Still not thankful for ZDNet.

Speaking of professional trolls, ZDNet’s Robin Harris provides a veritable omnibus of stupid. An omnishortbus, if you will.

The title?

Apple’s new MacBooks: flop or fiasco?

What prompts this bon mot? What appears to be an unattributed report saying Apple has cut MacBook orders by 20-30% in DigiTimes, the outfit that said Apple would offer an AMD-powered laptop.

Mmm! That’s good troll! The Macalope has always said that troll is always better when it’s fresh. But remember to eat it before the sun comes up or it turns to stone.

Harris wonders why Apple can’t be more like HP and pump out low-margin laptops that drive market share and revenue. HP’s laptop business is, unarguably, doing well from a revenue perspective, but Harris’ numbers are a little out of date. HP’s laptop revenue increased 26% in the third fiscal quarter (announced in August) as Harris notes, but that fell slightly to 21% for the fourth quarter (announced yesterday).

Meanwhile, Apple’s year-over-year increase in laptop sales revenue for the third calendar quarter (announced last month) was 17%. Not as great as HP’s, but still nothing to cause investors to demand the head of Steve Jobs on a festive platter surrounded by Thanksgiving-themed garnishes.

Harris asks:

When was the last time you picked up your notebook and thought “I wish it weren’t so flimsy!”

Funny you should ask, because it was literally last night.

The Macalope switched from a PowerBook to a MacBook earlier in the year and, while he’s been pleased with the unit and would make the same decision again if he had to, the build quality is disappointing compared to the Pro. The plastic bends and separates at the seams and Mrs. Macalope’s white MacBook has even slivered at one edge.

The new design specifically addressed these concerns. Harris must be used to a different standard.

Steve Jobs is a design geek, which is usually a Good Thing. But he over reaches regularly and the results hurt.

Yeah. Hurts like a fox.


Harris’ examples of Jobs’ painful overreaching? The swing-arm iMac, the G4 Cube and the NeXT Cube. Even if you buy Harris’ claim that these were all very costly flops (which is a joke), that’s three flops over a 30-year career in technology. By any standard, that’s a tremendous success.

Steve’s history of putting form before function – or price – comes at a particularly bad time.

Stop. The phrase is “form before function”, which is really something Apple hasn’t done since the hockey-puck mouse. At any rate, the new MacBooks are both formtacular and functacular. If you want to say Apple puts form before price, just say that. Because what you wrote is simply not true.

Netbooks are moving prices into iPod Touch territory.

And, with the App Store, the iPod touch is moving functionality into netbook territory (certainly for gaming, anyway).

And with Moore’s Law pushing performance up more people will buy them instead of standard notebooks.

Will they? Or is the netbook as currently defined a niche product without an audience? Does everyone want an underpowered (remember, it’s all relative, Robin) device with a tiny screen? Sure, you might want a netbook if you’re backpacking across Europe, but do you want to give up on performance when you’re just going to the kitchen for a snack?

By investing in a costly feature no one asked for Apple is stalling its rapid growth in notebook marketshare.

You keep saying that no one asked for this but the fact of the matter is customers expect a higher quality product from Apple. While the Macalope doesn’t agree with his Macworld compatriot Cyrus Farivar that it’s a foregone conclusion that Apple won’t release a netbook in 2009, Cyrus is spot on noting that market share is generally not the company’s primary concern (certainly when it comes to Macs at least).

Remember what the entire premise that the MacBook is either a flop or a fiasco is based on. The Macalope knows business is tough these days, but would someone tell ZDNet that having a blowout sale on stupid isn’t really going to improve their bottom line?

Trackbacks Comments
  • KiltBear:

    Ummm… I like the hockey puck mouse. Believe it or not, I ended up holding it in such a way that it AVOIDED RSI type pain… It allowed my hand to naturally curl on top of it and rest rather than hyperextending my fingers and being forced to use them as a long lever to click rather than a curled finger downward push… Yup, kilted bears are weird animals.

    Maybe I’ll try using my super mouse like the regardless…

    Yup, I like ellipses, too…

  • Hans:

    Hi, my name is Hans, and I liked the hockey puck mouse too.

  • Netbooks pah!

    Right. That’s my informed analysis done.

