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    • yaypie

      When Apple recently announced a spec bump for the 2018 MacBook Pro lineup, people were excited. Had they finally fixed the unreliable keyboard? Would the new Intel Core i9 CPU and expanded 32 GB of RAM on the 15-inch model enable unparalleled performance?

      Apparently the answers are "kinda" and "probably not".

      Apple added new silicone membranes under the key caps to keep dust and debris out, but iFixit found that the new membranes weren't terribly effective.

      Pro users were excited to hear about the CPU and memory spec bumps, which seemed to indicate that Apple was finally listening to their requests for a truly powerful pro laptop without compromises, but it turns out the MacBook Pro's thermal management isn't able to properly cool the new CPUs under heavy load, so it has to resort to throttling them, reducing their peak performance significantly and in some cases making them slower than the CPUs in older models.

      Starting with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro (the first model with the new design and Touch Bar), Apple seems to have decided that form is more important than function. Their new laptops are thin, light, and beautiful — but at the cost of reliability, performance, and battery life, not to mention functionality.

      Pro users are increasingly switching to PCs or even Chromebooks, which have made great strides in design and quality recently while still retaining the features professional users want.

      The iMac Pro launch seemed to indicate a willingness to listen to the needs of pro users, but the ongoing problems with the new MacBooks Pro indicate that Apple may not be taking their users entirely seriously.

      How did Apple lose their way? What will it take to get them back on the right track?

    • spullara

      It is unclear to me they are losing customers to competitors. We are just trapped by their high build quality. Do you have data showing they are losing market share to other PC manufacturers?

    • yaypie

      Only anecdata, admittedly.

      I know several developers who've switched from Mac laptops to PC laptops after getting frustrated with recent Apple hardware. After the keyboard fiasco, the "I swear I'm gonna switch" buzz on Twitter seems to have increased significantly.

      I've been surprised that web developers are willing to give up macOS (which I think is great) for Windows or Linux, but Microsoft has made huge strides in making Windows more developer friendly. It certainly seems like there's less of a switching barrier these days.

    • bstrong

      I wonder if the complainers are a vocal minority. Maybe their data indicates that most users of MacBook Pros are happy and never actually push their computer to the limits at which the problems arise. It's kinda sad, but maybe Apple can make great laptops, but they just aren't because the data indicates they don't have to.

      That said, these issues have kept me from upgrading. Although I don't yet feel like I need to upgrade my trusty 2015 MacBook Pro Retina. Unless they improve, the 2015 MacBook Pro Retina may go down in history as the peak of the product line.

      In the end, I hope this is just Apple bumping specs to keep the current design somewhat relevant while they finish the design of the next major version. Which, hopefully, will address the real problems.

    • yaypie

      Yeah. I liked my 2016 MBP a lot in the beginning because it was thinner and lighter, but over time I've become really frustrated by the keyboard.

      I keep having to attack it with an air compressor to fix sticky keys. I hate that the keys are in full contact with the screen when the lid is closed, so they smudge whatever's on them all over the screen every time. And I especially hate the awful layout of the arrow keys, which I find endlessly frustrating.

      I miss my 2015 MBP Retina, which was a great machine and had none of these problems. 😢

    • VR

      Seems like you aren't the only one frustrated with the keyboard and in fact it has been a big problem for MacBook Pros. Turns out that they've quietly addressed this issue in the newly released models. Unfortunately it won't help you with the older model, but this update shows that Apple still listens to their customers and does want to make it right. Maybe it is too little to late, but there is still hope.

      From a recent article in The Verge:

      Thanks to iFixit, we know that the reduced noise from the keyboards is due to the addition of a rubber membrane under each key. The repair document is the first direct confirmation we’ve had from Apple that the membrane is specifically designed to protect the new keyboard from encountering the same problems as its predecessors.

    • foxxtrot

      Personally, I never liked MacBook's much. Hate the keyboard, OS X is the "wrong" kind of Unix for me to be comfortable, but I have definitely recommended them in the past and know plenty of people who use them.

      For my last two work laptops, I've favored the X1 Carbon from Lenovo. It's as light as a MacBook Air, but with a 14" 16:9 display, and because it's plastic instead of that beautiful aluminum unibody, it's about a half-pound lighter, which is important to me for my laptop. Also, I live and breathe in an SSH session anyway, so the power specs are far less important to me.

