and other data, sure that's easy on Windows and I fully agree with you there.

Rather than suggesting I google something (what, "windows backup software"? and spend several days becoming familiar with the myriad solutions?) since you seem to be so informed on similarly performing backup software as Time Machine and this is a site meant to have civil discussions, perhaps you can recommend a Windows backup solution that can restore all your apps as easily as Time Machine can. Or, for that matter, how I can network two Windows machines together and copy all the apps from one machine to the other like I can on a Mac by copying the contents of the Applications folder.

1. Not all mac apps can be copied by dragging folders out of the applications folder.

2. There are many many different backup solutions for windows -- many of which are far better than Time Machine for certain use cases (say, managing backups for several thousand machines). You probably want to look at http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/01/whats-your-backup-s... for a simple solution.

Have you ever met an ordinary computer user? You're describing things an HNer might do with a new computer. Most people just leave the crapware on and never install anything. They either don't know how to remove it or don't know that it's the thing slowing their computer down.

Yeah I downvoted you. You claimed it was odd that people would buy based on X when it's clearly you that are the oddball running extremely performance critical tests that demand specific hardware. It's pretty clear what your purchase decision should be and it's also pretty clear that this doesn't apply to over 99% of everyone else in the market for an ultraportable laptop.

This comment continues in that line again and paints your absurd outlier case of 4-10x improvement as "an accurate picture of the return on investment" while again committing the error of thinking these 2 machines have the same form factor.

Someone with high computing requirements shouldn't be using an ultra light notebook; get a desktop or get an amazon ec2 instance for a few pennies.

That's just it: with a vertex 3 and a maxed out CPU the x220 doesn't perform like a thin and light -- I'm getting the same IO performance as a vertex 3 in a desktop, and although I could get a CPU boost with a desktop processor I'd have to give up on having all my work with me at all times / at conferences.

The EC2 option has always interested me, but short of EBS RAID its IO actually isn't better than a vertex 3 -- they're crazy fast; if you haven't tried them I highly recommend you do :)

Can you even do a clean install on most Windows laptops that are purchased, unless you also purchase Windows separately? Pretty much all Windows laptops I've seen since around 2003 don't come with stock Windows, but come with a 'recovery disk' which reimages the disk back to factory default - meaning, with the original crapware.

You download the CD image from digitalriver, then put that on a USB stick

See http://forums.mydigitallife.info/threads/14709-Windows-7-Dig...

That's hilarious. Is this seriously the case now?

i cared about doing clean installs/configuring when i was a teenager and had nothing else to do. now i just want my computer stay out of my way and make me money. os x, time machine, etc all let me do that

It's just a matter of principle. If I buy a new machine (any type of machine), it should be ready for use as soon as I take it home. If I have to configure it that's fine, but things shouldn't ship broken.

Me personally, I wouldn't let the cost of one hour drive my buying decision.

But Aunt Tillie sure would.

Never met Aunt Tillie, but my guess would be what's 1 hour for you is days work for her, if she'd be able to complete it at all.

I'm a typical HN reader (and a programmer) and I don't think I've changed any settings on my Macbook Pro other than the mouse tracking speed.

I consider myself a power user and I still would not spend time doing a clean install.

When I buy a MacBook Pro I know that I get a computer that is powerful enough for me and just works. I am not going to spend a premium and computer that I hope I can get to work. If I spend that much on something I should not have to fiddle with doing reinstalls.

It's exactly the point other market players don't get: give people less choice i.e. less confusion. Save their time and they will pay premium for that. And in the end, serious and smart people care about piece of mind not specs or even price.

Until recently, Apple had a 13" Macbook Air, a 13" MacBook and a 13" MacBook Pro.

As a first-time Mac buyer last year I was certainly confused about the difference between the plastic MacBook and the MacBook Pro.

I find it hard to believe that simplicity of choice is a reason people buy Apple laptops.

If you're looking at the various MacBook models, you've pretty much already made a conscious decision to consider buying from Apple for reasons that had nothing to do with how many models were on display.

It was probably the reputation for good design, easy software, lack of shovelware, no viruses etc...

In retrospect this was a transitional phase for Apple since the Macbook is no longer offered. Even at three different models it is still far less complicated than the rest of the industry.

But you can just look at the pictures to tell them apart. Oh, that one's tiny and made of aluminum, that one's bigger and made of plastic, and that one's bigger and made of aluminum. I didn't have to click through meaningless pages of non-differentiating differentiations to see those options, they were right there on the page.

I could certainly tell them apart by looking at them. Question was why they had these 2 different models in the first place

For Apple it was due to a transition period. As far as the customer is concerned, the customer notices that there's a plastic MacBook, and it's cheaper than the aluminum one.

Transition period.

Are you sure that X220 is similar enough to an Air, it doesn't look like an air and the design specs are quite bulkier:

MacBook Air 11 inch: Height: .68 Weight: 2.38

MacBook Air 13 inch: Height: .68 Weight: 2.96

X220 12 inch: Height: 1.25 Weight: 3.6

I don't think it matters that you spec'ed it out to be slightly faster, I bet many of the people who want an Air-like notebook want the thinnest, cleanest, lightest notebook that can still perform very close to a traditional fat notebook, the X220 probably isn't what they're looking for.

A fairer comparison might be the X220 with the 6 cell battery which is about 2.9 lbs and around 10 hours (advertised). It also has a 12.5" IPS screen.

I believe the 3.6 lbs you mentioned is with the 9 cell 15 hour battery.

For comparison the 11" and 13" Macbook Airs are rated 5 and 7 hours, respectively.

It's 3.3 pounds with the 6 cell battery.

He links a picture that says 2.9+ lbs., which I'll guess is possible but reeks of dodginess given that 90% of the major reviews (cnet, pcmag, engadget, laptopmag, all quote 3.3 (or 3.5) pounds for 6 cell configuration, these are easy to find with google, here's one that weighed it himself:


I'm guessing 2.9 pounds might be for the originally planned 3 cell battery version which may be offered somehow but is not configurable through the online order at lenovo.

I have both an MBA and an X220 and in everyday use I think the two machines are comparable in feel and weight. Of course the x220 is a little bit bigger and heavier but the difference isn't really noticeable. In the end, both are very portable and light note books.

I'd rather compare things like OS preference, battery life, performance needs and / or the quality of the keyboard.

Apple had to send their engineers over to Intel to teach them how to build the chips they wanted for the Airs. They wanted lower Ghz.

Believe it or not, people once did productive work on a computer with a 386 chip. Fastest does not necessarily equate with best.

EDIT: I misinterpreted the above comment. It's Friday and I'm sleepy.

I think you've misread my comment.

The extra Mhz here is wasted because Apple intentionally values the heat/battery dynamics more in this product. That's how the whole 1.7 Ghz lines of the Core Duo (and now the Core i5/i7) chips came about: Apple worked with intel to make the chips and got a good deal of exclusivity. This was all made clear when the Macbook Air debuted with Paul Otellini and Jobs onstage together.

Proof? Links?

Google the Macbook Air keynote?

The same Intel that came up with the first Pentium M? Yeah, I'm calling bull shit on this story.

It's not unusual for hardware companies to work with chip companies. Nintendo works with their CPU suppliers to build a custom processor for their consoles. I doubt Steko is saying Apple taught Intel how to do chips right even though it came out that way.

While Apple probably didn't help Intel design the Core 2 Duo (they only had serious in-house processor design stuff recently, and it's ARM-oriented), it's quite possible they exerted pressure on them to make such a thing. The Core Duo and Core 2 Duo were a _major_ turnaround for Intel; they essentially abandoned the gigahertz at whatever price doctrine they'd been pursuing since the P4.

The Core Duo, in particular, was essentially _only_ found in Macs; it had very limited deployment elsewhere. It fits very well with the circumstances of the Intel switchover; Apple couldn't have used the P4M for its laptops (far too power-hungry vs the G4), or the PM (barely faster than the G4 at all, used somewhat more power).

Core Duo was in a ton of Dells, HPs, and so forth.

(Not that most of what you've been saying is untrue, but this particular part is a bit dodgy.)

Yes. The grandfather's post claimed Apple's CPU engineers were involved, and it is that characterization I object to.

Incidentally, as I own a Thinkpad with a Core Duo CPU (July 2004 T60p, SL8VN), I think it might have been more accurate to emphasize "essentially" rather than "only."

Yep; they did make it outside Apple, but only barely. There were a few products from other companies using them, mostly low-power laptops, and of course they lived on for a year or so more as a budget chip branded as a Pentium.

I've been reading Gruber for a couple of years now and I really believe that it's not nearly as critical/analytical or interesting as it used to be.

While previously he would write much more in-depth articles (often of a technical nature relating to OS X or Cocoa/Obj-C) now I feel he is really just writing what his audience wants to hear and, what's more, 95% of the time simply linking with a sentence of commentary. Some of his links are interesting but for the most part they're either criticising one extreme or showering praise on the other.

I'm an Apple fan, but yes - it really is boring waking up every morning (I'm Australian) and reading the same thing day in, day out. He's just as guilty of shock-jockery as half the people he links to.

"Some of his links are interesting but for the most part they're either criticising one extreme or showering praise on the other."

I tend to agree, but I don't think this particular piece is an example of that. It frustrates me that the HN crowd has such a hard time rationally discussing Apple (let alone something written by, gasp, GRUBER)

I've only been active on HN for a few months now and didn't realise there was such animosity towards Gruber, although I had picked up on the Apple discussions - sorry if I was feeding this.

"The two laptops weigh almost exactly the same"

Rofl no.

"and are the same thickness at the thickest point"

If by the same you mean the Mac Book Air is half the thickness of the Lenovo then yes.

