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Fixing the MacBook Pro

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Despite my love for the previous Retina MacBook Pro, I won’t be able to use it forever. The best laptop to ever exist should be in the future, not the past.

There’s a lot to like about the new MacBook Pros, but they need some changes to be truly great and up to Apple’s standards.

Here’s what I’m hoping to see in the next MacBook Pro that I believe is technically possible, reasonable, widely agreeable, and likely for Apple to actually do, in descending order of importance:

Magic Keyboard

Butterfly keyswitches are a design failure that should be abandoned. They’ve been controversial, fatally unreliable, and expensive to repair since their introduction on the first 12” MacBook in early 2015. Their flaws were evident immediately, yet Apple brought them to the entire MacBook Pro lineup in late 2016.

After three significant revisions, Apple’s butterfly keyswitches remain as controversial and unreliable as ever. At best, they’re a compromise acceptable only on the ultra-thin 12” MacBook, and only if nothing else fits. They have no place in Apple’s mainstream or pro computers.

The MacBook Pro must return to scissor keyswitches. If Apple only changes one thing about the next MacBook Pro, it should be this. It’s far more important than anything else on this list.

Fans of the butterfly keyboard’s feel need not worry — this doesn’t mean we need the old MacBook Pro keyboard, exactly.

The Magic Keyboard’s scissor switches feel similar, but with a bit more travel, and all of the reliability and resilience of previous keyboard generations. They’re a much better, more reliable, and more repairable balance of thinness and typing feel likely to appeal to far more people — even those who like the butterfly keyboards.

The Magic Keyboard only needs one change to be perfect for the MacBook Pro: returning to the “inverted-T” arrow-key arrangement by making the left- and right-arrow keys half-height again. This arrangement is much more natural and less error-prone because we can align our fingers by feeling the “T” shape, a crucial affordance for such frequently used keys that are so far from the home row.

Great first-party USB-C hubs

The MacBook Pro bet heavily on the USB-C ecosystem, but it hasn’t developed enough on its own.

When people can’t get what they need from Apple at all, or at a remotely competitive price, they’ll go to cheap third-party products, which are often unreliable or cause other problems. When these critical accessories aren’t flawless, it reflects poorly on Apple, as it harms the overall real-world experience of using these computers.

If a third-party hub or dongle is flaky, the owner doesn’t blame it — they blame their expensive new Apple computer for needing it.

Apple needs to step up with its own solid offerings to offer more ports for people who need them.

Apple’s most full-featured USB-C accessory is downright punitive in its unnecessary minimalism: one USB-C passthrough, one USB-A (a.k.a. regular/old USB), and an HDMI port that doesn’t even do 4K at 60 Hz — all for the shameless price of $80.

Instead of giving us the least that we might possibly need, this type of product should give us the most that can fit within reasonable size, cost, and bandwidth constraints. I’d like to see at least two USB-C ports, at least two USB-A ports, and HDMI that can do 4K60. An SD-card reader would be a nice bonus.

To make it easier to go all-USB-C on our peripherals and cables, I’d also like to see a true USB-C hub: one USB-C in and at least three USB-C out, with power passthrough on one.

And just as we learned that the need for pro displays shouldn’t be outsourced to LG, Apple should stop outsourcing critical adapters and hubs to Belkin. They’re not as good as Apple’s, and they never will be.

More ports

USB-C is great, but being limited to 2 or 4 total ports (including power) simply isn’t enough. Even if you adopt the USB-C ecosystem, these MacBook Pros are more limited than their predecessors:

  • The 13” MacBook Air can connect to power, two USB devices, Thunderbolt, and an SD card simultaneously. Its replacement, the 13” MacBook “Escape” (without Touch Bar), can only connect to two total devices on battery, or one when powered.
  • The 2015 13” and 15” MacBook Pros can connect to power, two USB devices, two Thunderbolt devices, HDMI output, and an SD card simultaneously. Their replacements can only connect to four devices on battery, or three when powered.

If there’s not enough Thunderbolt or PCIe bandwidth to have more USB-C ports, that’s fine — not every port needs to be USB-C with Thunderbolt. All of that cost and bandwidth is unnecessary for most common real-world uses of laptop ports (power in, charging iPhones, external keyboards, etc.).

