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Or words to that affect. That’s what I’m seeing on blogs and in a boatload of forum comments. Geez, people. Why is it every time Apple makes a move there’s a pile of people to step in and claim how stupid Apple is, or how they […]

Or words to that affect. That’s what I’m seeing on blogs and in a boatload of forum comments. Geez, people. Why is it every time Apple makes a move there’s a pile of people to step in and claim how stupid Apple is, or how they don’t care about their customers, etc.? As if Apple’s not nailing almost all of their decisions lately (and by “lately” I mean over the last 10 years).

Some of the complainers are downright conspiratorial in their railings against the change. And many seem to think that FireWire 400 is gone altogether, apparently unaware that it’s available on the MacBook Pro via the FireWire 800 port. Only the MacBook lost FireWire completely.

Look, I’m not unsympathetic to those MacBook users who may have come to rely on FireWire, but some of the discussion around this move is kind of silly.

The MacBook is Apple’s most popular Mac. They’ve sold a bajillion of these things (note to literalists: “bajillion” is an exaggeration for effect). I do not believe for one minute that Apple doesn’t know what features are being used by their customer base. They didn’t remove FW to anger their base, they removed it because it was used (or required) by a small enough percentage that it simply couldn’t be justified in the new design.

And for those of you saying that it probably only adds a few dollars to the cost, so what? I’ve sat in hardware meetings where we debated something that adds a few cents to the cost! Just as a simple example, let’s pretend FW would add $1 to Apple’s cost of the new MacBook. It’s their most popular Mac, so to keep the example simple let’s say they sell 5M in the next year. That’s a $5M cost! Actually, it would even be more than that since the total cost also includes expenditures in the form of supporting FW issues, drivers, patches, QA, etc. 

If you say that $5M is pocket change to Apple, I would counter that it’s only pocket change when spent wisely. If, say, 93 percent of MacBook users don’t use FW, or won’t miss it, then it’s an unnecessary expense. Apple’s $20B war chest doesn’t come only via profits. It’s as much about what they don’t spend (or, as Steve Jobs would say, when to say “no”). This includes money saved via many of these types of decisions.

Regarding the lack of a matte display on the new MacBook Pro, from the discussions I’ve seen, you’d think no one had ever used a glossy screen before. But do you really think Apple killed the matte display just to wield their mighty power? Really? They know how many of each screen type they sold on their pro models. 

I suspect matte was put on the block partially because the even brighter LED screens make glossy “glare” less of an issue. As for cost savings, it’s probably less about what the differing screen types add to the price, and more about having to deal with dual SKUs. The fewer SKUs, the better. Inventory is expensive. Especially when it’s the inventory of your flagship line. Apple may also have felt that if demand for a matte display is great enough, third parties will step in. After all, this is an omission that can be readily addressed after the fact. 

Sometimes, it’s just human nature, when confronted with a new model or version, to dwell on what’s “missing.” We admire the new stuff for five minutes, then decide what’s gone we can’t live without (floppy, anyone)? And of course Apple can make a misstep (they have before, they will again). But it remains to be seen in this case, and the idea that Apple yanked these items just because they allegedly know better, or because they’re stupid, or they don’t care, or maybe even because they just felt like it, makes no sense.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but some of the comments I’ve read are just nuts. It’s not that hard to come up with reasonable speculation as to what Apple’s motivation may have been, both fiscally and strategically. Nor is it difficult to come up with a more reasoned analysis of the loss.

  1. $5 million divided by the $1,300 is roughly 3,850. The question is, will the lack of FireWire cause the loss of 3,850 MacBook sales? I think it easily would.

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  2. to be honest.. I’m a mac addict/fanboy.. whatever you wanna call it but I reckon you’re seeing things through rose-coloured glasses. Not every decision made by Apple is a good one. I don’t wanna go into that FW issue, although I think building macs without any FW port at all is well stupid.

    What I really can’t understand is the decision to go with glossy displays. Every graphic designer/photographer I know wouldn’t want to work with a mobile mirror. And making the glossy glare less is not the solution. Why would I want a display that’s half ok at being non reflectice because of a brighter screen (power consumption?) when I can have a completely matte screen at the same time? I think they should at least have given the pro users the freedom to decide for theirselves which screen they want to get..

    Or are the creative people (designers,photographers..) who actually made apple big not so important (anymore) after all?

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  3. Galley,

    I can’t imagine there are 3,850 people who would forgo an MacBook for one outdated component. I don’t know what the fuss is about. For all the people who say they can’t edit music or video or whatever can do what other professionals do and get a serious computer that has FireWire. That’s what the MBP is for!! For pros and semi-pros who need it.

    Plus, if you NEED FireWire for the speed and whatnot so when you’re editing you have the best transfer speeds, I still have to ask why you would be doing it on such a SLOW computer? To get the speed benefits of FireWire 800, you need a 7200RPM drive but 10k is preferred. And you really need a good CPU/GPU/SPU to really edit quickly and with quality. You just can’t find that on a laptop – even the MBPs! I only know photo journalists who’s company gets them MBPs, 3G modems, and $10k worth of photo gear need that kind of stuff.

