If you came to this hot take newsletter looking for something about the Oscars last night, I’m sorry to say you’ve come to the wrong place. (I prefer blue water when possible.)
Instead, I want to discuss something a little less minefield-y: The sudden interest in the phenomenon of turning MacBooks into decapitated computer slabs, which is not new, though the interest is. A few weeks ago, a tweet by a well-known Apple leaker named DuanRui went viral, claiming that this was a growing trend among users.
I couldn’t help but register my confusion about the whole thing—as listings about headless MacBooks have somewhat infamously appeared on eBay for years prior to this moment, generally to mockery, with nobody making a big deal about it until this time.
Part of my skepticism came as a result of the fact that the example used basically showed off a particularly unloved variant of the MacBook Pro—a 15-inch Touch Bar device with a butterfly keyboard, which basically had none of the benefits one would presumably want from a setup like this. (For one thing, the device gets hot; for another, the keyboard’s thinness makes it kind of a bad choice for a keyboard you’re stuck using for everything. For a third, no escape key!)
But perhaps DuanRui’s tweet drew the attention of the right people, because it’s becoming a hot new trend. The Verge posted an example of a decapitated MacBook Air M1 over the weekend, calling it a “slabtop.” Others have suggested it’s more versatile than many other desktop models.
In one sense, I get it; it seems like a better use of a computer that would otherwise go in the garbage to ensure its screen is still working, and some are actually doing so intentionally. But I would argue that, rather than being something you should do yourself, this may actually be a sign that Apple is missing market opportunities by holding so steadfast to the basic design of the MacBook Pro.
What I mean by that, effectively, is the fact that Apple’s decision to ignore outside markets to see what’s happening in the PC industry could be hurting it. Certainly, I’m not claiming anyone is making out-of-the box headless laptops in 2022 (besides the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which sells one). However, they are making two-in-ones, which technically allow the screen to be hidden away in settings like this (though I would have to imagine they are not particularly designed for this use case, given that the monitor would be directly on the desk if used that way).
What we have here is the market building desire line opportunities for Apple, where people are showing unexpected interest in a product Apple does not sell, and rather than waiting for Apple to do so, forging the path themselves.
However, one has to say that if Apple ever does make a headless Mac with a keyboard baked in—call it the Macintosh Amiga—it would sure be nice if they did so with some thought as to the keyboard. While some people dig the thin style, it is not an ideal format for typing at a desk for hours on end, despite the company’s long-term sale of chiclet-style thin keyboards. (Apple made some good rubber dome keyboards back in the day!)
If Apple needs any ideas, there’s a guy on YouTube named CJ that has effectively made a proof of concept for keyboard-PC combo. Over at the YouTube channel Elevated Systems, CJ took the board from the Framework Laptop, which can be reused outside of the laptop shell, and combined it with a mechanical keyboard, which could make a pretty solid long-term use case for that machine once it does eventually need an upgrade.
So I find the MacBook-minus-screen trend weird, but I do think it’s pointing in the direction of something Apple should be doing.
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