In October of 2016 Apple held a special event to unveil the next generation of MacBook Pros. Fans awaited the announcement restlessly since the Mac line wasn’t getting much love at that time. I actually never watched it because I was in Harry Potter World. Alas, what we got was a new thinner design, embracing the controversial butterfly switch keyboard, a TouchBar with TouchID, and a Thunderbolt 3 future to replace USB A and MagSafe.
The reaction was mixed.
Well, I’ve been using a 15 inch 2017 revision at my new gig and I have some thoughts. I am going to break it down by the main new features I outlined above.
Oh, by the way. Space Gray is sexy. Love it.
Well this has been a huge controversy lately. There was Steven Hackett’s recent experience and Casey Johnston’s post that have been getting lots of coverage lately. I don’t like the fact that any little amount of debris can cause a keyboard to malfunction. It sounds like this support article’s success rate is hit or miss. It makes me hesitant to crack pistachios anywhere in my office.
Fragility aside, I actually like the new keyboard over the old one on my personal MacBook Pro. Now it’s not my mechanical keyboard that I’m using right now. But the keys are very stable and I like the clicky sound they make. The feedback from the domes is absolutely necessary given the little travel. I’m able to type just as fast on it as my Varmillo and with a decent amount of satisfaction. But I get why people hate it and I think Apple has to do something to make the keyboard more reliable, even if they don’t change the fundamental direction they are going with lower travel, butterfly switch keyboards. I think if they gave the keys slightly more travel and fix the unreliability, it would be the best of both worlds.
TouchBar and TouchID
You can’t talk about the new keyboard without recognizing the fact that the keyboard lacks a function row (and escape key!) in favor of the new TouchBar with TouchID.
I’m neither here nor there with this change, but overall, I’ll take it.
I do miss the physical interaction of hitting the escape key, but muscle memory doesn’t fail me and I move on. As someone who uses lots of keyboard shortcuts, many of the available shortcuts on the TouchBar are not that useful for me. Although the emoji picker is 💯. I have found that the TouchBar sometimes reveals shortcuts to me that I didn’t know. Emptying the Trash is a few taps away. I didn’t know that keyboard shortcut before. I’m glad that the media playback keys are always available when something is playing on the system. The customizable Control Strip allows for me to lock my computer easily when I leave my office.
I can’t really grade TouchID on the Mac because I think my security profiles from IT are messing with its ability to unlock my machine. I would say it works 20% of the time, and I can’t tell why it doesn’t work the rest of the times. I am thinking it has to do with an ever so brief lapse of network connection. It definitely has nothing to do with how long it has been since I locked the machine. I have come back the next day with it working, and sometimes it doesn’t when I haven’t even left my office yet.
I love MagSafe. It’s saved my butt a few times and I find it quite gratifying to hover the charger near my computer and see it latch into place magically.
But from a work application, Thunderbolt 3 is much better. I sit down at my desk and I plug in one cable for power, a monitor, speakers, and all my USB peripherals. I am not sure if it is a limitation of ThunderBolt 3 or my dock but unfortunately I need to plug in a second dongle to get my second monitor support although the dock has 3 different ways to get video to a display.
Although you’ll probably need a bunch of dongles in the near term, I think it’s a change that will be for the best (work gave me a Ethernet and HDMI one. Curiously no mobile USB A, I guess the dock will have to suffice).
I do have to agree with Marco that the best part of USB C might never come. After a few years it is still hard to find good supporting hardware. And before you know it there might be a new standard to adopt. But we’d never get anywhere if someone didn’t push the envelope so I am glad that Apple made the choice they did. Though bringing back the SD card slot wouldn’t upset anyone.
After using the new MacBook Pro at work, a computer 5 years newer than my personal Mac, I am not running to get something new at home. It has not ruined me. This is sort of unheard of for me when it comes to technology, but I think it goes to show how mature the personal computer is and how compromised some of the design decisions are. Although I think they are all good decisions to push the line forward into the future (well except the keyboard fragility), nothing is making me want to run and spend another 2500 on a computer. I’m gonna ride this OG Retina MacBook Pro until it dies, or until my app development gets serious enough that I can use the extra horsepower of a new machine for builds. But I think if I get a new Mac for home, it might just be an iMac given how much I like my iPad for most things besides development.