The MacBook Suddenly Mediocre? – Forbes

The 12-inch MacBook. The best ultraportable I've ever used.

Credit: Apple

The 12-inch MacBook. Best ultraportable I’ve used.

Is the MacBook suddenly an also-ran?

That’s what Laptop Magazine contends in its Apple: 2017 Brand Report Card, as widely covered this past week. (See: “Apple: Laptop Mag Responds” at Seeking Alpha.)

In that report card, Apple dropped from 1st to 5th place. That is, it sank below the likes of Asus and is tied with Acer.

Apple’s Main Weaknesses

Value and variety: The company has only a handful of laptops, and most start at $1,299.

Do not touch: Apple still doesn’t offer a 2-in-1 or any laptop with a touch screen (Touch Bar doesn’t count).

Dongles: The newer MacBooks have USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports only.

–Laptop Mag

Apple being tied with Acer is a little hard to swallow. To make sure that I’m not just an Apple fan boy living in a bubble, I checked with Lisa Gade, founder and editor in chief of MobileTechReview. While she isn’t as supportive of Apple’s thin-or-die* design ethos as I am, she finds some of the report’s conclusions a bit surprising/dubious.

“I don’t agree given that Apple’s build quality, superb displays, OS X, support and readily available in-person Genius Bar help are enough raise them above 5th place,” she told me in an email.

Gade continued. “Clearly, in terms of value and selection breadth, Apple was never a leader (nor did they try to be— they sell a select group of high end laptops). That they’re suddenly punished this year but not last year when their laptop lineup was stale and behind the competition is mystifying to me.”

And even more mystifying to me. I’ve owned a ton of MacBooks over the years and the 12-inch MacBook (early 2016) and 15-inch MacBook (late 2016) I’m using now are the best incarnations of the MacBook yet. By a long shot (IMO).

Build quality and relatively trouble-free day-to-day use are paramount for me. Apple succeeds consistently on both counts. Face it, value isn’t value if you’re not getting quality for the value. To wit, I just got finished reinstalling Windows 10 on a brand-new 2017 laptop from a PC maker that was ranked above Apple on the list. That “value” laptop was crashing twice a day due to repeated PFN_List_Corrupt BSOD. That just doesn’t happen (to me) on MacBooks. And it’s really important that it doesn’t happen because it tends to ruin my workflow (besides making me pre-postal).

Portability is a close second. After all, we’re talking about laptops, aka, portable computers. And that’s why I agree with Apple’s thin-and-light design bent (started by Steve Jobs, by the way, in 2008 with the first MacBook Air — which was criticized relentlessly when it debuted but went on to become Apple’s most successful MacBook). I really like the fact that the 12-inch MacBook is 2 pounds but fast enough to handle pretty much anything I throw at it. Ditto on the 4-pound MacBook Pro.

Yeah, Apple’s pricing is a hurdle for lots of consumers. But I’ve always argued that it’s not hard to get a MacBook at a steep discount. It was easy for me to find the early 2016 12-inch MacBook at a $300 discount. Which, to me, made it a purchase with oodles of value.

Microsoft dead last?

And Gade pointed to another thing that makes the Laptop Mag report questionable. “Oh, and Microsoft is dead last place because they don’t engage in relentless product churn like a mainstream PC maker…Hmmm… Even though JD Powers just ranked Surface products as having higher customer satisfaction ratings than the beloved iPad?”

*Note: “thin-or-die” was the pejorative used by an executive at a top-five global PC maker (in an interview I had recently) when describing Apple’s design ethos.


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