A Cellular MacBook

I don’t usually comment on Apple patents because there are so many of them, and they typically don’t mean what you think they mean.

However, this one about improved cellular technologies in MacBooks has me taking the bait. The case for a cellular MacBook in the Intel days was good. The case for a cellular MacBook in the age of Apple silicon is infinitely better. Apple already makes devices with Apple chips that have cellular radios. Indeed, quite a lot of them. In my opinion, at this point, every MacBook purchase should have a “Would you like a cellular radio with this?” checkbox on it, just like the iPads do. 

If I had to guess, Apple is waiting to release its own long-awaited cellular radio chip before taking the plunge. However, if Apple still doesn’t have a cellular radio option for the MacBook when that day arrives, I’ll be out of ideas as to why not. 

The New 13″ MacBook Pro with 100% Less Butterflies

Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 6.20.26 PM.png

Today Apple announced the release of the latest iteration of the 13″ MacBook Pro. The new version doesn’t grow the screen to 14“, as the rumor mill predicted. It does, however, get a processor bump on the higher-end models. Perhaps most importantly, it adds the same scissor-switch keyboard we now have on the 16” MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iPad Magic Keyboard. The butterfly keyboard is no longer for sale on new Apple laptops. While I didn’t have a particular problem with the feel of the butterfly keyboard, I had a big problem with its reliability. The part of this story that I can’t get over is how long it took to replace the butterfly keyboard once it became clear it was a dud. The really feels like Apple’s own second arrow.

The New MacBook Pro Keyboard Initial Impressions and Thoughts

I had the opportunity to spend some time typing on the new MacBook Pro Keyboard. As someone that uses the iMac Magic Keyboard on a daily basis, I can report that it feels identical, with slightly less travel. The initial tear down reports they are built exactly the same. That’s good news on the reliability front. I beat up on my iMac keyboard often and I’ve never had a problem. I was perfectly comfortable typing on the new laptop keyboard and I fully expect Apple to be moving this new laptop Magic Keyboard down the line soon.

A few interesting bits stand out for me in the responses to the release of this new MacBook Pro Keyboard. First, is the general fixation on it. It seems nearly all the initial reviews are centered around this new Keyboard. iFixit related it to Stockholm syndrome. I disagree. I think the reason for this reaction is closer to the boiling frog. As, year after year, the broken keyboard stories kept piling up and Apple kept making more MacBooks with the latest butterfly keyboard iteration, all of our frogs got well and cooked. A real turning point for me has been the way so many of our MPU guests start out their interview with a recitation of the number of keyboard repairs they’ve needed. The fact that this new keyboard is using a tried-and-tested keyboard released a lot of tension about Apple and the way they make things. But not without a cost.

My second observation is that most of the reporting about the new keyboard has been qualified by some variety of, “I really like this change, but we’ll have to wait and see if it is more reliable.” If you look at MacBook reviews in years past, before the butterfly keyboard, there are no such qualifications. This whole mess over the butterfly keyboard has cost Apple a degree of trust and it is going to take some time for them to recover. Not only that, we still aren’t out of the woods here because a lot of the butterfly keyboard Macs are still in circulation and many are still being sold. This bad keyboard reputation is going to linger for years as those butterfly keyboard machines remain in circulation.

All that said, given that these new keyboards are built the same way the iMac Magic Keyboard is put together, I fully expect them to be just as reliable. If you are in the market for a laptop that is anything but the big MacBook Pro, I’d encourage you to hold off until the new keyboard makes it to your machine of choice.

Random Thoughts on Apple’s “Hello Again” Event

In the coming days there’s going to be a lot of talk about Apple’s “Hello Again” event today and the new MacBook Pros. Here’s a few random thoughts and observations I had watching the event:

