With the announcement late last week that Steve Jobs, undoubtable legend and technological visionary, had decided to retire from his position as Apple CEO, I thought it timely and appropriate to share my thoughts as within our business (and every day regardless) I am always at, with or using an Apple product these days… Pretty much 24/7.

Apple Equipment Reviews
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I’m a semi-recent Apple convert. I got my first iPod about 8 years ago but until this year (2011) all I had owned was a couple of iPhones and multiple iPods. Not that I didn’t love them all, but for some reason it took me until this year to make the jump and plunge headfirst into the world of Apple…

It started in March with the launch of the iPad2. Foolish me decided to queue for 3 hours one Friday afternoon to get my hands on this mystical tablet, somehow thinking that my world would shift on its axis and I’d be somehow enlightened. Truth is, it did a little and I was. I love the iPad; It’s a flawed masterpiece. It looks fantastic, is light, thin and portable and it works. It’s perfect for me to take to clients to show them what we do as a company because of these things… Plus, it without exception impresses people in it’s shiny, minimalist beauty. I told myself (and my wife) that the reason I was queuing for this thing was that it would transform the way we did business, making client presentations that much simpler and more impressive… and making my life simpler at the same time. Sometimes it does, I have to say.

Above all else, the reason all Apple products work is that they just feel ‘Right’. They are by far the most intuitive products you will ever use, nothing else comes close. That’s the core of the obsession that Apple-lovers have with the brand and its products. Closely followed by the fact that every frickin’ product they release looks and feels its’ price tag – stunning casing and beautiful, minimalist design, Apple think of things that surprise and impress the hell out of consumers with every (major) product they release. Sure you’ll pay £400-500+ more for a 13″ Macbook Pro than you will for a Dell, Sony or Compaq laptop for the same power and performance, but the design and build quality is in a completely different league. To hold a product like this makes you ‘feel’ something different.

In addition, I’ve owned a number of laptops over the last decade; Compaqs mainly and most recently a big 18.4″ Sony Vaio. The Compaqs were pretty terrible. Bad plastics, creaky, slow and unreliable, each failed me within 12-18 months as they gradually slowed to the point of no return. So when I changed to a Vaio and opted for a top of the range version with 640GB hard drive and 4GB Ram, paying £1500 in the process, I was certain I wouldn’t need to worry about the same poor performance. Well, I really liked the Vaio; the screen was great, the keyboard was much better than the Compaqs and it felt much better built. However, after 13 months my battery died… just stopped working, typically just out of warranty.

Then in November 2010 (exactly 24 months after purchase) the first hard drive died on me… the performance had been waning gradually over a few months to the point where it took a good 2-3 minutes to open a psd. Onwards and upwards as I thought as I removed the old hard drive and placed the second hard drive into the slot. It took me about a day to reinstaleverything and the computer seemed to run much better… for about 3 months. At this point all the slowing performance returned and gradually got worse and worse to the point that it took 3-4 minutes to open ANY file or folder and the same to even save a recent version. Not good, especially as we were by then busier than ever in the business. I stuck with it until June 2011 at which point I bit the bullet and opted for a complete change in equipment… I’d had enough of PCs going south with poor build quality, lacklustre performance and even worse reliability. I can’t have that as a business owner when I need to be reliable for my clients. I finally took the plunge and bought an iMac, Macbook Pro, Time Capsule, Apple TV… pretty much everything I could lay my hands on that I could use for the business (excluding Apple TV, that was an impulse purchase on checkout). They do say ‘Once you go Mac, you never go back’. Cheesy I know, but seriously accurate. I just don’t think I could, or would want to.

So, as a fully-fledged Apple aficionado and as an ode to Mr Steve Jobs, I wanted to share with you my top 8 Apple Products… largely based on my experience with each to date. In reverse order of essential –

 

8. Time Capsule

Apple 2TB Time Capsule
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This fairly substantial box of power is still something I think will prove invaluable for countless individuals and businesses looking to safeguard their files and supercharge their wireless connectivity. Bascially it acts as an automatic backup system (currently available in 2TB and 3TB storage options) that all devices in your network can take advantage of using the Apple ‘Time Machine’ application. I’ve had some scary situations in the past (latest being November 2010) where hard drives have died on me without warning and some of my work has been lost. I decided this year that I could never let that happen again. I got the 2TB version of the Time Capsule which supposedly offers “Server Grade” storage… I guess that remains to be seen but I’ve been impressed with it so far. My iMac automatically backs up all files that I’m working on to the Time Capsule without the need for me to touch a button which means I don’t need to rely on my (often failing) memory to initiate the backup process… invaluable.