[edit]It's really hard to take your comment as anything more then a troll when you call other people dim but make basic factual errors like this.[/edit]

This is where "configure your own Macbook Air" arguments always end up: some ugly as shit clunker with a couple +1 features that give you wiggle room to claim a "$200 Apple premium".

"Ugly as shit"?

I think Lenovo machines in their matte black rubberized cases look gorgeous.

It's all about what you've been pre-conditioned to like. I will not buy a laptop with a glass-covered glossy screen. That screen would be useless to me. Also I will not own a laptop without a layout like this: http://www.blogcdn.com/www.engadget.com/media/2011/03/thinkp...

It's called attention to detail and immaculate ergonomics: you have a fully operational mouse without moving your fingers away from the FJ position. I can't imagine working on a laptop without it. Why bother suffering?

I understand that people like sparkly and shiny things. I understand clever marketing, sleek design and the adrenaline of being part of the crowd. Fine, have fun - it's very much like rooting for a football team.

But seeing Mac users trying to "cross swords" in a feature/function battle is simply ridiculous. Try this on your notebook: write a sentence, go and change the 3rd word in it. Time yourself. Divide that by 5 (to get my time) multiply the difference by 1923 (that's how much we do this while coding), add a few minutes on top to compensate for missed "Esc" and "Enter" hits and then throw your arms up, scream in pain and anger, and be enlightened. Free of charge, I do this for charity.

I've read upwards of 10 reviews of the x220 today and every single one of them apologized for the general appearance of the thing.

For the record I don't think the Lenovo is 'ugly as shit'. I used that phrase to drive home the disparity between the Macbook Air and any real world shipping product that people hold up as a price comparable alternative to the MBA.

The bottom line is they always take the bullshit route of comparing a much huskier machine. Why? Because the only machines that really compare in form factor can't compete on price (exactly the point of the linked articles!).

For the record I don't think the Lenovo is 'ugly as shit'. I used that phrase to drive home the disparity between the Macbook Air and any real world shipping product that people hold up as a price comparable alternative to the MBA.

The X220 is not an alternative to the Macbook Air. It's an alternative to the Macbook Pro that weighs the same as a Macbook Air. Compare the specs of a 15" MBP to a 12" X220 and notice how they are the same (except that the X220 can take one of the larger-size Express Cards; the MBPs can only take the small ones).

I have a MacBook Air at work and a X220 at home, I'd say the X220 looks better. Classic Sapper.

Pre-conditioned to like. Interesting way of putting it, but then how exactly has Apple pre-conditioned people to like their designs?

I think it's more likely that Apple's choice of aesthetic just appeal to the majority.

Apple products are classical status symbols. Interesting to me is the idea that aesthetically, the original iMacs were worlds apart from the current models and it took Apple more than one try to find a classical design that worked.

The current Zeitgeist seems to favor classical designs. This is different to the 80's or the 70's where the intellectual and creative class were much more anti-capitalist. To me it feels like it's pre-68 again.

Current life models are schizophrenic. On the one hand people plaster their agency's rooms with aesthetically pleasing objects, Eames chairs, iMacs, Tizio Lamps to please themselves and their corporate clients. On the other they think they are enlightened rebels, aware of climate change, the 3rd world, and the dangers of nuclear energy.

I think there's no radicalism any more, no ideologies, no visions. In reality, I think this generation is full of conservative tagalongs, appeasers, yuppies in disguise.

Depending on the population you constrain the definition of majority to.

How about "the overall human population"? That seems like a good constraint when we're talking about consumer electronics.

Do you have evidence that Apple's products appeal to the majority of the human population? And don't do the TC thing and extrapolate from a SV coffee shop/your office. A sentiment poll would do. I'm sure one exists, but I looked around and couldn't find one. It wont help us determine how humans overall perceive Apple products, but it'll at least cover markets where they operate.

Walk in any public place (tube, business lounge, bus, whatever) and look at what people are using... You'll see a lot of macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads. On the laptop side, it's not quite such a clear win, but about 50% of the people in a typical business lounge are using Macs. On the phone side, I'd say it's about the same. On the tablet side, I've yet to see someone actually using something other than an iPad to do work. On the music player side, it's easy to see that again, more than 50% of people listening to music are using an iPod (if they haven't upgraded to the iPhone).

What you're describing is anecdata. I could drive down the street and say that 100% of churches in Georgia are Baptist and it would make as much sense. And your anecdata doesn't match my own. I see Dells in most businesses and government buildings, and few people carry around laptops or spend much time displaying their smartphone preference.

Are you making this claim regarding the overall human population, or just the parts of the first world you are familiar with?

I don't know, when I don't think Apple products are as successful in the Asian markets for example. That could many things but maybe they don't like the look.

Some Asian governments have a weird fascination with ActiveX controls.

Edit: http://asia.cnet.com/blogs/google-chrome-will-support-active...

It might not be as widespread as I thought, but it's good to know if you plan to make a browser.

I hear China has a 20% Apple tax, as they are classified as luxury goods. Also, RMB -> US$ is 6.5:1, so assuming that the price is in US$, Apple products cost 6.5 times more from an economic standpoint. I hear that apartments in Beijing are 2000-4000 RMB/month. A MacBook Air at $999 is about 6500 RMB, so that's 1.5 to 3 months' rent (plus the 20% luxury tax). $1000 is probably not anywhere near 3 months' rent for us.

So I don't think it's the looks. If a MacBook Air were priced at 2000 RMB, I bet they'd be really successful in the largest Asian market.

"Try this on your notebook: write a sentence, go and change the 3rd word in it."

No worries, I use vim regardless of OS or hardware.

Well geez that's a really strong argument in return. "Ugly as shit" is not subjective at all.

Clearly the entirety of my argument. You have delivered internet checkmate tonight sir, bask in the eternal glory.

Thank you sir. May you enjoy the beauty of a black plastic keyboard surrounded by grey aluminium forever. Or at least until Apple unveils the new beautiful look.

The critique of "Everyday Computing" is as a search option next to a bunch of other abstract phrases, not marketing copy per se.

Paying $200-$300 for OSX, a MagSafe, glass trackpad, aluminum unibody, glass screen is just fine.

Who knows, maybe OS X will have better battery life, and cooler operation?

Then again, I'm a programmer, but still the type of guy who would get one of those new, overpriced, Commodores or VICs.

Trouble is, anyone can spec a machine so that their manufacturer of choice comes out smelling of roses.

For example, I'm looking at the Lenovo site now: X220, i5 2.5GHz, 12.5", 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD = £1330

(including a £175 September discount)

And Apple: MacBook Air, i5 1.7GHz, 13", 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD = £1100

That's not an entirely fair comparison - the x220 is currently substantially reduced in sales in NA, to the tune of over $400. It's not a reflection of the usual price of the machine, or its price in the rest of the world.

Reasonable, but wrong. The Lenovo site always has sales running. Bullshit, but effective bullshit.

Not in europe, as far as I can see. It's also particularly difficult if you want a particular model, as they certainly don't always discount the x220, for example.

Agreed. Moreover, push Gruber et al logic to its logical conclusion and you get 1984.

I tried to make this point below in a more subtle way, but you take on the issue more directly.

Gruber's arguments never make any sense. Historically, he changes his opinions more or less based on what Apple is currently doing. He adds little value, and it seems clear that he's making a lot of money as a pro-Apple cheerleader from his blog posts. (Which is fine, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't make him a good news source.)

However, I'm not sure how to get rid of Gruber posts. With certain types of posts, HN can feel like an Eternal September.


Certainly the first few times I read a Gruber post, I thought there was some legitimate content there. But now, his posts feel largely like regurgitated commentary on discussions had elsewhere, and his opinions feel utterly discredited by their uniformity.

Without downvotes, and without flags removing Gruber posts, I'm not sure what we can do. Could we possibly, as a community, just agree that a blacklist of Gruber posts is good for us? How would we begin such a discussion?

Nobody said Gruber wasn't biased, but he forms cogent arguments. The same can not be said for Apple's consistent detractors who seem to have a real chip on their shoulder and thus end up grasping at straws.

Granted there is a lot of valid Apple criticism that you won't get from Daring Fireball, but everyone has their viewpoint. Gruber is far from the worst stuff that shows up on HN.

"but he forms cogent arguments"

No he doesn't. The majority of his posts are transparent fact twisting and fantastically uninteresting (as are the predictable comment threads surrounding most of his posts). On the rare occasion he's not outright fanboying for Apple, he can be a decent and breezy writer.

Unless he's actually providing some interesting commentary (and yes I do give his posts a read so I don't try and kill something that's genuinely useful) I'm resigned to just flagging his mindlessly biased nonsense.

In other words, I don't flag all of his stuff, but I did flag this.

He has his bias, you have yours.

I think we're in violent agreement.

But we can summarize the vast majority of Grubers posts thusly:

"Something about Apple = Great"

then generate a dozen or so threads of nothing but either fawning praise for Gruber or the same repeated complaints about his bias.

At this point Gruber posts and the follow up "conversation" (I'm using it charitably at this point) are something one could probably machine generate, then randomly insert the entire thing into HN's new queue and it would be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

in other words, Gruber fails the Turing test and I for one (among apparently several HNers) are tired of having what are essentially Markov chains jamming up the front page.

The problem is everyone coming out and saying "let's ban Gruber" every time one of his stories are posting. This compels people like me to respond because I think he posts interesting stuff. If it weren't for the knee jerk reaction from the haters then we could have a decent discussion. I certainly wouldn't come in here unilaterally praising Gruber, I would respond to his points just like I do with any other post (except Dvorak, I always propose banning Dvorak because he is actively corrosive to intelligent discourse).

I ask this as an absolutely honest question, when Gruber writes (as he is prone to do) a piece that consists pretty much entirely of Apple praise, what exactly is it about that you find interesting?