  • Who is it sending their vacation photos to Tim Cook for inclusion in presentations? I think she is a much more talented photographer than me (and has much prettier friends).
  • The TV app feels to me like the leftovers from the hypothetical subscription TV project that never shipped. The trouble is that if they don’t have participation from everyone on the platform (Netflix and YouTube are not playing along), it’s much less useful.
  • The day you catch me watching tweets from random people about something I’m watching on TV is the day you’ll know my body has been taken over by aliens.
  • I like that Apple is embracing its past a little bit. I remember when I would’ve given my left one for a Power Book.
  • The “thinner and lighter” thing plays a big role going forward. It’s clear the MacBook air is getting squeezed out. The only thing keeping it alive now is that it’s the only Mac you can buy for under $1000. In a year or two, prices will come down enough to solve that problem and that will be the end of the MacBook Air.
  • They didn’t spend much time on the bigger trackpad but I suspect MacBook Pro users are going to really like it. I’ve already become accustomed to a larger trackpad with my Magic Trackpad on my iMac. It makes using gestures much easier and after using it a little, you won’t want to go back.
  • They didn’t spend much time talking about the new keyboard either. I know a lot of people that won’t buy the MacBook because of the keyboard. Apple is saying this is a second generation but if they don’t deliver the goods with the keyboard, I think it will hurt sales and the product overall. The surprise news item in the next few days may be that the keyboard is a dud. That would be bad.
  • 2 TB of SSD storage in a laptop is impressive. However, it will end up costing you an additional $1,200. Ouch.
  • Farewell MagSafe. We loved you.
  • I don’t think the USB-C transition is going to prove that difficult. Thanks to the existing MacBook that already has the USB-C port, along with other computers from other manufacturers, a healthy USB-C peripheral market already exists. If you’re making the switch you’ll need to buy a few cables and a dongle or two but you’ll be fine.
  • The idea that you can charge your MacBook from either side is kind of nice. How many times have you been in some weird spot where getting the charger cable to the correct side to charge your MacBook was harder than it should be?
  • They kept the headphone jack. Hooray.
  • How weird is it that Apple is selling an LG display during its keynote? Katie Floyd makes the argument in this week’s Mac Power Users episode that this is evidence Apple is getting out of the display business. She may be right. Either way, it is really strange seeing Apple sell somebody else’s hardware in this way.
  • At this point, the MacBook line has three alternatives: low cost, pro user, and ultralight. I’ve written about this before. Ideally, we will get to a point where the low cost and ultralight Macs merge into one computer. That was the case for a little while with the MacBook Air and explains why so many people love that computer so much. If they can get the existing MacBook’s price down to $999, we’ll get back to two lines again but that’s not going to happen this year.
  • Apple did a good job of getting more women presenters than usual. I thought everybody did a pretty good job on stage.

I’ve got more thoughts on what the touch bar really means but I have more to say there than a bulleted list. More on that to come.

MacBooks and Headphone Jacks

I’ve been wondering the past several days about whether or not we’ll see a headphone jack in tomorrow’s new MacBook Pros. There’s been lots of talk about the leaked Magic Toolbar and folks are assuming that it will have a bundle of USB-C ports but I haven’t heard anything about headphone jacks.

Apple must feel pretty good about removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. For months, when it was just a rumor, many people on the Internet lost their minds. Now the phone has shipped the expected outrage has largely fizzled. (I think the inclusion of an adapter in the box did a lot pull this off.) So now that they have the headphone jack out of the iPhone, what about the Macs to be announced tomorrow?

My expectation is that of course the new MacBooks (and future iPads for that matter) will have headphone jacks. The biggest reason that Apple explained removing the headphone jack from the iPhone was space. The air inside your iPhone is so precious that the headphone jack needed to go. I don’t see how you could make that case for a MacBook. There is a lot more space in both of those platforms for a tiny headphone jack. Moreover, a lot of people use Macs and IPads for music production and other sound-related tasks and they want a good set of wired cans connected to their Macs.

So maybe Apple will remove the headphone jacks tomorrow but I’d argue such a move is a mistake. As I post this, we’re just 14 hours away from finding out. 

TJ Luoma on the 12″ Retina MacBook

TJ Luoma went in to the Apple Store to buy a new MacBook Pro and ended up walking out with a 12″ Retina MacBook. He loves it. One of the most interesting parts is that he prefers the MacBook’s low-travel keyboard. I think keyboards are a personal thing, like the firmness of a mattress. I’ve grown accustomed to my MacBook’s keyboard and don’t think about it much. However, I still prefer the more conventional keyboard on my iMac. Otherwise, I’d agree  with TJ across the board. The 12″ MacBook is powerful enough for what I do and when you have a computer this light, you can easily take it about anywhere.

