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What Apple’s MacBook Lineup Should Look Like

Complaints about the new MacBook Pro models abound, centering on the 16 GB RAM limit, the keyboard, the need for numerous adapters for its Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the lack of a MagSafe charging connector. (Many people have concerns about the Touch Bar too, but those are largely hypothetical; we won’t know whether it was a good addition until developers add support for it and users can see how well it works for them.) There are good explanations for why Apple made each of these design decisions, but they all come down to optimizing for size, weight, and battery life.

Going beyond 16 GB would have required a power-hungry chipset that would have reduced battery life significantly or called for a much larger and heavier battery. The keyboard feels the way it does — which some people hate — in part to take up less vertical space so the MacBook Pro can be thinner. And while Thunderbolt 3 has great technical specs, some of its appeal to Apple is also its use of thin USB-C ports that occupy less space — probably externally and internally — than a varied collection of ports.

In his closing talk at last week’s MacTech Conference, the inimitable Andy Ihnatko hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that despite the different names, the MacBook, the MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro are all really just variants on the MacBook Air concept. They’re thin, light, and relatively expensive for what they offer in terms of performance and connectivity. That’s fine, but not everyone wants the smallest and lightest Mac laptop. For some, price is paramount, and for others, performance matters most.

A more compelling line of Mac laptops might look like this:

  • MacBook: The canonical MacBook should be rugged and inexpensive, with low-end performance and connectivity options. Remember the white and black plastic MacBooks? A machine worthy of the MacBook name should channel those design goals and be ideal for a high school student. Size and weight are somewhat important, but price should be the driving factor, ideally starting around $500 for a 13-inch non-Retina model with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of flash storage. Give it two USB-A ports, a MagSafe charger, and a Mini DisplayPort jack — there’s no need to raise the cost with USB-C or Thunderbolt. Let’s see Apple innovate on price for once.

  • MacBook Air: The ideal MacBook Air would be much like today’s 12-inch MacBook, with two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of a single USB-C port because… duh. Size and weight are supreme with this machine, and while performance doesn’t need to be stunning, it should be comparable to or better than the proposed MacBook. The price can go up, and options for 16 GB of RAM and larger SSDs should be available. The target market for such a MacBook Air is the busy executive who travels constantly but doesn’t need much beyond email, Web, and Microsoft Office. Pricing might start at $1200.

  • MacBook Pro: For power users, Apple should optimize the theoretical MacBook Pro for performance and connectivity, worrying about size, weight, and battery life secondarily. A 13-inch model might have similar performance specs to a tricked-out version of the proposed MacBook Air but with an industrial design that offers more ports: MagSafe, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 2 port, USB-A, HDMI, Ethernet, and an SD card slot. Its price might start around $1500 and go up with additional CPU and storage. For those who need the ultimate power, the 15-inch model could support amounts of RAM above what laptop chipsets can generally handle, along with a plethora of build-to-order options that could push its price from a starting point of maybe $1800 into the stratosphere. Such specs would reduce battery life and increase weight but would enable mobile professionals to rely on a single machine.

The core problem is that Apple no longer seems to understand how Mac users choose their machines. Right now, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what Mac laptop to buy, because the three key differentiators of price, size, and performance are difficult to tease out, with all the models converging on the MacBook Air’s focus on size at the expense of price and performance.

Plus, as Andy Ihnatko also pointed out, Apple has become a design and manufacturing company, not an engineering company. Unsurprisingly, the only Mac for which design and manufacturing matter more than anything else is the canonical MacBook Air, which needs to be magically small and light and is willing to compromise on price and performance.

The prime directive of an engineering company is to provide products that solve users’ problems. It’s all about helping users achieve their goals with the least amount of wasted time and effort. That used to describe Apple to a T.

