Apple to MacBook users: F*ck you

TL;DR: If you own the previous version of the MacBook Pro, you should probably not upgrade to apple’s MacBook Pro 2016.

Today Apple released new MacBooks. I have to pause here for a moment of silence, that’s how shocked I am after watching the event.

Let’s start by listing all the things that went wrong:

  • No MagSafe: You now have to buy a $35 Griffin cable that implements a USB-C to MagSafe mechanism if you (or your wife, or kids) sometimes trip the power cable and you don’t want your super expensive (and easily denting) laptop to end up on the floor.
  • The GPU has two problems when you try to do 4K gaming (you do have a Retina display after all):
    1. VRAM maxes out at 4GB and you have to add $100 to jump from those standard 2GB to 4GB. This is horrible for gamers / pro 3D users.
    2. It’s an AMD GPU which with only 4GB VRAM isn’t as fast as an nVidia GPU with similar VRAM because of how the AMD driver manages memory. We’re paying so much for a laptop, yet we get this inferior AMD GPU.
  • The maximum system RAM is 16GB. If this laptop is for Pro users, it needs to support 32GB of RAM or at least 24GB. I want to run multiple virtual machines to simulate complex systems, 16GB simply isn’t enough.
  • They dropped the card reader which is really annoying for photographers who now have to carry yet another device.
  • Performance is only marginally better. It’s been 500+ days since this laptop’s last iteration, and all you get is a barely 2x speed increase.
  • No HDMI port: Gone are the days of simply hooking up your laptop to a projector. We’ve barely gotten used to switching from VGA to HDMI, and now that’s gone too. Yet another dongle business uses need to lug around for presentations. And your previous Thunderbolt -> VGA or Thunderbolt -> Ethernet dongles are now obsolete.

Here’s what I really wanted and hoped would happen:

  • Latest CPU technology
  • Latest and fastest nVidia GPU + at least 8GB NVRAM
  • Don’t bloody touch the MagSafe adapter you twats!
  • Better materials for the Unibody that won’t dent/bend/scratch!

So yeah, If you really want the beloved MagSafe functionality back, you’ll have to shell out those extra $35.

And you want to do gaming,  you say? Well, f*ck you – Go buy a gaming PC Laptop like Alienware or Razer. They have nVidia chips, and you can actually set your games to the highest quality and get decent FPS. But if you own a Mac, you’re probably not serious about gaming anyway.

My god, it’s full of USB-C!

Apple even had a slide showing all the stuff you can plug into a USB-C port, but what they neglected to say is how expensive all those dongles are, and how much they will add to the bottom line of an already super expensive laptop. It’s literally all USB-C ports and one audio jack.

They kill the Audio jack on the iPhone 7, but it’s still there on the MacBook. You can’t take your new Lightning earpods and plug them into your new MacBook. You need to buy a new USB-C to Lightning dongle (not bundled with your laptop nor with your iPhone 7).

Of course, as witnessed with the iPhone 7 which stupidly has no standard headphone jack (and is a big F*ck you to consumers around the planet), Apple simply wants us to all switch to Wireless Headphones (and hopefully to their new wireless ear pods).

But how much is it, really?

TL;DR: It’s bloody expensive!

Let’s say you want to leverage a Thunderbolt 2 device? You need this Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbold 2 adapter which will set you back $49.

You need just regular USB you say? to hook up one of your many old storage devices? You need this Thunderbolt 3 to USB adapter which will set you back $19.

How about simply charging your wireless mouse, or wireless keyboard, or your iPhone 5/6/7? You need this USB-C to Lightning cable which will set you back $25!

You want to connect to an HDMI device? You’ll need this USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter which will set you back $69!

Or maybe it’s a VGA device you need to hook up? You’ll need this USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter which will also set you back $69.

If you owned the previous version of the MacBook Pro you may have a bunch of devices that rely on those (now obsolete) port types. All together, you’ll have to shell out $231 before tax for all the dongles above.

It doesn’t end there. I sometimes need to connect to an ethernet network, and I need this Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter which costs $34.95. So for me the total cost of adapters would be $266 before tax. And of course it’s a bunch of adapters that I need to carry around, which adds more weight to my already heavy bag.

screenshot-2016-10-27-19-46-43

Wait: Is it really all bad?

Well, it’s a bit faster. But not that much faster if you own the previous version of the MacBook Pro. If you do own the previous version, my recommendation is to wait for the next model, or wait for a refresh that offers faster CPU and GPU.

The other stuff is “nice” but simply not enough; The previous retina display was already bright enough and sharp enough for even the most demanding graphic designers. The previous SSD storage was fast enough as well. And finally, no audiophile really listened to music with the MBP’s internal speakers.

That sweet Touch Bar though…?

Yah, The Touch Bar is kinda cool, but how much does it really help a laptop user? I don’t think it helps you much, overall, and I think a lot of people will come to realize it’s mostly a gimmick. Our standard mode of operation with a computer is to look at the screen while typing. This is what I’m doing literally right now. I don’t want to have to look down at yet another screen.

