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Thoughts on new Apple MacBook Air (and possible MacBook Pro)

UPDATE: I messed up and somehow thought the 'Air' rumor was the 'Pro' rumor. Revised accordingly.

The same ideas apply however. It will be interesting to see how a new MacBook Pro line fares with respect to display resolution, ports, etc. Will it just be a larger MacBook Air, or will it retain important professional features?

The unofficial details of the new MacBook Air lineup are all over the web, a controlled leak apparently. There are good details at 9to5mac.com, but these are not official details, and some details might be erroneous. See also the Bloomberg article.

New models will reportedly be announced at Apple’s WWDC on June 11.

See also MacRumors.com (the are RUMORS, not known facts):
Retina-Resolution Displays to Add Up to $100 to Apple's MacBook Pro Costs
More Claims of MacBook Pro Adopting MacBook Air Form Factor in 2012 Redesign

Curiously absent is any mention of a new Mac Pro desktop. My April 8th predictions still stand. Clearly the Mac Pro is of little significance to Apple.

Faster CPUs

The new “Ivy Bridge” CPU and chipset will be used. This is apparently a significant performance win, but the actual gains remain to be seen with real applications that need computing horsepower, e.g. Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Adobe Lightroom 4. Especially if the new models have constraints on maximum memory, as does the sluggish existing MacBook Air (less than 4GB usable memory).

Memory

It’s unclear how much memory will be supported in the new models. Apple could always cripple the new MacBook Airs at 4GB soldered on (again), though I hope not. But that is the case with the current MacBook Air models, which are limited to less than 4GB of usable memory (some of it is scarfed for the display memory).

Retina Display

The new MacBook Air laptop models allegedly will have 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch screens. Will we see a MacBook Pro 13" also?

Presumably, Apple would use pixel doubling for text in a retina display on the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro as is done on the iPad. This might a few programs unusable, those that use non-standard text presentation. But on the whole, most programs should do fine with pixel doubling.

Display quality

Let us not assume that “brilliant color” has anything to do with accurate color, or a wide color gamut, or anything suitable for serious professional use. No doubt the screen clarity of a Retina display will be lovely (though probably mirror-like), but that won’t necessarily make them good choices for photographers. Wait and see. Of course the vast majority of the market will be thrilled with a high-res screen. And maybe even me, if oddball issues don’t crop up, since images and text should look great.

USB3

First, USB3 is not “super fast”. Unless you’re comparing it to the dog-slow USB2. For example, it won’t let you run a 6G SSD at anywhere near full speed.

Still, USB3 is plenty fast enough to enable many useful peripherals, such as card readers for digital camera cards and external drives that run at responsive speeds (even if those speeds are well below what a fast SSD can do).

USB3 this would be a big step forward for the MacBook Air (or Pro) for photography field use in terms of downloading and backing up large images, such as 40-50MB Nikon D800 RAW files (each). This is why in fall of 2011 I abandoned and sold the MacBook Air for a 13" MacBook Pro using Firewire 800 (which is still slow, but much faster than USB2). It really does matter after working all day high in the mountains (or anywhere else) to not have to wait 45 minutes for a download and backup over USB2.

Gigabit ethernet

The MacBook Air has no gigabit ethernet port in the current model, and won’t be getting one in the new model. My hope is that a new MacBook Pro will preserve the ethernet port.

A USB3-to-ethernet adapter would provide satisfactory networking performance, assuming a solid implementation. But it still would not be nearly as fast as a gigabit ethernet port. But it would be far better than the USB2-to-ethernet adapter in the current Macbook Air.

While gigabit ethernet is something of little importance to many users, I actually use the gigabit ethernet port on my MacBook Pro regularly for file transfers, and its speed is especially important when transferring many gigabytes of files, or tens of thousands of small files. What might take an hour over Airport wireless takes 5 minutes over ethernet.

MacBook Pro

Apple might offer a revised MacBook Pro model similar to the MacBook Air (or might not).

In general, I would advise caution on any new MacBook Pro models for working professionals that need specific hardware features. The new models might or might not serve as well as the existing models for some users, e.g. the possible elimination of Firewire 800 and gigabit ethernet, the elimination of the ability to install a 2nd internal SSD or hard drive, a memory limit of 8GB (doubtful, but possible).

Such features are not necessarily important to the majority of users, but could be quite important for some usage scenarios.

For example, with the current MacBook Pro model, one can remove the optical drive in order to add a 2nd SSD or hard drive as a compensatory gain in functionality. Would a new MacBook Pro model change over to a MacBook Air style optical-free design?

In short, the new models might no longer be “Pro”, and it might take time for suitable alternative peripherals to take up the slack, presumably using the USB3 and Thunderbolt ports.


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