ARCHICAD and the 2016 MacBook Pro – First Impressions
I went for it. I bought the new MacBook Pro. My previous machine was a Late 2011 MacBook Pro that I purchased in February 2012, back when there was still a 17″ MBP option. Can you even remember that? A 17″ Mac laptop? When you read my comments and impressions of the new MacBook Pro, take that timeline into consideration; I’m jumping forward in time five years.
Here are the specs of the machine I purchased:
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
- 2.9GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
- 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
- Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB VRAM
- Intel HD Graphics 530 1536 MB
- 1TB PCIe-based SSD
There is less to customize in 2016 on a MacBook Pro than there was in 2012, but the decisions are more important because the machine can’t be upgraded. Over the years I changed a lot on my Late 2011 MBP: I swapped out the original hard drive for an SSD drive, I upgraded the RAM from 4 to 8 to 16 GB, and I fried at least one motherboard and a few graphics cards. I bought the 2011 machine thinking I’d keep it for three years and upgrade it as things evolved. With this new machine I knew that Apple will repair it, but the hardware can never be improved; if I was feeling strapped for cash and decided to go with lesser specs, I’d have to live with that decision. I also knew that I might not replace this machine until 2021—it really depends on if there’s some sort of processor, battery, or RAM breakthrough that allows laptops to make a drastic leap in capabilities, prompting replacement necessary sooner than four or five years. With all that in mind, I upped the hard drive to 1 TB (2 TB seemed excessive, unnecessary, and overly expensive), picked the fastest CPU, and also maxed out the graphics card to 4 GB VRAM.
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know if my decision making process resulted in the wisest outcome. Maybe it would have been smarter to buy the cheapest machine possible and replace it more often. Or maybe my decision to max out what I could on the machine won’t have as big an effect on my day to day work as I hope. I don’t know. I do know that I plan on having this machine for a long time and that the upgrades I picked just made an expensive computer more expensive, not a cheap machine into a pricy one. In the end I needed a new machine and had to make a decision. I couldn’t wait forever (I had already delayed this purchase for over a year waiting for a better and better machine).
First impressions of the Late 2016 MBP as it relates ARCHICAD users:
This isn’t an official or proper review of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro. It’s all highly subjective and simply my first impressions as an ARCHICAD user. I didn’t do benchmark testing or anything scientific. You can read other reviews to find out how much faster this machine is compared to other iterations of the MBP, or to other laptops. Nor am I going to spend much time gushing about all the aspects that I really like. The Touch ID is a great piece of invisible technology; unlocking with a fingerprint is so nice, and something I’m used to doing on my phone. The screen is fantastic, the CPU is faster, the GPU is better, and barring some hardware or software surprises it’ll run ARCHICAD better than my previous machine—which Apple released soon after GRAPHISOFT released ARCHICAD 15. Most of what I’m concerned about right now is how the form and feel of the machine has changed.
- Apple has hidden the function keys. To reach F1, etc. we now need to press and hold the FN key. Maybe you were already doing that. I wasn’t. With the F keys buried behind another button, it’s time to rethink our usage of the function keys as keyboard shortcuts. Fortunately I don’t use many of them (and the ones I do use are all defaults). The primary function key shortcuts I use are Show in 3d (F3), Show Selection in 3d (F4), and up/down Story (F2+OPT or CMD—I can never remember which one is which). Fortunately, out of the box ARCHICAD already has CMD+up arrow and CMD+down arrow as Up/Down A Story. I never used these because I was accustomed to using the Function keys, but these alternative keyboard shortcuts are clearly superior. Do I need to tell you which arrow key to use with the command button to go up a story? I’m going to try out FN+F3 and FN+F4 for my two primary F key shortcuts and see if I even notice that those are the only function keys I regularly use in ARCHICAD. Maybe I will hate that decision in a few weeks.
- If you want, you can make the function keys show up by default in ARCHICAD. Here’s an article from Apple on how to do it. The process is simple: go to the keyboard settings, then shortcuts, then function keys, and select ARCHICAD by hitting the plus sign. Once you do this, whenever ARCHICAD is the active program, the function keys will magically appear. If you want to get to the expanded control strip, you’ll need to press and hold the FN key. Or you can click on another app (or open the Dashboard or Notification Center). Making the function keys show up in ARCHICAD feels comforting, but I think it’s a mistake. By default, ARCHICAD has keyboard shortcuts that use F2, F3, F4, F6, and F7, with and without various modifiers. But beyond the ones I mentioned above, none are so heavily used that you couldn’t remap them, stop using them, or add the FN key to reach them. Furthermore, having the function keys appear for ARCHICAD will actually slow you down since it’ll mess up micro-movements and unconscious actions. By having the function keys show up for ARCHICAD, the touch bar will be atypical; other programs will show the control strip or the control strip with app controls. This means you’ll suffer from more fat fingers—going to hit Siri in ARCHICAD and getting F12 instead, or completely missing because the F keys are spaced differently than the control strip or app controls. In short, I think the flexibility of having the function keys on by default in ARCHICAD is nice, but having them always on is just about nostalgia, not about actual improved working conditions. But then again, maybe I’m completely wrong on this. We will see.
