Presenting for Apple as an Apple Distinguished Educator

The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of activity. I presented on behalf of Apple Asia as an “Apple Distinguished Educator” at the Shangri-La to a diverse audience of educators, superintendents, principals, and owners of universities throughout the Philippines. It went very well, and was a fantastic experience for personal growth. I became an ADE in December, 2007 – in the first group in Asia.

What is ADE?

“The Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) program is a relationship program focused on educational excellence and leadership. ADEs are members of a select group of K-12 and Higher Education professionals possessing an identified expertise in educational technology leadership. This group of over 1500 educators spans the globe with membership in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Latin America, and Asia.”

A funny story – a wonderful lady who works at the Shanghai American School also presented (in a different hall) with me. I knew her online via Twitter and her blog, but we’ve never met face to face. It was only after a day of working with her that she figured out that I was “javajive” on Twitter! Apparently she had known “Brandon Hoover”, but didn’t realize that I’m one and the same with my Twitter/Flickr/blog persona. icon smile Presenting for Apple as an Apple Distinguished Educator

On Friday a friend from Singapore (well she lives in KL now) arrived to stay with us for 5 days. A few of you may know her – Adrianna Tan – (aka SkinnyLatte), she runs the always interesting blog - Popagandhi. She’s been spending days exploring all the sites and restaurants that we’ve never had a chance to see. Hopefully she’s catching a glimpse of why I enjoy Manila, and can give ME tips on things I need to see/try/eat.

138740213 6a3814358d m Presenting for Apple as an Apple Distinguished EducatorAt the end of next week, we’ll be heading back to Jakarta for a week or so to visit family and friends. It’s not the typical spring break we usually enjoy (Bali!?), but I can’t pry Novita away from her beloved Indonesian food, family, and kota. It’ll good to be ‘home’ for a while.

How to choose a MacBook Pro – which Mac should you buy?

The entire purpose of this post is to help share some of my thoughts and research with those of you wondering how to choose which Mac best suits your needs. Warning – it is long winded and demonstrates my own opinions, so it is biased in that fact. My demographics in a nutshell: 31, male, American, photographer, designer, educator, ADE, expat in Asia.

As you may know, I’m quite the Apple fan. Part of my job involves helping others learn how to best utilize Apple’s solutions within the educational world (I’m also an Apple Distinguished Educator).

Having said that, I’m currently in the market for a new Mac; and it’s gotta be a laptop this time around. My current machine is a 15″ MacBook Pro 2.16Ghz Core 2 Duo from Spring 2007. I installed 3GB of RAM, and the poor 160GB hard drive is full despite heavy culling. It’s been a real workhorse, and the most trouble-free Mac I’ve ever owned.

I’m currently bumping up against three main constraints: the battery life, the hard drive space, and the speed. I could easily shove a 500GB hard drive in there, perhaps pick up another battery, and it’d hum along nicely for quite some time. Unfortunately, the speed issue won’t remedy itself with any upgrade I can provide. It’s really only a problem with doing heavy photo work or video editing. Furthermore, the speed was never an issue until I started using my Canon 5D Mk II. With the massive RAW files and full HD video, it’s pushing the processor and RAM to the max.

The other major factor for upgrading is the fact that for the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of using an iMac with an external screen at work; with my shift to Manila, this will no longer be the case. My job will be different; much more mobile, and on the go vs desk work.

Fortunately, just a few weeks ago, Apple released updated versions of it’s portable Macs. So how does one go about choosing which MacBook Pro to buy?

macbookpro2009 How to choose a MacBook Pro   which Mac should you buy?

Let’s weigh the options in Apple’s portable lineup:

MacBook Air: a glorious demonstration of the marriage of industrial design and engineering.

13″ MacBook Pro: Apple’s new answer to those who want power and portability, especially with the 4GB of RAM standard and Firewire 800. Fans of the 12″ PowerBook rejoice.

15″ MacBook Pro: In some ways, the perfect solution offering better resolution than the 13″ but with less weight than 17″. Also importantly offers the option for discrete GPU – not an option on the 13″ (I feel Apple is shafting pros who need a better GPU on the 13″ – especially with the ‘pro’ designation – perhaps they’ll include it in the next update – they have a habit of give/take/give/take.)

