Yet another Macbook Pro review

The new Macbook

I've been using the new Macbook Pro for a little more than a month now. And I think it's the best Mac I've used so far. It's also the Mac that impressed me the least. My first Mac was a 11" Macbook Air. It was love at first sight, I have to admit. I still remember seeing it and using it for the first time at a store, and being absolutely amazed by it's design, weight, and by OSX. It was 2012 and I was really disappointed with what Microsoft was doing with Windows 8, so I thought it was the moment to see what it was like on the Apple side of things. And it was pretty great. Everything worked smoothly, OSX proved to be a much more stable OS than Windows and the integration with the iPhone worked perfectly.

Some years later, the hardware on my Macbook Air started to show its signs of age, not being able to perform so well on my work, so I upgraded to the Macbook Pro with a retina display. And that screen! How gorgeous it was when I first looked at it. It suddenly made me very aware of the pixelated text and edges rendered on my 1080p monitor. I was impressed by that screen in 2014, when high-res monitors were not popular on other laptops.

Now it's 2017, and there's nothing on the new Macbook Pro that really impressed me. I like it a lot, like I said, it's the best Mac I've ever had. But, there was no "WOW" moment with it. The only new thing is the touch bar, but the way it works now, it's a gimmick, like everyone else says (more on that later on). I barely used it, with the exception of Touch ID, which is the only fingerprint solution on a laptop that's good (in my experience at least). I've had other laptops with fingerprint readers and they all sucked.

Even the fact that it only has USB-C ports doesn't bother me. People said I'd have to walk around with a dozen dongles, but that's not true at all. The only one I use is this one, with an HDMI and USB port. I also bought a Lightning to USB-C cable to connect my iPad or iPhone. But that's it. I understand some other people might need more adapters, maybe for an SD card, ethernet, VGA, etc.. But, I think we have to understand that this is a necessary, but temporary problem. Otherwise we will be stuck forever with old connectivity ports. It's the first time we actually have an "Universal Serial Bus", that works for everything. For power, video, audio and data. All in a single cable. You can even plug an external SSD to an USB-C port and use it as an additional drive, with no speed loss. The USB-C port won't be a bottleneck. People should be celebrating that this thing exists, not complaining about it. The only problem is that we're in a transition period, and not all devices support USB-C, but when we're there, it's going to be great. And nobody will miss the old days of a different cable for every different type of device.

But back to the touch bar.

So, the brand new feature of the Macbook Pro is quite a disappointment. The idea is good, the Touch Bar is a touch screen right above the keyboard, so it’s pretty flexible as to the content that can be rendered there. But I honestly think that Apple took the wrong approach there. From their developer documentation, it says that the Touch Bar shows contextual controls for the front-most app. And that's where the problem is. In pretty much all apps, almost everything that's on the touch bar is better accessible with the mouse or a keyboard shortcut, as it should be. When you're focused on your work, looking at the screen, you shouldn't have to look somewhere else to click a button to do something. Important features must be easily accessible to the user without forcing them to stop what they're doing and look down to find a button on the touch bar. It's uncomfortable, it breaks your concentration in what they're doing, and, you can do it more easily with your mouse or keyboard. So, the way the Touch Bar works now, it's pretty useless. Sorry Apple.

But, Apple did get something right with it. With iTunes. When iTunes is playing a song, it gets its own icon on the Touch Bar, accessible independent of the front-most app running, letting you pause, skip, and control the song timeline.

So this is where the Touch Bar is most useful. Controlling apps that are running in the background. Not on the foreground.

Examples:

  • Calling one of your favorite contacts right from the Touch Bar
  • Seeing your calendar events for the day on a timeline in the Touch
  • Display what channels have unread messages on Slack, with a touch allowing the user to go straight to that channel on the Slack app.
  • Let developers build their code or run tests with the touch of a button on the Touch Bar. To make it even better: render a progress bar there.
  • For video editors, show a rendering progress bar, so they don't have to Alt+Tab to the video editing application.

And so on. The idea is: the Touch Bar should allow the user to do things they can't do on the app they're running in the foreground, allowing users to use the Touch Bar as an extended action center to invoke actions on apps that are not being used at the moment. Of course that would require app developers to build that on their apps, but the problem is that today the Touch Bar SDK doesn't make that possible, at least according to their documentation. But who knows, maybe one day Apple will change that.

Another cool thing Apple could add is support for the Touch Bar on web browsers. Shortcut keys on web pages are not really all that common, so having some quick actions available right on the Touch Bar would be really helpful for users.

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