- Okay. It didn’t take me long to change my mind. I’m going to leave the previous two points unedited, but I need to be honest. I couldn’t do it. I tried. I really did. I need the function keys in ARCHICAD for Open in 3D and Show Selection in 3D. The other function key shortcuts I can do without, but I can’t work without those two keyboard shortcuts being single button, easy commands. They need to be one finger/one click operations. I searched around for other open keys on the keyboard, but there was nothing I liked. And any solution I found would have been a kludge. So I’m going to have the function keys show up in ARCHICAD. I still think my previous two points are valid, but at the current junction I have to admit defeat. I need the function keys for these two keyboard shortcuts…unless someone has a brilliant idea for what other buttons we could use that don’t interfere with the OOTB keyboard shortcuts.
- The esc key has no haptic feedback and is in the “wrong” position. Well actually it’s now in the right position. Let’s get used to it. Fortunately the esc key can be triggered by tapping the black space to the left of the esc key, which is where we’re used to having the physical key. As a result on the touch bar the escape key is effectively bigger. The shift in location is a bit weird, but it’s just muscle memory that needs retraining. Soon it’ll be natural again. What will take longer to normalize is the lack of haptic feedback. I never realized how much I relied on feeling the esc key to know that I had hit it. Of all the changes this machine brings, the virtualization of the escape key is going to be the hardest to get used to.
- The first morning I worked in ARCHICAD with my new machine, I noticed another surprise caused by no physical keys above the numbers. When I’m deleting something, like a string of text or a bunch of elements, my hand will hover over the delete key while I’m making the marquee. This is a time saving technique. As I’m using the mouse and looking at the screen, my left hand can move unaided to wait at the delete key. I don’t need to look; I know where the delete key is. But it turns out I know where the delete key is because I also rely on my finger tips hitting the F11 and F12 keys. Those buttons no longer exist. Instead that first morning while preparing to delete something, I muted my music once, and initiated a screen capture twice, since those are the virtual buttons closest to the delete key. Pressing buttons on the Touch Bar takes virtually no pressure. There’s no resting your fingers on them. You are not touching them or you are pressing them. There is no in between state. I’ll be able to adjust, but this was a surprise. Automatic triggering of buttons will be most painful with the escape key. I’m pretty sure I used to rest my finger on the escape key at lot. No more.
- ARCHICAD 20 doesn’t have any unique functionality in the Touch Bar, but there are some system wide stuff that we benefit from—and others that we can’t. Text editing options show up in the Touch Bar. You can set text justification, and also create numbered and bulleted lists. This means the Touch Bar adds functionality to ARCHICAD as we couldn’t otherwise create numbered and bulleted lists. While editing, these lists are dynamic/automated but once you leave the Text Box after their initial creation they lose their intelligence. This is disappointing but not surprising. Still to be able to use the Touch Bar to set up these lists is very nice. It allows increased automation. We can always manually add to them/copy paste them later.
In the image below there’s a Touch Bar button for text color, bold, italic, and underline. Sadly ARCHICAD doesn’t recognize those buttons; your text will change but won’t be saved when the Text Box closes (well the color maps to a Pen, but I’m not sure the logic behind how the computer chooses the Pen—it’s not by anything overtly logical or useful). Also you can use the Touch Bar for word suggestions while typing, but ARCHICAD doesn’t recognize the emojis you can also place from the Touch Bar.
Keyboard and Trackpad
- The trackpad is huge. Most of us don’t work in ARCHICAD with the trackpad, but this still affects us. You’ll probably find yourself using the trackpad a lot more for non-ARCHICAD stuff, and especially when you’re working on the go. Because the trackpad is so gargantuan, we need to adapt. It’s time to switch to single click/two finger click rather than single click/right click for primary click/secondary click. The bottom right is too far away.