Dongles should be the exception, not the norm, in real-world use — most owners should need zero. But HDMI and USB-A are still far too widely used to have been removed completely, and neither are likely to fade away anytime soon regardless of how Apple configures their laptops. Re-adding HDMI and at least one USB-A port will reduce or eliminate many people’s dongle needs, which I bet would dramatically improve their satisfaction.

Finally, Apple should give serious consideration to bringing back the SD-card slot. SD cards are more widely used than ever in photography, video, audio, and other specialized equipment, and they provide excellent options for fast, reliable storage expansion and data transfer. And they’re going to be around for a while — Wi-Fi and cables don’t or can’t replace most current uses in practice.

Back away from the Touch Bar

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

The Touch Bar should either be discontinued or made optional for all MacBook Pro sizes and configurations.

Touch ID is the only part of the Touch Bar worth saving, but the future is clearly Face ID. If we can’t have that yet, the ideal setup is Touch ID without the Touch Bar. We’d retain the Secure Enclave’s protection for the camera and microphones, and hopefully get the iMac Pro’s boot protection, too.

Nicer charger

USB-C PD charging and replaceable charging cables are great advances that should be kept. USB-C PD is the reason I didn’t include battery life in this list — occasional needs for extended battery life can be achieved with inexpensive USB-C PD batteries.

But Apple could make their chargers and cables so much nicer — and they only need to look to their own recent past.

I’d like to see them bring back the charging LED on the end of the cable, and the cable-management arms on the brick. These weren’t superfluous — they served important, useful functions, and their removal made real-world usability worse for small, unnecessary gains.

MagSafe would be nice, but I don’t think it’s essential. MagSafe 2 wasn’t universally loved because it detached with too little vertical pressure when used on laps, couches, or beds, but maybe it could be moved to a splitting module along the cable, a few inches from the laptop end, like the original Xbox’s controller cables?

The move to a detachable, “standard” USB-C cable doesn’t preclude any of this. It’s already a specialized, dedicated power-only cable in practice (high-wattage USB PD support, but no Thunderbolt, and limited to USB 2.0 speeds). Third-party cables could still work — Apple’s could just be nicer.

Keeping what’s great

There’s a lot about the current MacBook Pro that’s great — fast internals, quieter fans, Touch ID, P3 screens, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C PD charging, and space gray, to name a few.

We shouldn’t have to choose between what’s better about the previous generation — connectivity, reliability, and versatility — and what’s great about this one.

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146 days ago
Singapore, Singapore
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1 public comment
147 days ago
Pretty much nailed it.
Space City, USA
146 days ago
As a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar owner, the two big ones for me are the charging indicator LED on the cable or laptop (there’s no way to know if it is charging unless you open the screen) and the arrow keys. All the other issues don’t really effect me, though I understand the problems others have. I love the keyboard and touch bar, and the thinness and lightness are the best ever for a 15 inch laptop.
146 days ago
I love my touchbar, and don’t want to be without one again tbh.
146 days ago
Just got giggles, bring back the external battery indicator too. It’s so damned frustrating having to haul it out of the bag and open the bloody thing only to discover a dead battery. Marco is spot-on. They build that kind of Pro again, and they will sell a shitload of them.

Volvo’s Remarkable New Films About Human Achievement Don’t Look Much Like Ads at All – Adweek

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Volvo journeys to the bottom of the sea and explores the remarkably resilient recesses of the human mind in these evocative, intense and ultimately uplifting brand films from London agency Valenstein & Fatt.

Keeping the cars themselves mostly in the background, directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall (aka, D.A.R.Y.L.) tie the automaker’s quest for innovation to personal achievement and the qualities of the human spirit that can help us beat daunting odds and overcome adversity.

Produced as part of Volvo’s ongoing “Human Made Stories” partnership with U.K. TV service Sky Atlantic, each film clocks in at over five minutes and packs plenty of emotional power, punctuated by poetic imagery and memorable moments. Telling true stories, they transcend the content model to deliver food for thought and some pretty impressive feels.