I'm not trying to troll, it's clear that there is a minority here, including myself that can't find any possible information in them, but the HN majority clearly find his writing absolutely fascinating and full of all kinds of information nuggets that pass me and others right by.

I always propose banning Dvorak because he is actively corrosive to intelligent discourse

No argument from me at all.

Why can't his articles just be well written opinion pieces? He's making observations and drawing conclusions from them about a company (and their products) that he clearly loves.

If one isn't interested one can just move on just as I move on when I see a post about Java or politics.

If you can write a bot that posts cogent arguments in favor of Apple products, you can put Gruber out of a job. Kill two birds with one stone!

Now that's not a fair competition! If you drop the requirement for "cogent" and make it equal then I could probably muster something up.

I am not sure if this is what you meant, but cogent means convincing.

1. Are you convinced that going forward, Apple's most "sustainable advantage" is economies of scale? Do you believe that consumers primarily buy Apple products based on price?

2. Do you believe that building up economies of scale would take Dell or Samsung a "decade"?

(These are the primary claims in the conclusion of Gruber's essay.)

1. The economies of scale may not translate to lower prices for the consumer. Consider their mobile offerings. Apple has a tiny portion of the handphone market share, but makes huge profits. They appear to get massive economies of scale.

If you sell a handphone cheaper than the iPhone, you make very little profit and if Apple ever feels threatened, they can just slash their own prices and still make more profit than you. Until then they charge what the market will bear and make huge profits that they reinvest into their business increasing their lead.

2. It's possible. In 2009 Apple purchased all of Samsung's NAND. At the time that was apparently over 40% of the world's NAND.

No, it's this kind of comment that start to make HN feel like Eternal September.

Discuss and vote on topics on individual merit is HN, the content-free Gruber/Apple hatefest some people systematically try to engage in every time the author/subject comes up is what devalues HN, not Gruber posts.

“Hey, I have no arguments but this fella obviously makes no sense so let’s just all agree and censor him, pretty please?”

Maybe that is a good idea. Contentless comments that only attack and are always too lazy to actually argue make submissions like these so damn frustrating. If he is so wrong it should be simple to destroy his arguments.

    Could we possibly, as a community, just agree that a blacklist of Gruber posts is good for us?
If I am to be considered to be part of that community then no, I can't agree with that. I actually like quite a lot the way he writes even if I don't agree with him most of the time.

In fact, I think the community has already agreed that they like Daring Fireball posts, otherwise it wouldn't be on the front page.

We can agree, though, to spend more time in /newest and complain less about what makes to the front page.

DF is an evangelist for the Apple religion, so he reliably brings out the true believers. This stuff might be entertaining but it's certainly not informative. BTW, this is part of the diabolical genius of Apple - it is not a consumer choice, it is belief system.

He even more reliably brings out all the somehow even more annoying people with an irrational hate-on for all things Apple.

>Could we possibly, as a community, just agree that a blacklist of Gruber posts is good for us? How would we begin such a discussion?

This submittal is #1 on the front page with 110 net points. I think the community has spoken.

You seem to have missed an earlier part of my comment. Because HN requires very high karma thresholds before enabling downvotes, net points are an extremely asymmetric measure.

However, one possible solution would be to enable downvotes, but only on controversial posts such as Gruber's. That would enable both sides of the community to speak.

How would you feel about such a measure?

EDIT: Controversial might be defined objectively as the ratio of upvotes to flags, or similar. People regularly comment on the fact that they have flagged Gruber's posts, but I presume that moderators currently just ignore such flags because the content isn't offensive, against the rules, and so on. For that matter, it would be interesting to know how many flags are currently on this post.

How hard is it for you to not click on something you don't want to read?

I see hundreds of posts here every day that I don't click on, some in the top 5. I don't start campaigns to censor these posts, I assume people upvote them because they find value in them. Obviously people find value in Gruber's posts if they are being upvoted.

So here's the suggestion again: don't click on it bro. Problem solved.

It'd be better if something I did want to read was in its place.

Yeah, but you still wanted to read it badly enough that you came here to comment 3 posts deep.

It's funny how someone can hate a certain type of article so badly that they will read it and comment about how badly they hate it. I mean, why go to all the effort?

I know right? It's like every time I see a post to daringfireball, I open it, hoping for some interesting reading -- Gruber is actually a very capable writer. And on occasion I do find something enlightening. But the rest of the time it's like a Rick Roll...with the HN collective pointing at me going, "HA! Got you!". And I guess that's gotten under my skin after a while since I can't understand why these Gruber posts are tolerated, even encouraged in some cases, while links to cats dancing or actual rick rolls are discouraged.

Fact: HN would cease to exist if everything a minority didn't want to see was blacklisted.

Fact: It isn't necessary for a majority to want something for it to make the top slot on HN.

> but only on controversial posts such as Gruber's

You do realize that, by definition, "controversial" is a subjective notion, right?

On Hacker News -- a once great but now decrepit wasteland gathering point -- virtually every post by John Gruber, no matter how unnuanced, uninsightful, and predictable, makes it to the front page. It only needs to speak to that small minority who will predictably and in a concerted fashion vote it up. Any competitor (HN is long past gone. We live in a upside-down world where specialized subreddits on Reddit are insightful and interesting, while HN is populated with superficial talking points, movie references, and pun threads) would be a better site for individuals if they allowed a logged in user to flag stories for noninclusion in any personal vote counts. That if they see yet another empty Gruber post on the front page they could flag it and anyone who voted it up would be removed from any future counts and rankings as presented to them, either on comments or posts


This blog post completely misses the mark. This kind of thing should be downvoted into oblivion.

The blog post basically bashes NH, then accuses Apple of destroying Microsoft and says that Microsoft should team up with Android.

I've never seem such a huge chip on the shoulder...

Take it to MetaTalk.

(oh how I wish HN had a Meta section)

Sites can definitely be blacklisted (Valleywag, for ex). There's nothing in the HN FAQ about how to go about submitting a site for blacklisting though.

For the record, I'm all for blacklisting daringfireball.

There's a story that I've heard told about Tim Cook numerous times. I can't remember the original source (there's a reference here: http://www.cultofmac.com/who-is-apples-new-ceo-tim-cook-bio/...), but I think it basically sums up Tim:

> When in a meeting discussing a problem in China, Tim Cook noted that the problem was “really bad” and that someone should be in China fixing it. Thirty minutes later, Cook then famously looked over at Apple’s operations manager, Sabih Khan, and asked “Why are you still here?” Khan was on the next flight to China.

But what's most remarkable is that like Jobs, Tim has managed to infuse this attitude into the very fabric of Apple. Once, when I worked there, a friend called and asked if I had plans for lunch. I replied that I did not. "Good," he said, "Can you drive me to SFO?" So I picked him up. He had a seat on the 1:30 PM flight and we were barely going to make it. "Do you think we have time to stop by my place so I can grab a change of clothes?" he asked. I told him that we did not, and his reply was "Oh well, I guess I'll just have to find a store in Boston"...

I understand these things are partly symbolic, but besides that is this really useful? I mean, is there a real business benefit to Apple by making Khan take the next immediate flight to China rather than the one a few hours later. Similarly, what was your friend doing that was so important that he couldn't wait to get a change of clothes?

I personally do my best work when I'm relaxed and un-stressed. The apple environment seems to be diametrically opposite to this. I can see that some people might thrive in this environment, but I always wonder at what cost to themselves.

Speaking from experience as somebody who has done this sort of trip: Yes, it's hugely useful and there is a real business benefit.

First off, we're probably talking about a time when there were only a few direct flights a day from SFO to the relevant airport so if he didn't go that afternoon he'd have to wait until the next morning so instead of flying through the night he'd be flying through the day - flying RIGHT THEN means one less day in which your product slips its schedule.

Now recall that Apple used to have trouble getting enough media attention so they would schedule product announcements around, say, MacWorld or the Superbowl. Big events that cannot be moved. Every day the schedule slips makes it that much more likely you miss the intended product launch window. For Apple, if your product isn't ready to ship, it's not ready to show which means you've wasted a lot of money - your next suitable launch window might be months later by which time the product no longer has a compelling story to tell. Missing the intended launch date can mean the difference between a successful product and a failure.

Conference calls are expensive and tend to involve both high-level people and lower-level people. If the schedule is slipping, the chinese engineers won't necessarily tell you the truth about why it's slipping in that sort of forum - there's a face-saving issue. There are also communications difficulties when people who don't speak english well just nod and say "yes, we'll do that" without really understanding what they're agreeing to. Email can clarify and puts things in writing but the time difference means most exchanges lose at least a day.

Another factor is "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". The same factory is trying to build products for you and a variety of other companies. When some other company's product totally unrelated to yours has a crisis, they might choose to rationally pull engineering resources away from your product to serve somebody else...if you're not there to nag and check up on the schedule.

The bottom line is that if you don't have at least one person there most of the time, your product stands a very very low chance of meeting your schedule or your quality targets.


Yes he would. Apple doesn't own any jets. Steve owns a jet, and Apple reimburses him when he's using it for Apple-related travel.

> For Apple, if your product isn't ready to ship, it's not ready to show

Hm. I guess the iPad that shipped a couple of months after being shown is the special butterfly exception that confirms your nice fluffy rule.

Standard exceptions to the rule in recent memory include:

- products that depend on 3rd-party developer support. If the iPad 3 has a new form factor and new hardware such that developers will want to rewrite their apps to take best advantage, Apple might show it at the developer conference and tell everybody "you've got 3 months to get your apps ready"

- products that get accidentally leaked or need to be leaked early due to regulatory requirements such as filing for FCC approval.

