A Choice of Trade-Offs

Apple has gotten to a place where each new product is just as notable for the things that have been removed as they are for their improvements. The iPhone 7 dropped the headphone jack. The newest MacBook Pros add a wonderful new Touch Bar interface – and loses the MagSafe power adaptor, the SD card reader, and has a poorer keyboard than its predecessor. Many professionals are upset about it because they don’t like the compromises in the latest machines.

All products are the sum of the trade-offs made in their design. Add battery power, add battery weight. Make the computer thinner, and you have to reduce keyboard travel. The trick is to make the right choices in what to prioritize, and what kind of compromises to accept. And the problem is, people are starting to feel that Apple isn’t making machines for them anymore.

It seems like Apple’s overriding concern over the past few years is thinness and lightness, and balanced against those, everything else goes to the wall. Keyboard feel and useful ports are sacrificed to make the case thinner. Battery life is sacrificed to save weight. The overall goal is to make the product as thin and light as possible.

That’s great for some people, but not for me. I transport my computer, so I do like using a laptop, but I almost always use it on my desk. Right now I have a wired mouse connected (I hate the BlueTooth mouse at work, because it keeps disconnecting itself), and I often have a graphics tablet plugged in, too. Because my main drive is nearly full, I’ve offloaded my media library to an external hard drive.

For me, the weight and thickness of my phone and laptop ceased being an issue long ago. I was fine with the thickness of my iPhones 3GS and 4S, and I’m satisfied with the weight and dimensions of my current 2014 and 2011 MacBook Pros.

I wish Apple would also create products where the overarching concern was to make the products no bigger than necessary, rather than as thin as possible. I’d like to see them splurge on a couple of extra mm of keyboard travel. I’d like to see the SD card built in. I get that USB-C is a wonderful future, but having to rely on a fleet of dongles is not particularly elegant.

I also wish they’d reconsider internal expansion. I understand that they don’t want to build in features used by a small minority; the flip side is that external expansion is messy. Who wants to live with a rat’s nest of cables? The current Mac Pro is a marvel of design, but I think for its intended audience, professionals who need tons of computing power, a tower design that facilitates internal expansion is more useful. A loaded tower with internal drives mounted inside is neater,  has fewer cables and is easier to move around than a smaller computer with connected external drives.

I understand Apple wants to keep their product line simple. But I do think there is demand for Apples that are not compromised for the sake of thinness.