That’s particularly true for “Music of the Mind,” which focuses on a gifted English violinist named Rosie who suffers a catastrophic brain injury that silences her performing career. Many years later, she rejoins her orchestra thanks to technology that reads brainwaves and translates thoughts into melodic phrases for others to play:

“The first set of films we created got good traction and were downloaded 600,000 times” from Sky Atlantic’s On Demand service, agency creative director Andy Lockley tells AdFreak. “This time round, we wanted to tell stories that were truly remarkable. Stories about people whose refusal to accept the things the way they are has led to innovation that that potential to change the world. We spent a great deal of time searching for these stories and were very selective.”

The team sought out emotionally engaging, intellectually challenging stories because they define Volvo’s target audience as “defiant pioneers—people who inherently do things differently, challenge conventions and create their own path,” Lockley says.

Less of a tearjerker than “Music of the Mind,” though equally effecting in its own watery way, is “Nero’s Garden,” which tells of an audacious plan to save family farms in Italy by growing crops on the seabed:

“In any branded content, product integration has to be integral and not too intrusive,” says Lockley. “If it is, it’s counterproductive, and people will simply reject it. The viewer can choose to stop watching at any point if they felt they are being advertised to.”

With subdued hues, quietly passionate interviews, deft build-ups of suspense and unobtrusive car cameos, neither film feels much like advertising at all.

“The primary purpose of these films is to convey Volvo’s philosophy that it’s humans and human behavior that drive the world forward—not cars,” says Lockley. “The focus isn’t the car, it’s the people.”

That said, the brand connection might, at times, be a tad too subtle. It’s tough enough selling the cars themselves in entertaining fashion. Trying to communicate an automaker’s “philosophy” makes for an even rougher road. Plus, who’s going to remember what a nameplate stands for—or be thinking about any brand whatsoever—after watching “Music of the Mind”?

Still, Volvo deserves credit for attempting to shift the conversation and rolling in an unexpected direction.

“Nemo’s Garden” breaks tonight on Sky Atlantic following Game of Thrones, while “Music of the Mind” premieres after the hit series next Tuesday. Both films will be available for a year via Sky On Demand.

Head of Marketing, Volvo, Georgina Williams
Campaign Manager, Volvo, Terissa Wingfield

Creative Agency: Valenstein & Fatt
Joint Chief Creative Officers: Vicki Maguire & Caroline Pay
Creative Director: Andy Lockley
Strategic Design Director: Wiktor Skoog
Managing Partner: Crystyn Bevan
Business Director: Tim Rogowski
Account Director: Alex Nixon
Account Manager: Dominic Kolodziejski
Agency Producers: Amy Cracknell & Marcus Ely
Assistant Producer: Georgia Tomi

Prod Company: PULSE
Director D.A.R.Y.L (Edward Lovelace and James Hall)
Exec Producer: Neil Andrews
Editor Billy Mead & Amanda Jenkins at Ten Three
Additional editing: Matt Newman, Crispin Deverill & Luke Whiting at Hogarth
Sound Design: Zak Kurtha
Composer: Daniel Hart & Tom Player at Wake The Town

Post Production: GPS
Post Producer: Annika Gustavsson
Online: Esta Burgland
MPC Post Producer: Amy Richardson
Colorist: Mattieu Toullet

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221 days ago
Singapore, Singapore
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Pinboard Acquires Delicious

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This is simply amazing given the history of Pinboard. Strike a win for the indie web.

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321 days ago
Singapore, Singapore
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322 days ago
West Hartford, CT
322 days ago
323 days ago
Waterloo, Canada

The Outline

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Joshua Topolsky, announcing the launch of The Outline, the new website for which he’s editor-in-chief:

Welcome to The Outline, a new kind of publication for a new kind of human.


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498 days ago
Singapore, Singapore
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★ Why A-Series Benchmark Scores Matter

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Thom Holwerda on Twitter, quoting a tweet of mine touting the iPhone 7’s astounding Geekbench scores:

Funny how just like in the PPC days, benchmarks only start mattering when they favour [insert platform of choice].