Following Up with the New MacBook Keyboard

Since I posted my initial review of the new MacBook, I’ve received a lot of email about the keyboard. From other new MacBook owners, the feedback has largely agreed with me that the keyboard is inferior to that on the MacBook Pro or iMac with a few vocifous objectors who felt that the smaller throw keyboard is superior. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. The way a keyboard feels is definitely a personal preference thing.

Regardless, more water has run under the bridge since I put out the first review and my opinion of the keyboard has not changed. I still don’t think it is as good as the keyboard on my old MacBook Pro but it’s not so terrible that it’s a dealbreaker. Moreover, as time goes by, I think of it less and less and instead just get my work done on this amazingly light laptop with this amazingly crisp text. I sold MacBook Pro and it is now happily being used to edit video. I haven’t missed it at all.

The New MacBook Review


For the last week and a half, I’ve been doing a lot of my work on the new MacBook. I bought this computer as an experiment with the intention to return it unless I felt it was good enough to replace my existing 15″ MacBook Pro. Here’s my story.

The new MacBook is not for everybody. This is a the newest Apple ultralight, built around portability more than anything else.

Up until a few months ago, the 15″ MacBook Pro was the perfect laptop for me. I drove into my office everyday and used it at my desk. The retina screen is sharp (and big) and despite being a few years old, that computer is still a screamer. There is something to be said for having a laptop that you know can handle any computing task you throw at it. 

Then I went out as an indie lawyer and suddenly found myself spending a lot more time doing my big-boy work in front of my retina iMac in my home office. I no longer need a laptop 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. I do need one when I go out to do meetings and conferences. Sometimes I need a laptop just to be able to get away for a few hours. The trouble is, a 15″ MacBook Pro isn’t ideal for something to throw into your bag and hit the bricks. In fact, it’s such a pain to carry that I frequently find myself avoiding bringing it altogether. 

No longer do I need a powerful laptop. Instead, I need a portable laptop. I need something that can serve the role of “second” computer.

I have always had an obsession with ultralight laptops. When Apple first release the 11 inch MacBook Air, it took all of my will power not to get one. I just love the idea of being able to go anywhere with a Mac. A few years ago I was telling a friend of mine about my unquenched lust for the 11 inch MacBook Air. It just so happened that she had an 11 inch MacBook Air she wasn’t using and let me borrow it for awhile. I was thinking I’d give it a spin and make her an offer but by then I already had a retina MacBook Pro and it ruined me for non-retina screens. I could not stand to look at that screen. 

So I watched the rumors about the rumored 12″ retina MacBook with some interest and when Apple announced the new MacBook, I took note. Once the new MacBooks landed in the Apple Stores, I found excuses to stop by several times and play with the new machines. I was interested in the new machine as a replacement for my big laptop. I ordered one with the idea that I’d try it for a week or so and then decide whether I keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or return it and stick with my existing laptop. I bought the second tier model with the 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of Ram and 512GB SSD in space gray. It’s been a lot of fun kicking the tires.

The Screen

When it comes to retina screens, I am that guy. I love clear, sharp text on my screen and once I got used to a retina screen, I knew I’d never buy another computer without one. The new MacBook screen lives up to the hype. It’s gorgeous and bright.

There are a few settings to increase (or decrease) the amount of screen real estate. I tried them all and they all look fine. When you have pixels this small, you can fudge in ways that were not possible with bigger pixels and the human eye will be none the wiser. In the end, I found I preferred the default size and haven’t thought about it since.

Build Quality

Apple is so good at manufacturing computers. This new MacBook is no different. It is so small yet feels so solid. The lid opens with just the right amount of resistance. Moreover, the plastic hinge that we see on the currently shipping MacBook Air lineup has been banished for an aluminum one. I really like feel of this computer.


As part of my big life changes, I’ve discovered that I use a laptop on my lap these days a lot more frequently than I ever did before. When I had a 9 to 5 job, the laptop was always on my desk. Now it is just as likely to be on my lap in the park. With this transition I discovered that my 15 inch retina MacBook Pro gets pretty hot. Uncomfortably so. The new MacBook doesn’t work as hard and it doesn’t get as hot. I’d also speculate heat isn’t as much of a problem because the logic board is so small. While the new MacBook does get warm on the bottom, the heat is nowhere near what I experienced with the MacBook Pro. The fact that the machine doesn’t get as hot is just one more reason why am more likely to take it with me on the road.