Nowadays, Apple is ignoring the desires of many Mac users and focusing on making gorgeous objects that are possible purely because of the company’s leadership in advanced manufacturing techniques. That has a place with an iPhone or iPad, but who cares if an iMac is thin? You look at the front, not the edge! We don’t mind if our Macs are carved from single blocks of aluminum and feature chamfered edges, but that design won’t make us more productive. (For more on why Apple is doing this, see “Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac,” 21 November 2016.)

When it comes to Macs, form should follow function, not force us into uncomfortable compromises.


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Comments about What Apple’s MacBook Lineup Should Look Like
(Comments are closed.)

Charlie Hartley  2016-11-21 16:53
I just hope someone with clout at Apple is listening. Sadly, that appears unlikely.
Derek Roff  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-21 17:21
There is not a single Mac model that offers a mix of features that I want. Which is roughly the 15" MacBook Pro that Adam describes. My guess is that few decision makers at Apple use their Macs for anything but email and web browsing. They don't have any idea how negatively their obsession with thinness impacts users. Nor the aggravation of having to carry several dongles. I hope the message somehow gets across this time.
Huxley Conklin  2016-11-21 17:53
Adam, succinctly put, well thought and expressing the common users' dilemma. Apple, you have brought us a long way into the future, but you are forgetting those of us who do not live on the bleeding edge. Keep more affordable and practical options for those of us who want to stay in the Apple environment and be able to afford it. Requiring numerous adapters for existing external devices is not a clean or better solution for all.
Kyle David  2016-11-21 18:04
Happy to be adjusting to this tragic "First World" problem with the new 15" 2.9 GHz, Radeon Pro 460 w/ 1TB SSD with ports that crank 10 Gbps 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 with 2x 5k displays if I so choose!
I do understand that there are many complainers out there who never had to deal with Parallel or Serial ports and 24 baud modems... that might be part of the problem.
Jason Shanks  2016-11-22 08:24
@Adam - very lucid and much appreciated summation of the angst out there concerning this long-awaited Macbook Pro line rev. While some long for a heavy-duty top tier 15" that sacrifices size for specs, I've had similar consternation that the 13" tops out where it does and can't be upgraded with the best proc & video card (assuming it's heat dissipation concerns). I'm in the process of minimising my setup to a single computer and that would be the sweet spot.

Instead, like Kyle here, I've been itching to upgrade for a while and happily taking the vast improvement any of these have over my aging Mac Pro. Awaiting a fully-loaded 15" with multi-port USB-C dongles in hand, ready for it to be assimilated into my home studio.
Bruce Skelly  2016-11-21 19:20
Yup, I've got an old Mac Book Pro 13" and can't find anything in Apple's current line up that I would want to buy to upgrade this old relic.
Wagner  2016-11-21 20:01
Great article, Adam. After much mulling, I've decided to keep using my mid-2012 13-inch mb pro for at least another year. The fact that I can do that even about 5 years in its life attests to how good that mb pro is. The new mb pro with the touch bar is pretty but far too expensive for what it would do for me.
Shahar Steiff  2016-11-22 00:56
Yup. I will stick with my 2014 MBP15 for now. I hope it survives until apple builds the MBP15 defined above. Meanwhile I only hope there will be a way to upgrade the 1TB SSD on my current MBP to 2TB.
Honestly it has enough juice to handle my needs. An SD slot to d/l pictures from my camera. Two USD ports to change my iphone and ipad, as well as my fitness gear. Two thunderbolt ports to connect my backup raid and my external display (why did Apple discontinue that and didn't come up with a retina 27" external display???). And it fits well in my backpack when I unplug it all and take it for my frequent business travels.
Sticking to my fully maxed out 2013 13" MBP for as long as I can. It's got a fast Core i7, a massive and super-speedy SSD, and a beautiful screen that gives me what used to be 20" resolution in a very sleek package.

I don't mind the USB-C ports and the dongles/cables. I think that's the price to pay for progress. (Although Apple not even adding one USB-A to C dongle is just disgracefully cheap.)

