The downside of believing in Apple

The backlash against Apple’s Mac event is entirely of their own making.

Before I explain the reason why Apple’s messaging is to blame for the anger, some context:

You can add me to the list of people who were disappointed in Apple’s recent Mac event. Not because I think the Touch Bar is a bad idea. I don’t. Doing something interesting with that area, like the Touch Bar, is far preferable to the useless and (intentionally) crippled F-buttons that are the norm on Apple’s devices.

It’s cool, and I like it enough to be curious about what it does.

I suspect many of those annoyed about the event are in my position: the fact that the Touch Bar is interesting just makes it more annoying that Apple just announced a line of computers that I can’t really use.

Therein lies the rub. Innovation is useless if it’s added to a foundation that doesn’t serve its purpose.

I’m writing this on a fairly high spec 2015 13’ Macbook Pro with 16GB of RAM and that amount of RAM wasn’t enough even on the day I bought it. Since then the memory requirements of basic web development work has only increased:

  • Most web developers now use VMs and Docker for server-side code because it’s much more reliable. It also consumes much more RAM than just using node.js on its own.
  • Browsers have, if anything, increased their memory use over the past couple of years and web developers need to run several of them at a time.
  • Some of those browser have to be run in their own VMs because they don’t run natively on the Mac.
  • Having a test environment in a VM on your machine is also much more productive than always going to your test machine (which you should also have).
  • The dominant web development IDEs are now built using browser tech (Electron/Chromium) and have much higher memory requirements than good old BBEdit. If you use TypeScript, you pretty much have to be using Visual Studio Code. If you use Flow, you pretty much have to be using Atom. Switching to a code editor with a more reasonable memory requirement means making workflow compromises.

That’s without getting into the graphics programs we use (a surprising amount of web work involves working with images). And if you’re a native app developer you have all of the above problems (VMs for testing earlier OS versions instead of browser versions) plus a need for fast compilation times.

For a developer work machine, 16GB is the uncomfortable minimum requirement. It does not cover the needs of a developer’s average workday without us making some compromises in our workflow and productivity.

Most of us, if given the choice between making compromises to our productivity and compromises to the battery life of the machines we buy, would choose a shorter battery life every time.

Those who use Windows or Linux generally have the option to make that compromise (the Dell XPS 15 is very popular for a reason). Moreover, Windows and Linux users have many more workstation options, which generally means that their laptops don’t have to be maximised for productivity. If you’re a Mac user your only workstation options are:

  • The Mac Mini (too anaemic, might as well buy a laptop)
  • The iMac (too expensive because it comes with a screen that I don’t need)
  • The Mac Pro (too expensive and too slow for the price you pay)

That’s the context. There’s reason enough to be annoyed and angry at Apple about its Mac offerings. But that isn’t the reason.

The reason

Apple has some of the best industrial designers and hardware engineers in the world. They regularly release devices that make the rest of the industry look like half-baked student projects. They regularly pull off extremely tricky and complicated hardware design innovations to implement features that shouldn’t be possible (yet) in consumer hardware.

But they can’t make a portable Mac with 32GB of RAM.

And, if you’re an illustrator or animator like my sister, they can’t make a good Mac for drawing (like Microsoft’s Surface line, for example).

Because we’ve bought into Apple’s design myth, we are forced to come to one and only one conclusion:

Apple really, really doesn’t care about its professional Mac users.

And that makes people angry. It makes app developers especially angry because they are the reason why anybody is able to use a Mac or iPhone for work.

Apple’s own apps don’t even come close to providing the features most regular workplaces rely on, let alone addressing the needs of the multitude of specialised industries that are using Apple’s platforms.

So, of course people are angry.

The only surprising thing is that they didn’t get angry sooner.