Compared to my older MacBook Pro, this new computer is underpowered. The older computer has more processing power, an actual discrete graphics card, and more RAM. If you compared specs between the two computers, the spreadsheet would not be kind to the new MacBook.

All that said, at no point during the experiment did I find myself waiting on the new MacBook. I used it for all of the things I do on a laptop and it performed like a champ. This is not the computer I’d use to edit video screencasts or build iBooks Author books but looking back over the last few years, I’ve never really done those things on my MacBook Pro either. For the type of work I tend to do on a laptop, the new MacBook is just fine.


The new MacBook is like the Red October. It runs silent. I love that I never hear the sound of fans spinning up. An added benefit is that because there are no fans, there are also no ventilation ports. I can rest this computer on any surface and not worry about blocking ventilation. 

The Port

The new MacBook has just one USB type C port. I think this is the most talked about limitation of this computer. Because this is a new USB standard, there aren’t many cables available for it. Moreover, because the computer also charges through the single port, you cannot simultaneously charge it and run an external device at the same time without an adapter or hub. At no point has this caused me any frustration. This laptop is a second computer for me and I don’t need a lot of ports. If this were my only computer, it would be a problem. I did purchase the USB adapter and tested it with my portable hard drives. It worked fine. The only time I’ve really needed it so far was when my Wi-Fi printer decided to stop cooperating.

Because this new port is a USB standard, it’s inevitable that there will be a parade of adapters and cables in the not so distant future. I’ve got a speaking gig in a couple months and I’m waiting until it’s closer before deciding which projector adapter I will buy. I’m hoping some third-party will come in with a solution cheaper than Apple’s.

One final comment on the single port is that it takes a significant amount of force to remove the cable from the port. We’ve all lamented the end of MagSafe. I can confirm it truly is dead with the new MacBook because if someone trips over your charging cable while plugged into this new computer, your MacBook will magically and literally be transformed into a MacBook Air.

The Battery

I’m averaging about 7 hours per charge. I’ve done better and I’ve done worse depending on how hard I’m pushing it but if you need the new MacBook to keep working beyond that, you are going to need to pack your charger.

Interestingly, because it charges through USB, I decided to try a little experiment with my iPhone external charger. In order to do so, I had to order a standard USB male connector to USB type C cable off Amazon. It costs $7. The question in my mind was when I hooked up the iPhone charger, would the laptop recharge the iPhone charger or the iPhone charger recharge the laptop. For this experiment I was using an Anker Astro 3 12800mAh charger. When I plugged it in, the MacBook made the little charging sound and the menubar battery icon showed the familiar lightening bolt icon to indicate my new laptop was receiving a charge.

The laptop certainly doesn’t charge as fast through the Anker battery as it does when I plug it into the wall but it does charge. I found that using the Anker battery, I could add about 5 hours of battery life. In another experiment I ran the laptop battery down to 10% and then plugged in the fully-charged Anker and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, the Anker battery was bone dry and the laptop had an 85% charge. The ability to carry and use this relatively small battery on days when I may need extra juice is actually pretty handy.

The Trackpad

Having used the new trackpad a lot, I’m convinced it is better than the old trackpad. I can tap it anywhere, including near the top, which was difficult with older trackpads because of the increased leverage needed the closer you got to the hinge.

Developers are still figuring out what to do with the force sensitive trackpad and I expect some very interesting user interface improvements based on this technology soon.

Perhaps my best compliment for the new trackpad is how I just don’t think about it at all. It just works. If only I could say that about the keyboard.


This was my biggest concern about this new MacBook and justifiably so. The keyboard is different. The keys are bigger, which I liked. There is less key travel, which I didn’t like. Apple has spent a lot of time talking up the new switches and while they most likely are superior to the old switches, that doesn’t overcome the lack of travel in these keys. I don’t know if there’s ever been a computer with a physical keyboard that had so little travel in the keys. Typing on it is strange, and not in a good way. 

If you are used to mashing keys, this keyboard will be difficult for you. It requires more of a light touch. If you try to press through the keys, you’re just going to add strain to your fingers because the keys aren’t going to go any further. On the flip side, if your touch gets too light, you won’t sufficiently depress keys and miss letters. You’ve got to find the sweet spot.

