These New Third-Party MacBook Accessories Prove Apple's Lost Its Way

airbar for mac
Courtesy of AirBar

2016 was a year of big changes for Apple. For starters, it "bravely" decided to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, and instead hyped a new pair of glitch-prone and easy-to-lose wireless headphones, which, oh by the way, will cost you an extra $160. Then a few months later, it debuted a new MacBook Pro for the first time in years, which added a neat little dynamic screen above the keyboard, but killed off a bunch of ports you probably still need and use.

These changes, it claims, were made in the name of progress and vision toward the future (how brave!). But based on the popularity of third-party accessories that've popped up in their wake, each of which either brings back something Apple stripped, or adds a feature already standard in its competitors devices, it's obvious the company has lost sight of who its customers are, and what they want.

Change isn't always good

Among the ever-growing list of gadgets being paraded around at this year's Consumer Electronics Show are a handful targeting MacBook and iPhone users who want their old features back.

On the MacBook front, Other World Computing has debuted the DEC -- an aluminum-brushed accessory that attaches flush to the bottom of the laptop and adds a few basic functionalities that Apple stripped away, including a slot for an SD card and some standard USB ports. It's even packed with an additional 4TB of storage, essentially giving the creative pros who've long used MacBooks what they wanted in the first place, without having to coordinate (not to mention pay for) a mess of different Apple-manufactured adapters and dongles. What's more, a similar low-profile device that essentially restores the full lineup of ports was recently launched via Kickstarter and has raised over $1 million -- 12 times its goal -- in a matter of weeks. Apple may have been pushing people to graduate into the USB-C world, but it might have overestimated how many were ready and willing to get there.  

As for products addressing the iPhone 7, one of the world's foremost phone case manufacturers unveiled a new iPhone 7 case this week that restores the 3.5mm headphone jack while freeing up the Lightning port for charging -- something that awkward dongle adapter Apple includes in every new iPhone 7 box can't do.

airbar for mac
Courtesy of AirBar

... But not making the right changes is even worse (like fixing the battery)

Evidence that the new MacBook Pro isn't cutting it with customers doesn't end with the deluge of devices designed to reinstate beloved ports. In fact, this latest version of Apple's top-tier laptop is the first MacBook that was not recommended by Consumer Reports, whose review essentially confirmed a serious battery life issue many users have been griping about. Apple's battery troubles are well-documented, so you'd think it might have paid closer attention to getting at least that right. 

And while Apple flaunted the Pro's new Touch Bar as a dynamic tool designed with artists, designers, and musicians in mind, the truth is it's mostly a gimmick that isn't very useful to most people. Many had been hoping for a more substantial change on this front, in the form of a full touchscreen -- an answer to Microsoft's Surface series and other similar devices on the market -- but alas, no luck. After all, Steve Jobs famously hated touchscreen laptops, dismissing them as "ergonomically terrible." But guess what? Many people do want a touchscreen. In fact, demand for one is high enough that one intrepid tech firm unveiled a special $99 device at CES this year that gives the 13in MacBook Air a touch-sensitive screen. It's called the AirBar, and it docks just below the display, employing infrared sensors to detect movement and the exact position of anything touching the screen. It's not even shipping yet, but it's getting a wholelot of positive attention.

But Apple knows exactly what it's doing, right? Apple evangelists will argue that the company is simply sticking to its vision for a wireless and faster-connected future by removing popular ports, or intentionally not adding certain in-demand features because it sees them as short-sighted investments. And that may well be true, but when you consider the fact that its customers are being forced to buy special devices from third parties just to get their machines to do what they want, you've got to ask: Who exactly is Apple making its products for?

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist who wrote this on a four year-old MacBook Pro with a whole bunch of handy ports.