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TouchBar-equipped 2016 MacBook Pro, a Mixed Message

2016.12.24 17:00 PT

Apple likes to simplify things. And to do that Apple gets rid of the old for the new. Look at the connectivity options on the new MacBook Pro’s: you don’t have any. USB-C is it. Apple is embracing simplicity and throwing out the old: SD slot, USB-A, DisplayPort, HDMI. Some of these ports are not old per se, but USB-C is the new kid on the block and it can do power, data, and video, all in a small, reversible connection.

I understand what Apple is doing. I also understand that our world, our minds, have a tendency to want familiarity. We don’t like change. We want our USB-A ports, because we have a lot of external peripherals that use that connection: USB hard drives, USB flash drives, USB keyboards and mice, etc. In order to use what we already have with the new USB-C-only MacBook Pro we need to spend our hard earned money on dongles or USB hubs. Apple’s goal of simplicity in the design of the MacBook Pro will result in a convoluted mess of dongles and cables for those who buy the new simplified MacBook Pro. It’s quite ironic. But when the dust settles. When peripheral companies come out with USB-A hard drives, USB-A monitors, flash drives, keyboards, mice, etc. our cables will be more unified and interchangeable. But it would have required a lot of our money, a lot of complexity, a lot of time (researching what to buy, buying, and returning stuff that didn’t work, etc.), a lot of patience, a lot of getting rid of old peripherals, etc. Apple is pushing against our desire to sit still and getting us closer to simpler future where we only have one type of cable for power, data, and video: USB-C. It’s uncomfortable now, but I understand Apple’s desire to simplify and take us closer to a simpler future even if that means a little discomfort and a big mess of cables and dongles for the time being.

But here’s what I don’t understand. Apple is willing to pull us kicking and screaming into a simpler future, but at the same time introduce complications into our user experience of Apple products. Before there was a singular MacBook experience for the most part, now there are two distinct MacBook Pro experiences: one with and one without the TouchBar. You’ll need a lot of money to afford and experience the MacBook Pro with the TouchBar. For the rest of us without that kind of disposable income our user experience will remain the same: keyboard including function keys and a trackpad.

One great user experience on the Mac has been consistency. The user interface and the user experience was consistent across all Macs: iMacs, MacBooks, Mac minis, Mac Pros, etc. All the input devices — keyboards, trackpads, mice — worked on all of them. What you saw on the screen were all consistent too. Just because the Mac mini was cheaper didn’t mean you had a different UI/UX experience than on a much more expensive Mac Pro. Of course, user experience has always been a little different from Mac to Mac: a SSD-equipped Mac with maxed our RAM will run much faster and more smoothly than a hard drive-based Mac with minimal RAM. But even then all Macs had the same user interface and if similarly equipped with CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, etc. would essentially be the same user experience. Not anymore: richer people will get to experience a different, better user experience. You won’t be able to add a TouchBar to your iMac or your Mac Pro or your older MacBook Pros. Or your new 2016 13-inch TouchBar-less MacBook Pro.

For all the work done to simplify our cable future toward USB-C, Apple has fragmented the user experience of the Mac with the addition of the more expensive 2016 MacBook Pro with TouchBar. Mixed messages from Apple is rare, but the 2016 MacBook Pro with TouchBar is an oxymoronic message.