But I mind the fact that there's hardly substantial CPU progress (sure that's probably on Intel), substantially better battery lifetime (in fact it appears my 2013 13" does better), or lower cost. Let alone that my current 16 GB of RAM is still the limit - three years later! (sure, probably again Intel).

But worst of all is that Apple has released the most expensive 13" MBP ever and the only really new thing about its design is a gimmicky OLED strip. To me a solution in search of a problem. Definitely not something I'll shell out several hundreds of Dollars for. Even less so, when the rest of the package is just so meh (at least compared to my 13" MBP from 2013).

I guess one way of putting it positively, is to say that Apple has become victim to their own success. The 2013 13" MBP was such a well-engineered, well-spec'ed, and sturdy machine, I'll likely be able to use it for quite another while before I have to hand over any more money to Apple. And when I do it will probably be for USB-C/TB3 versatility alone.
Ex2bot  2016-11-23 13:15
Nothing wrong with your machine, but your SSD is a turtle compared to the flash storage in the new models.
Stephen Tiano  2016-11-22 07:26
For me, if form followed function, Apple would resurrect a 17" MacBook Pro. As a book designer, I find it both uncomfortable and inefficient to work on anything less. When my early 2009 machine goes, that'll be it for me and laptops, tho' I'll likely still have my iPad (right now an 3rd-gen).

And I must admit that the MS Surface Pro looks interesting (too bad it's Windows). Who knows how I'll feel should it someday run Adobe CC, Quark, and their open-source alternatives.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:49
I was debating mentioning the 17-inch form factor. At MacTech Conference, I saw one company founder/CEO/serious geek still using it, and I've heard from other people who won't use anything else.

Can you imagine how gorgeous a 17-inch Retina screen would be on a MacBook Pro?
Zoran Nesic  2016-11-22 20:53
If Apple did indeed resurrect the "lunch tray" MBP, I'd buy it sight unseen. I've had 2008 MBP 17" (HiRes 1920x1200, matte) and I still consider it to be the best Mac I've ever used. I now have rMBP 15" and was never really happy with it because of the screen.

Yes, it looks great, but the effective screen real estate is way too small for me - 1440x900 HiDPI. I've been running it at max scaled resulution since I bought it, but it annoys me that in apps like Photoshop and iOS Simulator, 100% zoom level doesn't map image pixels to screen pixels 1:1. What would solve this for me is if Apple either:

1) make a MBP with 4k screen - 3840x2400 would work as 1920x1200 HiDPI, or

2) enable @1.5 backing scale factor, that would provide more screen real estate AND let Photoshop etc. map images to actual screen pixels.

Sadly, I don't see Apple doing either.
Zoran Nesic  2016-11-22 20:51
[cont.] A company that (in)famously removed animation from Time Machine menubar icon in order to save some battery life, has no problem forcing MBP to compose virtual desktop at 3840x2400 and then downscale it to 2880x1800 @60fps.

I was ready for an upgrade a month ago, but I'll skip. If the next top-of-the-line MBP doesn't have a 4k option, I'd have to either give up on Mac, or give up on laptops and go with a 5k iMac. Neither is really appealing to me right now.
Scott M.  2016-11-25 20:27
I loved my 2009 17" MBP. Unfortunately, it has passed on to the Apple graveyard...just will not boot up anymore. After taking it to an Apple Store (where the tech had to get "permission" to open such an "old, no longer supported" model), it appears to be a motherboard issue. And while I love it, it is not work paying the $600 or so (if memory serves) for a used mobo off of eBay.

I do very much miss the matte screen on it though. That is the biggest gripe I have with my 15" rMBP (as well as my 11" MBA...also bummed they are ditching the 11" MBA)...the stupid glossy screen. Reflections are a serious pain.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 09:38
But isn't Apple doing exactly what you want, within their own confines? Allowing for the fact that they want each category to be as thin and light as it can be, and that Apple's definition of inexpensive/costly is not ours, they've got machines in each one of your categories.

For your Macbook category, Apple has the Macbook Air, which is the lowest priced portable they offer and has multiple USB ports, an SD port, and a headphone jack. That's your student Mac right there.

