Hackers gonna hate

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kyle Wiens (of iFixit) doesn't like the new MacBook Pro:

The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass—meaning replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board—making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case—requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. ... The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole.

And he blames us:

We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we’re happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule. When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more robust model that’s a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values?

Actually, what does that say about our values?

First of all, "short-lived" is arguable, and I'd argue for "flat-out wrong". I don't take enough laptops through to the end of their life to be a representative sample, but I've purchased two PC laptops and two MacBook Pros. After two years of use, both PCs were essentially falling apart (hinges, power cords, and basically dead batteries) while the MacBooks were running strong.

My 2008 MacBook Pro did get a not-totally-necessary battery replacement after a year, but my 2010 has run strong for two years. I'd expect nothing less from the Airs or new MacBook Pro. So short-lived might be a relative characterization if anything, and only if you consider the need to pay Apple to replace your battery instead of doing it yourself a "death".

Second, and more important, this thought occurred to me: when we look at futuristic computing devices in movies such as Minority Report or Avatar, do we think "Neat, but those definitely don't look upgradeable. No thanks."

Do we imagine that such progress is achieved through the kind of Luddite thinking that leads people to value "hackability" over never-before-achieved levels of precision and portability?

The quote above is the summation of Wiens' argument that "consumer voting" has pushed Apple down this road, and that we need to draw a line in the name of repairability, upgradability and hackability.

I'd argue that Apple's push toward devices that are more about the human interface and less about the components is a form of a categorical imperative, a rule for acting that has no conditions or qualifications — that there is no line, there is only an endless drive towards progress: more portable devices that get the job done with less thinking about the hardware.

That is what drives descriptions like Apple uses in its product announcements: magical, revolutionary — not hacking and upgrading.

(Link via Daring Fireball)