Thoughts on the New MacBook Pro’s with Touch Bar

Here are my initial thoughts, long and winded though they may be.

Introduction
I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately when it comes to PC’s. I’ve got a Late 2013 MacBook Pro that will be 3 years old in a couple of months. Its running just fine, so I really don’t need a new one; and I’m not looking to buy a new computer this year.

If it’s not clear, I’ve pretty much become totally disenchanted with Windows. Unfortunately, things haven’t gotten much better. In fact, the status of this issue hasn’t really changed in over a year. It’s still a problem, and all that Microsoft has is a work around – turn off auto text recognition.

That’s not an answer… but I digress.

With OneNote being the biggest reason why *I* would purchase a Surface Pro 3 or Surface Pro 4 (you’ll recall I dumped mind), I’m really not in the market for a new PC.

With the results of the recent Apple event (even if I was in the market for a new Mac), I’m not certain that I would buy one at this time. In short, I’m not happy and under impressed.

Here’s why (in as small a nut shell as I can put it…)

Cost
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as its likely the most visual issue (aside from the ports, issue, below) with the new MacBook Pros. Cost increases for the Late 2016 MacBook Pros, both with and without Touch Bar are high. They’re so high, in fact, that they’re high for Apple prices, and, THAT kids… says LOT.

Please note that all prices quoted are prices taken directly from Apple .com, and are before any applicable sales tax is added.

The entry level 13″ MacBook Pro, without Touch Bar, is meant to be a replacement for the 13″ MacBook Air. The entry level MBP is $1499. It has a dual core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Graphics 540 and two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. The 128GB 13″ MacBook Air still sells for $999; and has similar, if somewhat diminished specs. That represents a $500 increase; and you’re not getting much more for your money, in my opinion, to justify the cost.

The 256GB version sells for $1199, with the same tech specs. That represents a $300 increase, and all you’re getting is a 256GB SSD for the trouble. That’s hardly worth an extra $300 bucks.

The top of the line 15″ is $4299, up $1515 from last year’s top of the line, which maxed out at $2785. The unit includes a 2.9GHz quad core i7 processor, a 2TB SSD (a $1200 option), 16GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Pro 460 graphics with 4GB of RAM. The cost for this new unit represents a $1515 increase over the previous model.

You could buy a whole other MacBook Pro for that much. Let’s let that sink in just a bit…

At these prices, it’s very difficult to justify the purchase of ANY model. The biggest problem there is that these units are likely LESS upgradable than last year’s model (my guess is the SSD’s are soldered on to the motherboard). That being the case, you’re REALLY going to have to try to future proof the purchase by buying as much as you can. At $4300, and without some of the features and ports (see below) that most are going to want and need, then justification FOR the purpose is much more difficult.

Ports (and other Hardware Changes)

macbook-pro-touch-bar
There were a lot of hardware changes that were made for this model. The most noticeable is the new Touch Bar replacing the function key . I heard on Mac Break Weekly that the Touch Bar was technology that was first pulled together over seven years ago and has been lurking in the Apple R&D lab since before Steve Jobs passed away. It seems that this one feature has been kicked around for a while. Now that it’s finally been set free, we’ll have to see what Apple does with it… Hopefully, it will be much, MUCH more than just a simple gimmick.

USB-C
However, the most noticeable, and potentially most damning… potentially most upsetting… are the four (4) USB-C ports, representing the computer’s ONLY non-wireless connectivity. There are two (2) on each side. While they do provide Thunderbolt 3 connectivity through what is supposed to be just as a universal connector as the USB-A connector, USB-C is really still relatively new (two (2) years or less) and while GAINING acceptance, the “U” in its universalness hasn’t really taken hold yet. I think it will be at least another 18 to 24 months before you see any and all remaining port connectors on notebooks (especially) and desktop form factors (that survive) disappear in favor of USB-C.

