Apple Byte Extra Crunchy
Is the New MacBook Pro's Touch Bar revolutionary?Bonus content! We talk to CNET's Dan Ackerman, the author of CNET's full review of the new MacBook Pro.
[MUSIC] All right, we are here with our editor extraordinaire, Dan Ackerman, who covers basically all things Mac, all things laptop across the industry. And, also, the author of The Tetris Effect. Mr. Dan Ackerman, thanks for coming in. Great to be here. That plug for your book was deliberate and we'll talk about that a little later. But, what everyone wants to talk about really is The new MacBook Pros with the touch bars and I guess also without you've had a chance to spend extensive time on it and we really wanna just get your in-depth feel, review, what is the overall take on these guys first of all I mean these are brand new MacBook Pros. You know, they may look very similar to the ones they're replacing, but when we first got our exclusive early hands on access to them, several days before they were actually announced, the thing that struck me the most When they first pulled the little cloth off them at Apple's Cupertino headquarters was that they were much more different than I had expected. Literally everything about them is different. The actual size of them, the keyboard is different, the screen is a little bit different, the touchpad is very different, the connections are different. And obviously the fact that you can get this touchbar is different. And the components are different Is it different for good, or you been with it now, again your first impression, are these differences better or does it take a step back, or maybe in different areas they work to it's advantages and disadvantage? In general, it's a pretty sizable step forward, if it part because the Mac Book Pro line hasn't really had a serious redesign in about four years. So bringing them up to modern standards does feel like a big jump, now there are a couple of areas where it's awesome. The touch bar's really cool, the giant track pad, the pads on them are twice as big as they were on the previous models, that's awesome. Screen's brighter, obviously thinner, lighter, those are all pluses. There are a couple of changes that you may have more mixed feelings about, the primary one, of course, being they got rid of Every port except for these USB type C ports, which are now for power, for everything. So no more MagSafe even. You have to just use USB C for that. They did keep the headphone jack, that survived this round of cuts. [LAUGH] We'll see what happens next time. So Apple doesn't hate headphone jacks in everything, just in the phones. And the other thing that's a little more subtle is they changed the keyboard. It's much closer to the very flat keyboard on the 12 inch Mac Book, they call that a butterfly style mechanism because that's how the keys go down. There's like a butterfly underneath them. People that are listening and can't see you, I'm just gonna pretend that his hands moved in a butterfly like. Like a butterfly, there you go. Butterflies in the sky. [LAUGH] It's not quite as flat as the one on the 12" Mac Book but it takes some getting used to. And frankly, if you're an all day everyday typist you may never love it. So Dan, I wanna kinda break down some of those individual things you talked about because there is really a lot to talk about, the touchbar. When I first saw it I was like, I think I'll use it for something, not for everything. And I really don't know How people are going to use it, you are no matter what going to be forced to use it because it has some of those main general functions like volume and brightness on it just from a day-to-day thing, but what was really your overall take on the touch bar? Yeah, I'll show it to you real fast right here, I've got the 15 inch right here, and here's the touch bar, and you can see it right above the keyboard, so it's sort of like a, in this egg case it's monochromatic so it doesn't really jump out at you, it replaces the function keys, And frankly, the function keys were replaced many, many years ago and made brightness, and contrast, and muting, and reloading, and things like that, rather than what they were originally for which was basically some Terminal commands that nobody uses them for. So why would we keep these old keys labeled F1, F2, when that doesn't even mean anything? So I get that, by default, it does a lot of the same things. You can tap on the volume button and the brightness button and things like that. You don't get that tactile feedback you get from clicking a button, so it's more of a look then a do it by feel, at least until maybe you memorize exactly where on the keyboard it is. But the thing that it does really nicely is, it adapts To what you're doing. So if you launch Safari, you get a different set of buttons on there. If you launch iTunes, or Photos, or Messages, or any other Apple app, you get a different set of buttons. Right now it's Apple apps, later Photoshop will come and other apps for now its all Apple stuff, so if we dont use those its not going to be as useful, but I do like how it adapts like, if im in Safari and i have a bunch of tabs open it shows me little tiny thumbnails all the tabs and I can just tap on them to switch between them instead of mousing up and clicking on the tabs in the browser on my screen Did you find it made, overall, did it make the experience more efficient, less efficient or sometimes better, sometimes not helpful? What did you find out? I think you've nailed it exactly right. Right there. It's about efficiency. It's not gonna knock your socks off and change your life. It shaves a couple of keystrokes off here and there, and frankly, that actually counts for a lot sometimes. Like if you wanna open, if you wanna go to the address bar in Safari, what do you hit? Command L, and then you type it in. Here on the touchbar, you just tap the touchbar, and then you're right in the address bar. So you went from two taps to one. That may not sound like a lot, but I started doing that immediately and I never looked back. Okay. Distinctively, you pick up a couple of this little shortcuts and you go now that's awesome, and then you're just doing it like that. And that's kind of what we've seen in the past from Apple, right. It's really, that's why I was curious about your experience. It's coming down to changing your behavior and is the experience good enough to change your behavior and from what you're telling me, it is I think anytime you give somebody a set of keyboard commands, or a set of mouse clicks, and you can find a way to shave a couple off that, you're gonna naturally your brain will gravitate towards the easier way to do it. And there's some fun stuff too, like in messages Which everybody uses cuz it ties into the messages on your phone. There's just a big control strip of emojis. I know you like that- [CROSSTALK] I know you like the emojis. I like that. Dan Jr. likes that, cuz he sends me dozens or hundreds of freakin' emojis every day On his mother's phone he's like I send daddy emojis. [LAUGH] You never get anything done cuz they just keep popping up in my screen. No words just emojis. That sounds like all of our lives quite honestly, whether you have children or not. [LAUGH] It's our favorite form of non-verbal communication, now better than ever. Also, the trackpad, you seem to point that out specifically because of its larger size. How did that make you deem the MacBook Pro better for you Or were there any drawbacks, as well? I'd like to hear both sides of the coin. Yeah, according to Apple, at least, what they want you to do is, rather than having a touchscreen on the screen itself where your hand could cover it up and get in the way. That's how they feel Windows touchscreen laptops work. Your hand is always in the way. They have the touchbar on top, and they have the big touchpad below it. And they envision you sort of combining those two. To form sort of a secondary screen experience that's not a touch screen but is kind of close. Because that's what this really is, it's a whole second display built into your laptop, it's just a really skinny one. I will say it's an OLED display which is that kind of screen we find in the highest end tv so it looks pretty awesome. Does the actual OLED touch bar quality wise, actually look better than the actual screen? Does it shine bright? What do you think? It's bright, when it has colors on it the colors really pop. It doesn't do Do enough graphically for you to really say, I'd watch a movie on this if it was a little bit bigger. [LAUGH] But the screen itself is perfectly fine. It's the same resolution as the previous Macbook Pro which is the Retina higher res. It's not quite 4K but better than full HD. However, it's, Apple says it's 25% brighter. And it is definitely brighter. And they say it has a wider color range That's again playing catch up because so many Windows, high end Windows computers are now adding higher resolution screens, up to 4K and a lot of them are doing P3 color and SRBG and these wider color gamuts. So in some sense it's catch up but in another sense it's the Mac Book is so predominate especially in the creative industries. It's almost like the entry isn't really there until Apple does it. You hit upon two things and I wanted to follow up with that. You touched upon the touchscreen. What is your take? We know what Apple says, and what Apple wants to do. You've been around Surface devices from the beginning. Do you wish Apple actually incorporate some of this? And I know it requires them to actually have a different OS to support this. But does it still feel like they're a little behind, or it's okay? It's a weird philosophical question, and you're exactly right when you say does MacOS need a touchscreen as it is, or do they need a new operation system that is A touchscreen one. I feel on a Windows computer, it kinda do need a touchscreen, at least to get a really good, smooth experience. But is that because we've trained ourselves to be touch people with phones and tables and other devices, or we just naturally want to touch everything Or is it because Windows is just so naturally clunky, especially in Windows 8 which we just replaced, that you just needed that touch screen to just swipe stuff in easily without going through all the different Windows menus? That's an interesting philosophical question. I'm not sure we have an answer to it. Apple says they don't see combining the touch screen stuff, the phones and the tablets, with the computer stuff. Anytime in the near to medium future, which I think they call it as 10, 15, 20 years. For them, at least for now, those are resolutely separate. This is, however, one way of adding touch screen to a laptop without making it a touch screen laptop. Well, what do you think, personally? Because look, you have kids, right? I have nieces and nephews They touched everything, it's like ingrained in just how we're interacting with anything would that screen. So, I'm just curious what do you think personally like do you want to see something like that or is it important or is it not important? I mean, that's exactly right. It is about they are saying, it's all about the children which is completely true. Every little kid I know they see a Mac Book they run up and they start touching the screen right away. I occasionally find