The Customer is Always Wrong

For the past week I've hovered my cursor over the Bhphoto cart. Nestled inside was a space gray 13" Macbook Pro. Like a siren to rocks it beckoned me. Two hesitations prevented me from clicking the buy button:

  1. It's very expensive
  2. I read several reviews warning me about the new butterfly keyboard

To end my analysis paralysis, I decided to trek down to BestBuy and lay my hands on it. I was a bit giddy, envisioning finally making a decision, buying it, and unboxing it today. 

Expectation and reality diverged, though, and I left empty-handed.

The keyboard was a deal breaker. I'd seen videos which showed the keys barely depress - only 0.5 mm of travel - but it didn't quite capture the experience of trying to type on them. It's somewhat better than trying to type on the glass screen of a virtual iPad keyboard. The keys are nearly flush with the surface (they are slightly raised), wide, and a little concave. It doesn't take much force to register a keystroke, and the key makes a clack when depressed. Here's my perception, compared to the keyboard of my current 2012 Macbook Air:

  • I was able to touch type, but I made numerous typos. The height of the keys messed up my aim, and it was easy to catch the corner of a neighboring key.
  • The clacking sound was louder than the quiet key presses of my Air. It wasn't a big deal, though. Still much quieter than the sound of a desktop keyboard. I found the clacking pleasant, although I suspect someone sitting next to me would think I was an angry typer.
  • I felt that, with practice, I could acclimate to it and make less typos.
  • My wrists and hands became sore as I typed. In fairness, some of this can be attributed to standing while typing. I typed a dozen paragraphs to try and get a feel for it. I also tried typing on some other conventional laptop keyboards for comparison. The more I used the Macbook Pro's, the more I felt I would dread using it for fiction writing.

So there you have it. "Dread using it" is never a good selling point. Which is too bad, because I loved the rest of the computer:

  • The new, ginormous touchpad is fantastic. It doesn't actually move when you click it, but instead tricks you into feeling like you've clicked it through haptic feedback (vibrations). No matter how I pressed it I was always certain it moved and physically clicked. It felt better than my Air's trackpad, which actually does move and physically click - probably because the Air's is hinged and has a limited click angle.
  • The screen is gorgeous. The saturated colors remind me of something you'd see on an OLED display.
  • The svelte factor is nice. I liked that the Pro weighed the same as my Air.

As an aside, I also looked at the Surface Book by Microsoft. I'm an artist, also, and the pressure-sensitive stylus was a nice selling point. My perceptions:

  • The keyboard on the Surface Book is a joy to type on. 1.6 mm of key travel (vs. Macbook Pro's 0.5 mm) and cushy dampening. I think this is an important point because it's not just how far the keys travel but also what happens at the end of travel and how much force it takes to press them.
  • The Surface Book has a neat trick where the screen separates and becomes a 13" tablet. The tablet is remarkably light and feels great to hold. It also runs a full version of Windows 10. I could definitely see myself sketching in Photoshop with the tablet and pen on my lap.
  • On the downside, and this was why I didn't buy it, the tablet makes the laptop's screen top-heavy. I am constantly picking up my Air by the corner and moving it around. It felt very awkward to do this with the Surface. Plus, when the Surface is closed it folds over like a newspaper. Carrying it around felt like carrying a Trapper Keeper.

For now I'm typing happily on my trusty Macbook Air. I had to admit that I'm disappointed that Apple peaked in knowing what its consumers wanted. I recall back in the 90s seeing colorful Macs with translucent plastics but passing them over because they just weren't functional for what I needed. They sure looked nice. The new Macbook Pros have moved back into this category for me. Hopefully Apple will get their act together, stop telling us what we want, and try listening.