Innovation shouldn’t always imply full-on revolutionary. Confusing: do people want desktop PCs, or do they prefer laptops to ‘improve’ into transportable desktops?

A lot has already been said about this topic. I want to look at it from one perspective. Imagine, you are part of the product management at a company. And this (anger about MacBook Pro) would be people reaction to your latest product release, how would you consider it, objectively and other ways?

I’ve been taking in all the stuff  written about Apple’s latest MacBook Pro line. If you’d consider it in a logical way, Apple has done a tremendous job, they’ve improved the most important aspects of portability and comfort: weight, display quality, battery life. They’ve made flexible and extensible a part of the computer that no-one seemed to be paying attention to: the function keys. People should’ve been thrilled.

Apparently many aren’t, according to some articles and tweets I saw.

Based on what I see in my Twitter feed, several people are angry about the 16Gb Ram limit. If that were 32Gb, would that have pleased them? Should that be 64Gb instead? How much disk space, 1Tb? 2Tb?, what CPU spec, the latest more powerful intel? And how much battery life to go with that? And would it have to weigh the same as last year’s top spec MacBook Pros? heavier, or lighter?

Until last week, I didn’t see anybody claiming that they needed a laptop with 32Gb Ram, I might not have been paying attention, of course. If Apple had released a weightier but more powerful one, more battery-hungry, wouldn’t people have a fit? Actually, how many potential buyers are there in the disappointed category, 10 Mio? 100 Mio? Or in the  thousands range? How would that compare to the addressable market?

The other group of professionals, which some advocate would be disappointed (are they? will they?) are photographers and media publishers. Apparently the new keyboard doesn’t have as much travel as the old ones. That could be a question of taste, I don’t know. I am not a typist. The loss of SD card and fewer extensions. I can understand that SD card would be a daily use item, but surely in that case anyone with a 2014 upward model is sorted for at least another year, wouldn’t they?

Often, as folks write their complaints, many also note that 2015 MacBook Pro was the finest laptop they ever had! I’ve seen similar things written about the last generation of iMacs. What !? So you’ve got the finest ever, it’s still doing great for you, why wouldn’t you keep things that way for another year or two? I’ve got a 2014 MacBook Pro, I’m still happy with it. When Apple released the 12 inch MacBook it was also a kind of concept machine, not aimed at volumes but setting a new direction. The new MBP might or might not fall into that category. But it seems that Apple does this quite often, all the way back to the first iPhone.

I read that professional developers are angry they’re not getting more powerful laptops. That’s strange. Because, most of the time, I only read pro developers proudly stating that they don’t need IDEs, that they only need a unix-compatible shell session on a terminal and a text editor. Furthermore, these folks practice continuous delivery, run their infra as code, maintain their code repository on GitHub, deploy their workloads on AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, and many variant hosting environments. The cool kids are all creating microservices, spinning up Docker or Kunernetes clusters backed by large datastores or block storage clusters. So a beefier laptop is more apt to running (heaven forbid) monoliths, something that the cool kids don’t do, and surely clusters and more networking would mean cloud or more hardware than just a laptop. These folks travel all the time, they do talks using web-browser based slideshow apps, and on the road they hack using text editors only. So these pros, albeit an elite group, really don’t need laptops with any more memory or CPU power on a regular basis, they need faster networks and faster access to the cloud where their serious stuff lives. The exception is obviously those doing GPU intensive work, again, a very select group.

I am confused about all the hoopla. Especially, when I read how some of the same people are raving about Microsoft’s new hardware, then I get the impression that some undeclared passion is leading to frustration. Samsung regularly releases higher spec’ed mobile devices that Apple’s, that doesn’t drive the same kind of reaction, albeit iPhones get more frequent refreshes. I find it hard to see the rationale for the angry responses. I explain.

The very first laptop I worked with was, wait for it, a Toshiba with 8 Mb Ram and 120 Mb disk. I think it weighted around 6Kg. I stop here with the specs, the point I want to make is around portability. A few decades further, we always want lighter laptops. So lighter and faster  (or at least not slower) and with better battery life, should be good, shouldn’t it?

