Gestalt

“Macs are overpriced! I could make/buy a laptop/desktop for less than half of what you can get from Apple and get better specs!”

If there was one word to describe just what is wrong with that kind of thinking, I think it would be gestalt – the idea that something is worth more than the sum of its parts. Something that rises to a new level based on how well it fits together.
This concept has always been a central tenant of design at Apple, even from the very beginning. The first Mac revolutionized desktop publishing with its optional LaserWriter since MacWrite and the printer functioned as two halves of a perfectly complementary whole. It didn’t matter that the LaserWriter cost $5,000 as long as they worked together.

Neither the Macbook Air nor the iPad are computing powerhouses, yet they accomplish much more than their bare specs might indicate. People have been installing SSDs in laptops for years, yet the setup of the Air somehow exceeds the usual amount of performance gain with only a wimpy Core 2 Duo. Apple’s attention to detail made sure to tweak the sleep mode and power consumption to make the whole system as fast and fluid as possible. Not everyone buys it, but writers and students are universally singing the praises of the computer whose initial reception in the tech world could be summed up by a “FAIL LOL” on the comment boards.

The iPad is arguably Apple’s best-selling computer, but we don’t think of it as such. It has a 1.0 ghz ARM Cortex A8 cpu, 256 mb RAM, a 9.7″ 1024 x 768 display, and no standard ports. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of iPad owners neither cares nor even knows what those numbers mean. That’s not necessary; what the iPad does is the important part. The mass adoption by elderly and nontechnical consumers shows how little most ordinary people care.
Of course, there are always those who need a number. One of my engineering friends recently complained about the iPad commercials – “I wish they’d just tell us about the product. Give me the specs so I know what it can do!” Except of course every single iPad commercial gives us about 10 examples of what the iPad can do. It’s not about the cpu or the graphics horsepower, it’s about the whole package.

Apple has always set this up by designing its own hardware and software in tandem, so users don’t have to worry about compatibility. OS X and iOS are made to run on a very specific set of machines, so they work very well. They were the first ones to include a built-in webcam and Wi-Fi on every model. Traditional computers and iDevices are all designed to interact with each other and provide a quick and easy way to share information and obtain media. It’s all so well set up that hardly anyone notices.

The same friend recently built his parents a computer, putting in a 2.8 ghz quad-core i7, a 2tb hard drive, and 8 gb RAM, all loaded up with Windows 7 Ultimate. Based on my own parental computing experience (the concept of a desktop is surprisingly difficult,) I asked him what his parents needed all that power for. His answer? “Well, they do some photography.” I just smiled and walked away. It’s an impressive kit to be sure, but try plugging in an outdated printer or syncing an Android phone. Multiple driver installs and third-party software downloads are sure to result. Some techies love this, but I would rather use my computer than fight it.

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