myself just going yeah just go around this, that doesn't work. Exactly. Dinosaurs like myself, we can still handle a non touch computer, but once my generation has passed from the Earth, the young people will demand touch in everything, and they won't be wrong. They'll be too busy talking in emojis only, no actual language, so we won't be able to understand them but they will demand [UNKNOWN] in some picture, pictogram form. Yeah, again, we'll see how it plays out. And it is really a philosophical thing. And I think Even our viewers and listeners, and tech fans, some lean on one side versus the other as well. You hear a lot of people lean towards just give me a Mac touchscreen. I mean, I feel that way because I only can imagine if you give me this Windows experience, but with a Mac flavor, that man, that would just be amazing. But, well we'll see how that happens. You also touched upon Creatives. And this is one of those debates that initially came out, the MacBook Pro, is it really more for a consumer? We know creatives will still stick with the Mac platform for now but a lot of creatives were bemoaning the lack of the ports now. We gotta go dongle, we got to go full dongle now, where it may not necessarily be the most powerful. Raw power, machine. The solid state drives are extremely fast. But, as a creative, could this be a point where they're actually at least considering transitioning to a different platform? Not yet doing it, but seriously considering it, based on what they've seen Well, you're right Brian, you never go full dongle. [LAUGH] Everybody knows, never go full dongle. Never, never. You always hear complaints about every new Mac line or Mac product, especially from the creative people who make up such a huge chunk of that audience. And you know what, they're the ones paying these very high prices for these devices, so you know, you should definitely listen to what they have to say. That said, I had an artist in here the other day demoing some other hardware. And he said this Windows thing I'm trying out, this is really cool but I've been so invested in the Mac ecosystem for ten plus years. I'm not going to switch just because it has a cool feature that this doesn't have. It's more of a holistic approach. I don't think they're going to lose those guys in the near future. The USBC is annoying but I rarely find myself plugging anything into a laptop anymore. They did lower the price on those models. It's not, huge, but. But Dan And they want you to plug into these special USBC connected monitors from LG that are very expensive. I'll give them credit for one things, it's not proprietary. USBC is something you see in a lot of new high end Windows laptops as well. At least they didn't go some weird proprietary plug that only they can make. Okay another practical question. We know that the iPhone can sync wirelessly to your computer, but is it just curious that you can't physically, unless you have a dongle, connect your phone to your actual laptop? I know people still do that, not everyone, but there's still a good amount of people that just do that. That listen, that's true and I think I have a lightning to USB dongle sitting around somewhere. Maybe those will become more commonplace. I personally don't do the phone to computer connections, it just doesn't add anything for me and iTunes just gets all weird as it does for everyone. Yeah people are going to complain about this for a long time and people are going to complain about not having a headphone jack in the iPhone 7 for a long time. Maybe they'll retrench. Maybe they'll add a regular USB back. But that USB type A that everybody uses, it was a great invention 20 years ago, I think it's literally just about at its 20th anniversary, I asked, last year for cnet magazine, I wrote a story about USB C and its evolution and I asked AJ Bhatt From an intel, who is one of the inventors of the USB stack 20 years ago, I said when you take that plug and you plug it in, what is your live time percentage, Mr. Inventor of USB, on plugging that plug in the right way and not having to go I gotta turn it over, and go like this. And he said to me In all earnestly she said well I guess about 50% and I said that can not be true. I have a zero percent life time batting average of this, therefore no one even gets close to 50% there's something about it, every time it just goes the wrong way. God bless USBC there is no wrong way. There is no wrong way with USBC so overall how do you view this laptop, we know that the reviews are out now, what's your kind of closing statement about it, who's it for and who will it appeal to. I mean they're awesome laptops, their definitely a big step forward in terms of design, in terms of power. The touch bar is very cool, it's a want, it's not a have, I think a lot of people were gonna go for this guy have right here in my hand. The 13 inch Apple. The 13 inch model without the touchbar so it's still got the traditional function key row and that is the level model in a sense. That is 1499 which is still kinda expensive. It's basically the previous entry level 13 inch Pro with double the hard drive storage, so that's why it's 14.99 and if you want that touch-bar then that jumps up to 17.99 which is bonkers for a 13'' laptop. but you know waw, and this 15'' guy This is awesome, don't get me wrong. It's got, every 15 inch now has discrete AMD graphics in it, it's got that huge screen, again they all have the touch bar. They all had quad core 610 Intel Core I processors. So you know, awesome stuff all around. That 15 inch starts at $2399! See, and I know you're saying this, and you know what Is competitive from a price point in the