Furthermore, if you’d put yourself in Apple’s shoes, what have they done so badly wrong here? Before I elaborate, I need to point out that folks insisting in using the term “fanboi” or “fanboy” are just being childish. Those won’t read this blog, or not go beyond this paragraph. I don’t care, I actually want them to go away.

Now, here are some my reasons for thinking that Apple did a good job:

  • all of Apple’s latest hardware have improved computing mobility:
    • more Cloud service for ubiquitous access to data created on any device
    • more wireless services for seamlessly transferring data across devices
  • better displays, slimmer devices
  • function keys typically do nothing all day: Apple rejuvenated that space, and ensured more of your computer is working for you
  • if portability is increased by making devices lighter and no loss of power, then Apple’s scored well here
  • if removing some physical connections would help make a device lighter then, offering more wireless and cloud capability is a good balancing choice
  • If supporting 32+ Gb would require a board consuming more battery life, then the trade-off is to go for battery, expecting folks to keep shifting heavy-duty workloads to Cloud, use more wireless, and their keep already nice earlier models.

Apple also stated that the new MacBook Pro architecture represented a new start, for bringing up more things that they are not disclosing yet. As everybody knows, this is Apple’s code for we’re also working on stuff we find exciting but that aren’t ready yet, so we can’t tell you much more than that folks. This could be the reason that no new iMacs or MacPros were announced this time. They might be trying to find a way to open the next “5 year lead”. Whatever else might be going on, I think Apple’s done enough to keep engaging their customers. Not to lose them, obviously.

Those who’d put themselves in the Apple’s shoes, should see many things to like. The usable life of a laptop is easily 2-3 years, so those with a 2013 laptop should be the ones looking to upgrade now, and if they do they would most probably be thrilled. Their 2013 computers will not suddenly die anyway. My 2009 is still around and works, but with the successive transitions, it’s no longer that useful to me like it used to.

No company in their right mind would make moves to alienate their customer base. Apple doesn’t seem to be, from my point of view. Apple under the current leadership has been more attentive to external feedback than the Apple of yore, so it’s bizarre to read that they are intentionally trying to annoy their customers.

On the other hand, if people expected that Apple’s devices should always be the fastest and more powerful or always be the only ones sporting the most innovative features, if these are the expectations, then I get all the anger. This because Samsung and Microsoft are releasing highly spec’ed devices more frequently. Many of the same people are raving about Microsoft’s announcement, stating that they were switching to Microsoft immediately (out of anger?). I don’t get that one, sounds like an angry rallying call than anything else. I’ve seen Microsoft’s new products, they look nice of course, if I wanted to try it or switchover, I wouldn’t say it’s because Apple didn’t do a good job. Microsoft has done what Apple did, an incremental improvement on what they already had, and the Surface Studio looks very much like an iteration of some models that were released earlier by companies like HP and Asus. This may be folks’ way of encouraging their champion to keep on trying to better competition.

I am following a lof of media and people online. I see and enjoy the regular drop of cogent writing, clear and delightful thinking. But, then, when folks suddenly drop a load of emotion coated with some logical reasoning, they just throw me off course and I get rather puzzled. This is one such instance. It’s a lot more about feelings, much less about unmet needs per sé. Yes, customer feeling is absolutely essential.

Some interesting questions are: how many serious potential buyers are angry, because of the 16Gb limitation? Will reaction persist throughout their buying period? What would happen, should Apple, in a few short months, release some highly spec’ed devices, would the mood turn again? How much of a stable customer base would that represent then? Isn’t hardware lifecycle much longer than say SaaS subscriptions that could be terminated at a snap of the fingers? How would a company do decent hardware design if buyers would turn so fickle?

Maybe people aren’t that angry after all. One doesn’t just throw away years of content, brain muscle and proficiency simply because one particular product release didn’t meet hopes. Maybe it’s just a testament of Microsoft’s move, hold their event just hours before Apple’s in an attempt to steel some buzz. Some will certainly switch. Of those, many might do the same when Google comes up with their next Chromebook for example.

I always follow these announcements with an inquisitive interest. I am not a writer, not a reviewer, just some guy interested in to find out what he can learn. This post might be full of typos and relatively weak prose. But it’s just a simple blog, no ads here, no attempt to create audiences, just a place to jot doen a few thoughts.