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2016 MacBook Pro: Design by Dilettantes?

MPG has reviewed the 2016 MacBook Pro, having purchased the most bad-ass configuration and found it falling short of expectations in every way relevant to real world pro photographer usage*. While it has a few marginal plusses, it is not a pro machine and its $5000 price (with AppleCare and dongles and taxes) delivers more hassles with no better performance than its 'bulletproof' 2013 predecessor (a little better or a little worse, depending). It is the first Mac so far that I have returned with no regrets whatsoever.

* Who the heck needs a $5000 or even $3000 laptop other than a professional? So why does Apple build a non-professional dilettante machine?

Here is another professional viewpoint, from a film-maker’s perspective:

The New MacBook Pro: The Complete Filmmaker Review

None of this is an accident; Phil Schiller is a Marketing Bozo (see Guy Kawasaki for what that means), and Tim Cook can’t get his messaging straight, evidence that he is clueless about professional needs. He is the CEO, so the buck stops with him.

I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” — Tim Cook

Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops,” Cook wrote. “If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.” — Tim Cook.

Somehow, these two quote do not inspire confidence or hope. Mr. Cook, which one is it, pray tell? Or don’t you know? And a roadmap is a piece of paper (so to speak), not a team of motivated engineers working right now looking to re-invent “great”.

And... what is the roadmap? So much secrecy Mr. Cook, and pros despise not knowing if Apple will hang them out to dry one more time. Final Cut Pro was properly abandoned by most pros, who were hung out to dry there. Hardware is the nail in the coffin, so I hope Mr Cook doesn’t think a thinner iMac with a touchbar and touchscreen and soldered-on memory and SSD and a better FaceTime camera is the ticket.

Tim Cook’s quotes are actually very clear messaging, that is, meta messaging as in “I don’t have a clue what professionals need or want”. As in that’s why you (professionals) are frustrated/pissed off/baffled/infuriated by what Apple has done or not done for 3-4 years now. Including Apple Core Rot, a shameful show of incompetence in software development. Three years now: the 2016 MacBook Pro, the Mac Pro that never was “pro” and has seen zero changes, and these quotes tell a plenty clear story: neglect and irrelevance. And my 14-year-old thinks iPhones kind of suck. Nice combination for steady decline, and worth thinking about as an Apple investor (I’m not). But... there is always a potential turnaround story, that is, a return to visionary thinking coupled to eyes-wide-open thinking about pro needs, to anchor the whole lineup.

The iPhone... it was a work of genius and vision at its initial debut, but when its essential elements are considered, it has not improved and instead is devolving away from the core elements that made it great: it’s getting very complex to use, a software problem. A “pretty face” in a new iPhone is all we get now; the software gets buggier and harder to use and still cannot customize away all the visual and actual crapware.

What also worries me: Jony Ive might feel the need to express his creative side for desktop machines—a worst case scenario for pro users, perhaps!

BTW, Apple has NEVER contacted MPG, and that is weird in itself, if only because I don’t think Apple does its homework with all the pros out there that just might know something useful. I invite Mr. Cook to lunch with me, at my expense, as just one voice that can offer a perspective. But maybe Apple has no comittment to understanding professional needs, having enough internal 20-something-year-old focus groups to figure out just how big a (nearly useless) touchbar and too-large touchpad should be. But at least talk to film-makers and pro photographers, if not MPG and so many other professionals out there. Here’s a simple fact that ought to change: the web sites that get favor are those that get the pre-release Macs for cheerleader reviews. Go Apple, you rock!

Ira W writes:

I'm returning my 2016 MBP as well. I have a Photoshop action that I typically run on all of my images that sets up a variety of curves to add contrast and color and calls a few tools within the Camera Raw Filter.

On my new 2016 MBP it takes *longer* to run than on the 2013 MBP it was supposed to replace. I wound up getting a 2015 refurb instead which runs the action faster -- 17 seconds with the 2015 model where it takes 21-22 seconds with the 2016 model. That's a 25% slowdown! I suspect it's either due to Sierra or (as you've suggested) bad GPU drivers.

