The Future of the Mac, or, What The Hell Just Happened?

Earlier today (okay, it’s now after midnight, so technically, yesterday), Apple held its annual Fall product release, billed to tech journalists as Hello Again. Those two simple words hinted that this event was to be about the Mac, and not just the Mac, but to many of us—the Future of the Mac.

The event started with an incredibly heart-warming video about the accessibility users can find in the Apple Watch, iOS devices, and on the Mac. The story is told through the screen of a videographer, and we discover toward the end that the person working on the project (Sady) is disabled and making use of the accessibility features built into Final Cut Pro and macOS. It’s a great video, if you haven’t seen it, you can catch it on YouTube.

I have a lot of respect for the Accessibility team at Apple. They work incredibly hard, and have dedicated their careers to ensuring that the things Apple produces—hardware and software—are usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. But sadly, beyond Tim Cook’s comments that followed the video, that’s all we heard about accessibility on the Mac today. And what did we get instead, a “Touch Bar” that no doubt will be accessible via APIs that Apple released today to developers, but that was never mentioned.

Let me say that again: Apple led with a video about accessibility, and then proceeded to introduce a Touch Bar for the new MacBook Pro. Am I the only one that sees the irony here?

After Tim Cook’s welcoming remarks, he meandered down a path that was very un-Mac. He talked about iOS 10, its adoption rate, its adoption rate vs Android, the iPhone 7 Plus and its awesome camera, and showed pictures—lots of pictures—that iPhone users sent to Apple just so he could show them to us during a supposed Mac event.

Next up…not a Mac. Instead, Apple TV. Twitter on Apple TV, and more blah-blah about Apple TV.

This is a Mac event, right?

Finally, we get to the new MacBook Pro models with its newest feature—which we all know about thanks to the Internet, yo—the Touch Bar. To me, this feels gimmicky at best; a short-lived feature for the MacBook Pro line that (IMO) will live an embarrassingly short existence. And to make all of us long-time Mac users feel nostalgic, the Touch Bar gets an updated version of the Control Strip.

We got to listen to Phil Schiller tell us how outdated function keys are, so here’s a touchy-thing to replace that row of buttons that you don’t use. (Except, I use them every day. Thanks, Phil.) We got a demo from Craig Federighi. Another demo, and another demo, and another demo, and then the big reveal: The hardware specs, pricing, and availability that we’ve all been waiting to hear.

Yawn.

But as a long-time Mac user, there was honestly nothing about the new MacBook Pro models that made me want to upgrade my aging 2012 model for the new hotness. Internally, the MacBook Pros are a work of art, they really are meticulously designed, but on a spec level, what Apple presented today was an embarrassment. The top of the line MacBook Pro is limited to 16 GB of RAM? Seriously?!

Just who is Apple designing this new line of MacBook Pros for, my retired mother who plays Bingo on the web? No, seriously. These are Pro models, right? Laptops that developers use. Laptops that designers use. And, apparently, laptops that Final Cut Pro users use.

16 gigabytes of RAM. That’s what you get, and there’s no way to upgrade that, monkey-boy.

The new MacBook Pros only have Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. The last time I checked, the Lightning cables that come with the new iPhones and iPads are all standard USB, which means if you buy the new laptop, you’ll also need to drop another $25 for the USB-C to Lightning cable. No biggie, right? Now multiply that by every iOS device you currently use and might want to sync with your laptop.

The event wrapped up just like all other Apple events in recent years, with a video voiced by Sir Jony Ive espousing the virtues of the latest, greatest Apple thing.

And that was it.

Today’s Apple “event” lacked something that is typically central to these events: a theme. In the past, Apple’s product announcements were precision-tuned; this one felt thrown together. It lacked substance, and it kind of lacked purpose.

What it did show, however, is more of Apple’s hubris. “Here’s your new laptop, now leave us alone for another four years while we go back to work on iPhones and iPads, m’kay.” That’s what it felt like being a long-time Mac user today.

What we did not hear about today was anything related to Apple’s flagship consumer desktop, the iMac. Nor did we hear anything about the Mac Pro. Oh, and if you were hoping to learn about a new Apple-branded external display, think again. Instead, Apple made it very clear that if you want an external display for your new shiny MacBook Pro, you’ll have to go with an LG display. Uh, sure, yeah, Apple “partnered” with LG to get a display that supports Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), but those are the only ports you’ll find on that display. No HDMI, no Ethernet in, no standard USB ports for external keyboards, etc.

If I’m going to drop $1500 on a display (that’s the cost of the 27-inch 5K display mentioned in the presentation), that display had damned well earn its place on my desk.

