Last year, French citizens fought over discounted pots of Nutella. And my MacBook Pro screen started to lose its antireflection coating in patches. So I’m hoping for a cheaper Hasselblad X1D. Umair Haque explains.
Bill Gates became the world’s richest man not by inventing an operating system but by turning as many people as possible into millionaires. Even secretaries. Initially, Microsoft was a tide that lifted all boats.
Amazon, Facebook and others do the almost exact opposite. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg seem to thrive by collecting the lifeblood from millions and concentrating it into the pockets of a few. Their business model hinges around 2 things :
(1) Finding a primal weakness in the human brain (a lust for cheap prices at all costs, the reluctance to wait, the desire to brag, pry or binge, any other lowest common denominator of our kind)
(2) Exploiting and accelerating feedback loops between users of the system.
Do that and work as hard at it as they did and you’ll get very rich as well. As rich? Probably not, that level of “success” is 100% down to pure luck.
It’s a lot easier to appeal to our basest instincts than to our noblest ones because they are hard wired into our survival brain, our lizard brain, which has a direct line to our will and behaviour. Noble attitudes are trained over years in a part of the brain that’s much slower and less powerful when it comes to directing our actions.
That’s why the luxury sector uses scarcity (fear of loss) and price (animal pack ranking) as the two main levers of its success. And that’s why many people, even on the breadline, would much rather spend a grand on a handbag made of peeled crocodile and toxic pigments, or fight over kilos of a brown substance that can create lifelong addiction for their kids and reduce their life expectancy by a decade, rather than help a charity. Basic instincts, animal instincts.
Think of it as psychological gravity. It’s much easier to push down than to lift up. It’s why the popular kids at high school are often bullies, why porn is more successful than Wim Wenders, why educational blogs get 1% the traffic of brand war forums …
The Mac is back! Long live the Mac.
I’m not an Apple fanboy. My phone’s a Samsung, my tablet doesn’t exist, I don’t have an active iTunes account or chewed apple stickers on my fridge. But when the time came to replace my 30 month old Windows based gaming laptop that had – very literally – started falling apart, the best all rounder for my needs turned out to be a 2016 MacBook Pro (I don’t play but needed the power for Photoshop and Capture One). And I’ll ever be grateful to co-author Paul for twisting my arm so convincingly on that subject.
The MBP’s been an 85/15 blend of bliss and fury.
On the plus side, in spite of written specification, it is sooo much more powerful in real life (for my needs, probably not for gamers) than my then very-top-of-the-range XMG that, at first, I couldn’t believe it.
It looks stunning. With its new screen, it actually looks brand new, in spite of 12+ hours of daily use for 2+ years, lots of traveling and handling. And the screen itself is exceptional: well enough calibrated for my needs and super bright, even in direct sunlight.
On the negative flip side, the keyboard, while super fast and pleasant, is easily thrown off by dust settling under the keys. Way too easily. And the Siri key is located in a stupid position: the Delete key is tiny and the Siri key sits right next to it, so it’s really easy to launch numbnuts Siri by mistake (although, thanks to Paul, I now know this is configurable). If you’re worried AI will soon take your job, just launch Siri and feel that warm feeling of reassurance flow through you.
Oh, and the screen, however brilliant, started to look grubby around the edges after just a few months and got increasingly worse over time as the anti-reflection coating started peeling off in ugly patches. Thankfully, Apple replaced it free of charge (651 €) and cleaned the computer completely, even though my warranty period had expired. Service was efficient, communication excellent, really a great experience throughout.
Apple represent a very different type of conquering business than Facemazon. Their growth has been based on selling dreams, simplicity and excellence, not just cheap and convenient or sleazy. Apple, while far from perfect themselves, do push higher order values, compared to most competitors, behave in a more ethical manner (yes, yes, yes, I know about the copyright wars, the planned obsolescence …), treat their employees better, source cleaner components, innovate more, design beautifully, build incredibly well, market to creative tunes, not to meaningless numbers …
Notice I didn’t mention the price in my list of negatives? For a $3k+ machine, that might seem odd. But it’s not. Yes, it was over 50% more expensive than a direct replacement for its predecessor, but after 25 months, a period that saw my XMG about to give up the fight against the daily grind and turn into a high-entropy pile of components, my MBP is as good as new. Internally, obviously, I have no idea. But if all goes well, I’ll keep on using it with pleasure in 10 years time. Not only is that a heck of a lot cheaper than my previous laptops, it’s also a tremendously nicer feeling.
