This weekend, I finally found some time to unpack, setup, and use the Mac Mini that I had bought two weekends ago. Even though I am a long-time PC user and have barely dug into OS X, I have to say that I am very satisfied and impressed with the entire "Apple experience". Well, I am not yet to the point of switching, but let's just say that I am starting to understand the stereotypical "Machead" now that I am also a Mac user.

The Apple Store

Buying the Mac Mini felt like one of the most impulsive purchase I have ever made in my life. Usually, I like to dig around for information online, read comparative reviews, evaluate random user opinions, look at prices, evaluate my needs/fit, etc... mull over the decision over a period of time far longer than the average impulse... and then I make an informed purchase. Hey, I like making my own decisions, thank you very much... not whatever thoughts the advertisers plant in my mind through some information medium.

But, Apple is in an unique position in that some of those tasks are unnecessary - there are no comparisons, apple.com has all the info, and need/fit evaluation is really simple - if you want something of Apple, then there is only one place to get it. In my case, I got hooked on Mac OS X after briefly playing around with it a few months ago, and I did not want to wait for the Intel port scheduled for release next year... and having Virtual PC for Mac and Remote Desktop helps a whole lot in staying connected with my PCs. So, the purchase was pretty much a done deal when I walked into the Apple Store.

Instead, I decided to focus on the atmosphere and ambience of the Apple purchase experience. The Apple Store in Bellevue buzzed with traffic and excitement, and sales must be good. No, this was not the Best Buy/Circuit City sort of chaotic excitement... it was far more subdued and intimate. Tons of people milled into the store - parents looking to continue the Mac legacy, teenagers teeming over the iPods, college-bound students choosing between iBooks and iMacs... and who could miss the 30" Apple Cinema LCD displays? The sales associates enthusiastically worked the demos and offered great advice on how to accomplish a variety of common user scenarios, keeping people informed and happy with their upcoming purchase. And as I wondered through the store displays, the thought that kept coming to mind was: "This is how computers should be acquired! Not merely as some generic business instrument to be bought, but as an experience of fulfilling a personal need."  Unlike most of my gadget purchases, this one felt more like fulfilling a phenomenon and not a purchase. I still have no idea how Apple evoked this imagery for me, but kudos to them.

Unpacking the Mac Mini

Ok, you can laugh at me for taking digicam photos as I unpacked and set up the Mac Mini; I certainly never expected it to happen, but it did and I am not ashamed to say it. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I don't know how to describe it, but the Mac just seems like it is a work of art done with a lot of care and pride, and it resonates with my stupidly sentimental side that wants to preserve and savor every moment. Call me crazy, but I love these little details...

It starts with the exterior box - I took a lot of care and peeled away the various stickers, tape, and seals from the exterior of the box such that I have the original box, pristine and unadulterated by the process of sales. I cringe at dented, scuffed, and otherwise blemished packaging... so even if it takes me some time, I will figure out how to open something without irrevocably damaging it in some way.

It continues with the box opening. Contrary to most products, which stick the business end of a "Quick Start" or other informative insert to greet you when opening a box, Apple simply had its software CDs inside a classic brushed steel colored folding container featuring the declaration "Designed by Apple in California". It was so different and unexpected that it made me pause for a moment. Even though the words were simply printed and presented, the effect on me was equivalent to having received a personal hand-written note attached to a photo of the entire Mac Mini development team. The amount of pride and sentimental intent conveyed by those words moved me. Here I am, a customer merely opening up a product I had purchased, and instead of abruptly leaving me alone with a "Quick Start" insert, I get a reminder that I am unraveling a "work of art" designed and built by Apple.

Yeah, that experience completely colored the remainder of the Mac Mini unpacking.

I usually care about the internal packaging as well, and consistent with the "work of art" theme, I really appreciated the fact that all of the packaging sleeves with the Mac Mini are lightly adhesive and does not require any irrevocable ripping. I take a lot of care to preserve all packaging such that years down the line, I am still able to repack any item back in its original state when I first opened it. So, I really hate the cheaper packaging that requires me to cut/rip the plastic bags... and I took notice of the reusable and lightly adhesive wrapping used by Apple. I also keep track of all the twist-ties and rewind them in the exact same way they originally came in... yup, details...

Yes, I am surprised at how naturally the Mac Mini resonates with my sensibilities and the impressions it made. I really did not treat it like some gadget I purchased, but rather a work of art that I had the opportunity and privilege to enjoy. Strange, but true...

First Thoughts on Mac OS X

Ok, now that I have completely freaked out my regular PC-user readership, let me just say that I keep an open yet inquisitive mind that is willing to try new experiences. :-) Who knows, it could be enlightening!

I have not fully explored Mac OS X yet. But, the parts that I have encountered blew me away with amazement. The words I would use to describe the visual elements of Mac OS X would be "sexy and sophisticated with a cute edge." It's true; that's exactly how it feels to me! :-)

  • Icons will lightly bounce in the Dock as the application starts up or whenever it needs your attention. Windows uses a distracting and quickly annoying title flashing in the Task Bar. I just think it is cute for applications on the computer to visibly "bounce" and beckon for my attention. I actually look forward to giving it attention vs. the usual grumble when dealing with a flashing Windows Task Bar title.
  • Aqua makes blue fashionably cute yet sophisticated. The PushButtons even lightly pulsate when you hover the mouse over it, inviting action. The ProgressBar animation actually flows counter to the actual status progression, which makes it seem to complete faster. Matched against a light industrial steel background in the window, everything seems strong yet softly appealing
  • Expose - what an awesome concept for window/application management. I now love leaving my windows open... because I can quickly wonder over to a hot corner and trigger this visual re-location of the window of interest
  • By default the Mac Mini goes to "Sleep" after 10 minutes... after which its single solitary silver light smoothly pulses with a rhythm rather similar to calm breathing... so soothing.

The entire visual scheme of OS X just evokes in me a subtle sense of feminine sensibilities and softened care... yet reinforced along the industrial steel backdrop. I can directly contrast this against the plain, business-like, and sharp edges of Windows 2000 and the gaudy curves and colors of Windows XP. No contest. Visually, I find OS X very inviting and comforting, not to mention interesting.

Yes, I have had a lot of fun and learned a lot by going through the Apple experience.

Thanks, Jenn, for introducing the idea.

//David