Open letter to Tim Cook, re: The 2017 MacBook Pro

Hi, Tim

I’ve been using Apple products since I was a design student, many years ago. Twenty-five and counting. Yikes. I’ve owned a series of desktop and laptop Macs. After my last MacBook Pro (a 2008 model) died of old age last year, I found myself looking at an aging product lineup, so I decided to wait it out, hobbling along on a Mac mini of 2010 vintage until the rumoured MacBook Pro line was refreshed.

Then the new machines came out in the fall of 2016, and I was underwhelmed. I decided to wait longer, knowing that a Kaby Lake refresh would be just around the corner. I demo’d the machines in Apple Stores. I was blown away by the displays, and actually loved the new keyboard.

Finally, this summer, I made my move, opting for a 2017 TouchBar 13” MacBook Pro. I’ve only had it a couple of weeks, and I’m still getting used to it, but here are a few initial thoughts:

The good:

Overall, it’s a gorgeous design. Clean and a lovely evolution of previous machines. Nothing groundbreaking, but still a solid design with impeccable build quality. It feels like a solid hunk of metal, like all the “unibody” machines.

The addition of TouchID to the Mac line is fantastic, and I love it.

The bad:

The TouchBar is, I’m sorry to say, largely useless. It is the answer to a question nobody was asking, a feature without a real use case.

The trackpad is almost TOO big. I often find my left palm is registering as a touch, turning a two-finger swipe into a “pinch” gesture. A little annoying. It wouldn’t hurt to scale it back a bit, or make further improvements to the palm rejection.

The ugly:

As much as I appreciate the svelte size, the biggest issue I’m experiencing with my new MacBook Pro is battery life. Honestly, I’ve been working since 8:30 this morning. Nothing I’m doing is particularly processor-intensive. It’s now 11:10am, and my battery is at 39%.

I started working at 08:30. Battery consumption is approximately 24% per hour. Not good.

I started working at 08:30. Battery consumption is approximately 24% per hour. Not good.

Some quick math tells me that my battery is being consumed at approximately 24% per hour, giving me a little over 4 hours of use out of a full charge. This is just unacceptable for a Pro level machine. That won’t keep me working through the airport and a flight, nor will it get me through back-to-back Typography classes at the college where I teach. I have to bring my adapter with me to class and plug in.

On that subject, my classroom podiums are well equipped with numerous inputs, including HDMI for the projectors. Lack of direct HDMI output on the Pro machines is a frustrating design decision. HDMI is hardly what I would call a “legacy” port. In addition to carrying my power adapter, I have to carry a dongle. I now have to lug my whole briefcase with me to class, instead of walking with just my laptop, and leaving my briefcase in my office.

Jony Ive’s obsession lately seems to be making everything thinner and lighter. That’s great for a certain population that need portability above all. But the Pro mobile user is a bit of a unique case. We are by and large, content creators. We’re road warriors. We’re teachers and professors. We need our machines to get through the day. I would have gladly endured half an inch more depth and half a pound more weight if it meant I got six or eight hours of battery life.

Apple already does thin-and-light AND battery life extremely well with the 12” MacBook. The 13” Pro should have been at least its equal in battery life. But instead, the priority seems to have been placed on the thin-and-light and not the battery capacity. The choice to compromise battery life for weight and thickness was the wrong one, in my opinion.

The ugly truth:

My experience so far with this machine is very disappointing, to say the least. My old MacBook Pro used to be able to get through the day, and only had its battery performance diminish to the level I’m currently experiencing with a brand-new machine after years of use and hundreds of charge cycles. This machine won’t last anywhere near as long as my old machines did, with memory, storage, and battery no longer user-serviceable.

While waiting for these 2017 machines to come out, I weighed my options very carefully. I’m deeply invested in my Macs and the iOS ecosystem, but with most of the software I use (Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud) already at feature parity on Windows, and some software (Rhino and other CAD/CAM apps) are less robust, or still missing entirely on the Mac.

I told myself a few months ago that this could be the last Mac I ever buy. And my day-to-day experience with it is not swaying me from that decision.

Apple’s competition has finally caught up in terms of design, materials, and build quality. Software was once a differentiator, but even that gap has vanished. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s currently a very level playing field.

You have about 18-24 months to impress me, or I’m gone.

Sincerely,

Darren Wilson.
Mac User since 1992