Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Developer’s MacBook

Rob Rhyne:

The keyboard is terrible. The keyboard on the MacBook is probably the most divisive hardware decision Apple has made this year. Some love it, others hate it. To be honest, I’m ambivalent after using it for a few months. I recommend you try it in a store before buying it. It’s a subjective decision, but here are a few facts regarding the keyboard:


As I mentioned earlier, it’s the MacBook’s lack of screen real estate that poses the greatest challenge for development and design work. […] You want to consider a few basic principles when trying to reclaim screen real estate.


In general the MacBook’s single port is a non-issue. Battery life is so consistently long, it feels foreign when you have to plug it in. However, the new USB-C does pose a dilemma for mobile developers: you need an adaptor to connect your iOS devices. That’s a bummer, having yet another adaptor to carry in your bag. I decided to combine a smaller Lightning cable with the single USB-C to USB adapter for smaller option.

I recently tried the new MacBook at an Apple Store. The Retina display is great, as expected. The keyboard was as bad as I feared. I might be able to get used to it, but I doubt I would ever like it. The trackpad was fine. The computer is thin, but it did not feel like a significant improvement over my 11-inch MacBook Air. So the keyboard seems like a poor tradeoff.

Meanwhile, Tj Luoma:

After three weeks with the new MacBook, I can easily declare it as my favorite Mac, and none of the details that left some of the tech press wailing and gnashing their teeth have actually been a problem.

He links to the Anker USB-C to 3-Port USB 3.0 Hub with Ethernet Adapter for USB Type-C Devices, which looks promising, although there’s no way to charge the Mac when it’s in use, and I wonder how many bus-powered devices it could handle. An alternative to get power and Ethernet at the same time would be Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter combined with its (non-gigabit) USB Ethernet Adapter. But then you would no longer have a USB port to connect an iOS device or camera.

It seems like what’s needed, short of a second USB-C port, is a USB-C hub that can plug in to both charge the MacBook and power the USB 3 ports. I have seen powered hubs, but none that can charge, too.

Update (2015-08-19): Paul Haddad:

Still no good 3rd party USB-C hubs + charging. Found this, but seems like it pass-through charges at 5V/2.4A, yuck.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

A single Amazon search for "USB-C hub" yielded this.

@Chip Looks good—thanks. Not sure how I missed that. There is also the forthcoming OWC USB-C Dock (via @chucker).

"The Retina display is great, as expected. ... The computer is thin, but it did not feel like a significant improvement over my 11-inch MacBook Air. So the keyboard seems like a poor tradeoff."

Whoa, pick one. ;^) Does it have to be thinner than an Air *and* have a better screen to pass muster?

I'm waiting for v2, but used the MacBook keyboard just enough to know it's the Retina Air I've been waiting for.

Use a hack to get full native resolution, and it'll have great programming monitor real estate (which I measure in pixels, not inches, contra Rhyne -- strange that he wastes so much time squeezing stuff into 1440x900 when he's got 2304x1440). Unless you think the Air is also getting Retina, the keyboard seems like a fair tradeoff for ultra-portable, Retina OS X to me.

@Ruffin What I meant is that maybe if the new MacBook were a lot thinner/lighter than it is (like I expected, based on what I’d read), I might be able to see going for the more compact keyboard. Given that it feels about the same size as my Air, I would rather have it be thicker with an Air-quality keyboard.

Perhaps Rhyne’s eyes can’t handle more than 1,440x900.

I just couldn't tell if you were measuring the keyboard vs. the MacBook as a whole (where I think it's a fair trade for the extra resolution and maintained battery life), or keyboard vs. a little less size & weight (where it's not obviously a win). Sounds like your critique is for the size/weight only. I don't see a Retina in the Air's future now, so I'm happy to make the trade.

Re: Eyes -- You're probably right. Luoma mentions eyes in his; perhaps Rhyne is in a similar boat. I'd think the worst case when using native resolution is that you use a larger font in places, but obviously Apple doesn't agree with me, since you have to hack to get native. I've never quite understood native not being an option-click option in Display settings. /shrug

@Ruffin Yes, it looks like the MacBook will be it for Retina unless you want a Pro. I would have preferred something like an Air with a new screen and possibly less battery life.

I’m not sure why about the resolution, either. Maybe native resolution stresses the graphics hardware too much?

@Michael that OWC hub looks sweet.

[…] trying the new MacBook keyboard, I share his concern about the future of Apple keyboards. However, I […]

[…] Previously: The 12-inch MacBook, Mistake One, The Developer’s MacBook. […]

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