A hundred little things

I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro. It used to belong to my housemate, and now it’s mine.

It makes my life better.

My previous desktop computer was my first Mac – one of the early Mac minis – and is so old that it can’t play video from YouTube any more, and hasn’t been able to for some time. Occasionally over the years I’ve had enough money to replace it with a PC, but held out for a new Mac instead.

I’ve had a few conversations now with PC-using friends who’ve asked: Why a Mac? It’s just a computer. It does exactly the same things as a PC, but it’s twice the price.

Up till now, I’ve never been able to answer that, other than with “Well, it’s just better.” Which is no answer at all when you come to think about it.

Until I realised that it’s not just one thing.

The power cord on the computer has a tiny little magnet in it. When I need to plug the computer in, it guides the power cord into the slot. A tiny, insignificant detail, that adds to the cost, makes it more expensive.

But every time I plug in my computer, it’s just a little bit easier for me. A little bit nicer. Saves me a second or two hunting for the plug.

Every day that I use this machine, my life is improved.

It’s not by much. But it doesn’t have to be much.

Another example.

I work at a window, looking out across the city. Except, traditionally, when there’s been bright sunlight outside, at which point I’ve had to close the curtains and work in the dark because of all the reflections on my screen.

Not with the new computer. It automatically changes the brightness of the screen so I can always see what I’m doing. I didn’t need to ask it to do this. It just does. Making my life a little bit better on a sunny day.

Or there’s the accent keys. If I need to type an é on the MacBook, I just hold down the e key, and it gives me all the accent options. In Windows, that’s ALT-130. Not much, unless you have to remember or look it up every time you need to type an accent.

Or the migration. When I switched it on for the very first time, it asked me if I had a Mac already, told me to plug the two together, and copied everything across for me. All my settings, all my programs, all my shortcuts. The lot. An hour later, I could start working again, with everything set up the way I like it and where I expected it to be.

Or the trackpad. When I was using it, I swiped with two fingers instead of one, and found that it scrolled the page. Within minutes, I was able to move through documents more quickly and easily.

And, sure, all of these things are small individually. But they add up.

A few years ago I got my first iPhone. I opened the box and looked for the operator’s manual.

There wasn’t one.

And the amazing thing was, I never needed one. A couple of minutes with the iPhone and you can tell what to do. It just works.

(My brother is currently berating himself for not being able to work his new HTC phone, which does come with a manual. Claiming that it must be his fault for not understanding it properly. A telephone should not make you feel stupid. A telephone should make you feel smart.)

One more story.

Previous to the iPhone I had used Nokias for many many years. I bought a new Nokia to replace one which had broken. Shiny, touchscreen. I also got the insurance that came with it.

Within a month the screen cracked. In my pocket.

I hadn’t dropped it, or done anything unusual to the poor thing. And all of my phones before and since have been able to travel in a pocket without shattering.

So I got in contact with Nokia who said that they could replace everything except the screen. Wasn’t covered by the guarantee. Couldn’t do anything.

So I called the insurance. Who said that because this had happened more than a month ago and I hadn’t told them immediately, they wouldn’t replace it. (And, no, talking to Nokia rather than them didn’t count.) Should’ve read the terms and conditions.

I changed networks and bought an iPhone.

More than a year later, some pixels had gone on the display. I booked an appointment in the Apple store on Regent street and took it in to see someone at the Genius Bar to see what was up, pay to get it fixed. They took a look at it, consulted with their computer, and told me that the guarantee had expired last week.

And then they turned to me with a big smile and said: Tell you what, I’ll just replace the screen anyway.

It’s not just one thing. It takes a hundred little things to make something beautiful.

Steve Jobs RIP

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