Last week, when the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display was unveiled, the old debate over whether users want “hackable” hardware or not was reignited. I’ve previously added my initial comments to the discussion, but the talk continues–and some fairly dumb things are being said by otherwise smart people. I think the dumbness could stand to be pointed out, because it only diminishes whatever valid arguments they make.
It all started when Kyle Wiens of iFixit published an opinion piece on Wired.com in which he lamented the steady progression away from easily-upgradable Apple hardware. His primary points of contention: this new MacBook Pro follows the MacBook Air’s lead with soldered-in RAM chips, features a battery which is glued to the aluminum case, and is sold with a display which is fused directly to the front glass. These design decisions make for a smaller enclosure, but they also make it very difficult to replace any of the computer’s components. One’s only choice is to have the machine serviced by Apple itself–and if you end up wanting more RAM, for example, you have no options at all. You’d better pay for the extra RAM when you buy the laptop, because even Apple won’t add it for you later.
On the other side of the debate are the Apple-centric bloggers. Here’s Peter Cohen, for example, taking the people-want-simplicity argument to a completely comical extreme:
Clearly many consumers are happy with the tradeoff, which makes for easier use from a wider swath of people who don’t want to be concerned with the myriad fussy intricacies of computer use. It’s not Apple’s fault that the vast majority of consumers who want iPads don’t give a damn about hacking it. Apple’s simply responding to a market need.
He’s right that people don’t want to have to tweak and twiddle with their computer all of the time, of course, and if he’d simply leave his argument right there, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. However, when he claims that making things user-replaceable makes life hard for the non-geeks, he loses me. Take an iMac, for example. It’s possible that there has never been a computer with more easily upgraded RAM. There is a little door held in place with three standard Phillips screws. Beneath it are the RAM slots. That’s it. How, Peter, is that accessibility negatively affecting an average user’s experience with an iMac? How many iMac users even know that door is there? OK, you might (or might not) be able to argue that this sort of concession to the nerds drives up the price–but you can’t claim that it makes the computer worse for anyone. This same principle can applied to the MacBook Pro: if you don’t want to crack it open, don’t crack it open.
Don’t get me started on batteries. No market has ever cried out for non-replaceable batteries. Can you imagine Joe Consumer complaining that it’s too easy to buy a new battery? It’s absurd. And perversely, maybe no one has benefited from the glued-in battery trend more than iFixit!
The real point to be made here is that the industry is moving this way whether the geeks like it or not. It would be foolish to believe anything to the contrary. But is making that point such a big deal that we’re willing to claim that nobody would ever want to change a battery? Isn’t this sort of blindness just giving the Apple-haters a little ammunition? Won’t they just (rightfully!) point out how flawed your logic is?