Why I bought an old MacBook Pro

I was in the market for a new laptop, and purchased an old MacBook Pro – the last of the mid-2015 models – instead of the new, thinner, touch bar model. Why?

Firstly, I think the touch bar is a gimmick that did not speak to my needs.

Secondly, the ports. I use only one dongle occasionally, and the SD slot frequently. Even if I did embrace the change, it would take years for the rest of the ecosystem cameras, phones, etc, to catch up, while I live in dongle-hell. Even the iPhone 7 does not ship with a USB-C cord yet. That’s ridiculous.

I also don’t care about the weight (I have been carrying a 15″ Mac around for a decade), the old model is more than fast enough, and it was cheaper (discounted, in fact).

YouTube has many reviews making similar points (even the good reviews), and the situation makes me wonder if Apple has jumped the shark.

The MacBook line has become successful off the back of professionals – designers, developers, and, to a certain extent, students.

Most professional users are very adept at using hot-keys in their software of choice. I’ve watched designers use photoshop using the mouse only for moving and adjusting things – hotkeys were used for changing modes and data entry. This is all done without looking at the keyboard.

The same is true for most developers. They use workflows optimised for speed, and that includes using hotkeys much of the time. Use of editors like vi(m) and EMACS is rife – they both use hotkeys.

The touch bar speaks to none of these needs. Sure, you can add a scroller widget for Premiere, or pull out some functions based on the current context, but pro users already know how to do these things efficiently, and they are built into muscle memory built up over years.

Now, it is reasonable in the business world to increasingly focus on premium users at the expense of others. This is rational given the way most businesses measure profitability – premium users return the most value. But, over time, the product does much, much more than basic (or average) users need, or want to pay for. I suspect that the touch bar falls into this category for pro users.

This happens with most products eventually, and the result is that there is room at the bottom of the market for cheaper products that service the needs of non-premium users.

But what would happen if you change your product so that it no longer meets the needs of your current premium customers? The product still has a premium price, creating a situation where those customers (who are well-funded) look at alternatives. A survey around the web shows that this is already happening; I also had a look around. For designers, the new Surface Studio looks amazing. Developers, most of whom really only need Linux, could use any Laptop, or a VM under windows, or the new BASH shell on Win10. Heresy!

I am sure some people will buy the knew MacBook Pro because it is new (and cool) or because they have to replace an ageing Mac and do not want the hassle of re-tooling. But I don’t think many pros will end up using the touch bar, and will find it a waste of space.

So, if premium users start moving way from the Mac, then the cool kids are no longer seen to be using Macs. What does that do to the brand, and how quickly?

Yes, I could be wrong. Steve Balmer laughed at the iPhone. But I don’t see this change as innovative – it is an incremental change – and a change in a much more competitive, fluid and better informed market.

Time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Why I bought an old MacBook Pro

  1. I read this before the review MacBook Pro arrived. Expect a full review later, maybe this weekend. When I saw the post I was nodding my head sagely in agreement at some of the points.

    Now I’ve had some hands-on time I think much of the general criticism of the new MacBook Pros is overcooked. It’s not wrong, because different people have different needs.

    But I think we’ve been through this kind of change resistance in the past only to realise that, in hindsight, the changes were for the better. A year from now people will wonder what the fuss was about. OK, maybe two years from now.

    The Touch Bar is more useful in practice than it might appear on paper. I’m a touch typist, like many journalists of my generation I have a high typing speed, but not great accuracy.

    I found that I never uses the function keys much in the past and would need to look at them to use them – something I don’t do while touch typing.

    Sure, it may not suit developers, but for word processing, spreadsheets, web design and just about any application made by Adobe, it adds more value than I expected.

    If you don’t like it there is a low-end model that doesn’t include it.


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