Handing over more money to Apple

About this time last year, I had a bit of a spasm on tech updates, which included opting for the then-brand new Magic Mouse – a mouse that did away with the scroll wheel and buttons and replaced it with a touch-sensitive surface instead. Initial reports were good, I had none of the feared ergonomics/RSI consequences from its slim, low-profile form factor that doubters had predicted.

Since then, the Magic Mouse has become somewhat eclipsed by the latest trendy young thing in Apple’s line-up, the Magic Trackpad. That basically extends the touch sensitive surface of the Magic Mouse to a flat slate surface, allowing Apple to introduce all the swiping and pinching gestures that have taken the mobile world by storm on the iPhone and and iPad.

I kind of should like the Magic Trackpad, and yet I find myself slightly non-plussed. The Magic Mouse by contrast may seem to be an awkward, slightly cludgy combination of old (mouse) and new (touch), but the fact is I like that compromise and it seems to me to be the best of both worlds. So I haven’t really seriously considered a Magic Trackpad and am happy with my current set-up.

Well – with one caveat. As reported in my Tech Update post, the Magic Mouse is greedy when it comes to batteries and certainly offers nothing close to the suggested 3 month life before expiring. Maybe I’m using it too much, or maybe I’m just not holding it the right way? No, wait, that’s a different Apple product …

In fact it’s not really all that bad in the grand scheme of things – I know some people with wireless/Bluetooth mice who are changing batteries every month. But something about having to buy batteries on a too-regular basis and feed them into hungry tech devices really irritates the heck out of me; especially when, as in the case of a mouse, I would be perfectly happy if it wasn’t wireless at all and was fed power by a nice USB cable like my old mouse was. But no, that would spoil the design of Apple’s beautiful Magic Mouse, wouldn’t it, so we can’t have a cable.

It actually irks me so much that periodically I’ll switch back to using the old Mighty Mouse with its gunged-up nipple scroll-wheel and its jumping optical tracking – until those get me so riled up that I remember why I got the new mouse in the first place and how much better it is. If not for those damn batteries …

Well, you can see what’s coming: the obvious direction to go in at this point is to say, “why not rechargeable batteries”? Quite so. And this week, as the low battery sign came on my Mac again, I was kicked into action to do just that.

Now it’s not like I haven’t had rechargeable batteries before now. But somehow I always manage to end up losing the recharger. It gets stuffed into a cupboard and never seen again, because it’s never exactly the nicest bit of electrical kit – it’s exactly the sort of thing that gets stuffed in that messy drawer with the leftover plugs and spare fuses. It’s not like a piece of Apple kit where even a laptop power supply or a remote control becomes a work of art that you practically want to put in a display case in the middle of your lounge to show off. If only Apple did a battery charger … But then, what could even Apple do with something so dull, utilitarian and long in the tooth as a battery recharger?

Informed readers will know what’s coming next: Apple have indeed recently brought out a battery charger. And it has brought the unmistakable hallmark of Apple design to it as well, looking for all the world like one of those gorgeous laptop power suppliers … but then in the hollowed-out back of the unit, there’s space to insert two batteries. (Only two? Why yes, because anything more wouldn’t fit, would be ugly and spoil the form factor, and we can’t have that!)

The unit comes with six rechargeable batteries in total and a nice bit of reasoning that two are for your wireless Magic Mouse or Trackpad, two more for your Apple Wireless Keyboard, and two on charge waiting to swap in. Go on, admit it – that level of insight (explaining why six and not four or eight which most battery packs come in) is somehow really, really effective and gives you a nice warm feeling somewhere deep inside that someone understands you and is looking out for you. The batteries aren’t Apple branded thankfully (that would be just too twee) but they’re silver and stylishly plain and there’s no question that they’re meant to stand proudly alongside every Apple iMac/mouse/keyboard/trackpad in the range.

You can of course get cheaper – much cheaper rechargers, but I don’t care – this is a unit that’s actually going to stay with me for years to come: I wouldn’t dare put it into an electrical odds-and-sods drawer and lose it.

Postscript

In fact the real downside of buying the Apple recharger at the Regent Street store is that little retail accidents can happen as a result. I somehow hadn’t allowed for the fact that the recharger would be on the shelves next to the Magic Trackpad and the Apple Wireless Keyboard. But they were – right in front of me as I picked up the item I came in for.

Now the trackpad still has very little appeal to me. And I have no interest in replacing my iMac keyboard with a wireless one. So on the face of it, this moment of temptation should have been easily overcome.

Except …

Whenever anyone asks me what I use my iPad for (stay with me here, I haven’t veered totally off-topic!) I invariably say that it’s a great consumer device for reading emails, tweets, RSS feeds, browsing, playing games, watching TV recordings; but that I never use it for content creation. I wouldn’t write this blog post on it, for example.

Why? Well, the on-screen touch-keyboard is fine for pecking out short message, but for anything longer I invariably start resting my fingers where I shouldn’t, or my fingers stray out of position, or brush somewhere they shouldn’t, and before I know it I have complete gobbledegook on the screen and have to start again. It’s frustrating enough to limit its use as a proper input/content creation device.

Dear reader, you can see what’s coming next: the idea of an Apple Wireless Keyboard that can be used to input into the iPad, right? Yup, that was all it took for me to swipe one of those keyboards form the shelves (and take directly to the checkout, he adds hurriedly, lest you think this is a tale of shoplifting!)

It’s a bit of a cliché these days to talk about “plug-and-play”, but it still impresses the hell out of me when I can turn a device on, activate Bluetooth on the iPad and select the device, type in an ID number as instructed on-screen … and the whole thing just works. Straight away. With no problems, nothing else to configure. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over how great such easy moments are.

So now I’m going to see whether that set-up allows me to start writing up motorsports reports during the race, without having to decamp to the computer; whether it will be a good set-up for using out of the home, at meetings and other places. I’ll report back in a while once I know more.

But in the meantime, an immediate impression of the Apple Wireless Keyboard: wow, it’s gorgeous. Incredibly slim, light, and yet at the same time solid and tough and hard wearing. It’s tiny and rather cute and yet completely full-sized as a keyboard should be. I remember the plastic, breakable keyboard on my old Powerbook G4 ten years ago, and compare it with this – the difference in build quality and attention to detail is something else. And I loved (and still love) that Powerbook G4.

Once again, then, Apple win and triumphantly extract more money from me. And once again, I not only don’t mind – I thank them for it. How do they manage this retail alchemy? If the rest of us knew we’d all be a lot better off.

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