First Click: Apple should stop selling four-year-old computers

August 4th, 2016


One thousand, five hundred and fourteen days. Or: four years, one month, and twenty-four days.

That’s how long it’s been since Apple released the last MacBook Pro to come without a Retina display. The $1,199 13-inch model was powered by a 2.5GHz Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, a solid option for a midrange laptop in June 2012. I got one that month and am actually typing this column on it right now, having performed open hard drive surgery last night to bring it back from the dead.

Nothing unusual about that, of course — technology moves on. Except it’s now August 2016, and Apple is inexplicably still selling the exact same laptop.

For longtime Mac users, MacRumors’ Buyer’s Guide is an online institution. The publication catalogs the release dates of each major Apple product line and contrasts them against the company’s usually predictable timeframe for updates, ultimately delivering a verdict on whether it’s better to buy now or wait. It’s a hugely useful resource that I’ve often pointed people to when asked for recommendations on laptop purchases.

But right now, the Mac section of the guide makes for depressing reading. Apart from the 12-inch MacBook, which was refreshed in April, every single Mac line from the mini to the Pro is designated as "Don’t Buy" because of how long it’s been since Apple updated them.

The Retina MacBook Pro is 442 days into its current cycle, despite refreshes coming every 268 days on average in the past. The Mac mini has gone 657 days since its last update, which was controversial in itself since Apple removed quad-core options and made the product harder to upgrade after purchase. And the Mac Pro, released in December 2013 following much "Can’t innovate any more, my ass"-fueled fanfare? It hasn’t received a single update since then. "This is without a doubt the future of the pro desktop," Phil Schiller said when announcing the Mac Pro on stage that year. Did he mean that this was the precise model Apple expects professional users to use literally forever?

Apple iterates quickly and consistently in mobile because the rate of technological progress is so much more dramatic in that arena. The company does amazing work to keep its iPhones and iPads ahead of competitors, performance-wise. Simple Intel processor upgrades are less important to laptops these days, however, and I’m finding this 2012 MacBook Pro fine to work from right now — faster than my 2015 MacBook, at least, which is enough for my needs.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t unconscionable for Apple to continue to sell outdated products to people who may not know any better. Is the company really saving that much money by using 2012 processors and 4GB of RAM as standard? Even an update to Intel’s Haswell chips from 2013 would have brought huge battery life improvements. Apple is bound by the whims of its suppliers to a certain extent, and it may not always make sense for the company to upgrade its products with every single new chip or GPU that comes out. But there’s a certain point at which it just starts to look like absentmindedness, and many Mac computers are well past that point now.

there’s a certain point at which it just starts to look like absentmindedness

If Apple needs to keep the non-Retina MacBook Pro around for certain users who really need a DVD drive, fine; I happen to like the chunky old design, and it’s good to have a Mac laptop in the lineup where you can still upgrade the RAM and storage. But there’s no excuse for selling four-year-old hardware for $1,099. (Yes, Apple charitably dropped the price by one hundred whole dollars two years ago.) The 2012 MacBook Pro still runs okay today, but not that okay.

The issue pervades almost the entire Mac line. Professionals really do care about performance, so the nearly three-year wait for a new Mac Pro is exasperating to many — not least Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who says he’d like to support the Mac "when Apple makes a good computer" with modern GPUs. The Mac mini is similarly losing its relevance in the desktop space; I’d actually like to buy one soon, but I’d feel like an idiot. And it’s understandable not to update the MacBook Air with a Retina display given the shift to the new MacBook, but to continually ship it with an awful TN panel? The Air’s screen was subpar in 2012, which is why I got the bulkier but IPS-equipped Pro back then in the first place. Apple should be embarrassed to have it in its stores today.

Signs point to a major MacBook Pro update coming later in the year, but nothing short of a complete overhaul for the entire Mac line will suffice. People that buy Apple products do so because they want the best; in hardware terms, at least, it’s hard to argue that most people buying a Mac today will be getting that. If Apple doesn’t want to keep its products reasonably current, that’s its prerogative. But if that truly is the case, maybe it shouldn’t sell them at all.

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