Mini rant: Apple? What are you doing? Apple! STAHP!

Okay, so I know I’ve been quiet for a little while. I’ve been settling into a new job, and all that jazz. I do have more tales for the Candid Customers section, don’t you worry! BUT there’s something I need to write and I want an audience who can appreciate what I’m saying so that rules out Facebook because most of my friends don’t like computers as much as I do.

So. Apple.

Yes. Apple. Hello again.

Now I have been using Apple computers since before I knew what they were. When I was little, the family business had a Mac Plus on every desk in the office, and I would play on my grandfather’s one after he’d passed since nobody used his office anymore. The only time I’ve not used a Mac was a short period between my Lime iMac exploding in 2003 and getting a Mac Mini in 2006, during which time I used an evil Canadian thing called an Iridium Starbook 520 which had all the power of a Pentium 4 in a case so small it literally caught fire when I was rendering an AutoCAD file for school. I’ve always used them, and I’ve become involved in their culture. I recognise iconic (not Ubisoft “iconic”) phrasing when I see it. Apple first said “Hello” for the Macintosh. They said “Hello again” for the iMac. This year they said “Hello again” and … updated just one of their product lines.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the new MacBook Pros look amazing and I’m sure in a few years time when my 2011 MBP shows its age and gets donated I’ll buy a new one, probably in space grey because why have silver when you can have slightly darker silver? The Touch Bar is welcome, the processor upgrade is welcome, the minuscule decrease in SSD upgrade prices is welcome, the faster RAM and default 16GB is welcome, Thunderbolt 3 is welcome, the super colour screen is welcome… but here my list of nice things kinda peters out. AMD graphics? Really? Starting at the literal mid-range card that makes nVidia’s low end cards look good, and topping out at the just-above-mid-range card that makes nVidia’s low end cards look good (no, that’s not a typo). And what’s with those speaker grilles? They’re not even grilles! The holes don’t go all the way through! The speakers are under the palm rests!

And this is before we come to the elephant in the room: the twin-tub sized trackpad. Apple’s trackpads have always been amazing and I’m sure that once I get to know the new trackpad I’ll like it but as it stands, on my regular-for-Mac-but-giant-for-everyone-else 2011 machine, I already have issues with mistaken palm-induced gestures and cursor movements. They’re not common, but they happen. Now the trackpad is large enough to land a small helicopter on I can’t see this boding well for my thumbs’ uncanny ability to accidentally select text when I’m hitting the space bar.

So why am I kicking up a fuss? Because of all the things Apple didn’t do during this release period. The Mac Pro has stagnated again. The Mac Mini is forgotten. The iMac got no love. The iMac. You know, “hello again” iMac. Now I know this wasn’t much of a surprise because of the rumour mills but still, Apple could have said something. Done something. Anything. But no, they updated one of their product lines. This was no Think Different moment, this was a “hey, look, evolution” moment when we were all wanting revolution. So there’s not been much of a massive hardware change in the last few years; processors hover around the 3GHz mark, RAM isn’t getting any smaller, PCIe SSD drives seem to have found a size and stuck to it, none of this is bad but when you use “hello again” you damn well change something. A new iMac where the screen panel is 10mm thick all the way through because the machine is all in the foot now. A new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and graphics cards that don’t make people snigger. A Mac Mini that contains Iris Pro graphics so the BYODKM folks aren’t buying something that can be achieved for a quarter of the price by the Intel NUC.


Oh, and prices. Now I know here in the United Kingdom of Great Depression and Northern Angst we have Brexit working against us to the point where our economy is as deflated as a used condom on the floor, but still, in 2011 I got the 15" MacBook Pro with the matte high-resolution screen and the better integrated graphics for £1800. That same style configuration, with no processor upgrade but with the better (hah!) integrated graphics is now £2800. In the USA the prices took a hike too. Apple used to be the brand for “professionals and consumers” but now they seem to be targeting rich consumers with an afterthought for developers who bought into the ecosystem and now can’t leave without training in entirely different software suites. I do not like this direction. When I buy something that is being ostensively marketed as a professional device such as the MacBook Pro, I do not expect middle-grounds like mid-range historically-underperforming graphics. Think of it like buying an off-road car specifically for driving off-road, and then discovering it has a 1 litre engine with barely 100 horsepower behind it. You have a two tonne beast that cost £65,000 that gets outperformed by a £12,000 Landrover. In the case of this metaphor, Landrover is Packard Bell. PACKARD lets sell second hand parts for a decade BELL.

