The State of Consumer Computing

I have NO idea where the industry is going with this…

consumer_computingOk, kids. Sit back. I’ve been cooking up a rant on the direction that consumer/ prosumer computing has been going for a while; and given that the Holidays are here, it’s time to let this one loose. There’s some background that I feel is necessary (nearly) every time I shoot my mouth off, so bear with me a minute…

I’ve been writing in the tech sector for almost 20 years. I’m a tech pioneer, as I got started in mobile, and consumer computing back in 1990-blah-blah-blah when computing and mobility was in its infancy. During this time, I’ve always seen a clear steady progression… a firm march towards what I would call a confirmed and clear vision of mobility and portability that enabled prosumer and hobbyist level consumers to be productive. Honestly, I don’t see much of that any longer. To be blunt – I have no idea where the heck industry is headed at this point, and it really concerns me.

I used to be a huge Windows proponent. I cut my teeth at WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group NETwork where I was their Senior Content Editor for approximately 10 years. I wrote – literally – thousands of Windows based tips for Windows, IE, Office 95 – 2007, and Hardware. I had a column in the Computing Pro Forum at AOL/ CompuServe, which WUGNET managed, called, “The Weekly Byte,” covering anything and everything computing and/ or Windows based, for just over seven years. I’ve also been on every technical beta of Windows since Windows 95. Windows is a platform that I know very, VERY well.

Unfortunately, I have little to NO idea where Microsoft is headed at this point, and quite honestly – though it may seem a bit harsh – I’m not certain they do either. Again, to be blunt, Windows 10 is a train wreck; but I’ll get to that in short order.

I’ve made it very clear that I’m not happy with the way things are going with Windows. To say I’m disenchanted with the state of Windows could be considered an understatement. Couple that with the prices for the new and still available, but previous, version of Surface Book; and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

It’s no secret to anyone that Windows PC’s are about half the price (or less) of an Apple computer. Which really makes Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book prices really confusing. Both Signature PC’s – meaning that they are Windows PC’s without any junkware, crapware or adware installed by the PC manufacturer – are priced as premium devices. Microsoft Surface Book ranges in price from $1499 to $2999 before tax. Surface Pro 4 is a bit more “affordable,” but also gets rather pricey. Prices for it range from $899 to $2699 before tax.

I have no idea why Surface PC’s are so expensive. Microsoft’s hardware efforts don’t have the clout to command such premium prices. In fact the history of both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book have been riddled with HUGE driver issues. Microsoft has had huge issues related to both power and battery drivers as well as graphics driver issues that have prevented the convertible PC’s from sleeping and hibernating correctly as well as contributing to “hot bag” syndrome, where the PC overheats in a backpack or notebook carrying case because the device never shuts off correctly, burning out the device at worse or severely draining and damaging the battery at best.

Don’t get me started about the whole disappearing ink thing. Over a year later, its still not resolved. That bug effects ALL Surface Pro products, including older Surface Pro devices AND Surface Book.

Microsoft has over the past couple of years since the start of the Windows Insider Program at the beginning of the Windows 10 beta period, said that it would be forcing ALL Windows users to Windows 10 once the operating system was officially released; and they’ve stuck to that, too. Microsoft has been downloading Windows 10 to users PCs whether they want it to be upgraded or not, without their permission. At that point, Windows doesn’t ask you if you want to upgrade, but TELLS you that it’s going to update your machine. In fact, many Windows 7-8.x users went to bed only to wake up to a PC that was upgraded to Windows 10 without their permission. These strong arm tactics had many Windows users breathing fire in Redmond’s general direction. Microsoft seems to have crossed a line with this one, and they aren’t sorry about it either.

And I REALLY have to go into Microsoft’s mobile strategy or the real lack thereof?

It’s clear that Microsoft DOESN’T care about whether or not I want to upgrade or not. They’re taking everyone there, kicking and screaming if they have to; and they don’t seem to care about the fallout, either.

