I have been through a few Apple laptops families over the years. I started with a black PowerBook G3 in the mid-90s and then moved to a titanium PowerBook G4. I didn't move to an iBook, even when they became sleeker with the white plastic design, but instead stuck with PowerBook and MacBook Pro until the MacBook Air emerged. This finally encouraged me away from the top-of-the-line models, as the slim and yet powerful MacBook Air offered me the flexibility of a thin laptop, but with enough power to drive an external display and complete all the tasks I needed. I generally boosted the processor, such as the i7 in my last model, so the size, weight and engine matched my needs.
However this October, Apple launched the new range of MacBook Pro and I was left with a choice. The MacBook Air family looks dated with no Retina display, so my choice this year was a new sleek and thin MacBook or to jump back up to the top of the line MacBook Pro. I decided on a 13" MacBook Pro for two reasons- the screen size (13" vs the MacBook's 12") and the new TouchBar technology.
After one week of use, I have no regrets. The display is crystal-clear and it is only after you have worked for a while with these displays that you realise you can't go back. Like the iPhone and iPad Pro, the text is smooth, images are clean and elegant on this screen. I also enjoy the extra space compared to my old MacBook Air's 11" screen.
But the real headline here is the TouchBar. Part of this is its existence, and part is its use. The existence of the TouchBar just makes the laptop feel new and feel more sophisticated compared to the MacBook Air and the previous MacBook Pro. It is a whole new way to interact with the laptop and that makes it look and feel like a new generation and not just a minor upgrade. Along with the black trim and thin bezel around the display, the TouchBar makes the MacBook Pro look new and fresh, and the MacBook Air by comparison looks "old" and quite outdated.
In use, it is smart and intuitive, even if it is a work-in-progress. For example in Mail, the Touch Bar offers suggestions on where you would like to file emails. If you select an email in your inbox, it knows which mailbox you normally place emails from that person, and files the message in one tap. The change, after years of dragging and dropping emails, is astonishing. I still only use about 30% of the buttons in the TouchBar and it may be that over time I customise them more, but what I do use I love and it makes a difference to my speed. This is especially true with the Touch ID sensor at the end of the TouchBar: unlocking the Mac and using my 1Password app is so much quicker.
I am also positive on the ports and possibly even hostile to all of the noise over Apple's move. The ports make complete sense. Four USB-C ports, no longer requiring me to look at the end of the cable to ensure I am about to plug it in the right way, just shows how bad the old USB standard was. USB-C is the way forward and we jut need to get on board. Yes I have bought a few adaptors, but so far I have used a USB-C to USB adapter twice for about ten minutes, used to plug in a USB stick and back up my iPhone.
About the only thing I don't like is the USB power adapter. It seems to have had less thought put into it. It is a shame it is so big and the USB-C cable which runs from the adapter to the laptop is thick and slightly clumsy. But overall, this is a minor concern.
If you are ready to move into the future of Mac laptops, dive in. If you love your current (and old) peripherals, the move will be more painful and expensive. But in the end I recommend this laptop as it is a clear break from the past and a beautifully designed Mac.
After last week's keynote, here is a quick rundown on the new Apple laptop landscape.
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On April 10th, Apple started to take orders for its new MacBook laptop. This muddied the waters slightly as they already had two ranges of laptops for sale. So how do you choose the right laptop for the task in hand- here is a run down:
MacBook: this is the new range and comes with very set options: all have a 12" Retina Display and there is a choice of two chip/storage options and three colours. The colours are gold, space grey and silver and the two chip/storage options are 1.1Ghz chip/256GB or 1.2Ghz chip/512GB (there is also a custom-built option of a 1.3Ghz dual-core Intel Core M chip, costing around 150 extra).
The MacBook is aimed at the traveller, student and people who want to prioritise weight and small size over power. The MacBook is Apple's thinnest laptop and is very light at around less than 1kg.
The MacBook is not the fastest laptop but most users would notice little difference between a MacBook and MacBook Air when using everyday apps.