I know a lot of this is market forces. It’s not Tim Cook, it wasn’t Steve Jobs, and it’s not even Jonny “lets make it thinner” Ive. It’s the market. Apple found that artists and writers and hipsters liked them, and they catered for artists and writers and hipsters. There are more artists and writers and hipsters than there are professionals or gamers or average Joes who use Macs, and this isn’t a bad thing in itself but it’s causing bad things like Apple not caring about the Mac Pro because more people buy the 13" MacBook Pro. Apple need to do what Volkswagen did in the 1990s when they realised that the boy racers who bought the Golf existed as well as the middle class business men who bought the Passat.

Split the lines. Have the Mac Mini and the iMac and the MacBook exist in one product range, the consumer range, the range that the lack of the “Pro” monicker suggests, and have the Mac Pro, the MacBook Pro, heck maybe even an iMac Pro exist in parallel for the professionals, the power hungry, those who need oomph. Update them in parallel. When the MacBook and MacBook Pro get an update, put that power-saving dual core in the MacBook, give the MacBook Pro the beefiest Intel chip going. Do what they used to do with IBM and get custom CPUs that eek the most power per watt. Do what they used to do with both nVidia and ATI and get custom GPUs that contain all the graphics technologies. FUCKING ADOPT OPENGL4.4 and VULCAN ALREADY. Metal is amazing but what about the cross-platform standards? You know, the kinds that everyone else is using already.

I do wonder where Apple is going. Sometimes I find myself genuinely wondering if my next machine will be a Mac, because although I do spend a lot of time doing little bits and bobs I do occasionally need power. Admittedly usually for games. Games that would run better with OpenGL4.4, justsayin’. But what if I buy a Thinkpad and hackintosh it and get a better experience than I would with an actual Mac? Sure I’d miss out on the Touch Bar but on the other hand I’d have power to do what I wanted. And isn’t that what the Mac was all about? Having a machine that let you do what you wanted when you wanted? “It just works.”

This one’s got an easy explanation—Nvidia has no GPU capable of driving multiple 5k external displays, and Apple has prioritized that over raw performance (especially with the lack of a Mac Pro refresh). Some more detail from Andrew Cunningham’s review:

Apple moved to dedicated GPUs across the lineup for one reason: external monitor support. AMD’s GPUs can drive two of those new 5K Thunderbolt 3 displays plus the laptop’s internal display. Intel’s can’t. Let’s explain.

When you hook one of LG’s 5K monitors to one of the new MacBook Pros, what you’re actually seeing on the screen is two pictures stitched together to make a single seamless image. This is because the version of the DisplayPort spec supported by Intel’s GPUs and almost all monitors these days—version 1.2—doesn’t have enough bandwidth to drive a 5K display at 60Hz all by itself. This will change with DisplayPort 1.3, which is right on the cusp of going mainstream, but it’s not here yet. Apple is actually pushing two DisplayPort 1.2 streams to the monitor over the single Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Incidentally, this also helps explain why Apple went with AMD’s Polaris-based GPUs instead of Nvidia’s generally faster Pascal-based GPUs. Power consumption aside—the laptop version of the GTX 1060, Nvidia’s slowest Pascal-based laptop chip, has an 85W TDP where the MacBook Pro’s AMD GPUs are all 35W—Nvidia’s cards support a maximum of four displays. And while Nvidia’s GPUs support DisplayPort 1.3, the Thunderbolt 3 controller and most monitors only support 1.2.

Apple will have more flexibility again when DisplayPort 1.3 becomes more common. Those future laptops will be able to drive two 5K screens plus a laptop’s internal screen using just three DisplayPort streams instead of five. For now, though, if pushing two high-end 5K screens at once was a design goal for Apple, AMD was the only way to go.

Unfortunately, Apple is playing to its strengths (and to market demands, and to its shareholders) and focusing effort on the categories that drive its revenue: mobile, both laptop and smartphone. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s the reality.

I can’t speak to UK prices, but Apple isn’t particularly outrageous—the “apple tax” has been a myth for almost a decade. A base model 13" MBP and a similarly-equipped new-model Dell XPS 13 are roughly at parity, at least in the US store. Apple flat-out doesn’t have outrageous margins on their devices anymore—this isn’t 1994.

