Apple’s new MacBook Pro is proof Tim Cook doesn’t care about software professionals

All flash.
All flash.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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If you are a design professional, it’s a pretty safe bet that you use some flavor of Mac. The industry’s preference for Apple products has been axiomatic for thirty years. And if you are a software professional not in thrall with the fading Windows ecosystem, then for the last decade, you have likely done the same. This made sense from a logistics point of view: The MacBook Pro marries a slick operating system atop a full-fledged Unix core, superb connectivity, and best of all, ferocious processing power.

At least, it did until last month, when Apple introduced its new version of the Pro, all but admitting that they were no longer interested in building computers for professional designers and engineers. It is no coincidence that the day the new Pro was announced, Linux laptop company System76 saw a huge jump in traffic, much of it anecdotally coming from disgruntled developers seeking satisfaction elsewhere. Simply put: The new MacBook Pro is anything but.

Speaking as a software professional, I can confirm: Apple has abandoned us.

To begin, the signature element of Apple’s new laptops is the TouchBar. A cute gimmick, yes, but pros are already accustomed to keyboard “chording” (and touchpad scrubbing) to speed up our work; the TouchBar offers us no real advantages. When using Safari, for example, a new TouchPad button can take you directly to the command/search bar—but Command-L has long done the same thing even faster. And a legion of developers will mourn the vanished ESC key, crucial to the baroque but powerful vim text editor used by many.

Apple does offer a new MacBook Pro without the TouchBar—but, inexplicably, this version has a much slower processor, an inferior GPU, and only two USB-C ports. The TouchBar versions have four of those, but no previous-generation USB ports, no HDMI, and no SD card reader (when both software developers and creative pros tend to be fairly serious photographers.)

Pros want flexibility. Instead we got a computer with only one kind of data port, which will force many of us to carry a flotilla of dongles to do our work. Pros want battery life. Instead we got “thinner and lighter,” which we don’t much care about. Pros want power. Instead we got a fun but useless TouchBar, and, worst of all, a hard limit of 16GB of memory. If you’re doing serious data crunching, video processing, etc., 16GB is not good enough.

In fairness, this last problem is also not entirely Apple’s fault. The Intel chips in the new laptops don’t support low-power memory. And yet, Apple could have sacrificed its “thinner and lighter” aesthetic and offered an actually professional Pro model with bigger batteries and more memory. They could have also updated the desktop Mac Pro. Instead they gave us cosmetic speaker grilles.

Apple is clearly no longer particularly interested in the professional market. While frustrating, the company adds insult to injury here by requiring a large swathe of us to use their platform; their Xcode development environment, used to build OS X / iOS / tvOS apps, doesn’t run on anything else. Meanwhile, in a remarkable reversal of roles, Microsoft’s new Surface Studio is earning rave reviews from creative professionals, the same group which has been faithful to Apple for decades.

Will this abandonment of professional users actually matter to the 800-pound gorilla that Apple has become? It might. Once upon a time, Microsoft took software developers for granted, because it was Microsoft, the biggest and most powerful company in the world. The company grew fat, complacent, and bureaucratic—and it began to decay.

I’m not saying Apple is necessarily following the same path—this might simply be a misstep corrected by the next generation of tools. But I am saying it should tread carefully. If Apple’s own history shows us anything, it’s that we developers, hackers, and designers are often the canaries in technology’s coal mines. In this context, Apple’s apparent decision to turn its back on us seems deeply unwise.