    Bottom line is this:

    Regular users – including hobbyist photo, video, & music editors – will not miss this part. Professionals who need this for their jobs won’t be looking at the MB, anyway. They’ll be getting MBPs and Mac Pros. And considering Apple – like their investors and competitors track sales in millions of units not thousands of units, Apple won’t blink an eye to those 3,850 people.

    Apple did the right thing.

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  4. Re: Glossy – It’s a big bonus for Apple in battery sales. Can’t see what you’re working on? Turn up the brightness. Battery not lasting long because you have to turn up the brightness? Purchase a spare battery! Genius!

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  5. Charles Moore Friday, October 17, 2008

    Hmmmm. I don’t think the loss of FireWire is as trivial as you contend. I’ve been holding off buying my next laptop upgrade in anticipation of the new MacBooks, but the lack of FireWire may be a deal-breaker for me. I still have a couple of FireWire scanners and a FireWire hard drive I like and depend on. I have a 500 GB USB 2 drive that I use for Time Machine, but booting from a USB 2 device, while I understand it’s technically possible, is not the slick, dependable proposition it is with FireWire. Then there’s FireWire Target Disk Mode.

    As for Apple’s reasons for dropping the matte display, I’ve never been able to decide whether I prefer matte or glossy screens – both have their merits, but I suspect that in the case of these new notebooks it was function following form again resther than money-saving or logistics – the “under glass” design pretty much obligates glossy screens.

    CM

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  6. I have said previously that the current glossy screen is ok in daylight, I know I have used it many times. Its not perfect but these new screens will be brighter and that should cure the issues for short term outdoor usage, which is in main what laptops will be used for. Sorry if you use it outdoors all the time but your in the minority, deal with it.

    As for Firewire, I do think that is a glaring mistake. It shows that the company pressed ahead without fully checking this out with its userbase. There must be a hell of a lot of people out there with kit that isnt that old and are now locked out of a new purchase, or at least they have to spend a ridiculous amount more to go higher up the spec chain, probably negating the original cost of new equipment in many cases.

    Sure new HD cameras might come with USB but it is not Apples place to force everyone to purchase new kit. This is not the PC world where an upgrade card can be slipped in to rememdy the issue, this is the Apple laptop world where basically you get what you originally purchased with few upgrade routes. This, was a mistake.

    Will they survive it, of course they will. But its going to leave a bad taste, enough bad moments and you slip from love to hate, ask Microsoft, its been down that road already!

    Now ultimately I dont care myself I dont plan on getting one of these anyway and my current kit has firewire that I havent needed to use because I chose USB anyway. Firewire has been a dwindling technology, that for me was apparent even when the last macbooks came out. Yet we are not all that tech savvy and apple was all about making things simpler, well they just made things a lot harder. For the tech savvy with kit that wont work and even for grandpa with his camcorder. Again, not a good move!

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  7. My article didn’t even touch on what you’d lose if you got FireWire. People act as if you’d lose nothing, but it appears the case size wouldn’t even hold it now. So maybe we don’t get the half-pound weight loss. Or maybe we don’t gain the backlit keyboard or maybe the graphics. The cost of FireWire would have compromised something else. And with a computer of this type it’s all about compromise.

    I’d wager the backlit keyboard will bring more people in (because they’re getting a “pro” machine at $400 less than before) than FW. Most MB users don’t know what FW is or what it’s used for, but everyone understands the purpose of a backlit keyboard. So even if Apple lost a few thousand buyers for the lack of FW they’re just as likely to gain more because of all the new features they brought in.

    As for glossy screens, I love ‘em. I can always reposition it slightly for glare if I need to, but there’s nothing I can do a matte screen to make it look less lifeless, dull, and boring. And I do think third partys can step in here if necessary anyway. Anti-glare covers for screens are nothing new.

    Having said all that, I certainly understand those with differing opinions on this. My article did NOT state that Apple could not make a bad decision. It said that the decision made is nowhere near as obvious or conspiratorial as some want to make it out to be.

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  8. Dropping Firewire completely from the Macbook is a pretty cynical marketing move by Apple IMO, making anyone who needs it a “pro” user, forced to pay premium for a MBP when a MB would have done fine.

    There will be a lot of angry film students over this I’ll bet – they will probably now look for old MB’s as a cheap FCP cutting machine – or maybe they’ll use Avid MC on a cheap PC.

    And if you want a MBP with a matte display (like me) the old-style 17″ is the only option.

    Sadly Apple appear to be ignoring the needs of the pro market more and more, cost cutting and short-term profit seem to be the driving force

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  9. David Barwick Friday, October 17, 2008

    Great article, really well written and reasoned.

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  10. I see two big issues: (1) the loss of target disk mode for troubleshooting and support and (2) the need to figure out *which* MacBook someone has to decide if they can use a certain camcorder, scanner, drive, etc. It’s getting harder for those of us that support Macs.

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