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The Power Macintosh 7300 proves good design is about function as much as form

Christopher Phin | May 26, 2015
These days, Apple's computers--whether they're designed to sit on a desk, rest on your lap, slip into your pocket or be strapped to your wrist--are for the most part sealed boxes. Even if you can crack the cases to get to the chips and circuit boards inside, increasingly you can't then do anything (except perhaps regret whatever course of action led you to tear apart some hitherto functioning hardware), since Apple has started soldering components to the motherboard.

You have to remember, though, both that the trade-off Apple makes today results in computers that are both more portable and less dominating, and that these days there is simply less need to upgrade a computer's internals. In the era of the Outrigger case, computers were generally slow, low-spec'd and expensive, and I don't just mean by modern standards. In order to eke out performance, you had to incrementally add or replace components as you could afford to.

I know this is heresy to a particular generation of computer users, but it's true: many users today will at worst find it a mild inconvenience that they can't upgrade their Apple devices. For the kinds of tasks we currently use them for — for the current computing paradigm, in other words — Macs are, and have been for a few years, fast and capable enough, and until there's a fundamental shift in what we demand computers do for us, a Mac you buy today will fulfill your needs for years without having a single component upgraded. (And when that fundamental shift does hit, merely switching to a faster processor isn't likely to be enough of a change anyway.)

None of this, though, detracts from my admiration for the design team who created the Outrigger case. It's a toweringly clever solution to a very real problem, and it's a salutary reminder that design is more about inside-out engineering than outside-in aesthetics. Or as Jobs put it, "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

 

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