Apple is coming out with a new MacBook computer and it looks fantastic. I’m guessing this computer will be a very big success although it hasn’t been without controversy and the various tech blogs are going nuts with all kinds of speculation about why Apple did this.
I think many are making the mistake of attempting to fit it logically into Apple’s current portable computer lineup and that may be the wrong way to think about it. Maybe an easier way to understand Apple’s engineering and design tradeoffs is to think of it being as portable as an iPad Air with a keyboard running Mac OS X. It’s an extremely light weight, small computer that has numerous design and engineering tradeoffs to support its size and weight. It may not be as powerful as a 13″ MacBook Air or Pro, but it’s more portable than either and portability is what it’s all about.
Having an even more portable Macintosh appeals to me because while my iPad Air 2 is a wonderful device for browsing the web and running apps, I dislike text editing in iOS and almost always pass those tasks back to my MacBook Pro from my iPad when I’m in a situation that makes that possible. And, I like using a mouse with my computers and use Apple’s less than wonderful wireless mouse, which I like better than a trackpad for text and photo editing. So, for me, the MacBook would be a more portable adjunct to an iPad.
The very same engineering tradeoffs that are bugging many appeal to me, discussion below.
This is the first Macintosh portable that’s fan-less and Apple was able to do this because they’re using a lower power and slower processor, they’ve miniaturized the logic board, and like all Apple portables now, it’s got an SSD and not a spinning disk. Fan-less is a great thing in that the machine will be as quiet as an iPad.
But, to make it fan-less, which no doubt was an important design goal the machine had to be lower power than a MacBook Air or Pro with a tilt towards a larger battery relative to it’s size and weight. This computer is all battery which allows it to be used all day on a single charge and that’s the way Apple sees it being used: unplugged, only plugging it in when not in use.
One USB-C Port
The single (new) USB-C port has been one of the most talked about features of the new MacBook; this computer has a single port that’s used for charging and I/O. USB-C is a new protocol (designed by Apple and Intel) and it’s considerably faster than USB 2 and 3 and backward compatible with both.
No longer will the computer have a MagSafe power connection (that’s held in place magnetically), the USB-C port will supply both power and I/O. MagSafe was Apple’s invention to prevent pulling your computer off your desk if you tripped over its power cable. Brilliant invention and it’s saved many a computer.
Glenn Fleishman at Macworld posted a long piece on the physics of whether a cable connection like this could detach, MagSafe-like, saving the computer in case of a trip over its power cable: Will your new MacBook crash to the ground without MagSafe? (Yes.).
I think almost everyone who’s been concerned about this doesn’t understand what this computer is all about. I’m writing this with my MacBook Pro sitting on my desk plugged in. When my computer is on my desk I see no reason not to plug it in and I’m guessing that most people use their MacBook Airs and Pros like I do: while on the desk, plugged in, while off the desk, on battery.
The new MacBook is positioned as an iPad and when is the last time you used your iPad plugged in? Rarely if ever do people do this. They charge them overnight, then unplug them and carry them around and use them. That’s the way Apple has designed this new MacBook to be used. It’s interesting that it’s Apple’s first portable Macintosh designed this way and because of this, for many, it’s a hard concept to digest. It doesn’t bother me at all and frankly, Apple’s latest incarnation of MagSafe (on my Retina MacBook Pro) hasn’t seemed like an advancement to me, it feels cheap compared with the older versions.
The single port is giving people fits because of connectivity concerns as well. But, if you charge your computer at night that port won’t be filled with a power cable during the day when you’re using the computer.
But, what might you want to attach during the day when you’re out and about? It’s not like you’re going to walk around with an ethernet cable hanging out of it, or even a CD/DVD burner. This computer is built to connect to the world wirelessly and while not everything can be connected this way, the few things we need wires for Apple has built dongles for. Again, think iPad: iPads have a single Lightning port and various attachments that can connect to it if one needs video out or to read an SD card.
For me, the lack of multiple ports would not be a problem even though I routinely connect a USB 3 hub to my computer with a LabelWriter and my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 photo printer connected to it (I connect to my laser printer wirelessly though our Airport Extreme), I don’t leave it plugged in all the time as I might go for days without using it.
So, the single port doesn’t throw me at all.
There has been a lot written about Apple’s new MacBook but as usual, it’s Dr. Drang that got me thinking about it from a slightly different perspective.
I’ve been uncomfortable with the screen real estate on my Retina MacBook Pro because before it, I had the 2011 MacBook Pro with the slightly higher resolution matte HD screen (a non-glossy screen) and that screen, while tougher to read because of text size, gave me more space to work in. It wasn’t a huge difference but I do notice it when, for instance, I’m looking at my blog and make Safari’s window big enough to show the background a bit. My old 2011 MBP showed this fine with the window taking up only slightly more than half the width of the screen. The new 2014 MBP’s different resolution makes that window take up close to 3/4 of the screen. This is exactly what Dr. Drang is concerned about with the 12″ screen on the MacBook except he’s concerned with height, not width.
The reason I buy 15″ computers instead of 13″ is that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time and have them positioned so I can see them simultaneously.
If I had an external monitor or iMac (which I’ll probably get soon) then the need to have a larger screen in a portable computer would be diminished, but like Dr. Drang, I see a even a small difference in screen height as a potential problem in reading long web pages (more scrolling) or seeing enough stuff on the screen at one time to get my work done.
This is a tradeoff: portability vs screen size.
The other piece of this influencing me is that I’ve been a one computer guy for a long time: I’ve been using Macintosh portables since there were Macintosh portables and while cloud services now make a multiple computer setup a lot easier to deal with than ever before, I feel myself resisting, wanting to keep things familiar.
I’ve been resisting buying an external monitor for this computer because an iMac is a better investment and the new retina 5K screen iMac is incredible. If I had an iMac and a MacBook Air or the new MacBook it would change the way I work and while this might not be a bad thing, knowing me, it would take me a while to get used to it. Honestly, that kind of change scares me and my computer is such an important part of my life, I don’t consider changes like this lightly.
I think the new MacBook is fantastic and when one changes the way one thinks about it (more iPad running Mac OS with a keyboard, less low power MacBook Air) it makes a lot of sense for many people, including me.
I’m working on my brain to get it a bit more ready for a possible change and for me, the first step is to write about it.