  • monkyhead:

    I also, much to my surprise, liked the hockey puck mouse. Also, the iMac-with-a-neck is my favoritest Mac ever. The 20″ one (which had a disappointingly short run) is still commanding respectable moneys on the ebay.

  • Well, you’re all entitled to your opinion. No matter how wrong and stupid and wrong it is.

  • Daniel:

    I read once that the Hockey puck mouse was designed to be moved by resting your fingers on it rather than the base of your hand. I use it that way myself and it is actually less tiring for my hand – but I long ago accepted that I am in the minority in that respect.
    It was also a great size for kids.
    Now the “mighty” mouse – don’t get me started!

  • The Mighty Mouse also sacrifices function for form — that tiny scroll ball just doesn’t give you enough grip.

    A really nice looking and functioning mouse would have no moving scroll wheel at all, just a touch sensitive scroll area like a tiny trackpad.

  • Fred B:

    I liked the hockey puck mouse too. It ws a fingertip controlled mouse which I always suspected annoyed only the ham fisted types. Never had problems with orientation, or anything else. It was a well built mouse by Logitech.

  • Church of Apple:

    I’m going with the ‘lope on this one, that puck was awful. Apple’s whole run with mice has been pretty damn disappointing all round.

    That mighty mouse ball bearing scroller broke in a few months when I got my iMac. Now I’m just hoping my logitech one doesn’t break cause they don’t make it anymore and it’s the only good one they offered.


    For f—‘s sake, just give me a multi-touch desktop trackpad already Steve… >_<


  • Nobody asked for this? That’s not what Jobs said about the new MacBook. During his presentation, he specifically mentioned that MacBook users wanted the aluminum of the MacBook Pro. I specifically put off buying a new MacBook when I needed something with more memory because I waited (and waited and waited) to see if the rumors of an aluminum MacBook were true. And they were!

  • GearsofPeace:

    Looks like poor Robin isn’t getting enough hits on his “storage” blog, and ZDNet is putting the screws to him “Write something sensationalistic about…hmmm..Apple!”
    And Robin fearfully complies, just like George Ou used to do to get hits (didn’t help poor George in the end of course, and I’ll wager Robin won’t hold out much longer either, esp. if he doesn’t bother to do research on his flamebait)

  • Sean:

    Most hardware reviewers are (like myself) men with big hands. My wife had small hands and she really loved the round (hockey puck) mouse. So add one more voice to the chorus of the “Hockey Puck Mouse Panegyric”.

  • Sigivald:

    I never liked the puck (came with my G4 Yikes!); I immediately got a normal-mouse-shaped shell for it, and then when OSX came I put a normal PC mouse on it (and all subsequent Macs I’ve owned until the Mighty Mouse came out) and have never looked back at a one-button.

    I’m also willing to give him “form over function” for the Cube. I own one (thank you, eBay and patience!), and the power button really is stupidly located. Nevermind jokes, I really have accidentally turned the damned thing off.

    (My experience with the Mighty Mouse is much more positive than Church’s, though. My MM is a few years old and in fine shape.)

    As to his main argument, I have a Netbook (a Dell Inspiron Mini 910), and it’s a nice toy, so I know whereof he speaks at that level.

    But Apple isn’t stupid enough to enter that market segment, I think.

    The entire point of that market is cheap, and I don’t think Apple’s willing to do any of the following, at least one of which and possibly two of which are required to achieve “cheap”:

    A) cut corners on quality/materials/assembly*.
    B) cut margin.
    C) dilute the brand.

    * My Dell is pretty nice, and evidently beats the EEE on build quality, according to most reviews, but its quality would rank “disappointing” to “what the Hell is Jobs smoking?” for an Apple product. I mean, there are rough/sharpish edges on the case plastics at the joints, and I have no reason, from the reviews and given the price point, to believe that that’s a production error on my specific example.

    They’re not bad enough to be more than reminder that it’s not a top-end product, but they are just that.

  • dave:

    The ‘three flops’ weren’t.

