“Thousand dollar computers aren’t things most people can afford to buy that often”
In 2019 I bought a MacBook Air. I was quite excited. It was new and shiny and all dressed up in a pretty rose gold colour and everything. But it’s been a real disappointment – and a new iPad has highlighted its shortcomings.
I bought this MacBook Air around the time of the model’s 2019 update. I pondered long and hard over whether to get this or an iPad with a separate keyboard. In the end I decided I wanted three things: a proper file system; a machine I could set up to be pretty much identical to my iMac; an integrated keyboard and screen.
I was using Scrivener a lot at the time, and I didn’t want to use that app on iOS: I’d bought the iOS version of Scrivener, but didn’t think much of it. This was largely due to clunky Dropbox syncing, forced upon Scrivener’s developers because iCloud can’t deal with package files.
Those decisions were sound. But I quickly discovered something that really ruins this device, especially for a writer.
I recently ordered a 2021 model, but cancelled it later the same day
Apple has updated the MacBook Air’s keyboard since I bought this machine – I know that. But thousand dollar computers aren’t things most people can afford to buy that often, and I can’t really justify buying a new Air because Apple made a balls up with this keyboard; believe me, I’ve considered it long and hard. In fact I recently ordered a 2021 model, but cancelled it later the same day.
Macs last a long time, both in terms of build quality and the apps they’ll support. That longevity means that if there’s something about a device we don’t get along with, and we’re outside the two-week cooling off period, we’re kinda stuck. Sure, we can sell it or trade-in, but we’ll still take a considerable financial hit, in addition to all the inconvenience.
That’s what’s happened here. I trusted Apple to have designed a keyboard fit for purpose. But let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, they didn’t. The keyboard on this model is nothing short of atrocious. There’s minimal travel and feedback. It’s a bit like tapping on a screen, and for writing, that’s the only thing I hate more than typing on the MacBook Air.
Keyboards are not an area to cut corners. Putting a duff keyboard on a premium laptop is a bit like putting remould tyres on a luxury car. I can’t get over the fact that someone, somewhere, signed this thing off. The keyboard jarred with me the moment I started typing, but I thought I’d get used to it. Guess what…
For my iMac I have a Das Keyboard mechanical with Cherry blue switches. This becomes invisible during use. I love that. It’s big and heavy and probably the closest I can get to a typewriter keyboard for my Mac. The keyboard on my MacBook Air is the polar opposite. I can now type on this thing without making too many mistakes, but I’m conscious of the fact that I’m typing, and have to be careful when doing so. And do you know what? It’s just plain uncomfortable to do.
I’ve had to adapt to the keyboard’s shortcomings to get my words on the digital page, and that’s not on. I’ve also got a MacBook Pro from around 2009; the chiclet keyboard on that unit is just fine, but it doesn’t support a lot of the software I need these days. Like so many things, the keyboards on Apple’s laptops saw negative development (I’m sure there’s a proper term for new things that aren’t as good as the old ones, but I can’t think what it is. Let me know…)
The Golem-voiced demon on my shoulder curls his tail in his hands and whispers in my ear
There’s another factor that made this 2019 macBook Air a bad purchase. This is a personal thing, and certainly not Apple’s fault, but it’s valid nonetheless, and something I’ll learn from: the MacBook Air is a computer — with a proper file system, and set up almost identical to my iMac.
“But that was what you wanted, Martin,” I hear you say.
You’re right, I did. This was what I wanted at the time. The fact that it’s a proper computer in a small form factor brings a lot of benefits: I can do pretty much everything on this MacBook Air that I can do on my iMac. I can even sync things like Keyboard Maestro shortcuts – oh, the irony!
But along with those benefits comes something that frustrates me about such machines – and about myself.
My ability to focus is quite poor. I’ll get to a tricky bit in something I’m writing and my mind will wander from the task in hand to shopping sites or checking out that app I’ve heard about. The Golem-voiced demon on my shoulder curls his tail in his hands and whispers in my ear: Come on, Martin… just a few seconds – what harm can it do?
I succumb to the demon’s temptations, and in the blink of an eye 30 seconds has become five minutes, or 20, my focus is lost, and I’ve slid down a long snake in the productivity game.
But I recently bought an iPad Air. And I’ve made some interesting observations.
I don’t know what it is about the iPad, but this drifting just doesn’t seem to happen. I can still CMD+TAB across apps, but I don’t. I can hide apps from the Dock, minimising the temptation to slip away somewhere else for a few minutes. I’ve got the search function, but I certainly haven’t got Alfred.
I’ve also got a more limited suite of apps on the iPad than on my Mac. On this device I mainly spend my time in Ulysses, Craft, Instapaper, and the Kindle and Medium apps. Even though the iPad is incredibly useful as a consumption device, it’s also a great little productivity tool. I’ve also created shortcuts that take me straight to the documents I want.
When I wake my Mac, I do a bit of clicking around before I start doing anything. I know I do it, I know I don’t want to do it, but still I do it.
I use Scrivener less than I used to, which probably contributes to my regret about buying the MacBook Air. The focus on iOS and iCloud syncing by the developers of apps such as Ulysses and Craft highlights the importance of quick and easy access to our writing, and that Dropbox, although reliable, is pretty old hat.
So while iPadOS now offers similar convenience and power to a machine running macOS, there’s perhaps just a little more friction in switching away from the work. There’s a lot of talk about frictionless workflows on the internet. But I think a little friction is no bad thing.
There’s another thing about the iPad, too. For a long time I was sniffy about touch-screens, but having used this slim device for a while, touching the screen is so intuitive that I’ve started trying to do it when I’m using the MacBook Air.
And because I’ve got a 24-inch iMac with a Das Keyboard, I’ve got a spare Apple keyboard. This pairs easily with the iPad by bluetooth. It’s interesting to note how much better this iMac keyboard feels compared to the one on MacBook Air, which indicates the progress made. Coupled with a simple stand I bought from Amazon, I’ve effectively got laptop functionality with the iPad, without having to buy one of Apple’s Magic Keyboards.
The Magic Keyboards do look very nice, and if ever I use my iPad out and about more often, then I’d probably buy one. But for home use, the little setup I’ve got works just fine.
There are a couple of things I do like about this MacBook Air: the Touch ID is useful for unlocking and logging in to websites, and I still like the coppery rose gold (although I think I’d buy silver in future). I take it to the university where I work a couple of days a week. It fits nicely into the bag, isn’t too heavy, and does do all the things I wanted it to. I was chuffed when I first got it. But given the cost, the fact that the keyboard means I dislike it to the point of not really wanting to use it very much – that’s a tough pill to swallow.
If you’ve got an iPad and MacBook Air, let me know how you use them.
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