Design for the present
It’s hard to get anyone to agree on what constitutes “pro” use, but I’d say it has three core requirements:
- Reliability: Pro gear absolutely must be dependable, even when used heavily or in demanding conditions.
- Power: Pro apps usually need more of every hardware resource than consumer apps — at least CPU power and memory, and often GPU power or I/O bandwidth — and pros will often pay high costs for high-spec machines that won’t hold them back or leave them waiting.
- Versatility: Pro gear is used in diverse environments, often with unpredictable needs. Many pros never know when they may suddenly need an obscure port or feature, or when they will unexpectedly need to keep working on battery for a few more hours, and the consequences of not handling these conditions could be expensive or very inconvenient.
The new MacBook Pro is probably great, and most of the initial skepticism probably won’t age well. But I want to pick on one aspect today.
Having four USB-C ports is awesome.
Having only four USB-C ports is going to hurt the versatility requirement of pro gear, because there’s a very real chance that you won’t have the right dongle when you need it.
This is going to happen a lot, because even though USB-C is the future, it’s definitely not the present. We’ve had the standard USB plug (USB-A) in widespread use for 18 years, and it’s going to take a few more years for USB-C to become so ubiquitous that we can get away without USB-A ports most of the time.
A pro laptop released today should definitely have USB-C ports — mostly USB-C ports, even — but it should also have at least one USB-A port.1
Including a port that’s still in extremely widespread use isn’t an admission of failure or holding onto the past — it’s making a pragmatic tradeoff for customers’ real-world needs. I worry when Apple falls on the wrong side of decisions like that, because it’s putting form (and profitability) over function.
Design for the future, but accommodate the reality of the present.
I’d also argue that removing the SD-card reader was premature. SD cards are ubiquitous on cameras (even recent high-end models), and card readers are by far the fastest and most versatile way to import a lot of photos from of a camera. A lot of other pro A/V gear uses SD cards as well, such as most audio and video recorders. Standalone card readers work well, but they’re yet one more dongle that you won’t always have with you. ↩︎