I waited for 10.12.2 to come out but it didn't help performance at all. In fact, it may even have made things slightly worse.

MPG: good independent confirmation of the test results in the MPG review of the Apple 2016 MacBook Pro. The 2015 model looks like the one to have for Photoshop users, and the 2015 model also has a fast SSD. But anyone with a 2013/2014/2015 model should just stick with it barring some *specific* known and tested gain with the 2016 model.

CLICK TO VIEW: Like New Factory Sealed Apple Refurbished MacBook Pro

Don H writes:

I certainly share your pain with the general direction Apple is taking, and run into many of the same usability hassles. But barring some sort of massive corporate intervention at Apple things will likely get worse with each passing year.

As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, I keep some older machines around running earlier versions of OS X, both for legacy applications as well as for last-known-working versions of iTunes, etc. The machines and earlier versions of Mac OS were certainly great when they came out, and are still pretty damned good today - for the tasks that they were designed to do.

However, the world doesn’t stand still and we get some fresh improvements and a lot of disappointments from Apple and the tech world in general. It’s a very difficult balance to work with, as you well know. But let’s assume the worst and Apple goes all-in across their product line towards the iOS model of functional restrictions, app lockdown, denial of downgrades, and eventually a 100% dependence on a ‘cloud' connection. Furthermore, their hardware continues to whittle down functionality to the point where only a super-iPad, iPhone, and Watch remain, and they further their practice of requiring all new software across the board with each product release - take it or leave it.

What would you do under such a scenario? Would you freeze your tech career to a certain point in time, or abandon it altogether? Certainly you can continue your photography with older equipment. It might not benefit from the latest CPUs (such that they are these days) or storage interface, but it’s still feasible until the hardware dies.

I’m not asking out of snark, because these are questions I ask of myself. I know of someone who worked in the automotive field his whole life and simply stopped buying new cars when they could no longer be maintained without a diagnostic computer. That was a threshold that pushed past his personal priorities, and he’s fine with running older models until he can no longer drive. (He also happens to be a car collector.)

I’d be curious to hear your long-term plans (without getting too maudlin) in an essay, and I bet others would too. These endless papercuts just seem to keep getting worse.

MPG: I (Lloyd) am more or less locked into new technology because I have to cover the latest camera gear (and computers here on this site). So my choices are not “free” in that, for example, I must use a version of Photoshop/ACR supporting the latest cameras. So far that has not been a problem, but it might be that if I chose to simply “sit” on one model Mac Pro with some OS version, I might be forced out of it just because of software support. At present, I could live with my current Mac Pro and iMac 5K and (ugghh) macOS Sierra more or less indefinitely—but the camera support issue would likely become a problem before the hardware reached EOL.

Windows is not an appealing option for numerous reasons =, with huge 'costs' going far beyond hardware and software (deep into experience, know how, habits, etc). Linux is good for servers, but problematic otherwise.

That said, I am not that pessimistic. I do believe that Apple will indeed deliver some very good desktops. While they might be compromised in various ways like the 2016 MacBook Pro, it seems unlikely that Apple will screw the pooch on the iMac or Mac Pro—a bridge too far—yet. So I think we professional users have at least a 5 year lease on computing life, if only with the current models and current macOS.

Mark A writes:

My comments here.

To which I linked in a comment to this article https://arstechnica.com/apple/2016/12/tim-cook-promises-great-desktops-in-our-roadmap-after-a-desktop-free-2016/

I even offered Tim to help him. The lack of attention to detail is worrisome. The hardware is mostly lovely (setting soldered components aside), the software is not.

The lack of attention to creature comforts tells me nobody at Apple really cares or they'd have a software czar at the top of the house. I'd do it if they'd let me have the freedom across the spectrum from macOS to iOS to apps.