Touch Bar vs. Accessibility…? O_o

The problem: Apple opens up the event with a touching video about accessibility, and then in the same event they proceed to unveil the Touch Bar which requires you to see what you’re doing. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose entirely?

And what about those of us that elevate our laptops on a stand and use a wireless keyboard to prevent back pain? Is Apple going to unveil a wireless keyboard with a Touch Bar? Remains to be seen.

 

MacBook Pro Wish list

It’s no secret Apple has not updated their laptops for quite some time. A Verge article even suggests Apple should just stop selling the old tech-based laptops entirely.

I decided to make a wish list with what I’d like to see in a new laptop from Apple:

  • The body should be made of a material that doesn’t dent easily. Anything but the current Aluminium!
  • The edges should be more rounded so they don’t cut into wrists. This used to be much worse (1st gen unibody), and despite Apple’s “fix” this is still an issue which causes discomfort to a great many people (Some even made guides on how to file that sharp edge).
  • I would like to see nVidia’s latest chipset used, especially on the Pro line of Macbooks. For the price of this laptop, there is no excuse: It needs to allow us to play games that are newer than 5~6 years ago.
  • Removable back panel to allow people to perform RAM and Storage upgrades easily without having to go to an Apple Store (there are more stores than ever, but they are not everywhere yet!)
  • Switching the [fn] and [control] buttons (or giving the ability to switch the [fn] and [control] buttons in software).

I doubt Apple will any of the above, and I will be forced to purchase their next Macbook Pro regardless, despite those flaws, because no other manufacturer makes hardware for MacOS.

On Apple’s choice of materials

Let’s talk about the use of Aluminium & Unibody

I still remember when Apple first introduced the Unibody concept as new and revolutionary. I remember thinking at the time how similar the Unibody shell looks to some enclosures used for auto parts:

Aluminum_Enclosures

Looks familiar, doesn’t it? So the manufacturing techniques existed before Apple introduced the Unibody design. The novelty was in the use of this material & technique to create a laptop shell.

The advantage in terms of manufacturing was a significant reduction in the number of parts used in the enclosure assembly. But how did this all come to be?

You see, other laptop manufacturers have used plastics for years. Most of those plastic shells are manufactured using injection molding techniques. You spend a lot of money making the molds, but once you have those molds you can produce millions of shells quickly and cheaply.

Apple used to do the same thing with its earlier laptops. One of the prettier plastic laptops Apple had ever produced (in my opinion) was the black PowerBook G3:

PowerBookG3

But when Apple introduced the first Intel based MacBook Pro, they went for Aluminium. The edges were plastic (and rounded, and we will talk more about that later), and the enclosure itself was made out of a plastic skeleton which held aluminium plates in place with screws. To assemble (and disassemble) the chassis took a significant amount of time & effort (and knowledge of which screw goes where).

Hence by moving to Unibody, Apple cut a significant amount of time & logistics in their their MacBook Pro manufacturing line, as well as in their labs while repairing laptops.

The advantages were clear:

  • Faster & Cheaper to produce
  • Less parts required
  • Less time spent on assembly
  • More durable chassis
  • Some advantages in heat dissipation touted

However, two major problems started plaguing MacBook users. One was fixed (kinda), the other is still a huge problem.

Problem 1: Soft metal will scratch, dent & bend

If it’s scratched, dented or bent, it’s there forever (unless you’re willing to go to the Apple store and pay for a replacement shell). Take a look at this image for example:

DentedUnibody

How many of you have dented their MacBook Unibodies? I’ve seen so many dented MacBooks I have lost count. In fact just search on Google Images and you’ll find plenty of photos showing dented MacBooks.

And if you’ve dented your MacBook once, you’ll probably be traumatized enough to buy one of those expensive protective plastic shells. So now you have an Aluminium shell, covered in plastic. And you won’t see Apple’s new recycling chief talk about that, because well, it’s not a part that Apple manufactures (but it does sell it at the Apple Store). On top of that, your laptop which was already pretty heavy before, is now significantly heavier (and thicker).

Problem 2: Sharp edges

And they used to be even sharper, with some web sites (such as LifeHacker) posting instructions on how to fix the problem. Apple sorta fixed this in their 2nd generation unibody. The edges are slightly more rounded.

However it’s now 2016, I have the latest MacBook Pro Retina. The edges are still sharp enough to cause discomfort during extended use. In fact I just lifted my wrists from the laptop, just to check, and I have a good 4~5 deep red lines on each wrist. They are painful, too. Apple cares more about the “clean & sharp look” of their laptop, than they care about your wrist pain.

Problem 3: Grip (or lack thereof)

If you have dry hands, you probably noticed how slippery your Aluminium laptop is. Which makes it so much easier to drop your laptop (which will dent/bend your laptop, throwing us back to problem #1).

However, this problem is not exclusive to the MacBook. As many of you have already discovered, the iPhone 6 series suffer from the very same issue, and worse. Unless you have a protective cover for your phone, you’ll find it’s extremely slippery and most iPhone 6’s that are used by their brave owners without a cover, have dropped so many times they are all dented, scratched and bent. In fact, the first generation of iPhone 6’s would bend in people’s back pockets. The problem was so widespread the media called it “Bendgate” (see CNN article on the subject).