17″ MacBook Pro: The big guy, offering awesome resolution in the thinnest and lightest package on the planet. Also the only one that still has the Express-Card slot (Apple upset many pros by removing them from the 15″). Additionally, it’s the only model offering the ‘antiglare’ screen option for $50 more. (I find it funny that Apple calls it ‘antiglare’ – openly admitting the others have glare? – how about stick with good ‘ole ‘matte’ as the name?)

Most people will go for the 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro. I’m leaning heavily towards the 17″. Why? I’ll break down some of the reasoning against the others – for my own needs – however, many people will have different requirements:

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MacBook Air:

Pros:

  • It’d be ideal for portability at only 3lbs.
  • It fits the needs of perhaps 70% of my workday requirements.

Cons:

  • The RAM is not upgradeable at this time (soldered) and is maxed out at 2GB – so I’d be taking a step backwards in power – this alone is a deal-breaker for my needs.
  • Unfortunately the processor wouldn’t hold up to my heavy Lightroom, Photoshop, and HD editing with the 5D2.

Summary: I have a small netbook already. I also have another much much more portable netbook with me all the time; one that holds tremendous capabilities as a communication device, allows me to connect anytime, anywhere, and fits in my pocket – the iPhone. Overall, the Air really appeals to my design senses, and I think it’s perfect for many people, but simply isn’t an option for me at this time.

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13″ Macbook Pro

Pros:

  • Decent portability at 4.5lbs.
  • Great battery life with the newest version.
  • Includes Firewire 800 – I have many FW 800 drives and am happy to see this as an inclusion.

Cons:

  • I personally find the 13″ 1280 x 800px resolution to be cramped for many apps that utilize palettes. (many will chime in that you simply could use an external monitor – more about that in a moment)
  • Lack of a discrete GPU.

Summary: I currently own (well Novita owns), the first generation 13″ MacBook. I find the screen size and resolution quite limiting for my uses beyond the basics. If you’re simply checking email and surfing the web, it’d be more than adequate, and likely is the most popular model of the MacBook Pro family. With the use of an external monitor, you’d have quite the mobile powerhouse. (as long as you’re not intogaming) However, for my own use, even with the option to plug into an external, I prefer a higher resolution screen when on the go.

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15″ Macbook Pro

Pros:

  • I’m used to this size and weight. At 5.5lbs, it doesn’t bother me.
  • Can be configured to match the performance of the 17″ MBP.
  • Resolution is more forgiving at 1440 x 900px.

Cons:

  • Resolution: I mention this in the cons because I feel Apple should move the 15″ to 1680 x 1050px. That would be a good middle-ground between 13″ and 17″. It seems I’m not the only one wishing such a change.
  • Apple still doesn’t include the option to use ‘antiglare’ with the 15″ despite previously offering such an option. (give/take once again)
  • My current MBP includes the Express-Card port – I realize they probably removed it to make room for the new sealed battery, but for many professional photographers and videographers, this may be a huge negative.

Summary: I have found the 15″ form factor to strike an ideal balance between power, screen size, and portability. I really do wish the resolution was higher for design work and photography, but overall, this is quite a tempting and powerful laptop.

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17″ Macbook Pro

Pros:

  • The thinnest and lightest 17″ laptop in the world (according to Apple).
  • Resolution is a beautiful 1920 x 1200px.
  • Only model to include anti-glare (matte) option.
  • Still includes the Express-Card port.

Cons:

  • Despite being the lightest 17″, it’s still not nearly as portable as the Air or 13″.
  • Footprint takes up a lot of space – may feel imposing to others nearby, and difficult to use on a flight (not a problem for me as I usually just watch movies on the iPhone or Touch or read a book)
  • The high resolution means small icons and occasionally small text – a problem for some.

Summary: This badboy may be the one for me. I’ll digress more in a moment. The PPI – pixels per inch – is higher than any other computer screen in Apple’s lineup (iPhone/Touch not included – but even higher at 160ppi) This takes some adjustment surely, as things like icons and text within applications may not be adjustable (Aperture?). However, this can also be a benefit – the higher the pixel density, the smoother text and lines will appear to the eye – making strain less of a problem.