What Apple doesn't do is float trial balloons just to have something to show. Lot of companies will mock up some design that is approximately similar to the expected final product and show/announce that, then finish figuring out how to build it. Apple's ideal is to make a big splash by showing something unexpected that you can buy in the very very near future so people run out and buy it, garnering additional publicity based on the big lines and big numbers of customers.

Which is great if you can pull it off, though it seems inevitable that one of these days they'll guess wrong. If and when they do blow it, it'll be at least a billion-dollar mistake to have built up so much inventory in advance of finding out whether people like the thing.

Ready to ship almost never means "in stores". Additionally, Apple trusts no one, even when NDAs are in place, so at the very least the product has to be ready to go to third-party partners by the time it's announced. Often, the partners may need some time before it's "ready to ship", which can account for part of the delay.

That said, last minute bugs do happen and cause delays. Apple will ship late before it ships a known defective product (yes, it has shipped defective products, but not any that were known defective), but it doesn't like to do either.

What I take away is these people are part of something bigger than themselves, they understand that, and they care deeply about that thing.

Why does this matter? Anecdotes like this are simply the tip of the iceberg. In my experience, it's also (counter-intuitively) good for morale. You feel good about the sacrifices you make, rather than stressed or bitter.

This wasn't for show, wasn't symbolic. Without going into details, there was no alternative for being there in person (remember Apple is as much, or more of, a hardware company as a software company).

As for your second point, I think you make the mistake of assuming that there are only two states one can operate in: stressed or relaxed. In fact, there is a third...let's call it "flow", for lack of a better term. That's where you're up all night, running to the airport on a moments notice, pulling out all the stops to be absolutely perfect, but you don't feel stressed in the slightest.

...Apple runs on that flow.

In operations, given the number of units they produce and sell per day, the answer is yes. For the sys admin types, the answer is the same as if the data center had a major fault and the market is opening in a couple of hours.

My wife worked for a major consulting company. I came to understand that their major selling point was the ability to put a warm willing capable body anywhere anytime for any job, and for this they commanded a high price. For this, her work demanded such rapid response as the above tales note: one morning she was informed she would be at the client location, a thousand miles away, by that afternoon - and would work there 12 hour days four days a week for months. She had hardly time to pack a small bag before the flight.

Some thrive under such pressures, where most would soon crumble.

If it is related to manufacturing, then absolutely. My neighbor works for a Honda supplier, and one day had to drop everything and fly from Indiana to a plant in Brazil with a replacement for some part of the assembly line. It is surprising how quickly a supply chain disruption can ripple through the entire manufacturing line. These organizations track things in hours and minutes.

The next flight out probably was more than a few hours later. "Why are you still here" could have easily meant " Why aren't you at home packing to leave as soon as you can?"

Flights from SFO to Hong Kong / Shenzen area sound difficult to come by...

Yep. Depending on the airline you might do direct SFO->Hong Kong or there'd be a stop in Tokyo (Narita) or some other inconvenient location. It was one or two flights a day, not every couple of hours.

Heck, I'll bet it's not a lot better now. let's take a look! Suppose I want to fly on United to Hong Kong next Friday. Kayak tells me that if I miss the one that leaves at 1pm (direct flight - total time 14 hours 5 minutes), the next one available leaves at 10:51pm and has an 8-hour layover in Chicago. Total time-in-transit on that option: 27 hours 19 minutes. ("This flight leaves on Friday and arrives on Sunday.") Oof.

Sure, there are other airlines, but booking at the last minute, most of the best route options are likely to be sold out.

(I spent about half of 1999 in short trips to Hong Kong helping "PocketMail" devices ship)

Um, I'm not entirely convinced that a high-level Apple employee on critical business would be restricted to any particular airline. If you're willing to pay, between SFO, LAX, and YVR you should be able to find a flight heading for southern China in any next four hours, except maybe at 12:30 AM.

FWIW, if you want a direct flight there weren't any today from SFO to HKG leaving later than 1:35pm on any airline. All the flights that were available as of this afternoon that had stops took at least 4 hours longer than a nonstop - there weren't any quick connections.

You left off SJC and OAK. Not to mention Seattle, Beijing, and Tokyo... :-)

I agree with you in that I don't see the business benefit, but I can understand that a boots on the ground approach can be very beneficial and can sometimes help avert a disaster of even greater proportions.

Rands mentions this in his blog (rands in repose) as being part of the DNA of the culture of the company. My take away is that this is Company Myth; these are the myths we tell each other over lunch, the stories that say, "This is who we are, this is what we do, these are the people to follow". These are the myths that we think about when a hard choice comes, so that we know we know what the Company would do.

I don't mean this as a bad thing. It's like the myth of Stallman coding alone to write emacs. Maybe it is 100% true. Maybe it is 50% true. But it's part of the Hacker Mythology, and hackers take their cues from that mythology.

And Apple has the Apple Mythology.

Stories like this are absolutely fascinating. I'm sure there are a ton of lessons to learn from Apple's senior leadership; lessons that would otherwise have been drowned under the attention given to Jobs and his leadership style. You can't have a successful company with one iron-willed leader; you need a team that knows what it's doing.

I really don't understand the story. Why can't they just call someone in China, that is smart enough to understand what needs to be done? Seems like really bad management to fly around the world, hunting bugs.

I've ranted about this previously (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1419896).

Most manufacturers have vast and bewildering product lines. Treat yourself to the Asus line-up: http://www.asus.com/Notebooks/AllProducts/

Most manufacturers have half-hearted and short lived attempts at introducing premium lines or models (e.g. Dell's Adamo). Buying an expensive product only to have the manufacturer discontinue the line soon after destroys faith in consumers.

Most manufacturers have terribly designed products: hinges that wear out after a few months, useless trimmings that simply fall off, air vents that are blocked when the screen is open (yes, this actually was the case on my old Dell).

I ranted about this too recently here - Apple's biggest business advantage is the trust/faith people have in the brand to remain consistent, probably even moreso than innovative. People will always come up with new stuff - other pc manufacturers do it all the time. However, there's not a long term vision of consistency to the other manufacturers, possibly because they are, in fact manufacturers, not end to end designers, developers, manufacturers and retailers.

Buying something from Apple, you have a strong case that it'll be supported for at least a few years, the model likely won't go away entirely, and you'll be able to get good support from them via phone, mail or in-store. Other brands may offer some or all of those aspects, sometime, for some models, but few have a multi-year history of providing all of those consistently.

Apple's advantage is the decade of experience they have in building trust with consumers.

Yeah. Elsewhere I posted this comment:

All three Macs I've owned were ready to use out of the box. No stickers, no crapware, no nothing. Contrast this with a recent Anandtech review of a recent Sony Vaio that, hardware-wise, is quite nice, but:

Because of that initial bloat I have a hard time recommending the VAIO S to any end user that can't fix it (including but not limited to just plain physically upgrading the hard drive) or doesn't know someone who can. This is an otherwise fantastic notebook with a lot of potential just looking for the right user, but if you're not comfortable getting elbow deep in cleaning it out (or preferably doing a clean Windows 7 installation), it's not going to be the notebook for you. For those of you who are willing and able to put in the time, though, you'll likely be very well served by the Sony VAIO S.


I read something like that and think, "Where's the MacBook Air link again..."

While this is becoming the case, it's fairly new. Back in the day, it was well-known that buying a first-gen Apple product was extremely risky; note the problems with the original while iBook (the G3 one), the original Macbook Air, and so forth.

The worst thing is talking to your sale rep (looking at you HP) and them having no real clue what system you should buy. I am convinced that the only reason CDW is still in business is the complications of the PC company's product lines and CDW's skill at navigating them.

I break out this link whenever the topic of PC manufacturing comes up: http://www.lenovoblogs.com/insidethebox/2009/04/display-rati...

Thinkpads are (were) well known for their 4:3 screens. People are downright fanatical about them, and continue to buy old T60s off craigslist rather than buy new from Lenovo. Tall screens are better for documents and spreadsheets. 4:3 displays instantly differentiate business-machine Thinkpads from all other laptops.

But now Thinkpads are 16:9. They lost one of their defining features because "these manufacturers make more selling TV displays than laptop displays, and the PC vendors have almost zero say in this change. We simply have to adapt. As much as I would like it to be so, 4:3 is not coming back."

Meanwhile, Apple goes and sources millions of 4:3 iPad displays simply because that's the best resolution for the iPad.

Also, Apple buys a lot more of that panel than any panel that Lenovo buys. If Lenovo ordered millions of 4:3 panels, they would suddenly become available.

I guess that's the difference we're talking about here:

PC makers' diverse offerings force them to buy components that are cheap while Apple buys whatever components they want but get them even cheaper due to scale.

The kicker is that at the same time Apple makes that component it's buying even more expensive for everyone else and they know everyone else is copying them.

Then why don't they? Why doesn't Lenovo simply their offerings and only offer 3 panels? They'd be cheaper and higher quality.

That's the entire point of this article.

Another way to put this, Apple loosely abides to the "Good, Better, Best" lineup for their product offerings. They don't follow it exactly, but in general, they keep selection simple. This doesn't confuse customers, and allows them to easily compare one thing to another.

If you've ever eaten at Panera Bread, you'll usually see people staring at the menu on the wall for a few minutes. Their menu is huge and all over the place. Hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, salads, specialty salads, bagels, breakfast items, pastries, plus much more including ingredients. What's inside a Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken salad? Read the fine print under it. Do you want apple, chips, or bread on the side? What type of bread do you want on your sandwich? We have 20 different types. Cheese OK? Mayo OK? Fountain drink, one of the 8 different bottled drinks in front of you you've never heard of, or freshly squeezed OJ? Complex, like Dell/HP/Lenovo.

