Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

An Interview With Phil Schiller

David Phelan, of the Independent, interviewed Phil Schiller twice after the launch of the new MacBook Pros, and it’s probably one of the best I’ve read recently. Topics covered include the new hardware, the evolution of Apple’s major operating systems, and the reaction to the new MacBooks:

We care about what they love and what they are worried about. And it’s our job to help people through these changes. We know we made good decisions about what to build into the new MacBook Pro and that the result is the best notebook ever made, but it might not be right for everyone on day one. That’s okay, some people felt that way about the first iMac and that turned out pretty good.

I find Schiller’s comparison makes sense: the four Thunderbolt-as-USB-C ports on the new Pro remind me an awful lot of the change to USB on the first iMac. But even that iMac had an Ethernet connection and a phone jack for the modem, in addition to its two USB ports.

The Thunderbolt ports in the new MacBook lineup are, by contrast, much more general-purpose. Because they’re both Thunderbolt and USB-C, you can expect a myriad of useful peripherals — as well as mug warmers and all that other nonsense — in the coming months and years.

For now, though, there’s a good reason that searching sites like NewEgg and Apple’s own store for “USB-C” suggests adapters and cables above everything else. And, because these are “professional” machines that need to fit into a wide array of engrained workflows, you might find yourself needing a lot of adapters at first.

I wanted to highlight one more answer in the interview, in response to a question about the lack of an SD card reader:

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.

This is perhaps the change that frustrates me the most, so I want to pick apart this quote a little.

First, the SD card doesn’t have to stick out. Every camera that I’ve used has a sprung locking mechanism to keep the card snugly in its slot. Something like that might be really elegant on a MacBook Pro, and would help prevent removing the card without ejecting it.

Secondly, CF cards are really only used by some of the highest-end of cameras, like Canon’s 1D X. Other high-end cameras, like Hasselblad’s X1D and the Leica M, use SD cards. Even stepping down to full-frame cameras at a lower price point — the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5D Mk. IV, for instance — also use SD cards. I’m not entirely buying Schiller’s argument that supporting just SD-type cards is a real tradeoff.

As far as wireless transfer is concerned, it’s just not fast or reliable enough, especially for cameras producing 40-plus megabyte RAW images. Want to transfer a thousand of those? Take a nap.

So what are the alternatives? Plugging the camera into the computer means that your camera is out of commission until you can complete the transfer, and it probably also means lugging around a USB-A to USB-C adapter for now. If you’re a photographer, your best bet for transferring images in the field is going to be something like this crummy SD card reader. It’s not pretty and, combined with the lack of a MagSafe connector, looks a little precarious, but it should do the trick. After all, it’s a little tight in there.

Update: Josh Calvetti has reminded me that the original iMac didn’t have FireWire; that wasn’t added until the slot-loading model. I’ve corrected the post.