I’ve been an Apple fan for a long time. My first laptop was a Powerbook 5300cs, purchased secondhand at the Auburn University Surplus Auction. I’ve been using Apple equipment exclusively since 2007. My desktops and laptops are all Apple, I use AppleTVs exclusively for streaming, I carry iPhones and iPads. If it has a shiny Apple logo on it, I’ve probably bought one. So it pains me to write this post, but…
The 2018 MacBook Pro sucks. There. I said it.
To be sure, it is an incredibly fast machine. Internally, it is fantastic. And it has some nice new features. In particular the touch to unlock is a very welcome new feature. And I love the USB-C charging because I can pick either side of the laptop to charge. That is super, super convenient. And the ability to use a USB-C dock means I now only plug in one cable when I get to work, one step closer to my holy grail of no cables.
But from a usability and egronomic standpoint, it is terrible for everyday use. And this is why:
Heralded by probably 30 minutes worth of exposition at the launch event, the Touchbar was supposed to be a killer new feature enabling programmers to take further control of user interaction. They killed the entire top row of keys and replaced them with a small touchable display that can change depending on the app.
If you have been using a computer for longer than a few hours, you may already see the problem here. When you are using a computer, what is on the screen is the most important part. You do not look at the keyboard. You keep your eyes on the screen because you have the keys memorized.
But now the keys start changing on you, so you have to take your eyes off the screen, interrupting your workflow to pay attention to what has happened on your keyboard. It doesn’t matter if what the keys changed to be may be “more helpful.” The interruption has already happened and you have lost any value you might have gotten from having relevant keys. Because you cannot predict what the keys will be because they are always changing, you get no benefit from it, and you end up having to constantly look at it to figure out what you need.
Moreover, they removed really useful keys (especially for developers) to make room for this. The escape key? You know how often you use that? If you’re a vi user, the correct answer is “all the time.” And keys like the volume controls and screen brightness I used so often. What was one push to silence the volume is at least two presses with the touchbar. Same with screen brightness. And I hit the damn Siri button so many times it’s driving me crazy.
If the really wanted to include a touchbar, why not put it above the top row of keys? Why take away a whole row of very useful keys?
Want to really make a computing professional angry? Mess with the keyboard. It is something we touch for hours and hours every day, thousands of times a day. And little things about it will absolutely drive us crazy.
Besides the aformentioned removal of keys that are very useful for programmers, there are other issues as well. The keys have very little travel, resulting in a feeling of just barely above typing on glass. There is very little tactile feedback and what is there feels … wrong. Cheap. Un-Apple.
Because the keys are so low on the keyboard, there is very little tactile difference between them when typing and the keys feel closer together than on a standard keyboard. As a result I end up making far, far more typos on this keyboard than I ever have since I was kid. Because the key travel is so little, I’m constantly pressing longer than I should, resulting in woords liike thiis, or hitting the wrong key because it was too close to the one I wanted to hit.
If they did this to shave a few millimeters off the height of the laptop, I can’t help but wonder if they don’t know their customers. No developer I have ever met would trade a few millimeters of height for a crappy keyboard. We need powerful, usable machines.
And then there’s just the WTF that is the arrow keys. Why are the left and right keys full height, but the up and down arrows half height? What happened to the inverse T that has been around on keyboards since forever? Just now I was pressing back when I really wanted up because the arrow keys are different sizes! Developers writing code use those keys lots.
These may seem like petty, tiny gripes. And the are. But I touch these keys thousands of times a day, every day. Little things become big annoyances with time. Thankfully, I have a traditional full-sized keyboard with normal keys at work. Not interacting with the keyboard minimizes my annoyance with it.
Why is the trackpad so big?
I’m glad we don’t have the dinky little tiny trackpads of yesterday, but the positively enormous trackpad is just overkill. So many times I hit the trackpad when I’m trying to hit the space bar.
Ther is also not enough room to rest my hands on the machine when typing so I’m constantly triggering the trackpad. Between the touchbar and the trackpad, I have become very aware of how I use a laptop and where I put my hands, because I am always accidentally touching something. I should not have to be aware of the absolute position of my hands over a machine.
(Just typing the below sentence I accidentally hit the touchbar causing it to do … something and misspelled 5 words.)
And if I rest the laptop on … my … lap, the bottom of the trackpad is so close to the bottom of the case that even my clothing brushes up against the trackpad. Making much of its size useless.
The egronomics of this machine are such an absolute mess that I cannot believe that Apple made it at all, let alone has allowed it to drag on for three years now. This is like something that would come out of a knockoff shop, not the most valuable company in technology with a history of producing great hardware.
I tried. I really did. I tried to give it a chance, gave myself a couple months to try to get used to it. Maybe in a year I will think differently, but for now I am tolerating all of these myriad of issues and mitigating them by using my external keyboard and trackpad as much as possible. But sometimes I have no choice - like now, when I’m traveling - and just have to tolerate it.
As a developer, my two requirements are:
Fast powerful usable machine that is reasonably portable.
Good battery life.
Notice that height and weight are not features on this. A few extra ounces or a few extra millimeters are not a worthwile tradeoff to compromise on the first two.
Apple: please step back from the brink and put the damn top of the laptop back the way it was. The 2015 MacBook Pro was perfect. Everything was sized correctly and laid out perfectly. It was the perfect developer laptop. Go back to that and iterate on it. If you want to include the touchbar, fine, put it above the top row of keys.
So disappointed in Apple. My next laptop might be a PC.