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Should I buy the new MacBook Pro 2016?

What does the new MacBook Pro have in common with these shoes? Hint: More features.

That's the number one question I'm hearing since Apple announced the new MacBook Pro 2016 models last week.

The Internet's been alive with countless blog posts and podcasts diving into everything from the specifications to speculation about what if anything is Apple's strategy now, if any. And the reviews are mixed.

Some people think the new MacBook Pro 2016 is a stepping stone machine, like the first MacBook Air: Thinner and lighter, but at a price premium inconsistent with the power and specifications. Certainly $1200 for 2TB of storage confirms that.

At $1200, that's a pricey hard drive upgrade.

Other people are really disappointed.  I haven't seen this level of negative sentiment directed at Apple in a long time. Apple evolves their products in two ways: Major form factor changes, where the actual shape and physical design changes. The other way is small, iterative improvements under the hood. Things you don't always see, but often feel.  The MacBook Pro 2015 was a four-year-old form factor and due for a change.

For months the rumor mills were churning with talk of features and specifications. Liquid-metal hinges and OLED touch bar were obsessively talked about by nerds and geeks. And Apple gave them what they wanted:  The new MacBook Pro 2016 has a new hinge design, and the upper-end models have an OLED touch bar that, basically, is a glass strip that replaces the fixed function keys with a dynamic visual set of keys, depending on which application you're in.  That all sounds neat, in a very geeky way.

The other thing Apple did with the MacBook Pro 2016 was very, very Apple: They made the new MacBook Pros thinner and lighter, and replaced every port on the computer, except the headphone jack, with four USB-C ports. HDMI: Gone. SD card slot for camera memory? Gone. Standard USB ports, Thunderbolt 1/2 ports, and even the Magsafe charging port: All gone. 

And some folks are understandably confused. Apple just eliminated the headphone port on the iPhone 7, but it's the only port they're leaving on the new MacBook Pro? Some of the actual, real-life cabling situations captured in images circulating the Internet summarize the sentiment better than I could possibly write about it.

And then they revealed the pricing. At an average of $500 more at each level, the price is substantially higher than prior MacBook Pro models.  Vlad Savov at the Verge wrote a good article that explains why price increases were absolutely predictable as the personal computer market retracts. The bottom line: Apple's most profitable customers are willing to pay a much higher premium for a premium product, and Apple knows it and is pricing accordingly.

So all of this now brings me back to the original question:

Should I buy the new MacBook Pro 2016?

My answer to this question follows the same process I've used for nearly two decades.

First, do you need a new computer?

For example, I'm currently writing this on a MacBook Pro 2015. I have 16GB of RAM and the maximum storage available at the time, 1TB. All of this is more than I need. Think of it this way: My computer is probably about 50X better than the one that JJ Abrams used to actually create the first pilot episode of Lost. I'm probably using less than 1% of my computer's capabilities, and I use it for a lot: I consult with it daily, I manage the IT/tech of dozens of companies directly using it, I screen share constantly with it, I update my web site with it, I communicate in two languages with it, I tweet with it. This list goes on.

Do I need the new MacBook Pro 2016?  Is there anything it does that will make me more productive?

For me, the answers are: No and No.

Next, do I simply want the new MacBook Pro 2016?

This is the most interesting question this time, because my answer this time is different than every other MacBook made since my first Apple notebook, which was a PowerBook 100. I tend to upgrade with not just every form factor, but almost every update of every form factor.

But this time, things are different.

Let's start with form factor.

I'm not going to notice a few ounces of weight difference, or a few millimeters less thickness.

Now, regarding speed.

I'm not unhappy with my current MacBook Pro. An extra millisecond here and there will add up to a few minutes saved each day, but not hours per week.  However, if I were a production employee or self-employed artist who had to edit photographs or large video files all day long, the speed difference along makes it worth the purchase.  

Spend $4300 today, do it right now. Because at $150 per hour of billable time, you're going to make an extra $39,000 this year because of it. Very basic, simple math justifies the purchase.  Or take the extra time savings along and better yet, take a month off of work.  Does a $4300 investment pay off with an extra month to do something else?  You better believe it does.

This is the first time in years that I don't actually have any particular desire to buy the new MacBook Pro. I'm OK waiting for the 3rd or 4th generation of this forthcoming model.

What about Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) speed?

When I bought my 2015 MacBook Pro, one of the features I wanted was fast 20Gb/s Thunderbolt 2. I see it in action all the time, and I actually use it with a fantastics 12TB Lacie RAID with 2 x 6TB hard disks that are striped together, meaning, the data reads and writes across both disks simultaneously.  This allows my Mac to enjoy data transfer speed of 12Gb/s, which is twice the maximum speed of a regular hard disk.  When I'm opening up a 1.5TB Photos library, that speed makes a BIG difference.

Now do the math on what I just wrote: I justified a new computer partially based about about a 20% speed increase (in my case) above Thunderbolt 1.  I've never fully utilized Thunderbolt 2. And now they're doubling the speed again with Thunderbolt 3.  Even as I write this, no major hard disk maker has produced a simple, portable Thunderbolt 2 hard drive for Mac users.

This is the first major release of a new notebook by Apple that I haven't ordered.  I thought about very briefly, and even with the significant discount I receive through one Apple channel, it's still not enough to justify the purchase.

Way, way too many dongles in the Apple ecosystem now.

I'm incredibly happy with my MacBook Pro 2015, which I ordered about 1 month before the last set of rumors about a new notebook. Four generations into this form factor, my system is stable, rock solid reliable, and does everything I need it to do, and more. Add to that my ability to use HDMI in anyone's conference room worldwide, or to hook up to a TV in a hotel room, and my ability to plug in my iPhone with the regular lightning cable, and I'm happy I won't have to carry around (or forget) more dongles than I already have to remember.

What if you need a new MacBook Pro right now?

By all means, if you actually need a new computer because your old one is on borrowed time, then buy one.

If my MacBook Pro were 3-4 years old, then reliability starts to become more important than whether or not speed and features still satisfy. If you're in that situation, I highly recommend purchasing a new Mac.

Which leads to an interesting option I knew about, but did not consider in the past: As long as Apple still has special deals on 2015 MacBook Pros, I highly recommend considering them in addition to the MacBook Pro 2016, for all the above reasons. And if you're in the market and want to get your hands on 2015 hardware, Apple has a special site just for that.

Some concluding thoughts

Last week I wrote about the kind of announcement I hoped Apple would make. I still think the current Apple leadership has the potential to do some amazing things consistent with Steve Jobs original vision. They certainly have the cash on hand, they're making hundreds of millions of dollars in acquisitions, and they have the company that Steve Jobs built.

But Apple did not do or reveal anything strategic regarding their products.  Once again, it was a focus on features and specs. And in my opinion, as someone who has bought almost every notebook Apple has ever made, the feature set is not compelling enough to upgrade if you have a computer that does what you need it to do. I'm concerned because there are several things Apple could have done that are risky, but they didn't. I'm primarily concerned about whether or not the fear that I wrote about last week - the fear that commonly affects larger, successful businesses - has finally started set in.  I hope not.

For now, hopefully this post helps you if you're trying to decide whether or not to order the new MacBook Pro 2016.  The good news is that you have more great alternatives than usual if you're looking for them.

As for me, until Apple releases something insanely great, I'm very, very happy with my 2015 MacBook Pro and will be taking very good care of it.


James Coleman is the technologist with an MBA, and founder+director of TechRoom. He helps business owners and individuals take their technology from practical to masterful with TechRoom Concierge.

Have a question for the blog or podcast? Send James an email here.