This resolution matches Apple’s 23″ and 24″ displays – enticing for applications like Lightroom and Photoshop where pallettes can take up quite a lot of space, and matching resolution is perhaps helpful when working with an external monitor.

As far as the larger size is concerned, I’m over 200lbs and regularly hit the gym. If I can’t handle 6.6lbs, perhaps I better reconsider my workout. Also, think about it this way – with the 5-8 hour battery life, it’s feasible you could leave the charging cable at home at times – easily making up the difference in weight from 15″ to 17″ (ok, now I’m reaching). However, understandably, this will prove to be much more of a beast to carry around than many are willing to put up with. It’s definitely not for everyone.

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There are some additional concerns when contemplating dropping such serious coin on a laptop. One of my biggest questions is when we’ll see quadcore processors hit these MBPs. From what I’ve come across in heavy research is that most likely the first half of 2010 will see the introduction of the first quadcores, with some speculating Q4 of 2009 following Snow Leopard’s release. If I had to gamble on timeframes, I’d say the earliest would be Q1 of 2010, not this year.

This leads into my next contemplation: for serious photo editing, most people would not recommend doing any color critical work on a laptop screen as they’re generally inferior to external monitors – I have yet to hear how much better the new screens are with the new, “60 percent greater color gamut than previous generations”. So, although I’d still be hesitiant to do serious editing on the MacBook Pro, it’d be nice to have the option to do editing on the go – I travel quite often – usually for a total of three months per year. Those three months would be much more enjoyable if I didn’t have to sacrifice screen resolution. The glossy vs matte screen debate is alive and well, but if I’m not planning to do color critical work, it may be less of a factor. I’m still undecided on that matter, and no stores around here have them in stock to compare.

Furthermore, as powerful as these Macbook Pros are, they’re still no match for the Mac Pro or even the iMac. So it seems there are two main options if you crave a larger screen for editing:

  1. Purchase an external monitor for use with a MBP
  2. Consider a desktop for home

Breaking this down, obviously the cheaper route is the use of an external monitor. There are some great options for 22-27″ monitors, as well as Apple’s own 24″ LED display. However, not everyone is a fan of connecting cables, setting things up, and using their laptop as a desktop, just as others find it terribly inefficient to balance more than one machine with syncing issues and maintaining updated files. Personally, I’m used to using two or more computers on a daily basis, but can’t say I’ve not desired the simplicity that comes with one machine.

imac24inch How to choose a MacBook Pro   which Mac should you buy?The iMac is a beautiful machine – I’ve been using them since 2005 in various forms. I think the new 24″ are stunning. My hesitation with the iMacs are that, A) It’s a pain to continually sync two or more computers, and B) They’ll most likely adapt quadcore processors soon (perhaps sooner than the MBP). I believe it’s best to hold off on purchasing the iMac until they do so, as the benefits will be quite impressive, and they’re due for a refresh within the next 7 months or so.

The Mac Pro is another story. It’s a glorious demonstration of power, but at a significantly higher initial purchase point. However, when you really evaluate things, it’s not such a bad idea.

In fact, Lloyd Chambers states, Dead-end Macs are anything except a Mac Pro; all other models have extremely limited options for enhancing performance. A dead-end Mac is the most expensive one, because you’ll have to buy another Mac to get the performance, storage, or expansion you need.”

In reality, after you swallow the initial purchase price and throw some RAM and hard drives in there, you have a Mac that will churn out work for many years of service. The expandability helps to offset the processor’s aging, and will help maintain decent resale. Surely if time is money, and you need this kind of power and flexibility, the Mac Pro is probably the best investment (if you can call a computer that).

The iMacs are becoming increasingly difficult to upgrade, can only support one internal HDD, are limited to 8GB of RAM, video cards cannot be upgraded, and if the screen goes bad, the computer is unuseable.

That being said, I still think the iMacs are perfect for the vast majority of users who don’t require portability. You can easily get a few years out of the current model without needing to worry about bumping up against the constraints – unless you’re a very heavy user or are running specific apps that require such power. Knowing all of the limitations, I’d still seriously consider an iMac once again.