For your Macbook Air category, Apple has the Macbook, which is the smallest in size and weight, comes at a premium and has the performance for a busy executive.

For your Macbook Pro category, Apple has the...Macbook Pro, which has multiple ports, high performance CPUs & GPUs, with the tradeoffs being a reduced battery life and a higher weight.

Sure, which machine is in which category has shifted over time, but they've got one for each niche.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 11:01
I think this is the confusion that was inevitable by re-using Apple's names rather than coming up with completely new ones. Josh and I talked this through ahead of time, but I decided it was better to stick with the familiar names.

The main problem I see with the MacBook Air for the "MacBook" category is that it's too expensive at a $1000 starting point. Apple dropping the $900 11-inch model made things worse. Once you make any build-to-order changes, it's bumping into the 12-inch MacBook in price, and probably beating it in performance.

The 12-inch MacBook is, as I say in the article, pretty close to my "MacBook Air" category, but really needs more ports.

The MacBook Pro models have two big problems with the "MacBook Pro" category, which is the lack of a variety of ports, forcing the use of lots of dongles and adapters, and an option to add more RAM beyond 16 GB. The tradeoffs Apple made to keep size and weight down hurt performance, connectivity, and expandability. And they could have a better keyboard if they weren't trying to keep it so small.

Of course, there are also the older MacBook Pro models that are still for sale, but those suffer from being old technology as well, which raises the question of how long their useful lifespan will be.

So right now, if you want to optimize for price, the 13-inch MacBook Air is your best bet, but it's the least expensive only by a very small amount.

If you want to optimize for size, the 12-inch MacBook is the best bet, but it's so underpowered and overpriced (and port limited) that it's hard to differentiate from the 13-inch MacBook Air (and it was even harder when the 11-inch MacBook Air was still sold).

And if you want to optimize for performance, you have to decide between five different MacBook Pro models that vary widely in age, specs, and price.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 12:23
Least expensive Macbook Air: $999
Least expensive Macbook: $1299
Least expensive Macbook Pro with TouchBar: $1799

That seems a fairly standard separation in price (once you start doing buy to order that changes things, but you have to do it for each, otherwise you end up saying the MacBook Air costs as much as the MacBook Pro)

The Macbook analysis encapsulates my frustration with so much of the current discussion -- the language is of a catastrophic failing by Apple ("Apple no longer seems to understand how Mac users choose their machines"!) and the proposed solution is...1 more port on the Macbook, bumped performance, and a price cut of $99?! That doesn't speak of an Apple that doesn't understand what you want, but an Apple that sets the compromise line slightly further than you like.

Same with the MacBook Pro -- the keyboard is still full-sized, if with somewhat less travel. Again -- the compromise line is a little further than you like, not catastrophe.

(out of characters!)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 15:42
I'm suggesting that the "MacBook" should be much cheaper than $1000 because it's serving a different audience. For instance, our school district last year bought every student in 5th grade and up a Dell Chromebook, which I believe are in the $200 range. I can't see Apple ever getting that low, but at $500 it's at least in the same ballpark. Before that, lots of students at Ithaca High had PC laptops because their parents weren't going to buy them Mac laptops due to the price.

Frankly, I think that today's MacBook is a weak machine and always has been. The benchmarks don't match up to the MacBook Air, some people consider the keyboard to be unusable, and the single USB-C port is annoying at best, particularly if you were used to MagSafe. So improvements would be welcome, even if they don't have to be huge.

And while the new MacBook Pros sound like decent machines for most people (Tonya's is still coming), I'm hearing from a lot of professionals who are unhappy with what Apple announced. I may not need more than 16 GB of RAM, but it's not my place to tell someone else that they don't need it for Premiere or AutoCAD or whatever. And when people who travel constantly say that dongles are a major headache for them, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong.