      My next work laptop will probably be a Chromebook though. And not just because Google is probably going to be pushing them a bit more aggressively on us, but the fact is that now with the Linux mode on the Pixelbook (and eventually other books), I can do everything I need for work (and frankly most personal tasks I'd use a laptop for) on ChromeOS. One of the things keeping me on a Linux laptop was the occasional need to do Android stuff, which I can now do on my Pixelbook.

      So unless you're developing for Mac OS or iOS, it's increasingly less compelling to pay the extra cost.

    • JB

      I think you're right, while a good number of photographers I know use MBP's most of the owners among my friends and family barely if ever put a sustained load on it. That being said the latest test I saw showed that under an actual work load it starts throttling in about a minute which with the length of Lightroom imports would be a HUGE issue for photographers. I know it's not an exact comparison since it's 2 different generations but I watched my i7-7700HQ laptop* during one and it was hovering between 3.1-3.35 GHz, while i9 is averaging only around 2.2 GHz (with 6 VS 4 cores) I wonder what the actual difference in performance would be.

      *It's a Dell Gaming 7000 so there's a lot more cooling for the CPU, I'm not sure what the last generation MBP would average at. If anyone has one and could run a test it would be interesting to see.

    • jl

      To add some more (admittedly anecdotal) data: for an internship I did this summer, the company I was working for bought a brand new 13" MacBook. None of their employees had ever had speed issues with their build tools, so they didn't sweat the specs that much, but my newer laptop was taking 2-3x longer to build things than my coworkers' older machines.

      Also, about 2 months into the internship, the computer completely bricked, and I had to take it to the Apple store, where they replaced the logic board (and some other stuff) under warranty. Those kinds of problems just shouldn't be happening with a 2 month old laptop.

      For personal use, I use a Lenovo T450 running Ubuntu, and it works great. It's spent 6 weeks on the back of a motorcycle, spent a day sitting in a half inch of water, and has gone across the world with me, getting dropped, covered in sand, etc, and while it certainly doesn't look new, it works as well as it did when I bought it. That durability, at least to me, is worth a less pretty design and some added weight. I'll probably replace it with an X1 Carbon or T470.

    • kikoteixeira

      As much as I love macbook pros and will never, ever switch to a PC laptop because I don't touch Microsoft software as a matter of principle, I agree here with the form over function argument, and also wonder about Apple sometimes.

      First, unlimited research dollars and they can't get something as fundamental as the keyboard to work reliably. I am an engineer too and I understand innovation, there is no excuse. Second, discontinued mag-safe, so now I need to use mental focus to plug in and my laptop may fly into a wall next time the cord is tripped, congratulations Jonny Ive. Third, touch bar. Apple has always "forced" users to switch to newer forms and standards, but they were almost always right. Not so this time.

      The pro is about pushing the performance vs consumption (battery/heat) envelop up. Can they continue to claim this? My trusty mid-2012 MPB retina is still going strong. Why would I switch? Let alone for $2500?

    • louisgray
      Louis Gray

      There is a lot of data showing traditional strongholds for Apple have been ceded to Chromebooks, primarily in education. This is not yet the case at the high end.

      2016: Chromebooks outsell Macs. https://www.theverge.com/2016/5/19/11711714/chromebooks-outsold-macs-us-idc-figures

      2018: Chromebooks are 60%+ of education market.https://www.recode.net/2018/3/27/17169624/apple-ipad-google-education-event-chromebooks-market

      Caveat: I work at Google (but not on this team). I switched to ChromeOS exclusively in 2011.

    • louisgray

      Re: "It certainly seems like there's less of a switching barrier these days," my view is that the Web platform has eclipsed the need for native apps in practically every case, with lone holdouts in high-end creative and development. It reminds me of the days when some of us would grasp onto old Mac OS classic builds just to get Quark Express to run. But by the time Quark came out for Mac OS X, nobody cared.

      Microsoft makes great hardware now. I truly am impressed with the Surface. But I still cringe at Windows and IE.