I don’t get it. Microsoft seems to have done a “Steve Jobs” and decided what was best for everyone whether they want it or not. This new attitude combined with their Surface based driver issues has me wondering who’s steering the boat in Redmond; or if anyone is really steering at all.

Microsoft has seemingly gone from a compassionate business partner strong arming business software dictator. Where the heck did they get the system level permissions to upgrade my computer without my consent? My good friend, Woody Leonard of Microsoft Office fame has a decent article, published earlier this year that provides some good information on this.

Needless to say, this and a Microsoft’s confusing hardware strategy has a number of people, me included, wondering just where Microsoft is going with all of this. They’ve burned a lot of bridges with a lot of folks. Some have sworn off Windows and have considered other OS options like machos or Linux.

Speaking of which…

I got into Macs in 2006 after Apple made the switch to Intel processors. In fact, I bought my first Mac with the intent of it being a Windows machine. An Intel based Mac runs Windows VERY well. The drivers that Apple provides via Boot Camp are really solid. In my opinion, Macs provide one of the best native Windows computing experiences around.

In fact, it’s for THAT reason alone that most of the tech sector – meaning those paid professions (like me) that cover technology developments via mainstream tech print or online media, use Macs. They’re really the ONLY computer on the market that can natively (and legally) run BOTH major, consumer operating systems out of the box. In fact, they can also run just about any Linux distro you throw at it as well. Since Macs can really be the anything and everything computer, spending the extra money to purchase one of them as a notebook makes perfect sense and is completely cost justifiable. With a Mac, I can cover any and every platform. I can review nearly every OS available. I can review just about any and every accessory for any operating system, provided I have the right port and/ or cable or dongle available or within reach.

Macs have also historically been supported by firmware and OS compatibility by Apple for a minimum of five to seven years, making these historically, premium priced, prosumer targeted notebooks and desktops easy to use, easy to justify and easy to maintain… that is, until recently.

With the release of the iPad Pro and the release of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar I truly believe there are very few people outside of Cupertino that know where Apple is going with its computing strategy.

Many new Late 2016 MacBook Pro users have said that the form factor of the device is approaching that of the iPad Pro, with a keyboard. These same people have stated that the iPad Pro could be a MacBook Pro replacement… with the introduction of the proper software. Both devices seem to be hurtling towards each other’s users and towards each other’s form factors.

There are a number of reviews on the Late 2016 MacBook Pro that indicate that the device is more mainstream consumer oriented than a “professional” device. They have further said that the only thing that’s “pro” about the new MacBook Pro is its price. Its anywhere between $500 to $1500 more expensive than its immediate predecessor; and the only thing that it REALLY offers is a thinner form factor and a Touch Bar that many users are still on the fence about.

What remains adamantly unclear is where Apple is headed with their computing products. Apple recently got out of the wireless router business. Apple hasn’t updated the Mac mini since October of 2014; and hasn’t’ updated the iMac since October of 2015. While they’ve updated the iPhone and iPad regularly during the same timeframe, what IS clear is that their portable computing efforts seem to be edging closer and closer to their tablet based products and their tablet efforts seem to be edging closer and close to their portable computing based products.

But to WHAT end?

Back in the day, everyone clearly wanted not only better, faster, stronger, but lighter and more portable. With Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lines of notebook computers, we achieved that some time ago. All that Apple seems to be doing is making the MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro more and more alike; and many are asking, “why?”

Unfortunately, no one from Cupertino is providing any kind of explanation; and I find myself trying to figure out a couple of things:
1. How in the world I’m going to afford a new MacBook Pro in 2-3 more years.
2. Is a Mac even the right platform to choose?

Both of these questions are equally important. I don’t want an iOS device to be my main computing device. The platform doesn’t offer enough software – or even the right software – for what I use a computer for. I don’t want all of my files pushed to the cloud, which is where iDevices really want all of your data to live – and to be very honest, iDevices don’t offer all of the peripherals and connectivity options I’m looking for. Connecting my Nikon D7100 to my iPad isn’t possible, for example; and likely won’t be. Yes, Apple has a dongle to connect an SD card to an iPad, but I really don’t want to have to remove it from the camera every time I want to transfer pictures from it to my “computer” for retouching and processing.