I like reading/following Holwerda, because he’s someone who I feel keeps me on my toes. But he’s off-base here. I’m certainly not saying that CPU or GPU performance is a primary reason why anyone should buy an iPhone over and Android phone. In fact, I’ll emphasize that if the tables were turned and it were Android phones that were registering Geekbench scores double those of the iPhone, I would still be using an iPhone. In the same way that I’ve been using Mac, non-stop, since I first purchased a computer in 1991. Most of the years from 1991 until the switch to Intel CPUs in 2007, the Mac was behind PCs in performance. I never argued then that performance didn’t matter — only that for me, personally, the other benefits of using a Mac (the UI design of the system, the quality of the third-party apps, the build quality of the hardware, etc. — outweighed the performance penalty Macs suffered. The same would be true today if Apple’s A-series chips were slower than Qualcomm’s CPUs for Android.

But that would likely never happen. If Apple’s in-house chips were significantly slower than the commodity chips used by Android device makers, Apple would just use those commodity chips. The mobile situation would be just like the desktop situation, where Apple uses the same CPUs as everyone else. That’s what makes the A-series chips’ performance so interesting. If the commodity chips were fastest, everyone would use them. But if the A-series chips are the fastest (and have the best energy efficiency), only Apple gets to use them.

The iPhone has all the benefits (in short: superior design) that would keep me, and I think most other iPhone users, on the platform even if it didn’t have a performance advantage. But it does have a significant performance advantage, and that advantage is exclusive to Apple. This is an extraordinary situation, historically. And year-over-year, it looks like Apple’s lead is growing, not shrinking. It’s not a fluke, but a sustained advantage.

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582 days ago
So true!
Singapore, Singapore
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★ ‘Courage’

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Steve Jobs, on stage with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher in 2010, explaining Apple’s decision not to support Adobe Flash on iOS:

We’re trying to make great products for people, and we have at least the courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this is part of what makes a great product, we’re going to leave it out. Some people are going to not like that, they’re going to call us names […] but we’re going to take the heat [and] instead focus our energy on these technologies which we think are in their ascendancy and we think are going to be the right technologies for customers. And you know what? They’re paying us to make those choices. […] If we succeed, they’ll buy them, and if we don’t, they won’t, and it’ll all work itself out.

As Ben Lovejoy points out in the article linked above, word-for-word this could apply to Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from its products. The video is worth watching, even after reading the words. Jobs was fired up about this.

I’ve chatted with a handful of friends this week who took umbrage at Phil Schiller’s “courage” explanation for why Apple removed the port. It’s also been a subject of mockery on Twitter. Starting around the 85:00 mark of the event, here’s what Schiller said:

Now some people have asked why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone. […] The reason to move on — I’m going to give you three of them, but it really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.

I couldn’t disagree more with my aforementioned friends. You can argue that Jobs said it better. I think he did, too — particularly because Jobs emphasized the fact that they knew people were going to disagree, vociferously. (Jobs was one of the best communicators the world has ever seen, so that’s no ding against Schiller.) But Jobs and Schiller meant “courage” in the same way: having the courage to make a sure-to-be controversial decision when there is a non-controversial option, simply because they believe it to be the right thing to do in the long run.

When we think of controversial decisions, we tend to think of both sides as creating controversy. Choose A and the B proponents will be angry; choose B and the A proponents will be angry. But when it comes to controversial change of the status quo, it’s not like that. Only the people who are opposed to the change get outraged. Leave things as they are and there is no controversy. The people who aren’t outraged by the potential change are generally ambivalent about it, not in a fervor for it. Strong feelings against change on one side, and widespread ambivalence on the other. That’s why the status quo is generally so slow to change, in fields ranging from politics to technology.

There was outrage over Apple’s refusal to support Flash on iOS. Genuine controversy in the mainstream media. Most people saw it as competitive spite against Adobe, not a principled stand for a superior technology, superior experience, and open standards. There would have been no widespread outrage or controversy if Apple had caved and supported Flash on iOS. Android supported Flash for years, and there was no controversy. Now, I certainly would have excoriated Apple if they had caved on this. I understand that Flash is terrible technology. I could see the technical problems — performance, battery life, and perhaps most especially security and stability — Flash would cause on iOS. The technically proficient would have objected. But it wouldn’t have been controversial in a widespread, mainstream sense. What most people would have seen is that the video they wanted to watch on CNN.com would now play, however jankily, on their iPhone. What technically-informed Flash opponents could see is the big picture: that iOS’s profound popularity would slowly but surely force the entire content industry to support HTML5 H.264 video and drop support for Flash.

