Many of us were deeply disappointed when Apple discontinued the MacBook Pro 17. While the Retina MacBook Pro 15 introduced at the same time offered higher resolution, sometimes there’s just no substitute for physical screen size. Photographers and videographers in particular loved the combination of the sheer size and the option of a matte screen.
I loved mine enough to immediately sell the three-year-old one I owned at the time in order to replace it with the last model made, to maximize its useful life. I still love it enough that I’ve just laid out a thousand bucks on a 2.5-year-old machine to fit 2TB of SSDs, giving it the best of both worlds: lightning-fast performance combined with huge storage that allows me to have all my files with me when I travel.
There may not be too many others who’ll follow my admittedly extravagant example, but I do think it’s time for Apple to revisit its decision and bring back the mobile professional’s workhorse …
I should say that I fully understand why Apple chose to discontinue the machine at the time. It had just introduced the shiny new Retina MacBook Pro machines in 13- and 15-inch sizes, and the cost of a 17-inch Retina screen would, at that time, have been prohibitive.
Retaining the non-Retina model would have been messy - where in the line-up do you position a machine which offers the largest screen size but not the highest resolution? Apple has always liked simple line-ups, not the mass of scarcely-distinguishable models put out by many PC manufacturers, so it took the easy way out and dropped the machine.
The argument many made at the time was that it was in any case a niche product, with some even suggesting that the MBP accounted for just one percent of MacBook sales. Given Apple’s famed secrecy when it comes to sales breakdowns, I strongly suspect that figure was made-up, but it’s undeniable that it was a product bought by a small minority of Apple’s customers.
Some went further and suggested that with Apple now a mass-market consumer company, the business market was less important to the company, and the subset of audio-visual professionals who made up most of the 17-inch machine’s user base was now effectively irrelevant.
That might have been a supportable argument at the time, but no longer. Defense exhibit A: the Mac Pro.
The Mac Pro is even more of a niche market than the MBP 17. The percentage of Apple’s customer base even interested in the machine, let alone prepared to lay out between $3,000 and $10,000 on one, is miniscule.
Yet Apple not only launched a new Mac Pro, but did so with a great deal of fanfare. It put a huge amount of R&D into a revolutionary new desktop PC design. It made a machine unlike any other.
Even today, almost a year after it was first announced, Apple still makes a huge fuss about it. Just visit apple.com and click on any of the other Macs there: Air, Pro, iMac, Mini, it doesn’t matter. You get Apple’s standard white background site.
Now click on the Mac Pro. Apple has sufficient pride in this special machine that it created a whole new site design for it.
Apple launched a new Mac Pro not because the market for the machine was a large one, but because it was an important one. The earliest and most loyal customer base for Macs comprised creative professionals. Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, writers. These were the people who acted as Apple’s unpaid evangelists in the very early days. It wouldn’t be too great an exaggeration to say that these people helped build the company into what it is today.
In creating the new Mac Pro, Apple demonstrated that its commitment to this market remains alive and well.
Which is precisely the argument for launching a new MacBook Pro 17 today. The machine appeals to a very similar (and in many cases overlapping) market: creative professionals who want a high-end machine with decent screen size when mobile.
While yield rates on a 17-inch Retina screen would have been impractically low in 2012, that’s no longer the case today. The niche demand is there. Apple’s demonstrated commitment to supporting a core niche market is there. The manufacturing practicality is there. It’s time.
And my machine demonstrates just how great it could be. With a 2.4GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and dual SSDs, the machine absolutely flies.
Upgrading the RAM was obviously trivial on the non-Retina machines, and something I did as soon as I bought it. I initially replaced the 750GB hard drive with two 1TB ones (one in the optical media bay with an OWC Data Doubler adapter), and have now replaced both chunks of spinning metal with shiny new Samsung EVO 840 SSDs.
2TB allows me to have all my files with me all the time no matter where I am in the world.
But that’s two-year-old technology. The SSDs, for example, are fast:
Coming from hard drives, I couldn’t be happier. But stick the latest quad-core i7 CPU in there and make the SSDs PCIe ones, and my machine would look like it was having trouble waking up in the morning.
And imagine the battery-life it would have with a Haswell processor and that massive battery! A MBP 17 with genuine all-day battery-life would be phenomenal.
So, please, Apple: let’s have an all-new MacBook Pro 17. I’d even forgive you announcing it a few days after I’ve laid out a grand on SSDs for mine …