What about McDonalds? You order by number associated with a picture. At 10:30, the breakfast pictures are replaced with the lunch/dinner pictures. Cheese or no cheese? Coke, diet coke, sprite? Large, medium, small? Quick, easy decisions. You know what a Big Mac is. And if you want to know what's in it, you're out of luck! There are 10 pictures; pick one of them. Simple, like Apple.

Is that really the comparison you want to be using here? Panera versus McDonalds, where Apple is McDonalds? Seems more like an insult.

Not if you look at their balance sheets, it isn't.

McDonalds is one hell of a highly optimized operation, and nobody in business would object to being compared to them. Meanwhile, Panera's food is probably less healthy if you actually look at the numbers.

Yeah, I was mostly looking at it from the perspective of just comparing a complex-selection (Panera Bread's menu) vs. a simpler-selection (McDonald's menu). If you look at other variables like quality of food, speed which it's cooked, convenience of locations, charitable donations, etc, it definitely confuses the example.

Everyone can make a better/tastier/nicer hamburger than McDonalds. No-one can make a more profitable hamburger than McDonalds.

That ties in pretty well to Tim Cook.

Most hamburgers are more profitable than McDonalds. The hard part is selling a billion of them.

The volume is where McDonalds is making the massive profits.

Right. How does that add to my point?

Isn't it about selling the sides as well, like the soda's?

great analogy. and just like with food, anyone who has a clue about what they are ordering, will never enter an apple store.

Presumptuous. I, just like many HNers like me, have more than just a "clue" about what I'm ordering, and I love Apple products.

As a sidenote, I hear these types of statements a lot from those in the anti-Apple crowd, but I can't remember the last time I heard someone switch _away_ from Apple products say things like this.

I am going to switch away from Apple's shitty notebooks and probably never use one again, and I agree with the GP.

My job is assembling special purpose, high performance storage servers with specially tuned OS. But I wouldn't buy any other laptop than an Apple at the moment.

good luck buying an macbook air, which started the post from the article, that can even play video at decent frame rates.

It's hardly the first time logistics has been touted as the key competitive advantage of a company. Take Nokia for example. Massive economies of scale, designs taking maximum advantage of that, and incredible supply chain management[1]. All this kept them going for a while even after the wheels fell off, but by now they pretty much have no logistical advantage left.

Apple pundits seem to think that Apple's (undeniable) advantages are going to be permanent, just because they get a great deal on Flash memory or tied up the world's whole supply of 9.7" touch screens. It's a pretty ridiculous position.

[1] As an example of this, there's this great story about how in the late 90s there was a fire at a critical Philips chip factory, which they tried to cover up since it was expected to be a quick repair. Someone at Nokia noticed that there were irregularities in the shipments, investigated the matter, found out about the fire, and started talks with Philips. Nokia decided that Philips were talking bullshit about the repair schedules, and basically sucked up the whole world's supply of the alternative components to replace this lost capacity. Other phone manufacturers relying on this plant were left high and dry for months, pretty much.

I don't think Apple's wheels are necessarily going to fall off. The reason why they have tied up the worlds supply of touch screens and flash ram is because they realised the potential early on and made massive commitments to the manufacturers.

If Apple stops innovating then those people suggesting Apple will no longer have an advantage are correct. So long as Apple is innovating and requires newer and more modern technology that is going to cost millions of not billions to get set up and running they can continue to have an advantage mainly because they have that intense buying power required.

So long as Apple's competitors are always a step behind in seeking to make their computers smallers/faster or inventing the next new gadget that consumers want they will always have the first mover advantage.

This is also one of the benefits of Apple's huge cash reserve. They can easily make these commitments and investments as they see fit.

These only work as no one is really competing. If other people were trying harder they would be finding different components, as happened when ibm cornered the 386 and everyone moved to the 486 instead.

It really depends on the technology. If Apple buys all of the production next gen chips not much people can do about it, unless they beat Apple to the punch, and so far they haven't.

> Apple pundits seem to think that Apple's (undeniable) advantages are going to be permanent, just because they get a great deal on Flash memory or tied up the world's whole supply of 9.7" touch screens. It's a pretty ridiculous position.

I wouldn't say _permanent_, but there are many companies who could make a transition to the same approach, but haven't yet. Dell, for instance, could scrap 90% of its models, and it's highly unlikely anyone would even _notice_. Presumably, they have some pressing internal reason (not necessarily a sensible one, but something they can't get around) not to do so; it's not like it's any great secret that a simple product line is cheaper to manager.

I have yet to hear anyone say that Apple place at the top will be permanent, apart from you. I do have a problem with people setting up straw men to argue with.

In the linked article Gruber says that this is Apple's most sustainable advantage, and implies it's something that'd take competitors a decade to copy. I'll grant that it's not quite the heat death of the universe, but still pretty damn permanent.

> It’s even worse if I just browse without searching. The options I get are just… meaningless. Yes, I want “Everyday Computing,” so I want an Inspiron. But hang on, I also want “Design & Performance,” so I want an XPS. Wait a second, I want “Thin & Powerful,” too.

This is the crux of the problem with all of Apple's competitors, in the PC business and in mobile. Why choose when you can have everything? Apple's lineup is consistently decreasing the trade-offs between models, which reduces the number of reasons that exist for buyer's remorse.

Yes, us geeks may want the ability to choose between WiFi chipsets, but asking my mom to choose a WiFi chipset will just scare her away. She might want to make the best decision but she doesn't have the time to research it (or doesn't know where to look), so she closes her browser and decides not to by a Dell today. Tomorrow, she's at the mall and stops by the Apple Store, sees that the only decisions she has to make are pretty clear cut (as in, amounts of storage/RAM) and goes home with a new MacBook. She was never given the ability to make the wrong decision and any barriers keeping her from buying a computer disappeared.

What's so infuriating about the options though is that they're meaningless even to geeks. Choosing a WiFi chipset at least means something to someone. Among "Everyday Computing," "Design & Performance," and "Thin & Powerful," I think the only word that gives any information about how one category is different from the others is "Thin."

Their desktops are worse. Here are the choices (http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/desktops-n-workstations.as...):


    Business-class performance and control

    Scalable and durable design

    Designed specifically for networked environments

    Power for today and scalability for tomorrow

    Easy to configure

Dell Precision

    On-the-go or in-the office graphics & analysis powerhouse

    ISV-certified reliability

    Built on a scalable IT platform
The only information-carrying word I see here is "Budget-friendly." It's hard for me to see how Dell benefits from being unclear like this, but it's equally hard to believe that they think this copy is clear.

Apple's categories are not just few, they are clear. They are specs. I choose between the 128GB model or the 256GB model, not between the "analysis powerhouse" and the model with "business-class performance."

I'm a geek and I couldn't care less what WiFi chipset is in my laptop.

I was shopping for a ThinkPad X220 for someone, and it had the option of the regular screen or the "premium" screen for $50 more. They don't tell you what the "premium" screen is or why you'd want it. I presume the regular screen is shitty. Can you even imagine Apple offering such an option? A $1000+ laptop with a shitty screen, with a $50 option to upgrade to a non-shitty screen?

MacBook Pros have the option to upgrade to a hi-res screen (+$100) or a hi-res antiglare screen (+150).

But at least Apple makes it clear what you're getting:

> The 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 1440-by-900-pixel LED-backlit glossy display. You can also choose a high-resolution 1680-by-1050 glossy or antiglare display that gives you 36 percent more pixels.

I don't care about WiFi chipsets either and should have added that in my comment. I was just using that as an example of the type of thing geeks might care about.

I just took at the Lenovo page for the first time ever. Of all the PC manufacturers, I've probably spent the most time on Dell's, and Lenovo's site looks like a complete rip-off of theirs.

And that display choice is horrible. Like you said, the $50 gets you a "premium" screen, where the only discernible difference on the page is that it comes with a 3x3 antenna instead of a 2x2. I've never heard of YxY as a measurement for antennas, nor is it readily apparent what 3x3 gives me over 2x2 (speed? power?). Not only that, I have to decide whether a webcam is more important to me than a 3x3 antenna because I can only get the webcam (a $30 add-on, by the way) with the 2x2 antenna.

Whatever respect I had for Lenovo (which is more than any other PC manufacturer thanks to their apparently successful continuation of the ThinkPad) just went down the drain. Average people are supposed to get this stuff? Give me a break.

FWIW, the "premium" screen is IPS. The regular is TN, which like all TNs (including those on Macbooks ;)) is indeed shitty. I do agree the "premium" description sucks.

It pains me to feed the trolls, but just in case someone finds their way to this page in the future and actually tries to wade through all of the bullshit: Apple uses IPS displays in every product except perhaps the iPod Nano and/or Classic, and I only mention those two because I can't be arsed to check them.

Absolutely incorrect. The iPad has an IPS display, and I believe newer iMacs have IPS. Every single Macbook, Macbook Pro, and Macbook Air Apple has ever made has a TN screen. Most (not all) are pretty good as far as TN screens go, but they're still TN screens. I would love to see the source you found for Macbook displays being IPS.

> Can you even imagine Apple offering such an option?

They do, actually. The 15" MBP has a "High-Res" option and most (all?) MBPs have a "matte" display option (~$50 on the base glossy glass screen).

Yeah, it's pretty crazy, isn't it? Apple would never charge for an upgrade from a shitty screen on a $1000+ laptop.


The point is the Lenovo screen doesn't say what Premium gets you. Only that it is a $50 option. Your pic has glossy, Hi-res glossy, and hi-res matte.

To be fair, briefly explaining the value of an IPS to those not familiar with it is not trivial. If they just put "IPS" instead of "premium" they'd be rightly maligned for using meaningless acronyms. I suppose something like "IPS technology for truer colours" might work, but...

They could have said it was a 24-bit IPS panel instead of the cheaper, 18-bit TN panel.

I wouldn't call the default screen shitty.

"I'm a geek and I couldn't care less what WiFi chipset is in my laptop."

