Mac Malaise

October 29, 2016

I’ve been a tech enthusiast and Apple customer for over 30 years. I don’t recall ever being as disappointed by a set of Apple product announcements as I was this week.

The TV app for Apple TV on your TV. Meh. Maybe this will actually deliver on the promise. Maybe it won’t. The lack of a partnership with Netflix doesn’t bode well. Ultimately, this is a product for someone else. I don’t watch television apart from following the Cubs and Sounders.

Tweet along with the NFL. Who green lighted this shit show? Watching the slowest games in sports and listening to the morons who call them now is painful enough. Adding a scrolling feed of tweets from randos isn’t going to elevate the experience.

The Touch Bar. Apple clearly thinks they’re on to something here. It is impressive tech. And the fact that it’s running something like watchOS on an independent processor means they’re in a good position to add it to external keyboards. I doubt the market would bear the price those would have to command, but it could happen.

The real issue is that the Touch Bar is impressive tech looking for a problem. Gruber writes:

The Touch Bar is the answer to “These keyboard F-keys are cryptic and inflexible — what can we replace them with that’s better?” That’s an actual problem.

That is not an actual problem. Actual problems are user problems. What job does the Touch Bar do? None of the demos of the Touch Bar were compelling to me. Everything the Touch Bar does can be done on-screen with trackpad input or on a tablet with pen input. “But now you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard!” Instead I have to take my eyes off the screen. That’s a win? No. It’s a gimmick.

The one actual problem the Touch Bar might address is discoverability. By showing controls that are appropriate for the user’s current task, devs might help their users find more of the power their software provides. I see two counterpoints here. There’s nothing stopping developers from doing that now without the extra hardware, and there’s a very good chance that the extra real estate will be used to overwhelm rather than edify. Just think what the team that designed Microsoft Office’s ribbons UI could do with yet another row of buttons.

That brings me to the heart of why the event was so disappointing. Apple is targetting casual users and sacrificing support for power users. The Mac Pro (*cough*) is 1045 days old. It’s been 382 days since iMacs have seen even a speed bump. Even so, the new MacBook Pro is underpowered compared to this old tech. Still, Apple pitches the MacBook Pro and an LG monitor (not shipping until December at the earliest) as their desktop solution now.

I’m sure that combination will satisfy many users. In fact, I’m sure it will satisfy a majority of users. But like the folks with large music libraries left behind by iTunes and Apple Music, those of us who do work that is CPU constrained are being left behind as Apple focuses on the mainstream.

The iPhone-ification of the Mac is accelerating.