The Apple upgrade problem  SEP 02 2009

I recently upgraded to a new MacBook Pro from a two-year-old version of the same model (more or less). It's sturdier, faster, has a more functional trackpad, and has a much larger hard drive than the previous model, making it well worth the ~$2700 purchase price because I use my computer for more hours in a year than I sleep. Three weeks ago, my first-generation iPhone broke and rather than pay for a straight-up replacement, I upgraded to a new iPhone 3G (and promised AT&T my spare kidney in the process). Again, totally worth it...the speed and video camera alone were worth the upgrade. On Monday, I upgraded the OS on my MBP to OS X 10.5 Service Pack 1 Snow Leopard. Not sure whether it was worth it at this point or not, but it was only $29 and promised much.

The upgrade process in each case was painless. To set up the MBP, I just connected it to my Time Machine drive and was up and running about an hour later with all my apps and preferences intact. The iPhone took even less time than that and everything from my old phone was magically there. Snow Leopard took 45 minutes and, aside from a couple of Mail.app and Safari plug-ins I use, everything was just as before.1 Past upgrades of Apple computers and iPods have gone similarly well.

Which is where the potential difficulty for Apple comes in. From a superficial perspective, my old MBP and new MBP felt exactly the same...same OS, same desktop wallpaper, same Dock, all my same files in their same folders, etc. Same deal with the iPhone except moreso...the iPhone is almost entirely software and that was nearly identical. And re: Snow Leopard, I haven't noticed any changes at all aside from the aforementioned absent plug-ins.

So, just having paid thousands of dollars for new hardware and software, I have what feels like my same old stuff.

Deep down, when I stop to think about it, I know (or have otherwise convinced myself) that these purchases were worth it and that Apple's ease of upgrade works almost exactly how it should. But my gut tells me that I've been ripped off. The "newness" cognitive jolt humans get is almost entirely absent. I don't know if Apple is aware of this (I'd guess yes) and don't know if it even matters to them (because, like I said, this is the way that it should work...and look at those sales figures), but it's got to be having some small effect. People want to feel, emotionally speaking, that their money is well-spent and impeccable branding, funny commericals, and the sense of belonging to a hip lifestyle that Apple tries to engender in its customers can only go so far. [Apple Tablet, this is your cue.]

[1] Merlin Mann's upgrade did not go well. Not only did Merlin not get the "newness" cognitive jolt, his new stuff worked worse than his old stuff. Although, Merlin, upgrading five (five!) computers while "writing a book on deadline" probably wasn't the best idea.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Apple   iPhone   MacBook Pro   Merlin Mann   OS X

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