Why Apple Won’t Do What Marco Wants to “Fix” the MacBook Pro

Marco Arment, a big name in the Apple nerd community and host of one of my favorite podcasts, recently published an article titled “Fixing the MacBook Pro.” He begins the piece by saying each of his suggestions is "technically possible, reasonable, widely agreeable, and likely for Apple to actually do."

Despite this assertion, I don't think Apple will do much of what Marco wants, and here is why.

Let’s step through them one by one.

 

Magic Keyboard

Marco begins his piece by sharing his frustrations with Apple's unique keyboard design...

Butterfly keyswitches are a design failure that should be abandoned. They’ve been controversial, fatally unreliable, and expensive to repair since their introduction on the first 12” MacBook in early 2015. Their flaws were evident immediately, yet Apple brought them to the entire MacBook Pro lineup in late 2016.

After three significant revisions, Apple’s butterfly keyswitches remain as controversial and unreliable as ever. At best, they’re a compromise acceptable only on the ultra-thin 12” MacBook, and only if nothing else fits. They have no place in Apple’s mainstream or pro computers.

The MacBook Pro must return to scissor keyswitches...
— Marco

Although the butterfly key switches on the Mac laptop lineup have undoubtedly had reliability issues, I highly doubt Apple will move back to the scissor switches found in their older devices, not even a newer version of the scissor switch like they have in the Magic Keyboard.

There are two main reasons Apple pitched for the change to the butterfly design.

  1. It is 40% thinner.
  2. It is more "stable". Anandtech did a good job of explaining this back in 2015.

    "By making the butterfly mechanism symmetrical Apple has done away with the scissor switch’s corner instability, which if pressed at a far corner would allow the scissor mechanism to actuate without actually triggering the switch. With the butterfly switch essentially composed of two identical halves that each prop up their respective corners, the instability has been eliminated as all four corners are similarly supported."

Apple will improve on the butterfly design. They will make it more reliable, but they won't do what Marco wants and move back to the scissor design because the primary benefits of the butterfly switch still stand.

 

Great first-party USB-C hubs

He goes on to discuss his frustration with the lack of any Apple-made USB-C hubs.

The MacBook Pro bet heavily on the USB-C ecosystem, but it hasn’t developed enough on its own.

When people can’t get what they need from Apple at all, or at a remotely competitive price, they’ll go to cheap third-party products, which are often unreliable or cause other problems. When these critical accessories aren’t flawless, it reflects poorly on Apple, as it harms the overall real-world experience of using these computers.

If a third-party hub or dongle is flaky, the owner doesn’t blame it — they blame their expensive new Apple computer for needing it.

Apple needs to step up with its own solid offerings to offer more ports for people who need them.
— Marco

Although the changes Apple makes probably won't line up exactly with the detailed requests Marco includes later in this section, I'd say this is the most likely of his requests for Apple to actually do.

Apple's approach to peripherals has always been to offer a solution for the most common use cases and let third parties sell to the niche groups who need something different.

They're already doing that to some extent by selling the most common dongles, but I expect as they view the sales data of the third party offerings sold in Apple Stores, if they see a large enough market for a first-party hub, they'll add one to their lineup.

 

More ports

Apple reduced the number of ports to either 2 or 4 on their laptops, and this has caused lots of frustration for certain users.

Dongles should be the exception, not the norm, in real-world use — most owners should need zero. But HDMI and USB-A are still far too widely used to have been removed completely, and neither are likely to fade away anytime soon regardless of how Apple configures their laptops. Re-adding HDMI and at least one USB-A port would reduce or eliminate many people’s dongle needs, which I bet would dramatically improve their satisfaction.

Finally, Apple should give serious consideration to bringing back the SD-card slot. SD cards are more widely used than ever in photography, video, audio, and other specialized equipment, and they provide excellent options for fast, reliable storage expansion and data transfer. And they’re going to be around for a while — Wi-Fi and cables don’t or can’t replace most current uses in practice.
— Marco

Apple will not add HDMI, USB-A and an SD-card slot to their laptops again because the reasons they removed them still stand and as the world continues the slow transition to USB-C the downsides will lessen.

So why did Apple switch to USB-C in the first place?

  • USB-C takes up less space than each of the the legacy ports.
  • USB-C is much more versatile. Most users don't need all the legacy ports. They used some of them, and the others sat useless, adding weight and taking up space. USB-C
  • USB-C is reversible. This is a little thing, but it's a very Apple thing to care about.

 

Back away from the Touch Bar

Marco didn't hold back his thoughts about the Touch Bar. 😄

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

The Touch Bar should either be discontinued or made optional for all MacBook Pro sizes and configurations.

Touch ID is the only part of the Touch Bar worth saving, but the future is clearly Face ID. If we can’t have that yet, the ideal setup is Touch ID without the Touch Bar. We’d retain the Secure Enclave’s protection for the camera and microphones, and hopefully get the iMac Pro’s boot protection, too.
— Marco

In my opinion the Touch Bar will remain part of Apple's laptop lineup for quite some time for the following reasons:

  • The Touch Bar provides value for those who haven't memorized keyboard shortcuts. Nerds like Marco and myself use keyboard shortcuts constantly, and the Touch Bar doesn't provide significant value to us. But as the laptop market continues to shrink and the Mac continues to grow market share, the Touch Bar will appeal to users who need the power of the Mac, but aren't savvy enough to learn all the powerful keyboard shortcuts.
  • The Touch Bar provides value for many with Accessibility needs. Steve Aquino, a friend of mine and one of the foremost experts in Apple Accessibility...
  • The Touch Bar brings ARM chips to the Mac. To accommodate the Touch Bar, Apple added an ARM chip to the MacBook Pro. I expect this is a strategic move. Apple will continue to offload new functionality to this chip. It will provide incremental value in the near term, allows them to leverage core functionality already built for iOS, and strategically gives them more options if they want to eventually leave Intel altogether. If they were to remove the Touch Bar completely, they would lose much of the near-term value add that legitimizes the extra expense of the chip.

 

Nicer charger

Marco suggests a few ways to improve the MacBook Pro charger:

  • LED light on the charging cable.
  • MagSafe or the original Xbox controller version of it.

I doubt Apple will make these changes because they seem to have changed their view of what a laptop charger should be. It isn't designed to be plugged in all the time (precluding the need for MagSafe). It's much more like the iPad charger. Whether or not this is the right thing to do can be argued, but Apple tends not to undo changes they've made because of philisophical design differences.

 

One Last Point... Sales

In Q4, Mac revenue saw 25% YoY growth. Yes, that is probably because there was such a long wait for the MacBook Pros to update at all, but sales do talk. For Apple to make drastic changes like adding back ports they've already removed and getting rid of the Touch Bar, they will have to see some seriously negative sales trends.

 

I understand the Marco's frustrations, but Apple won't do what he wants to "fix" the MacBook Pro.

 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash