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No FireWire? No Matte Display? Aaahhh! I’m Trashing Everything and Getting a Dell!

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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 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.

41 Responses to “No FireWire? No Matte Display? Aaahhh! I’m Trashing Everything and Getting a Dell!”

  1. leroy laush

    I went to the apple store w/ cash in hand, no firewire, no sale.
    I have thousands of $ invested in firewire peripherals, and the Macbook pro is not worth $700 for a fire wire port, and I don’t like the bigger model.

  2. There are some really condescending views in these comments.

    Firewire isn’t just about FCP and drives you know. It’s also about music.

    Now I’m going to admit that I’m an amateur musician, not a professional and I need Firewire. I need it so that I can run a low latency multi-channel audio interface. USB2 is just not able to run these with any level of reliability.

    When I switched from a PC I didn’t have any Firewire peripherals but I bought my audio interface (a piece of kit aimed at amateurs not professionals) because USB couldn’t cut it and there’s no express card slot on the MacBook. All the reviews of USB sound cards I’ve read have pointed out there limited spec and poor reliability related to USB’s through put problems.

    We’ve all got to start somewhere and I’d like to know where those who look down on our “tedious” home videos and music expect us to start if not with the laptop we already saved up for. You shouldn’t have be a jobbing professional to use Garage Band, surely.

  3. I’m one that will feel the absence of FireWire. I have many devices that I bought specifically to work on FireWire and some only on FIreWire.

    But if you think back to a statistic that Apple has been repeating: “over 50% are first time Mac buyers”, it makes some sense. They are not making the MacBook for people like me. A huge percentage of these 50% are not nearly as familiar with FireWire as long time Mac users are.

    It seems that their research that supports the move . . . but I’m still pissed. I could have lived with the performance of a MacBook, but now I’ll have to either buy an older MacBook. Or a MacBook Pro . . . and that will be a harder sell.

  4. If the FireWire was left in and one of the USBs were taken out to accommodate it (which would be 100% necessary even though it’s rarely mentioned), all we would be hearing is people crying about the “horrible mistake” Apple made by only putting in one USB port like the Air.

    Blogs would be full of “professionals” who swear that no *real* pros uses FireWire anymore and why did they leave that stupid FireWire port when a second USB is what people *really* want.

    It seems to me that Apple made a regrettable, but rational decision and I have yet to hear anyone with a really rational argument from the group that disagrees. It’s all just some variation on “I’m a Pro (even though they don’t use Pro equipment), and I need it.”

    It’s patently obvious that more people will have use for the second USB than those that will miss the FireWire since almost all peripherals are USB. So Apple should have decided to screw a much larger group of folks, so this much smaller group would be happy? This makes sense to anyone?

  5. @ Tom Reestman

    Apple say the Final Cut Studio suite is not supported on the Macbook, but they are being rather disingenuous. Final Cut Pro performs fine as it doesn’t use the GPU extensively.


    Motion and Color are very slow as the do use the GPU, but for mobile editing, FCP is the only application needed, along with a Firewire port.

    Apple increasingly marketing and finance department driven product engineering is upetting more & more of their users, we’ll see how their sales & shares do…

  6. Mo,

    First, let me just say I’m happy to have someone here who’s read my blog. :-)

    Your question “do users need Firewire or not?” is one I cannot answer. I tried to say as much in the final paragraph of my post.

    Personally, I still required FW when I bought an iMac in August, 2007. When I bought a MacBook for my daughter in January of this year it did NOT need FW, but it came with it anyway. I’m getting one of the new MacBooks for myself and it doesn’t need FW either.

    My camcorder from 2001 is FW only (hence the need for it on the iMac), but will be retired long before that machine. My next camcorder will not use FW, and any external drives I’ve used have USB or USB/FW interfaces.

  7. But Tom, on your blog, within the last 12 months you argued that Firewire is important, and that USB alone isn’t enough?

    So which one is it – do users need Firewire or not?

