I'm not an impluse buyer very often. In mid-June I walked into a local electronics store and browsed through the laptop section. As I walked by the Apple section I noticed they had a number of the new iPads set out for people to play with. I had, of course, seen many ads and videos about it online, but this was my first hands-on encounter. I walked over and picked one up and was immediately taken by the clarity of the screen. My first thought was "Wow, that is sharp". I turned the iPad over in my hands and looked at it from all sides. Again, "Wow, it was really well made". I turned it face-forward again and then started tapping on the icons. I opened up the calendar application and thought, "Wow, this is really nicely done". I opened the browser and browsed a few sites. Wow, this really works well. Scrolling, gestures, speed. What a neat experience.
I played with the iPad for probably 10 minutes, and then had a conversation with another customer. He was clearly enjoying the one he was using, and as I recall he commented that he wasn't sure yet if it could replace his netbook, but it might. He wasn't sure yet about the onscreen typing experience and how well that would work for note taking, and he thought it was a bit heavy. But I could tell he was impressed.
I picked it up again and marveled once more about the total package. I am not an impulse buyer by any stretch, but, at that moment, I was almost ready to grab a boxed iPad and head over to the checkout counter. I was very, very close.
Back to the IBM PC, circa 1980
I've been using PCs since the early 1980s when I was an undergraduate engineering student. My father was the founder and head faculty member of the computer science department at the University of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada where I grew up, and as such we had a few interesting computing devices kicking around. The prize device was a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem in our basement office. With that, I could connect to the mainframe computer at the university over the phone lines from home (for you, ahem, older readers you may remember these fellas - you had to place the telephone handset into a couple of suction-cups so that the modem could pick up the analogue sound). Fellow students were mesmerized by the capability of writing and compiling programs on the mainframe from my house. Were they ever jealous! Scrolling through pages of code connected at 300-baud was not the most time-effective process, but it sure beat walking through snow and cold to go to the computing center.
Sometime around 1985 my father brought home our first "portable" computer (I think it was an IBM 5155). It looked like a piece of luggage, weighted something like 30 pounds, and had a 5" or 6" orange and black text screen. We also had a word processor called VolksWriter from LifeTree Software. I wrote a report on it for a summer job I had in the engineering faculty, and I was hooked on the utility of word processors.
I finished my engineering degree in 1986. My degree was in Surveying Engineering (now known as geomatics) and at that time the discipline was becoming very computer oriented. Calculating elliptical satellite orbits is difficult by hand! I loved the computing side of things, and took extra computer courses as I proceeded through my undergraduate degree. Upon graduation I decided to continue my studies and enrolled in a computer science master's program at the University of Saskatchewan in western Canada.
My arrival at the University of Saskatchewan coincided with their purchase of a number of Apollo workstations to complement their Sun lab. The graphical interface on those workstations was amazing. This was my introductory exposure to UNIX, and for the next 2 years I was immersed in the world of workstation computing, with "multiple windows" for command line instructions (does anyone remember that old UNIX text-based game called "robots"?). It was a huge learning curve, but very exciting. I started to take notice of the beauty of the graphical user interface, and realized that this could make a huge difference in a users' experience with the computer. There were a lot of talented grad students at the university, two of which went on to work for Pixar and were involved in the development of the first Toy Story movie.
I had a bit of an unusual home environment growing up. While my father was a highly-skilled electrical engineer, very scientific, and very astute in technology, my mother provided a very different world perspective. She was an artist, and much of her love for the graphic arts and live arts rubbed off on me. Dinnertime conversations could span from hexadecimal arithmetic to opera. I didn't realize it at the time, but it had a profound impact on my interests later in life.
Figure 1: An SGI Indy.
Back at the graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan, I was fortunate to be exposed to perhaps the most impressive computing technology of that era - the Silicon Graphics workstation. Its sheer power and ability to stimulate the development of software with a strong graphical element was quite unique. I loved the way they used icons and glyphs to provide a way to manipulate program controls. I was doing my thesis on the subject of short-term scheduling in shared-memory multiprocessing systems, but I sure found all the computer graphics developments that were going on fascinating.
Fast-forward 22 years and I find myself co-founder and owner of a management consulting business with my wife. After university I developed software in the geomatics industry (including doing X-windows development), spent 7.5 years with Hewlett-Packard in Ottawa, Ontario as a systems and process architect, and then returned back to Atlantic Canada and joined a national consulting firm. Along the way I developed a love of photography and video, and have developed a fair bit of skill in graphic design, which we leverage in our management consulting work. Our world with clients revolves around Microsoft Office and the Windows platform, and we've been tied to that environment, for one reason or another, for our whole careers.
The Tipping Point
I put down the iPad and walked out of the electronics store. I thought to myself "I'll wait and see what HP does with the Palm acquisition - a WebOS tablet might be amazing". But over the next few weeks a thought was developing in my mind. That iPad encounter has changed something in my thinking. I was still quite caught up in my experience that day. There wasn't one particular iPad feature that I could point to as been better than another feature - they were all good - it was more the "total" experience of using it that was the tipping point.
