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The dwindling arms race of 'specs'

Dan Moren | July 13, 2015
Apple doesn't seem to put much emphasis on specs anymore, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dan Moren explains.

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It will, I'm certain, shock and surprise you to know that I'm the person anyone in my family comes to when they're thinking about buying a new piece of technology. But earlier this week, when my cousin came to me looking for advice about buying a new laptop, I realized something: The specs race is over.

I don't mean to suggest that computer specs aren't important--believe me, were I in the market for a new Mac, I'd be poring over Apple's product pages to figure out what I need. But where I used to be able to rattle off all the specs of my Mac like a car enthusiast discussing what's under their hood, these days, I honestly couldn't tell you what processor is in the MacBook Air I'm typing on at this very moment. (A 1.7GHz Intel Core i7, as it turns out, thanks to About This Mac.) 

I'm much more concerned with how my computer lets me get things done. And while specs play a part in that, stats like the number of gigahertz in a processor or cache sizes are no longer the most important factors in our technology experience.

Diminishing returns 

Apple has been moving steadily away from talking about specs for years. In part, that's because after the meteoric growth in the late 90s and early 2000s, a lot of those numbers have started to plateau--or even go backwards. Processors used to strive to hit that 4GHz mark, but none of my current Macs tops 2GHz. Many of us have traded the option for terabytes of storage for the smaller capacities of the MacBook Air and the like. Even the maximum RAM in a lot of Macs hasn't expanded much in the last few years.

And yet our computers have become no less functional. In part because the improvements have become orthogonal: More cores rather than faster clock speeds; faster solid-state storage instead of spinning platters; wireless Internet connections instead of Gigabit ethernet. 

All of those are substantial improvements to the way that we use our Macs, even if they aren't easily measured in numbers or demonstrated on a graph with a line heading steadily upwards.

Instead, though, Apple has spent much more time focusing on figuring out how to make computers better fit into our lives. This manifests in a variety of ways, such as the purely physical: Making them lighter, smaller, easier to carry around. Battery life has been a key area as well: The best laptop in the world isn't worth much if it runs out of juice at a critical moment.


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