There’s nothing wrong with Apple today that can’t be solved with a bit of Howard Moskowitz.
If you are one of the five now living people who have not yet seen one of the first TED talks to break when they started being published, allow me to summarize the Malcolm Gladwell talk on spaghetti sauce:
Howard Moskowitz is a psychophysicist - an expert in what satisfies us. One of his clients is Pepsi, who is developing Diet Pepsi and demands of him to find the right level of sweetness in a small span of allowed sweetness. He does the obvious thing of making small batches of Pepsi at each interval of sweetness, but there’s no dominant, obvious perfect match. This bedevils him long past the end of the contract until he figures out that there’s not necessarily one perfect, platonic Diet Pepsi.
He sets out to broadcast this notion, at significant loss for his career. Eventually he is hired by Prego spaghetti sauce, where he tries out his theories by varying many constituent parts, and uncovering the need (and untapped market demand) for chunky spaghetti sauce, which is launched to great commercial success. With products that cater better to many different stances, customers will be happier, because they get something closer to what they desire.
The arrow of Apple, over time, is to strip down products to bare essentials. Fewer parts. Design that does not hit you over the head with how someone sweated over something. (You may think that Apple products look ostentatious, but go pick up a “gaming” oriented product and count the number of discrete surfaces, or angles, or glowing LEDs, or trackpads placed above the keyboard, and consider how much worse anodizing the whole thing rose gold really would have been.)
This is fine and good, but it also means that they want to remove as much as they can possibly remove. Make thinner as much as they possibly can make thinner. Recently, we’re seeing this desire fight actual purposefulness.
Apple has to keep around last generation’s MacBook Pro and MacBook Air for the increasing number of people who do not want to live the dongle life, or worry that keys will be put out of commission by pieces of dust. And Apple had to publicly admit defeat in having bet on the wrong, minimalistic, two-GPUs-bolted-to-the-side-of-a-cooling-core horse and remake the Mac Pro from scratch.
What I’m proposing is that it doesn’t have to be a tug of war. There is a way to solve this. It’s called introducing another product.
Slide the current Touch Bar MacBook Pro down and call it MacBook Pro Mini. (This or Pro Air. It’s not a perfect name, but they currently sell both the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro and they’re both pricey Pro desktops that differ by four years and one letter, so get off my back.) Leave it as is - allow it to get even thinner, even.
Introduce a new MacBook Pro, that is as “thick” as the previous MacBook Pro. Put MagSafe 2 on it, put Thunderbolt 3 on it, put USB-A 3.1 on it, put an SD card slot on it, put a headphone jack on it. Put its existing keyboard on it, function keys and all. Upgrade it to some variation of the butterfly mechanism if the improvements involve figuring out a way for it not to be disabled by individual specks of dust.
What about the Touch Bar? Make it a customizable option and put it above the keyboard (between it and the hinge) where it rests outside of the keyboard area.
Stuff it full of batteries. Stuff it full of discrete graphics capable of running two 5K displays. Stuff it full of 2 TB worth of SSD, 32 GB full of RAM.
Slice off some of it for the 13” version, to make it all fit. For extra credit, make a 17” version again and go nuts.
There’s nothing controversial about this. (Maybe the Touch Bar.) I know the traumas and the war stories, but this is not a return to Steve Jobs coming to Apple and finding 15 lines of Macs whose strengths he couldn’t figure out. This is the same number of Mac laptops Apple already sells today, and with significantly improved messaging. This is a single spectrum: thinner means less capable but also less power hungry, and, well, thinner. Thicker means more capable. And even the thickest model isn’t thicker than what Apple is comfortable selling today.
If you are comfortable living the dongle life and not having function keys, pick the Pro Mini. If you need the power, pick the Pro. If your needs are the computational equivalent of subsisting on water and plankton and plug nothing in ever, pick the MacBook. No labyrinthine flowcharts required. No need to axe products that already exist. Just to offer more beside them, so that those of us who care can still do our job.
Apple isn’t uncomfortable making tradeoffs, it’s uncomfortable admitting to them. Don’t keep around last year’s model - simply make more models with clear and meaningful distinctions that appeal to more people, and put the desire for optimization to good use in making fewer debilitating compomises for each of them. Don’t pretend that you can only make one.