What the Hell Happened to Apple Laptops?

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The shine is officially off of Apple. After taking the top spot in our annual Best and Worst Laptop Brands report since 2010, Apple has fallen out of first place for the first time. But not to second place. Or even third. The MacBook maker plummeted all the way to fifth out of 10 companies.

LTP_BWB_2017-rank-over-time_v2.0

What the hell happened?

Each year, we evaluate the top laptop brands in several categories, including design, reviews, tech support, warranty, and value and selection. This year, Apple impressed with its tech support, taking first in our undercover Tech Support Showdown.

But it goes downhill from there, as Apple has disappointed creative professionals with its latest wares while also abandoning mainstream shoppers on budgets.

Best-Worst-Laptop-Sad-Apple

Apple left too much on the cutting room floor for its Pro machines.

For starters, the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar didn't impress us that much in our review. The Touch Bar itself is fairly innovative, but it feels like a tease when you can reach out and touch the entire screen on more versatile, Windows-powered convertibles like the HP Spectre x360 and XPS 13 2-in-1.

touchbar cropped 675Opting for the Touch Bar model also means sacrificing battery life, as the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro has a bigger battery and lasts longer on a charge.

Then there's the matter of ports, or lack thereof. In an effort to create the most streamlined designs possible, Apple ditched both traditional USB ports and SD Card slots in favor of Thunderbolt 3. As a result, MacBook Pro owners need to carry around awkward dongles to connect their phones, cameras and other peripherals.

I can see sacrificing these ports on the razor-thin 12-inch MacBook, but Apple left too much on the cutting room floor for its Pro machines.

macbook air 13 675

Apple also dropped the ball in the value department. The company got rid of the 11-inch Air (pictured above), which was Apple's most affordable laptop, at $899, leaving the ancient $999 13-inch MacBook Air as the most affordable system in the MacBook lineup. However, the 13-inch Air feels like leftovers that have been left out on the counter for over two years, complete with a 5th Generation Intel Core chip. (We're now on 7th Gen, people.)

You could argue that the 12-inch MacBook Air is a viable alternative, but it's too expensive for the masses, at $1,299, and not quite big enough to be your primary computer unless you're a frequent flier. Plus, while I don't mind the flat keyboard, it doesn't provide as much tactile feedback as competing Windows systems like the HP Spectre do. The MacBook Air is also underpowered, with its Core m3 or m5 chip.

It's not nearly as svelte as Apple's ultraportable, but the Asus Zenbook UX330UA delivers 10 hours of battery life, a full-power 7th Generation Core CPU and 10 hours of battery life, all for just $699. Now you can see why Apple got a 6 out of 15 in value and selection.

And please don't get me started about the iPad Pro ($847 with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard) being portrayed as Apple's most affordable computer. There's no touchpad on this machine's optional keyboard, and iOS simply isn't as good as macOS for multitasking.

Apple Crying GIF

During a recent sit-down with reporters, Apple executives readily admitted that the company wasn't doing a good enough job of catering to creative professionals with its desktop line, promising a full revamp for 2018.

Based on the results of our survey, Apple should also look to make serious improvements to its MacBook line. This is needed not just for pros but everyday consumers who want to take full advantage of the security, ease of use and iOS synergies that macOS brings to the table. Apple, consider this your wake-up call.

Image credits: Tom's Guide; Nick Bush/Tom's Guide; Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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18 comments
  • Edwin Says:

    Sold my last two MacBooks and replaced them by nice looking Chromebooks. It's all I need nowadays.

  • Bad Graphic Says:

    If you look at the original article, Apple and Acer tied for 5th, so Apple only dropped four spots.

  • John S Says:

    After 3 Macbook Air's, 2 Mac Mini's, one Macbook Pro and a iMac. I lost faith in what Apple is doing with Mac's. Obviously design has always been important with Apple, but now the obsession has seriously affected practical use and function of Mac's. Nobody wants to spend money of a Mac and then have to buy adapters to functionally use the Mac. Its no wonder schools a large staple of Mac buyers has abandoned Mac's for cheaper alternatives. Steve Jobs clearly had a better balance between what Mac's needed and Tim Cook obviously just lets the design teams run with product development. I am using PC with Windows and have yet to regret leaving the Mac's.

  • Jefferson Says:

    Here in brazil, you have to choose between a house or a macbook.

  • G Thing Says:

    As an owner of only MacBook's since 2010 and someone who lauded their resilience and OS, I've lost faith.

    Since Jobs went, the OS has become a joke and has rendered my 2014 MBP slower than my 2011, despite 4 times the Ram, double the cores and having PCI-e SSD.

    MacOS is hateful and buggy. And I've just had enough of having an old Windows like experience, (the reason why I deserted MS -
    constant tweaking, changing, reloading, rebooting, reformatting, closing nags...).