This is a horrifyingly terrible idea that would waste money and result in nothing useful to anyone. Apple’s decision to switch to commodity Intel chips in 2005 is one of the major reasons why the Mac still exists as a platform today, and switching away from Intel is ludicrous. Switch to what? “Custom CPUs” require design and investment, and Apple’s Ax series is not good enough to power a Macbook or an iMac. Please don’t be one of those “Apple needs to switch to ARM!” people. Those people have all been huffing paint. There are zero upsides and an infinite number of downsides—and chief among them is high cost and terrible absolute performance compared to Intel’s Core i3-5-7 line.

Apple Ax is great for phones, and that’s where it belongs. Apple doesn’t need to waste money on designing a desktop CPU any more than they need to waste money designing new airplanes to haul their products from Shenzhen to the rest of the world.

I think we’ve got more than enough proof at this point that Apple doesn’t care—it’s just not a priority. But, hey, let’s talk about Swift and Metal!

Many of your gripes (which are common gripes, definitely!) are about the software—so that won’t help you. Your hardware-related grips are legit, but several of them—including GPU and CPU—have clear rebuttals. I don’t think whatever small amount of performance you’d get out of an Nvidia GPU thinkpad would overbalance the pain in the ass of keeping it hackintosh’d, and I say this as a former hackintosher. It was a fun experience for a few weeks but after that it became incredibly tiresome.

For what it’s worth, as I sit here typing this on a 2013-era iMac with two TB displays, I have a lot of the same questions—will my next machine be a Mac? But unlike you, I didn’t start out here. I started out in the DOS world, moved to Windows, then started having to use Linux at work. I’m here because of how Unix-y macos is, and that’s the part I care about—it’s unix, but it’s pretty unix, with pretty apps. If that goes away, that’ll be why I leave the platform.

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Unfortunately in today’s world the lowest common denominator does not apply anymore.

In this case it is the person who still want to play kings quest type or Zork adventure games when the majority goes bonkers over the latest FPS game.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”… It is a dog eat dog world out there, if you have high overheads, you go down. So you tend to focus on the absolute minimal overhead in order to serve the masses. The minority will have to tag along whether they want it or not.

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Oh, Christ no. Never. Intel is great, what I meant was like when Apple got IBM to release particular families earlier to Apple than they did to the rest of the market. ARM has made powerful leaps and bounds, and as I type this I’m sat next to my partner who grew up using ARM and ARM-based RISC machines from Acorn (often lovingly referred to as the “British Apple”), but ARM is not for the Mac and never will be.

I wasn’t aware that nVidia wasn’t offering multiple 5K monitor support, as that’s probably one of the few things that GPUboss doesn’t score on - they only go by raw specs and their own Geekbench-style software tests. Thanks for telling me though, so that’s something I can scratch off the gripe list! Based on single-display power however, the AMD GPUs this generation are falling behind nVidia again and it’s sad to see Apple not hopping over, or at the very least offering one high-end nV card for people such as myself who use a laptop with no intention of ever plugging another monitor into it.

I totally agree with you about macOS; it is the nicest UNIX-flavoured OS, and that’s why I want to stick with it. But the fact that the market is leaning more and more lopsided means that if I get more focussed in my game development and I do want to continue with my cross-platform dreams, I’m going to have to at least slightly nerf the Mac version to cope with the less powerful graphics, which is sad. I don’t want a second class experience for some of my audience.

Now with pricing I wasn’t eluding to the “Apple Tax” because you’re paying for premium anyway so why call it a tax. I agree that percentile-wise when you’re comparing a high-end Asus/Dell(Alienware)/Lenovo(ThinkPad) then the “Apple Tax” has dissolved into mythos. I was more just comparing two similarly-upgraded BTO machines six years apart with an extra £1,000 appearing out of the blue; in that same time the high-end Mac Pro has dropped from £32,000 to less than £9,000. The high-end iMac has lost almost £400 too. So why has the MacBook Pro gained £1,000?

I totally see where you’re going with this, but I counter thus: I would happily spend up to £500 more on a machine if I knew it deserved the ‘Pro’ monicker by containing even more powerful parts. This wouldn’t be higher overheads, it would make them more money. That’s why I suggested splitting the lines, make them more distinct, and I don’t particularly mind if that shifts the price points by a few hundred quid.

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I kind if feel like Apple needs to revisit Mac Close or legitimize Hackintoshs somehow.

For Clones, make it much more closely watched than last time. OEMs (who would probably need guarantees after last time…) would have to plan to build for very specific niches, which might take over for products Apple doesn’t seem to care about. Mini Desktops for utility PCs, or beefy but boring mini-towers for people who want a macOS machine for heavy processing. Very tight leash on them, of course.