17inchmbp How to choose a MacBook Pro   which Mac should you buy?To wrap up this massive missive that’s become long winded, the current Mac lineup is looking quite promising, with the laptops sporting a truly marvelous design and the power to please most users.

For some, including myself, the 17″ Macbook Pro may be the perfect choice if the weight and size are not concerns. I’ll definitely need some option for working at home on a larger screen, but that’s something I can hold off on deciding for at least a couple of months. I’ll be carefully watching the iMac updates, and depending on how things go with work and photography, may even consider a Mac Pro at some point – but most likely not this year. I feel at this point and time, even the 17″ MacBook Pro will be sufficiently powerful while still being portable.

I hope, if nothing else, you’ve gathered a glimpse of how choosing the right Mac is a choice that’s best done only after serious consideration. Strolling into the Apple Store may gain you buyer’s remorse and provide you with possible overkill, or worse, an underpowered Mac for your particular useage. You have to carefully evaluate your needs, and match that with the amount you’re willing to spend. Lastly, don’t fear refurbished or second hand items. On that note, I personally always purchase Apple Care for portables.

In closing, there will always be “one more thing” on the horizon. A good rule is to wait as long as you can for a new machine, research carefully, and then use the hell out of it without worrying about the next update.

On netbooks, TouchBook, Mac tablet, Macbook Mini, and a Mac user switching to Windows (for the netbook only)

Apple has a large gap in their hardware line-up. Between the iPhone and Macbook is a massive hole that they may or may not decide to fill with a tablet/netbook/ultra-portable. There are many reasons, theories, and opinions on whether they should or shouldn’t attempt to fill the void. More on this later.

touchbook On netbooks, TouchBook, Mac tablet, Macbook Mini, and a Mac user switching to Windows (for the netbook only)

With today’s economy, more and more people are turning toward the use of ‘netbooks’ – ultra-portable, generally slower, more economical laptops. Even without the economy in shambles, many people (myself included) are interested in using them simply for battery life and portability.

And coincidentally, for work-related reasons, I’ve found myself needing to gain more experience in the Windows world once again. From 1994-2004 I primarily was a Windows user. However, as I’ve mentioned in many posts, I’ve grown much more fond of the Mac platform for a variety of reasons that I won’t ramble on about in this post. I realize BootCamp and Parallels are two excellent options for using Windows on a Mac, but that still doesn’t resolve the portability and battery life factor.

I use MacBook Pro as my primary home computer, Novita has a MacBook, and I use an iMac at work. Obviously, it’s a tough transition to move back to Windows, even for only a portion of my work life. I’m seeking as many open-source, multi-platform apps as possible to make this less painful and to maintain productivity.

After thorough research into netbooks/ultra-portable notebooks, I settled on the 10″ screen form factor. 7″-8.9″ seemed just too small, if not for the screen, then because of the keyboard. I have larger hands and the smaller netbooks that I tried were just too cramped. I found 10″ to be portable and with great battery life in general. The 12″ were still quite nice, but were already moving up into the realm of Macbook territory in regard to less portability. I did, however, settle on a few 10″ netbooks.

My initial choices (in order of interest):

Some of the other netbooks had only 3 cell batteries – 2 or 3 hour battery life isn’t acceptable for a netbook’s purpose in my opinion. I was shooting for 4 hours minimum under reasonable usage. These four all had decent reviews, all were acceptable in design, weight, and features. In fact, at this level, there’s not really many striking differences amongst them. Most have:

  • 10″ LCD
  • 6-9 cell battery
  • 1.6GHz Atom processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 160GB hard drive
  • Windows XP

There are some slight differences, including a claimed 9 hours battery life with the Asus!? I toyed with the idea of throwing OSX on one of these little guys, and tinkered with thoughts of the Dell Mini 9 for that purpose. However, at the end of the day, it’s not a priority at this time. I’m still waiting (hoping!) to see what Apple comes out with before the end of the year.

