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It’s easy to win when you don’t fight fair

Long-time readers know that I am not a fan of the Touch Bar. I understand that many people like it, but for me, forcing my eyes to the keyboard is not a time saver, especially when the Touch Bar has also taken over the physical Escape key.

If asked, I imagine Apple would say that sales of Touch Bar equipped Macs have been strong, much stronger than their non-Touch Bar alternatives. And I have no doubt that that’s true, because Apple has seriously handicapped the non-Touch Bar Macs.

Want a 15″ non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro? Sorry, that machine no longer exists—and when it did exist, it was multiple generations older than the Touch Bar models available at the time.

So let’s look at the 13″ MacBook Pro, where you can still buy a non-Touch Bar model. I configured a non-Touch Bar machine with the fastest CPU available, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. I then configured a Touch Bar model to match. Here’s how certain features on the two models compare…

Feature 13″ Touch Bar MBP 13″ Non-Touch Bar MBP
Processor 2.7GHz quad-core
8th-generation Intel Core i7
Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
2.5GHz dual-core
7th-generation Intel Core i7
Turbo Boost up to 4.0GHz
Graphics Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
Display 2560×1600 Retina True Tone 2560×1600 Retina
TB3 Ports 4 2
Bluetooth 5.0 4.2
Touch ID1The 13″ MacBook Air proves that Apple can do Touch ID without Touch Bar Yes No
Configured Cost $2,499 $2,199

To sum it up, the extra $300 on the Touch Bar machine gets you:

  • An OLED display strip embedded above the keyboard
  • A CPU that’s one generation newer—with faster clock speeds and twice the cores
  • Faster graphics
  • A True Tone display
  • Two additional Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Bluetooth 5.0—faster, longer range, lower power draw
  • Touch ID

All that for $300—from the same company that charges $600 for a 32GB iMac RAM upgrade that you can buy for under $200. There’s no doubt which machine you’d order—and which machine Apple wants you to order—if you were in the market and didn’t mind the Touch Bar: The non-Touch Bar Mac is clearly inferior to the Touch Bar version.

If Apple is such a firm believer in the tech that is the Touch Bar, they should make it a customer-configurable item: Every configuration of laptop should offer a version with and without the Touch Bar. They could do this via the customization screen, letting the end user delete the Touch Bar (and save a few bucks, given the cost of the OLED screen). Touch ID, though, would remain, as Apple has shown they can do Touch ID without the Touch Bar in the MacBook Air.

If they had offered this option when I bought my MacBook Air, I would’ve chosen a MacBook Pro instead. But there’s no way I was going to spend that much money for non-current tech just to avoid something that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Come on, Apple, level the playing field and let the customer decide how they want their keyboards to look and work.

10 Comments

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  1. This is exactly why I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy a new Macbook Pro without touchbar… because the configuration that I want simply doesn’t exist. So, I keep plugging along with my five, six, seven year old macbook pros (yes, three of them) which are in various states of breakdown, until a viable choice (and keyboard) emerges… Maybe WWDC will bring some updates…

  2. The fact that requesting 16G memory instead of the default 8 requires a custom order that causes delay and unwarranted extra cost is also disturbing. I sure hope the right-to-repair legislation gets passed to make it harder to implement those kinds of policies.

  3. Apple lost its mojo long ago, not because of a lack of talent but rather because a change in focus. For Steve Jobs it was all about the customer, delivering the very best possible user experience for a modest premium. For Tim Cook it is all about the shareholder, delivering the very best possible shareholder return that, as a result, favors planned obsolescence and form over function at an overpriced premium. Jobs’ model set the stage for Tim Cook to reap enormous profits. Cook’s model has killed nearly all the goodwill that Apple built over decades as particularly long-time customers truly understand how the company has changed, and for the worse, unfortunately. Today, Apple is just another behemoth conservative corporation protecting its profits while delivering less and less value to its customers over time. That is not a sustainable model for success, much less greatness or excellence. Oh, as an aside, a perfect example of Apple having lost its mojo is seen its elimination of the key from the keyboard. Do Apple engineers today even use their Macs? That key is far too valuable to leave to a touchscreen implementation.

  4. In Europe, the touch bar is handy, our languages are rich and complex, and a large part of our 550ML citizens speak multiple ones every day. The touch bar helps finding quickly the right spelling (and I noticed novices find it very approachable too!). So Apple may not be misleading when they observe a good response globally. Cheers from the alps! Keep up the good work!

  5. Am I wrong, or was the touch bar introduced simply as a compromise for a full touch screen? It seems to me that off-screen functions are just as readily accessed through the keys that used to occupy the same space.

  6. yep I’m still plugging along with my mid-2012 Macbook Pro (replaced hard drive with large SSD, maxed out RAM), will continue with it as long as I can or until a non-Touch Bar option, with a decent keyboard (not the trouble plagued butterfly ones) arrives.

  7. Since the very first Mac, Apple has had to overcome the chicken egg problem. Where would the Mac be today if the original Mac mouse was optional; if the original Mac keyboard had arrow keys, if the original Mac had a parallel port, if Appletalk was optional?

    Apple has always had to funnel developers in the direction it wanted to go; and it has always had to sell a critical mass of a new hardware or discontinue an old hardware before achieving majority 3rd party support.

    1. While I don’t disagree, there are times in the past when—especially when dealing with an input device—Apple has been wrong. And to me, just like the infamous hockey puck mouse, this is another case where they’re wrong, and should admit it. But they can admit it by not admitting it if they make it a user-configurable choice, on by default.

      -rob.

  8. Let’s hope their unreliable keyboard fiasco will give them an excuse to offer a non TouchBar configuration. In other words they don’t have to admit they were wrong about the TouchBar, they can just offer a model without TouchBar with the new improved keyboard. They shouldn’t even need a TouchID since we now have FaceID.

    @Phil Grant: How well supported is the TouchBar now that it’s mean out for several years? I don’t have one and have no idea. But my sense is that many don’t want it or even if they have it don’t use it. I need check with my non Geek friend who has one as a very small sample.

    I’m with Rob, I want a “real” keyboard with a real esc key (and the function keys too). I’m using an older USB keyboard on my newish iMac and still living with my 2013 MBP as a travel machine. I only bought the iMac because there isn’t an acceptable MBP. If I was buying today, the iMac might be a Mini, but I gave up waiting.

    What good does our whining do? But maybe someone listens to people with a reputation like Rob. I think Gruber is on the same page.

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