  8. mike sanders

    floppy anyone? priceless but i’m afraid some of the commenters here have never heard of a floppy. apple is one of the few manufacturers that do listen to their customers and their success proves that. I have been a macista since 1988, I’m 70 years old and still an evangelist for a product, a company and a man that i admire greatly.
    My entire family all over the world are linked by ichat, my grandchildren love it and macs are very much part of our lives. As a golfer I make lots of mistakes if I didn’t somebody would be paying me to play.
    Have faith ye unbelievers. GO AAPL

  9. Oh Blah Dee Blah Dah

    RE: “… Regarding the lack of a matte display on the new MacBook Pro …”

    Simply place a sheet of ShieldZone on the glossy display, and the display will be scratch protected and MATTE.

  10. Obliquestra (and others),

    Assuming you’d use FCP on the new 2.4GHz MB, then the move to a pro is $400.

    Surely the move to another platform will be more than that? It isn’t just the hardware cost, but also the commitment in software purchases (Adobe Premiere or Avid) and the time necessary to re-tool your workflow, etc. It’s not anywhere near as simple as a matter of a few hundred dollars, and it weakens the case being made by implying that it is. A professional would know as much.

    It’s also hard to take the “pros” using FCP on a current (i.e., plastic) MacBook seriously when the FCP tech specs didn’t list it as a supported platform (due to the graphics). Sure, you can do it, and I don’t doubt some people do, but, again, a real “pro” would better match the hardware to the software. And, yes, that can be done even on a budget.

    That said, the case being made for a “real” pro who’d want the smaller and lighter MB for field work (and using a desktop machine or similar at home or studio) is understandable. But by the definition the MB was NEVER that machine. A few days ago it didn’t qualify due to graphics, and today it’s not qualified due to the lack of FireWire.

  11. The loss of Firewire is a big deal to musicians like me. The best low-latency pro audio interfaces are Firewire, and the smaller size of the MacBooks makes a difference when you’re hauling gear for a gig. I currently use my MacBook Pro 15″, but I wanted a second, music-only laptop for production and live sets… Now, not so much. I guess I’m sticking with my 1.5 year old MacBook Pro.

    As for the multiple Firewire interfaces on the older version MacBook Pros — yeah, you got a Firewire 400 port and a Firewire 800 port, but they share the same single Firewire bus. So you weren’t really getting any performance3 advantage using both at once. Using both at the same time, the speed of the Firewire 800 port goes down to Firewire 400 speeds anyway.

  12. Obliquestra

    This is an Apple misstep. My FireWire 800 & 400 ports are both hogged up by high-bandwidth data about 10 hours a day. I am not 100% certain that putting FireWire 400 and 800 devices on the same port will cause glitches, but I just don’t know. So, my mobile kit will not be upgraded. (For the record… my current MBP works GREAT. I *WANT* a new laptop, I don’t *NEED* a new laptop.) Aside form this lost sale, this will have additional consequences. This will prevent me from upgrading to the next OS, because I can’t compromise my stable system. Furthermore, my long term platform commitments have to be re-evaluated. If Apple loses me as a professional customer — and I don’t know that they have! — will they also lose my personal system purchases? Will I continue to recommend Apple products to my family? My friends? I don’t know yet. My income comes before my platform choice. PERIOD. And Apple has acted in a way that is forcing me to reconsider my long term commitments to the platform.

    I can’t be alone in this line of thinking.

  13. @ Burai

    Maybe true for an individual who only has one machine, but most pro’s I now have many, used for different purposes – the Macbook was a good light wieght low cost laptop that was fine for doing most things – it would run FCP nicely.

    For many, processor speed and GPU capability are not as important as weight and ease of connectivity to the outside world

    More and more Apple seem to be trying to force users to work in ways that they dictate, perhaps due to their partnerships with other corporations. I’m sure Intel are happy to see the decline of Firewire, and the iPhone’s connectivity is restricted due to Apple’s contracts with mobile phone providers.