For me, typing is key, like many others, and I wouldn't even consider one without testing the keyboard seriously. Any keyboard oddity, like less travel, is a big deal when you spend your days writing. It's one of the main reasons I don't consider the iPad in the slightest bit acceptable as a writing device.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 16:46
"I'm suggesting that the "MacBook" should be much cheaper than $1000 because it's serving a different audience. "

Apple does not appear to agree with you; Apple appears to think that the Macbook Air is now its low end computer.

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 16:48
Indeed. I never said Apple agreed with me. But the low end just got $100 more expensive with the dropping of the 11-inch MacBook Air.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 16:54
Yep -- and I have hard time seeing in that extremely minor price increase the foundation for an argument that Apple no longer has any idea what its customers want.
Scott M.  2016-11-25 20:37
I think the biggest aspect of Adam's "plan" that I like is that he proposing Apple stop with the "every laptop has t be thin and sexy as possible even at the expense of function" approach. I very much agree with that. While it is nice that the MBP is on the lighter side, I would have NO problem with it gaining a lb or maybe even 2 lbs if it meant more power, more RAM, and/or more battery under the hood (and maybe one USB-A port ). And on the low end side of things, no having it be as thin as possible would mean that it could be a little more "cost efficient" as computer tend to cost more to produce when you want them to be as thin as possible.

So, that is the biggest reason that I like Adam's approach. He is not saying thin is not important, but rather it is the most important thing for only some users. For others, more power, more RAM, and/or more battery might be more important than having a wafer thin laptop. To me, Apple does not seem to get that...or at least that they might be picking a smaller market segment (i.e. I would argue that there are more wanna be MBP buyers who want more power, more RAM, and/or more battery than there are that place thin as possible as their top criteria).
Steve Nicholson  2016-11-22 11:35
That's funny. I just wrote a comment on Adam's previous post with some of the same concerns. The "thinner and lighter uber alles" mindset at Apple needs to be disrupted. I nominate Adam for Apple's new VP of hardware.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2016-11-22 12:08
I agree. Apple has lost sight of its users. Which suggests that, sooner or later, Mac users will lose sight of Apple. The MacBook Pro is no longer worthy of the name. As much as we love to hate Windows, there are many more options to choose from in the Microsoft ecosystem. It would be no trouble at all to find Windows laptops with the specs you recommend—absent the Thunderbolt ports—plus a touch screen. Apple is leaving many users with no option but to switch.

The best line of Mac laptops were the unibody models, with abundant ports, a SuperDrive and relatively easy access for mods and upgrades. This included the last 17" MacBook Pro in 2011-12. They are still available on eBay.

In the meantime, the new Microsoft Surface Studio is aimed directly at creative professionals who have been using iMacs up till now. Since Tim Cook denies Apple will build touch screen Macs, to all appearances the iMac has reached EOL. Oh no doubt there will be a few component upgrades. But a form factor adjustment is unlikely. Or unlikely to be enough to compete with the Surface Studio.

Tim Cook lives in a bubble of his own devising, beyond the reach of ordinary users like us. He is not an engineer or a designer. So he is unable or unwilling to see that the engineers and designers, who are every bit as isolated as he is, are steering him, and Apple, wrong. It's Tim's conceit that he has surrounded himself with the best people. He is mistaken. Smart is not the same as wise. Nor does it equate with vision. He's oblivious to the fact that there are people, like Adam, who have been with Apple, albeit in a supportive role, longer than he has, people who know more about Apple and its users than he does. He cannot learn from his mistakes because he will not see that he's made them. He's like the three little monkeys who hear no, see no and speak no evil. Which is to say that he's deaf, dumb and blind. At least as far as the Mac is concerned. He lives in an iOS universe. The macOS and the Mac itself are tertiary concerns. Which probably explains why quality control in the software side of the business has declined so dramatically.

