I was a big fan of the MacBook 12 for about 10 minutes when it first came out. In fact, I owned one of the first to roll off the assembly line when they first hit the scene. I was really excited about the new thin and light. It was so impossibly thin and ridiculously light, it didn’t feel like a real computer. And in some ways, it wasn’t.
Now, it is only a memory. Apple has confirmed our suspicions. They have discontinued the product. And despite the tearful eulogies coming out from tech pundits, I doubt it will really be much missed. Despite the new things it represented at the time, the sad truth is that the MacBook 12 was not a particularly good computer. Here are a few things it never got right:
The Name Game
While there may be a lot of competition for the worst named Apple product in history, the 12” MacBook had to be high on the list. People called it some of everything. It was officially the MacBook. But it turns out that was a bit too confusing in an ocean of MacBooks. The nicknames started up almost immediately. And everyone had their own take on what it should be called.
I immediately started calling it the MacBook 12. Others called it the Manager Book because of the trope that managers in companies don’t actually do anything on their computer. So it was perfect for people who needed to look important but who didn’t have to do much computing work.
The MacBook Adorable was another name that caught on in some circles because it was so adorable. If it had cheeks, you would be hard pressed not to pinch them from time to time. We don’t normally think of computers as cute. But the MacBook 12 was just that.
Calling it just MacBook was awkward because in no ways was it the default product in the lineup. It was clearly a specialty product that needed a specialty name. It wasn’t the most powerful so it couldn’t be called a Pro. It displaced the Air as the thinnest and lightest. It it was far from the cheapest. Personally, I thought it could have been called the MacBook mini to go along with the Mac mini and iPad mini naming scheme. Apparently, no one else agreed.
The product clearly needed some type of modifier. And it was left to the fans and detractors to give it one. That was one of the minor but persistent issues that plagued this product throughout its entire lifecycle.
What a Difference an Inch Makes
At the end of the day, and the beginning for that matter, 12” was just too small to be productive. This is coming from a person who also owned the 11” Air back in the day. Strangely, the 11” Air felt bigger and more usable than the 12” MacBook. The reason was aspect ratio more than absolute screen size. The 11” was the same size as the 13”, only shorter. The 12” was smaller in all dimensions.
The 12” MacBook felt a lot like the best of the netbooks back in the bad old days of netbooks. It was as if Apple jumped into the netbook game way too late, and at way too high of a price point to matter.
The 12” was too small for coding, doing spreadsheets, playing certain kinds of games, editing photos and video, and almost everything else one would call productivity work. Yet it played in the productivity arena. The price made it very confusing what one should expect to be doing on that screen size. Remember that the 11” Air was $800.
13” seems to be the smallest screen size we can take seriously as a real computing platform for all sorts of tasks on the go. Any smaller, and we are well into compromise territory. And it is hard to justify that amount of compromise for $1,300.
By now, we are used to seeing devices that kick into low-power mode when the demands of usage outstrip the availability of processor and battery. It is a temporary reduction of performance to meet the immediate demands of thermals and energy. It is not ideal. But it is better than having the system shut down completely.
Living with a 12” was to live in low-power mode all the time. At its best, it never seemed to have quite enough power to do more than run the interface. And even that showed signs of struggle if you looked closely enough.
Technically, there were no apps you couldn’t run or tasks you couldn’t do. But they were slower in ways you could feel, and more ponderous than necessary. It made you feel you were pushing the hardware beyond what it was intended no matter what you were doing. And that is not the feeling you ever want to have after spending that much money on a computer.
Another popular name for the product was the MacBook one. This was not a name uttered in fondness, but frustration. It referred to the fact that there was only one port on the entire notebook besides the headphone jack. And that port was used for charging the device. If you needed to plug in anything else while charging, you were out of luck.
Personally, I don’t like plugging anything into my notebook while I am out and about. But I recognize that others have different needs and expectations. And that was a big miss for those who had a bag full of cables and dongles that were all but useless in the one-port wonder.
That single port was the thing that made the 12” feel like an iPad wannabe. Today’s iPad Pro has the same port configuration and a bigger screen. They are actually more powerful than some pro laptops in the lineup. The longer the 12” sat on the shelf, it was a reminder of just how much of a modern iPad it wasn’t. One port barely works on the iPad anymore. It never worked on the MacBook.
Conclusion: Not Better Than Anything
Steve Jobs said of netbooks that they weren’t better at anything. They were only cheaper. The 12” didn’t even have that going for it. Worse yet, there was no way to improve any of the things that needed to be improved.
The bezels were pretty small. So there was never going to be a way to make the display bigger. The thinner of the display likely kept it from ever getting brighter. The thinness of the lower casing made it unlikely that it would gain more battery life. The thermal limitations made it almost impossible to get any more powerful. And the engineering tolerances and the presence of the Air made it all but impossible to get any cheaper.
Seeing this, I returned mine almost as quickly as a bought it. And I never looked back. I don’t believe I was alone. While some vocal supporters of the product remain, they are few and far between. Tim Cook’s Apple does not cancel popular and profitable items. If the following of the product was as prolific as the eulogies, there wouldn’t be any need for the eulogies.