    • louisgray

      When you look at the Pixelbook (https://store.google.com/us/product/google_pixelbook), you gain (vs the current array of Mac laptops), a touchscreen, support for Android apps out of the box, tablet mode, a full 360 hinge etc. It's very compelling.

      What you give away is support for some traditional Mac apps, and theoretically, some CPU power, however that's measured. From your perspective, where is Apple still leading vs a top of the line Chromebook?

    • GrahamC

      Disclaimer : I have never used ANY Apple product or OS ever at any time.

      I don't think that they can't, but I do think it's so much harder for them to do so because of unreasonable customer expectations. This craving for 'thin & light' grates very strongly against 'power & heat'. The newest i9 powered laptop show a serious lack of innovation to me and tip over the edge when it comes to the heat/noise envelope by all accounts. Stop try to squeeze desktop PCs into your carry-on luggage, make the dam things 50% thicker which can be used for added cooling and have a carbon fibre chassis for your weight/structure etc.

      Customers mumble on about the Apple brand and style etc, well Apple make yourself a new fresh invigorating one. Which would have made a bigger splash across the interweb, going to 6 core from four or a brand new design in carbon fibre. Apple decided to go one way and the best I've seen is they are reported to be 'OK' if you don't push them to hard.

      Microsoft's Surface product showed far more innovation when released than Apple's new laptops and my marker for this statement that those product were noticed outside of the party faithful. Apple needs to bring a laptop to the table that makes the likes of me (disclaimer at top of post) go oower! that looks tasty.

      Regarding Price, OS, eco system etc. no comment for those as market share and sales volume will be the judge of those but Apple has rested on their laurels for a good number of years, at least that is what it looks like from the outside on the odd occasion I glance that way.

    • TehShrike

      To answer the question in the thread title: I assume Apple can't make great laptops any more due to an obsession with thinness over all else, and a slight decrease in standards.

      ---

      I've been eyeing the Surface Book lately. If I buy a new development machine with the current hardware landscape, that's probably what I'll get.

      Since I moved to macOS for development in 2013, I've never felt like macOS was an improvement on Windows. It was a step back in some ways, but I was fine with it because the hardware was so much better. The great screen, the excellent OS support for the high-DPI screen, the long battery life, the great trackpad.

      It sounds like Surface hardware has been closing the gap, though, so other than a small amount of overhead for switching platforms, I'm happy to go back to Windows if MBPs can't fix their keyboards and get their battery life back up.

    • kikoteixeira

      This thread is drifting. Yaypie's original post was about why Apple's high-end laptops cannot wow like it used to, not another Mac vs PC discussion (which Mac wins without a shred of doubt and whoever does not see this is in denial, but I digress...)

      So getting back to the point, I believe a lot has to do with the decision-making process inside Apple. Without Steve they have lacked the ultimate voice and so it necessarily devolves to decision-by-committe.

      With a tyrant-like decision maker the buck stops with a single individual, certainly the case of Steve Jobs (Chris, feel free to chime in!). He carried the vision and values of the company inside his DNA. Everybody knew this, and so the incentives-structure within the organization became obtaining his approval. He was completely obsessive about details like the size of the trackpad or the response speed of the touch bar. I do think the current crop of MBPs would have turned out differently if he was alive.

      In decision-by-committe the buck stops with the group (usually a bunch of VPs). Its a democracy of sorts. Even if the CEO calls it, its usually not the same as having a founder-CEO. Decision-by-committe is less risky because the founder-CEO could also be a chump in need of hand-holding. On the other hand, CEOs-for-hire have a track-record that the (usually risk-adverse) board can hedge against, but doing it this way one looses the great upside that only a founder-CEO can bring.

      In today's Apple, my impression is that the committe is stellar, but its still a committe. Shiller, Federichi, Cue, et al. are all stars and Tim Cook is an incredibly sharp guy with a long history at Apple. Still, none of those people are a design-obsessed megalomaniacal genius-madman.

    • Chris

      Kiko, I've been slaving over a story I'm writing about Steve and the choice of microprocessors. I think it changed the world and I was one of the few inside witnesses of it, so I want to do justice to the story. I'll post it Tuesday morning.

      I agree with you. The thing about a Bezos, Zuckerberg or Jobs is they are willing to override everyone in the company and call the shots. So they own it and when they make a mistake they correct it fast because they can't stand public humiliation and I-told-you-so from their teams.

