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Marco Arment: How Apple Could Fix the MacBook Pro

Developer Marco Arment has some ideas for how Apple could restore the current MacBook Pro to the glory of the 2015 model. If nothing else, Arment suggests that Apple return to scissor key switches, since the butterfly switches in the current keyboards are disliked by many, unreliable, and expensive to repair. He also proposes removing the Touch Bar, a return to “inverted-T” arrow keys, more ports to reduce dongle dependency, better and more affordable first-party USB-C hubs, and chargers that bring back the charging LED and cable management arms. We agree with Arment, though it’s impossible to know if Apple is open to hearing and responding to such criticisms from the community.Generic Globefollow link


Comments about Marco Arment: How Apple Could Fix the MacBook Pro
(Comments are closed.)

John Hankwitz  2017-11-27 15:13
Although I've been buying and using most every Apple product since 1978, it so often appears that Apple's designers have their heads up their butts. The latest MacBook Pro is and will never be on my shopping list. As far as I'm concerned, it's not useable. Did get the latest loaded 5K iMac, but it's too bulky to pack up and carry around.
I think he makes a couple of very good points. TouchBar is a gimmick that can be dropped or at least made entirely optional.

I disagree with him on battery life. IMHO this is one of *the* most crucial aspects of a mobile device. Obviously Apple wants to make the battery smaller (which makes the MBP lighter), but they shouldn't do that at the expense of lifetime. The internals need to save more power (as demonstrated in the past) if the battery capacity is reduced in order to preserve lifetime. Sacrificing lifetime is *not* an option.

I also disagree with him on ports. Having a universal port that can become anything a user needs is *awesome*. Obviously dongles aren't nice, but that's where buying the appropriate cables and docks come into play. There are great TB3 docks (Elgato's for example) that turn the MBP into a great desktop whenever needed. On the road, I think it's safe to assume having one dongle for USB-A and DP/HDMI when needed is acceptable. I don't care about mem cards.
I should also mention price. The new MBP has simply become too expensive. Obviously it doesn't have to compete on price with conventional PC notebooks because most of them are quite simply cheap pieces of junk. But it should at least be compatible price-wise with its former self. In 2013 $2000 bought me the highest end 13" MBP (Core i7 at max speed, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD). The same configuration now runs me $2500 and even more if I chose what is nowadays the max capacity SSD option. But there is nothing in the TouchBar MBP that justifies a 25% price hike compared to the 2013 model.

I absolutely can see myself buying a new 13" MBP to replace my 2013 model in the near future. Hopefully by then TouchBar will be gone and battery life will have improved. But that purchase will simply not happen as long as we're talking about $2500 for a 13" MBP.
Steve Nicholson  2017-11-28 10:44
I’m in the exact same boat. My MBP needed replacement last year but the Touch Bar models are just too crazy expensive. I always use the MBP on a tall riser to get the screen to an ergonomically reasonable height so the Touch Bar would be pretty useless for me. So now my only Mac is a 27” iMac and my portable device is an iPad Pro. It’s much less convenient because my accounting and financial software is no longer portable. I would absolutely buy a Marco-designed MBP. Jony Ive no longer cares to design Macs for people like me.
John Rynne  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-11-29 14:35
Since I always use a separate keyboard for ergonomic reasons, with the computer up on a stand on the desk, I can't see any use for the TouchBar.
Peter U  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-12-04 21:13
The Touch Bar is actually pretty useful. I always thought it would be great to have application-specific function keys -- which is exactly what the TB gives you. Unfortunately it's still a v1.0 product. It doesn't seem to be fully customizable (or I don't know how to do it).
Lewis Butler  2017-11-29 16:14
I think Marco’s post should have been titled “How Apple could fix the MacBook Pro for Marco.” He’s trying to see this from a neutral perspective, but he still has a very narrow vision of who is using these machines.

The one thing I think everyone can agree on is that the reliability of the butterfly keyboard is unacceptable and that the repair costs for a broken key are also acceptable.