The MacBook also comes with only one port- a new slim USB-C port which is smaller than a standard USB. You can buy Apple adapters to add external devices if you wish but this laptop is aimed at wireless users. This is a perfect laptop in the age of iCloud Drive, Dropbox, AirPrint, Bluetooth and WiFi.
I see this as the future- this will be the point to which Apple will head with the MacBook Air range. There are relatively few choices with the MacBooks (choose bigger or smaller storage/chip speed, and then pick a colour) and this matches the buying experience when you go to purchase an iPhone or iPad. This is a great mainstream laptop and we expect to see lots of these be sold in 2015.
MacBook Air: this is still the default laptop for many people as it has most of the lightness of the MacBook, but has a wider range of ports with USB, Thunderbolt, audio and MagSafe 2 power. There is more flexibility on screen sizes with a choice of 11" or 13" displays and you can customise a MacBook Air to come with a 512GB SSD drive instead of the standard 128 or 256.
The MacBook Air is the middle choice- they stand between the ultimate lightness and portability of the MacBook, but are smaller (and slower) than a MacBook Pro. For people who need to plug in their printer or iPad and aren't ready to choose the minimal ports of the MacBook, the MacBook Air is a safe choice.
MacBook Pro: becoming more of a specialist choice, the MacBook Pro offers more processor and graphics power options, along with larger screens- 13" or 15". MacBook Pros come with 128, 256 or 512GB of storage and some allow an upgrade to a 1TB SSD drive. These are the fastest Apple laptops but the top 15" costs twice as much as the top of the line MacBook Air.
If you need a bigger screen, lots of power, extra storage and the extra ports, this is the beast for the professional video editor and power user.
In 2015 we see most people going for a MacBook Air. The lighter MacBook will appeal to many of the busy business travellers, a students, and home users who don't need to connect extra devices. The MacBook Air is cheaper and so will suit many homes and users on a budget, plus the extra few ports will mean that it will be a safer bet for those who say "what if I nee to connect my...".
But I expect to see the MacBook Air phased out towards the end of 2016 or 2017, with the MacBook taking its place.
The MacBook Pro is the only option for those needing the bigger 15" screen and for people who work with power hungry apps (photographers, video editors, website and graphic designers, etc.). The new MacBook Pros are a lot lighter than a few years ago and come without a Superdrive (except for a legacy version which is still old). For most users, the MacBook Pro does not hit the mark, due to its extra weight and the higher price.
If Apple are to keep their traditional two laptop line-up, expect the MacBook to drop in price next year and to slowly take the place of the MacBook Air, with the MacBook Pro keeping is role as the all-powerful, professionals choice.
The recent rumour about Apple revising the MacBook Air leads to the question–how powerful should a low end laptop be? In the 00's, Apple's category division was simple– PowerBook laptops were for professionals and iBook laptops suited home users.
In more recent times, the introduction of the MacBook Air followed a similar path, with the original version being quite underpowered compared to its professional counterpart. But for Apple, the problem was cost. The Air came with a higher price than the iBook and this left it stranded between the two categories. The chip in the original MacBook Air was very slow in comparison to the professional line-up. But as the MacBook Air settled down, Apple built in better chips, recently an I5 or i7, and the performance of this laptop began to reach above threshold required by the average user. We have recommended MacBook Airs into many businesses, where we would not have looked at an iBook ten years ago.
Therefore the waters have narrowed between the pro and consumer laptop families and this is something we welcomed because it gives a wider choice where business users don't dismiss the lower range. In fact the old category division of professional/consumer no longer applies. Today the choice between MacBook Air vs Pro lies primarily in screen size, plus variations on graphics power and chip speed.
We hope that this is not a position which Apple reverses in the future, by aiming any new MacBook Air towards the lower end and widening the gap between these two sections. We think the continuity between Air and Pro is good for buyers and the decision comes down to lifestyle choice, such as weight, design, and form, ahead of a blunter choice of money and speed.