MacBook Pro M1 Max initial thoughts

When Apple announced the new MacBook Pros I knew immediately that I was interested. Throughout the year I saved up a budget for the device, and each subsequent announcement during the event increase my certainty of purchasing the new laptop.

My laptop arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited. The configuration I chose was a 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max maxed out, except keeping the storage at 512 GB.

Over the past few weeks I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read a number of great takes on the device. Following are a few thoughts from holding this new laptop in my hands for the past few hours.

Function keys

The full size function keys are a welcome addition to the keyboard. I must add though, that coming from a MacBook Air for the last year, I am taking a little bit of time to adjust my fingers to touching them. The first time I reached up to press the Touch ID button my finger rested in the wrong area. These changes aren’t a big deal though, and I except I’ll be okay with the changes in the near future.

Keyboard size

Adding to keyboard thoughts. I love the black behind the keys. It’s a change, and looks sharp. The size feels a bit different from my Air, although I can’t place the exact difference. My fingers keep hitting the wrong edges of the keys and my typing accuracy is a bit lower than normal. With that said I except I’ll get used to it soon enough.

Overall fit and form

As a product designer I love how something feels in the hand, how it looks on a desk, and how it fits into a backpack. Thankfully, on that last front, it still fits fine into my GORUCK GR1 laptop slot. Incidentally I might need to write on backpacks again in the near future. Working out a new configuration for how to keep all my electronics safe.

The laptop looks and feels more thick, considerably so relative to my Air. That’s not a bad thing though. I bought this with the intention of it being a Pro device, and it feels that in every way. My wife’s first comment was on the overall shape, saying it reminded her of the a Mac from 10 years ago. I took that as a compliment.

Notch

Only one podcast mentioned a specific problem that I have with the notch. I’m a full screen user. I keep the menu bar and dock hidden at all times, and only access them by reaching my cursor up to that area to grab something. The notch forces a change in one of my habits, and that’s a little bit frustrating. I tried at first to make the menu bar hidden by default, but it looks weird when a window won’t go up all the way. I’m currently keeping the menu bar visible, but finding some challenge with seeing all the items at the top of the screen. I realize this is a very specific thing that few will run into. Over the past five years I’ve lived with the menu hidden so this will take some getting used to.

Speed

I have nothing to comment yet on the performance or speed of this device. My MacBook Air was great for all but the most strenuous of tasks. Only on a few occasions in the past year did I even have a hiccup, where it needed to take a second to load something. I’m very curious to see what this feels like after pushing the device through its paces.

Brightness

I was excited to switch from the MacBook Air to this new laptop for a brighter screen. So far, though, I’m not feeling a great difference. This may be do to eye strain late in the day, and I’m curious how I’ll feel tomorrow; from my perspective a screen can never be bright enough, especially in dark mode. I tried switching to light mode and did notice a difference, but my general use case is a dark screen.

Overall

This is a device that I’m happy to own, and expect to become a utilitarian part of my workflow for years to come.

Update: Warmth

This is going to take some getting used to. My Air does not get warm. The metal stays coolish to the touch no matter what. This device is warming my hands and lap, which is a surprise after holding a cool aluminum device for the past year. So far it’s not a problem; nothing close to the scorching heat I’ve dealt with on MacBook Pros of old, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Food inflation

All around us we see patterns of products and software designed to influence our habits and purchasing decisions. As mentioned before, I’ve got a pet peeve with syrup containers. A while back I read a great book on the topic of habits and getting connected with the products we use, explaining the cycle we run through when we become a user of something.

Apart from syrup containers and the over-sized pouring spouts, another thing that’s bothered me to no end is yogurt containers. I’m a huge fan of soy yogurt from Silk, the blueberry flavor in particular. I steer towards non-dairy when possible, so this is my favorite yogurt on the planet. Granted, the sugar has something to do with that. Still, opening up one of these yogurt containers, cleaning off the inner foil lid, and diving into the thick creamy contents is an amazing experience. This is one of my favorite snacks. It seems we can never keep enough of these around. Something’s happened though, in the years since I started eating these. The containers themselves have changed. As far as you can tell from the outside things look the same. It’s still the general yogurt shaped object I grabbed from the refrigerated section as a teenager. However, on the inside the total quantity of food has been reduced; I’m almost sure of it.

I haven’t dove in yet to research the extent of the problem, but the false bottom of the yogurt drives me nuts. Based on my completely unscientific research, I’d estimate that the yogurt containers are designed to look close to 8 ounces, or a cup in American measurements. That’s a decent size amount, and worthy of enjoying on its own; or with the granola of your choice sprinkled in. However, because of the oversized false bottom on the container, the actual amount of food you’re getting to consume is far less than it appears at first glance. The total food inside is 5.3 ounces, a travesty in my opinion.

Whether rising food prices, inflation in general, or a number of other factors, Silk has chosen to keep the perceived size of the container the same as a dozen years ago, while pushing up the bottom on the inside. It frustrates me to no end, and I wonder if this is a way of hiding the cost of food inflation without consumers noticing.

