I've never owned a Mac computer, I've always been a Windows guy. I do keep up with Apple because I love technology and I couldn't live without my iPhone and iPad. Everyone tells me I should switch to a Mac but once again I'm glad that I haven't.
The iPhone was the first Apple product I ever purchased. It was so incredible and so easy to understand, I instantly fell in love with it. At the time, a phone with only four physical buttons was unheard of but it simply made sense to anyone who picked it up. It's easy to overlook just how groundbreaking the original iPhone was because every smartphone has copied Apple's incredible user interface.
Each iteration of the iPhone has become more powerful with updated features and hardware. Everyone knows that each iteration of the iPhone has a better camera, but the last truly useful hardware update was the addition of the fingerprint reader. It's integrated in such a way that you don't ever even have to consider it. It just works.
Then 3D Touch was introduced to the iPhone. In my opinion, it's the first feature added to the iPhone that has actually made using the phone worse. When I first attempted to use Force Touch instead of intuitively knowing how, I found myself randomly mashing my thumb around the phone trying to guess when Force Touch was available. After a few days of trying I simply gave up using it altogether.
Here's a video of CNET trying to prove its value:
Being that most iOS devices don't have 3D Touch hardware, and this older hardware still needs to run current iOS versions, Apple is forced to keep 3D Touch as an almost useless feature. It feels like a neat trick, something that Apple can say "see what our phone can do that yours can't," but I'm not sure that it makes the experience of using the phone any better. At least not yet. Luckily, the addition of this feature didn't make the iPhone experience worse because Apple doesn't force you to use it. It's simply a feature that most iPhone users completely ignore.
The Touch Bar
This all leads to today's announcement of the new MacBook Pros with OLED "Touch Bar." The idea sounds great; to have a touchscreen built in to the top of a keyboard that changes based on the program you are currently using. So for instance if you were editing a video, you might be able to scrub through footage by sliding your finger across the Touch Bar.
The biggest potential problem with this design is that most professionals who use a computer on a daily basis simply don't like looking down at their keyboard. Each time I have to take my eyes off the screen to try to find a key on my keyboard I am forced to lose focus on whatever I was working on. But perhaps the bigger issue is similar to my issue with 3D Touch: If the Touch Bar is constantly changing, you will always be looking down wishing that something useful would show up while it rarely will.
In their promo video, the user receives a phone call and the "answer or ignore" option doesn't pop up on the screen, it only appears on the Touch Bar. Does this mean that you have to use the Touch Bar? I know at times I like using my laptop with an external mouse and keyboard and I would hate to be forced to use a laptop keyboard for random tasks. But, on the flip side, if these tasks do not force the user to use the Touch Bar, I would assume the average person will just go back to using a standard mouse rather than leaning forward to see what option on the Touch Bar may or may not be available. Check it out in Photoshop. Does this really seem like a more simple option?
These design updates, where hardware and software are so intertwined, can't easily be added, removed, or updated. You wouldn't want to become accustom to using a Touch Bar on your laptop when that Touch Bar doesn't exist on your iMac. Apple also can't add super useful features to the Touch Bar that would destroy the usability of old devices without it. Because of this, for the Touch Bar to become actually useful it will have to be on every Apple device from now on. If it's not, I imagine it will die out completely, perhaps being replaced by a standard full touchscreen.
Of course there is a reason why Apple hasn't created a touchscreen laptop yet: current computer operating systems simply are not optimized for touch. I own three touchscreen Windows laptops and although I was excited with the new feature when I bought them, I've found that I almost never touch them. It's easier to use a mouse. The Touch Bar doesn't feel like an answer to this problem. It feels like a neat trick that will soon be replaced with something better.
Don't get me wrong, I hate all of the different types of cables. I dream of the day that every device I own uses a single type of cable. Even better, I would love to see all cables die and for everything to be wireless. The problem is that we don't currently live in that world and a big contributor to this issue is Apple. Apple is the one who keeps changing these cables around. They are the ones who put a single USB-C cable on their new MacBook. They are the ones who removed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and forced users to use the Lightning port for audio. Now they have removed every single standard USB port from the new MacBook Pro and replaced them with four Thunderbolt ports.
If Thunderbolt is the future, I'm all for it. Let's put a Thunderbolt jack on every Apple device from now on and let's never change the shape of the port. If it needs to be updated, make the new cables and accessories backwards compatible like USB 1, 2, and 3. If Apple did this I'm sure every other manufacturer would pick up this cable and it really could become the industry standard, but as long as Apple has multiple standards, nobody else is going to jump on board.
Perhaps the most humorous part of the MacBook Pro launch is that Apple supplies a pair of lightning headphones to use with the brand new iPhone 7 but they can't be used with the new MacBook Pro. If the headphone jack is "obsolete" then the entire Apple product line should reflect that, but Apple has once again failed to choose a standard and stick with it.
Update: It was pointed out in the comments that Thunderbolt 3 is a different size than Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are compatible. This is certainly good news because it appears to be the standard for all current Mac laptops and hopefully all computers and phones in the near future. Now they just need to swap out Lightning connectors for Thunderbolt 3 in iPhones and iPads and there will be one simple port across all Mac platforms.
This article may be a little strange coming from someone who doesn't actually own a Mac, but these decisions that Apple continues to make are the very reasons why I never left Windows. I want a better user experience, not just a sleeker one.
I hope I'm wrong and that Apple's new Touch Bar is the future of computing. If it's implemented well, it certainly could be a huge step forward. I also hope that Apple can push the Thunderbolt port into the market as the new industry standard. I just don't want them to forget why we love them: their innovative products and unmatched user experience. Of course we like slick looking products too, but not at the cost of usability.