14
Apr 10

MacBook Pro: at a loss for words

Under no circumstances take this as a criticism. This is a big, empathetic hug from a kindred spirit who knows the pain. Writing ain’t easy.

Imagine you’re the hungry writer at Apple who gets the job of introducing the new line of MacBook Pros. This is your moment. No more writing Snow Leopoard pages buried six links deep. You’re the guy who is going to introduce the laptops every pro has been lusting for. You couldn’t even sleep last night, being all giddy about today’s briefing. And now the meeting’s about to begin…

The Keynote presentation is Apple-flawless. The product manager takes you through all of MacBook Pro’s new features, one by one. The presentation is dramatically building to the “key message” — the magic thought that is to pervade all marketing materials for the updated product line. It’s not just any thought. It’s been blessed by Steve himself. It will be your guiding light as you write your little heart out.

You lean forward in your chair as the last feature slide begins an impressive origami transition, and finally the key message reveals itself: It’s the fastest MacBook Pro ever.

Everyone else in the room seems to be eagerly taking notes. But you’re the one who has to write the damn web pages. So you get up your nerve to look this gift horse in the mouth and ask,”Excuse me, but is that it? It’s faster?”

“Exactly,” says the product manager.

You suddenly feel some other person inside your own body, someone who’s a lot feistier than you, and that person grabs your microphone.

“Wait a second,” you hear yourself say, “isn’t that the same message we used when we introduced the previous new MacBook family? And the one before that? And the last five generations of iMac? And every generation of Mac Pro???”

“Sure is,” says the product manager, with a forced smile, “but you’re the writer — have some fun with it.”

The fact is, there’s nothing tougher than having to go to the well, time after time after time, to come up with a new way to say the same old thing. And in the technology world, just about every product refresh is the same old thing. More, better, faster. This time around, we get The fastest, most powerful MacBook Pro ever. Times three. Uh huh. Like there’s any surprise that the new MacBook Pros are faster than the old MacBook Pros. Or some precarious thrill to the fact that three MacBook Pros are being replaced by the same three MacBook Pros.

They should make one of those Budweiser radio commercials about a new “American Hero” — the writer who must somehow turn a completely unsurprising product positioning into a headline that will stop you in your tracks. It takes guts, stamina, and the ability to trash your own work repeatedly until you come up with something you might actually be proud of.

I’ve thought long and hard about getting a new MacBook Pro this year, but I think I’m going to pass. I’m crossing my fingers that next year’s models will be even faster.

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  • It’s a while I am horrified about these slogans, same thing happened with the iPhone (http://www.apple.com/iphone/) and, as you mentioned, many other products earlier. I understand that it’s very hard to come up with something new everytime but still… you would expect more from Apple.

  • t

    I think that headline says pretty much everything they need to communicate about this product update. Does every product update have to be a revolution in some way? This update isn’t such a big thing, neither for consumers, the industry or even Apple themselves. It’s probably better to save the big words for the big leaps…

  • Josh

    Apple is interesting in that aren’t interested in bean counting. Most manufacturers point out slight increases in hard drive capacity or clock speed, but that creates a situation in which you have to constantly one-up yourself or your products seem to fall flat.

    On the other hand, Apple wouldn’t want to OVERSELL your product by pointing out every detail in the refresh: “New MacBook Pros with Intel Core i5/i7 processors (which everyone else has had for a while) and a new low profile power dongle that (probably) won’t set your house on fire!”

    Detail like that would only have the anti-Apple crowd jeering with furor at the percieved lack of value in Apple products. And every detail, like the 13 in. MBP’s lack of a new Core i5/i7 processor would earn itself a mocking headline on PC World.

    So, yeah, you’re right. It’s lame. But I don’t really see any alternative shy of not saying anything at all.

  • ken segall

    Wow, I really missed a major opportunity. I didn’t even realize that the iPhone 3Gs line was “the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet.” Perfect.

    But I’m not sure you guys were getting my point. I’m not saying that the headline should have more features, nor am I saying that it should feel revolutionary when we’re just talking about a speed bump. I’m simply talking about writing good headlines. Apple has a history of doing that, of never saying anything in a dull, expected way. If you are in advertising, Apple has long been the gold standard for clarity and creativity.

    I’m totally okay with the fact that “faster, better” is the theme for the refreshing of the MacBook Pro line. I only lament that we’re now getting the same headlines over and over again. Though the job gets more and more difficult, I don’t think we’ve yet run out of fun, fresh ways to say “these things are fast.”

