Mac hardware after Steve – a sad story

A few weeks ago Apple announced their new MacBook Pro, the one without SD card reader, magsafe power cable, regular USB ports, ESC-button or ethernet port. They also did not announce any updates to any other models, in particular the MacMini and the MacPro.

Over the years I have bought several Apple Mac computers for running Mac OS X, the first one being a PowerMac G4 @ 400MHz that I bought Mac OS X 10.0 for. Apart from having several Macs myself over the years, I have also advised and helped people around me to get Mac computers.

It was long since Apple hardware was such a disappointment and options were so limited.

For years my PC-friends told me Apple hardware was expensive and outdated. That was partly true. Apple, relying on PowerPC and its own ecosystem charged a premium. And when it came to MHz per buck it was not good. But Apple sold computers that got your job done while never being in your way and they lasted long.

Apple have always had reasons for making expensive hardware with non-impressive performance specs.

  • Intel most of the time outperformed the PowerPC manufacturers (at the same MHz PowerPC rarely beat Intel, and Intel was most of the time ahead in MHz)
  • Apple prioritized ergonomics and battery life rather than raw spec (you paid for a really nice display, good keyboard, noiseless experience (well well), rather than pure computing power)
  • With Mac OS X, Apple utilized the GPU for the 2D desktop in a way Windows didn’t, so the user experience was very nice despite a slower CPU and less RAM
  • Apple have been very careful not to make their consumer line cannibalize on their Pro line (look at the MacMini, which is kept simple enough to not challenge a MacPro)
  • Apple have been very careful to make even their cheapest pieces of hardware amazing pieces of technology from a manufacturing and material quality point of view

This has always been annoying for anyone on a budget. But in the end of the day an Apple Mac has had long good life and it got the job done. Also:

  • Hardware was regularly upgraded 1-2 per year with relevant improvements.
  • The hardware lineup was easy to understand and it made sense. All models had their place.

It has been quite like this:

MacBook Pro: 13/15/17 inch. Bigger is more powerful and more expensive.
MacBook: Fewer options, cheaper materials.
MacBook Air: Ultra-portable, few options.
MacPro: Outrageously expensive and very cool, for pro users and external display.
iMac: Standard desktop, display included, options for both value and performance.
MacMini: The budget option for people who want their own display.

The strategically missing models have been:
Desktop Tower: Reasonable price/performance, desktop parts (CPU/GPU/RAM/Storage), external display, flexibility. This would have cannibalized on the MacPro line and possibly broken the “just works” idea (with too many user-replacable parts and so on).
Budget Computers: Steve Jobs simply refused to make cheap hardware that he was not proud of.

What Apple provided was good products for most purposes, but you ended up paying a bit extra for the quality. Where the desktop tower was missing, poeple got MacPros even though is was a much nicer computer than they really needed. And the MacMini was a nice work horse for not too much money after all (and who wants, or needs, a big tower anyway).

So, buying Apple Mac hardware has always been annoying and expensive. But mostly because Apple have been teaching us: don’t just focus on numbers, we sell you a truly good product and you do get value for money!

Since Steve Jobs died something has changed (perhaps not because of his death, but from that time).

First, Apple don’t upgrade their hardware regularly anymore. When Apple sold 10% as many computers and hardly made any money, they pushed out new revisions twice per year (at the same time working with PPC->Intel transition). Right now (November 2016) the entire product line (except maybe the MacBook) is in desperate need for an upgrade, and Apple release a truly disappointing MacBook Pro (its not my opinion, just read the reviews). You can’t sell computers that haven’t been revised since 18 months at the same price as when it was announced! Not even the car industry do that! They used to fix this by revisions like: “slightly bigger harddrive, +200MHz, cheaper RAM upgrade, same price”. That was fair! Then you knew you could get a new computer without getting screwed.

Second, Apple don’t even improve their computers when they release a new revision. The current (2 year old) MacMini is technically worse in most ways than the 4 year old model! The just outdated 2012 MacBook Pro was easily upgraded to 16GB RAM – that is today a ridiculously expensive built-to-order-upgrade only. What the f**k was the decision to get rid of the magsafe charger? That connection was a unique selling point that on its own merit could make people pick an Apple over any other brand.

Third, Apple got obsessed with (small) size. It is really nice to have a maximum portability option (the MacBook Air is my favourite). But the entire line, including the MacPro, MacMini, MacBook and MacBook Pro, dont need to be built for minimum weight! If I can choose between smaller and lighter or larger and heavier, I pick small and light. But if it comes at a cost of features it is a different story! I literally was in the store, considering the MacBook Air 11 (that I knew I wanted) and the MacBook Air 13 (which had an SD slot). I was very close to getting the 13′ just becuase of the SD card slot, and I would never have considered it, if the 11 inch had an SD slot.

Why remove magsafe, ethernet, SD-card and USB-A from ALL MacBook Pro computers, and also discontinuing MacBook Air? Would it be unreasonable to give the users (the pros) those choices? Would it be unreasonable to have one laptop model built for features rather than low weight? Or would it compete with the never-ever-being-upgraded-MacPro then? Apple could have kept and upgraded only the MacBook Air (never released the MacBook and discontinued MacBook Pro), it would have been the same thing.

The options have rarely been so few.

I am fine. I personally don’t need much performance of my computers and I can use Windows or Linux instead. As it is now my only Apple computer is a MacBook Air. I would have had an Apple Desktop for playing (Steam) games, if Apple just sold one. It’s a shame, for many years lack of games (and software in general) was the weakest spot of Apple. Now when there are so many good games on Steam there are no Apple computers to play them on. I tried to play on my MacBook Air: it performs fine, but it gets too warm. Computers used for some purposes need proper cooling, and that requires size and weight.

Apple: with all the money on your pocket… can’t you just make a hi-quality product line, with products for people with different needs? Make a pro laptop with real performance and all the features. I still think my Titanium PowerBook is an incredibly nice piece of hardware (the display is still great compared to what is in the market today) – make a laptop that size. Make a desktop computer with a real GPU. And keep making the nicest ultrabooks too! It would make your product line easier to understand too! Right now it is just confusing – it is like you don’t want to sell computers at all.

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