Of course, “Clones nearly killed the company” is an oft-repeated mantra, so…

Making the Hackintosh more ‘official’ would be great, but certainly has problems. Maybe an annual subscription that opens up access to a community section and some dedicated tools, or a hardware module that is the basis for compatibility somehow. Still no support, but no legal concerns and more open sources for boot loaders and drivers. Maybe even a version that is tweaked to handle upgrades a bit more smoothly.


The way Apple is going with a “closed” ecosystem is not good news. I rather buy a product that have universal USB access for all my devices than having to buy extra doohickys…

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I’d counter that with hope that USB C takes off wholesale soon. I really like the standard, because USB-C-w/-TB-3 (or as I like to call it, uzbeeseeteebeethree) (okay no that was funnier out loud) allows for so many different connections at once. One port can be a display port, or a data port, or a power port… we’re on our way towards a truly universal standard, which is fantastic. It just needs to be picked up in China as the New Thing and then we’ll see it everywhere.

Except that’s exactly what USB-C is meant to be. Apple is on the leading edge of this and when everyone catches up, it will be better. Yes, there’s dongle hell right now but we went through this exact same thing when Apple killed the floppy. And non-USB-A ports. And the optical drive. Change will not happen unless someone takes a chance and says “this is the way forward, we’re cutting off the past.”

Where I think Apple is being stupid is in holding on to Lightning.


I had a hands-on experience with the new MacBook Pro today in the Metrocentre Apple Store.

I love the touch strip. It’s really good. And the display, oh the display, it is brilliant even under the harsh store lights; they had a last-gen 15" next to it and the difference wasn’t just noticeable, it was amazing.

The trackpad is not good. Maybe it was the default acceleration (I always change that) or the fact there was so much trackpad, but I really didn’t take to it.

The keyboard.

I have nothing good to say about the keyboard.

This disheartens me as I do a lot of typing every day (and soon I might actually get around to finishing my first book (heh, if I can stop rewriting chapter 23 (I will never stop rewriting chapter 23 (there are too many parentheses here (oh hai Lisp)))) and I really like keyboards with a bit of travel. Even the difference between my 2011 MBP and Paul’s 2015 MBP is enough to make me feel blerg.

One last thing though: the new speakers are amazing for laptop speakers. I mean you’re not going to want to listen to a bunch of audiophile tunes on it but they’re noticeably better than the previous generation and at least a factor of ten times better than my 2011 machine.

I found myself in my local Apple store this afternoon and checked out the new hotness myself. I didn’t like the lack of a physical escape key, and the lack of tactile feedback or even defined boundaries on the TouchBar buttons is…weird. But I can definitely see where this tech is going.

Not sure about the lack of key travel. As Jason Snell & Marco Arment have said on their podcasts, it’s fine but that’s more of a “I’m resigned to the fact that this is what Apple is giving us, and I’ll just have to deal with it”. Also - give me back my inverted-T arrow keys.

The hardware itself - the form factor, the lightness, the size - is sexy as hell.

I also toyed with a Magic Keyboard briefly and didn’t like that at all. Too narrow and the keys are too close together.


The only time the shallow key-press seemed right on the new MBP was on the arrow keys, but then they went and screwed them up by making the left/right full height. Why couldn’t they do what Lenovo did and make use of that space for some useful keys… personally I would have gone for Home/End rather than Pigup and Pigdon but still, look how neat this is!

Speaking of full-height, when did the System Row stop being 120% tall? It makes the Up/Down keys just that little bit too squat, and combined with the full-height Left/Right this makes me sad on at least three different levels of OCD…

(Sorry for the late reply - I was AFK for over a week.)

One year ago, 2015, on Black Friday weekend, when I was in 2 different Best Buy stores, while passing through the Apple zone, I overheard people commenting/complaining on how limited the options/choices were and how long it had been since the laptop product lines were updated. I have no idea how many were Apple fanbois or not, but after hearing several comments at both locations, I stopped and read the spec cards on the display tables… I was kind of surprised at the limited and outdated offerings, too.

I’m not a big fan of the Chiclets keyboards, so it is sad to hear that they’ve made them even worse than before.

Even the surprisingly nice ones on ThinkPads? It’s kinda weird too how the Lenovo desktop keyboards are even inferior to the ThinkPad keyboards…

The keyboards are ok, I guess, for that style, but the trackpads are bad enough to taint the entire user experience. (shudder)

Speaking from my snobbish position of Mac-ownery, all PC trackpads are awful. Except maybe the really high end HP Elitebook trackpads, but that’s because they’re aping Apple.