landscape of the market. You personally, are you able to comment on, would you actually, whether you're in the market to upgrade or not, would you personally buy this Mac Book right now or is the price a little like, eh? You know, the thing that really makes people invest more in these MacBooks, and I totally understand this, is if I buy this aluminum, unibody, $1500 MacBook I could actually get away with using it for five years and it will pretty much work. It's tough to say that about Even other brand premium laptops, that you're gonna be able to use it as your work machine for five or more years, so I, so I understand that. Especially because, if you need it serviced, the Apple Store, you know what They do a pretty good job, especially if you have Apple Care, they're not gonna leave you totally in the lurch, I've had very good experiences there just walking in cold. When you have a premium laptop from another company you may pay several hundred dollars less for, go back in three years and try and get them to service it, and they're like, we don't even make these any more, what is that? [LAUGH] Now you know what, I think that's a great point, that people don't think about, just the longevity of the machine sometimes, cuz Also, some people are in that brain, that mind space, they're like I'll just buy it for a year or two, and then I'll sell it on Ebay when the next one comes out, right? We're around that quote unquote tech person, is kind of like that, But not everyone is like that, right. This is a machine that they want three, four, five years, so that's a great point. Also one thing that stuck out when I saw the new MacBook Pros. I honestly when we watched the keynote we couldn't really tell, but they're really thin. Compared to, they just look so much thinner. Do you feel that Apple really kind of made more of a priority to Make this a thinner machine as one of those top three flagship tentpole, these are the three things that we want to bring to the new Macbook Pro, I feel like just making it thinner was one of those things because they're so, they're so in love with making everything as thin as possible. Of course they are and design is such a huge choice because a laptop in particular is such a personal choice. You take it with you places, you're seen in public with it, you work on it. It's probably the device you may use most often during the day in terms of man hours on it. Now that said, I'm gonna disagree with you a tiny bit, Brian. Please do. These are thinner, these are thinner. But they are not the thinnest. The 13 inch is still, I think, 14.9 millimeters. That's very thin, don't get me wrong. But there were a ton of new Windows- Yeah. In 13 inch laptops that get down to 12 millimeters, 11. They get down to under 10 millimeters. Acer's got the Swift 7, that's a 13 inch, a really nice, premium 13-inch laptop. Roughly comparable to the MacBook, and it's 9.98 millimeters thick, that's insane. Damn. [LAUGH] So these things are, you know they're thin but you're not going this is the thinnest laptop ever. And they're still three, four pounds so they still feel kind of dense but at the same time that means you feel like they'll take a beating. That's the one thing Mac Books have always done well is you can throw them in your bag and knock them around. You may get a little scratch or dent. But I've never beaten one up in ten plus years enough that it stops working. Yeah. Overall, all things considered where would you rank the new MacBook Pro, lets say 15 inch amongst other laptops like do you still feel there's a certain one or two that are better than it or there pretty even, like where do, where do you put in the pecking order, because you look at everything Yeah, it's still the top of the game but it's a very expensive top of the game. If you don't wanna spend that much there's other things you could look at. Dell's XPS line is very good. Their XPS 15 is pretty much a Mac Book Pro Clone. There are a lot of other cool 13 inch super thin laptops out there. But their thinner but they're not quite as powerful. I think what Apple does really well that everyone else has a hard time Getting there, wrapping their hands around it, is that integration of the hardware and the operating system and the software and the user input. That magical track pad that no one else can get that feel on, that flick your fingers around it kind of feel. The touch bar, it's a nice bonus. I wouldn't go too, too far out of my way for it. But as long as you're getting one of these and it comes with it, that's It's cool and you'll find it fun, you'll find a couple efficiencies and cool things to do with it but I think people buy Mac Books for the ease of use and that track pad and nobody else does that. That's a great point and then before we wrap up Dan if you could just talk a little bit about the Tetris effect, we wanna show you some love just with some of the other things that you're doing as well. Thank you Bryan, I wish I had a copy here and hold it. That is my- [LAUGH] Shop it bro! It is the true life. A non fiction story of the secret Cold War history of the most important video game ever created, Tetris. Created in the Soviet Union in the eighties and stolen by Western companies Cold War spy hijinks for real ensue. Well there you go, I mean, you can't tease any better than that. Thank you sir, and featured in the upcoming issue of CNet Magazine, hearing an excerpt of the winter issue of CNet's print magazine. Keep the plugs coming, cha-ching, cha-ching. All right Dan, hey, we just appreciate your time and your insight, and thank you so much. We will talk to you soon my friend. My pleasure always. All right. Thanks. [MUSIC]