    I went to OSX because I wantd a solid reliable machine that left me alone to work, now it nags me and bothers me and has brain farts the same as the MS I left always did.

  • Sean Das Says:

    Since when Apple made laptop or an OS for that matter? I thought these are larger version of iPhones!

  • Bradley Leyten Says:

    Uhm, looks to me like Apple is 6th in that list not 5th. This is the second site I've seen with this started incorrectly.

  • Joshua Vargas Says:

    @Trizz, I guess that Apple's place lowering is a bigger cause of concern, because Apple was the top laptop brand for several years in a row before 2017, and Apple is the only manufacturer of laptops running macOS. In comparison, Microsoft is not primarily a hardware brand, their low place is understandable due to their not releasing any completely new products in the Surface line in 2016 aside from the Surface Studio (which isn't a laptop), and all the other brands offer Windows devices.

  • Prasanth Jaya Says:

    Apple will no longer in the market after 5 years (maximum). All the companies are trying to be more innovative in new fields, Ex: Microsoft looking forward in augmented reality (Hololens), A OS which runs in all devices, Azure maturing to support Cortona in cars, Amazon Alexa already rocking and growing fast, Google moved with Google home, pixel devices (good try) and even facebook coming out of box (from just a social network), HTC vive, etc etc. All the companies are travelling in a new level with new technologies. But apple still releasing only iphones, macs, ipads with new feature or new hardware.. No improvement in company from last decade. They lack future vision, if it continues then they will be out of competition soon.

    Still Apple fans (kids) feels new mac, iphone and ipad are best in the world when real men's play with hololens, voice assistance at home level(not just on phone to ask sex questions), live in virtual reality, etc.

  • Czar Embo Says:

    I'm guessing the non-Apple notebooks permit upgrading the memory. Apple is trying to make their Mac's like the iPhones - non-user upgradable. We Mac folks need to be able to at least upgrade the main storage drive and the memory!

  • Trizz Says:

    Why is there no mention *or whole article* in regards to Microsofts horrible spot on the list?

  • TheBaldConvict Says:

    Any list that puts a Lenovo above anything is just plain wrong... I've had a couple of Lenovo's and would never go back to them.

    Had a Lenovo that was £700 and swapped to the new Macbook Pro sans touch bar and literally gave the Lenovo away!

    Battery life was supposed to be around 9 hours, more like 4, the screen was meh and only 1080p, the sound was rubbish, the keyboard awful.

    Glad to be shot of it!

  • Steve Jobs Sagan Says:

    Panin, good catch!

    There's no such thing as a 12" MacBook Air.

    However, I disagree that it's the successor to the old 12" poly-carbonate MacBook. It's all metal, much much lighter, and USB-C-- and a very different keyboard. And, MUCH MORE $$!!

    Different critter entirely.

  • Carl Sagan Jobs Says:

    "It's not nearly as svelte as Apple's ultraportable, but the Asus Zenbook UX330UA delivers 10 hours of battery life, a full-power 7th Generation Core CPU and 10 hours of battery life, all for just $699."

    Wow! It delivers 10 hours of battery life along with 10 hours of battery life. I'll bet that at $699, it also costs about...

    $699!

    :-)

  • Michael S Says:

    That's pretty funny stuff Mark. I just so happened to buy a Lenovo about six months ago and It is ten times slower running W 10 and I have nothing but problems with the software particularly using wireless. The battery lasts about two and half hours, the case is flimsy and the keyboard actually moves when I type. The screen is about half as dim as my MBA and is so slow with graphics that I can barely play a YouTube video without it stopping to catch up. The trackpad is worthless and is so inferior to Apple, I had to purchase a mouse in order to work faster. The Lenovo is a joke, I have no other term for it in polite company.

  • AdamchewamC Says:

    So Apple's sins were you can't touch the screen to make the laptop to work and the missing ports. And the price is too much.
    Perhaps these are the goal posts pundits used to tell the world how clever they are and that they are the arbitrators of usefulness in a laptop.
    Well who am I to say they are wrong, I am just a user.

  • Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Hi Panin, I'm not sure that's true. Apple may be refreshing the Air line at some point but it's been a very long time. At least for now, the 12-inch is the Air's spirtual successor as it were.

  • Panin Hroch Says:

    In regards to this statement:

    'You could argue that the 12-inch MacBook Air is a viable alternative, but it's too expensive for the masses, at $1,299, and not quite big enough to be your primary computer unless you're a frequent flier. Plus, while I don't mind the flat keyboard, it doesn't provide as much tactile feedback as competing Windows systems like the HP Spectre do. The MacBook Air is also underpowered, with its Core m3 or m5 chip.'

    The 12" is actually not part of the Air line, it is meant to be a successor to the plastic 12" Macbooks that were discontinued about 6 years ago.

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