  • and ken, don’t forget, the iPad also falls into the “fastest yet” category … ; )

    off topic, but do check this out from Autodesk :

    http://area.autodesk.com/inhouse/videos/sketchbook_pro_for_ipad

    not out for another month or so, but this looks like the shape of things to come? maybe the product manager for the laptops ought to start sweating abit as his own people will soon be competing with his line of goods?

  • Chris

    Could be worse. Imagine being the writer for the new Kin phones.

  • ken segall

    @Chris:
    Ya beat me to the punch. Kin has me in a posting kind of mood…

    @marino:
    Where’ve ya been?
    Wow, that Autodesk app looks extremely cool. Hadn’t seen that one yet.

  • andrewTee

    In a pop-trash-culture kinda way, I’m reminded of poor Ryan Seacrest, who each week must inform American Idol viewers that “this week, the pressure’s on more than ever,” “the stakes have never been higher,” and “the competition’s never been hotter.” Which is true. And it’ll be true next week too, and every week until the finale. And every episode next season, too.

  • KT

    Ken, they also have the problem that some people don’t want to talk about processor technology to consumers. I completely agree for iPhone/iPod, but think the i5/i7 is worth saying something about. They really could have mentioned that this is a new processor lineup somehow, not just a speed bump. I’ll be getting one, this year… because my hard drive is failing on my first gen core 2 duo MBP. Agreed on this headline designed by committee, but Intel could sure use some naming help on its chips. Have you ever driven on the I-5?

  • hey ken, been busy freelancing … you know, feast or famine …

    i almost got a her a new laptop, but i broke down and got an iPad for artemis, my wife … she loves it but some of the features are wonky (iTunes being THE entertainment portal) and the single user model, but it does grow on you and it is wicked fast with our Airport (got WiFi, not 3G, AT&T makes enough off me) …

    that app looked very interesting and there’s a whole slew of things in the pipe for the summer that look to make the Pads actual tools capable of making stuff usable by other people … i kind of agree with Mossberg about this being the beginning of the end of laptops?

    at some point, Apple might have to divide and conquer themselves, hypothetically, when Pads get beefier and come in sizes (?) what would be the point of a 13 or 15″ laptop, provided you could build in similar usability in a Pad (and i don’t see why not)?

  • ken segall

    @KT:
    Yes, of all companies, Apple is not one to focus on things like processors — though the pro crowd can certainly handle such talk. Your point is a good one, and perhaps talking about the radically new processor at the core would have made for a more interesting headline than just “faster.” Then again, they would have some ‘splaining to do about the 13-incher still having the old processor…

  • ken segall

    @marino:
    Geez, this is a major conversion. Didn’t expect you to fall for this whole iPad thing. I do agree, with a stream of amazing apps, a few new models (more on the pro side), the platform will go along way toward establishing a “new way” that will have consequences for all the old ways.

  • Adam

    t: “I think that headline says pretty much everything they need to communicate about this product update.”

    What about the refinements? Reading the press release, it’s clear that the new models are more powerful and more refined at once.

    http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/04/13mbp.html

    Power:
    * faster processors and graphics chips

    Refinements:
    * all new, totally sweet, automatic graphics switching technology
    * even longer battery life, up to 10 hours
    * trackpad now supports inertial scrolling
    * audio out now supported over Mini DisplayPort (not even mentioned in the PR)

  • not really a big conversion, it was a gift for my wife after all … i’m still more curious to see the step ups AFTER HP, MS et al, release their lot into the wild … i believe that HP is next up to bat?

    to be honest, i’m not really expecting anything until next year when the ‘newness’ factor settles and everyone gets down to business … use the iPhone as an example : Apple introduces it, changes perceptions, spawns a whole new industry, everyone follows suit and a year or two later we see some leaps and bounds, after everyone’s rush to market and they actually have something to support.

    if i’m not mistaken, Apples first years in laptops was also a bit rocky, just to keep on this threads topic … the first little grey bricks they dropped were nice but didn’t start wowing until the Wall St models? now, laptops are standard issue for school kids and it’s pretty hard to impress on any level, except for the geek factors (speed, processor power, RAM, etc) most people only need to know it’s “faster, more powerful, new AND improved”.

    so other than reading silly headlines like the one above and maybe a little opinion and review searching, most people have done their due diligence and are ready to buy something, with a sidelong glance at the budget.

    that headline is perfect for them and the banner ads at the BestBuy, no?

  • Jimi

    Needs more magical adjectives…

  • Scott

    The most magical, shiniest MacBook Pro ever…oh, and they’re fast too.

  • Josh Sklar

    I thought the writer meant the new MacBook Pros are three times more powerful and faster than the last model. Imagine my disappointment! ;-)