Apple’s recent announcements have been underwhelming

I can’t help but be left underwhelmed by Apple announcements. I am not some Windows fanboy – I’ve been using Macs for the past 16 years. Ever since Steve Jobs has died Apple has been flipping around with no real direction.

Raw hardware specs

The MacBook Pro used to be top of the line laptop for creative professionals and software engineers. Nowadays Surface laptops have MacBook beat in just about every technical spec.

I will be first to admit that the raw hardware specs don’t matter as much as they used to. It takes more than CPU or GPU speed to be productive with a computer. Most computers sold in the past five years are fast enough for most purposes.

It doesn’t help when someone who is operating system agnostic is trying to decide which computer to buy. When comparing MacBook Pro side by side with Microsoft Surface Book even I, a long time Mac fan, can’t help but feel jealous.

Laptops and touch screens

Apple is right that the old 1990s Powerbook was ergonomically comfortable because it had its keyboard setback towards the display so you can rest your wrists. It had the trackball right where your thumb would be. Modern MacBook Pros have the keyboard set back as well as a large touchpad right where your thumbs are. If you are a touch-typer, like I am, this is crucial as it allows you to stay productive without lifting your hands from the keyboard.

I spend at least 80% of my time with my MacBook working on software development and blogging. The touch screen is a hindrance to me for the most part – the entire arm motion from the keyboard to the screen just takes way too long.

The other 20% of my time on the computer is spent on my photography hobby in Adobe Lightroom. I haven’t used Apple’s photo software in years, ever since they abandoned Aperture with nothing to replace it. This is where using a touch screen to adjust sliders would be nice. However, a huge part of working on photos in Lightroom is editing metadata. I need both, a keyboard and some touch screen at the same time, both within easy reach.

Lightroom on the iPad is less than useless. Without metadata editing and without an ability to sync my presets from the desktop version, it might as well not exist. I don’t know whose fault it is – Adobe’s for not building the right features, Apple’s for not allowing Adobe to use some secret API or both of them. All I know is that a Surface tablet priced similarly to iPad Pro can run a full version of Lightroom and will make me happy.

I can see where Apple is going with the Touch Bar and it is very well thought out. It works without asking you to lift your hands from the keyboard. You can work on metadata and analog-style controls at the same time. I couldn’t care less about iMessage, but I do care about touch controls in Lightroom. To be able to adjust settings without moving the cursor or lifting my hands from the keyboard would be very nice. The question is, will Adobe take advantage of it ?

As it stands, I own a 2015 13“ MacBook Pro. Before it, I had 2010 17” MacBook Pro that served me well for almost five years. I have no intention to upgrade at the moment. I will probably consider an upgrade in about 1–2 years. I look at Microsoft Surface Book longingly, but I can’t justify purchasing one just for Lightroom. If I buy one, it will be to switch back to Windows entirely – after 16 years of using a Mac!

UNIX command line and Microsoft

Here is another kicker. Before Mac OS, I used Linux. When I started my consulting practice in 2000, I realized I needed to be able to work on Microsoft Office files that I shared with my customers. OpenOffice on Linux was just not ready for prime time in 2000. Imagine my excitement when OS X came out with its support for UNIX command line and Microsoft Office at the same time: it was the desktop UNIX OS that we’ve all waited for for.

OS X, however, is far from a typical UNIX workstation. Surely it gives you similar command line, but it still is not the same. You can’t use the same package tools to install new software, and you surely can’t use the same binaries you’d use on Linux. Nowadays, you can do it on Windows 10. Windows 10 is now the ultimate Ubuntu Linux workstation, outdoing OS X at its own game.

The era of dongles

Let’s start with the 12″ MacBook that came out in 2015. We bought one for my wife. It is roughly as thick as an iPad and is more functional than an iPad Pro. It replaced all ports with a single USB-C port, and it seems just enough. It’s battery lasts long enough that my wife can take the laptop to work and leave the charger at home.

The irony of the USB-C port is that the Nexus 5X phone I purchased later that year came with a USB-C cable but the iPhones and iPads don’t come with one. Even the new iPhone 7 does not come with a USB-C cable. Any device that Apple sells today requires a USB dongle to connect to USB-C.

The newly announced MacBook Pro has a headphones port but neglects to have a Lightning port. That means to use the iPhone 7 Lightning headphones with the new MacBook Pro you need a yet another dongle or second set of headphones. So, some do the math for me please, how many dongles does the 2016 class of Apple products need just to be usable?

Thoughts on MagSafe connector

Magsafe was a great innovation back in the day. I don’t remember how many times I almost destroyed by Titanium PowerBook by tripping over the cable. Those were the days when your laptop spent the majority of its time plugged into an outlet.

Nowadays, a MacBook Pro either sits in a dock connected to an external display and keyboard, or it is out in the field using the battery. With a 10-hour battery life, you no longer need to keep it plugged in the charger all day. You can charge your laptop, take it to work, and bring it back home and plug it back in – like you do with your smartphone.

Final thoughts

As a long time Mac user, I have mixed feelings about the recent Apple announcements. I am not in the market to upgrade at the moment, but when I do, I think I am going to seriously reconsider how I use my computer. Microsoft Surface hardware is extremely tempting as an alternative.


Feature image credit Christopher Ross via Flickr.