Unfortunately, the transition away from other ports – or the inclusion of other ports – happened WAY too early on the MacBook Pro. When this transition is in full swing… when that happens or begins to take shape, THEN I think you can safely move to an all USB-C configuration. Right now, the MacBook Pro is in dire need of other native port connectors, including one to two (1-2) USB-A connectors and at least one Thunderbolt 2/ Mini Display Port connector. (I’ll get to the SD card slot in a sec…). The lack of a transitory set of connectors forces a few very aggravating conclusions

  1. The new MacBook Pro isn’t meant for “me”
    This is the more serious of the two, and it may be a very relevant and accurate question – who is this computer REALLY meant for? Its costs are upwards of $500 to $1500 MORE than previous models, so the cost would suggest a more professional user demographic. However, based on hardware limitations, connectivity and peripheral issues, etc., a more consumer based or casual user would appear to be targeted. Until Apple can really clarify this for us with either marketing material or other hardware configurations, the LATE 2016 MacBook Pro may be something that many pass on, despite it being the “fastest selling MBP ever.”If you’re interested in a similar point of view, The Verge has a very interesting take on this.
  2. If I buy it, I’m going to need to buy dongles for all of my peripherals

Get used to this; at least for this (and perhaps) the next hardware revision of the MacBook Pro. If you have ANY Thunderbolt peripherals, you’re likely going to consider, but pass on replacing them any time soon. Thunderbolt peripherals are expensive. Getting rid of them before they’re useful life is over isn’t an option. Carrying dongles or new/ extra cables for everything is NOT what I want to do with a new computer, and especially one that I’m ALREADY paying a premium for. When I have to add an average of $1000 MORE for that premium, I’m not happy with the choice OR the results.

MagSafe 2
This 10 year plus old savior of not only your REALLY expensive computer, but your premium priced power brick is now gone. I know that before this, my daughters MacBook G4 got tossed all over the living room when someone tripped on the cord. With the advent of MagSafe and MagSafe 2 many the life of a premium priced laptop had been saved. It’s gone now in favor of USB-C.

All of the issues we had with charging prior to MagSafe and MagSafe 2 are now back after a 10 year hiatus.

Gee… thanks a lot Apple.

If you think that my computing habits have changed enough to forego this from happening or if my family of seven has reduced in number any, then you’re sadly mistaken. I need this more than ever, and is going to be a huge factor in determining if I move to a newer MacBook Pro in the future, or if I decide to just stay where I am and try to hold out as long as I can.

Right now, this isn’t too painful for any Mac owner, as they likely have MagSafe/2. The moment their new higher, premium priced laptop gets snagged by a little one’s feet and both child and parent are crying for different reasons, will everyone really start missing this… AND wishing it was back sooner rather than later.

SD Card Slot
There are a lot of folks that say that they really didn’t use this thing. I use it every day. I have a Hyper Drive for my Late 2013 MacBook Pro, and I have a 200GB microSD card in it. All of my photos from my Nikon DSLR get transferred here so I don’t take up too much space from my 512GB SSD. This gives me near three quarters of a terabyte of space on my MBP, and honestly, I’d be lost without it.

Many audio and video professionals are going to have issues with this decision as well, as not every piece of AV equipment is setup to use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or some other form of wireless file transfer. While you transfer files with a cable, its again going to require that you get and carry a different cable, OR a dongle, and that just seems wrong, frustrating and expensive.

I think removing this, in the long run will turn out to be a mistake, but having Apple reverse this kind of decision isn’t likely going to happen either, so you should be prepared for some kind of long term work around.

Upgradability
Anytime you turn a product into an appliance – something you can’t upgrade – then as the manufacturer, you’re taking on the role of providing an appropriate upgrade path; or a path that provides needed options. While Apple has turned the MacBook Pro into an appliance, they haven’t really given everyone the options they are currently requesting.

The 15″ Late 2016 MacBook Pro doesn’t have a lot of upgrade or purchase options. You have a Quad Core i7 option that offers 0.2 GHz of speed/ turbo increase for approximately $200 – money not worth spending, in my opinion – three SSD options – 512GB, 1TB and 2TB – the last coming at a $1200 premium, enough to nearly buy a whole other MacBook Pro – and an AMD discrete graphics adapter bump that effectively buys you 4GB of adapter RAM vs 2GB of adapter RAM, for an additional $200. The device comes standard with 16GB of system RAM. (I’ll get into that, below.)