      I have a close friend who worked on the materials team for the original iPhone. This is a second-hand story from my memory of 10 years ago, so my facts may be a little bit, um, alternative. Here's how I remember it:

      It was to have a plastic screen. Steve kept taking the phone to soccer practice with his son, Reed, and one day he walked into Apple and said, "I'm sorry guys, I can't take the plastic screen." This was 6 months to announcement. "It gets smeary with my fingerprint oil and it scratches with my car keys. It has to be glass."

      "Steve, NO! Glass shatters. It can't pass a drop test from 2 feet. It can't be glass, we all agree. Not an option."

      "What about that glass from Corning, Gorilla glass?"

      "NO STEVE! They don't make it. It was conceptualized for aircraft cockpits. We don't have time for this."

      Steve calls the CEO of Corning, who says they can't make it, not the 10 million pieces Steve wants, not any. Steve asks why they can't re-configure an existing manufacturing plant and pull it off?

      Somehow, the iPhone shipped with glass. 7 billion people on earth. 1 person makes a decision like that. No committees make that decision.

      Yesterday I walked through an airport and saw a professional screen repair company right next to Starbucks. 10 minutes to a new screen while you wait. And I thought of Steve and his car keys.

    • Richard

      Full disclosure: I use Windows for historical reasons, but I love my wife's elegant MacBook Air. Many years ago, I used a Mac desktop because it crashed less often than Windows, not because it never crashed. Today, I find the reliability differences between OS-X and Windows to be minimal and the user experience differences to be slight--whichever you are more accustomed to will work better for you. Both can be annoying.

      Now, to the OP's question: The thermal problem with the i9 is a perfect example of where Apple has lost its way. "It just works" used to be true (more or less). It's hard to imagine that an engineering flaw like this one could ever have made it to the market when Jobs was in charge. Clearly, their internal processes don't work as well anymore. The same applies to the keyboard, though let's not kid ourselves that Apple was always perfect--anyone remember the hockey puck mouse that came with the first iMac? Not to mention the insane insistence on one button mice in general.

      I think there may be a larger factor at play here. So much attention has been paid to mobile phones over the last ten years, that desktops and laptops alike have been innovation starved. More cycles, more memory, longer battery life, faster disks and interconnects are all well and good, but a normal cheap machine has power to spare for most users. I never added the additional 16 GB of RAM that my ThinkPad will accept because I just don't need it. I think part of the reason that there is so little innovation in hardware is that it is no longer being driven by software needs. The heavy lifting is often in the cloud, not on a laptop. So what we have is good enough. Is that so bad?

    • wx

      I first realized Apple was moving away from power users back when they lost interest in the Mac Pro and shoveled out a Final Cut Pro that was squarely aimed at the casual user, not professional editors.

      I'm typing this on a 17" MacBook Pro that I bought around 2007. It's fast running out of software support for all sort of programs (Bank of America bans my version of Safari, for one irritating example) and will soon be an orphan, much like the ancient plastic white Macbook that preceded it.

      I'm on a quest for a unicorn -- a large-screen, video-editing capable laptop that is decidedly affordable.

    • Chris

      Same happened to me. I made the transition to Adobe Premier when Apple made the big change to Final Cut, and I have missed a 17-inch MacBook ever since. My biggest complaint with my 15" 2016 MacBook Pro is the butterfly keyboard.

    • yaypie

      Today Apple released an apology for the 2018 MBP throttling issue, saying it was a bug triggered by certain specific workloads. It's apparently fixed in a new macOS update that's now available.

      Apple's full statement:

      Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in today’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended. We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems. Customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster, as shown in the performance results on our website.

      I'm not sure what they could mean by "digital key" here. 🤔

    • kikoteixeira

      Translation: upper management forced the thermal team to cram the latest cpu into the same cooling system, which is under-designed because friggin Jonny Ive had to squeeze everything down to 4 mm to make everything look "magical", well guess what buddy, its not magic, its physics and heat aint got nowhere to go so we had no other option than to throttle everything down. Well, the public aint stupid, but now its not my team's fault anymore, so...

    You've been invited!