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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. I disagree that “Pro’s” would not flinch at paying a higher price for a MacBook Pro. The term Professional usually means “engaging in a specified activity as one’s main profession rather than a past-time. That does not mean they are always paid well (for example in the case of many “professional” musicians or photographers who are doing it on their own). Their requirements may be high end but they do not always have the means to do so. However I would gladly pay a premium for a 12″ MacBook Pro or a MacBook with a firewire option.

    My favorite Mac line up was the iBooks and the PowerBook 12,” 15,” and “17” – it was very clear to the customer the difference between the two lines, and there was a reasonable transition in price points from the top of the line iBook and the PowerBook 12.”

    While i understand Apple’s omission (I agree that white/blk MacBooks were too close in feature sets to the previous MacBook Pros shipping at the same time which could have cannibalized their higher end sales), however I think they missed a critical product offering. In revamping their lineup to differentiate the two lap top lines they neglected to introduce a mid range product that briges the two. The MacBook Airs fit that middle range price point but offer little in terms of filling voids between the MBP and MB lines. There are two things Apple could have done to alleviate the sting for many prospective Mac customers
    1) Added a ExpressCard port to the MacBooks to address some of the omissions such as firewire. While adding the slot would have added to the cost, it would have given MacBook purchasers some piece of mind and the option to add firewire if required. I bet however it would have cost a lot more to add a slot than to just add firewire. So this might not have been practical.
    2) To preserve form factor they could have offer an optional MacBook with one USB and one firewire port. This would have been a lot less painful, in that there are many low cost portable hubs available which makes the reduction in ports less of an issue. They could have perhaps offered this as a build-to-order option from the Apple Store.
    3) My favorite option would be if Apple introduced a 12 or 13 inch MacBook Pro. This would be priced right where the MacBook Air sits $1499-1799 but include all the key features of the Pro line.

    I’m also noticing that although Apple has standardized on Intel based technologies, they are a lot slower than the industry in keeping pace in refreshes on competitive system configurations. Most PC laptops for less money (say $600 to 1000) offer 4GB RAM with option to upgradable to 8GB, and 250GB-300GB – and some priced the higher end of that range are offering BlueRay readers/DVDburners. We are used to paying slightly higher premiums for Mac products but with all their cost cutting they are still keeping their products at the same price points but offering much less – making the premiums less merited. For example Apple used include a number of Video adapters (DVI and Analog) with the PowerBooks and also used to include Apple Remote controls. Now they don’t even include the remotes on the more expensive Pro line and everyone has to buy video adapters to support their new video ports. We used to feel somewhat rewarded for paying the premium for Apple products, other than enviro-friendly unibody construction I there is less of a reward currently. I don’t think Apple would ever come out with a sub-$800 laptop to compete with cheaper PCs but if we are going to pay higher premiums then I would hope to feel a bit more rewarded especially in light of the current economy (more standard RAM, blueray/dvd burner, bigger hard drives, include a DVI adapter, etc)

    I have a number of professional audio products (each costing above $1000) which require firewire. I love my PowerBook 12″ it was just the right size but had a nice feature set that fit my needs. I was looking to upgrade but now my only option is the 15MBP which is fine except that 1) it is a much steeper jump than I was hoping to pay so it stings a little more 2) I would prefer the smaller footprint and weight of a 12 or 13″ laptop. Personally I feel the MacBook Air is niche product which is wasting that valuable mid-range product space Apple is missing in a time. A new lower cost, smaller MacBook Pro or a higher priced MacBook would have filled things in nicely and given customers less of a hard compromise.

  2. I going to said this as a non professional MBP user, im glad i buy the old model, what ever apple wants to trow at me to convinced me that this is a good change on the new MBP its not going to stop me from hating the PC look and feel on the new stuff.

    One of the reasons i moved to Mac was the elegant and profesional feel in on the mate screen and the hole different world that is the MBP from a PC, now it seems to me that Apple its miking money for an expencieve PC lookalike lap top.

  3. @dmod

    Sorry, you are wrong. Booting from USB has been supported since the first Intel Mac. I was a Mac Genius then and I have done it hundreds of times since. You simply need to partition your drive using the GUID partition scheme, rather than the (very)old Apple Partition scheme. It’s one extra step in Disk Utility when you set up your drive, and it will wipe the drive (but if the drive is a cloned backup then this is minor) but it typically takes 20 seconds. really, 20 seconds. This has been noted and discussed ad-nauseum on the Internet for 2 years now. If you need a solution, take the initiative to look for it. Because we are used to a certain way of doing things does not obviate the need for us to grow and learn with the times. Citation from Apple

    Having said that, I will miss Target Disk Mode. I will have to pull some drives out of their old FW enclosures and put them into USB enclosures, but I can usually find reliable ones on for less than $20. I would be happy to make that trade for the new macbook over my first gen, but my next Apple portable will have the 15inch screen I have been wanting and denying myself for the last 7 years.

    Incidentally, my 2 year old 2.0Ghz CoreDuo first gen black macbook is still more than capable for most tasks I do, so I don’t have to upgrade anyway. What a novel idea!


  4. mark3009


    I am lucky enough to still be using my current MB 2.4 with its firewire intact. However my kid is not so happy as the hand-me-down she thought was getting very soon won’t happen for a while now. I use Pro-Tools with a digidesign FW audio box and I capture live video from a Canon XL1 into Final Cut Pro to the MB 2.4 and Windows…..never gonna happen ;-)

    Thanks for the response!

  5. Mark3009,

    So what will you do? I mean that seriously.

    – If you buy nothing then you will still not have the “shiny one”, and yet presumably your current machine is not up to the task or you wouldn’t be looking to buy a new one in the first place.

    – What about a refurb? The top-end Black MacBook of only nine days ago was $1,499 and is now available for $1,099. Will you get that (though I realize it’s not the shiny one either)? It’s a heck of a deal.

    – Or maybe a refurb or clearance sale MacBook Pro? A little more than $1,299 but a better machine overall, and in an aluminum case as well. Though it’s bigger and heavier.

    – Get a Dell (or HP, Acer, etc.)? Heck, you might even spend a little less, but then what software will you use? Adobe Premiere Elements? Adobe Photoshop Elements? Nice software but there’s another $150 or more right there. And of course there’s the headaches of Windows.

    I am really (and sincerely) curious as to what your next step will be.

  6. mark3009

    Most of those who have rightly complained that the new MacBook is missing the firewire port must have at least had it in mind to acquire a new MacBook either soon or sometime in the future. Everyone of those will not now buy the new machine, including myself for this reason. I have too much cash invested in Firewire peripheral. That’s my bottom line, and I think this may well prove to affect Apple’s bottom line too. The argument that the Pro machine has FW does not hold water in this context. It is the Macbook we want for whatever our reason. Yes the white macbook is still out there with a firewire port, but we want the new shiny one – or we would stop complaining and buy it.

    This IMHO is the worst decisions that Apple have probably ever made regarding a product refresh – or maybe the 2001 G4/400 with no audio input.

    It has certainly cost them £1,149.00 of my british pounds today.