Isn't this at the very heart of every "linux on laptop" screed out there - research your hardware before you buy! So... being able to know or choose what wifi chipset you get might appeal to many geeks. But... you have to assume what you order is what you actually get.

I got a laptop in 2003 for linux. I researched. And researched. I found the one laptop for sale at a local store had the graphics chip FOOXPJ59 in it, which worked with RH6 (or Mandrake, whatever I wanted to use). Plunk down my $1200. Get it home. No dice. Oh... they replaced it with a newer/better FOOXPJ59revC chipset, and there was a WinXP driver disk in the box. But the outside of the box indicated FOOXPJ59 as the chipset. I had to argue for about 20 minutes with 2 managers to get my money back on that after it was opened. They wanted to charge me 15% restocking fee, I was arguing it didn't contain what the box said it did - in their mind FOOXPJ59 and FOOXPJ59revC are the same thing.

Apple actually do do this; it's a resolution bump.

Not really the same thing. The IPS screen on the Lenovo is just better. They don't need to have the TN option at all. The higher resolution isn't necessarily better. It makes the text smaller. Like the anti-glare option, it's a preference option not a better/worse option.

"How could Dell, for example, possibly copy Apple’s operations when they currently classify “Design & Performance” and “Thin & Powerful” as separate laptop categories?"

The answer is pretty simple: the Powerful in "Thin & Powerful" is not as good as the "Performance" in "Design & Performance".

There are approximately three different categories for laptops: desktop replacements (powerful but very heavy, no battery life); netbooks (puny but very light, good battery life); and executive machines (a blend of power and weight with long battery life: Thinkpad, Portege). Before netbooks, there was another category: el-cheapo (weak and not very light, mediocre battery), but the hardware has advanced sufficiently that modern netbooks are viable web browser machines for many people who only use them for such, and it has mostly crowded out that segment. The PC laptop makers probably made most markup in the executive class segment.

Apple has similar categories, but it markets them better and even more precisely: the iPad is their netbook, the MBA their executive class, and the MBP their desktop replacement. But with the latest generations of the MBA, they've started to cut in towards the netbook market and eat into the margins PC laptop makers were getting in the executive segment.

But meanwhile, PC laptop makers were already getting burned by netbook-class machines getting more powerful. So what we're seeing is a slow disappearance of a segment of the market, and that's tripping up the marketing messages from the PC laptop manufacturers.

(FWIW, my relatively ancient Toshiba Portege is arguably a better machine than my fairly new MBA; it's considerably lighter, more fully featured, with Ethernet and DVD writer, and almost as fast. What it isn't is stylish: it compromises by being made of relatively flimsy plastic. If it were sold today, it could be made cheaply - a lot more cheaply than an MBA. But I don't think it's profitable for Toshiba to make and market it (and their later Porteges are much heavier as the market landscape shifts).

Gruber's argument confuses me:

1. Steve Jobs, the only CEO to ever successfully lead Apple in the company's 25-year history, has resigned.

2. Because of the current popularity of the iPad, iPhone, and MacBooks, Apple has great economies of scale. (However, Gruber primarily gives us anecdotes to support this.)

3. These economies of scale are evidence that the new CEO, an operations guy, will be able to lead the company.

4. In fact, design is copy-able.

5. Therefore, because Apple's designs are copy-able, in terms of competitive advantage, the new CEO has always been more important than Steve Jobs.

Is that correct?

You are reading way too much into it. This article is not trying to make the argument that Steve Jobs was irrelevant or less important for Apple than Tim Cook.

"But at this point, it seems clear to me that however superior Apple's design is, it's their business and operations strength — the Cook side of the equation — that is furthest ahead of their competition, and the more sustainable advantage."

Right, but you can't discount the vision that Jobs had to show Apple and everyone else that having products that are uncompromising on design + are solid technically will lead to great success.

"at this point" refers to their advantages now, not when it became clear to Gruber. It is not intended to discount anything that happened in the past.

There's no reason to even try to analyze it to that extent. Gruber's essay composition plan appears to be to start with the conclusion, which is invariably that Apple is the best possible at everything, will reign eternally supreme. Then he fills in whatever works in the middle to get there.

"The PC hardware market has historically focused on three factors: low prices, tech specs, and configurability."

That pretty much could have been what was said about American car companies in the late '80s and most of the '90s, and it is why they got their asses handed to them on a plate by the Japanese car companies. If you wanted a Chevrolet, you probably had about 1000 choices (not to mention that GM had at least 5 companies that all made pretty much the same cars, but with different logos (Saturn not withstanding)). If you wanted a Honda, you had about 3 choices. I don't think I have to tell you which business model was more successful.

I agree that Tim Cook is an advantage to Apple. I disagree that he is really "new." Tim has been at Apple since 1998 and has been in a place of power since at least 2004 when he took over for Steve Jobs as CEO the first time. Tim has been part of the winning formula for the better part of a decade.

I think the glaring omission in Gruber's article, though, is Apple's lost advantage in Steve Jobs. It could be argued in the 11 years Steve Jobs was away from Apple that Mac hardware and software more or less coasted in terms of innovation.

The simple unibody design splintered into a dozen different beige boxes stacked on top of each other shortly after Job's departure in 1985. Mac OS gained color, cooperative threading, and a few peripheral updates until Steve Jobs came back in 1996. I'm not saying it was worse. I'm just saying it was uninspired incremental refinement. The design language at Apple didn't change from the day he left in 1985 until he finally came back in 1996.

And almost immediately after Steve comes back we've got OS 8 with its first UI facelift in years. System 9 quickly led into OS X. On the hardware front we got the bondi blue iMac. Then the iPod. Then the desk lamp-esque iMac G4. Not to mention the short lived G4 cube. Apple was alive again.

Now that Steve's involvement has once again diminished, what will Apple look like over the next decade? Will iOS 9 look that much different from iOS 5? Will the MacBook Pro evolve beyond a giant sized MacBook Air? Will Apple successfully branch out beyond phones, tablets and computers?

Tim Cook will keep Apple in fine shape. Apple will at worst be like Dell in its heyday. Delivering products people want at prices nobody could compete against, disrupting the traditional manufacturing process. But will Apple continue to successfully innovate? Companies tend to change to reflect the current leadership. HP was once a company that Steve Wozniak wanted to work at forever. In less than a decade after the founders were gone the the HP Way was gone and the company was never the same.

EDIT: I want to add this is mostly a counterpoint to Gruber who is clearly trying to diminish Jobs and glorify Cook. His brief treatment of the subject is to say Jobs brings "beautiful, elegant, innovative, and fun" before seemingly dismissing Jobs as merely a designer whose designs are something that get copied by other firms anyway therefore implying he is not a real competitive advantage unlike the "can't-be-copied" Cook operational competitive advantage.

Have we forgotten the Newton? The Newton had issues, but lack of daring design innovation wasn't one of them. Now that Palm has boomed and iPads and iPhones are everywhere, it's difficult to appreciate how crazy the Newton was at the time. People didn't know that mobile book-sized computers were the future. The Newton was a bit too futuristic, too ambitious for its own hardware.

Apple also tried a bunch of things in the OS space before NeXT and Jobs rode to the rescue. They just didn't succeed.

Which brings this right back to Tim Cook, and the unsung operational heroes that really built Apple: It isn't that Apple didn't try to innovate in the Jobs-free interregnum. They just didn't succeed. It takes more than just good intentions and "vision": It takes operational skill.

OK, so if a Formula 1 driver wins the race, who gets the credit? The car or the driver? I would say the car is Tim Cook and Steve jobs is the driver.

That's a terrible analogy. There is not just one person making human decisions in Apple. Jobs deserves a lot of credit, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people doing the critical design work that make Apple products great. It's easy to sit on the outside and imagine that Apple doesn't have a decision-maker to equal Jobs, but only time will tell.

>>Jobs deserves a lot of credit, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people doing the critical design work that make Apple products great

You could say the same about the car-driver relationship.

"The driver deservers a lot of credit but the car has hundreds (if not thousands) of parts doing the critical work of moving the car forward"

Or you could substitute parts with designers.

Keep in mind that Steve Jobs chose Tim Cook and Tim Cook worked only with the approval of Steve Jobs. Had Tim Cook not performed (just like the car) be assured that he would have been replaced by a better person (car)? This in no way diminishes the person (car) but notice that the main person doing the decisions is Steve Jobs (The driver).

Had Apple failed everybody would have blamed Steve Jobs not Tim Cook, so I don't understand the double standard.

Those parts are inanimate, they are not making decisions in and of themselves. Even the engineers working on the cars are operating within the unchanging constraints of physics. Also, if Apple fails people would blame Jobs, but if the car suffers a mechanical failure people don't blame the driver. The driver of a race car needs to push the machine to it's limit but not past it or he will flame out spectacularly. Such is not the case of an established technology company. In fact whole goal of a race is much more uniform than the goal of a company operating in the consumer market where you are contending with the fashion and whims of the public at large.

All in all I just don't see the point of such an analogy. It sheds no insight. Racing cars and building tech companies are no more alike than skydiving and underwater basket weaving.

One can only take an analogy so far. I still think the analogy is good but lets agree to disagree.

OK, lets look at it this way. I think Steve Jobs could have been successful without Tim Cook, but Tim Cook could not have been successful without Steve Jobs (In turning Apple around). The reason I say this is because Steve Jobs use to do Tim Cook's job when he first returned to Apple. He did it himself, along with his CEO job, until he found Cook. Had it not been Cook he would have found somebody else.

Lets not take credit away from Cook though. The guy is good, otherwise Jobs would not have given him the job. But I don't think that we can say that Apple would not be as successful without Cook. However, is almost universally accepted that Apple would not be here without Steve. Hence the Car-Driver analogy >:)

It's a decent analogy .. especially when you consider what happens when the driver has to be replaced ...

