This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2016-11-21 at 1:36 p.m.
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What Apple’s MacBook Lineup Should Look Like

by Adam C. Engst

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:

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 [1],” 21 November 2016.)

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