Problem 4: Oxidation / Corrosion

“Aluminum corrodes but it does not rust. Rust refers only to iron and steel corrosion. Aluminum is actually very prone to corrosion. However, aluminum corrosion is aluminum oxide, a very hard material that actually protects the aluminum from further corrosion.”

I personally experienced two issues with corrosion. The first (and weirdest) manifested itself when I started wearing my wedding band. Something to do with the gold band touching the aluminium surface, coupled with me being grounded to the floor (via my feet) would sometimes create a tiny spark between the wedding band and the laptop. After a couple of months, the aluminium surface in that area where the wedding band touches suddenly had tons of black dots that were impossible to clean. Touching them revealed they were actually holes!

The second issue with corrosion happened with my Magic Mouse. The aluminium surfaces that came in contact with my thumb, ring finger and pinky, became completely corroded and full of holes. In a warm and humid environment, your hands might sweat and excrete various salts/minerals which interact with the aluminium.

Conclusion: Using metal for a portable product is NOT a good idea. Apple, if you’re reading this, please stop doing it. How about you switch to Carbon Fiber? It’s light, strong, and will not bend or dent. And for the price of this laptop, I’m sure you can afford to use this premium material. None of the problems above would happen if the laptops were made of either plastic, or carbon fiber.

 

The new Apple TV remote sucks

Once in a while, Apple will do something so silly with its hardware, it’s almost as if they went to some obscure Chinese manufacturer, found some remote that mimics their “style” and just bought 10 million units for 20 cents each. Sometimes the mistakes are “part of the plan” (for example the iPhone 4’s glass back), but I have to admit that with the new remote, I can’t help but wonder what that plan was exactly…

The new Apple TV remote is one of those products that are so badly conceived, it boggles the mind that a company like Apple would release such a product.

UPDATE: Today (March 31st, 2016) Apple held an event, in which a new TVOS release was announced. Apple CEO Tim Cook even said, and I quote: “Users love the Apple TV remote”. I wonder who they asked?

1. The hardware sucks

When you hold the remote in your hand, it is absolutely symmetrical, and while this may be considered “aesthetically pleasing”, there is no way to tell which side is up. I checked if the remote balances in the middle, and it does! You can literally put this remote on your finger and it balances perfectly. This is NOT a throwing knife, why does this need to be perfectly balanced? It would make it more usable if the bottom was heavier. Even better, if Apple could mimic their own design from their new Bluetooth Keyboard it would naturally be heavier on one side (the keyboards and trackpads taper towards the back).

NewAppleTVRemote

Let’s see what happens if we completely remove the icons from the buttons of popular remotes (to simulate a dark room):

AppleRemotesNaked

Now you tell me, which of those remotes could you absolutely figure out in a dark room, without looking at the icons?

So as you can see, with the previous remote you could be in a completely dark room, and you could easily re-orient the remote in your hand and use it, all without ever looking at the buttons:

Apple's previous generation remotes

Finally, because the new remote has a highly sensitive touch pad surface, we experience frequent accidental touches which cause an annoying backward/forward scrub within the movie. You then have to find the location you were at, scrub to that, and hit Play again.

2. Usability sucks

The previous Apple TV remote was very simple, and my 2 year old daughter could use it. The middle button was play/pause, left & right were previous / next, and up/down helped you navigate the menus, or show the on-screen controls during movie playback.

The new remote: My daughter can’t use it, and neither can my 60 year old mom. My wife took a while to figure it out, and it’s still difficult to use. It’s a learning curve to learn to control the new remote. The top 40% of the remote is a touch pad, and it’s also the clicker. This means that while clicking, you are also swiping on the touch pad. Difficult much?

Missing: Previous/Next buttons. There is no way to easily jump between videos in YouTube or between Netflix episodes.

UPDATE: They fixed the accidental swipe issue. The left & right sides of the trackpad will now let you go 10 seconds forward or backward, and to go further than that you just keep pressing.

3. Siri sucks

The only thing worse than using this touch pad for navigating the menus, is having to type with this hyper-sensitive touch pad. The experience is absolutely awful. And you would think Apple would leverage their speech recognition to allow you to speak into any field, but No… (And I actually tried it, thinking it should work – while in a search field I hit the Siri button, and tried to speak the letters. I’m so naive sometimes!).

UPDATE 1: The Gods of Apple have heard me, and today Apple released an update to TVOS which enables dictation in Siri. It’s not the best, but it kinda works.

Search: Using Siri to search for something yanks you out of the context you’re in, and takes you to their iTunes store instead. Yes, even within Netflix, if you ask Siri for a movie with Leonardo Dicaprio in it, it will take you to iTunes’ catalog. That’s what I call “Rotten” behavior.

UPDATE 2: Apparently this is another thing today’s update has fixed. I will give it a try and report here if it works.

UPDATE 3: I take it back, Siri dictation totally sucks. Also, the $13 Remote Loop is helpful with figuring out the orientation of the remote when fumbling in the dark.