10 Changes Apple should make to put the Pro back in MacBook Pro
As an IT professional, you're constantly bombarded with questions regarding the latest smartphones, computers, and devices. Your opinion, largely based on your experiences, is highly sought after—and it should be. After all, your work exposes you to equipment that the average user has no need for, such as high-end workstations and cutting-edge servers.
But there's also a lot of, shall we say, obsolete equipment you come across that is likely 10 to 15 years old and really should not be used by anyone ever. This experience combined with playing with the latest toys rounds out what we recommend, based on the user's needs, of course.
What does this all have to do with Apple's new MacBook Pro laptops? Well, despite the fact that their selling quite well, many diehard Apple fans—many of whom are professionals in their own respective fields—think the Pro line has lost much of its professional appeal, making it a hard device to recommend.
As an admin, I have to work with many of the major OSes, so I support them equally and see their pros and cons. But as a personal computer user, I tend to prefer Macs for their lack of quirks. For me, "It just works." And while I've come to enjoy my new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I don't love it necessarily and find that it could've (and should've) been better.
So indulge me the opportunity to cover 10 points I believe Apple could certainly use to work on the next iteration in the MacBook Pro line to better align its Pro philosophy with its hardware and possibly regain some of that "Pro cred" many feel Apple lost last time around.
Before I jump in, however, I want to address the use of "professional" in this article. It is my belief that professionals exist at every level of industry and that the inherent needs of one type of professional will not necessary mesh with those of a professional in other fields. For example, a video editor will certainly have different computing needs from those of a server administrator. The idea is to create a device that is capable of being upgraded, dependent on needs, to adapt to the user—not requiring the user to adapt their needs to the device's limited capacities.
1. Support for 32GB (or more) of RAM
There aren't many laptops that support 32GB+ of RAM. They do exist; it's just not as common. But the need for more RAM in computers is akin to water for human beings. It's never going to end, and depending on how strenuous the activity, that need will increase.
Since 8GB is the bare minimum recommended for end users today, 16GB is a good alternative upgrade for some. But for those with heavier workloads, more RAM will address a real-world requirement for professionals who need it to complete their tasks on the go.
2. 4K screen resolution
The one thing I do love about my MBP is its retina screen resolution. Coming from a non-retina MBP more than eight years old, the heightened resolution is incredible for working with multiple apps.
However, in a world where 4K is not just present but readily available, from ample content to affordable smart TVs, the switch to 4K screens isn't just about prettier pictures. It's fueled by the whopping 3840 x 2160 screen real estate that helps anyone working in art departments, network administration, or data analysis view all the work without having to toggle back and forth.
3. Quad-core CPUs on 13" laptop
The MBP has supported quad-core processors on its 15" and 17" line for sometime now, yet never on its 13" line. Admittedly, the Thermal Design Power (TDP) is ultimately what comes into play on smaller, thinner laptops and their ability to dissipate heat efficiently. The fact remains that while many pros who would gain from the increased core count typically make the jump to a larger, 15" screen laptop, some would prefer to retain the smaller form factor offered by a 13" laptop while having power on tap for when it's most needed.
In addition, there are 13" laptops for sale by competing manufacturers that do support quad-core CPUs, so I have nothing but the utmost faith that Apple's engineering and design gurus can come up with such a powerful device while keeping TDP requirements in check.
4. Bluetooth 5
The Bluetooth 5 spec was officially unveiled in June 2016, sporting a number of enhancements over its predecessors. Doubling transfer speeds and quadrupling the range while retaining its low energy capability make this seem like a no-brainer for the next MacBook Pro.
To its credit, Apple has a track record of being good with wireless technologies, particularly Bluetooth, as it has historically maintained the latest releases across the entirety of its lines. That being said, this is a protocol widely adapted by many products—1st- and 3rd-party alike—and it would be a shame to see it go, like SDHC support (more on this later).
5. Working-day battery life
This is another area where Apple has been able to shine until recently. Marketed as having a 10-hour battery life, the MBP line was outfitted with larger capacity batteries and combined with tweaks to OS X to provide a laptop that could stand up to the day's workload.