    The swing-arm iMac sold well.
    The Cube was a great computer, but overprices to make sure it didn’t impact desktop sales.
    The NeXT Cube was a great computer, better than anything out there and priced that way. The operating system was way more advanced than what Apple and Microsoft had (Display PostScript ROCKED), and the computer itself was also more advanced than any other home/business computer. If this was a flop, then NeXT would have gone out of business because it was all they sold for years (until they came out with the NeXTStations, and then switched over to making an OS that ran on a limited range of Intel machines.

  • I’m not an Apple fanatic. While I do prefer OS X for my desktop, I also use Linux and Windows depending on the situation. I own an HP laptop as well as a MacBook Pro… or at least I did own a MacBook Pro. I just “downgraded” from a 15″ MacBook Pro to a 13.3″ aluminum MacBook *specifically because* the new MacBook was smaller and *less flimsy* than my old MacBook Pro.

    As far as the HP goes – I avoid using it these days because it doesn’t feel nearly as well-built as my new MacBook. So yes, some of us do want a sturdy laptop.

  • @Sigivald

    Exactly. Netbooks are all about the cheap. Pah indeed.

    Also: Apple already does a nice little multitouch Internet appliance.

  • @Dave

    NeXT relied on Ross Perot for money. Seriously. Their hardware only ever sold in the thousands, while their expenses … well.

    Interesting that NeXT is in the iPhone autocorrect dictionary. After all these years, huh?

  • Luke:

    It’s worth noting that there are (at least) two versions of the puck mouse. The second version added the indent on the button so it was easier to tell if you had it turned the right way. The first version was a problem if you grabbed the mouse without looking.

  • KenC:

    I’m an early adopter, and I bought an EEEpc, and it’s like alot of early gear I buy, it’s a fad. I no longer use it. It was just a cheap toy to play with to see if it would work, and that’s that.

    Now, I’ve gone back to my 12″ AluPB and my iPhone for everything I need to do. I’d really like an iTab, an iPhone that folds out to reveal a small tablet. That would be the ultimate netbook.

  • Brock:

    I don’t understand how “relying on Ross Perot for money. Seriously.” is supposed to be an insult. Perot is a businessman, and he was on the board of directors. Stop the presses! The company’s IP eventually saved Apple and turned it into the most well-positioned company in the entire technology sector. Mac developers are reminded on a daily basis of OS X’s origins, considering every Cocoa class begins with NS (for NextStep). Tim Berners-Lee invented the web on a NeXT cube. NeXT was, and remains, tremendously influential. The fact that you don’t recognize that speaks far more to your intellect than it does anyone else’s, Mr. Muir.

    Count me as another supporter of the hockey puck. So much more comfortable than any other Apple mouse (though I’m a Logitech man myself). I basically just laid my hand down on it and tilted forward when I wanted to click. Required almost no effort, and no carpal tunnel for me!

  • Dumb companies chase market share.

    Smart companies chase profit.

    Apple has had the sense, in the Jobs era, to care about producing good products at a profit rather than bad products that don’t make a profit. Seems to have worked out so far.

  • Erik:

    In tough economic times *value* will become more important than *price*. Apple’s new manufacturing process is a direct investment in making their laptops more reliable and therefore a better value.

    I suppose when you think design is something you bolt on to a product, you could be confused into thinking this is Jobs just “over reaching.”

  • Aaron Davies:

    The ADB2 was the Platonic ideal of mice. Everything since then has been downhill.

  • JulesLt:

    One thing to consider – under EEC law (and I believe in some US states) producers of electronic waste are responsible for recycling costs at end of life. Aluminium is something like 95% recyclable. I suspect that up-front cost will start to pay itself off in savings down the line.

    Also bearing in mind that the plastic Macbooks looked smart when first purchased but do not to seem to age as well as older iBooks – mine was definitely beginning to have a distinct creak to it.

    There’s also the question as to whether Moore’s Law still actually holds true in the CPU market.

    But I will say – I would buy a 9″ Apple Netbook. As well as my Macs. Just like everyone who has bought a Netbook has bought one as well as having a proper computer. I can’t imagine anyone shifting over to using a Netbook as their main computer, rather than as a SuperBlackberry.

  • Michael Kazlow:

    Let us get the flops right. The Apple III was a Jobs flop. The Lisa was a Jobs flop. The Mac was a Jef Raskin, Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith and Andy Hertzfeld success.

