Last Thursday, Apple announced the new MacBook Pro line. This has been a long time coming and people have been waiting to update their old models to the new ones. For a lot of people, the MacBook Pro is their only computer, and doubles up as a home entertainment and professional editing machine/workstation. Understandably, a lot of people were looking forward to this event.
And then it happened. And it was The Worst Thing Ever™. Or so some people say.
To be honest, I don’t think the new machines are all that bad. However, I can see where some of these people are coming from. The improvements are welcome but Apple once again demonstrated a misplaced sense of priorities when it comes to designing its machines. For a long time, the company’s focus has been to make its products as thin and light as possible. Even in the past this has resulted in some really stupid decisions, such as the single USB port on the very first generation MacBook Air.
A lot of the “compromises” on the MacBook Pros are essentially due to the design having to be as thin, light, and easy on the eyes as possible. The lack of faster CPU, more powerful GPU, faster, higher capacity RAM, are all due to the battery restrictions that Apple placed upon itself because it decided to have a thin and light body. Sure, the machines are still faster than the previous generation but the argument is they could have been more powerful.
Then there is the switch to USB-C ports. I’m a bit ambivalent about these; there is no denying that USB-C is the future and having one port that does quadruple duty as power, data, video, and audio is fantastic. And if it is the future then it would be better for everyone if we moved towards it quicker and drop legacy support for older interfaces cold turkey. On the other hand, it’s not that easy to drop standards that have been around for decades.
With Apple dropping legacy ports, accessory manufacturers aren’t going to start making USB-C devices immediately, which means you’ll have to rely on docks and dongles. But the very presence of these docks and dongles means accessory manufacturers don’t have to upgrade their connectors any time soon. So this is a really shitty chicken and egg situation that Apple has created and the winners in this are Apple and the accessory manufacturers and the losers, as usual, are the consumers.
Sure, eventually this will all change and we will have native USB-C devices to plug in directly. But no one knows how long that will take, which means resigning to the dongle life for the foreseeable future.
Personally, I’m more miffed about the lack of an SD slot. Unlike, say, your external keyboard or portable hard drive that will someday get a native USB-C connector, SD cards are now forever relegated to the dongle life. One of the things that I loved about notebooks is that almost all of them come with a native SD slot that would just let you plug the card in. Anyone who uses their camera a lot knows how irreplaceable the SD slot on their computer is. Having to use an adapter every single time here onwards sounds like a major annoyance to me.
The whole outburst can be summed up nicely by what Marco Arment said in his latest podcast. Basically, the Pro model was the one people look to for the least compromised experience. Apple mostly got away with the 12-inch MacBook having just one USB-C port because you could say, well, it’s not for professionals and if you want a lot of ports and performance there is always the MacBook Pro. But that’s not really the case anymore and even the MacBook Pro has now become somewhat of a compromise, a sacrifice at the altar of thin and light design. Marco also said that different people will find different reasons to complain about with this machine, such as the lack of an SD slot in my case, and one could say well, you are a small fraction of the target audience. But even though a small number of people might have issues with a particular thing with this machine, a lot of people have problem with at least one thing on this machine. Which is why this year we are hearing a lot of people complain, even if it’s not about any one particular thing.
Apple did improve on some things, though. The display is now brighter and supports the DCI-P3 color space that we saw on the iMac with Retina display, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the iPhone 7, in that order. There is also a new trackpad with 2x the surface area. The speakers have been improved. The MacBook Pro is also available in Space Gray although I would have much rather had it in black. The keyboard is merely… different. I’m not too fond of the first generation butterfly switch mechanism on the MacBook but the MacBook Pro has a second generation version of that with better sense of travel and feedback, but I’ll have to wait to personally try it to see how good or bad it is. One thing that is unequivocally better, though, is that each key has its own backlight and the keyboard has none of the backlight leak around the keys, characteristic of MacBooks for a while now and something I’ve never been fond of.
Then, of course, there is the Touch Bar. I did see some dismissal of this, citing it as mostly gimmicky, but I think it’s pretty cool. All I’ve seen is the stuff Apple showed in its keynote and I am already sold on the idea. I think it’s pretty cool to have a row of controls that adapts to the app, and the implementation I’ve seen so far is all very good. I’m sure other developers will soon find even cooler ways to take advantage of it, as Mac developers generally tend to. I also think it’s fine that Apple continues to disregard touchscreens on laptops as I, too, am not fond of that idea much. A row of touch buttons right where your hands are and within your peripheral vision is a much more elegant solution, even if Lenovo did think of it before Apple.
The new MacBook Pros, warts and all, do come with a significant price bump. The warts are what makes this a bit hard to swallow. Professionals probably won’t think twice before dropping their money on it but the average consumer will definitely have to reconsider things now.
Moving on from the MacBook Pro, there have been talks about the future of the Mac platform, in general. Considering how Apple hasn’t given a redesign or even updated the specs of several of the models in the series for years now, the general consensus is that Apple does not care anymore about the Mac platform and is only concerned about the cash cow, which happens to be the iPhone (and to a lesser extent the iPad, which still sells a lot).
Apple did verbally assure that it does care about the Mac platform. I’m not sure if it really does or not but there is no denying some changes are coming to the platform in the near future, that not everyone will like.
I personally feel the days of the Mac mini are severely numbered. The Mac mini has been the “affordable” Mac for years now. Last time I checked, Apple doesn’t make affordable products anymore. It’s not like it’s being a dick, but it’s just a conscious decision I guess to move away from mainstream price points as it allows you to push harder with developing a product without worrying too much about its final cost and it also has the added advantage of making the brand seem impressive if it only produces the best, most expensive products in every category. The only other affordable product Apple made was the iPod shuffle, and it’s barely a thing anymore. It’s likely by next year the iMac will become the company’s only desktop computer.
As for the Mac Pro, I don’t think Apple will discontinue it, even though I heard people saying that as well. I feel Apple might be waiting on Intel and AMD for the right hardware parts for the next upgrade, which could happen next year.
The MacBook Air is also something I feel is long for this world. My feeling is that the MacBook will drop down to $999, possibly by next year itself, and then we will go back to the days of having a MacBook and a MacBook Pro.
As for me personally, I still have a 2012 MacBook Air, ancient compared to most of the other tech in the house, but works reasonably well for my needs. I don’t use it as my main computer as I have a custom-built Windows PC for that so I don’t really care much that it’s not all that powerful or the RAM isn’t enough or the display is garbage. I think I might use it for another year and if and when my ‘MacBook replacing MacBook Air’ theory does come true, I will probably go for that. I don’t think I’ll mind the lack of power much and since I’m going to be using dongles or a dock anyway, even the single USB-C port.