Apple's Laptops Have Hit Rock Bottom

The results aren't pretty. After falling from first place to fifth place in Laptop Mag's Best and Worst Laptop Brands survey last year, the company has dropped even further, to 7th place out of 10 brands in this year's report. Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, Asus and Microsoft all finished ahead of Apple.

Yup, the MacBook line is in serious need of a reboot.

Credit: Laptop Mag

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Why did Apple score so poorly? The brand simply hasn't innovated enough, using the past year to trot out minor spec bumps to existing designs. And these designs continue to be polarizing, with the dearth of ports on the MacBook and MacBook Pro forcing owners to schlep around dongles if they want to plug in peripherals. In addition, the flat butterfly keyboards on these systems offer less travel and comfort than the Windows competition.

There's a reason Apple has been keeping its classic 3-year-old 15-inch MacBook Pro around. That $1,999 machine has a cushy keyboard, plenty of full-size USB ports and an SD Card slot, as well as the clever MagSafe power adapter the company has since abandoned.

Apple also missed the boat on 2-in-1s, as the company has refused to add touch screens to its MacBook line or convertible designs. Instead, only the iPad and iPad Pro can leverage touch, as can handy accessories like the Apple Pencil.

There's a reason Apple has been keeping its classic 3-year-old 15-inch MacBook Pro around.

I guarantee you Apple would sell a lot more MacBook Pros if at least one of them flipped around and allowed you to draw on the screen, perform fine photo edits and take notes with a stylus. As I wrote last year, the Touch Bar is better than nothing, but it doesn't go far enough in terms of improving the user experience.

MORE: Best & Worst Laptop Brands 2018

More synergies between the MacBook and iPad could be coming, as the company is reportedly working on a universal app store that would work across both macOS and iOS. However, Apple CEO Tim Cook has no plans to combine the two operating systems, as he just told The Sydney Morning Herald this week that merging them would be tantamount to "watering down one for the other."

Cook also likened laptop-tablet hybrids to combining refrigerators and toasters back in 2012, so I wouldn't hold my breath for a Lenovo Yoga-style MacBook.

Where Apple really falls down is on value. It's not a good sign when your most "affordable" laptop, the now-ancient $999 MacBook Air, has a 5th Generation Intel Core i5 processor. You can pick up a Windows ultraportable like the Asus ZenBook UX330UA with an 8th Generation Intel CPU for $250 less — and it comes with twice as much storage, at 256GB.

MORE: Apple's Full 2018 Report Card

There could be hope on the immediate horizon, as Apple is rumored to be launching a 13-inch MacBook with a Retina display at around the same price as the Air this June. But will it be more of the same or a true leap forward?

It's not a good sign when your most "affordable" laptop, the now-ancient $999 MacBook Air, has a 5th Generation Intel Core i5 processor.

Apple still does some things very well for laptops. For starters, the company won Laptop Mag's Tech Support Showdown, which involves undercover testing of all the major brands. And even though macOS isn't immune to malware, it generally suffers from less security and stability issues than Windows does. The value proposition for a MacBook increases if you own an iPhone, as it's easy to send and receive iMessages from your Mac, sync your notes and photos over the cloud, and leverage features like AirDrop for transferring large files between your phone and laptop in seconds.

But as the design of Apple's laptops grows stale, these advantages get lost, while Windows PC makers forge ahead in growing categories like 2-in-1s and gaming laptops. With the back-to-school season almost upon us, it's time for Apple to reinvent and reinvest in the MacBook line before it's too late.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.