- Apple began offering natural scrolling on Macs a number of years ago to match the scrolling we do on a touch screen. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been resisting the change for years. A new machine is the time to give in and make the switch. It’s not like Apple or other companies that make touch screen products are going back to the old ways. And with more and more screens becoming touch screens, it just makes sense to conform and reprogram our brains. Ask yourself this: when you seen a screen somewhere, do you assume it’s a touch screen? Right. It’s time to adjust to the new normal. FWIW, I’m a few days into the switch and as long as I don’t think about it, I scroll correctly on the mouse now. When I focus, I still get tripped up and use the mouse wheel like I did for the previous fifteen to twenty years.
- The keyboard is different from my old Fall 2011 MBP. The buttons are bigger and nicer. Again it’ll take some getting used to; but so did my previous laptop’s keyboard when I started using it rather than an external keyboard. I will say this: as someone who is often more writer than architect, I am really liking the revision to the keyboard.
- I’m not sure how new this change is, but my old 2011 machine had the classic inverted T configuration for the arrow keys rather than the big left and right arrows with the up/down arrows sharing half the space. It’s weird. It’s messing up my muscle memory. I’ll adjust, but it’s these little changes that are tripping me up now.
You can have any cord as long as it’s USB-C
USB-C as far as the eye can see: there are four USB-C ports and a headphone jack. That’s it. No other ports on the new MacBook Pro. This sounds annoying, but having spent a few days with it, I love the uniformity. Look at the image of the connectors on my computer. It’s clean. It’s simple. It’s pretty. From an aesthetic point of view it’s hard to argue against. I love that all the wires head off in the same direction, which wasn’t the case with my old machine as the power cord was annoyingly perpendicular to the plug (I think they fixed this between my old and new machines). Because there are ports on both sides, those two wires you see coming off my machine could be on the right side of the machine, if that made more sense for the space I was in. Or I could have one on each side. The cords are for power and for the external hard drive I use for Time Machine. That’s all I have plugged into my computer. And that’s probably all you should have connected as well: there are a range of great Bluetooth mice and it’s time to ditch the dongle.
I went to the software key about two years ago and love it. It’s time for you to do that too. Getting rid of the physical Codemeter key will require more discipline from users who need to regularly switch their license between machines, but once again this is just a habit to learn—to always release your key at the end of the day/week. It might be as simple as keeping the GRAPHISOFT License Manager Tool on your dock next to ARCHICAD. As soon as you switch to the software key you’ll be amazed that you tolerated a physical key dangling from your computer for so many years.
I realize that there are exceptions to every rule and there will be some users who can’t get rid of the physical key. That’s alright. You can just use an adapter. Yes you’ll feel silly. But the adapter can live connected to the Codemeter key and will actually make the key easier to keep track of, since it’ll now have a big old tail. This actually relates to my other piece of advice for all the adapters the USB-C only MBP requires: don’t be stingy. Buy an adaptor for everything you use regularly. If you have a physical key and an external hard drive, get an adaptor for each. If you regularly use thumb drives, get one adaptor for those as well. Don’t try to use one of your dedicated adaptors. Get adaptors for everything you need and keep the ones you don’t use on a daily basis (ei, plugged into your machine at all times) in your laptop bag. Don’t store them in a drawer or on your desk. Bring them with you everywhere. Then watch how infrequently you use them, and how quickly Apple and other companies come out with more products that rely on USB-C.
It’s time to learn new tricks:
A lot of the adjustments to the new machine have to do with the loss of fractional seconds, like I described here. All these tweaks are currently killing my flow. New hardware, software, and work space (desk, chair, etc) all affect micro-movements. Sometimes the adjustments are neutral—we replace one acceptable experience with another. Other times the changes are beneficial, directly increasing speed once we make the adjustments. With the new MacBook Pro, I will struggle through and adjust. I’m done with my old machine, so it’s time to work in the new manner. With the disruption I’m facing, I’m also fixing other things I’ve been avoiding, hindrances I can’t blame on my old or new laptop. After all, I’m already being forced to relearn how I work. I might as well make other changes. Now is not the time for nostalgia.
If people have other questions about the new MBP, ask them in the comments. With any major hardware change, there are always a million questions. And while I’m not an expert on this particular topic, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned and investigate anything we’re curious about. Oh and because it also matters to so many of us…the speakers on this iteration of the MBP are beautiful and loud. Like crazy loud. Like if I put the volume up to full when my wife and kids are at home I’ll probably get yelled at.
Sorry the photos aren’t the greatest. It’s winter in Seattle so everything is dark. Plus my desk is black, the new computer is space gray, and I turned off the keyboard backlight because I don’t need my buttons to glow. Are you following Graphisoft North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ArchiCAD news in North America (and beyond).