Once I started playing with these models hands-on, I was drawn much more to a model not on my list – the ASUS N10J. It has similar specs to the others, and yet manages to trump them with a 256MB nVidia discrete graphics chip, an express card, and HDMI. A surprising feature is the onboard integrated graphics that allows you to switch between the GPU or integrated graphics for extra battery life. Gaming on a netbook? Impressive!

asusn10j On netbooks, TouchBook, Mac tablet, Macbook Mini, and a Mac user switching to Windows (for the netbook only)

While not as sleek as a MacBook Air, I found the design to be less toy-like compared to some of the others I checked out. It’s definitely not as slim or lightweight as some, but the overall design is still quite compact and lightweight. I immediately threw in another gig of RAM to bring the total to a more comfortable 2GB. With Xp already locked and loaded, it was ready to go after slapping down my credit card to the tune of $650.

Now, I won’t lie – I love OSX and it’s not easy to pick up a netbook with XP and get to work like I can with my Mac. However, I’ve found that for basic tasks, email, web, and movies, it fits the bill quite well. The 5-7 hour battery life certainly doesn’t hurt either. It picks up wireless signals stronger than my MBP, and with the express card slot – can be mobile with 3G in no time. All in all, it’s proving to quite the little machine.

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Jumping back to the Mac side of the conversation. I love my iPhone 3G. It’s far and away the best phone I’ve owned. All the hype is real – I don’t care about any of the elitist, status, etc side of things one bit – it’s about the actual usage and productivity that the iPhone allows. If I could get by with just that as a netbook, I would. Unfortunately, as it stands, I can’t fully get by without a proper keyboard and the memory limitations for work purposes – need to output to a projector, etc. It’s perfect for 60% of what I need to do on the go, and yet, I’d gladly shell out $799 for something that bridges that gap and allows me to be completely mobile, productive, and get through the day without a charge.

Hence the rant on Apple’s netbook gap. There exists a large hole for users (such as myself) that need the portability and lightweight practicality of the iPhone, and yet don’t wish to carry around a Macbook – or perhaps don’t need the power and cost of one for something on the go. I don’t enjoy carrying around a $2000+ Macbook Pro when all I need to do is some light work, emailing, and document creation. I want something I can toss in a bag and forget; something that will get 6+ hours of battery life, and yet will come in at under a grand. Taking the computer with you all the time dramatically increases the risk of damage and theft. I’d rather lose $800 than $2300.

Coincidentally, as I was creating this post, news broke of “Apple orders 10-inch touchscreens for mystery product” Apple has notoriously denied the netbook form factor as being of interest.

From AppleInsider:

“Asked about the sub-$500 netbook market, Cook answered, “We’re watching that space, but right now from our point of view, the products in there are principally based on hardware that’s much less powerful than we think customers want, software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards, small displays.”

Cook added, “We don’t think people will be pleased with those products. It’s a category we watch, we’ve got some ideas here, but right now we think the products are inferior and will not provide an experience to customers they’re happy with.”

However, historically, they did the same thing with the iPhone and iPod Touch, and look where we are today. “Steve Jobs says it again: no video iPod”

My guess?

I think they’ll do some sort of tablet design that will completely turn the industry on its head.  Think of something blurring the lines between an iPhone and Macbook. Something that may not use the traditional dock like OSX, but rather a combination of the iPhone navigation and Leopard (or Snow Leopard).  A device that does not cannibalize sales of either the iPhone nor the Macbook. Something that will interact with the hugely popular App Store. Something that may give the Kindle a run for its money.

One of the main problems with netbooks is the very small profit margin companies receive. Apple surely won’t try to compete with the $350-500 price range. They’ll offer something that is quite different from the rest, and the price will reflect that. I wouldn’t expect it to come in at under $600. I’d assume it would come in at around $799, give or take $100.

While people may think, “Why would Apple attempt to charge such prices in a category that offers products for half that cost – especially in a recession!?” Have you seen Apple stores recently? Most that I’ve frequented are constantly brimming with customers.

So, are we finally seeing the development of some sort of tablet, netbook, ‘Touchbook’, ‘Macbook Mini’…. or is it yet another round of speculation by Apple fanboys? Time will tell…

Until then, I’ll be dancing on both sides of the line.

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