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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.

None of this is to say that Apple doesn't still want to make its computers better, indulging in a game of higher, further, faster, more. The push towards Retina displays, after all, certainly smacks of the old race for speedier processors and bigger numbers, though Apple has focused more on the qualitative improvements of the experience than quantitative.

The mobile revolution 

But perhaps the biggest factor is the overriding shift in computing technology over the last almost-decade. To paraphrase the old adage about cameras, the best computer is the one you have with you, and that's increasingly not the Mac, but the iPhone and iPad.

And when it comes to the iPhone and the iPad, Apple really doesn't talk about numbers. Or, I should say, it doesn't talk about the numbers that we've come to expect in discussing computers. Sure, you can dig up the processor speeds or amount of RAM for any given iPhone, but you're not going to get them from Apple; you're more likely to find them out when the inevitable iFixit teardown surfaces.

Instead, Apple's going to talk about those same issues of weight, size, and so on, because those are what's important to most people in a personal, portable computer. (Perhaps the major exception there being cameras, though even there Apple likes to talk less about megapixels and more about the technical innovations that simply let the iPhone's camera take better pictures.)

By and large, people seem to be fine with that. The added improvements to new smartphones and tablets don't necessarily come from more RAM or even faster processors--though Apple does like to tout each new generation of chip inside the phones--but from things like higher quality and larger displays, added security features like Touch ID, and perhaps soon new dimensions of interaction, like Force Touch. 

Goodbye, Mr. Specs

In the end, the questions I use to determine which Mac and what specs someone needs is more about what they want to do with it then trying to figure out which numbers fits their needs. The truth is that the majority of the things that most of us do these days can be accomplished--and efficiently, to boot--on almost any Mac. (Heck, most of them can be done on an iPad or iPhone.)

In the same way that these days we generally worry less about our cars' horsepower and more about its gas efficiency, specs have ceased to become the most salient detail in our computer choices. The more pressing concern is simply whether they'll get us from point A to point B.


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