With the iPhone 11 launch out of the way, Apple’s attention will turn from the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro phones to the iPad Pro and a new wave of tablets to accompany the newly forked iPadOS. But what of the upcoming MacBook Pro updates and the larger 16-inch laptop?
Looking closely at the attitude of Tim Cook’s Apple to the macOS powered laptops, you’d be forgiven in thinking that the MacBook Pro has already been moved to legacy status. The intense and almost obsessive focus on thin and minimalist design, coupled with restricting choice and denying Mac owners long-term flexibility, has pushed the still-useful and beloved laptop family out of the public’s gaze.
First up is the obsessive drive to make its laptops thinner and lighter. Yes, the resulting devices look lighter and I’m sure that focus groups presented with alternate designs will choose the prettier one, but a laptop is not phone, nor is it a tablet. You need a certain amount of size to enjoy the experience, to have space for powerful chips, to handle the cooling requirements, to allow for new technology, and to guarantee reliability.
By all means use the MacBook Air for the ‘thin’ brigade, but for the workhorse laptop, the MacBook Pro, Apple’s decision to prioritise a thin design – notably the fragile butterfly keyboard – has allowed the competition to catch up with and overtake the MacBook Pro in terms of hardware options and software flexibility.
One obvious lucrative area where macOS has fallen behind is in gaming. MacOS
may have a significant share of the market, but where are the gaming options? They’re all using Windows 10, with access to a wide range of graphics cards, super processors, and fast refreshing densely packed 4K screens.
This speaks to another area where Apple’s obsessive nature has hindered the MacBook Pro. The inability to open up the system to graphics cards vendors is a poor choice at best, yet one where you could – if you look hard enough – understand why Apple is restricting the options inside the hardware. But is that any excuse to lock out some of the biggest names when using external graphics card caddies?
Apple has decided on the one true way to use your laptop, and has forced that through. If you want to do something outside of that definition, then the closed nature means you are out of luck.
Take the removal of the SD Card reader. Photographers are a notable demographic in MacBook Pro ownership and regularly tote a ridiculous number of cards around. It was an easy matter to pop these into their primary machine as required. Nope, that’s not the way forward that Apple sees it, so the SD card reader is removed.
And frankly, for a professional machine, the answer of using an external card reader in the USB ports or connecting through the camera is an embarrassment. And that’s before it leads to counting the number of available USB ports.
Finally, there’s Apple’s attitude towards the Mac machines in general, and the flagship MacBook Pro laptops specifically. While Tim Cook and his team are happy to sell them, and happy to remind developers about the machines, when it comes to the consumer events, the MacBook Pro is simply left in the wings.
WWDC saw the launch of the Mac Pro, and a focus on high specs and how it works for the multimedia creative (presumably focusing on the companies that are going to be supplying content for Apple’s subscription TV business). The real line items from WWDC were iOS and the reveal of iPadOS. The Mac was well down the running order and the MacBooks were nowhere to be seen.
Apple’s September event is the key consumer event for the year. It sets the tone for the year to come, it focuses the attention of the public on Apple’s core devices, and that was the iPhone and the Apple Watch. The side order of iPad was a kick in the teeth for those waiting for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The obsession of preserving September for just the iPhone and any supporting peripherals weakens the MacBook Pro. And yes, Apple has the option of an event in October where the MacBook Pro can be revealed, but I suspect that even if the 16-inch MacBook Pro is given a public reveal (rather than a humbling ‘launch by press release’) the priority at the october event will be the iPad Pro.
Tim Cook’s Apple is in the middle of a move towards software and services. At some point that means the focus on the iPhone and the iPad as standalone hardware will fade away and they will become little more than conduits for content. It means that there will come a point where Apple does not have to keep up with other platforms and manufacturers that are pushing the limits of technology – there are some would say that Apple is already following this model given the lack of change in the iPhone over the last few years.
What does that future look like? It looks a lot like the present day MacBook Pro. Unloved by management but continuing to perform vital tasks in the ecosystem; unnoticed by consumers who are lured into more profitable machines with software lock-ins and walled gardens that offer Apple’s accountants a thirty percent rake on everything; and unable to respond to competitors who are developing laptops and desk-bound machines for a new generation.