In Formula 1, the winning driver gets a trophy, as does the team behind the car. The driver is whomever is CEO; the team is the company.

But, as dasil003 said, that's a pretty horrible analogy.

> I disagree that [Tim Cook] is really "new."

I believe Gruber's argument was not that Tim Cook has more influence than he did before, but that because Apple is much more mainstream today than it was a few years back, its operations are larger in scale and logistics become increasingly important as the company pushes millions of products. Better logistics pipeline allows Apple to compete on price, which is impressive considering that Apple has always been perceived as a premium brand.

I know everyone likes to think Steve Jobs came up with the idea of focusing on a few very good products, but it's actually an old idea.

"Indeed, the basic problem of U.S. competitive strength in the world economy today may well be product clutter." - Peter Drucker, Managing for Business Effectiveness, 1963

Sorry I don't have a link to the original article, I had to look it up in a book

Near as I can tell, the online Apple Store was largely inspired by/based on the work of the most successful mac clone makers. Power Computing sold just a few kinds of mac, clearly differentiated in "good/better/best" configurations - both their print ads and their online store were easy to use in exactly the way the Apple Store is now.

Apple complained that Power Computing was marketing to existing mac owners, but the real problem was that Power Computing was marketing well to existing mac owners at a time when Apple was marketing badly to them.

"I know everyone likes to think Steve Jobs came up with the idea of focusing on a few very good products, but it's actually an old idea."

No one thinks that. I, at least, have never read anyone who has made such claim. Where did you get the impression that that is a widely-held belief?

I got that impression from the article. I also get that impression from all the companies that still do the opposite, today, as is discussed in the article.

Perhaps I should have qualified that statement with "in terms of large american companies", which is what Drucker was talking about.... Companies whose product catalog became bloated over the years in an effort to serve every need of every customer and ended up doing nothing terribly well.

Japanese companies like Sony or Toshiba have the same problem. Adding insult to injury, Sony's website is completely unusable--it has Flash, and when I click on the flashblock to allow it, nothing seems to happen.

Maybe it's just computer companies? Toyota's website seemed easy enough to use, but then again it was nearly as easy to choose and configure a Ford.

I don't think many would claim that Jobs came up with the idea. He is undeniably one of the few people who has been able to apply it successfully to the computer and consumer electronics industry in recent years, though.

There's nothing new about this. Apple has been doing vertical integration for decades. When things went badly, pundits criticized it. Now it's the whole new rage. There's nothing particularly enlightening in this article, nothing that would be of any use to anyone hoping to replicate some of Apple's success. Advice to have good design and a low price is just a platitude.

I'm upvoting your first three sentences: It's true, Apple has indeed been vertically integrated for decades.

My upvote does not extend to the last two sentences, however. This article is not merely about "have a good design and a low price". It's about focus: By building a smaller number of products with a much smaller variety of configurations and tightly controlled interfaces, Apple gets economies of scale that allow it to reach a previously unreachable plateau of quality-for-cost.

Apple's vertical model didn't work for the PC industry for a variety of reasons. But now in the new mobile industry it is so successful, that literally every big company is trying to go all vertical, all the time.

Hardware, software, development tools, operating system, mobile and desktop platforms, app stores, single sign-on, cloud services, music, movies, and tv delivery, voice and video communications...

Google, Apple, and Microsoft are all trying to build an entire computing stack, back to front, and leave the other guys out. Nokia, Motorola, and HP knew they weren't going to be able to compete in the new vertical world. Samsung is trying to get into the OS game with their Bada and maybe something after that.

Apple's vertical model is working in the PC industry now, but only because everyone else is fucking up so much. I think if any other PC manufacturer handled these issues as well as Apple does, it wouldn't matter that they don't make the operating system. Even Apple barely makes any of the actual hardware.

I understand why it wasn't addressed in Gruber's post, but the customer-facing points he made about online sites and how they compare to the Apple site could just as well have been extended to the retail presence of the various companies. The same design aspects which take place online are also present at the retail level.

Step into an Apple Store, and the product differentiation is clear and accessible. Step into a retailer of Windows computers (in the US), and it's just rows and rows of barely distinguishable machines. Yes, Apple does include a small display card of the basic specs near each machine, but their overall setup is one that encourages visitors to use the machines and evaluate them on-site to determine if a model is a fit. These design decisions extend to other aspects of the retail experiences, from the setting, the available staff, the sales experience, etc.

It's relatively easy to see how Apple uses vertical integration in things like its product lines and manufacturing. But they've managed to combine that with vertical design in nearly every place people interact with the company. That's hard to do but always impressive to experience.

Yes, Apple does include a small display card of the basic specs near each machine

They've replaced the cards with iPads. No joke.

I agree with this. What I like about Apple is that they don't try to be low end, and they don't try to sell low end as high end. For years, I avoided buying a Thinkpad because the screens were so shitty. "We're a Chinese manufacturer owned by the Chinese government, so we won't use Korean LCDs." Great. Now I can't see what I'm working on, making your computers completely useless. Apple doesn't pull this shit. They good components and don't try to convince you that a 1024x768 LCD with no backlight is a "high-end business laptop".

The good news is that Lenovo got their act together and my X220 has a great display (and great everything; it's much better than anything Apple can sell you). But buying is still a shitty experience. The most popular blog post I ever wrote was called "Lenovo Shipping Sucks". After navigating through their detail-less website and 100 similar product lines ("it's a Thinkpad, but it has a shitty keyboard and a non-removable battery. also, it's red, doesn't have a roll cage or keyboard drainage holes, but it does have built in Dr. Dre speakers. but we're calling it a Thinkpad, so there."), the buying experience is horrible. They have a different sale every day, so every time you look at the website, the laptop differs in cost by $400 and random options ("free hard drive upgrade!"), so you always think "today's not the right day to buy, maybe tomorrow it will be cheaper". Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're not. Fuck your fucking sales. Set a price and let me pay it. Make it cost the same at Amazon.

But the story doesn't end there. You've decided to buy the laptop. Now you have to navigate through the configuration. Do you want a screen with a 3x3 wifi antenna, or one with a 2x2 wifi antenna with camera? Do you want a "super LCD" or just a regular one (both at the same resolution)? Do you want an i7 with a USB 3.0 port, or an i5 with an always-on USB 2.0 port? It's insane. I sort of know what these options mean after googling and reading forums and asking people I know... but there's no information on their website. Just give me the goddamn 3x3 antenna. How much does an extra fucking 2.4Ghz antenna in every laptop cost? 1 cent? I'll pay it for the convenience. (Yes, I know 3x3 MIMO is. But why is the number of 802.11n streams I can run dependent on the resolution of the screen I buy?) Anyway, you get the idea. I doubt even Lenovo's engineers can confidently purchase the laptop configuration they want.

So now you have a laptop configured and you want to pay for it. Type in your credit card number or use Amazon payments. OK, I'm lazy and my wallet is over on the kitchen table and I never remember my security code, for some reason. We'll use Amazon payments. Oh sorry, we can't use your Amazon information because you have dashes in the phone number you gave Amazon. What the fuck? Fine, I'll go over to Amazon and remove your motherfucking dashes. Oh nice, now all my subscribe-and-save orders are canceled because my address has changed. And all I wanted to do is buy a laptop.

Ok, fine, I've fixed my 30 subscribe-and-save orders, and I'm back to buying my laptop. Click "pay with Amazon payments" again. Session timeout. Reconfigure (and check the wrong i5 processor among the 5 they offer), buy successfully. Get order confirmation email. Estimated ship date: 6 weeks from today.

What!?!?!?! They said it would arrive in 5-7 business days. I didn't pick any configuration options that "may delay [my] order", and they've already charged my credit card. And now I have to loan them money for two months AND not have a Laptop!?

Long story short, I did get my laptop in 4 business days. (Order Tuesday, receive next Monday.) But the process was terrible. Just god fucking awful. I felt sad, confused, unhappy, and stressed throughout the entire process.

The good news is that the laptop is absolutely phenomenal. (except that I got the i5 without AES acceleration, and use an encrypted filesystem on an SSD. wrong fucking checkbox.) Thinkpads are the nicest laptop on the market that provide the best user experience for someone like me. (One screw to swap the hard drive out. No screws to swap the battery. 8 hours battery life. 2x2 MIMO out of the box with Debian. Even the Sprint WiMAX works!) But that's the best user experience you can have buying a laptop, and it was so unbelievably shitty that my description here isn't even close to doing it justice. How can any normal person buy a laptop!?

(Now, why don't I buy a Mac instead? That's easy. They're like those cars where opening the hood to change the oil voids the warranty. I had a PowerBook in college and was taking my first computer science class ever, MCS494 "UNIX Security Holes". One day, I decided to run iTunes under GDB to see what it was doing with my private information (and to look for buffer overflows in order to receive a passing grade in the class). GDB segfaults. I run GDB under GDB. I see that it is dying because the OS is intentionally refusing to let me run the debugger on iTunes. Mac OS X is hard-coded to not let you do that. So that was the end of OS X for me. If Apple wants to run code that looks at my data and sends information back to Apple over SSL, then I should at least be able to take a look at what it's up to. But Apple says no: it's their computer and you are lucky to have it, so fuck you. That was the end of Apple for me that night. I deleted OS X, installed Debian, and never looked back. I was going to burn down the Apple Store just to teach them a lesson, but I realized that due to Apple's architecture choices, Apple Stores are actually impossible to set fire to.)

Anyway, the world sucks. Especially if all you want is a computer that fits in your backpack, can run off a battery, and has a viewable screen.

(Yup, I had a few beers. If it works for Steve Yegge it can work for me too!)

