Let’s face it, I’m a shameless Apple fanboy with an impulse control problem and a high credit card limit. And if *I* can’t find a laptop I want to buy, Apple has a problem.
Okay, I know the problems of a guy like me doesn’t amount to a hill of beans as far as Apple is concerned, I just wanted to try out a click-baity headline to try to get my viewership into the double digits. Apple’s laptops are, basically, as good as ever, but you can’t deny we are in the middle of a shakeup; a transitionary period. Where Apple goes next will be interesting and even critical to a lot of my colleagues. I am hopeful for the next step, but I cant help also being really, really nervous.
First, let’s have a look at Apple’s portable offerings as of October 2015:
Macbook Pro with Retina Display
The awkwardly -named Macbook Pro with Retina Display comes in 13″ and 15″ sizes, with HiDPI Retina displays, capable processors, USB3, Bluetooth 4, super-fast PCI SSDs, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Thunderbolt 2. Ethernet is served via a Thunderbolt or USB dongle. These are unarguably Apple’s “flagship” laptops, with the fastest practical i5 and i7 chips, very fast storage and 8-16 GB of RAM. I was happy to see Apple up the minimum to 8GB, which was long overdue.
Despite being a top-of-the-line laptop from a company that is well known for its creative clientele, it is a little disappointing the RAM only goes to 16GB, and only the 15″ model can be upgraded with a discrete graphics chip, the 2GB AMD Radeon R9 M370X. I work with TV and video professionals extensively, and there is no question Apple is still the choice for almost all of them, but the purchasing decision is extremely easy: The maxed-out 15″ is the only model worth buying. This will cost you a cool $2700 if you don’t go for the 1TB SSD.
I’m not going to nitpick about which processor is better, or PCs that can be configured with 2TB storage, or any of that. And I’m not talking about touch screens. No professional I have ever met is dying for a touch screen on their pro laptop. What I am upset about, though, is that you can’t get a graphics chip in the 13″. This seems like a glaring shortcoming. Also, the battery life is good, but could be much better.
The MacBook Air WAS the thin, sexy, cutting-edge choice of the Pepsi generation. Apple was truly ahead of the game with this design, and it has held up for years. Only recently have some other laptops given it competition for power and lightness, and Apple was quick to pivot and brag instead about the all-day battery: The 13″ can easily get 12 hours of real-world work done between charges. I’ve even been considering replacing my Retina MacBook Pro with one; I very rarely take advantage of my laptop’s speed, but I often wish I could squeeze out a few more hours of work without carrying around a power brick.
I’ve been considering, but I haven’t pulled the trigger. In fact, I was as ready as anyone could be, back in April, money figuratively in hand, when the new models were introduced. But they only got a small speed bump, and no price decrease. No new Force Touch trackpads, no new features, no retina displays, and not even a RAM bump! 4GB is just silly these days. Yes, the new models cost the same as the one I was all set to buy, but now I felt insulted. I declined on principle. And now enough time has passed I’m willing to wait for the next generation.
But the more I think about it, there may not even BE a new generation of MacBook Airs. Why? Because of the
Apple received much praise and much criticism when they introduced the new MacBook, which is to say it was the same as any other release. And I don’t want to waste too much time on the name, but how annoying is it that it’s sharing the same name as the old budget plastic MacBook?
Anyway. Apple was very, very clear in their unveiling that this was not just a new product, but a new direction; I don’t think it was a mistake they spent a whole half hour on the machining process and the new tiered battery design. And that means we are sure to see more of this in the future. And THAT means, we are probably going to see thinner MacBook pros, again, with tiered batteries and USB-c connectors. And this bothers me.
What’s coming next
So what is coming next? I’m hardly the first person to wonder about Apple’s plans, and I won’t be the last. But lets put on our turbans and have a little fun.
New MacBooks are a given. Until this month, I wouldn’t have expected much: a minor speed bump, and a big price drop. The macBook is definitely overpriced, and a clear case of early adopters and fashionable rich people subsidizing the rest of us. As when the first MacBook Air was released at $1700, then was refined, perfected and dropped $400, so too shall the MacBook follow suit. I’d expect a tiny speed bump and a drop to $999 or $1099.
HOWEVER, that was a month ago. That was before Microsoft released the pretty fabulous Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, and other PC manufacturers are starting to follow suit. The new Dell XPS is looking nice and others are coming as well. Finally, Apple has some competition. Does Apple stick to their guns and keep the MacBook super thin, super light, and super underpowered? Or do they upgrade it with a true core i5 processor and more ports? I think, why not both?
MacBook Air is dead, long live MacBook Air
The macBook Air is in a weird place now. Its not as light as the Macbook, its not as powerful as the pro. Retina displays and ForceTouch are THE future of Apple interface design, so those HAVE to go in there. And USB-C is coming, too. And if Apple is going to shoehorn all that in there, they would much rather just go with a brand new design. And they already have a brand new design… yup, the MacBook. So the MacBook Air is on the chopping block. if not now, then soon.
They could give the MacBook one extra port, which would be enough for most people (even though people who aren’t even in Apple’s target demo will still complain) and then add a 14″ MacBook with slightly better specs, a core i5 processor, and maybe, dare we dream, three USB-C ports? Thunderbolt 3 is even going to support USB-C connectors, so they could easily add Thunderbolt, which opens up so much capability in such a thin machine. But this will really depend on whether Apple sees the Macbook as a slim, fashionable but still capable laptop, or a low-cost bare-bones device. If they stick with the latter, they will HAVE to keep the MacBook Air around, and I don’t see that happening. So I am betting, hesitantly, on seeing the end of the Air, and more capable MacBooks on their way. And I think they will be called MacBook Air. It would be admitting the MacBook was a limited one-off laptop, but from a Marketing Perspective, it is smarter, cooler, and more in line with the iPad Air and iPad Pro naming.
The new MacBook Pro (with retina yadda yadda)
Which leaves the MacBook Pro. Here’s what Apple will probably do: Bump the specs a little, keep the pricing, keep the features, add Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C (but Keep USB-A connectors as well) and maybe, probably, ditch MagSafe for a USB3 charger. This will annoy people in two ways: MagSafe is awesome and people will miss it, and people will keep plugging a MacBook charger in and not getting a charge. But that’s progress.
Here’s what Apple might do: Make the MacBook Pro even thinner and lighter, which no one is asking for, keep the battery life the same, barely, under certain controlled circumstances, and remove the graphics card from the 15″, which would completely kill off the creative pro segment, create a stampede to Dell and HP laptops for artists and editors, also hurt iPad sales, and completely kill Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro. This would be a nightmare for me, and totally insane and sucky for the whole industry, but if I’m being honest here, I wouldn’t be totally surprised, because Apple.
Here’s what Apple would never do, but should: Add GPS and LTE. Add Thunderbolt 3 and USB-c to both MacBook Pros, increase the RAM ceiling to 32GB, add a graphics card to the 13″, and make both of them THICKER AND HEAVIER, increasing battery life. Embrace the fact that they are the first consumer goods manufacturer in history to make something thicker, by bragging about it in their marketing. Get Daft Punk to rewrite their song “Better, Faster, Heavier, Longer (battery life) and rake in the money.
I had a little fun mocking up some potential ads. no need to thank me, Apple.