The day I bought my first laptop, I couldn’t sleep.
I still remember that evening. I was 19 and I went to the shopping center with my cousin. It was a 15'’ Compaq Presario. Possibly the cheapest and most stripped version of a laptop you could find in the market. But for the first time in my life, it was mine. That night, before sleeping, I placed it carefully on the bedside table and closed my eyes. I was barely asleep when a flash went through my eyes.
It wasn’t the traffic, or an ambulance. The Compaq’s sleeping light was blinking. In the pitch dark of the room every blink went like a shot. A tiny LED going off like a strobe light. ON-OFF. ON-OFF. ON-OFF. Standing there, I marveled at the audacity of the tiny whitish light before I threw a quilt on top of it.
In early 2013 I bought a MacBook. It was a late 2012 edition. It was the first time I had ever touched a Macbook, let alone own one. My perception of products changed forever.
But I only fell in love when I slept with it.
In 2008 Apple introduced Macbooks with a unibody chassis. The complete bottom half is carved out from a 2.5 lbs Aluminum block. 13 separate CNC milling operations chip away 90% of the Aluminum block. (The chips are then melted again into billets for reuse). CNC’s are slow and expensive and therefore not tradionally used for mass production. But the geometry and finish Apple designers wanted couldn’t be manufactured through traditional methods of die-casting. Apple just shrugged its shoulders and bought 10.000 CNC machines. The biggest highlight of the chassis is almost invisible. If you look carefully you can spot a tiny line beside the IR receiver . This is the Sleep Indicator Light (SIL). Using laser, a series of holes are etched inside an oval shape. These 20μm holes let the whitish glow of LED light through. When it’s off, there is no indication that it exists. At the time of its manufacturing, there was only one company in the world that could make such Laser. Apple first bought its entire production. Then it bought the entire company.
If you really want to see the true beauty of the SIL then put it beside your pillow and go to bed. When it is pitch dark you will see a small pulsating glow emanating from the thin LED. It’s subtle but still noticeable. It slowly starts to get bright, holds it there and then slowly dies down. Singing you to sleep. Like a lullaby.
After 8 years of use, I am writing these words from the same laptop.
Did Apple designers calculate the intensity and frequency of the SIL so you can fall asleep looking at it? Maybe.
But this is exactly why Apple wins. Not because they can throw money at everything. It is because of the smallest attention to details. Could Compaq have programmed their sleeping light so that it is unobtrusive? Probably Yes. Would it cost them millions? I don’t think so.
In the era of mass production, you need to give every customer a unique reason to love you. Just function is not enough. A million consumers want a million unique reason to make the product their own. That can only be done through obsesive attention to detail. And that is what Apple has learned to do best.