The iTunes GDB brouhaha was in 2004. Before that you could run iTunes under GDB and in fact Apple had a dev doc showing you how to. It turned out that it was quite easy to get around the PT_DENY_ATTACH system call. You could still run every other Apple app under GDB. It's not hard to see why Apple would have that restriction placed on iTunes.

So if I take your word on your story, that since that day in 2004 when you supposedly discovered you couldn't run iTunes under GDB and you vehemently swore off Apple, and it now being 2011 when you've finally found a good laptop, you've used shitty laptops for 7 years? All for something that 1. was easily skirted around, 2. Anyone could see Apple's motivation for doing so.

I'd say that iTunes killed itself in the debugger because the music industry didn't want you to see what their DRM does.


No, it's an OS X "feature". PT_DENY_ATTACH:


"UNIX with a GUI" at its best.

A feature introduced specifically to safeguard iTunes DRM I'd bet.

The funny thing is that it can be easily patched out by modifying the XNU source code, which made me wonder about open source politics inside Apple.

It's absent from the Solaris-based OSs, where dtrace came from, IIRC.

That is utterly fucked up. How dare they say you can't look at the code that is running on the hardware you purchased.

You know... You may have a point. Some people may have been spoiled by operating systems like Linux or BSD, where you can look up each and every line of code that comprises the whole software stack, but, in fact, most people don't really care about that. Still, OSX is more open than its main competitor - you can see most of it, but not all.

The fact most people don't really care about what they are using is sad, but it's a fact of life.

Most people drive their car without knowing how an internal combustion engine works. Most people watch television without knowing that the picture is comprised of pixels (or scan lines). Is that also sad? Must everyone understand everything they use in sufficient detail?

Why should a computer be different?

Why should my mum need to understand what an operating system is, let alone care about it?

Most engines don't cut out if you do choose to pop the hood open.

I have no idea why you are being downvoted, because it's the truth. It's exactly what Apple does.

While yes, no one should need to understand how a TV/Car/Computer/<insert everyday technology> works under the hood, how is that an argument to stop people who WANT to know?

You're free to learn. Just not with their software. You know that going in, it's not a secret if you've done your due diligence regarding these things about which you purportedly care.

Personally, I grew out of computers-as-ideology a long time ago. I'll trade the ability to run GDB on my media player the zero times I'll ever want to do it for a fantastic user experience for the other 100% of the time I'm using my computer. (Okay, 90% or so, but for that 10%, I have Windows.)

> Just not with their software.

Again, why? It's still not an argument to hide what the program does on your computer. To put it bluntly, it's bullshit and you know it.

> I'll trade the ability to run GDB on my media player the zero times I'll ever want to do it for a fantastic user experience

That's completely besides the point - this has nothing to do with the "user experience" (which is quite the opposite of "fantastic", but that's my opinion), and everything to do with the fact that Apple restricts your freedom.

> Again, why? It's still not an argument to hide what the program does on your computer. To put it bluntly, it's bullshit and you know it.

Nope. The argument is simple: I don't care. I really don't--I just fundamentally don't care that I cannot run GDB on the iTunes executable. I have much more important things to be annoyed at than that. If you do your research into issues that are important to you, then you know, going in, that Apple does this. (Also, as noted elsewhere in the thread, you can still use GDB to view the executable if you really want to. It's possible. Just not via the conventional method.) If that decision is unacceptable to you, don't buy their stuff. It is acceptable to me, so I will. This really isn't that difficult a concept.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to your viewpoint--a few years ago I went through a GNU-y phase of sorts. But from my perspective, there are things that matter, and this just isn't one. There are certainly things in technology to get all up in arms about. Things that the FSF and fellow travelers such as yourself think are important to get up in arms about are rarely, in my own estimation, in that set. This isn't, either. (This is not to say that the FSF does not sometimes have a valid point--even broken clocks are right twice a day.)

You are entirely free not to buy a computer with OS X if you find their terms unacceptable, just as I am free to buy one if they are. So do so, and enjoy it. And I'll enjoy mine, and we can get on with more important things in our lives. =)

While I see your point, the frustrating thing is that blocking itunes from gdb in no way helps them deliver a fantastic user experience.

Sure, but you know going in (again, if you've done your research) that they do it. So if it's important to you, don't buy it. I don't care about that, so I will.

> Most people watch television without knowing that the picture is comprised of pixels (or scan lines). Is that also sad?

That they don't know? A bit. That most don't want to know? Very, very sad.

> Why should my mum need to understand what an operating system is, let alone care about it?

To better be able to protect herself against malware, to be able to better understand a very important tool in our society, to be able to understand what your work is about when you tell her.

I'm sure virtually everyone would like to know about everything if they could. But they know they can't; they have to make choices about how they spend their limited time. So they would be delighted to learn about TVs and computers and VCRs if they could upload the knowledge instantly into their brain like in The Matrix; but they can't. So they focus on what particularly interests them. Some people prefer to learn about Japanese post-war cinema. Again, I'm sure most people would love to learn all about that if they could do so at no opportunity cost. Just based on the specificity of the subject I can guess that you are not particularly interested in Japanese post-war cinema and will not choose to learn about it in your lifetime. But that's not sad. No one can learn about everything.

True, that is indeed true.

However, I see many people around me who just don't care to know. Some protect their ego and identity with the internal statement "I'm perfectly good enough! I don't need to know that stuff!" Some are lazy. Some were never shown the wonder of true learning, only stuffed with rote information in school ... So there is always some sadness in people not wanting to learn.

> Some people may have been spoiled by operating systems like Linux or BSD, where you can look up each and every line of code that comprises the whole software stack

I'm quite sorry, but what? Spoiled by having the freedom we should have for every technology? It's kind of like saying that "Some people are spoiled by having civil liberties, but most people don't care about those".

> It's kind of like saying that

That was the point ;-)

I might have misunderstood you then. :)

gdb /Applications/iTunes.app/Contents/MacOS/iTunes

(gdb) fb ptrace

(gdb) run

[ breaks at ptrace ]

(gdb) return

[ type 'y' to return to the parent, skipping the call ]

pirate your music or whatever you wanted to do.

I'm not sure who this was supposed to prevent from doing what, although I'm sure that it wouldn't be in there if there wasn't a contractual obligation to do something for the people providing them with content.

If you skip the ptrace call, you can't "pirate your music or whatever you wanted to do". The whole point of running GDB is to call ptrace.

You're not skipping gdb's ptrace, you're skipping when iTunes calls it. iTunes calls ptrace() with PT_DENY_ATTACH to disallow gdb from attaching to it, which this method easily skips to let you attach to iTunes without any issues.

It doesn't end there; look up encrypted binaries and Dont Steal Mac OS X.kext for more fun examples of DRM built into the kernel.

One thing not mentioned is how hard it is to buy a non-mac laptop with higher than 1366x768 resolution. That's just not enough vertical lines for modern UIs. When is the standard resolution going to get higher again?

Huh? Random check on a random price comparison page gave me 2544 with <= 1366x768 and 1231 devices with a higher resolution.

80x25 ought to be enough for anyone.

Anyway, this is not true. 12" laptops are all 1366x768, but 15" laptops can have up to 1920x1200. I know for a fact that the T-series Thinkpads have better than 1366x768 resolution, for example.

The T-series starts at 1366x768, with an option to increase.

I was thinking of more consumer brands such as Dell or Asus, dell only gives an option for higher resolutions in the expensive Latitude range, I believe. Many laptop ranges don't give the option of higher resolutions. You have to change to a premium range.

> "it's a Thinkpad, but it has a shitty keyboard and a ...

The "Thinkpad Edge" and the X120e and X1 actually have very nice keyboards, arguably nicer than the usual scissor switches. Except that the layout is messed up.

I really love my MacBook Pro's keyboard. It's clean, with just as much keys as I need. I hate laptops with 110 keys, most are useless keys like page up/down, home/end, print screen, ... If I need to navigate to next page (which I often do), I just hold down 'fn' and press the down arrow. End? 'cmd+right arrow'. Admittedly, Print screen is a little harder to remember for the average user ('cmd+shift+3/4'), but MacBook's page up/down and home/end are very reasonable and easy to remember even for non-technical users.

I agree that the 'return' on the British keyboard is very poorly designed (there's an screenshot the original review at ars, but apart from that, MacBook's keyboard is one of the reasons I would never buy a PC in the foreseeable future (other reasons: OS X and trackpad).

Thinkpad's keyboard is much better than that the average PC laptop keyboard, except for page up/down keys getting in the way all the time.

Oh and I absolutely hate the media keys on laptops...

> If I need to navigate to next page (which I often do), I just hold down 'fn' and press the down arrow. End? 'cmd+right arrow'.

So you have to use two hands instead of one, which is great, because two is better than one. Do you disable right clicking on the trackpad and use command+click for that, too?

> Thinkpad's keyboard is much better than that the average PC laptop keyboard, except for page up/down keys getting in the way all the time.

Yes, I often have that problem, where I'm in the middle of typing something, and suddenly I think, there's a Page Up key on this keyboard. Just knowing that the Page Up key is sitting there, all on its lonesome in the top right corner, waiting, such a naughty little key that wants to snuggle in the brief touch of scar tissue at the end of my pinky, distracted me for 15 minutes when typing this reply.

> Oh and I absolutely hate the media keys on laptops...

This is where you reveal yourself to be a crazy person.

I have that problem with Page Up also. I want to scroll up in my terminal and I think "ah, this is a laptop, fuck it". Then I realize that I have a Page Up key, and am able to scroll up. It Just Works!

You'd think I'd learn someday, but I never do.

(BTW, if you want "crazy person", I own two keyboards that don't even have arrow keys. I don't think I've ever had a use for them!)

It's funny, it's the most Macbook like layout I've ever seen on a PC!

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