So what about the market’s discombobulation vis a vis APL, you might ask? Well, yes, there’s that profit warning. There’s the fact that Donald Trump and his war against everything that isn’t American and Republican is costing Apple billions in Chinese retaliation. But those are just triggers. They reveal a latent image of darker gloom. They play a catalytic role in an implosion that I feel is linked to something far deeper and more troublesome.
Co-author Philippe once told me a Russian joke about the systematic alternation between a hairy tsar and a bold tsar, that ends with an eternal Putin / Medvedev / Putin / Medvedev … cycle. Large companies often behave similarly. They get propelled by a visionary CEO (Jobs) then turned into cash cows by financial CEOs. Then, the lack of innovation takes its toll until a new visionary launches the company into a higher orbit and so on.
To me, the market deflation of the world’s first ever trillion dollar corporation is indicative of how far Apple has strayed from its true DNA of simplicity and excellence. The OS is ridiculously complex. iPad Pros have the best spec in the history of mankind but an OS that doesn’t allow multi-tasking to exploit them. The product range is too rich and complex. It’s not all bad because Cook & Ive are brilliant blokes, but the tyrannic hand of a true visionary seems to be sorely missing at the helm nonetheless.
Planned obsolescence at Apple was cheap tactic that revealed they could no longer make product desirable enough to fuel organic growth. (A bit like a camera that gets replaced by a new models with minor changes but gets in such a bad state after a couple of years that you are left with little choice. Just sayin’) I really hope that visionnary cleansing phase returns soon to Apple. Because a world ruled by politicians, Facebook and Amazon desperately needs companies like Apple that push upwards, not down.
Let me end my ramble with this. My camera is now roughly where my laptop was 2 years and a bit ago. Alive, but struggling a little. Having cost 3 grand and with a residual value of maybe 20% that, it makes no sense for me to sell it and I’ll keep it until it dies. And it’s unlikely the successor will be a Sony. As much as I try to believe that Sony’s technology-before-all approach to market domination can yield benefits for all users and not just those interested in 8K filming of fast-moving dark objects at night with zooms, I simply can’t afford to sink 3 grand every 3 years into a camera. Particularly not into one I’ve never been 100% happy with and never really provided me with a sense of pride of ownership.
Fuji have released an interesting MF camera that looks like it could be a very interesting alternative. But since every reviewer I’ve read insists on adding tons of filters on images, it’s really hard to get a feel of what the camera’s actually look like unplugged. Rather conveniently, though, rumours of a Hasselblad X2D bubbled up very recently (thanks for the link, Dallas!). This is seriously exciting. The X2D could be the camera I’ve been waiting for so long. Not because of its unnecessary 100Mpx, but because it would mechanically bring the price of the X1D down significantly.
Three reasons have prevented me from buying the X1D. (1) The thought of changing my PP workflow, particularly in B&W. (2) I’m more interested in investing time and money in printing. (3) It’s not worth 10 grand to me. It may be worth every penny in terms of value, but the slice of my budget it represents is simply too high for what it offers. At half the price, though … now we’d be talking.
I really like Hasselblad. Like Apple, they are far from perfect. The reliability issues some readers have warned me about chilled my bones, for instance. And fun seems absent from the USP. But, like Apple, and unlike most of the photo world, they push upwards not down. And the X1D brings me lasting pleasure.
Technical specifications are lizard-brain marketing. They talk to our fear of not getting the shot and our need to impress. My ISO is bigger than yours. For most users, they are absolutely meaningless, obscure the essentials of creativity, and represent the lowest element of value. The tech spec to quality to usability blend of most cameras today is so far out of whack it would make Steve Jobs go insane. Hasselblad don’t talk specs. They produce a wonderfully simple, elegant and high-performance camera in a robust and elegant design that’s a joy to use day in day out. Remember when photography was about joy?
I’m hoping the X1D will be to my photography what the Macbook Pro has been to my work. A companion that’s (85% of) always a total joy to be working with, a super high performance tool and a durable machine that will finally get me out of that ruinous 2-3 year replacement cycle. The camera that ends the search and make my gear concerns go tits up.
Here’s to hoping.
A world in which what is agruably the most democratic creative hobby has been successfully transformed into a technological rat race, and where electronic specifications matter more than talent honing practise, desperately needs companies like Hasselblad that push upwards, not down (not that they are the only ones).
If I haven’t bored you enough, here’s more reading worth your time 🙂
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