I have recently started writing for sister publication Windows Phone Thoughts, and while contemplating developments in the smartphone marketplace it dawned on me that the factors that drive people to make a particular smartphone purchase are quite complex. It seemed to me that the factors were multidimensional (including such things as the aesthetic appeal, robustness, core functionality, availability of applications, battery performance, and others), and were strongly influenced by an individual's personal "use scenario". I jotted down a few of the criteria I thought would be in play for most people, and then encapsulated the idea in a metric which I called the Total Experience Index (TXI). I posted an article on Windows Phone Thoughts that explained this concept and then used my own perspective to place the primary smartphone platforms on a comparative scale. At the top of my scale sits the iPhone 4.
Figure 2: The Total Experience Index.
Laptop Total Experience
Thinking about TXI in the smartphone world got me thinking about my impending purchase of a new laptop. Why wouldn't I apply the same logic to my primary computing platform? I thought about my personal "use scenario". While I do spend a lot of time on the core Office applications-type work of word processing, e-mail, and presentation development, I also spend a lot of my personal time taking photos and, from time to time, working with video. To give you an idea of the scale of this, I currently have a collection of around 25,000 photos, mostly sports-related, and they reside on a variety of PCs spanning our home network.
Figure 3: Lightroom 2.
Although I have never owned an Apple laptop or desktop, I have not been oblivious to their profound impact on certain market segments, including the graphic arts community. I have never really had anything in particular that turned me from the Apple world. In fact, I have recommended the platform to friends. For me, the ability to just "build out" my work environment to accommodate my personal hobbies seemed natural. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable and capable in the Windows world, and, in retrospect, have come to deal with its idiosyncrasies in a pretty routine fashion. Yes, I'm familiar with the need to reboot to "clean things up" on a regular basis. I'm familiar with how to restore mysteriously disappearing network drives. I'm adept at troubleshooting and fixing printing problems, restarting hung programs, and adjusting the paragraph style options nested four dialogues deep in Word. I have a network of PCs and laptops running Windows 7 and Windows XP, and few printers, and a Windows Home Server (which has mysteriously disappeared from the network after its last update). I do suffer the odd frustration of my wife and teenage daughter and tween son though!
I mentioned that I'm not an impulse buyer, so you'll appreciate that for the last six months I've been planning to replace my Dell Studio XPS 16 primary laptop. It's been a workhorse, and has worked pretty well. I was all set to purchase a Sony Vaio Z-series notebook (you know those ones with the SSD drives and enhanced components!) when the whole TXI issue came to the forefront. Was this the right thing to do?
So, when in doubt, the non-impulse buyer will research. I read lots of things online about the positioning of the Mac and the pros and cons of the platform. I talked to a colleague in Ontario who is very familiar with both the Mac world and Windows world and who I could trust to give me an honest opinion. You can imagine there are lots of parameters involved in a decision like this. I thought about whether or not I could leave behind my favourite Windows applications like Microsoft OneNote (or, indeed, whether or not I even did need to leave them behind). I thought about the absolute delight of those people in the graphics world who wouldn't think of using anything else, and about the ability to span the two worlds using products like Parallels. In the end I decided to trust my intuition about TXI - it's the total experience that makes the difference, and I do suspect there was a better experience available than what I am enjoying now - and to follow the lead of others who claim the total Mac experience is outstanding. With that, I took the plunge.
My first Mac - a 15" MacBook Pro
A couple of days ago I ordered a new 15" MacBook Pro from the Apple store online. It should arrive in a day or two. I configured it with the 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 processor option, an upgraded hard drive (the 500 GB 7200-rpm option), the higher-resolution non-glare screen (for graphics work I will connect it to a nice Dell 24" true color monitor that I have already), and 8 GB of memory. I ordered Parallels and MobileMe. I also ordered the Magic Mouse and a wireless keyboard.
Figure 4: The 15" Macbook Pro.
I'm excited to dive into this new world. I'm curious to see if the experience I have read about, and others have had, will be mine as well. I'm going into this with the idea that it may be possible to wean oneself off the Windows programs completely, although that may not happen overnight (hence Parallels). I'm not sure yet how to proceed with Digital Asset Management (DAM), and am debating the Adobe Lightroom vs Apple's Aperture decision (does anyone have an opinion on that? - maybe we'll leave that for another column!). I'm sure there will be some hurdles to jump over, but as a technology proponent I think this is going to be a fun adventure. I'm anxious to determine just how good the TXI is for the Mac world.
I'd be interested, if you have had a similar experience, to tell me about it in the comments. How do you think this will go? I will also post about my experience as it unfolds. The total experience really begins all the way back with research and with the actual purchase. So far so good! On to the next step.
Brad Wasson is a self-confessed technology lover and management consultant living in Atlantic Canada. Brad is presently transitioning to the Mac world and is bringing along all his photos, video, and other digital media. He figures he has some work to do to bring along his wife, daughter and son, and Sheltie, but he's up to the challenge!
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