Historically, Apple has been known as a company that doesn’t listen to customers. They got rid of the floppy drive in the original iMac G3. They ditched the headphone jack. These are just a few examples of Apple’s “The customer doesn’t really know what they want” mindset coming into play. In the past, these choices have often proved to be the right ones. After the removal of the floppy drive, almost everyone moved onto cd’s. Even though people were up in arms about the death of the headphone jack on the iPhone, Apple’s Airpods became one of their most popular and recognizable products, as they didn’t require the jack, and lately, we’ve seen history repeating itself, as many smartphone manufacturers are following in Apple’s footsteps and omitting the headphone jack from their own flagship smartphones. However, this policy has not always worked in Apple’s favor. Perhaps the best example of this in recent memory is the saga of the butterfly keyboard.
Apple first introduced the now infamous butterfly keyboard with the 12 inch MacBook in 2015. Apple went on to bring the new keyboard design to the MacBook Pro in 2016 and to the MacBook Air in 2018. The butterfly keyboard has been commonly cited as one of the worst design choices in Apple history. Due to the keyboard new design, it was easy for crumbs and other gunk to easily get caught beneath the keycaps and the switch, which would often cause the key to stop working, requiring a (often expensive) visit to the Apple store. With a failure rate of 30%, Apple was forced to introduced a keyboard warranty program and is wrapped up in a class action lawsuit as a result of the butterfly keyboard. Adding insult to injury, the previous keyboard design, found on all Apple laptops up until 2015, was praised and often said to be best in class. All of these factors came together to make the butterfly keyboard infamous for all the wrong reasons. Despite this Apple continued to refresh the MacBook Pros each year, trying time and time again to get the keyboard design to work properly without failure, but to no avail. The 12 inch MacBook was discontinued earlier this year, but Apple continued to use the butterfly keyboard on the all of the Pro and Air models that they continued to sell, until now.
This week, after seemingly endless amounts of rumors and speculation, Apple announced a a brand new 16 inch MacBook Pro. Besides the new screen size and slightly thicker profile, arguably the most important new feature of the new MacBook Pro is the upgraded keyboard. Apple has gone back to the old scissor mechanism, which was used in the previous generation of MacBooks. However the key mechanisms aren’t the only changes Apple made with the new MacBook Pro. They also answered two other complaints about the keyboard. First, they reverted the arrow keys to the upside down t layout, a choice that will be popular with programmers, and second, they added the physical escape key back to the keyboard, which was removed and put on the Touch Bar previously. However these improvements to the keyboard did not come without a price. The new MacBook Pro is significantly thicker than the previous model, of which the thin profile was a key selling point. Many reviewers and people who have gotten there hands on the 16 inch shrug the increase in profile and weight off, but in actuality it is quite noticeable, even without comparing it to the 2016 model.
However, the new MacBook Pro isn’t the only example of Apple listening to customers this year. Back in June, Apple unveiled a brand new Mac Pro at WWDC 2019. This announcement came after years with the current Mac Pro dubbed the “Trash Can” by many. The trash can was notoriously pricy and seemingly favored form over function. While it was beautiful in its tiny form factor, it was not nearly as powerful as some other similarly priced workstations, especially as the years dragged on and the Mac Pro continued without any upgrades to its specs. On top of this, the current Mac Pro was not nearly as upgradable as earlier models, meaning you were pretty much stuck with whatever specs you got when you bought the thing. For these reasons, Mac power users had been waiting year for an updated Mac Pro, and were understandably ecstatic when Apple announced the 2019 model, which has gone back to the previous larger form factor which allows for much more upgradability then the trash can did. So, like in the case of the MacBook Pro 16 inch, these heavily requested new new features come at a cost.
While Apple finally listening to its customers is what many people have been dying for, I don’t think this is necessarily always a good thing. As previously mentioned, Apple, at least under Steve Jobs, largely adhered to the policy of “The customer doesn’t know what they want”. This almost always meant ignoring the public’s opinion and advice as to focus on new experiences that they never could have imagined. This policy led Apple through the original iMac, which put the failing company back on the map, to the iPod and eventually the iPhone, quite possibly the most influential and important innovation of the last 20 years. Because of how well this policy has worked for Apple in the past, it is at least some what concerning to see this new attitude from them, and while I’m not in any way saying they are doomed to fail and will no longer innovate, I am saying that Apple is definitely changing, and we’ll have to see whether that is for better, or for worse.