There are far worse things in the world to be stressed over, but this is a little thing that just bothers me, and I wish Silk would sell a standard cup sized yogurt, without resorting to what I perceive as dark patterns. This is no way reflective on them in particular, I just complain because I like their food so much. This happens across the board with so many food products, and some times to a point of being ludicrous.

Anyway, enough ranting on that. I’m going to go buy some more yogurt.

Upgrading phones for the camera

The latest release of the iPhone this year has me thinking about my phone again. My previous model, the iPhone X, was chosen for its camera. Portrait mode blew me away. I bought an iPhone 12 Pro Max last year with one purpose in mind, to get a camera that could handle better low-light situations. As a father of two small children, I try my best to capture pictures of my kids in as many environments as possible. They’re getting a little older, 4 and 8, so asking them to hold still for a moment has become easier. Still, there’s something about being able to pull out my camera, press a button, and have a decent picture most of the time. My phone does that, and I love it.
Over the past year I’ve managed to take a lot of photos, and several dozen are images I can say that I’m quite proud of; some are of landscapes and outdoors shots, and the rest are of my family. Those are my two main purposes for wanting a phone with a great camera.
With that said, my current phone is massive. Even after a year I still feel that it’s a large phone, much more than I need. When I picked between the four available I went with the one that had the best low-light camera.
This year, with the iPhone 13, both pro models have identical cameras. And, based on reviews so far, it seems like a decent incremental upgrade over what I have today in terms of camera. In my mind I always run the decision tree of need versus want. This is absolutely a case of wanting the latest tech, but having something now that is more than sufficient.
So, first world problems and all, I’m at a bit of an impasse over whether to upgrade. Before I waited three years, and now I’ve been planning to wait two years. A funny thing starts to happen though, as my phone gets older. In the first year of purchase I take more photos and start to play with the latest changes. As time passes I take less. This is fine, I have so many great photos of my kids. However, I like to incentivize myself to take more and capture those moments. Each years the tech gets a little better and pushes the limits of what I can take.
I’ve all but stopped carrying around my DSLR. Granted, it’s a lower end model, but for years it caught the kinds of pictures my phone could only dream of. Now, based on my knowledge of the devices and the ease with which an iPhone allows capturing a shot, I’m often happier with what I can take on the phone, especially with it always being on me.
Since my goal is to get great pictures of my kids, and fun new technology enables that, I don’t feel too bad about the upgrades.
I may try and figure out a way to sell my phone and upgrade, but it’s a bit of a nightmare since I’m still on a plan through my phone carrier.

Focusmate

I’ve tried just about every productivity hack, tip, and methodology. Over the past decade and a half I’ve researched tons of methods for improving my ability to get stuff done. Some work, some don’t, all of them wear off.

At the end of the day my ability to get something done comes down to a combination of personal energy reserve, technical ability to complete the task, collaboration with team mates, and one other crucial ingredient. Over the short term I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. However, over the long term, my ability to show up day to day and keep pushing on a project is directly related to the level at which the project pushes me. If something is too easy it’s hard to stay excited and motivated. If something is too hard I feel blocked and overwhelmed.

This ability to find something just hard enough, just at the level of challenge, enough to engage me – frankly, that’s something I live for and search for.

When all of these components line up I’m able to enter a state of flow, and that is a beautiful thing. I’m a designer for a variety of reasons. I love the outcomes of my work, seeing things grow and bring joy and value to others. But there’s another component that’s equally important. The act of doing, The Practice, the showing up each day, matters. I want to get into a state of loving what I do, of striving to learn, of forgetting time for hours on end and pouring over ideas to create something better. If a third of my life is devoted to work I want to enjoy that work.

So, to bring that full circle to my point, I listened to a recent Focused episode, interviewing the Founder of Focusmate. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m blown away. I’ve heard about Focusmate before, had it in my mind as something to try eventually. Thanks to the episode I gave it a try and dove in. Now I’m 3 sessions in and ready to throw a bunch of superlatives out there and tell everyone how amazing it is.

Granted, this is new, and perhaps this will wear off as well. However, there’s something special about meeting with another person, telling them for a moment what you plan to do, then having them as an accountability partner over the next 25 minutes. I love it, and I’m hooked, and want to explore where this goes over the coming days.

Writers Write

The past two years have been a blast. Six days a week, 1,000 words per day. This was the minimal guidance that Stephen King suggested in On Writing, and I took it to heart. On the majority of days I add to the books I’m writing, and push them forward a half chapter, or a full chapter, one day at a time.

On my off days I’ll write anyway, and just not add to my books. This may be a personal journal entry, or a blog post. This decision, knowing that I’ll write no matter what, has been such a positive one. I’ve completed 7 novels, three of which are published, and am in the start of an 8th novel.

I’m a writer because I write, not for any other reason. The joy comes in the doing, that’s the reason to keep moving forward; or at least the biggest reason.