As a long-time Mac user, today’s event left me with more questions than answers about the Mac’s future. And what’s more telling is just how out of touch Apple is with their own user-base, at least when it comes to desktops and laptops.

What A Difference A Year Makes :)

One year ago yesterday was my last day at Apple. I worked as the “Lead Editor” in the Developer Publications (DevPubs) group for a grand total of 495 days. The time I spent at Apple was—without a doubt—the worst experience in my career.

Flash back to April 2, 2013. I confided in a friend (and former author of mine) about how I needed to get out of there before the job killed me. DevPubs was soul-crushing. Only a few of the writers actually cared about the work, let alone the audience they were writing for (Mac and iOS developers). He mentioned that Ken Case at The Omni Group had posted a Tweet saying they were looking for a writer to join their team in Seattle. I had known Ken and a couple of the engineers at Omni for a few years, but only peripherally, so I decided to give this a shot.

I went back to my office, grabbed my iPhone, went outside and sat on the stoop, and sent Ken the following email:

Hi Ken,

I’m wondering if this position is still open. If so, I would like to apply and can send over my résumé later today.

Chuck

A little over an hour later, Ken replied:

Chuck,

Yes, it’s still open. We look forward to receiving your application!

Ken

I went home that night, updated my résumé, and submitted it through the normal channels.

A week or so later, I was invited up to Seattle to interview for the Documentation Wrangler position. To prep for the interview, I read all of Omni’s documentation. PDFs were available online, so I snagged and read through them, making notes here and there about what I liked or would do differently given the chance. I read through their support articles and went into the forums to see not just the comments from customers, but how Omni’s incredibly dedicated and thoughtful Support Humans responded. I was impressed.

I had two rounds of interviews that morning. Most of my career has been as an editor—magazines, books, online magazines, Apple’s developer docs—and while I have written a few books and articles on the side, this was the first writing job I had ever applied for. I was nervous as hell.

I thought the interviews went well, and they asked a lot of tough questions, including “Why do you want to be a writer? Why now?”, which I feared would come up at some point. I mean, hell, I’m pushing 50. I’d ask that, too. But the best part about the interview the back and forth I had with their sole Documentation Wrangler, David. The man had ideas. Ideas that sung to me. Things we both wanted to do. It was like the Power Twins meeting after they were separated at birth. Except, well, I’m older. Much older. Probably crankier. Definitely.

Now, mind you, about 18 months earlier I had been through interviews at Apple. There was a lot of talk about what they wanted to do, or things I would like to do. There was a lot of nodding and “Yes, we need that here” type of comments. It was encouraging. I felt I belonged there. A lot of my friends and former authors thought I belonged there, too.

The rug kept getting pulled out from under me at Apple, and the writer’s attitudes were appalling. I actually had one writer say to me that all an editor did was check punctuation and look for typos. Maybe that’s what he expected, but I tore his subpar work apart. He complained to his writing manager. I got my ass handed to me for being harsh and critical. Sorry, but in my opinion as a professional editor, this person wasn’t qualified to be a technical reviewer of some of the books I edited for O’Reilly and Pearson, let alone as a documentation writer for material that was going to be used by a worldwide audience of developers.

After 495 days of stuff like that (okay, more like 435, if you account for April and May last year), I’d had enough. The final straw came during a lunch meeting with my manager. As always, he fumbled through the lunchtime conversation; never able to get to the point. And, as he had during a few previous lunch meetings, he said “We still don’t know what to do with you.” I was pissed. I remember walking out of that lunch thinking, “Well, I sure as hell do.”

I discovered the job at The Omni Group less than a week later and applied after talking with Colleen about it. We had moved from Boston to Sunnyvale for my job at Apple, far away from all of her family and friends. A New Englander through and through, I feared that she wouldn’t be interested in a move to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Colleen, who is also a writer, told me to apply for the job at Omni. She had only been up to Seattle once before to visit her brother Daniel (who now lives in Boston), so this whole area was a strange new frontier for her, but after a year-and-a-half in Silicon Valley, she was as ready as me to get out of there.

My time so far at The Omni Group has been nothing less than amazing. I feel very fortunate and honored to work alongside such dedicated people who care about every last detail of their work. People as picky as me. I like that. And the stuff we talked about wanting to do during my interviews? Yeah, so far we’ve done all of that, and we’re already making plans for ways to improve our documentation in the future. I love this place!

Thank you, Omni, for restoring my faith in a humane workplace where people can get along and accomplish anything. And as I approach my one-year Omniversary, I can’t help but think, “What a difference a year makes.”