Buying a New MacBook Should be More Joyful Than it is

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro

macbook pro touch bar

The Particle Debris article of the week comes from Charlie Sorrel at Cult of Mac.

“The MacBook is a disaster. Can Apple fix it?.”

Now that’s a provocative tile. As writers, we are taught to be bold in our assertions. No one wants to read a weasel-worded article with a hedged title. In this case, author Sorrel boldly tells us how he feels. The discussion is now open.

Also relevant is the notion that as observers of Apple, many writers are inclined to give Apple the benefit if the doubt. We admire the company and are often inclined to overlook small mistakes. So a blistering editorial runs the risk of chalking up the author as one of those anti-Apple types who get paid to be a perpetual critic of Apple. Don’t wanna be one of those scoundrels. Nope.

So when the Cult of Mac. unloads on Apple, one has to ponder what’s really going on. It’s worth exploring.

The Critique

Author Sorrel critiques the most recent MacBooks as having problems abound. Namely the Butterfly keyboard (a genuine problem), USB-C port issues, and upgradeability. We’ve beaten the Butterfly keyboard issue to death, but Sorrel has some key issues with the USB-C ports.

Buy a MacBook Air or lower-tier MacBook Pro, and you get two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports. One of these will often be taken up by a power cable, so you’re always going to need a hub. I’m cool with the hub part of this. Why plug everything in individually when you can dock all your peripherals on the desk, and hook them up with one cable?

But that’s not the whole story. Some USB gear needs to be connected directly. Audio gear, for example, doesn’t like sharing a hub. The best option is to buy a high-quality Thunderbolt dock, but those are pricey, running into the hundreds of dollars.

USB-C-only ports are getting to be much less of a liability now that most new gadgets use the new plug, and USB-C hubs take care of the rest. But two ports is too few. Even the top-of-the-line MacBook Pros only offer four. And what about throwing in an SD card reader?

Guess what? You may need to buy one of these as well.

One can chalk this up tp personal work habits and preference. But the real essence is that the issue comes up at all. MacBook Pros of old had plenty of ports. All kinds. It’s what a “pro” machine does.

As for upgradeability, we know and Apple knows that the vast majority of Mac users never upgrade after purchase. But 10 percent, technical professionals, are always going to gripe about the need to start modestly (with a an already pricey Mac) and upgrade as time goes by. This is an unwinnable battle. Unless Apple solves the problem somehow.

Not mentioned are the myriad of problems we daily endure with macOS. Like snafus and inconsistencies.

The Big Picture

In the end, there’s never a question of buying anything but a Macbook of some kind. The author closes with:

All of this amounts to a loss of trust. In the past, I’d never think twice about what kind of computer to buy. It would be a Mac. And, while there’s no way I’m switching to Linux, Chrome or Windows just yet, I’m not buying anything. Instead, I’ll keep my old iMac chugging along, even though it can’t run anything newer than macOS High Sierra.

But the article’s title, technical discourse and acquiesced closing suggest that there’s a larger issue.

There was, I believe, a long span of years, 2006-2016 when buying a MacBook of any kind was a joyful, positive, confident experience. Experienced by all. However, of late, one now faces the prospect of a frivolous Touch Bar, problematic keyboard, the need to spend yet more money to get the desired port configuration, and an ever accelerating need to cope with new security initiatives in hardware and software.

If there’s one takeaway from this article, it’s not that the MacBook is a disaster. It’s not. It’s that, by and large, we buy our MacBooks with a sigh and grudging acceptance, crossing our fingers, knowing there’s nothing better.

There will always be minor glitches in any product. But they should remain so minor in a MacBook that users and observers never need to rant about them for years. The challenge for Apple is to get back to a level of quality and design that engenders unqualified joy, trust, admiration and confidence in our investment. Unbridled enthusiasm must be the bar now.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

4 thoughts on “Buying a New MacBook Should be More Joyful Than it is

  • Talk about being overtaken by events.

    Seems that the new 16″ MB Pro:

    -fixes the keyboard
    -returns a physical ESC key
    -has multiple ports

    I may finally move up from my beloved early-2013 MB Pro 15″, having skipped the entire butterfly keyboard era. I’ll take the 64GB RAM, 2TB, faster proc option please!

  • Exactly my feelings as well. Can’t update my 2014 MBP 15 because of the keyboard and lost ports. Apple keeps jacking prices for yesterday’s hardware. I’ve given up. On Black Friday, I’m sadly leaving the walled garden and buying a Surface Pro 7. Been a Mac since Leopard but the walls of the garden have become suffocating.

  • Hopefully Apple’s rumored 16″ MacBook Pro will fix the worst issues with the current design: awful butterfly keyboard, terrible palm rejection on the trackpad, and lack of a physical ESC key.

    I think my ideal design might feature the touchbar above a full row of real function keys, but I’d be mostly happy with a physical ESC key..

  • This is an excellent summary of how I have felt for several years about Apple MacBooks. All of my current Macs (work=MBP, server=MacMini, traveller=MBA) are vintage 2012 machines; Each year since 2015, I’ve considered replacing them with newer models but for any number of reasons, most of the same reasons cited in the article, I have not had the desire to “roll the dice” with Apple’s new stuff, especially at Apple prices.

    Thankfully, my vintage Macs continue to serve me well… but for how much longer?

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