For the past few years Apple has been using the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro names for it two series of notebooks. The Air was lightweight ultraportable notebook, introduced back in 2008 by Steve Jobs by dramatically pulling it out of a manila envelope on the stage. It’s designed to do basic tasks such as web browsing, messaging, movies, music, and other casual tasks that don’t normally require a lot of horsepower under the hood. The Pro was the more serious of the two, with more power, more features, more everything. The Air was targeted at the average user, while the Pro for the professionals looking for more of a desktop replacement.
Apple also originally had the MacBook moniker, which was eventually phased away. Until today, when it revived for a new category of Apple notebooks.
The MacBook, as Apple simply calls it, is Apple’s newest ultraportable. While everyone expected it to be the successor to the MacBook Air, Apple decided to make it a different category altogether, with the Air and Pro still in tow. This is definitely bound to confuse people but hopefully this article will help alleviate that.
With the new MacBook, Apple made a machine that was thinner than the MacBook Air. This, of course, comes with a lot of compromises, as the MacBook Air was already on the edge of how thin you can go with a traditional laptop design, so anything beyond that was never going to be traditional.
To make the MacBook reach its 0.52-inch thickness (at its thickest point) and 0.92kg weight, Apple got rid of pretty much all the ports on the side. Now there is just one USB-C port on the left (which is reversible) that works as the charging port, the USB port, and the video-out (HDMI/DisplayPort/VGA). Think of it as the USB port on the phone that already does all these things and you’d get the picture. On the other side is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. There is no SD card slot anymore.
The single port does everything now. Without a doubt Apple will sell you various adaptors for it but the problem is connecting more than one type of device to it, such as a charger and a display out port. Update: Apple has a USB-C to USB Adapter, USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, and USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter.
On the inside, the logic board (motherboard) has been shrunk down considerably, and Apple got rid of the fan for the processor. It uses the new dual-core Intel Core M “Broadwell” processor based on Intel’s 14nm process and the successor to Haswell. It’s designed for tablets and super thin notebooks. The rest of the space is taken by the battery. Apple is using stepped battery design, which although Apple claims is its own invention, has been used in phones also, such as the LG G2, as it makes the best use of internal space even inside the curved edges. Apple claims the new MacBook has 9 hours of battery life, which surely less than the proper 12 hour of the MacBook Air. Apple also moved the speakers from their discreet position under the keyboard on the Air to near the hinge under a visible grille. Oh, and the logo on the back doesn’t glow anymore.
Not everything is a compromise, however. The display is now Retina, with a resolution of 2304×1440 (16:10). The keyboard is now better, replacing the scissor mechanism with a butterfly mechanism that makes the keys more stable even when hit off-center. There is an LED backlight under each key now for even brightness. The trackpad can now be clicked across the surface and is pressure sensitive, with a few software tricks thrown in to take advantage of it. The machine also comes in three colors now, the standard silver, and the new space gray and gold(!).
At first glance it’s easy to get shocked, almost offended by the brutal simplicity of the new MacBook. In that it reminds me of the aforementioned 2008 MacBook Air. That too had the audacity to come with only one USB port and a headphone jack tucked under a flap. Of course, Apple corrected the design two years later to what we have now. You can say Apple is trying its luck once again with that design but it might just work this time. The market has matured and is more accepting of more varied form factors. Besides, Apple is way bigger deal now than it was in 2008 and people are far more likely to pay for seemingly odd products.
But the MacBook isn’t really odd. To appreciate or understand it, you would need to let go of the idea of what is a traditional computer. Some people managed to do that when they started using the iPad as their computer and as odd as it may sound to some of us, an iPad can be a pretty usable computer for a lot of people. That’s because a lot of people don’t need to do overly complicated tasks on their computers. They don’t necessarily need powerful hardware or a dozen ports. When you really think about all the tasks you do on your personal computer every day, you realize you can actually do most, if not all on an iPad.
And if you can do that on an iPad, why can’t you do it on the MacBook? It has a more flexible operating system, is definitely more powerful and more importantly, has a proper keyboard and trackpad. For someone like me who spends most day on the internet either just browsing or writing can, in complete honesty, can get around on something like this.
But yes, everyone is not me, so this isn’t for everyone. But if you just want a computer for basic tasks, or if you ever wished for a more flexible version of an iPad with a keyboard, but above all, value design and portability over everything else, this just might be the right product for you. The high price is for the quality of design and engineering that went into making something so thin and light, not for the specifications. If you want a spec monster, there are other products on the market, including Apple’s MacBook Pro. But that’s for a different type of customer. You just have to figure out which kind of customer you are.