Sadly, the bar by which this is measured is largely based on consumer standards of use, with barometers for wirelessly accessing the internet and media playback with a specific set of settings enabled, such as lowered brightness and certain apps open. This does not reflect the life of a mobile professional.
Perhaps allowing for the return of higher-capacity batteries while focusing less on shrinking the laptop dimensions would yield more battery life for the end user as needed and remain in line with their requirements.
6. Integration of Apple SIM for WWAN connectivity
This is one feature that many pro and non-pro users have been clamoring for, practically since the MBP was released in 2006. With Apple's universal SIM (subscriber identity module) introduced in 2014, the manufacturer created a SIM card capable of supporting multiple wireless carrier profilesfor its iPad line of devices. This enables users to connect to the cellular wireless connection of their choosing to obtain internet connectivity when neither Wi-Fi or Ethernet access is available.
The Apple SIM adds the flexibility to obtain LTE coverage, for example, in more than 140 countries world wide by signing up for their services with various data plans to choose from.
While users can tether their smartphone's data connection, if needed, this capability does come with a few caveats. Namely, that hotspot or tethering is often limited by lowered data caps set by the carrier; the access will typically work only when connecting to the provider's towers locally; and if roaming is allowed, there may be additional charges or fees imposed that can spike the cellular bill with just a few MBs of downloads per month.
7. The return of the SD card reader
Losing the SD card reader was a really confusing move for many MBP owners—particularly when the size of the slot of the SD card was well within the size guidelines of the new MBP dimensions.
Worse still, for many professional photographers, end users, and even those wanting to expand the space of their SSD storage (but unable to find a suitable upgrade path), the SD card offered a way to import their work, transfer data, and add a secondary storage or backup device to their laptops without sacrificing portability or performance.
Apple should definitely bring back the SD card reader, as it essentially added value to the portable device and took away nothing in return.
8. Minimum specs that adhere to Pro-level requirements
While this is more of a general guideline, I feel it is one that would help Apple avoid muddling any future Pro-level line upgrades by instituting a set of policies based on feedback from multiple sources, such as owners, professional community members, and technologists, to determine what constitutes professional-level devices and how that integrates with the workflow of many prominent fields, including sciences, multimedia, and technology.
Consider, for example, Apple's recent admission that the Mac Pro desktop has been unable to achieve its peak performance because it's hamstrung by a less-than-accomodating design. Having this information could help Apple better design its products for professionals, who can then use them to the fullest potential.
9. Tweaks to wireless network hardware and network stack
Apple's on-again, off-again issues regarding its Wi-Fi chipsets and network stack have been notorious for more than a decade now. Generally speaking, the wireless hardware is provided by a 3rd-party manufacturer and is available on some non-Mac devices without the same troubles Apple users experience. So it's high time to take a critical look at both the hardware and software components that make up the wireless network adapters found in the MBP—especially when so much reliance is placed upon the wireless signal as the only native form of communication. When it does not work as expected, such as dropping connectivity every few minutes or refusing to connect to a known wireless network after a vital system update, it becomes increasingly difficult for users to get their work done.
10. Retaining the headphone jack
This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, I'll admit, but completely accurate. The "dongle hell" introduced by swapping out all existing ports on the MBP to USB Type-C caused a large kerfuffle for longtime Apple users and new users alike.
The iPhone 7 experienced a similar resistance from users who wanted to upgrade but ultimately chose not to so as to not lose the headphone jack or the ability to charge the device while simultaneously using their headphones (such as yours truly).
It makes little sense to jettison the headphone jack, as has been rumored, in favor of wireless headphones to minimize the device's footprint, when the latter choice requires carrying around a (usually) larger set of headphones, charging cable and/or replacement batteries, and often a case to carry them in versus a $10 pair of headphones that can be bound up and tucked into your pocket or small carry-on with little fuss.
The future of MBP
Apple, like any manufacturer, creates new products—and users worldwide will either love them or not. If Apple's earnings calls are any indication, it is financially secure and continuing to do well. Users have not abandoned the brand nor are they looking elsewhere for devices to the point that it's affecting Apple's bottom line.
But this article isn't intended to bash Apple or criticize its failings—rather, to illustrate the perceived shift in the Pro line away from what made it the Pro line in the first place and maybe course-correct that ship.