Tim Cook’s new MacBook aka ruthless product management

I’ve been an Apple laptop user for many years now. I refresh my hardware every 12 months. You might think that’s a little rich, as laptops last way longer than a year, but I live and die by my laptop, so I consider it a cost of doing business. (Plus, I have lots of nieces and nephews that love getting hand-me-downs

My time is split between Mac OS, Windows 7 and XP under Parallels, various versions of Windows Server via RDP (via the awesome Jump Desktop) and various versions of Linux (mostly CentOS) via ssh. Yup, I use more operating systems than Baskin Robbins has flavors. We’ve got portfolio companies that run just about everything, which means that I have to run just about everything. Plus, I travel. So I like a powerful laptop that is reasonably light but still powerful. Of all of the Apple laptops, the Macbook Air was my favorite. It was light, thin, had good battery life and it had enough firepower to handle my average workday. Not tremendous firepower, but enough firepower. Let me stop you before all of you fanboys suggest that I try some other brand of hardware. I run lots of Mac-only software and I like Mac OS as my day-to-day desktop environment. So save your breath. My only real gripe with the MacBook Air was the 512 GB SSD storage limit. I really need at least a terabyte of onboard storage. (That’s even considering that I keep all my music and movies on an external drive). That was my dilemma right around Christmas this year. Should I wait for an updated MacBook Air that *might* feature a larger SSD? Would I be better off punting and going back to the heavier, thicker MacBook Pro?

Thank heaven I didn’t wait for the new MacBook Air. Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive have struck again. They took a great little laptop and ruined it. Yes, the new MacBook, (no longer called the MacBook Air), is thinner and lighter and features a longer battery life. That’s the good news. Everything else about the machine is bad. It uses slower Intel chips (to improve the battery life) and it has a single USB-C port for everything – power, peripherals, the works.

Now, the MacBook Pro is your only choice if you need power and storage and ports. When I am sitting on a plane my laptop is peripheral-free. When I am parked at one of my portfolio companies my MacBook Pro has so many cables plugged into it it looks like a trauma patient. Power cables, printer cables, ethernet cables, and external storage.

This is a case of old Jony Ive and Tim Cook deciding what’s good for you. It’s Apple’s prerogative to decide how to configure the models in their line-up. Simplifying the product mix makes good supply-chain sense and Tim Cook is just a supply-chain guy at heart. The MacBook Air used to be a solid workhorse laptop. Now it’s a glorified iPad with a gold case and a built-in keyboard. So glad I have no patience and bought my MacBook Pro for Christmas. There are plenty of you out there that will bemoan the demise of the MacBook Air and chalk it up to another episode of Apple’s arrogance. And maybe you are right. But let me offer you another perspective. We preach product management at our companies. Companies that follow rigorous product management practices kill off older products. They continue to refine their product line to maximize a combination of customer satisfaction, engineering and supply chain optimization. Apple must believe that they have a gap between their high end iPad and their lowest end laptop. The new MacBook fills that gap, so the MacBook Air had to die. It’s as simple as that. Most of us who are power users of the Apple platform are getting moved over to the MacBook Pro, mobile lightweights will gravitate to the “new” MacBook. My partner, Devin, is a prime example. He writes no code, but he writes lots of emails and documents. If it weren’t for our podcast he’d plug nothing into his laptop. He loves the new MacBook configuration, it is light, it has long battery life for a plane ride, and it’s fast enough.

Apple will continue to refine their hardware lineup to maximize revenue and keep a tight handle on cost and product line explosion. Might not make you happy, but it’s the right decision from a product management perspective.