Marco Arment: Fixing the MacBook Pro

Marco Arment:

There’s a lot to like about the new MacBook Pros, but they need some changes to be truly great and up to Apple’s standards.

Here’s what I’m hoping to see in the next MacBook Pro that I believe is technically possible, reasonable, widely agreeable, and likely for Apple to actually do, in descending order of importance:

On the newer, butterfly keyswitches:

Butterfly keyswitches are a design failure that should be abandoned. They’ve been controversial, fatally unreliable, and expensive to repair since their introduction on the first 12” MacBook in early 2015. Their flaws were evident immediately, yet Apple brought them to the entire MacBook Pro lineup in late 2016.

After three significant revisions, Apple’s butterfly keyswitches remain as controversial and unreliable as ever.

No matter how you feel about the feel of the butterfly keyswitch, reliability and cost of repair are real issues. To me, butterfly or scissor design, Apple should stand by their keyboard design. If it’s true that the butterfly keyswitches are breaking far more frequently than their scissor predecessors, Apple should acknowledge this and extend warranty support for the keyboards, repair them free of charge for, say, two years.

On the placement of the arrow keys on the new keyboards:

The Magic Keyboard only needs one change to be perfect for the MacBook Pro: returning to the “inverted-T” arrow-key arrangement by making the left- and right-arrow keys half-height again. This arrangement is much more natural and less error-prone because we can align our fingers by feeling the “T” shape, a crucial affordance for such frequently used keys that are so far from the home row.


On Apple branded USB-C hubs:

Apple’s most full-featured USB-C accessory is downright punitive in its unnecessary minimalism: one USB-C passthrough, one USB-A (a.k.a. regular/old USB), and an HDMI port that doesn’t even do 4K at 60 Hz — all for the shameless price of $80.

Instead of giving us the least that we might possibly need, this type of product should give us the most that can fit within reasonable size, cost, and bandwidth constraints.

How can you argue with this?

USB-C is great, but being limited to 2 or 4 total ports (including power) simply isn’t enough. Even if you adopt the USB-C ecosystem, these MacBook Pros are more limited than their predecessors

On the Touch Bar:

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

Not sure I agree with this. As is, the Touch Bar might not be exactly right, but it is a concept that some people do find useful, even invaluable. I think of Touch Bar as more an early adopter work in process, a MacBook element that will evolve into something we all grow to love.

And on charging:

I’d like to see them bring back the charging LED on the end of the cable, and the cable-management arms on the brick. These weren’t superfluous — they served important, useful functions, and their removal made real-world usability worse for small, unnecessary gains.

Amen. I miss the charging LED, especially.

Thoughtful work from Marco, well worth the read, a terrific conversation starter.