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


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, 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.


Apple Watch

I betted against Apple’s desire to own the entire stack and I was wrong. While I there are many things to say about the Watch, most of them have already been said. Here are my thoughts, which started as a comment on a blog, like most of my other blog posts.

The wrist is the perfect place to put glance-able information. The watch industry has known this for more than a century. The Apple Watch is wanting a piece of that action. Not specifically the watch industry and its customers, but a place on your own wrist, which is finite. This is similar to how Youtube and Facebook are competing with TV, not directly in the same market, but by competing over people’s time, which is finite and mostly zero-sum. The Apple Watch may not be the perfect timepiece, but it augments that with innumerable features provided by software. Like the iPhone that masked itself as a phone but turned out to be a pocketable personal computer with a phone feature, the Apple Watch has masked itself as a watch, but will turn out to be a wearable personal computer with a watch feature. The benefits of having such a personal computing device will gradually earn more and more wrists and time on those wrists. Traditional watches can be swapped on a whim, but the major benefits of a smart watch can only be got with continuous use. Certain people may be ok with two watches, one on each wrist, but it would seem that a majority of the target market will eventually only use one. Which watch will they use? THAT is what watch makers should be worried about.

TL;DR The Apple Watch will not compete directly with the watch industry and their customers, it will compete for time on your wrist.

Original Comment:

Smart Wearables

Based on all the chatter about smart watches, the new release from Google, and the insight of people smarter than I, I’ve come to think that a single “Smart Watch” product on its own simply doesn’t make sense. Watches are a fashion accessory foremost, more intimate than a phone. There is no single design that can possibly be universally used. 

What if the Smart Watch was not a product, but a modular hardware specification and communication protocol. It would be tied to your smartphone, which acts as the main hub for communications. Depending on what hardware modules are included in the smart watch, functionality could be as simple as vibration for notifications, to voice commands and touch screens. One functionality that makes sense in every watch would be a tier of identification. But since the architecture is completely modular, this could easily be implemented in any kind of wearable, including glasses, shoes, etc. It would be Smart Wearables.

Of course a reference model could be made to demonstrate the full potential of the spec, but it would remain more of a niche product. The benefit would lie, not in the economical benefit of the product itself, but how it would strengthen the tie to the smart phone. 

The Design Process

That Squiggle of the Design Process

1997 WWDC Closing Keynote by Steve Jobs

Unbelievable amount of gems in this single closing keynote on how Apple turned around to be what it is today. Almost everything he said here, he made happen in some shape or form. The critical elements that differentiates Apple from the rest, he already understood 14 years ago. Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and Rim aren’t just 1 or 2 years behind. They are a decade behind in pure thought, focus, strategy, and momentum.

HP’s webOS has Everything But…

The TouchPad comes with built-in media playing apps, but my review unit didn’t include any way to buy music or buy or rent videos.

What if HP had partnered with Amazon? What if Amazon had bought webOS?

Unable to control your destiny…

Seems like Apple’s approach is being proven again and again.

Nobody thought the iPad would be a success, but according to Marco’s three criteria for developers, it hit all three. Google didn’t even prepare a response to the iPad because they thought it would fail. Then, when it proved a meteor hit, their hardware partners started jumping the gun, trying to modify Android to run on a tablet. Google knew that Android was not ready for a tablet experience, but could not do anything about the partners using Android for that purpose. They are forced to slap together a version of Android that is ready for tablet to minimize any damage and further fragmentation. Now they have a new poorly put together solution that none of the hardware partners or developers are ready for.

If they had control over the release of new hardware, they COULD have done what Apple did; a controlled, planned release schedule in lock step with their existing phone OS with a clear vision of moving to the tablet that was shared with the hardware partners and app developers. The iPad threat would go unheeded for a couple more quarters, but in the end, they would have had a better quality OS solution that was well integrated with all of their hardware partners and not just one or two exclusives, and the app developers would have been able to release their apps ahead of time in anticipation.

It seems that the whole Windows mentality has poisoned most of the industry. Since there is little in the way of differentiation, the only advantage is a quick market entry before it becomes saturated with “me too” products.  Quick and agile may have won when there was already a dominant platform, but when you are trying to build up a new platform, quickly turning kills momentum.

So far, Apple is proving that “Slow and steady wins the race”.