Is The MacBook A Mistake?

A review about the new MacBook with Retina implies it is a mistake. The reviewer didn’t like the keyboard and basically “hated using it”. They made comparisons to the 11″ MacBook Air, and asserted that Apple appeared to be changing to a company that focuses on image, not substance. The problem? The author apparently misses the point of the MacBook, and is unaware of Apple history.

First off, I get that not everyone is going to like a particular product. The subjective complaints that the author has about the machine are completely valid. They are right to return the product if it doesn’t do what they want, or work as they would prefer. But to assume that their dislike, based on purely subjective opinion, translates into the product being a mistake or a failure overlooks the real purpose of this generation of MacBook. It is also contradicted by the sales numbers so far.

MacBook Air Redux

Most reviews of the new MacBook read almost like those of the original MacBook Air from 2008: too slow, too little storage, too few connection options, too expensive (but very, very stylish). Every one of those complaints are absolutely 100% correct. The first Air was slow. It didn’t have nearly enough ports. It was very expensive for what you got.

But the MacBook Air was, like a lot of Apple product, an experiment. Apple has done this time and again: the first iPhone was slow, used 3G and was a compromise. The iPad was reasonably portable, but didn’t use the latest and greatest in mobile technology. The MacBook Air was really thin and light, but pokey and offered limited external connectivity. In each case, the first release in some ways felt more like a really stable beta product than the real deal. It was still high quality. It didn’t feel half-baked. But it was clear they were holding back (as the successive versions clearly demonstrated).

This new MacBook is following the same recipe: come out with something minimal, see what people want, and then address it in the next go-round. Apple does actually listen to why people return product, and they get feedback from the stores on what people are asking about or what they are saying. Apple may not test product in advance with customers, but they sure do listen to what they actually want once product is out the door.

Because of this, I expect the next version will have a processor speed increase, a bump in GPU performance, 1-2 more USB-C ports (for a total of 2-3 ports) and quite possibly an SDXC slot. It may even get more storage and available RAM. Don’t be surprised to see both a 12″ and 14″ version of the machine. The MacBook Air isn’t likely to go away this year, but it may be supplanted by the MacBook with Retina in 2016.

I don’t expect the keyboard to change. I tried it, and it was fantastic. I’m a touch typist from way back, and the only “issue” is that the key spacing has changed. That means some targets have moved. But the main keys work really, really well. I could do my usual 100+ WPM/90+% accuracy with no issue on the keyboard. But that’s me, a sample size of one. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone likes the current MacBook keyboards, either.

Failure Or Success?

Apple did not lose money on the first MacBook Air, and by all objective measures, it was a sales hit. Its successors represent one of the best-selling lines of notebook computers globally, and are a big chunk of Apple’s Mac revenue and profit. Was the Air a mistake? The consensus when it was released appeared to be it was. Those prognostications would be what I like to call “wrong”.

Is the new MacBook a mistake? Let’s review the objective data: there is a multi-week lead time for custom MacBooks ordered on-line. They are sold out at both Apple stores here in Calgary. It is either sold out or limited stock at stores like BestBuy and Staples across the city. You want a new MacBook with Retina? You may have to wait. I’m not sure I would call this much of a “mistake”.

Back to the original blog: the author’s assertion that Apple has changed, and become more about style than in the past, isn’t supported by evidence. What Apple is doing with the MacBook is the same script they followed for the iPod, the iPhone and the MacBook Air. Based on evidence to date, it would seem that the new MacBook is a sales success. Oh, to make such mistakes!