Future Classics: the black MacBook

In my “Future Classics” series, I try to guess what current-era Apple products may become collectable in the future. My hobbies are admittedly weird.

Announced in 2006 to replace the iBook G4, the MacBook was an entirely new machine.

Powered by an Intel processor, the notebook featured a 13.3-inch glossy display and an unique chiclet-style keyboard in an all-new new case that was thinner than the 12-inch[1] and 14-inch[2] iBook before it.

In addition to the white plastic that was all the rage in 2006, the MacBook could be purchased in a different color as well:

By any metric, the MacBook was a huge success. It brought Intel processors to Apple’s consumers in a way that the iMac or MacBook Pro couldn’t. Here’s a bit from Apple’s press release at the time:

“Apple began the transition to Intel Core Duo-based notebooks in February with the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and now just 90 days later we have completed the transition with the release of the all new MacBook,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “The complete MacBook lineup leads the industry with Apple’s trademark innovative design and advanced mobile features—from top to bottom it is the best notebook line that we have ever offered.”

The entry-level machine sported a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo and started at $1,099. There was a 2.0 GHz model in white at $1,299, as well. Here are the tech specs of the original line-up:

At $1,499, the black model was exactly the same machine as the white one with the difference of a larger hard drive. As $200 for 20 GB of storage was viewed as robbery, the machine’s price earned a nickname: the so-called “black tax.”

Here are a couple of reviews from the time:

Jonathan Seff, Macworld:

And though from a value perspective, the black model isn’t as good a deal as the others, the cool black color will be enough for some people—those who want something different, own a black iPod, or need a more professional-looking laptop for work—to justify the cost.

Clint Ecker, Ars Technica:

An oft-bandied-about factoid is that if you were to configure the midlevel model to ship with an 80GB hard disk to match the high-end model, you’d still notice that it’s approximately US$150 cheaper. The only difference is the color and finish of the shell, of course (white is glossy and the black has a matte finish). This is undoubtedly done on purpose and is the direct result of Apple’s experience selling iPod and iPod nanos in two color options. It didn’t take long for Apple, and casual observers of Apple’s operations to notice that the black models were selling out faster. A lot faster.

Obviously the demand for black Apple products is much higher than the white products, and Apple is simply responding as most companies would when faced by high demand for a product. People who are set on getting that black MacBook are going to have to wrestle with the US$150 mark-up. Apple is banking that most people will willingly hand over even more cash to get a unique item. It sucks for people without the extra moolah to blow, but it doesn’t take long to come to the realization that it’s just a different color and that you’re going to be saving a nice chunk of change by going with white.

While the early MacBooks had their issues, the black ones faired a little better, at least when it came to case chipping. The black plastic used was a little more rubbery than on the white machines, and it served them well.

While I wouldn’t own a plastic MacBook until the very end of its original run (and only then, it was temporary), I coveted that black case.[3]

Over the course of the MacBook’s life, the black model remained at the top of the line, but never with a big enough technical advantage to justify the cost. Even maxed out, it carried a premium over the white models:

Just this week, there has been a lot of talk about the possible pricing of the gold Apple Watch. While the premiums on the Watch are going to be far larger than on the MacBooks of yesterday, the same principle is at play: Apple often charges more for things like color.

So, why does the black MacBook deserve to be the considered a future classic?

While Apple has shipped several black models over the years, the MacBook was by far the most successful. However, in the light of the truckloads of white models sold, it is rare to a degree.

More than the rarity, however, I think the black MacBook really helped set the stage for modern Apple to charge more for a design element.

Plus, they just look so damn cool.

  1. The MacBook was slightly heavier than the smaller iBook, though. Apple was doomed in 2006.  ↩

  2. Seriously, remember the 14-inch iBook? That thing was gross.  ↩

  3. Especially after my brother bought one.  ↩

FCC votes to enable Title II protection for the Internet

Jacob Kastrenakes:

The FCC's new order establishes a standard that requires internet providers to take no actions that unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage consumers or the companies whose sites and apps they're trying to access. At most, internet providers may slow down service only for the purpose of "reasonable network management" — not a business purpose.

A huge day.

Connected 28: The Color of Myke's Eyes

On the world's greatest now-recording-on-Tuesdays podcast:

This week, the boys discuss the iOS setup process and the possibly-confusing nature of the Apple Watch’s multiple variations before Stephen and Federico share their thoughts on the iPhone 6 Plus.

Thanks to these awesome sponsors for making it possible:

  • Warby Parker: Glasses should not cost as much as an iPhone.
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On the new Concierge

As the Apple Store has grown in both popularity and scope, the Genius Bar has seen some radical changes.