After having use this keyboard nearly exclusively through this test, it’s my opinion that the new keyboard is inferior to the standard chicklet-style keyboard on other currently shipping Macs. I’ve found that sweet spot and am able to type on it just fine but it still feels foreign to me. While I am still not entirely used to the keyboard, I don’t find myself thinking about it as much now either. I’m not going to say it is growing on me but it is not bothering me that much either. If I had to choose between a keyboard with more travel but a non-retina screen or the new MacBook, in my mind it’s not a contest. I’d take the new MacBook. Keyboards can be a very personal thing, especially for touch typists, but in my case the new keyboard is not a deal breaker for this computer.


As I got serious about making a decision about whether or not to keep the new MacBook, I also considered returning it to buy a different laptop.

Why Not a Tricked Out 11 or 13 inch MacBook Air?

I will never buy another computer without a retina screen. Just last night I was doing some maintenance on my daughter’s MacBook Air. That screen bothers me way more the the new MacBook’s keyboard does.

Why Not a 13 inch MacBook Pro?

In a lot of ways, I think the 13 inch MacBook Pro is the best laptop that Apple currently makes. It has plenty under the hood along with a retina screen and is more mobile than the 15 inch MacBook Pro. My wife has a 13 inch MacBook Pro and I’ve spent plenty of time using it. However, that machine still comes with many of the same issues I experience with its bigger sibling, including weight and heat.


The new MacBook isn’t for everybody. Indeed, I’d argue it’s not for most people. There are a lot of compromises involved but in exchange you get a Mac that can go just about anywhere with you. The compromises required for that portability, in my case, are worth it. Since getting the new MacBook, I’ve found that I can work just about anywhere and I like that. Earlier this week I had lunch with my wife at Disneyland and then spent several hours doing legal work on the laptop while watching the Mark Twain steamship paddle down the Rivers of America. How many people can have that view from their office? On balance, the new MacBook is a good fit for me. I’m keeping it.

30 Minutes with the New MacBook

In addition to spending 30 minutes with the Apple Watch yesterday, I also spent 30 minutes with the new MacBook. I’ve talked about the new design already on the Mac Power Users and written about it here. Now, after having spent some time behind one, I have a few additional thoughts.

  • This machine is one sexy computer. I never thought I’d see a computer that could make a MacBook Air look fat and yet the new MacBook does precisely that. It feels more like picking up an iPad than a Mac.
  • The ability to use an aluminum hinge may have engineering benefits but also looks damn nice.
  • The audio from the speakers sounds better than I expected out of a computer this small.
  • The retina screen looks like every other retina screen—beautiful and bright.
  • The additional colors of space gray and gold both look nice. The gold doesn’t look tacky but it is not for me. Space gray on the other hand…
  • The keyboard was the big question for me. Several people that I respect don’t like it, including Jason Snell. I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.
  • Just one port. Since that port is both new and an industry standard, I expect we’ll see an assortment of docks and other pluggy-in bits in short order but if you are buying this as your only computer right now, it will be rough sailing for awhile.

My questions about the new MacBook are not hypothetical. My current laptop is three years old and I’ve been thinking about replacing it while it still has some resell value. Since I turned my life upside down, I no longer spend every work day sitting at my laptop. I use my home iMac a lot more and my laptop a lot less. Put simply, my laptop has changed from being a a second primary computer to just a second computer. I don’t need it super powerful but do need it to write words, handle mail, outlines, mind maps, and the other tasks that I normally do on the road. Getting it down to just two pounds means I’d be able to carry it a lot easier and more often. Something this portable has a real benefit to me. I’m just not sure if I could get used to that keyboard. 

To answer that question I’ve ordered one. I’m going to use it for a week, but still keep the box and my MacBook Pro at the ready. After a week, I’ll either keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or send the MacBook back. Either way, I’ll be reporting in.

Another Case for the New MacBook

Last week I wrote about people that may be right for the new MacBook. Based on the volume of email I’ve received, I clearly left one group out.

iPad + Keyboard Users

A not-insignificant number of MacSparky readers wrote in to explain that they view the new MacBook with just one port and underpowered processor as an upgrade to their current rig of iPad plus keyboard. One reader even did the math and reports his new MacBook will only be 0.3 pounds heavier than his iPad plus keyboard combined. I realize that the iPad has its own advantages (like a touch screen and always-on Internet connection) but if my inbox is any indication, the new MacBook is going to get several iPad converts.