Beyond that, it all comes down to “I don’t like dongles” And while that is a reasonable thing to be annoyed about, the fact is that the current MacBooks Pro offer far greater connectivity options at much greater speeds than previous models. Not only can they support dual 5K displays, but with a dongle or hub, a single one of the 4 ports can do far more than *all* the connectors on the previous model.

And yes, I understand the desire to not have a hub, but there is a trade-off here that is being ignored, and that is that Apple is throwing every bit of bus-speed at those ports.

Also, most people use their MacBook Pros at a desk, connected to the stuff on their desk and only rarely (if ever) actually use it as a portable device. When they do, it’s often used as a glorified tablet or a way to get out of the house for a bit and work at the coffee shop, where you don’t need all your peripherals anyway.

Now, when I look at a MacBook Pro, I think “Huh, I’d have thought that a single HDMI would be pretty useful for a lot of people” despite the fact that I’ve never used the HDMI port on my MacBook.

And I’d have to guess that Macro doesn’t know any graphics/video professionals, or the one I know is not representative, but she loves having dual 5K displays she can plug her machine into for working in video and IIRC one of the displays has other peripherals plugged into it, so her desk basically acts a a dock.

She also use the Touch Bar.

I can’t comment on my personal feelings on the MBP since I don’t have one, my laptop duties have gotten lighter and lighter and about the only apps I use anymore are Terminal and BBEdit.

But, my wife has a MacBook with the butterfly keyboard, and yeah, that thing needs to go in to Apple because one of the shift keys stopped working. When they tell me “You could have used compressed air” I’m going to point out that I know of at least one person who did that and the key fell off and Apple wanted close to $600 to repair the “accidental damage".
Norman Wikner  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2017-11-29 19:40
I have this machine. My worst complaint is about the touch pad. IT IS TOO BIG! I am a touch typist of 6 decades standing. I like to rest my thumbs somewhere when they are not in use on the space bar. But there is no where to rest them. Every time my thumb strays downward it hits the touch pad and randomly relocates my cursor to somewhere else in the text that I am typing (best case) or shifts the focus to some other window within the program I am using (intermediate case) or transfers to some other open program (worst case). To avoid this I have had to train myself to completely reposition my hands while typing, which slows my typing speed by about 50%. Even so the above problems occur about once per minute of use. I'm about to tape a 1" plastic ruler over the top of the touch pad to ameliorate this situation.
Peter U  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-12-04 21:07
Completely agree. The big touch pad is the most annoying feature. At least there should be a software option to inactivate the left and right margin or whatever area (which I HAVE to touch to reach the keys).
Mark Morgan  2017-11-30 20:01
How about a reasonable amount of RAM? You can't call something that maxes out at 16GB "Pro" in today's world. I need at least 32, and would really like 64.
Agreed. But apparently, this is a limitation of the low-power chipset Apple is getting form Intel.

So at least right now asking for a higher RAM limit means a higher-power chipset. Now if the MBP had a large battery that might be an option. But with the MBP's anorexic form factor Apple has maneuvered itself into a corner. That said, even if the case were thicker to allow for a higher-capacity battery and thereby also a higher-power chipset, that large battery would make the MBP heavy. Not really desirable. I think the actual hope is that with the next Intel chipset low power and a lot of RAM do no longer mutually exclusive.
I can only say that the 15" MBP 2016 with Touch Bar I replaced my ageing (6y+) MBP with is just perfect for me. Would have liked a 17" version though ;-).
Just don't expect Apple to invest in bringing back the past and I for one certainly don't want them to go there. Dongles have been with laptops forever and those laptops that have all the ports imaginable rarely see them used.
My four TB3-ports can morph into anything at any time. For all the stuff that turned legacy on me I got me two TB2 to TB3 adapters that were €18 at the time. I also got a Hyper TB 3 USB-C hub as a traveling companion for presenting over HDMI.
The keystroke errors were introduced on my machine with an OS Public Beta and went away with a subsequent one. Lucky me I guess......