In the early days, there wasn’t an appointment system or staff reserved for certain types of devices. The Genius team was just there, in the back of the store, ready to take whatever came their way.

Over time, it got more complicated. People’s names were recorded on-site, and helped in order, then appointments had to be made in advance. Things like drop-offs and same-day repairs only made life more complicated for Geniuses.

These days, the Genius program goes way beyond the Bar. Specialists can take care of things on the sales floor, keeping a lot iOS tasks from ever reaching the back of the store.

In many, many ways, the iPhone re-defined the Apple Store and the role of the Genius.

In my second post on this site — way the hell back in September of 2008[1] — I wrote about this:

The iPod has always been part of Apple Retail, but the iPhone has changed everything. I have nothing against the iPhone. I own one, and use it all the time. I almost can’t imagine life without it. But since the first launch, the company has been focused on those customers. From opening early for iPhone-only sales to giving iPhone customers priority at the Genius Bar, the Apple stores are bending over backwards for the iPhone. And it’s showing. Across the chain, older retail employees (and by that I mean, those who have been with the company for some time) are frustrated. Mac Specialists are spending hours on the phone with AT&T trying to get customers up and running with their new iPhone 3Gs instead of selling Macs (not to mention trying to meet the company’s sales metrics).

Something I didn’t mention then is the urgency of many iPhone appointments. Not being able to make a phone call is monumentally a bigger deal than having an issue with a Mac. In my experience, more often than not, walk-in appointments were iPhone customers. These customers often have to wait for a long time to be fit in to the existing queue of appointment-holding customers.

That came to mind in reading this 9to5Mac article about the Genius program. In it, Mark Gurman writes:

Apple will soon make a significant change to retail store Genius Bar appointments to improve the customer experience, according to several sources briefed on the upcoming shift. During the week of March 9th, Apple’s United States stores will launch a new initiative called “Concierge” that replaces traditional walk-in Genius Bar appointments.

Under this new arrangement, an appointment-less customer could request service, then would be alerted via text message when their time is approaching. The order of appointments for these customers would be set by “a special algorithm” that “provides the customer a wait time based on issue priorities.”

I’m sure this system has some sort of work-around for people whose iPhones are so smashed they can’t receive text messages.

While this updated system will be good for iPhone users, I imagine it is being created with an eye cut toward Apple Watch customers as well.

There’s been a lot of conversation over the last couple of weeks about needing to view the Watch from a fashion and lifestyle perspective, not a tech one. Making an appointment or waiting for hours on end isn’t going to fly with some customers, and Apple Stores need to deal with those expectations. Sounds like this system may just do the trick.

  1. For the love of everything, please don’t spend much time looking at my old posts. Yikes.  ↩

NASA's crawlers turn 50

Linda Herridge:

NASA's crawler-transporters, two of the largest vehicles ever built, have carried NASA rockets and spacecraft to the launch pad for the last 50 years. They will continue their legacy as the "workhorses" of the nation's space program as part of the agency's journey to Mars.

The crawlers are being modified to carry NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) with the Orion spacecraft atop it and potential commercial vehicles to their pads to begin space exploration missions. Originally constructed in 1965 to support the agency's Apollo Program, they also supported the Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and Space Shuttle Program, helping NASA push the boundaries of human space exploration farther into the solar system.

These machines sum up everything I love about NASA hardware; they were purpose-built with insane specs.

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On Rescue Forensics

Kim-Mai Cutler at TechCrunch, writing about my buddy Ryan Dalton and his startup that helps law enforcement find victims of sex trafficking:

Basically, Rescue Forensics builds search software that helps law enforcement officials collect and document online evidence that could be used to prosecute traffickers in court. The company itself doesn’t make any judgments about what might constitute illegal trafficking behavior. That’s up to investigators to determine, as there are adult women who want to do sex work and aren’t being trafficked.

But Rescue Forensics does provide a way to document and manage listings that can quickly pop up and disappear on Craigslist or other listing sites across an entire region.

Dalton said that so far, nine victims have been rescued.

Ryan and his work are a great reminder that technology can be used to actually help people. I'm thrilled they are finding success in their mission.

Top Hat

A new app from my friends at Supertop:

Top Hat lives in the Yosemite menu bar and shows up-to-date daily sales figures for your apps. Revenue from In-App Purchases is aggregated to give you a single total for each app. Weekly figures can be inspected by holding ⌥ as you click the Top Hat icon.

This little one-off usually often come to iOS first, but the Mac menu bar is a great place for things like this. It really looks great.