I’ve been waiting for two years to see what Apple had in store for their new MacBook Pro.
After much deliberation. I’ve decided to skip the 2016 MacBook Pro. It’s a shame. I’ve waited more than a year for this release, but I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger.
I currently own a 2012 MacBook Air. It is without a doubt the best computer that I’ve owned. Among the others I’ve owned—a Dell Netbook (remember those?), I built two towers, I lugged around a 17-inch HP laptop that died after a year of use. The Air is also the first Apple I’ve had since my Power Macintosh 6200 (I think that’s what it was?) as a kid.
The Air is light and has a wedge-like form factor. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’d say that this wedge is more important than thinness itself. It helps the computer squeeze into my backpack when there is little room.
It was my first experience with solid state hard drives. Solid state drives are such an improvement over disc drives. It boots instantly. I open the computer type my password and I’m ready to get to work.
There are a ton of other things I love about the air, but even with all that love, five years is a long time for a computer. I’m due for an upgrade—it just won’t be this year.
I could forgive one or two product missteps, but there are too many negatives with the new MacBook Pro.
The loss of MagSafe makes me nervous. That magnetic connector is one of the best inventions for laptops. There have been several instances when someone has tripped over the charging cable. That design saved my computer. It always seems to happen at coffee shops, perhaps I’ll just need to avoid them.
I do see the value in USB-C charging and understand the direction apple is heading here. I’m all for less cables. In the future battery life may be long enough. It’s possible I won’t need to take out my charger in the coffee shop.
Battery life doesn’t seem to be there yet though. I’ve seen several reports of how dreadful this thing is with any sort of processor-heavy software running. Consumer reports says an upcoming patch fixes this. I’m skeptical.
Lack of traditional USB ports. This is a big one. I heard the rumors about apple going all in on USB-C, but figured that must be garbage. Certainly a tool for professionals would have one normal USB port?
I was wrong. Once again I believe USB-C is the future, but I think it was a terrible decision to force it on professionals all at once. I have a microphone for my podcast, I have a Thunderbolt display (the super old one with a mini display port, which it doesn’t even look like have a dongle)—I don’t want to go out and buy dongles. That’s even worse than carrying around a bunch of cables. On top of that I don’t know if I can pull the trigger on a new monitor. The computer is already expensive.
Price. Marking up these computers $400 seems ridiculous. I was expecting to pay up to $3,000 for it including Apple Care and tax, but many of the builds are over that limit. Did adding Touch Bar bump the price?
Touch Bar. Considering everything I’ve said about the new MacBook pro thus far, I would have purchased it. However, the Touch Bar is the final straw.
Removing the function key row and replacing it with a touch screen has to be one of the worst product design decisions Apple has ever made. I’ve looked through tons of reviews about the MacBook Pro. The most positive thing I’ve seen said about Touch Bar is that they mostly ignore it.
The problem with the touch bar is not in implementation, it’s in the concept—and that worries me.
In many cases screens are inferior interfaces for inputs. I don’t have to look down at my keyboard to change the volume with a button. I know where that key is and can feel it when my finger moves over it. Consider changing the volume on the touch bar there is no button to feel. Plus, instead of tapping the button it now requires the user to scroll with their finger to change the volume.
There’s also the nature of screens. Content is always changing. I’d hope that applications like Spotify have enough sense to keep the volume in the same place, but what about other programs that have access? It may mean you hit the wrong button, if you don’t look down.
We deal with touch screens on phones, because it’s not worth sacrificing space for keyboard buttons. Flexibility is preferred.
What About the Professionals?
There is a bigger question about the Apple ecosystem as a whole. One is the removal of the escape key—this is a big one for developers. VIM is a popular program, where escaping is both a common and critical action.
It make me wonder wonder—did Apple even consider the needs of people most likely to buy this computer? I imagine any engineer would have looked at the computer and raised concern immediately.
I know the Mac only makes a fraction of the company’s revenues, but you need a Mac to build iOS applications. If engineers building iOS apps move away from Apple, who will populate their ecosystem?
A Worthy Competitor
Apple is clearly feeling pressure from Microsoft right now.
I went to the Apple store shortly after the MacBook Pro became available. After leaving the store I went downstairs to the Microsoft store.
Let me tell you, the new hardware Microsoft is building is really good. Both the Surface Books and the new Surface Stuido look brilliant and feel like solid products. I’m not an illustrator, but I can see how the Surface Studio and it’s interesting dial may appeal to someone over a iMac and a Wacom.
And it’s not just the computers. The Xbox One S is one of the best looking electronics I’ve seen.
What Can Apple Do?
There is one model without the Touch Bar, but it’s a farce.
The non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro is the weakest model in the lineup. Both the processor, RAM and onboard graphics lag behind the other models. Additionally, it only has two USB-C ports as opposed to four on the other models. Had apple allowed the same specs and number of ports I would have bought this computer, even though I wanted a 15-inch.
What can Apple do in it’s next product cycle?
Offer 13-and-15-inch non-Touch Bar options with equivalent specs. Make the Touch Bar an add-on—like adding additional RAM.
Apple doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to admitting mistakes. I hope this time is different. If they don’t ship an improved model of the MacBook Pro next year, I’d be worried about the long-term outlook.
Offer equivalent spec non-Touch Bar models and I’ll gladly pay. If there isn’t one in the next product cycle, I’ll have to search for alternatives.
As a disclaimer I’ve only spent a couple hours with the product. Many of my criticisms, such as changing the volume on Touch Bar models, may be negated with enough use.
After writing this piece, I had a discussion with a friend who was very positive about the 2016 Macbook Pro. He loved the interaction of changing the volume and noted that using Touch ID in place of a password saves time and prevents the irritation of a mistyped password.
If you have an experience you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to comment!