Is obsolescence becoming obsolete?

Today, Apple announced new MacBooks and MacBooks Pro (that’s right, I said MacBooks Pro). And I couldn’t care less.

I’ve got an 18-month-old Unibody MacBook Pro that I’ve dirtied, scratched, scraped, dropped, dented, and abused. And I honestly think it’ll be my main machine for at least 12 more months. And this is coming from a guy who used to upgrade every 6-8 months. What gives?

For one, I have an iPad. At 1 GHz and with 256MB of RAM, it sounds like it’s a ten-year-old computer, which is why you don’t see Apple bragging about the specs. But nobody really cares. I do nearly half of my computing on this machine now, and don’t find many occasions to open the laptop unless I’m at work.

Second, I bought an SSD. Forget gigahertz, the new standard is MBps. (And that’s even for those of us who care about such measurements.) Most people don’t yet realize that the reason they constantly see spinning beach balls isn’t that their computer is too slow, it’s that they’re relying on slow, inefficient, and increasingly crashy hard disks for storage.

After 2 failed hard disks in 3 months (admittedly, one was because I dropped my laptop), I opted for the Crucial RealSSD C300. It’s arguably the fastest SSD out there right now, and at $700 for 256GB, definitely in “early adopter” territory. Still, I would much, much rather have this upgrade than a new MacBook Pro. In daily life, things that took minutes now take seconds.

And it’s a confluence of these factors is breaking the traditional notion of “obsolete”. The tasks you ask of a computer are often small, like playing YouTube videos or word processing, and these are easily within the grasp of my iPad. But even the most demanding tasks like running Photoshop or editing a video can be done quite effectively on a 3-year-old laptop.

Do you remember a time when you cared about how many colors your monitor could display? It used to be that there was so much we wanted to display on a computer, but our hardware could only render one color, then sixteen, then 256, and then thousands. Then, about 10 years ago, we settled on “millions”, and never thought about it again.

I think that this time is approaching with processor speed. The gap is wider between “benchmarked speed” and “real-world speed” than ever. The Core i7 technology excites my inner geek, and I’d love to convert some video with it. But that’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Intel has made the new processor inside the new MacBooks faster by a factor of two, by many benchmarks. But in the real world, my life would not improve by a factor of two. My “computing quality of life” might increase by 5%. That’s odd, because my solid state disk had a much bigger impact than 5%, and the vastly-less-powerful iPad has improved my computing life by at least a factor of two.

We’re now focused on removing bottlenecks like disk speed (using solid state disks) and RAM (by using 64-bit software to address more than 4GB), or even interface elements (think eliminating the mouse). My computing life is much faster, more efficient, and more fun than it was 18 months ago, and it has nothing to do with there being “Intel inside”.