In this chassis, having turned the device into an appliance, you’re likely going to need to insure that you buy enough machine as you can afford. The SSD is likely soldered to the motherboard and not remotely end user upgradable. All of the other components I’ve listed (aside from RAM, addressed below), were already soldered to the motherboard; and you’ve not been able to upgrade any of those components since the mid-1990’s when CPU upgrades were tossed out because too many end users were zapping chips, creating way too many returns. The upgrade chips also didn’t sell very well – but that’s another story.

RAM Limited to 16GB
The Late 2016 MacBook Pro is limited to 16GB of RAM due to processor limitations. According to Apple and Intel, processor issues with the Intel Core processors used limit RAM to 16GB so processor heat and other issues don’t overwhelm the battery, greatly reducing battery life to something under 3 hours a charge. While this isn’t surprising, it is very disappointing. Apparently the case can get VERY hot with the Kaby Lake processor that allows more than 16Gb of RAM.

This is a huge limiting factor, however. The current (prior to the Late 2016 MacBook Pros) crop of Mac portables max out at 16GB of RAM. While we want Intel vs. AMD processors here – Intel processors are far superior in processing power – we don’t want to burn down the house, office or your pants. However, machines with this kind of processing power really want more than 16GB of RAM, especially for audio, video and still photography processing, and this current crop of MacBook Pros just doesn’t deliver.

I’m certain this will be resolved in the future, but having this issue now just provides one more reason to pass on this new Mac laptop; and honestly… that’s very disappointing.

Conclusion
According to MacBreak Weekly, the Touch Bar has been floating around Apple’s R&D department for over seven (7) years. That puts us back into Steve Jobs time, and is a piece of technology that Steve was obviously aware of before he passed in 2011. So, considering that this at least has his knowledge, if not his approval, to move forward, you can rest assured that the Mast of Macness had a good idea that this would eventually see the light of day. After seven (7) or so years, it may simply be that it didn’t make sense to hold this bit of kit back, so out it went. Unfortunately, rationalization on feature release isn’t something that we’re likely going to get much insight on from Apple.

While this may be the biggest draw to this new crop of MacBook Pro’s there are certainly some detractors among the attractions. While thinner and faster are always at the top of what Apple is trying to do, there comes a point when you have to ask if thinner and faster is really the way to go. I mean, to be honest, I could care less if this year’s MacBook Pro is thinner than last year’s.

Some people will say that Apple really is trying to merge iOS and macOS here, as the hardware seems to be on a collision course. They’re really getting to look an awful lot like each other, the thinner they get. While I have no idea if this is actually a goa here (previously, Tim Cook said they would never meet, but get asymptotally closer (close, but never intersecting). My guess is that there are a lot of folks that are really questioning that statement right about now.

To me, it’s irrelevant.

The Mac and the iPad Pro serve two different audiences, though those could flip flop from time to time, they serve different market segments. There will – at least in my lifetime – always be the need for separate tools as they address and serve different functions.

However, let’s get down to brass tacks – is this the right Mac for you? That’s going to depend on your needs and the current age and suitability of your current Mac, but my recommendation will be for you to wait.

Prices for the Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar are anywhere between $500 to 1500 (plus tax) more expensive than previous revisions. Their hardware limitations, lack of peripheral ports – and standardization on USB-C – puts them in a total cost of ownership category that is difficult for even the hard core professional to justify. According to IBM, which had the Mac at $563 cheaper to own over its lifetime, the high end 15″ MacBook Pro is now $952 more expensive to own over its lifetime, and that’s just for the current hardware. It doesn’t count in new cables, dongles or peripherals.

How anyone can afford something like this, without it being a machine that goes above and beyond what they have now, is very puzzling. I’m not certain how having its current limitations, will in the long run, appeal to anyone.

And just to be clear, I’m not hating on the new MacBook Pro. I’m a Mac lover. I’m just really disappointed in all of its limitations and issues.

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