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Does Apple deserve the criticisms being leveled at it lately?


They could’ve avoided at least one of the three big ones, though


Apple held an event and a lot of people lost their minds. Sound familiar? That’s because this phenomenon is a regular occurrence among us, the technology nerds. The sun might not come up the next day but you can always be sure that there’ll be a buzz around whatever the Cupertino-based giant announces. Unfortunately, it seems, this time, with the new MacBook Pros, that buzz has been largely negative. A lot of people have been up in arms about a lot of things that Apple did (and didn’t do) at their latest event. Although I don’t agree with most of them, the biggest criticisms seem to be around the facts that Apple didn’t announce updates to their desktop computers (the Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Pro – a criticism that I too have), changed all ports to USB-C (leading to dongle-gate) and the overall feeling that Apple has stopped catering to the niche ‘pros’, the hard-core designers, illustrators, etc. While I’m in no way a hardcore pro (my computing needs might very well get taken care of by an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard), I have a couple of opinions about the other two criticisms. And those opinions are very nicely reflected in what Chuq Von Rospach wrote the other day.

About the whole ‘Apple didn’t announce updates to their desktop computers’ bit

Under the assumption that there are updated desktops coming after the first of the year, I think it would have made sense to mention that, just so users waiting for them can stop feeling abandoned. It doesn’t require a lot of disclosure, but I think it was time for at least some.

So, later in the event, Phil brings up a single slide that says something like “More is coming soon”, and adds some color about what that means — updated iMac, a new Mac pro, and — dare we dream — an update to the Mini?

Highlight some of the upcoming features, wide color, Skylake processors, USB C and thunderbolt 3, and perhaps even throw Intel under the bus a little bit over the reason they’re not shipping today.

That would, I think, have muted a lot of the anger I’m seeing, without really giving away anything people couldn’t guess for themselves. What’s important here to me is that Apple acknowledges the cluster in the product line rather than proudly announce how great life is.

I couldn’t have put it in better terms than those. As someone who had tuned into the event with the singular goal of getting to know more about Apple’s plans for the Mac Mini and iMac, I was left with a very sour taste in my mouth by the time the event ended. Phil, or Tim, should’ve made at least a passing mention to the MacBook Pro’s desktop brethren and told us to hang in there. A message that Macs are important to them and that they are working hard to bring the best to us when it comes to their desktop line would’ve helped a lot (Phil Schiller actually said as much during an interview this week).

I’m also hoping that Apple has something along Chuq’s vision for the Mac desktop line in mind.

What I’m hoping for is in fact a new desktop product line which merges the Mini and the Mac Pro where, like the MacBooks, you have the options of 2-3 models each with 2-3 configuration upgrades which cover the pricing and processing needs from a basic Mac Mini to today’s Mac Pro supercomputer capabilities.

About the removal of all those ports and having to use a lot of dongles now

The bigger issue around dongles is that niche thing again. These are accessories that allow specific customizations to the device that some people will want, but which most people won’t need. If you think about it, perhaps the biggest change from my older, 2013 laptop is that it’s gone from having seven (yes, that many) ports, each with a specific purpose to having four points, each customizable by a cable to dongle to solve the problem you have.

My laptop has a power port, an SD card port, 3 Thunderbolt ports and two USB ports. I know that in the four years I’ve owned it, I’ve never used the SD card, I use the Power port, one Thunderbolt port, and occasionally plug a USB cable in. So half the ports in this thing are never used — and yet I paid for them because they were built into the computer.

That’s the issue that defines dongles: Should 100% of buyers pay for a feature when only 5% of the owners will use it? Or 10%? How many users will need a feature before you think it ought to be required for everyone to buy it as part of the device? Where do you draw that line?

Yup. I own a MacBook Air and though it doesn’t come with the assortment of ports that previous MacBook Pros used to come with, it still has MagSafe port for charging the device, a few USB ports and an SD Card slot. I’ve used the SD Card slot two times in the 18 months that I’ve owned the MacBook Air and the only port I use 99% of my time with it is the MagSafe port for charging it (I don’t have to use that one much either, because of the excellent battery life). The two USB ports see moderate use for connecting external hard-drives, the headphone jack sees intermittent use when I plug-in an external speaker and I had to look at the sides of my MacBook Air right now to realise that it has a Thunderbolt 3 port too! I’d surely prefer multi-talented ports which I can use for anything using a cable and a dongle right now than have 4 ports which have only one use each.

The nice thing is that the ports on the new computer give you the options to have the capabilities you need, not the capabilities Apple thinks someone might need. And if you really think the dongles are ugly, I’m sorry — but there are also non-Apple options that are often cheaper, too.

But dongles are very much a feature, not a bug. And four general purpose ports is, to me, a big upgrade over seven speciality ports.

We need to remember that if they add all of those ports to the computer, you’re paying for them, whether or not you use them. And they all take power, they add complexity, and increase the chance of failure for the device as a whole.

I really think that we, as a group, are focussing on criticising the wrong things right now. There are other things that are broken in Apple’s ecosystem right now (the need for a separate cable to connect even this year’s iPhone to the new MacBook Pros and the fact that the same earphones can’t be used with both devices without another contraption are two that come to mind – but these too should get resolved by next year – that doesn’t mean that Apple didn’t break the well-oiled machine a bit here). But I guess, we signed up for this when we decided to like Apple and the things they do.

But if there’s one truth I can predict moving forward, no matter what Apple does, there will be people criticizing it. That’s just life in the Apple ecosystem.

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