If you’re a music maker, a DJ, or anyone working with creative audio and video, you care about connectivity so you can do your job – rightfully so. So, if that has you freaked out by the strange “all-new MacBook,” let me the first person to tell you: relax. You don’t want it, but you don’t have to lose sleep over it.
It seems Apple yesterday introduced a new product tier. Apple has done that before, creating different categories for their computers to serve different markets. (It’s what has turned them into a hugely profitable company.) You may still prefer a PC, but if you do want to stay on the Mac and this has you worried, there’s no reason to over-think this. The introduction of the Apple Watch yesterday doesn’t mean everything from Apple will now be strapped to our wrists, either.
Here’s my take – and yes, we’ll see if I’m proven right or wrong.
Apple now has three laptop lines where there once were two. Here are Apple’s product names, followed by how I am (apparently controversially) interpreting those product names:
1. “MacBook Pro” and “MacBook Pro with Retina Display.” A version of the MacBook for pros.
2. “MacBook Air.” A lighter version of the MacBook Pro.
3. “The all-new MacBook.” An all-new MacBook.
See, that wasn’t that difficult, was it?
People are panicking presumably because they’re interpreting the move to a one-port connection on the “all-new MacBook” means Apple will remove all ports on all models.
I don’t think there is any reason to believe that. The “all-new MacBook” and the gold color may have stolen the headlines, but Apple updated the Air and Pro line yesterday, too. The impact on the Pro line? You get the same connectivity, but with longer battery life and higher performance. (The 15″ model was unaffected, but Apple’s product announcements depend on timing of chips from Intel and others, so expect a speed bump there soon.)
Here are some facts to consider:
1. Apple didn’t remove ports from anything. Apple still ships dedicated Thunderbolt and USB ports on the iMac, the Mac mini, the Mac Pro, the MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro. They introduced what appears to be a new product category. People doing work who require on connectivity (producers, musicians, DJs, sound engineers) will continue to buy the Pro – hence the name.
2. Apple is strongly backing Thunderbolt. Apple is updating Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt2. With video production a key market and video accessories relying on Thunderbolt as a bus, there is no reason to believe Apple is backing away from Thunderbolt.
For instance, I think DJ Tech Tools is way off the mark at least in regards to Thunderbolt. (I agree with everything else Dan White says – there are better options for a DJ laptop.) “Thunderbolt might become the next Firewire” – wait a minute. FireWire’s greater bandwidth is exploited by video and audio devices that need the greater bandwidth. It’s a niche tool that has been widely adopted in those segments. It’s been a stalwart of Apple’s product lineup, and remains so thanks to backwards compatibility of Thunderbolt to FireWire. So if Thunderbolt is the next FireWire, that’s sort of the whole point. If you’re not seeing DJ products with FireWire or Thunderbolt, it’s because DJ products don’t need that bandwidth (and a lot of these products are geared at a wide consumer segment, not pros, anyway).
3. Apple is still strongly behind the video and audio markets. They have a flagship pro video product (Final Cut Pro X), a flagship pro audio product (Logic Pro X), and feature pro applications from themselves and third party vendors even in TV ads they air on prime time. Who else is doing that? Microsoft? PC vendors? There’s literally no other company (following the breakup of Sony divisions that had some of these overlaps, if none of this visibility).
4. Mac sales are up as iPad sales are down. Here’s Ars Technica’s summary, if you don’t have time to read through minutes of Apple’s financial call: “The company sold 5.52 million Macs in Q1 of 2015, a 14.05 percent increase from the 4.84 million sold last year. The Mac is Apple’s third-best selling product by unit sales and continues to be the third-largest piece of Apple’s revenue pie—at $6.94 billion, they’re responsible for 9.31 percent of total revenue.”
And Tim Cook said directly that he thought the reason the Mac was out-performing the iPad was because the iPad has longer upgrade cycles.
A lot of the Mac sales have historically come from both the Air and Pro – the Air sells in volume, and the Pro in higher margins. That could also explain why Apple retained and even refreshed the MacBook Air – they don’t want to mess around with a product that’s a cash cow for them, least of all with an untested design that will be too radical for some existing, loyal customers.
Apple is still making a lot of money off its high-margin laptops. And even more interesting, laptop sales were up even though Apple hadn’t revised its Pro machines since the end of 2013. So all the revisions – including the Pro – are essential to Apple’s bottom line. You can also expect that the margin on the simpler-to-manufacture, higher-cost MacBook Pro is perfectly healthy relative to these new machines, whatever people may argue about Apple making money on adapters. (I was unaware random commenters on the Internet knew so much about Apple’s supply chain, but hey.)
Know your history, predict the future. Remember, Apple co-developed Thunderbolt with Intel. Similarly, Apple was the developer of FireWire (with IEEE as the standards body adopting it), going back to the 90s. And remember that this controversial combined USB-C connector is actually the work of the USB Implementers Forum. As before, Apple is supporting a “pro” bus supported by an ecosystem largely centered on the Mac (previously FireWire, now Thunderbolt) and a “consumer” bus supported by a cross-platform ecosystem (now USB3 and the USB-C connector). Remember, too, that the original MacBook Air made more compromises for slimness and lightness than later models – enough so that it attracted similar derision from people who needed more power. In fact, the first Air only had USB, no FireWire; a later revision added Thunderbolt.
Okay, so then the question is, what bearing will USB-C have on the Pro line?
Answer: none, for now. Down the road, it seems you’re likely to see USB-C replace the USB port, as third-party hardware vendors grows.
In fact, that’s the most interesting thing about the “all-new MacBook.” While us pros cheerily chug away on our existing machines, the folks carrying these strange, pricey, if pretty beasts to coffee shops to check Facebook will be the ones creating the market for future hardware – just as Apple did with FireWire and USB. We really were freaked out, once upon a time, that the iMac had no floppy drive. The reason we were concerned, though, was because the third-party USB ecosystem didn’t exist when the iMac was introduced. The iMac almost single-handedly created that market.
My guess is what we’ll see in future Pro models is USB-C and Thunderbolt side by side.
Now, that said…
Go buy a PC if you want one. Seriously – none of the above is intended to be any commentary on the relative state of laptops made by Apple and laptops (or desktops) made by someone else. But the value proposition on the new models is fundamentally the same after this announcement as before. The relative advantages and disadvantages of the PC ecosystem and Windows over Apple and OS X are the same. I do think the PC ecosystem has some merits in hardware choice and in backwards compatibility. It can save you a lot of money in desktops and custom builds (hence some Mac users build Hackintoshes), there are real advantages for people, for instance, relying on the GPU. And with both Mac and Windows boxes, some software will guide your decision.
But let’s not waste time and energy trying to read some kind of existential transformation of Apple in one new product.
All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
And that means everything I’m saying here is such a safe bet, it’s kind of boring. So on to other things.