I Left the Apple Computer Hardware Ecosystem(TM)
After a two and a half year journey, it was time for me to go.
When I bought the 2016 12- inch MacBook right after it launched, I really liked it.
I was already in the Apple ecosystem thanks to years of iPhone ownership. You can see my old iPhone in the reflection of that photo.
I was looking for something that had the portability of a Chromebook, but with more everything.
I had been a casual fan of Apple’s hardware for a really long time, even though the only devices of theirs I’d ever personally owned were iPhones.
I grew up using Apple II’s and Performas in school, and eventually graduated to iMacs and Mac Pros. The schools around me are all-in on Mac hardware.
Hell, I’m the one guy that actually liked that stupid hockey puck mouse.
So when I needed a new computer for writing that was better than my Chromebook, the MacBook seemed like an obvious choice.
And then I spent two years watching that choice decay.
I probably don’t even need to talk about the infamous butterfly switch keyboard, now that the lawsuit dust is starting to settle and Apple has sort of almost admitted that it’s a huge problem.
I like the butterfly switch concept. In theory. Having a uniform response across the entire surface of the key is really cool.
Unfortunately, the keys are also super loud and have almost no travel. And they are indeed thwarted by even tiny particles of dust.
I have done the “can of air” dance many times on my MacBook keyboard, and fortunately I haven’t had any keys permanently die or stick. But I do have two keycaps where the top material started to wear off almost immediately. Some folks had the material chipping problem happen on nearly every key.
It’s baffling that Apple made the keycaps so hard to remove without breaking the delicate mechanism. It’s baffling that they made the switch bend at probably half the height it really needed to. It’s baffling that they permanently attached the actual keyboard mechanism and the batteries to the top cover of the laptop, necessitating an out-of-warranty repair cost of $700 freaking dollars.
I still generally liked the typing experience in spite of many flaws and oddball decisions…but I bet that the people who sit near me in coffee shops are happy that I’m not just clicking away like a maniac any more.
THE TOUCH BAR
Now look, I know I didn’t own the MacBook Pro, just the 12-inch…r…regular MacBook? I guess that’s what it is?
I’m not here to address the inconsistencies in the branding of the MacBook line. At least, not today.
But the new Pros illustrated something.
The 12-inch MacBook required a ton of engineering to cram such a hi-res screen and a full set of computing components into a teensy shell. The motherboard miniaturization is really impressive. And the force click trackpad is probably my favorite tracking surface I’ve ever used. I never got tired of clicking it.
And then the next innovation was…the touch bar.
A thing that seemed solely designed to add serious WOW FACTOR to the system…and the extra cost/profit margin of a little OLED panel.
The touch bar marked what I would argue is the final step in the transformation of Apple’s computer business into being the leader of the full-on vanity/luxury computer market.
I know that critics have always said that about Apple’s computers, but I’d argue that it was a very slow transition.
Macs have always had a premium attached to them.
The old justification was that you were paying for a closed system and the increased reliability of tested and mass-produced collections of components.
Now, you’re just paying for the flash, and Apple’s not even pretending anymore. See also: the essential cancellation of the Mac Pro.
And just look at the relative utility/versatility of the MacBook Air, which somehow continues to survive. Yes, the innards aren’t the most powerful things in the world. But it still has a full compliment of ports. It still has the MagSafe power connector. And it manages to do all that while still having that luxurious small Apple shell around it.
If I’d bought a MacBook Air two years ago the odds are good I wouldn’t have gone looking for a new laptop yet.
I used to argue that you were paying for functionality that was surrounded by luxury features, and if that sort of thing appealed to you, go right ahead! But starting with the touch bar, and carrying through to the design of the iPhone X, Apple’s design has pivoted in a way that’s not really…for me.
I’m not even saying it’s bad, it’s just blatantly pointed at a market that’s no longer me.
THE PERFORMANCE OR LACK THEREOF
When I firstbought my MacBook, it screamed along.
It was the high performance ultra portable machine that I always wanted. I know it wasn’t truly “high performance” thanks to its Core M processor…but having a totally respectable amount of power, fast hard drives, and an all day battery life was perfect for someone looking to do a lot of writing on the go.
Today… my MacBook isn’t as fast as it was when it was new, even with a clean system. It’ll hitch sometimes when I open new tabs while streaming music. It doesn’t play super nicely with 4k video content. It no longer feels new and special. Not even close.
Software bloat can happen on any system. And it often does. But detractors say that it happens faster on Macs.
As someone who owns a pokey MacBook, I think they might be right. The Core M should never have been the underlying CPU platform for a full desktop-style operating system.
If Apple ever merges iOS and MacOS into one system, well, that’d be a different story.
THE NEW FRONTIER
I went from having a small sleek metal thing that performed okay and made loud clickety-clack sounds to having a huge metal and plastic tank that’s full of parts and performance, and still has a half day of battery.
And so far I regret nothing.
Before I felt like I had a little digital notebook that I could pull out whenever I needed it. Now, I feel like I have a smaller version of my desktop PC that I can take with me wherever. And I’ve realized over the last two and a half years that this second scenario appeals to me more.
That’s certainly not going to be everyone’s taste. And that’s totally fine! I’d never pretend that my tastes were the only ones that mattered.
The MacBook lineup is still the best and only choice for people who need a luxurious Mac to use on the go.
But things that seemed cool/interesting/new at first (Butterfly keys, force touch, USB C or Bust, hi-res screens with low GPU power, touch bar) have 100 percent lost their luster, for me. And the underlying computing experience wasn’t quite what I personally wanted as my keyboard and my performance decayed.
It was still fun to be cool for a little while.
As I finished writing this, a man sat down next to me with a MacBook Pro. He didn’t even give my obelisk computer a second look.
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