The Casual Pro and Dongles

The 2016 Macbook Pro announcement is causing a significant uproar in the tech community. Michael Tsai sums it up pretty comprehensively here so I won’t go into detail, but I did want to put out one use-case that I couldn’t sum up in a single tweet.

My wife was just hired as an assistant professor at an “R1″ university, which requires research as well as two courses of teaching a semester. Most of her work can be done on an iPad including grading, reading, and writing papers, but when she’s in research mode she needs SPSS. Her data sets are not that large so she doesn’t need a ton of memory or an incredibly fast CPU, but just the fact that she needs to run SPSS means she needs a Mac. The university gives her a startup fund which includes her computer purchase, but also is used for research funds and conferences so the more she can save for that the better. However, she also wants a machine she can use for a long time. She needs a laptop since unlike most people think, professors actually work incredibly long hours outside the classroom/office, way more than 40 hours a week. Basically, she is a casual pro; someone who needs a computer professionally but for non-demanding use.

Because I knew the new Macbook Pro refreshes were coming, I told her to hold off on buying her computer. During the keynote, she was asking what the price would be and I quite confidently told her it would be the same as before and we’d just get the base 15” model. They had announced that it was smaller, thinner, and lighter, so it shouldn’t be too much for her to carry along with her books to school.

MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016) $2,399.00

What the hell? Let’s just go with the cheapest one.

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2015) $1,299.00

So basically they are selling last year’s model with tiny spec-bumped Haswell processors(2.6Ghz to 2.7Ghz, Iris 5100 to 6100) at the same price?

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) $1,499.00

Wait, this is basically a Macbook Air with no Magsafe, no Thunderbolt 2, only one Thunderbolt 3 port after power, and $500 more for Retina? If we’re spending that much money, fine, we’ll get the stupid Touch Bar. Hopefully it will be more future-proof.

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) $1,799.00

Her office is in an older building with cinder blocks for walls, which creates complete dead-zones for any wifi penetration. The IT department provides a wired connection to each office.

1 x USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Dongle $34.95

She presents slides in class, connecting to projectors in the classroom that require a VGA cable. She also uses a Logitech wireless presenter which comes with it’s own USB-A wireless receiver.

1 x USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter $69.00

The IT department specially provided her with a Dell monitor(U2417H) that has DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, and HDMI input. Perfect for Macs, right?

1 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter $49.00

OR

1 x USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter $69.00

The Multiport’s single USB-A connector will usually be enough for her Time Machine drive and her external drive, but most likely she’ll need a USB hub because we all know Thunderbolt hubs and accessories never come cheap. Thankfully she already has Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse.

Chuq Von Rospach (@chuq, chuqui.com) wrote about Apple’s controversy but rationalized Apple’s decision to remove ports with the following passage:

My laptop has a power port, an SD card port, 3 Thunderbolt ports and two USB ports. I know that in the four years I’ve owned it, I’ve never used the SD card, I use the Power port, one Thunderbolt port, and occasionally plug a USB cable in. So half the ports in this thing are never used — and yet I paid for them because they were built into the computer.

That’s the issue that defines dongles: Should 100% of buyers pay for a feature when only 5% of the owners will use it?

I wonder where all that port-saving money went. Certainly not in our pockets.

Computer: $1,799.00
Dongles: $172.95

Total: $1,971.95

Even as a double income family, that amount of money is definitely not something we can easily come up with. The only reason we were able to buy it was because it was for work and paid for by work. Our personal computers? Forget about it. We’ll make do with our iPhones, an iPad, and a cheap upgradable Dell for gaming and Plex. And I think that’s what Apple is betting on. Tim Cook was quoted as saying the following:

I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?

John Gruber wrote that many were confusing “PC” with any personal computer and pointed out that Tim Cook was probably talking about a non-Mac computer. In my view, the “personal” in PC hits me much harder. I am unwilling to pay $2,000 for a non-work “personal” computer, and a lot of the things I do, I can increasingly do more and more of on my iPhone and iPad. Apple constantly pushes their iOS devices as tools for creation, not just consumption, and if I were actually into any of that stuff as a hobby, I’m sure I would make do with what I have as well.

From that point of view, I think the Mac Mini is done. Very niche for what Apple has made it to be, and even more squeezed by cloud services and iOS devices, eating at the Mac ASP, there really is no reason for it to exist. I guess they might as well continue the non-support support, updates every few years, but not much else.

For all the noise about Apple not caring about the Mac Pro, I still think they are dedicated to it. The trash can Mac Pro was obviously a mistake, and instead of leading people on, they promptly and unapologetically abandoned it. I’m expecting the new Mac Pro to be completely different, better poised for the future of VR and ever accelerating advanced graphics processing needs.

Microsoft might have made a big splash with the Surface Studio, but I think Apple’s Touch Bar verifies that Apple wants the iPad Pro to serve that market. Unless Apple completely revamps their macOS UI, I think the iMac is exactly where Apple needs it to be.

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