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MacBook Pros are no longer for pros

10/28/2016

 Geekbench performance charts as of today, Oct 28th 2016.

The Macbook Pro with Retina has been the modern day workhorse laptop, I see them everywhere. I can count on 1 hand the number of "pro" users (photographers, developers, designers, etc) I know that don't have one. And all of those people, minus the guy who is happy with his Xeon powered laptop, have an aging Mac Pro instead. The MacBook Pro with Retina (which I will simply call MacBook Pro or MBP from here on out) is an amazing machine. My late 2013 MBP is still (3 years later) in the top 15 fastest Macs that have ever been possible to buy. I'm not sure whether that says more about Apple's failure or the plateau of x86 performance - though I'll guess it's on the Apple side of the fence, if only by a little.

A digression:

As long as I've been alive, I've been an Apple fan. I endured > years> of ridicule, and even relished in being the weird outsider. My dad owned a few Apple retail shops back in the late 80s and early 90s; back when Apple Stores didn't exist. Being an Apple fan was "baked-in", you could say. Apple keynotes have been nearly as exciting as birthdays and Christmas for as long as I can remember. I've only missed a couple live video streams, and I've watched many of them more than once (2007 iPhone announcment anyone?).

Leading up to yesterday, I felt the same excitement as always. For days I was getting pumped at the thought of an entire line refresh, pumped. And I wasn't expecting all new form factors - I WAS SO EXCITED because I expected speed bumps across the line. That it's. A long shot would be to get an acknowledgement of, "yeah - we dropped the ball, but we are committed to the Mac". They even used "Hello, again" as the invite slogan. "hello", as John Siracusa pointed out on ATP recently, is Apple lore. Apple nailed it when they used it again on the iMac in 1997. Apple is not sentimental, and yesterday proves it.

They use an entire event for a MacBook Pro refresh that solves zero problems that pro users need solved. In addition, Apple didn't mention desktop Macs on stage, none of them received speed bumps, none of them received price drops. "We're committed to the Mac" is feeling pretty hollow to this Mac fan.

Apple is selling a 2013 Mac Pro at the same price as when it was launched.

And, in fact - it got more expensive in several areas of the world. If the prior 2 sentences aren't embarrassing to the leadership at Apple, then the Apple I've loved my entire 32 year old life, is not the Apple I've thought I knew. I'm not blaming Apple for the fluctuation in currency value, but it highlights the pricing issue of a 3 year old machine.

Are the new MBPs great machines? Yeah, it sure looks like it. Touch ID, wide gamut P3 screens, TB3 + USB3.1 are all great features. But I don't think these machines are for pros any longer. Pros aren't unhappy with the thickness or weight of the MBP that they had yesterday. Pros don't need a Touch Bar that requires them to look down from what they were working on to interact with. If you're hands are on the keyboard and trackpad, what is the advantage of looking down to a Touch Bar to find a button that is on the toolbar of the document you are currently looking at? Pros don't need tiny pictures of browser tabs in front of the keyboard - they are too busy looking up at the screen and getting shit done. This is added to the fact that most pros don't use the laptop by itself. They have it plugged in to an external keyboard and mouse with a big monitor.

Were there some cool demos with the Touch Bar? Of course. Some of the audio/video uses were interesting - but overall, it felt more like a Windows SideShow gimmick than a product that Apple would make. Apple failed to tell a compelling story, and I think it's because there really isn't one.

So, now we have a laptop that's not in front of us - sometimes, or many times, in clamshell mode - that has a Touch Bar and a TouchID sensor that we can't easily use. What problems did that solve?

Did Apple address problems the pros want solved?

  • More RAM? Nope.
  • Higher performance GPUs? eh.
  • Faster CPUs? eh. They didn't even mention CPU gains on stage - that should tell you something.
  • Battery life? Nope.
  • Faster IO? Yep.

What problems did Apple create for pros?

  • Can no longer "touch type" Esc and Fn keys. Yes, people use these keys daily - surprise! that's why they are still around on keyboards. Hovering your finger over a touch target while not looking at it and hitting it repeatedly is going to cause headaches.
  • Dongles. The MBP has always needed a dongle or 2 (I'm looking at you ethernet), but now it's going to require no less than 4 for me to replicate my current needs, some daisy chained together. Blech
  • Optical audio out is gone

Symmetry > functionality

 Bonkers

They cared more about symmetry than proper placement, Fitt's law, and usefulness.

I won't be able to justify an upgrade to these machines to any "pro user" that I know from what they have now. Something I never expected to say after an Apple event.