Apple’s unsolved usability problem: Deliberate choice or Mistaken persona? (UPDATED)

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When you stare at this picture, is the design problem as obvious to you as it is to me?

MacBook Pro 13" on Desktop

MacBook Pro 13" on Desktop

This is a picture of my shiny new MacBook Pro (13″), upgraded from my slightly older shiny MacBook Pro (17″). Actually both are brushed, not shiny, but you get my point. (Poor image shot with iPhone 3G with bad camera.)

Isn’t the design problem obvious? My laptop is a portable office, and it often needs to dock at the stationary office. I go on and off the road, then come back. Or, I just want to go to a meeting, then return. Besides, as a Mac user, I like the clutter-free sleek look.

The MacBook needs a port for a docking station. I’m not saying that Apple should manufacture docking stations. But they should make a single port that would allow Belkin to do so.

I’ve had a PC laptop for 15 years, and always had a docking station. It was assumed. There was a handy little port on the bottom of the computer that provided high-speed access to all the busses (USB, Video, Power, etc.).

There is at least one vendor (Bookendz) out there who has tried, but honestly I don’t think this cleans up the desktop. It’s a workaround based on the fact that there is no single port to enable docking. Some of the youtube videos on the product make it appear awkward and unstable.


So the problem is there: Apple has not provided a single port that will enable docking.




Mobile (ok, thats not me)

(OK, that’s not me in the mobile office.)

There has to be a good reason for this, doesn’t there?

So I wonder: Why hasn’t Apple provided a single port for a clean, sleek docking station?

  • Would it drive prices?
  • Is this a niche usecase? What % of people dock?
  • Does Apple think its users spend all their time in airports?

This has to be a deliberate decision for Apple. If so, they are saving costs for her:

Mobile (ok, thats not me)

and frustrating people like me


Good PM requires trade-offs, and requires you to say no to some users. But docking feels mainstream for mobile professional users, and MacBook Pro is for the mobile professional. Or is it?

Which of my assumptions is off? Is this a case of Misunderstood Persona, or Difficult But Important Tradeoff?

– Alan


8 responses to “Apple’s unsolved usability problem: Deliberate choice or Mistaken persona? (UPDATED)

  1. Good observations Alan. If I had to guess, I’d vote tradeoff. Apple, niche player though it is, has always seemed willing to let an ecosystem grow up around their products to cover these edge personas. (See BookEndz and other vendors for evidence.)

    It is ironic though… I blogged about how clean and tidy the iMac was compared to PC’s, showing this:

    And yet my desktop with my 15″ MPB looks just like your photo… 🙂

    • Paul, thanks for responding. I love your side-by-side pics. Somehow the Bookendz thing seems like a Frankenstein monster to me. With a PC laptop (mine was a Lenovo/ThinkPad) there is a single, high-speed connector on the bottom of the unit that allows for a sleek docking station. The Bookendz by contrast feels like a workaround built on a workaround. The only online video that I can find on Bookendz is in spanish, but it seems to say that the units are tempermental and not worth the $300 price tag.

      And finally, I love what you imply: it’s as much about the tidy desktop as it is about the pain of plugging in! Apple has been fanatical about fancy, sleek looking office appliances. The Bookendz doesn’t solve that problem at all.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Stephen Konig

    I think it’s a case of the Misunderstood Persona, actually. The mobile office professional isn’t really the main target audience for the MacBook; it’s the mobile independent (whether that’s contractor, student, consultant, artist, whatever). These people don’t have a stationary office; their MacBook *is* their office. So for them, docking capability provides little value.

    I actually think this was probably a conscious decision on the part of Apple.

  3. I’m sure it was a conscious choice for Apple.

    So I’m a consultant, and that was my desk … my stationary office.

    I think the mobile independent has both.

    But I could be an edge case, designing for myself. 🙂


  4. Other than the power supply I can’t think of another cable I need to plug into my laptop. So a single docking station for my home office makes no sense. My fax/printer/scanner is connected to my wireless router. I simply log into my wireless router via wifi and I get access to my peripheral devices.

    In fact, even the desk is an option these days. Mostly I work in my big leather chair with my legs up on a comfy footstool and my laptop on my thighs.


    So I think Apple’s vision is that users are more like me.

  5. Nice post Alan. My guess is intentional tradeoff – likely more on the size/weight than on cost.

  6. HP are doing a ‘USB Docking Station’ now – plugs into a USB port and gives you VGA, DVI-D, Audio In/Out, Network, 4 * USB. You still have to plug your laptop in, but other than that it’s very clever.

    Belkin do a stripped-down version of this, and other manufacturers cannot be far behind