Also, it did boost my Wireless signal. We run about 4 computers (iMac, Macbook Pro, 2 x laptops) and 4-5 other devices off the system at any given time (iPad, 3 x mobiles, Apple TV) and I did notice a boost to our signal strength and internet speed when the Time Capsule was installed (For any of you who are interested, in part it does this through splitting the network into different frequencies and allowing mobile devices (iPad, iPhones) to run on a different frequency from the computers in the network (thereby reducing the load/demand on each bandwidth). Either way, I was impressed by the extra speed of wireless and I feel much more comfortable knowing that my work is being doubled up on the Time Capsule and that, should my iMac fail, I shouldn’t lose any of my client work, photographs etc. Is it worth the £250 price tag for 2TB storage? Who knows, probably not. But it looks cool and it works, and the peace of mind it affords is invaluable.

 

7. Apple TV

Apple TV
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This one’s a relatively untested device in our household but I love it nonetheless. We haven’t streamed a movie through the Apple TV yet but any trailers I’ve watched I’ve been impressed by the complete lack of interruptions (the little load bar always stays well ahead of the play time-bar). There’s also the functionality to stream Youtube videos or films/videos etc from your other devices in the network. the reason I really love Apple TV is that I can stream my extensive music collection (8,000-odd songs) from my iMac upstairs through my TV in the living room. This still boggles my mind. I can’t get how a little box could take music from my computer upstairs and move it in perfect time to a device 30 ft away. Plus, with other innovations, I can use my iPhone or iPad as a remote control for this thing!? Which is just crazy. Quality of image on the streaming filsm seems very good, no complaints there. The only thing they’d need to do would be to add content flexibility – e.g. the ability to link in to Apps, other channels etc.

 

6. iTouch

Apple iTouch Review
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This is actually the oldest Apple piece of kit I still own. I think it was the 2nd gen iTouch. A massive improvement over the previous (now ‘Classic’) iPods with it’s touch screen interface and reliability (all 4-5 of my previous iPods froze consistently) and while the older ‘Click’ wheel was a great innovation at the time, the lack of moving parts on the iTouch was a huge stride in functionality. Not much else to say really, it plays music and stuff, although maybe that sells short the innovation of the iPod range… it’s very difficult to remember a time when you put a tape, cd or minidisc into a chunky box instead of accessing a database of music. THAT is the beauty of Apple; Pure innovation.

 

5. iPad 2

The BIG one this year. Apple are apparently gearing up for 22 MILLION sales of this thing in Q4 2011!!? I do love the iPad2 but many of you will probably be surprised to see it at this point on my list. Look, the iPad is a beautiful piece of kit; slick interface, good (if not exceptional) screen and a huge variety of Apps available to customise it. Plus, it’s highly portable, which is potentially it’s greatest attraction. However, it is a flawed masterpiece. The screen while very good, is not great. It would have benefited from the retina screen (first seen on the iPhone 4 last year), though I am sure Apple are doing what they do best and releasing technology in phases; so the iPad 3 or 2S or whatever it’ll be called will no doubt house a retina screen and at present they’re probably working on more efficient batteries so that a new release will keep the 9hr battery life.

Next new feature between the iPad 1 and 2… The Camera. The camera on the iPad is… Woeful. Truly awful. I’d almost rather they’d just kept it off. In its defence, it has come in useful for taking some videos of our new son when my iPhone had run out of storage. However, the actual quality of the videos it captures is absolutely dire; needless to say, don’t buy it expecting the camera to be of much use for video capture.

By contrast, as a portable business device, the iPad is exceptional. I take the iPad to client meetings, presentations and coffee shops. It impresses clients with it’s beautiful design and crisp screen… great for showing them our designs, proposals or websites. I’ve been surprised by how much of an impact this little tablet has made on many of my clients… one client (who won’t be named) had never even heard of an iPad… he thought I’d carried in a notepad and nearly had a coronary when I opened up the screen and started showing him stuff. The iPad is therefore great for ‘immediate use’ for client meetings. Battery life is very good and some of the Apps are exceptional also. Garage Band had me hooked immediately, I’ve already created 20-odd songs on the thing; something I hadn’t done since I was about 20.

All in all a true milestone in technological advancement, the iPad changed things in the same way the iPhone and iPod did (and continue to do with every release) so it’s definitely exciting to see where this goes from here with the next instalments. With prices starting around £399 it can be an affordable device. With 32GB and 3G however, it costs almost £600, which is potentially stretching the balance of quality & functionality vs value.