Sorry for the rant. I'm too old to switch to Windows, but I'm not to old to mourn the failure of a once great business. Now Apple is just a big business, no longer a great one. Unfortunately, financial success has ruined them. Apple is no longer hungry. They're fat and complacent—and mediocre.
Scott Randell  2016-11-22 13:06
Adam, it is interesting that you posted these two articles about the state of the Mac today, I saw and read them just after I send you an e-mail about the fact that the storage module on the MacBook, and the TouchBar MacBook Pro are both soldered to the logic board so that if it goes bad (After Apple Care expires) the only fix is a complete logic board replacement. Now I know the PCI flash storage module going bad will not happen to the majority of users, but if you are the one it happens to you won't care about that. If I was in the market fora portable at this time. I would not take the chance on either one of these.
John B  2016-11-22 15:18
This is a good piece but keeping legacy ports around indefinitely is a recipe for stagnation. I'd rather see an included breakaway USB-C connector instead of Magsafe. I can see the case for keeping an SD slot I suppose.

And I believe Apple's vision for truly low-cost computing is the iPad.

However I agree that there should be a "performance first" MacBook.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 15:50
I do agree that there needs to be forward movement with ports, but we've had Thunderbolt 2 for how long now, with little uptake? At least Thunderbolt 3 is a superset of USB-C, and USB will likely remain used by most peripherals.

Griffin has a USB-C adapter that gives you a breakaway port of sorts, but it has to stick out of the side, which isn't ideal.

It's not clear to me that a magnetic coupler can provide the necessary connections for things like Thunderbolt 3.

And I agree that Apple's vision for low-cost computing is the iPad, but the cheapest iPad is still more than a Chromebook, and iPads simply aren't useful for a lot of what I see high school students needing to do.
Ex2bot  2016-11-23 13:29
I think the only reason iPads may not be useful to high school students is goofy, test prep / test websites that don't work with Mobile Safari. That's the fault of the websites. I wrote a 60,000 word book on the iPad software keyboard (now Scrivener!) & mobile Safari is good enough and compatibility is good enough at this point that I would have no reservations giving my daughter an iPad for high school. Really, she uses her phone mostly.

The other thing holding iPads back is the misconception by some that the software keyboard is impractical and the vague misconception that iOS isn't a "full OS." iOS is about all I use anymore. I know there are niche applications for certain professionals that aren't well served by iOS devices, but they're narrowing over time.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-23 13:49
Writing and editing in Google Docs is a significantly worse experience on an iPad than on a Chromebook, and that's a lot of what we see going on in our son's school system.

I'm in awe that you could write so much on the software keyboard without going mad. I find it vastly slower and clumsier than a real keyboard on a real computer, and that's just for short bits. Plus, the ergonomics are even worse than a laptop, which is already pretty bad.
Scott M.  2016-11-23 17:59
Seconded. I can do about a couple paragraphs (in say an email) on with on-screen iPad keyboard. Anything beyond that makes me start visualizing how well my iPad will work as a frisbee. Fortunately, I have yet to make the jump from visualizing to actually trying.
Ex2bot  2016-11-24 23:20
I think Google Docs' lack of proper functionality on iOS is deliberate on the part of Google since iOS is a competitor. If I was making tech decisions for a school, I'd at least evaluate iWork, which is also effectively free.

I started with Pages and briefly dabbled with Word. I use Scrivener now. The iOS port of Scrivener (esp. on iPad Pro) is excellent overall.

My situation is a little unusual. Due to a bad back, I can't sit in a straight-backed chair for more than about 45 minutes without lots of pain. So I have had to write from a recliner or bed. My typing and editing speeds are pretty good due to lots of practice and heavy use of prediction and autocorrect. I do have a wireless keyboard, but I've found the on-screen keyboard works better for me.

Even if I was able to sit at a desk for extended periods, I would still use iOS devices most of the time. With the amount of reading I do, for example, an iPad is superior to a laptop.

