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MacBook Pro issues have bad timing, as Surface surges

Shortfalls of the new MacBook Pro are evident, as Apple pays more attention to other areas of its business. The lack of touchscreen is a drawback for users who want 2-in-1s.

Apple's reluctance to embrace 2-in-1s has hurt Mac adoption among businesses and consumers, while Microsoft Surface devices continue to see success.

Although Windows desktops and laptops continue to outpace Macs in the enterprise, Macs are common among business users dealing with graphic design, audio and video editing, and other creative areas. Several MacBook Pro issues around battery life, lack of ports and price have come to light since the release of the new version of the laptop in October 2016, however. And the latest model offers only a touch-enabled bar on the keyboard, not a touchscreen.

"PC users ... want a 2-in-1 capability," said Jack Narcotta, analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., in Hampton, N.H. "Macs are sticking out as an oddball here. Apple, as a PC vendor, is really much weaker than it has been in the past."

All major Windows PC vendors are moving in the direction of 2-in-1s. The overall market for 2-in-1s grew 75.7% from the first and third quarter of 2015 to the first and third quarter of 2016, according to IDC.

Meanwhile, the notebook PC market shrank 5.6% over that same period, and the market share of all MacBooks dropped 12.3%, IDC said. Market share data for Surface devices was not available, but adoption is increasing at a high rate, the firm said.   

The new MacBook Pro's headline feature, the Touch Bar -- a thin touch display on the top of the keyboard -- allows users to perform quick commands based on the application they are in. The customizable bar can display different tabs when in a browser or photo-editing functions when in Adobe Photoshop, for example. The Touch Bar also offers quick typing suggestions when in a word-processing application.

But it doesn't make up for the lack of a touchscreen, and it's not clear how much Apple can build on this feature going forward, said Linn Huang, research director at IDC.

"I just don't know how much more interesting things they can do on the Touch Bar," Huang said.

Apple out of focus

Apple's fastest-growing product segment is its services business, which includes Apple Music, the App Store, Apple Pay and iCloud, according to the company's fourth-quarter 2016 earnings report. Apple will continue to build on these services, which are all designed to bolster the capabilities of its big moneymaker, iOS on the iPhone, Narcotta said.

Macs are sticking out as an oddball here. Apple as a PC vendor is really much weaker than it has been in the past.
Jack Narcottaanalyst at Technology Business Research

"Macs are still a part of Apple's value prop, but are not the marquee device," Narcotta said. "I think Apple is kind of bored with the PC. The innovations are out of left field."

The new MacBook Pro came out about 15 months after its previous update -- longer than the average wait of about 10 months. It's the first MacBook to not receive a recommended rating by Consumer Reports, which cited inconsistent battery life that varies from as high as 19 hours to less than four hours. 

Apple hasn't updated the iMac, its high-end desktop computer, since October 2015, even though that product typically followed a similar update cycle to that of the MacBook Pro. And there has not been a new version of the MacBook Air in almost two years, but Apple may not have any intention of doing so, given that it launched the even thinner MacBook in April 2016. 

Michael Oh, CTO and founder of TSP LLC, an Apple reseller based in Boston, owns the new 15-inch MacBook Pro and is "very happy" with the machine overall, but one of the biggest issues is the ports, he said. Apple removed five of the ports, including the HDMI, SD card and Thunderbolt 2 ports, and it replaced them all with four USB-C ports. This change results in connectivity issues with other devices and monitors, and users have to buy additional dongles and adapters.

"You should do your research as to what it connects to before you buy it," Oh said.

The starting price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is $1,799, which is more expensive than some Windows laptops and 2-in-1s with similar specifications. Microsoft's Surface Book starts at $1,699, and the Surface Pro 4 with similar specs starts at $1,299.

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