This was the choice Apple faced: support Flash and shut these critics up; or continue to not support Flash, take the criticism, and just wait a few years for everyone to forget about it, while former Flash proponents enjoy a better experience that they never would have gotten if Apple had listened to them.

I don’t feel nearly as strongly about the analog headphone jack as I did Flash. It’s not even close. Flash is garbage technology. To this day it’s not just bad, it’s dangerous. By not supporting Flash to push the industry toward HTML5, Apple was omitting something terrible (but incredibly popular) to push the industry toward something much better. The analog headphone jack isn’t bad. It just isn’t good, either. But it is popular — more popular than Flash Player even. Wireless — if it works as smoothly as AirPods are advertised — is good. Flash/HTML5 was bad/good. Analog jack/AirPods is meh/good.

That said, the same principle stands: Apple faced a choice between doing something that they knew would be controversial, that they knew would generate genuine outrage, but which would lead to everyone having a better experience in the long run (and for early adopters, a better experience as soon as they start using their AirPods) — or, they could have just kept including a fucking headphone jack and no one would have raised an eyebrow, at the expense of a slower adoption rate of wireless headphones.

Websites could have dropped support for Flash and moved to HTML5 even if Apple had supported Flash on iOS. But most wouldn’t have. That’s just not how the world works. At most media companies, “We should spend the money to update our systems to replace Flash with HTML5 because it’s a better experience, even though what we have now works,” isn’t going to fly. “We should spend the money to update our systems to replace Flash with HTML5 because we are losing a massive and lucrative audience that can’t play Flash because they’re using iOS devices” — that’s an argument that flies.

Not supporting Flash on iOS in any way, shape, or form was a strong push. Removing the headphone jack but including both Lightning ear buds and a legacy adapter is a nudge. But the nudge will help drive adoption of wireless headphones. In the alternate universe where Apple introduced the exact same AirPods and W1-powered Beats headphones but kept the analog audio port on the iPhone 7, adoption of those wireless headphones would be slower. I think a lot slower. More people would have a worse experience on a daily basis, dealing with tangled cords and all the other hassles of having your ears tethered to a device. Battery life would be slightly worse, too. Maybe the iPhone 7 still wouldn’t have optical image stabilization. But in that universe, no one is complaining about the iPhone headphone jack.

Few companies other than Apple make decisions that they know will provoke outrage just because they think it’s the right thing to do. Most companies will do the wrong thing to avoid controversy. Google certainly knew full well how awful Flash was when they supported it in Android. They did that not just to quell demands from ill-informed Android users who wanted Flash, but also perhaps to have a competitive advantage over iOS, by appealing to whatever segment of the mass market was annoyed by Apple’s refusal to budge on Flash. But still, it’s about choosing between unpopular-but-correct and popular-but-wrong.

We, as a species, are hooked up to focus on the short run, and we’re hooked up to seek popularity and avoid criticism. Choosing to do what you know will be unpopular in the short run but you believe will prove correct in the long run takes courage. Courage of one’s convictions, not courage running into a burning building to save a life, but courage nonetheless.

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587 days ago
Singapore, Singapore
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588 days ago
Omg grubes. This is the courage to compel a $160 upsell. I hope I have the courage to wake up and buy myself a $700 unsubsidized phone and and extra $160 for earbuds.

Also: flash made things worse. Headphone jacks, in stopping people from pretending a phone is a boom box makes things better.
Princeton, NJ
586 days ago
How long until really cheap bluetooth headphones start appearing though?
586 days ago
Per the verge I picked up a pair of these http://www.gearbest.com/sports-fitness-headphones/pp_356162.html. Thoroughly OK. Nowhere near These https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003EM8008/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_GEu1xbCY7W9Y1
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