MBP: MIA?

Last week, the tech world suddenly became re-interested in the fact that there hasn’t been an updated MacBook Pro in over four years. By Wednesday, the rumors starting flying about the fall release of Apple’s revamped notebook, complete with the same pictures of a hollowed out top case that we’ve seen floating around since March. And oddly enough, the next day Apple was being attacked again for waiting too long to refresh its lineup. What interests me is that none of it matters. Whether Apple releases a new laptop this year or next year or not at all, it doesn’t matter. They’ve made it extremely clear that this is, for better or for worse, a different Apple than it was ten years ago.

Deviating from Intel

In 2013, Apple made the last MacBook announcement that I felt was relevant, by introducing new MacBook Airs with the much anticipated Haswell generation CPU. That’s what gave the Airs their industry shattering 13-15 hour battery life. The formula seemed simple; Intel would innovate with a new chipset and Apple would deliver it to the world in their cutting edge machines. A few months later, the PC makers would catch up, but by then no one cared because the next Mac with the newest hardware was probably around the corner.

Well, that pattern has dissipated. It pains me to say that today in 2016, Apples’ flagship notebook, the 15” MacBook Pro with retina display, still ships with that Haswell chip from 2013. What happened? As a loyal MacBook user, I literally waited, keynote after keynote while Tim Cook and gang showed off everything under the sun; larger phones, smaller iPads, bigger iPads, iPads with keyboards, smaller big iPads with keyboards, gold stuff, rose gold stuff, watches, watch bands, $20k watches… you get the point. Isn’t this the company that was supposed to build a superior machine? Didn’t I count on Apple to deliver innovation to the computer world? What happened?

 Seriously?

Seriously?

While I stood there waiting, of course I noticed some of the “crumbs” Apple threw out to casually appease us; the tiny one port MacBook, Broadwell chip in the Airs, a Pro tower shaped like a garbage can… I saw those. But something is not right. Take the MacBook Air. In 2010, it was clearly the future of the notebook. But six years later, I must say the future came and went. Not only have notebooks matched the sleek, portable build of the Air, but have surpassed it with newer CPUs, higher quality displays, updated ports and more. All while the Air has remained 100% unchanged. In 2016, a 13” notebook with a display resolution of 1920x1080 is considered decent on a $700 notebook. So why is Apple selling their $1000 13” Air with a 1440x900 TN display with awful viewing angles and poor color saturation? Wait a minute; isn’t this the company that put retina displays on everything? Why not put one on the Air? And for those of you who think that’s why we have the 12” MacBook with a retina display, you can blow it out your Apple hole. There has literally been more than enough time for Apple to release and discontinue a MacBook Air with a retina display since 2012.

iOS is better than Mac

Look; we all realize that iPhone and iPad is Apples’ bread and butter. It would seem that’s where all their innovative energy is being focused. But I can’t understand how you could simply ignore an entire market segment. Maybe they’re subtly telling us to move on. The high end PC notebooks available to professionals have far surpassed anything you could get from Apple. And if a cocky Apple fan boy tries to tell you that you’re buying garbage, just shake your head, knowing that they sadly don’t understand what a professional user needs in a performance machine.

 This a tablet with a keyboard.  NOT a computer.

This a tablet with a keyboard.  NOT a computer.

There’s nothing wrong with the iPad. It’s an amazing product that changed the world and has clearly made Apple a shit load of money. But if you’ve seen the recent commercials for the iPad Pro, it’s obvious that they're trying to pass it off as a laptop replacement. But why? Because it has a keyboard? That just makes it a tablet with a keyboard. It can’t be due to the software because even though iOS has come a long way, it IS NOT a desktop operating system and more specifically, not even optimized for the iPad Pro! Apple created a near 13” iPad with enough power to put a MacBook Air to shame and they use it to run the exact same OS my phone runs? Maybe I’m missing something.

What next?

So what happens now? Am I still eagerly anticipating a new MacBook Pro this year? The answer is no. I’ve seen the pictures of the top case with room for an LED touch strip where the function keys once were. Lenovo, HP, Dell and others tried similar things before and it sucked. I know, Apple has a habit of doing things better, even if they’re not new. But not this time. An actual touch screen strip on a MacBook would mean two things to me:

  • Since using the beta version of Mac OS Sierra, I haven’t seen one sign that points to the OS benefitting by a touch interface. It would have to be something shoved in, like 3D touch on the iPhone. Basically something flashy that I don’t need or wouldn’t use.
  • Apple had a track record of creating new ways to interact with computers like the mouse, touchpad and multi touch screens. But after adding a stylus and keyboard to the iPad, it looks like they’re now on the other side of the tech race; catching up to devices like the Surface. And a touch strip above a keyboard isn’t adding anything new at all; I can touch the entire screen on my Surface Book right now.
As for Thunderbolt 3, it’s more than a year too late. Machines like the Razer Blade Stealth, Dell XPS and HP ZBook are doing amazing things with the technology like docking stations, enhanced charging and external graphics solutions. It feels odd to let the PC race plow ahead with what was once an Apple only piece of tech, so implementing it now feels like a big ‘who cares’.

And finally, what about the Intel chips? The way I see it, there are two ways this could go with neither option being good. The first is they actually do release new Macs this fall with the current Skylake chipset. Unfortunately, that CPU is now over a year old which would mean these new Macs will already be on the tail end of obsolete when they’re released.

Alternatively, they could delay the whole refresh until the beginning of 2017 with the arrival of Intel’s 7th gen CPUs, Kaby Lake. I could see that pissing off a lot of folks since that would make it five years since Apple refreshed its Pro notebook. And by then it would be already three to five months into a current Intel cycle. Not a great start for a new product line.

I think we're done here

When you look at everything together, I feel like Apple is trying to tell us something. Their support for the Pro laptop user has ended. It’s the time of the iPad, the iPhone, and the Watch. I think if Apple wants to stop making the Mac, they should grow a pair, come on stage and shout “iPads forever!” But like I said earlier, whatever it is that Apple decides to do is too little, too late. The PC technology available now has far surpassed anything they could introduce. That’s why it really doesn’t matter anymore.