  • The MacBook has been out for what a month now? I little premature to be calling it out as a flop. But I think I am more surprised that there is still a ZDNet.

    And I agree, two thumbs down for hockey puck mouse.

    But I call the Great Horned one turn his antlers towards Don Reisinger one of these days. His blog posts have got it comin.’

    Just sayin.

  • I’d never buy a plastic MacBook. But I have two aluminum MacBooks in my house right now.

  • Jim:

    Nice break down Macalope. I always enjoy reading your commentaries. As for the other posters:

    1. Tried a hockey puck mouse. Didn’t like it. Glad you did though. Nothing wrong with choice. It’s my choice to never use one again but if you like it then more power to you.

    2. Mighty Mouse. LOVE IT. Best mouse I’ve ever used. The small scroll wheel is perfect. Not exactly wonderful for 1st person shooters where the power of a two click mouse really comes in handy. Otherwise, it’s Mighty Mouse for me until the next great thing comes along (here’s hoping that’s the new toy AAPL will hopefully unveil @ Macworld).

    3. The new Macbook Pros are amazing. If you haven’t been to an Apple Store to try one out do it. Pictures do it no justice. Just like iPhone, you can’t know the true value until you’re there to physically manipulate the thing.

    4. Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers.

  • Kaleberg:

    Hasn’t anyone picked up on it yet? Apple is moving all its MacBooks to high quality aluminum. Just wait. We’ll be seeing an all plastic TouchBook inside of two years nicely bridging the gap between the iPod Touch and the low end MacBook. Of course, knowing Steve Jobs and his design cabal, he’ll probably make it out of that bright green recycled Swiss cheese plastic they use for bracing Humvee armor in Iraq.

    I think of the aluminum MacBook as having opened up a space for a new product.

  • grover:

    What is he talking about? That iMac was a huge hit! It was instrumental in cementing the image of the new Apple as a fun, exciting company.

    That sunflower-like little computer really did great things for Apple.

  • I’ll take my iPod Touch to a netbook any day! Noone (I hope) is ever going to design a netbook that’ll fit in my pocket!

  • MacSheikh:

    You just had to do it didn’t you, o horny one (i think that didn’t come out the way i wanted it).

    Now you’ve done it. You’ve brought out all those Hockey Puck People out here. Sigh…

  • Sebhelyesfarku:

    How could an Apple product fail? Dumbass Mactards would buy even a turd with the Apple logo.

  • Art:

    NeXT hardware was so incredibly sexy. I still have my NeXT Cube from my college days. I was using OS X in 1989. Sweet stuff. But yeah, the hardware was not a commercial success, selling 10s of thousands over its life. But NeXTStep lives on in Macs.

    Here’s another vote for the hockeypuck. I used it as those that love it did. Apparently there is no Acorn for us pucklovers. Our votes were never counted.

  • Just another vote for the RSI-avoiding hockey puck mouse!

  • @Brock

    I never said anything about disrespect for Ross Perot. I just answered the question.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my sentiment. When saying that Ross Perot actually had a hand in revolutionizing the computer industry – which he did by funding NeXT – it can be difficult not to sound like a troll. “What next? Dick Cheney helped found Atari? Oh and don’t forget Nelson Rockefeller’s influential early patches to the UNIX source!”

    Correct answers:
    Perot was a VC and friend of Steve Jobs. Gore was a VP and friend of Jobs. Cheney was a malignant asshole. And Nelson Rockefeller never had a chance to venture in the tech world thanks to his love of S&M.

    Now if that’s not off topic, I don’t know what is!

  • Stevington De Jobs said “it’s not in our DNA to produce a crap netbook” (I’m paraphrasing, clearly). Everyone took this to mean that apple won’t produce a netbook. But look at the meaning: could just as easily be saying “we will produce a netbook, but it won’t be crap”

  • Apple hasn’t made a decent mouse in their life.
    Everyone likes to shit on the hockey puck, but what about the current line? The one where the hole mouse was the button was utter crap.
    And don’t get me started on the mighty mouse. The very essence of form over function. If you have two buttons, give me TWO buttons. And the “squeeze”: What. The. Fuck.

  • I only retired my hockey puck mouse a few months ago when i got a new iMac. I attached it to quite a few different Macs over the years because I liked it.

