I’ve always upgraded my MacBooks. Usually, I would spec out my machine with the best processor and GPU, and couple that to the bare-bones RAM and drive, then upgrade those components myself to avoid the Apple premium. Sometimes I’d upgrade more than once during a machine’s lifetime.
My Late 2011 17-inch MacBook Pro, for example, was bought with 8GB RAM and a 750GB hard drive. I immediately upgraded the RAM to 16GB – a ten-minute task – and swapped out both the hard drive and optical drive for two 1TB hard drives. Later on, when SSD prices fell to more sensible levels, I swapped out the spinning metal drives for a couple of 1TB SSDs. In this way, the 17-inch machine I was reluctant to give up has remained remarkably usable even five years on.
That approach is no longer an option. The RAM has long been soldered on in MacBooks, and the past couple of days confirmed what I suspected about the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar when I maxed-out my order: the SSD, too, is soldered on and thus non-upgradable …
I could complain about this. At one point, I would have done so at some length. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that the days of upgradable MacBooks are now behind us. And, much as I may regret that fact, it’s not an unreasonable decision by Apple.
Today’s Apple is an iPhone company which also makes computers. Macs are a niche product. The MacBook Pro is a niche within a niche. And the tiny percentage of us who upgraded our MacBook Pro machines are so absurdly niche that we are entirely irrelevant to Apple now.
Sure, we could complain that professional users made Apple the company it is today. We were the ones who formed Apple’s early market for the Mac, and who sang the praises of the platform to all our friends, who went out and bought them on our recommendation. Without us, Apple would not have succeeded in Macs, and without succeeding in Macs it would never have gotten the chance to make the iPhone.
That’s absolutely true. But in today’s market, that’s about as relevant as aristocrats complaining that the car market wouldn’t have taken off were it not for their early chauffeur-driven purchases. It might suck that the people who helped build the company are no longer valued by it, but Apple needs to make decisions based on the market as it exists today, not as it was a decade or two ago.
Today’s market wants sleek, slim machines. It has zero interest in upgradable ones.
Again, we could argue that such people should be buying MacBooks and MacBook Airs, not the MacBook Pro. But I’ve talked to quite a few Mac-using AV professionals and they all tell me the same thing: they buy powerful machines that do the job well for years, and when they stop doing that, they buy a new one. They also tell me that when you’re lugging a machine around with you, making it more portable is a worthwhile benefit.
So I’d argue that the truth is that Apple is continuing to serve the pro market – it’s just that what that market wants has moved on.
There has also been talk of Mac users switching to Windows – for both ports and upgradability. You can still buy upgradable Windows laptops, and no doubt some tiny fraction of current MacBook Pro owners will be sufficiently dismayed at the direction being taken by Apple that they will make good on those threats.
But most of us buy Macs because we love macOS. Sure, we may grumble about the fact that Apple doesn’t seem to be putting as much focus on stability as it used to, and we may moan that it is dumbing-down the platform with more iOS-like features, and we may wonder whether the Touch Bar is a gimmick rather than a serious productivity tool – but none of that is going to make more than a handful of us switch to Windows.
So Apple can contentedly watch those few stragglers head over to the dark side, confident in the knowledge that it has no shortage of takers for its shiny new models. Of course, many of us have made the point that the apparent booming sales in part reflects pent-up demand for a machine which hasn’t seen a meaningful upgrade for four years.
But that’s the point: the appeal of the platform is so great that this pent-up demand exists in the first place. And what most of us want is not any dramatic new features, but rather a more powerful version of what we already have. That’s what Apple has delivered – with a few bells & whistles thrown in in terms of form-factor and whizzy new function keys.
For my own part, I’m planning on finally dragging myself into the video age, so 4K editing will be a growing part of my usage. Regardless of whether or not the Touch Bar wins me over, I’ll be getting a fantastically-powerful machine with superfast NVMe PCIe SSD which appears to fly at video editing.
Nor am I immune to the allure of a sleek form-factor. I currently supplement my MacBook Pro with an 11-inch MacBook Air used when portability is more important than power. One possibility is that the new MBP may be sufficiently portable that I no longer need the Air; we’ll see.
So yes, I’m old school at heart. I want computers to be upgradable. But I also accept that it’s the new school that counts. And Apple seems to be giving them exactly what they’ve asked for. The rest of us, like it or not, just have to learn to live with that.