You might not have heard about it, but there’s been a huge amount of backlash over the new MacBook Pros that Apple announced in October. Most laptop users greeted the slick new hardware as they have with most computer upgrades, which is to say they took it in stride. But many of the most dedicated and vocal Apple devotees were not so subdued. With the new lineup of MacBook Pros, Apple is, in many ways, going a different route than it has gone in the past. It’s changing what a MacBook Pro is, and many Apple fans are not happy.
To understand their frustration, we have to understand what a MacBook Pro has represented up to this point and compare it to what Apple is offering this year.
In the past, the MacBook Pro has always been a powerful laptop and Apple’s most capable portable computer. It’s always been the premier machine, a step ahead of the more consumer-level MacBook Air and standard MacBook. The word “Pro” in its name signaled its target audience: professional creative people who need powerful machines to do their work. Whether you needed to edit pictures, create videos, record music, write, develop apps, or work on high-end graphics, the Macbook Pro had your back.
The new MacBook Pros don’t quite line up with those ideals for creative professionals in 2016. Here’s where they fall short.
The new line of MacBook Pros includes three separate machines: a 13-inch one, a 13-inch one with a Touch Bar, and a 15-inch one with a Touch Bar. We’ll get into the Touch Bar below, but the new models all come with varying degrees of power and pre-set upgrade options.
The thing is, they run on AMD’s Radeon chips. While the new chipset is an improvement over the previous MacBook Pros, it’s not competitive with the Nvidia chips that power many other pro-level laptops these days. As Colin Cornaby notes on his blog, “While AMD has improved their performance compared to their previous generation, they’ve failed to take the performance crown from Nvidia. Nvidia’s low end professional notebook GPU, the GTX 1060m, is still almost twice as fast as the Radeon 460.”
Then there’s the RAM issue. In all of the new MacBook Pro models, the maximum amount of memory you can upgrade to is 16GB. While that’s certainly enough for your average consumer, it’s not nearly enough for many of the creative types who have relied on Macs in the past.
Older MacBook Pros came with a wide array of ports that let you plug just about anything into them. They had a breakaway MagSafe port that made sure your computer wouldn’t careen to the floor if someone tripped over your power cable. They also had an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, a FireWire port, USB ports, a built-in SD card reader, and a headphone jack.
In the new MacBook Pros, the only ports you get are a handful of Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack. There’s nothing wrong with Thunderbolt 3 ports — they’re incredibly versatile. But taking advantage of their versatility requires you to buy a seemingly endless series of dongles, one for each thing you want to plug in. The headphone jack is curious, seeing as Apple made a big deal recently about removing that jack from the iPhone 7, so it’s surprising it made the cut.
3. Touch Bar
The marquee feature of two of the three new MacBook Pros is the Touch Bar, a long touchscreen that replaces the row of function keys on the keyboard. The idea is that it displays unique touch buttons for whatever app you’re using.
The Touch Bar seems like Apple’s answer to the many competing notebooks that come with full touchscreens. The jury is still out on whether the Touch Bar will turn out to be a gimmick or something more useful, but it’s not a feature that seems immediately necessary. It’s not something that is likely to make up for the rest of the curious decisions Apple made in the new MacBook Pros.
As far as laptops go, typing on a 2012 MacBook Pro is as good as it gets. Each key has a fine, understated “clickiness” and a satisfying amount of travel that lets you feel each key as you press it. In other words, the old keyboard offered great feedback.
The new MacBook Pro keyboard is much more shallow, which means it offers much less feedback as you type. By all reports, there’s so little travel to the keys that it almost feels like you’re typing on a touchscreen. Apple invented this kind of keyboard in order to make the overall computer as thin as possible, but according to most people, the typing experience has suffered as a result. That’s a shame for anyone who writes or codes for a living, or anyone who has to deal with a hurricane of emails every day.
MacBook Pros have always been pricy machines, but they’ve never cost as much as the new ones do. Compared to other similarly-specced laptops on the market, the MacBook Pro is downright overpriced. The entry-level one, the 13-inch notebook without a Touch Pad, starts at $1,500 and goes up from there. The most expensive one starts at $2,800 and goes all the way up to $4,300 if you upgrade it all the way. That’s a lot of money for a computer with less power than the more affordable competition.
Another thing Apple has given up in its quest for thinness and profits is upgradeability. In MacBooks made in 2012 and earlier, you could take a screwdriver to them and easily upgrade things like your hard drive and RAM. Those days are gone now, because those parts are now glued in. To get a bigger hard drive or more RAM, you essentially have to buy a new computer.
So much for anyone who wants the flexibility to make their machines more powerful as their needs change over time.
Some of the new additions, like the Touch ID sensor that can let you skip typing in your passwords, will definitely be useful for Mac users. The Touch Bar could be extremely useful, though that remains to be seen. The problem is with Apple’s priorities.
The new MacBook Pros illustrate that Apple cares a whole lot about lightness, thinness, and battery life. These happen to be things most Pro users don’t care much about, since they tend to keep their machines on their desk most of the time. What Pro users care about is customization and versatility — things Apple has sacrificed in recent MacBook Pros.
The kind of customer who would find the new MacBook Pro a solution to their needs isn’t a creative professional, it’s a regular consumer. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Apple targeting regular consumers; the problem is that Apple isn’t offering a replacement for people who need a powerful notebook to do their creative work.
It may not put much of a dent in Apple’s bottom line, but these shifting priorities are still making plenty of people angry and disappointed.