Apple’s product launches used to be very regular, however, since 2012 Apple’s Mac line up has undergone sporadic changes, what was once a simple line up of desktop and portable, home user and pro user models, has now become a minefield of models, each with their own minute differences and crossovers. So this year Apple has complicated things further by introducing the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.
What makes things even more confusing is the fact that the highest end machines in the line up, don’t support the latest connectivity. For example the Mac Pro, Apple’s high-end Professional desktop setup has not been updated in three years, and it’s I/O ports are now not only slower than what is shipping on ‘entry-level’ laptops, but are also the Thunderbolt 2 style ports, which was borrowed from Apple’s Mini Display ports from 5 or 6 years ago. The issue here being that Thunderbolt just hasn’t had the impact Apple hoped it would, just as with Firewire, the industry has favoured the ‘U’ of USB – Universal. What’s the point of peripherals that only your computer can use? Apple has forgotten that their pro users are photographers, movie makers and musicians who need portability, expandability and versatility. Something that is sorely lacking from the new MacBook Pro.
At a time where Microsoft is finally finding it’s feet in hardware and producing the truly stunning Surface Studio, aimed specifically at pro users, it seems the Apple has had a change of heart and is going for the home user instead. Is that such a bad thing? After all it was the iPod and the iPhone that put Apple back on the map, not any pro level hardware.
Apple has also come under a lot of criticism recently for ‘no longer innovating’ and to some extent I think that is true, again compared to Microsoft’s Surface Dial – a detachable tool which interacts in different ways with the touch screen (you just have to see it to believe it), Apple’s new Touch Bar is, well a bit naff if we’re being honest.
Since around 2008, Apple have made two bits of hardware that, in my opinion were simply unparalleled by any other tech company, not the iPhone or the iPad, but the Trackpad and Keyboard on their laptops. If Apple could continue to produce my 2013 15 inch MacBook Pro for the foreseeable future I would be happy, because there is no greater experience for typing and the trackpad is intuitive and seamless to use. The new Touch Bar signals the end of both of these technologies in one go. It feels like Apple are planning to move to an entirely glass touch-screen interface when the technology is cheap enough and advanced enough to meet the user’s needs. For me if you want a touch screen, you can buy a tablet. Even the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro is a departure from the old much loved keyboard of the old pros, there isn’t the response from the keys that you really want from a physical keyboard.
There are plenty of cynics in the tech industry that say that Apple have ‘had their day’ but ultimately it’s hard to ignore that macOS is still the most stable and user friendly operating system available for a full desktop experience. I also cannot see iPhone being toppled anytime soon, Apple is still the company that all others measure themselves by. That being said, there are clearly companies out there such as Google and Microsoft who are creating far more exciting, envelope pushing products than Apple are right now.
The big question then is has Apple lost it’s mojo or has it simply just growing up? Perhaps Apple has found itself no longer the rebellious underdog it once was, and is in fact now the establishment that it fought so hard against (IBM) in the 80’s.
So is the new MacBook a complete dud? No, I don’t think so, it would’t be fair to group the MacBook with previous Apple flops (think the Newton), it is still a very solid machine, running a very good OS. Yes in the UK we’ve seen a massive price jump, but that is more down to our own political situation making the pound very weak, expect to see more of these prices rises across the board on imported goods! Yes the new Touch Bar isn’t very practical or ergonomic, and ultimately it’s a bit gimmicky and not that useful. Every year the blogosphere is ablaze with articles stating that Apple should have just extended battery life instead of making the machines thinner, or sharpened the display instead of adding new features that ‘we didn’t know we wanted’. But ultimately it is the thinner, new design that will sell this machine, not the I/O ports and not the battery life, and in that respect it’s hard to argue with what Apple have done. Don’t expect to see any records broken with the new MacBook Pro, but I don’t think Apple will struggle to clear their shelves this Christmas.