    All the best,

  • Justin Bell:

    I didn’t like the hokey puck mouse. I liked that it was small, but the annoying part was that I’d often go to use it an find my pointer was veering off to one side because I a wasn’t holding the mouse straight. It also had only one button, and more annoyingly, no scrollwheel. Their current mouse if fine enough that I haven’t bothered with a replacement.

    Jonas.E: It actually has 4 buttons, and I think it’s pretty clever, as it would be hard to have 4 buttons without making it bigger or otherwise changing the ergonomics. Hardly form over function.

  • EJ:

    The flops had their fans. Heck, there are still forums devoted just to G4 Cube owners.

    Also, those swing-arm iMacs? Perfect for a classroom lab setting, from “Turn your monitor so we can all see your work” to “Everyone turn your monitors towards me during the lecture”.

    (I can’t say I ever liked the hockey puck mouse, though.)

  • O mighty horned one,

    I’ve been enjoying your stuff for years. Call me biased, but this is one of your weaker efforts. I’ll take it from the top:

    Flimsy: My 12″ PB and MacBook seemed to be about the same in sturdiness and way ahead of the Sony’s, IBMs and Dells I’ve owned. The only thing more solid was the HP Omnibook 300, from their Corvallis calculator group. My 128GB SSD MBA is pretty solid too. Maybe I’m just to gentle with my ‘books to notice I needed sturdier.

    Jobs flops: hey, I didn’t want to excite the fan boys too much by a longer list. But we can start with the 128k Mac which almost sank Apple; the epic 1-button mouse stupidity; the puck mouse; the mighty (bad) mouse; the NeXT cube & the G4 Cube were both sales flops – and I owned the latter – which sacrificed function to form; the swing-arm’s short life is proof enough of its flop – due to cost – status; ADC monitors – available for a song on eBay – perhaps to be joined by the new 24″ desktop with its very neat and proprietary connector. And how about the Mini and the Apple TV? Or the nickel plated power supply in the NeXT cube? Jobs has some history here and he does regularly over reach.

    Netbook vs MacBook: Hey, I already have an underpowered device with a tiny screen called an iPhone. Have you heard of it? I love it. Netbooks are having teething pains, but the sales are good and stepwise enhancement will push them towards mass acceptance and Moore’s Law will increase performance. Full size keyboards and newbie friendly Linux – if that ever happens – will put them over the top.

    But the key point is that Apple is adding cost to the MacBooks with the unibody design. While people expect a higher quality product from Apple you seem to forget that Apple was ALREADY shipping a higher quality product. Given the drop in average Wintel notebook prices, Apple could have – and should have – passed on component price drops in LCDs, storage, processors & RAM and cut their prices to maintain their historic price differential over Wintel.

    Conclusion: I stand by my analysis. Apple is frittering away their notebook momentum by adding cost to solve a problem most people don’t have. They don’t need to follow Wintel to the bottom of the market, but the fact that they kept the plastic ‘book at $999 is a sign of the real pricing pressure they face. If unibody MacBooks – not the Pros – are around in 2.5 years I’ll be very surprised. In the meantime let’s watch their quarterly numbers.



  • drow:

    gawds, this is just like the last time, when apple ignored the booming tablet market, its stock crashed, it went bankrupt, and steve jobs had to sell the company to dell.


  • Troy:

    Hey Robin Harris — did you see the Q1 sales numbers for the Unibody Laptops? RECORD numbers. Yep…really hurt Apple. Your Prediction = Epic Fail.

  • Apple DID make a netbook. It was called the air, and it was nice, and good for airports and things, and everything that a netbook is, except prettier, faster, actually useful, and a number of other things that apples are that pcs are not. Apple has yet to ‘flop’ on anything, as far as I am concerned, they haven’t lost money on a product yet. I personally haven’t used an apple mouse for about 14 years, (on my mac classic), I try them when they come out, and I stick to my logitech mouse with way too many buttons. I don’t care for bluetooth or wires, and I need all the buttons I can get. But as far as I’m concerned everything apple has done, short of mice, has been solid gold. People love to bash apple because it’s so easy to love them, but I wouldn’t follow investment advice of a rebel without a cause. That’s kind of the point.

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