(By the way, Chromebooks. Ugh.)
Ex2bot  2016-11-24 23:31
OSK is all I ever use anymore. No joke. Still, I don't have to process massive amounts of text in a short time frame like Adam. If I did, I'd need a good, real keyboard.
stevecagan  2016-11-22 16:18
I'm a photographer and make long trips to South American rain forest areas. I have loved by mid-2010 17" MBP, but it's getting too creaky and Apple won't repair it. Finally settled for a 2015 15" MBP, but the loss of screen area for working away from home really hurts. Also, what was gained in lightness and thinness is lost because I have to carry external CD burner (where I go, you can't rely on the cloud, and many people don't use it) and adapters and hubs--it's lighter and thinner on the desk but not in my backpack. Too bad. I've been using Macs since 1985, so I appreciate the advances, but the current and recent models are a step back.
Just got a new battery shipped for my late 2011 17" MBP. Somehwere along the line I also changed the original hard disk for an SSD. The fact that some gluemaker now makes a ton of money by sticking everything inside into one big unseparatable mess, is definitely a no go when you travel in third world countries and need someone to send you a replacement part.

When you are in a barely lit camp in the middle of nowhere and the generator is humming to fill up your battery, the MBP, resting on a crooked makeshift table, has survived several times only because of MagSafe.

None of the new MBP configurations inspire me. My current machine runs fast enough with its 8GB, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign etc. All behave well. I guess Yosemite will be with me for a few more years.
Scott M.  2016-11-23 18:08
I think the proposed line up makes a lot of sense to me. And if you think about it, it basically mirrors the current desktop line up (assuming Apple keeps that line up going into the future).

The only quibble I would have with it is the entry level price of the proposed "MacBook" model. I just don't see Apple selling a laptop for $500. And in many ways I don't blame them. Most $500 Windows laptops that I have laid hands on are pretty low quality in my opinion. They might have enough specs to work (that was very debatable when Vista was shipping with Windows computers), but just felt cheap even though they might have still be OK quality in reality (using Mac laptops tends to skew one's perception). I don't see Apple willing to compromise that much on perceived quality. Plus, $500 Windows laptop tend to be very low margin, which Apple has emphatically shown/stated/yelled is not a market they care to play in.

I suspect the reasonable lowest they would even remotely consider would be about $700...maybe $600ish, but that is still likely pushing too far.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-24 13:18
I chose $500 to challenge people to think about it, honestly, not because I really thought Apple will do it. The Mac mini sort of plays in that space (and used to more in the past), so it's not entirely unfamiliar to Apple, and thinking about such a laptop as being aimed at a high school student shows that it's not necessarily out of Apple's target audience either.

Historically, a lot of people got their start with Macs in school, and that's happening less now as Chromebooks and iPads are used more and more in education. Since iPads don't tend to be primary machines in high school or college from what I've seen, not having a Mac for that market (like the old plastic MacBooks) might have longer term consequences.
Scott M.  2016-11-25 20:50
But the Mac mini is lacking a rather expensive component that a laptop must have...i.e. the screen. So, I could argue that when you add in the cost of a screen to a Mac mini, you are getting back to the more realistic "Apple price" that I mentioned of around $600 as the minimum.

I can see the challenge, but I do kind of agree with Apple that chasing the "low cost is the most important factor" market is not a good idea. Beyond the fact the tablets can do what most people wanted a $500 wanted a computer to do, the other reason the computer companies have struggled is that the $500 or less computer market has really crappy margins. They could survive in that market for a while when they were selling a lot of those computers, but once tablets started to cannibalize that market, the big companies really started to struggle as they were not selling enough of those cheap computers to really over come the crappy margins.

