Innovation.

macbook-pro
Photo from 9to5 Mac.

Like many Apple users, I watched the latest keynote presentation from Apple last Thursday. The highlight of the event was the announcement of their new MacBook Pro lineup. I’m not in the market to purchase a new laptop, having just purchased a replacement for my stolen computer in July, but I’m always curious as to what Apple is up to so I blocked off my calendar and watched as I went about my work.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by what I saw and for the first time in my history of using Apple products, happy that I didn’t wait for the upgrade announcement before buying a computer.

The new MacBook Pro is a thinner, lighter version of what’s been around for years. The highlight is the new TouchBar, which is a miniature Retina touch display that lives where your function keys normally go. So the row of keys that has Escape, F1, volume, etc. is gone and now you have this dynamic area that presents what you need for the application you are currently using. At the right end of the row is a TouchID sensor similar to what is found in the iPhone and iPad. In addition, the MagSafe connector, along with all the other ports, have been removed and been replaced with up to four USB-C connectors. USB-C allows for data exchange and power charging all in one port. There’s also a bigger trackpad and a traditional headphone jack.

A few things immediately came to mind during the presentation:

  • You can’t purchase a brand new iPhone 7 and plug it into a brand new MacBook Pro without buying an adapter. The provided iPhone 7 cable requires an older USB connector. So you can’t sync or power up your phone without a dongle.
  • Programmers that rely on the Escape key for software used for writing code no longer have a physical button to hit, they now have to find the TouchBar version.
  • You can no longer carry one set a headphones to listen to music on your computer or your brand new iPhone without also carrying a dongle. Since the iPhone 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, the provided headphones use the proprietary Lightning connector. The new MacBook Pro doesn’t provide a Lightning connector without a dongle.
  • If I were to buy this new computer, I could no longer take the SD card out of my GoPro or other cameras and insert it into the computer, since the SD card slot was removed. I would now either need a dongle or purchase a camera or SD card with wi-fi capabilities
  • The replacement of the function keys with the Touch Bar prohibits me from interacting with necessary functions when my laptop is closed and docked and I’m using an external monitor, keyboard and mouse (my daily work setup).
  • I can’t connect my Apple monitors to my Apple laptop without a dongle.

Thankfully, the folks on the stage did not go into some litany about “courage” for removing all of these ports. Afterwards I read that Apple has removed the classic startup chime so closely associated with the platform. The glowing Apple in the laptop lid has also been removed.

I feel like Apple has moved the Mac computing experience from a computer you interact with to a computer you use. Much of the humanity that older Apple products strove for seems to be drained from this latest generation. In a world where touch screens are becoming the norm, you still can’t touch the screen of your Mac and have anything happen but smudge marks. Touchscreens are becoming the standard on PCs and laptops. Other platforms are mimicking the touch ability found on our mobile devices. But Apple is determined to keep the two experiences separate.

I find this odd.

While I’m sure the TouchBar is an amazing piece of technology and will be useful, it seems small and a half-hearted attempt to provide touch capabilities to the Mac without compromising the revenue stream from iPhones and iPads. I would rather have the ability to nearly embrace my computer experience by touching the screen instead of hunching over my computer watching a miniature display do its thing and pecking at a dynamic button.

I’ve been fearing that Apple is losing its ability to innovate and is instead focusing on keeping revenue streams alive through the purchase of multiple devices with multiple dongles required to connect things together. In a perfect world I wouldn’t have a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. Ideally I’d like an iPhone that can power a MacBook or iPad shell; one device with enough horsepower and smarts that handles everything and can be fitted to the appropriate form factor. That would be amazing. But it wouldn’t sell a lot of hardware.

Innovation in the tech industry has become stagnant over the past couple of years. We seem to be locked into a paradigm of phone-tablet-computer that needs a good shakeup. Unfortunately I don’t think that Apple is the company that’s going to do the shaking.

They don’t seem to Think Different anymore.

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