Painted into a Touch Bar corner?

Back in April 2017 Apple invited a few select members of the tech press to a special event to discuss the situation with the Mac Pro line of computers. At that time the Mac Pro had gone about 4 years without any updates causing a lot of speculation about Apple’s commitment to its pro-level Mac users.

At the event Craig Federighi was quoted as saying:

“I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.”

“The Mac Pro Lives”,, 4th April 2017
The 2013 Mac Pro

So whilst they didn’t provide an immediate fix to the problem it was a clear admission that the limits of the Mac Pro design had been reached and that there was no way they could upgrade that design to use newer, faster components. The only way forward was to scrap that design and redesign it completely.

Recently I had a purchase decision to make about a new Mac, I really wanted a good jump in performance over the 2014 13” MacBook Pro I’ve been using and ultimately I opted for a 6-core Mac Mini. 

After looking at all the options within the current MacBook Pro line I knew I wanted at least a quad-core CPU so it was going to have to be at least the high end 13” MacBook Pro, I also wanted 16Gb of RAM and at least a 512Gb SSD, so £2129 for this and an additional £249 to get AppleCare+ cover on top of this, plus the cost of a few dongles to connect non-USB-C devices to it and also my Thunderbolt display. All in all it was going to cost close to £2600 to get something to suit my needs.

In the end however I decided I couldn’t justify purchasing that machine. The reason I decided not to go for the MacBook Pro was that despite spending that amount of money I was buying a machine that had no future upgrade path. It’s not possible to upgrade the RAM or SSD storage so it means having to buy the highest configuration you can afford hoping that this is good enough for your future needs, rather than buying what you can afford now and adding upgrades later if needed. 

Additionally all of the higher-end MacBook Pro laptops come with the Touch Bar whether you want it or not so this adds to the cost, given that I work most of the time using an external display and keyboard it means the Touch Bar has limited usage potential. 

Having not owned a Touch Bar MacBook Pro I’m perhaps not in a position to judge how successful or beneficial the Touch Bar is, but my impression from articles etc online and friends who own one is that it’s not a must-have or key selling feature for many people. I know I would certainly rather have the ability to upgrade RAM and SSD storage down the line than have the Touch Bar.

Combine the Touch Bar with the lack of upgradability and you have to pay a lot of money up front to try and future proof your purchase. Ultimately I realised this wasn’t going to spark joy* and I would resent spending that amount of money to get something I wasn’t completely happy with and didn’t represent good value for money to me. In the end I opted for a 6-core Mac Mini purchased through Apple’s refurb store, the balance of price / features was much better and additionally the current models were released last year so they’re using the latest CPUs and aren’t likely to be superseded anytime soon.

So the question I’m asking is: Has the hardware choices in the MacBook Pro line resulted in a similar situation to the Mac Pro, only this time Apple has painted themselves into a Touch Bar corner? 

Personally, I think it’s time for Apple to consider what changes they need to make in the MacBook Pro line to get out of this corner they’ve painted themselves into.

* Yes, this is a token Mari Kondo reference :)

Free phones, now free computers, why not free TVs?

If you’re in the UK reading this then you’ve quite probably seen the TV adverts for PCWorld which offer Laptops for free (or a discount of £300 on other laptops) if you sign up for a 2 year Orange broadband contract.

I’d heard about Orange in France offering some kind of deal like this but it’s interesting to see it happening here now. The fact that they are doing this raises a few issues, or points of interest anyway.

PC’s are now a commodity

This is kind of a sweeping statement but mainly I mean that PCs, and laptops especially, have become much cheaper. To the point that they are cheap enough to offered for free upon signing up for a 2 year contract for internet access!

Mobile phones are already a commodity

That whole model is pretty familiar, sign up with any mobile phone company for 12 months, 18 months or even better 24 months and they’ll offer you an increasingly better range of free mobile phones to choose from. Interestingly though, a lot of these phones are worth a lot more than a £300 laptop!

Seeing the parallel between these two business models it’s making me wonder why the cable and satellite TV companies don’t do the same?

Calling Sky & Virgin, where’s my free HD TV?

In as much as phones and laptops have become something of a commodity High Definition HD TVs are quickly following suit. PC World list 26" HD Ready LCD TVs for about £350, if a TV costs only this much then why not offer a good deal on televisions when signing up for a contract with you local cable or satellite TV company?

The costs of all these products is fairly similar, I can’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done? One added benefit is that it would greatly increase the uptake in viewing HD television and help bring more momentum behind the HD format It’s really common to change mobile phones every year or so (at least on pay monthly contracts in the UK it is anyway!) and people often upgrade computers on average between 2 – 4 years of usage. But Televisions have always had a much longer shelf life, it’s not uncommon for people to have TVs that are at least 5 years old but possibly over 10 years old!

Many people’s timescale for buying a new TV will be several years away, but they will likely switch between cable or satellite TV providers several times within the lifetime of that TV, so why not offer free TVs in exchange for signing up for a fixed contract?

Well, I do have one reason why not…

Just to balance this whole argument I have one reason why this would be a bad thing, it’s basically why the frequent offering of free mobile phone and now free computers is a bad thing – the environmental impact.

I’ve written above that phones (and computers now) are a commodity, there’s something about that I don’t like. People’s attitudes towards technology increasingly becomes far more throw away. A recent upgrade for my mobile phone landed me a shiny new Nokia N95 for free in exchange for an 18 month contract, the reality is that this device sells on Amazon at the time of writing for about £450. There’s no way I would ever have spent that kind of money on a phone, despite how smart a gadget it is. It’s easy to see how the true cost of these devices is lost on people, they’re just seen as free phones1.

It’s a little bit of a scary thought to see computers go that way and perhaps be even worse to see TVs be viewed that way. The environmental impact could be pretty huge. Not that the impact of these devices isn’t huge already of course! I appreciate that this kind of technology fills landfills regardless but at least when you pay for something you are likely to value it more than if it is just given to you. Wow, that sounds like a life lesson a parent would teach their child!2


  1. This is a purposeful decision by Apple in regards to the cost of the iPhone, it is not sold as a subsidised device but rather at it’s full market cost. Apple products tend to buck the trend of being ‘commodity’ items but rather as desirable objects.
  2. Well, I am a parent and I will teach my child that lesson ;)