Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Exile From Dongletown

Jason Snell reacts to Apple’s newfound port generosity:

If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.

I have no need for one of these new MacBook Pros, but if I had to replace my nearly ten year old MacBook Air, the 14-inch model would be hard to resist — in silver, please. Its industrial design is a modern unibody interpretation of the Titanium PowerBook, Apple says it is ludicrously powerful, and it rights a bunch of the wrongs of the Touch Bar-era MacBook Pro lineup. MagSafe makes a much-appreciated return; its inclusion in my old Air saved it from falling off the counter just this week. For my money, the best port making its return is the SD card slot.

Snell:

SD slot: Apple’s argument for getting rid of the SD slot was that the future would be wireless, and we wouldn’t need to use cards to transfer data anymore. It wasn’t true back in 2016, and it’s still not true. Sure, some devices equipped with SD cards now offer wireless data transfer, but let me tell you — it’s not as fast or reliable as just plugging in a card and transferring the data! And a lot of our non-Apple devices still rely on slow USB ports to transfer data if you have to copy the data directly. The SD slot is just convenient whether you’re a pro transferring photos, audio, or video.

My MacBook Air is my travel computer, and I use the SD card slot constantly. In 2016, Phil Schiller attempted to justify its removal to the Independent’s David Phelan:

Because of a couple of things. One, it’s a bit of a cumbersome slot. You’ve got this thing sticking halfway out. Then there are very fine and fast USB card readers, and then you can use CompactFlash as well as SD. So we could never really resolve this – we picked SD because more consumer cameras have SD but you can only pick one. So, that was a bit of a trade-off. And then more and more cameras are starting to build wireless transfer into the camera. That’s proving very useful. So we think there’s a path forward where you can use a physical adaptor if you want, or do wireless transfer.

Schiller paints a picture of a future that we are still waiting on in 2021. Sure, some cameras have wireless transfer modes, but most everyone I know still transfers images via a cable connected to the camera or by inserting the SD card into their computer. And if the “cumbersome” qualities of the reader were unacceptable, it is hard to believe that the alternative could be described as elegant or simple.

As far as general peripheral ports, there is still only a series of USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. Thankfully, the USB-C device landscape is almost standardized. It has taken several years and most people still need a USB-A dongle from time to time, but it is so much better than it used to be. All of the other changes show that Apple really is listening to the users who are most drawn to the MacBook Pro’s capability and portability. This Mac is a sensation: I noticed Apple’s preorder page crawled to a halt for several hours after yesterday’s launch.

Truth be told, while I wish I could get one of the new 14-inch MacBook Pro models, I have no need for its power. I hope that some of these features will trickle down to the MacBook Air, and that the Air will be available in iMac colours. That is my perfect notebook. When this Air somehow stops working, it is what I will order — in teal.