    Apple’s engineering used to be the best in the world, now they proudly tote the Dilbert-esque doublethink of “standards that don’t even exist yet”

    I don’t see any compelling reason to upgrade my 15″ C2D MBP to the new design, hopefully the next version will be better! Things I’d like to see:

    15″ 1680 x 1050 screen resolution
    Display connector that doesn’t require that adaptor you can’t find right now (HDMI?)
    2 Firewire ports or 1 FW & 1 eSATA
    Quad core CPU option
    dual hard drive bays

  14. Actually — you can boot from USB SuperDuper! backups — as long as you’re on an Intel Mac, and the backup drive is properly partitioned (as GUID).

    The comments in the SuperDuper! User’s Guide and on the Shirt Pocket site explicitly indicate that the limitation is with Power PC-based Macs, which can’t start up from USB drives in OS X. This has more to do with Open Firmware and its interaction with OS X than anything else.

    So, while I’m disappointed by the missing FireWire port on the new MacBook, bootable backups to USB drives are both possible and encouraged.

  15. I can’t believe that people are even suggesting that a pro would even think twice about buying a Macbook over a Macbook Pro. For someone that actually works in the fields that absolutely NEED firewire, a) the cost difference between an MB and an MBP is nothing to a professional photographer or film maker and b) why would anyone who needs the speed of firewire for massive high definition images and videos be attempting to work on a 1280 x 800 screen in the first place?

    I understand that some of you are upset that the latest Macbooks won’t let you upload your tedious holiday photos at the highest speed or that the super-critical hi-def video of your daughter’s birthday party will take a few more minutes to get onto your hard drive.

    In the Mac community you read so much talk from so many self-professed “pros” that just boggles the mind. So many hobbyists have convinced themselves that they are Apple’s professional audience and that their whims need to be adhered to whilst somehow keeping prices down.

    One minute you whine that you can’t edit HD video, the next that you can’t run games. What did you buy your Mac for? Work or play? If it’s work, a Macbook Pro will pay for itself. If it’s play, then perhaps take a step back to understand how utterly ridiculous you sound.

    The new Macbook is easily the greatest consumer notebook that Apple have ever produced. There’s far more grunt than any casual image and video editor will ever need, it’s the first consumer notebook that can sensibly play games and it’s got a level of *critical* expansion (ie, RAM and HDD) that goes far beyond it’s predecessor.

    The death of Firewire in Apple’s consumer line will be felt the same as every other Apple “disaster” in the last 10 years – 18 months from now you’ll wonder why you were ever worried in the first place.

  16. I think the reason that FW was removed was to increase the difference between the MB and MBP. If you noticed that with the last revisions, the MB and MBP got probably too close to each other specification wise, and therefore the MB probably took a lot more sales from the MBP than Apple would have liked. With this new revision, the MB is even closer in spec to the MBP, with backlit keyboard, same aluminium case, and a new nVidia GFX GPU which apparently kicks the GMA’s ass. Removal of FW was probably the easiest action that Apple could take to increase the gap a little.

    BTW – Loss of Target Disk Mode = “big bag of hurt” :)

  17. Speaking for all who maintain SuperDuper clone backups, you can’t boot from a USB external. Sure “uncle Steve” thinks Time Machine is the bee’s knees, but there’s more than a few comments “out there” that Time Machine is less than an ideal backup strategy; particularly considering that any 2nd drive or external drive that is kept connected all the time will also be lost with any computer in case of theft, fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, etc.

    Until there’s another way to maintain multiple clones, one always at a remote location, I’m simply not interested in any Mac without firewire.

  18. ShavenYak

    If FireWire was left off the $1299 MacBook because of cost, how is it that Dell can put it on an $800 Inspiron with pretty much the same specs? Last time I looked at the two companies’ balance sheets, it wasn’t Apple that looked like it needed to be miserly.

    I don’t have such a big problem with the glossy screen, but the comments from Apple that brightness can make up for it are ridiculous. You can’t make up for a reflective screen with brightness if parts of the screen are supposed to be black, like they would be if your users were doing something crazy like… watching a VIDEO!

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. Charles Moore

    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.


  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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?