Apple has announced another special event for October 27, 2016. That is 4 days from the time of this writing. According to the latest from Engadget, Apple’s October 27th event is all about laptops. That will not stop people from wildly speculating about a major refresh of the entire Mac lineup.

Also at the time of this writing, no one should buy a Mac of any kind, with the possible exception of the 12” MacBook. And even that is an iffy proposition. The entire line is embarrassingly out of date. The Mac Pro and Mac mini should probably be discontinued altogether.

Even if Apple gives those lines a token refresh, it is obvious that they don’t care about those lines. Even if they get a major update, I don’t trust Apple to give them any love over the next few years. You probably shouldn’t either. So much for the top and bottom end of the desktop lineup.

The only desktop Apple has shown any real love over the last several years is the iMac. The high-end 5K model is really expensive. The smaller base model was a bad deal when new. Rumors are that due to Intel chip delays, it won’t see an update until sometime in 2017. That’s a real shame.

So wha’s left for Mac week?

For the love of laptops

Do you love laptops? I hope so. Because Apple sure does. That is the one part of the Mac where they have consistently tried to innovate. I owned the 12” MacBook for a few months before going all in on the iPad Pro. Having run the experiment for a year, I might be ready to go back. But that’s another article.

Apple has created an entirely new kind of trackpad, streamlined the keyboard, and broke new ground in the thin and light category. But in pursuit of these advances, performance has suffered. The MacBook Pro wants to be thinner, lighter, and yet more powerful. Something has to give.

The problem is that we are nearing an end to the amount of thinness, lightness, and power we can produce with this form factor. Furthermore, those things are not particularly exciting anymore. Apple doesn’t just need to refresh the laptop. They need to reinvent it, again.

Hello again

When we say hello, it’s a greeting. When Apple says hello, it’s an announcement. Jonny Evans of Computerworld put it this way:

The word “hello” means something in the Apple universe. It was the first word on the first Mac, the first word on the iMac, and was part of the company’s WWDC invitation, where it announced adoption of the name “macOS” to replace OS X. Now it is the buzz word on its invitation to the latest news from the company.

With this invitation, Apple is signaling that something big is about to change in the Mac, perhaps even the way we think about computers. Unfortunately, that level of announcement is highly unlikely. And that’s too bad. Because the mac, and to a greater degree, the entire computing industry could really use that kind of shift right about now.

What we can expect to see are a few moderate updates to Apple’s professional laptop line. Though Intel is a rather disappointing partner right now, Apple will still find a way to goose performance a bit. They always do. But that won’t be the headliner, or the head-turner.

There will be a new input mechanism possibly called Magic Toolbar, Touch Bar, or something to that affect. It will be an OLED strip that replaces the function row: that top row of keys where the brightness and volume controls can be found.

Though reasonably certain of this touch bar, no one knows exactly what it will do. Speculation is that it will either be customizable by users, developers, or both. It will be up to Apple to show us what it means, what it can do, and why we should care. Right now, it can only be considered a mildly interesting novelty that may be of some utility to users of high-end, professional application like PhotoShop and Logic.

But that doesn’t come close to completing the set of all users of the MacBook Pro. So for this new touch strip to have broader appeal, it has to do much more than what pundits have speculated. As one such pundit, I admit to having a failure of imagination in this regard. All I know for certain is that it will be one more thing HP will quickly copy, and make standard on the typical MacBook PC clone.

Future Macs

Excuse me, YAWN… Sorry.

All this talk of new Macs is making me sleepy. This is coming from a person who fully intends to buy one of whatever Apple announces on Thursday. But frankly, I am more excited about getting the new AirPods. But it raises the question, what would make Macs exciting again?

The #1 request I have for a new laptop would be builtin LTE. It is the greatest advantage of the iPad Pro that I will miss. Not only is tethering a pain, it can get expensive if you need to use it a lot as I do. Connecting to public wifi is not always a good solution to connectivity on the go. What you want is to be connected to the Internet every time you open the lid regardless of where you are. You simply can’t get that in any notebook you would want to own.

I would get excited about OS modifications that were specific to the laptop form factor. In the same way the iPad should have a different OS than the iPhone, a laptop computer should have a different OS than a desktop.

Most laptop use is done without a mouse. More importantly, the screens are considerably smaller. 13” is typical for a laptop. Desktops are typically 20”, 27”, and beyond. The experience is radically different. The OS should reflect those differences.

I’m not sold on touchscreens with desktop operating systems. But there is much Apple could do to make that experience more meaningful with the right software tweaks. So far, they have shown no interest in doing anything of the sort.

And that’s the problem. They have shown no interest in doing any of the things that would get me excited about Mac laptops again. Mac laptops just as well be beige boxes. They are not fun anymore. More to the point, they are not interesting. All the interest is over on the iOS side of Apple. But iPads are not yet as functional as the venerable Mac.

Excuses for the iPad are getting stale with age. By now, we should be able to code on the iPad, record and produce podcasts on the iPad, have completely web browser feature parity on the iPad, and on it goes. Attaching a keyboard to the device does not make it a professional tool. The OS and apps have to come along for the ride. They haven’t. Apple is too reticent of making the iPad too similar to the MacBook.

At this point, the iPad Pro feels intentionally crippled, not just like a different product line for doing different things. The iPad mini does not feel crippled because it is not a productivity computer. It is a great tablet. The iPad Pro IS a productivity computer, and as such, FEELS crippled.

As any Windows user can tell you, no professional needs to enjoy their computer. They just need to be able to get all of their work done on it. In the Apple world, a Mac laptop is the only thing that can accomplish that right now.

I wish Apple would make the iPad more useful, and the Mac more interesting. The upcoming event suggests that Apple will be taking a swing at the latter. It doesn’t have to be a home run. But a solid double would be nice.

David Johnson

AuthorDavid Johnson