While I really don’t need more than 16GB of RAM on a computer at this point, my previous Mac purchase strategy was to buy the high end 15″ MacBook Pro with as big of an SSD as I could afford. In the past, that’s cost me approximately $3000; but it got me a Mac that has historically lasted more than 5 years, with the exception of my Early 2011 MacBook Pro, that is. My 2006 MacBook Pro lasted me until 2011.

Most folks who did what I did – bought big to ward off obsolescence – won’t necessarily be able to do that this time around. I bought the high end, Late 2013 MBP with the high end processor and 512GB SSD, and 16GB of RAM. Which at the time, was as big and as bad as you could get.

If I were to spend the same amount of money with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, the only thing I really buy myself is a technology refresh, as I don’t see any value in the Touch Bar given my workflow. If I add the Radeon 460 graphics card – a $100 upgrade that doubles your graphics adapter RAM, a decent upgrade for the price – I’ve priced myself $600 above what I paid for my Late 2013 MacBook Pro (before tax), and as I said, all I’ve really gotten is a technology refresh. I’d hardly call that a compelling reason to buy a new computer, especially since, at this time, there’s nothing wrong with my Late 2013 MacBook Pro.

Upgrading storage from 512GB to 1TB is an additional $400, which seems reasonable, given storage gain; but that brings the price up to $3499, or an additional $1000 above what my Late 2013 MacBook Pro cost, and again, before tax. After tax, the cost is $3718, or $933 more than I paid previously. That’s a lot of money for additional storage and a small graphics adapter bump.

The cost increase here is a huge surprise to many, given that Apple has a history of keeping the new price for new equipment the same as the cost of last year’s model. Here, it seems that there’s a $500 bump for the new models even before you get to customizing the base model’s specs.

AND it’s a lot of money when I have no idea where Apple is headed with their consumer/ prosumer computing roadmap. Are they truly ignoring the professional market? Are they going to push all consumers towards iOS? I have no idea.

Dude… your guess is as good as mine.

I have no idea where the hell Microsoft is going with Windows 10, its somewhat hostile upgrade program (now, seemingly toned down a bit…) or the fact that Microsoft can’t even get the drivers for their OWN signature PC’s coded and debugged correctly.

Heck, have you run Windows through Boot Camp on a Mac? Apple did a dynamite job of providing Windows drivers for all of THEIR hardware. If Apple can do this well, why can’t the maker of the operating system provide drivers for THEIR branded machines? This really seems kinda stupid… Microsoft can’t get this right, but their major competitor – who really doesn’t want to continue to provide Boot Camp, by the way – can. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, that’s for sure.

While it seems like the best thing to do at this point is to just jump to over to a Mac, the cost of any of their current “Pro” level notebooks, unfortunately make it exceptionally cost prohibitive. Buying into the Apple ecosystem as a new user is just too damned expensive at this point. Staying here means I either have to settle for a notebook I don’t want, or my kids won’t be able to go to college…EVER.

Even if it weren’t cost prohibitive, I have no confidence that Apple will be able to support me with the type of hardware that I want and need for my computing needs. Their current computing offerings seem to be hurtling towards each other, destined to end up in some sort of crammed, hashed together mess that combines both iOS and macOS elements.

Hey, Tim..! Keep your chocolate OUT of my peanut butter! I don’t want a notebook that’s more iDevice than notebook. I want a portable, desktop replacement that runs a desktop class operating system. And I don’t want to have to pay $4000 for it, either.

So… I have no idea where both Microsoft – whose software runs in nearly every office of every business on the ENTIRE PLANET – or Apple are headed. One seems to be unable to write drivers even for their own equipment, and the other seems to hell bent on turning their conventional PC’s into tablets.

Both seem hell bent on pissing off all of their users though.

Am I the only one who thinks this? Chime in folks. I’d really appreciate you giving me your thoughts on this.

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