When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he famously slashed the number of products the company was making. He drew a grid with four boxes, labelling one side with ‘desktop’ and ‘laptop’ and the other with ‘consumer’ and professional’. That led to the establishment of the MacBook and PowerBook product ranges, each focused on a particular type of customer.
The announcement of the MacBook is an interesting one. Apple has blurred the lines between consumers and pros largely because the core components such as processors, memory and storage are so commoditised. When you compare a MacBook Air with a MacBook Pro, other than the size of the devices, the two product line are functionally very similar.
That’s not to say the two lines are identical in every way but in terms of which device a developer, photographer, consultant, writer or video editor might choose, once they decide on the device’s physical characteristics, such as weight and thickness, they can pretty much choose from either product line and know they have a computer that will suit their needs for at least two or three years.
The MacBook is a different kettle of fish. With a 12in display, it sits between the 11in MacBook Air and the 13in MacBook Pro and MacBook Air but it’s about 10 percent lighter than the smaller MacBook Air and more than 50 percent lighter than 13in MacBook Pro.
In an era of shrinking baggage allowances for carry-on that can be the difference between getting your bag into the plane with you or having to hastily re-pack or throw something out.
Storage and memory are good enough for most travellers. For $2200 you get 512GB of SSD storage and 8GB of system memory. That’s the same as our current 13in MacBook Pro. While we’ve supplemented the storage with a 256GB SD card to accommodate our iTunes library, it’s adequate for most applications.
Apple’s main compromise with the MacBook has been on the processor. The Intel Core M processor family is specifically designed for mobile devices. As such, it is very power efficient, enabling the MacBook to have a run time of up to 10 hours of movie playback according to Apple. With judicious use, we could imagine getting through most of a long haul flight from Australia to the US west coast between trips to the charger.
For travellers, that better life might be worth the high cost of the MacBook compared to a similarly equipped MacBook Air
The downside – that new USB-C port is the only port, other than the headphone socket, the MacBook has. So, if you’re planning to deliver a presentation you’ll need an adapter, sold by Apple, to connect to projectors or displays VGA or HDMI. The same goes for the 27in Cinema Display you’ve been using in the office. For frequent travellers, we’d expect spending another $160 to buy two – one for the office and the external display and other that stays in your travel bag.
Our suspicion is Apple will rationalise the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro product lines over the next year or so. We’ll see a return to the ‘Professional’ and ‘Consumer’ product differentiation although I doubt we’ll see it articulated in those words.
For travellers, the questions will be around what compromises you’re prepared to make. If battery life is your killer feature and you’re processor needs are modest, then the MacBook makes sense. But if you need more grunt and access to multiple USB ports and an SD card slot then the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro will make better sense.