 

4. OS X Lion

While not a physical Apple product I think it makes sense to acknowledge the exceptional OS that Macs use. With the release of Lion in July 2011 Macs really leapt ahead of PC’s in terms of user interface and intuitive gestures. Multi-touch gestures are one of the massive improvements I noticed when moving from PC to Mac. I now find myself using one of our laptops in the office and going to scroll between pages, back to the desktop, up and down a page… and I find myself being ever more disappointed with the user interface of a PC. OS X Lion just has everything where you’d want & expect it to be and all of those things are customisable so you can change how your mouse or trackpad gestures act to suit your own comfort. Added to that the advancements in applications like Mail and Lion is easily the most complete OS in the world.

 

3. Macbook Pro

I opted for the 13″ version as I wanted something super-portable as an alternative to the big 27″ iMac I was buying. The first thing you’ll notice about a Macbook Pro, particularly when set aside a PC Laptop is the build quality and the beautiful design. A solid aluminium casing which is by FAR the most solid-feeling laptop I’ve ever used (and that’s out of maybe 12-15 laptops), a beautiful glass trackpad and definitely the most comfortable and responsive keyboard I’ve ever used (even better than the excellent Vaio one). To date I haven’t had a single issue with the Macbook Pro. Sure, on larger psd files it takes a while to open but to be honest, I didn’t buy it for huge performance, I have my iMac for that; I bought it for functionality, the ability to occasionally use it for design and send emails/write blog posts etc. when on the go. The little Macbook Pro is a thing of beauty, no doubt. when closed it just looks perfect, when open, it maybe even looks better than perfect.

2. iMac

So the saying goes; “Once you go Mac, you never go back”. This is the powerhouse of the office… 2TB hard drive, 8GB RAM, 27″ screen, i7 processor etc. A truly stunning piece of kit that has changed the way we design and has made it possible and simple to monitor in perfect detail everything we to within our designs. That 27″ screen takes a bit of getting used to but after a few days it would be very difficult to go down in size. Especially in 27″ guise, the screen allows great flexibility to view different applications you may have open at any time. It is super-fast in terms of processing images, opening pages and multitasking. It’s not without its faults though (nothing is). It periodically freezes on me while in the middle of work (or even just randomly when I leave the station for an hour). This is fine for web pages or native Apple Apps like Pages, iPhoto etc. as it saves and reopens these where you left off. For Photoshop however, this can be a real pain. It has also taken to freezing at times when I choose a Youtube or Vimeo video to watch (only seems to happen as the video starts). So, not a 100% rating but maybe more like 90%. All in all though, I’m not sure we could operate as efficiently or effectively without the iMac in the office, a highly impressive machine that does just about everything I could need it to, and does it really well. PC’s are without doubt a thing of the past in the office.

 

1. iPhone 4

iPhone Zenith
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So, first on my list is the latest version of the phone that ‘changed everything’. I think I might die if I didn’t have my iPhone. This to me is the most important, life-changing piece of kit I have ever bought from Apple, or from anywhere for that matter. I’ve owned my fair share of mobile phones in the last 12 or so years and never has a phone impressed me so much as the iPhone. It’s the only phone that I would not get rid of approaching the end of a contract, unless it was to upgrade to a newer version. The iPhone 3G had me feeling like this too, but the iPhone 4 is in another world again. It does everything I currently need it to and the beauty of Apple products is that they’re pretty much always one step ahead of consumers’ desires.

I can’t think of anything the iPhone should do better, except it could be a slightly better ‘phone’. Reception can be a bit temperamental for instance and sure it freezes from time to time or drops out of an App (potentially more an App issue)… though maybe that’s just the case with every other mobile? It’s easy to find faults like that when it does everything else so well.

Either way, it has the most beautiful, crisp, perfectly-sized screen you could ever hope for, hugely intuitive navigation (something all other phones I’ve ever owned, except Nokia have failed to get right), an amazing Launchpad for every application (an area I think major competitors like Blackberry still haven’t got right) as well as huge functionality due to the massive App library… the list goes on.

The fact that I have all my email, news, photos, music, social media, blog etc. at the touch of a button at all times, and all in a single device, is truly incredible. Personally, I believe this (and not the iPad 2 as most other people would argue) is the true masterstroke product from Apple. As close to perfect as a gadget has ever come and easily, far and away, without doubt the best mobile device ever to be released.

The iPhone is always with me so I can check mail, keep in touch with clients, monitor blogs, take notes etc. All these amazing features, perfectly formed and within a small, portable, beautiful piece of design. A true masterpiece of technology, these are all the things that put the iPhone 4 at the top of my ‘Best of Apple’ list. Moreover, it’s top of ALL my gadget lists, ever.

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