The Late 2016 MacBook Pro and Endless Controversies

December 8th, 2016

The carping about the perceived lapses in the Late 2016 MacBook Pro won’t end. I would have thought that complaining about the lack of a 32GB option, the high price, and hopes for more performance and battery life, would die down after a while. But they haven’t, and there are other issues that are getting attention.

Complaints about the Touch Bar include the width of the virtual keys, the propensity for hitting the wrong key, and whether the available options can really improve your productivity. But it’s early in the game and apps are just starting to issue updates that support the new hardware. It’s up to developers to figure out what works with their products, although the demonstrations with Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro X, at Apple’s media event, were impressive.

The argument about the lack of support for 32GB RAM is based on the fact that some PC notebooks do. But no Apple notebook has ever supported more than 16GB RAM. Apple executives, particularly VP Philip Schiller, assert that battery life would suffer severely if a different hardware memory scheme were used. The critics suggest Apple should just produce two different models, one that emphasizes power savings, the other that emphasizes performance. assuming that doubling RAM would make a huge difference. But in many cases it doesn’t, and the speedier SSDs help when virtual memory is required.

This is a question of asking Apple to do something they haven’t done before, which is to provide essentially two different logic board configurations for the same product, one as a low-production option. You might see that on the PC side, where few manufacturers make much in the way of profits from personal computers, and they overwhelm the public with different model configurations. But Apple is never going to provide as many options as some want.

Even then, there are some complaints about battery life, with users saying they are only getting as little as half what Apple claims, in the five-hour range. At the same time there appears to be a bug in the handling of the switchover from integrated graphics to discrete graphics on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The obvious symptom would be graphics artifacts, but this problem appears to occur on units that only feature integrated graphics. But if a dual-graphics unit doesn’t switch from discrete graphics when it should, that would shorten battery life.

According to published reports, Apple executive Craig Federighi is quoted as saying, in an email to a Mac user, that the forthcoming Sierra 10.12.2 update will fix the graphics issues. I assume that would include the inability to properly switch between the dual-processors, which ought to improve battery life. Nothing is being said about other power efficiencies that would be managed by the OS or some misbehaving apps.

What makes the battery issues most confusing is the fact that not everyone is impacted. Reviewers almost universally report battery life consistent with Apple’s claims of up to 10 hours. Well, one exception I know about offhand is columnist Joe Wilcox, who also says he’s not getting much more than five hours. But again this may all be about the OS or individual apps doing things they aren’t supposed to do.

Regardless, when Sierra 10.12.2 lands — and it should be shortly — well see what it fixes. Meantime, it is available to both developers and public beta testers, and according to published reports, it does seem to fix all or most of the graphics glitches. I haven’t heard about the battery life shortcomings, though I suppose we’ll know soon enough. My feeling is that the pending updates will all arrive before Christmas, possibly within days.

What bothers me is that some critics pretend Apple hasn’t had such problems before. Don’t forget that the first dual-graphics MacBook Pros from Apple also had switchover glitches. Some of the problems required replacing the unit, and we all know it’s happened in PC land. Don’t forget that the latest MacBook Pro is a very new design in many respects, so bugs are to be expected. But I also expect Apple to figure out what’s wrong and take care of the problem.

Consider that Boot Camp audio glitch that fried MacBook Pro speakers. Apple will certainly replace the affected machines, and the Boot Camp audio drivers have been fixed. Consider the battery problem that impacts the iPhone 6s. Apple has announced a repair program to replace the batteries without charge. Over the years, there have been a number of extended repair programs from Apple to fix hardware defects that can cause a product to misbehave or fail.

When a new product arrives, however. it may take a while for the shakedown cruise, for the glitches to be identified and more time for them to be fixed. It becomes really difficult when a problem isn’t consistent, where some users have the problem and others don’t. It reminds me of the car that misfires — until you bring it to the repair shop and it works perfectly. I can tell you a few stories.

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6 Responses to “The Late 2016 MacBook Pro and Endless Controversies”

  1. jfutral says:

    “This is a question of asking Apple to do something they haven’t done before”

    Well, sort of. They have historically offered user upgradeable ram and internal drive on pro devices. All those users are asking is to do what pro users have been able to do. While my MBP does not have upgradeable RAM (which I am sorely just now disappointed in) I have recently enjoyed being able to swap out my internal SSD as it died. The most inconvenient part was waiting for a replacement drive, learning that it was shipped second day air on a Thursday, which meant I was running from a slower external drive for four days. But I did not have to give up my MBP while the exchange happened. An when I got the replacement drive it took all of 5 minutes to replace.

    While this happened during a very busy time, at least it did not happen while I was traveling.

    As for the RAM, I find myself doing more than I did when I bought my MBP with only 8 gigs. I could use the upgrade now with the additional work I’m doing. But I can’t. I have to buy either a new motherboard (if I can even find one) or buy a new Macbook. Great for Apple. Sucks for me.


    • gene says:

      It’s not about offering more RAM or a different hard drive, or even a faster processor. It’s whether Apple should offer a limited-run model with a different logic board, offering up to 32GB RAM, a model with substantially lower battery life.


      • jfutral says:

        Well, this is how it is _now_, but it is not how Apple has always done it. There may have been addressable limits to ram, but one was not stuck with the amount of ram or internal drive capacity at the point of purchase. So this isn’t something Apple has _never_ done. It just isn’t possible with how Apple is doing it now. The “limited run” notion is only requested and relevant with Apple’s newly adopted construction.


        • jfutral says:

          I used to be able and willing to take the battery hit that an internal 7200rpm hard drive would cause over the standard 5400rpm hard drive. Now I don’t even get the option of taking a battery hit for performance and upgradeability preferences.


          • gene says:

            No MacBook Pro has ever addressed more than 16GB RAM. What is troubling about current models is that there are no upgrade possibilities after the fact. You cannot upgrade RAM and, in a more recent change, the SSD. The concept of a limited-run MacBook Pro with a different logic board because of a different memory controller — which uses different RAM — is not the norm for Apple. It would require a custom design that sacrificed battery life and a little performance (slower RAM) to satisfy a possible need for more memory.


  2. DaveD says:

    I’m not too surprise at the continuing write-ups of issues with the new MacBook Pros. However, the one with the battery life is new for a MacBook, it is usually prevalent with iPhones after a new iOS release. Especially after a new model redesign, it is good to make Apple aware of any issues. My hat tip to those who worked with Apple providing logs and notes, and the special ones who reinstalled macOS which is a much bigger task with time involved and lost productivity.

    Sporadic issues are difficult to resolve. It may take a lot of activity inside Apple’s Discussions Forums to see a broader impact of a specific issue and some workarounds. I do know that Apple may slowly, at times very slowly, announce an extended repair program. As noted in your prior commentary with links to various repair programs, my 2011 MacBook Pro is under one that expires this month. So far, the MacBook Pro hasn’t been impacted with a graphics issue.

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