I might date myself, but when i was in college, Macs were every where in the computer labs. This was right around the time Windows 3.0 first came out, which to me was the first "real" version of Windows. And at that time, you could get a very good deal through the university for a Mac due to Apple really catering to the education market. Apple a while ago seemed to pull back from that kind of educational discount (I had an occasion many years ago to be at the "computer showcase" at my alma mater where students could buy computer and the Mac discount where not as good as when I was in school years before). Of course, with the advent of tablets being Apple's "low cost" computer (relatively speaking), this has kind of resulting in further pull back on Mac in the education market.
Andrew Miller  2016-11-24 01:58
When Steve Jobs came back to the company he cleared out a number of models that had proliferated in seemingly random fashion, much like what is discussed in this article about the current offerings. These were the days of the Performa line and the whole lineup was full of machines that made you wonder, "wait, how does that one differ from this one?" Jobs cleaned it up very quickly and made room for truly innovative machines to fill the void.
Charles Lenington  2016-11-24 15:37
What about the gamers, IE WoW
Latest update requires a later processor and gpu
This article is exactly what I've been saying. I'm a new Mac user, on my first MBP model from 2013, and was looking to replace it after this announcement. I got completely disappointed and consider my current 3-year-old machine superior to the new models, so will not be downgrading to the 2016 models.

Apple does not understand how I came to change from 15 years of using Windows machines to my first Mac. Here are the reasons I chose my MBP, and the 2016 model situation is in brackets:

1. had all of the ports I needed, my first computer ever that did (now not a single one of my devices natively plugs in)

2. MagSafe connector was brilliant (removed)

3. Retina screen (still there)

4. Fantastic keyboard (now compromised)

5. Easy and seamless integration with Airport Time Capsule (no new development on these anymore, essentially axed)

So 4 of the 5 reasons why I switched to Mac have been eliminated going forward. Apple doesn't understand me and I'll switch back to PC.
I've just been shopping for a new laptop and you hit the nail on the head -- lots of very similar models, none of which are very compelling. I have a great retina iMac but need something I can travel with. Should this be an iPad Pro with a keyboard, a Macbook, a Macbook Air 13", or a Macbook Pro 13"? All of those devices overlap substantially, all of them are expensive, and none of them offers a particularly good value proposition.
How about a last-gen 13" MBP? It will be inexpensive (especially compared to the new MBP), it will offer a great screen, great battery life, and ample power (if you can get an i7 version).

The only thing you'll really be giving up on (apart from gimmicks) is TB3 and the faster SSD. You can ask yourself if you really need TB3 now (if you need it later, you could always sell this one and buy a newer model once you really need TB3). When it comes to the SSD, the question is if you really need more than ~1 GB/s now. Although the new SSDs are crazy fast, the previous gen was by no means a slouch.
That's great advice, Simon. This laptop is going to supplement a very fast and capable iMac, so the SSD speed is a luxury upgrade not a requirement.
Steven Oz  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-29 01:28
It's like you read my thoughts again, Adam! My first Mac was in 1985, so I've had a train of them. It's so weird that Apple doesn't know what to do with the Mac for professionals. Tim Cook needs to read your article to get his head screwed on straight again.
Allan Blake  2016-11-29 16:58
I miss the 17" screen size too, the 15" is not usable for many applications. I use 2 monitors and recently purchased the LG 5K external monitor designed for the new MacBook Pro along with the 15" MacBook Pro. I would have preferred a 17" and would have paid significantly more for it. Going from my old 17" to my current 15" laptop was a definite downgrade in usability. I suggest the ecosystem encompass items that have lower sales rates, including the 17". A niche market, but a loyal one.

The expensive watches represent a niche market, why not cater to longstanding Apple users who need tools for productivity? I don't need a gold watch, but larger screen real estate is vital to day-to-day functions. This solves problems. I like when Apple focuses on empowering the individual with powerful tools. A gold watch is off-purpose and goes more to high end branding. Still, it sounds OK to me, but not if supplanting useful tools in the supply chain.
So I would have thought that before Apple releases a new "pro" portable Mac for $2400+ they might test it with "pro tasks". Examples might be running pro software (such as Adobe Premier) or running the MBP with two external displays. Naively you might think during such testing they would discover readily apparent software/hardware GPU issues related to performing typical "pro" tasks on this "pro" Mac. And then they'd fix these issues before launch so that pro users could do pro work after shelling out pro $$$ instead of wasting time on the phone or at an Apple store.

Think again.