In all my years of using Apple products, I have never returned one. Until now. Last month I purchased the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. What a letdown. It’s the first Apple device that’s actually made me less productive.
Why? The company has lost touch with Steve Jobs’ vision for simple, elegant machines. Using the new MacBook Pro for the last several weeks confirms my hunch. It’s a dud.
When David Gewirtz reviewed it for ZDNet, he summed up his assessment in one word: meh. “I don’t hate it,” he said about the Touch Bar. “It just doesn’t seem to add anything to my daily work process and, at least as something of a power user, it adds a bit of annoyance to the process of typing.”
That’s my experience exactly. But I’ll state it more strongly. There are three big reasons the new MacBook Pro is a step backward for creative professionals—not to mention several smaller design missteps.
1. The Touch Bar
The Touch Bar is a solution in search of a problem. You can’t touch type with it, so this requires you to take your eyes off the screen to use it. And for what? There’s really nothing it offers that you can’t do already with your mouse, TrackPad gestures, or keyboard.
But it gets worse. As it turns out, I used the old function keys more than I realized. Now I have to hit the FN key to get them to show up. That’s just a distraction—and an extra step.
Next, my left pinky is constantly hitting the faux Escape key on the Touch Bar, which does crazy and unpredictable things when I am typing. It’s taken me days to retrain myself to avoid this problem, and I still occasionally hit it. I just don’t think the design is right.
Honestly, I haven’t seen any serious good use for the Touch Bar. At best, it just sits there and looks pretty. At worst, it’s one more input device that makes the whole computing experience more complex and distracting.
I don’t want to be thinking about my computer when I’m working; I want to think about my work.
2. Subpar Performance Increase
Normally when Apple upgrades a device, it gets a noticeable boost in performance. Within days I’m wondering how I survived for so long without the improvements. Not this time. These upgrades are yawners.
The main chip is supposedly faster, for instance. And the specs do show an improvement. But it doesn’t really feel any faster than the previous generation. I bet I would only notice if I were editing video—which I’m usually not doing.
The screen is slightly brighter. But while the specs show an improvement, it’s another case where user experience won’t really be much different. It’s a blip, not a boost. I stopped noticing the improved screen after a couple days.
Finally, the TrackPad is a lot bigger. But I don’t see any advantage. It’s just different, not better.
USB-C is the future, but Apple’s current execution is a joke. Literally. You have to buy three or four dongles just to work with your usual peripherals. Think USB Flash drives, HDMI and VGA connectors for slide presentations, USB for external photos drive, USB connector for remote slide advancer, SD card slot for a camera, and so on. And on.
Apple should have created a better bridge to the USB-C future. For example, they could have added USB-C without removing the other ports. Even leaving one USB-A would have been helpful.
It’s like Apple shipped me a car without the tires.
The USB-C power cord connector is especially problematic. They got rid of the MagSafe connector so it’s only a matter of time before a pulled cord dumps my laptop on the ground. Griffin does make a third-party breakaway connector but it’s $39.95!
Weirdest of all, they retained the headphone jack—something they don’t even give you with the iPhone. In fact, you can’t plug the iPhone into the computer without an adapter! The only winners here are aftermarket suppliers cooking up new dongle solutions to all the port problems Apple created.
A Few Smaller Problems
Those are the three big problems, but there are a few other design missteps and annoyances worth mentioning.
- The speakers are definitely better. But who listens to anything on their computer speakers? I use headphones or external speakers. Always.
- The Touch ID feature on the Touch Bar is awesome. It works flawlessly and even works with 1Password. However, if you have the Apple Watch and have that set to unlock your Mac, it’s redundant.
- Lastly, the new finishes are slick, especially Space Gray. But Apple killed the illumined case logo.
The illumined logo doesn’t have any functional purpose, but it was a nice touch. And its loss serves as a fitting icon.
A Productivity Downgrade
There’s no glow in the new MacBook Pro. It’s everything Steve Jobs was against. Inelegant. Needlessly complicated. It’s definitely not a pro version of anything. It’s a productivity downgrade.
When for the first time ever Consumer Reports refused to give it their recommendation, I wasn’t surprised at all. It makes me wonder if Apple intends to get out of the laptop market altogether. If this is their best effort, maybe they should. I hate saying that, but I also hate having to regret and return an Apple product.
As a professional, I count on Apple to deliver great tools that make me more productive. In my opinion, the MacBook Pro fails to do that.
Postscript: Several people in the comments have asked me what I intend to do about a new computer. I bought a brand new, early 2015 13.3″ MacBook Pro from B&H Photo. It has a 3.1 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM. Here is the exact configuration.