Why I Didn't Wait for the Apple Tablet
I have been mulling over getting a new computer for some time. It's not so much that I needed one, more that I was dissatisfied with my current setup. Once I decided I was going ahead with the purchase, it crossed my mind more than once that I was doing this at precisely the wrong time - after all, Apple is, we are told, about to unveil it's long-awaited tablet device.
I Need a Field Machine
Despite the fact that being a journalist is an increasingly sedentary occupation, I do find myself out and about quite a lot and have been sick of carrying around a full-sized laptop computer for some time. What I needed was a small, secondary machine. My MacBook was rather the worse for wear, cosmetically at least, while my MacBook Pro is just to large to carry around.
In the end I bought a Dell Mini 10v, an ideal 'Hackintosh' netbook. Installing Mac OS X was a breeze - all that was required was a retail copy of Snow Leopard, access to a Mac, a small download from the Net, and a 16 GB USB flash drive.
I bought the Dell, Snow Leopard, and the flash drive and then headed home. About an hour later, I had rid the machine of the pox of Windows. (Before anyone says I'm being a typical Mac snob, you're welcome to run Windows - good luck to you. I've used Macs since 1989 and am conditioned to find other OSes less comfortable. In fact, I dislike so many small things about the Windows user interface that it is my least favorite OS. BeOS and Linux are, for me, easier to use. No doubt Windows is a fine system - it's just not for me.)
So, a Dell Mini 10v it was. It's not perfect. The trackpad is too small and, for some difficult to grasp reason, irritating. The black keyboard is hard to use in low light (though the keys themselves are of decent quality) and, if put to sleep with a USB mouse plugged-in, the machine won't wake. Still, this is a small price to pay for a machine that I can carry about and abuse to my heart's content.
Should I Have Waited?
But then there's that alleged Apple tablet. Should I have waited? I think not. Here's why: it is looking increasingly likely that the tablet, slate, or whatever it is going to be called, won't be a true Macintosh. The iPhone App Store has been a roaring success for both Apple and users, if less so for developers frustrated by Apple's incoherent and mercurial approval process. Still, as a 31-year-old who started out his computing life with a Commodore VIC-20 before moving to an Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, and finally Macintosh, I have one clear expectation of any computer I own: I want it to be mine.
The computer is the universal machine. It should be able to do anything it is told to do - and the person who decides what it should or shouldn't do should be the owner. The goal of the free software movement rests on this principle, and even if many of us, myself included, aren't ready to make the jump to free software full time, the principle is an important one.
As an iPhone owner who immediately jailbroke the device, I am aware that any restrictions Apple put on the device will be broken almost immediately by an army of talented and woefully under-appreciated computer hackers. But that is not the point. I am willing to live with Apple forcing me to jump through a few hoops with the iPhone because my expectations from a phone are, sadly, very low. I expect the manufacturer to restrict the device, and I expect the phone company to remove useful features - and gouge me while they're at it. Ireland, where I live, for example does not have visual voicemail. The result? I've switched voicemail off entirely, so appalling is the "press 3 to have your head explode in fury" so-called user interface.
This does not mean, however, that I want my computing experience to be so tightly controlled that I want the choice of software available to me to be dictated by some unaccountable dictator, even a benign one who does it for my own good.
Give Me Liberty
To use a rather overblown metaphor, if the choice is between safety and liberty, I will choose liberty every time.
Apple will probably never make the device I need in the here and now. That's fine - Apple can do whatever it likes. I have no doubt that its tablet will not only be a huge hit, it will also be more impressive, more powerful, and better-built than the little Dell I am writing this article on.
If Apple really is about to launch a tablet device - and it is looking pretty likely given the endless leaks from apparent partners - I have no doubt it will be not only superb, but also a commercial success. Perhaps it will even be the "game changer" many are predicting. Some day I many even buy one to play around with (assuming someone stuffs my mouth with gold), but it will never replace the simple laptop computer as the device I use most frequently.
At the end of the day, as the dogs in the street know (reader, insert as many other clichés as you like here) one thing holds true: Horses for courses.
Jason Walsh is a journalist based in Ireland. His personal web site is jasonwalsh.ie.
Recent Articles by Jason Walsh
- Classic Cars and Classic Macs, 2010.09.28. In some ways, running an old car is like using an old Mac. In other ways, not so much - but it's still fun.
- Macs in the UK: Apple Has Become Mainstream, 2010.08.26. For a long time, Macs were viewed as computers for 'creativies', but thanks to the iMac, iPod, and iPhone, Apple is now mainstream.
- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate My Netbook, 2010.08.25. Jason Walsh bought a Dell Mini 10V because it was small, cheap, and capable of running Mac OS X - and now barely tolerates it.
- More in the Mac Life index.
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