Here's one of my more annoying little creature comforts: I start every week on Mondays never Sundays. That's an anachronism I never understood, perhaps it's a Judeo Christian thing. In any case, in Calendar (and in Google Calendar since I use iCloud only for things Google can't or won't host properly like Notes and Reminders), I have weeks set to start on Monday. Not a single other stupid pop-up calendar they have supports anything other than Sunday weeks. This forces me to rethink on the fly how weeks "look" to select the right day. Little creature comforts add up to respect and thoughtfulness. I have a long, long list that I've been keeping as I got my first iPhone a few weeks ago, giving up the productivity of my museum-piece Blackberry. Some days, I'm exasperated enough to not bother writing down the next thing...

MPG: a spot-on expression of how the little things are big things. Part of my dismay (a large part) is indeed the disrespect Apple shows users, the reasons being arrogance or ignorance I don’t know at this point.

Kevin D writes:

Are we finally at the point to say goodbye to Apple the phone company?

Tim Cook is making Sculley look like a visionary, the Watch is a pointless product, and in the new MBP, making a product thinner and losing battery life in the process sounds like a clueless post mortem.

Ask any pro if they would prefer if Apple thickened the MBP by the amount they slimmed it in order to add battery life and more RAM capacity, and you would hear a resounding yes.

If they don’t want to work on PCs anymore, fine…sell it off to someone who does want to serve the market with intelligence and care. [MPG: see Reader Comment: Apple Pro Division?]

In your view, when is enough enough, and time for serious photographers to seek greener pastures???

Speaking as someone who at age 61 owned a Lisa, have bought hundreds of Macs over the years in my companies, was an Apple VAR and developer, and generally felt good about Apple and their solutions, it looks like they stopped giving a shit about pro users some time ago. Dropping Aperture for my operation was a blow, as I have over 400TB of images in that system. That to me said, we do not care about you or your business…none of this stuff make cash like the phones do…OK, say I, why not just dump it all??

Or, are we waiting to Apple to revamp Macs using its own chips, and revitalize the market??

Where do you sit in all this?

MPG: see also, now 3 years old, Reader Comments on Apple Core Rot. A trend once in motion stays in motion, until it ends. And there are no signs of ending.

First it was pro software: Aperture (discontinued), then Final Cut Pro (pros have abandonded it in droves due the contempt Apple showed for pro users by having no compatibility across releases). Then small 'cuts', like the random destruction of iPhoto features that worked well, now morphed into a problematic Photos.app (it won’t even allow dragging an image to Photoshop, for starters), the utter destruction of Disk Utility leaving pros with RAID hung out to dry, and for 4 years now, the steady increase in in bugs in macOS coupled to arbitrary and idiotic eye candy changes and performance problems. Most recently, Apple Mail is just barely usable due to performance problems (impacting me negatively every day). All of which (and much more) shows disrespect not just to pro users, but anyone with actual work to do.

Apple’s actions are inciting a hollowing-out of the core user base, the loyal core user base and it will come back to haunt Apple. The inflection point was 2013. A course correction is increasingly difficult without corporate trauma, but not impossible.

Now comes the hardware onslaught. It’s not that the 2016 MacBook Pro is a bad machine; it is very good in many respects. It’s not that the touchbar cannot be useful; it’s that it substitutes proven useful design for a gimmick. On a hardware level, the 2016 MacBook Pro disrespects Pro users in multiple ways and for that reason it makes me queasy as to what’s coming down the pike, particularly with Tim Cook (surely a master manager, but showing no signs of vision of any kind, let alone insight into the pro market), Phil Schiller (a marketing bozo prone whose words are for the gullible and uninformed) and Craig Federighi (incompetent as far as I can tell, the person whose mission seems to be to destroy macOS). Nothing is going to get better with these people in charge.

Still, it’s like the United States: deeply flawed but no better country on earth. That’s where I stand with Apple, at least for the next year or two.

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