New MacBook Pro is Not a Laptop for Developers — Part 2, The Solutions

Read Part 1 about the product’s problems here

There can be no escape — is is there?

Last week Apple unveiled their long awaited update to the Macbook Pro and incited an internet firestorm. As someone who runs a software development company, I decided to publish a reaction to the announcement here. It must have struck a chord: it got much more attention than I expected.

Needless to say the response was a bit overwhelming.

First of all I want to say thanks to all of the people who took a couple of minutes out of their day to comment on the article, offered their opinions on Reddit and Hacker News, or shared the piece via Twitter and Facebook.

The best part of this past week was getting to hear all sorts of opinions and suggestions from people around the world. I’ve collected some of the best responses to the original article below.

Why developers aren’t happy with the new MacBook Pro

Amongst developers there are some who are die-hard Apple fans and others who will always prefer Windows or Linux. There are also developers who float between Apple and PC/Linux based on performance, features, price, and software benefits. They try to make informed decisions, weighing opinions from both sides of the aisle.

Those are the low-hanging fruit for brands like Apple and Microsoft in order to switch their brand loyalty.

Turns out most developers don’t like the absence of the physical Escape and Function keys, though some were able to offer solutions.

1. Solving “No Escape” and no physical function keys

As many people pointed out, the Esc and functions keys are available if you want them to be — just hit the Fn for them to appear — although this doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people would prefer physical buttons. There are a number of reasons physical keys are preferable, especially for Vim and Shell users.

Here are some solutions:

Patrick McCarren suggests to map the Caps Lock key to be Escape if tapped, and Left Control if held. This can be accomplished by using the outstanding utility called Karabiner.

Jozef Legény suggests Vim users remapping the Esc key to Caps Lock or Ctrl+[.

However, Pier Bover says that the TouchBar is an obligatory and expensive gimmick if you want access to the faster CPU/RAM/GPU.

Well, for that case there is a cheaper version of a new 2016 MacBook Pro with a standard keyboard available.

2. Solving RAM ?

Most developers are disappointed with 16GB and would love to see the 32GB version of DDR4. This is a legitimate concern, especially for developers who run a large number of VMs at once.

In a sense, there is no point for them to upgrade from an earlier version of MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM to a brand new MacBook Pro 2016 with the same 16GB of RAM.

Phil Kim says a lack of 32GB build-to-order option is a big missing point. It’s common to see the Activity Monitor reporting 15.18 GB RAM currently used, while running a bare minimum set of applications.

3. Solving Processor? Not a big deal

Even though a lot of developers were disappointed with the processors on the new Macbook Pros, most said that this was not a deal breaker.

Ho-Sheng Hsiao, as well as many others, pointed out that clock speeds have not been increasing for a long time. If you want a high CPU clock speed you can get one of those POWER9 workstations running Linux — to work on games or Artificial Intelligence. Or you might want to access one of those NVIDIA deep-learning-in-a-box setups and hook it up to the laptop via a high-speed connector.

Alex Sheehan points to the fact that Clock speed isn’t the only defining characteristic of a CPU. The MacBook Pro is shipped with 6th generation Intel processors whose architecture is miles beyond what we had several years ago and what we see now.

There are other points discussed by developers such a missing Nvidia GPU option.


Overall, it looks like most developers would be happier with a simple CPU/GPU/RAM upgrade in the same bodies and at the same prices.

Apple is moving the other direction, targeting a broader audience, therefore making a MacBook Pro 2016 a less developers’ oriented laptop.

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