A note to the reader: I originally wrote this review in October 2016; the content herein was migrated from my previous blog site.
Let’s talk about Apple a bit.
October 27 marked the (almost) 25 year anniversary of Apple’s first Mac, and the Cupertino company utilized this almost-Anniversary to score some emotional reminiscence points during it’s announcement that day of the latest line of MacBook Pro models. And then, the internet yawned.
I’m a native Clevelander and quite possibly a true Apple fanboy. And, like most native Clevelanders and Apple fanboys, people might interpret my excitement around those topics to be the result of brainwashing over the many years of my occupancy. That said, I want to get a few things out of the way:
- In June 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire as a result of excessive industrial waste, resulting in $100,000 of bridge damage; this doesn’t include the decades of “image” damage that Cleveland has also endured.
- The Cleveland sports scene has a rough history, until recently with the Cavs winning the NBA championship and the Indians’ World Series berth. The Browns, however, are still a joke (but I’m excited about them, too).
- Apple revolutionized the cell phone industry in June 2007 with the release of the first iPhone, but many people seem to feel that Apple’s innovation has tapered off quite a bit since then.
- Apple revolutionized (maybe that’s the word for it?) the tablet industry in early 2010 with the release of the iPad, which could be heralded as the best tablet money can buy…or at least, the best tablet a LOT of money can buy. But still, since the iPad’s release, many think Apple’s innovation has all but stopped.
The image of any brand is an interesting thing to have to maintain, as we’ve seen from decades of ridicule in Cleveland resulting from the fire almost 50 years ago. But despite the positive impact that Cleveland’s recent success in sports, or the success of the 2016 Republican National Convention has had on the city, people have a tendency to not let go of the distant past.
50 years of time to a city is nothing. But the speed with which technology changes makes the “distant” past not so comparably long ago. In 25 years, the Mac has changed quite a bit. But recent generational trends, as I’ve mentioned before, made for a relatively lackluster release of the latest iteration in MacBook design because of the expectations around image.
Let’s talk about the image around Apple’s laptops and how it may have impacted the latest release.
Apple’s displays are beautiful—there is no one out there who can objectively say that they aren’t. Sure, beauty is a subjective thing, but the company knows how to make a great display. No, the resolution on the newest MacBook is not QHD like some of Apple’s competitors are releasing…but the graphics scaling they provide are great for a wide variety of users. Also, the new display isn’t touch screen, which some people have a problem with. “Why not have the feature, just in case someone wants it?”, you may ask. “All the cool kids are doing it.”
That baseless argument aside, I can’t help but respect Apple’s non-conformance, as well as sticking to their guns on what their idea of a typical user is. They also continue to position themselves in a way that they aren’t directly competing with their own products, which is something that I don’t think Microsoft can claim.
But, this isn’t about Mac vs. PC. They are both great—but for me, Mac wins it because it has maintained the image of the laptop, and hasn’t tried to change it. If, for instance, you wanted to differentiate the Surface Pro from the Surface Book, you would have a hard time—and money aside, the tech enthusiast would likely go after the higher-powered, longer battery life product in the Surface Book, realizing that it also is a stand alone tablet it it’s own right. There’s no great reason to not call them the same product with different options, even though they are different products.
On the Mac side of things, the tablet market has stayed distinct from the laptop market, and those are distinct from the desktop market along with the cell phone market.
So, one of the only ways to revolutionize the laptop is to give its users more functionality while maintaining the core use case for it. Enter Touch Bar, a touch screen on a laptop. But not the touch screen you’re thinking of.
I work at a computer for a living and I blog and write reviews in my spare time. The best place for my hands to be virtually any time during computer use is on the keyboard, or as close to it as possible. External mice, to me, are a necessary evil, but only when I use my work computer (it’s a PC). And also to me, the input experience on any device—cell phone, tablet, laptop or desktop—is one of the most important aspects of my liking or disliking the product. Specifications aside, a bad keyboard (whether physical or not) or pointing device can cause me to immediately disregard that device.
So, you might ask, “isn’t the best pointing device your finger?” Certainly. But that pointing device, when I use a laptop, is already occupied with other primary inputs. And until you completely eliminate the need for a keyboard, that will always be the primary use of my fingers when using a computer. Having to touch the screen, or have one hand on a mouse, is at its core an inconvenience. Tablets and cell phones are different…built around touch, there are no keyboards to get in the way, so my fingers are free to mash the screen at their leisure.
Of course, only time will tell. But one of the reasons that the MacBook trackpad is so great is that it pairs excellent gesture control, and ease of use and accuracy with proximity to the primary input device. When I use my MacBook, I don’t need a mouse. So, it would stand to reason that a great input device like Apple’s multi-touch technology we experience on the iPhone and iPad would be decently paired with a laptop ONLY if it provides excellent control, accuracy and ease of use with proximity to the keyboard—and THAT is why I think the Touch Bar can be successful.
No, it’s not the first time we’ve had these types of controls on a laptop…but it is the first time they are offered via a customizable screen that changes based on the applications you use. Myself, I’m particularly excited about using the area occupied by F3 through F6 on my keyboard, as it doesn’t get much use currently.
So the question then becomes, “why limit it to only that one little strip at the top of the keyboard?” This is as close as we get to a good inquiry, but even still, it’s a bit of a stretch. The trackpad could easily have been a customizable display as well or instead (space for said technology notwithstanding), but making a change like that would fundamentally change the use case of laptops—which I’ve already indicated is not the best idea for a company that is trying to maintain an image.
Regardless of your personal feelings, the changes that Apple has made over the years to their laptop line have always resulted in increased sales. Regardless of whether or not you feel that is because they keep raising the price (did you SEE those price tags for the new MacBooks??), the reality is that people are still buying them, and will continue to do so, because they are solid products. I bought my MacBook as a test, to see what was so great. And here we are, a couple years later, and I’m trying to fill every nook and cranny in my life with Apple’s hardware. I would challenge you to buy a new MacBook and not fall in love with it.
But still, people will always remember the negative from the distant past, disregard the positive more recently, all in an effort to justify a baseless position. Then those people may go to a job interview and get upset for not getting the job because of lack of experience—in effect complaining that their performance from the distant past has outweighed the value of their recent performance and caused a negative impression on someone.
So I guess what I’m saying is, ease off of us Clevelanders a bit. And the MacBook isn’t all that boring.