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Forget Pink: MacBooks are in serious need of a design overhaul

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MacbookvsMacbook

OPINION Computing editor Michael Passingham shares his wishlist for Apple's upcoming MacBook updates

Apple has some serious catching up to do. I say this as someone who is an admirer of the consistent Apple design standards over the last decade or so, but in 2016 its entire line-up of MacBook products is starting to look a little bit old-hat, even with the addition of pink in the latest 2016 12-inch MacBook.

Had it not been for the recent resurgence of Windows laptop manufacturers, Apple could have happily rested on its laurels for another year.

But when I look at Dell’s reinvigorated XPS line up, HP’s impressive (albeit not-yet-launched) Spectre 13, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book and, to a lesser extent, Asus’ top-end ZenBooks, I start to wonder why I’d want to buy a MacBook of any type.

With the rumour that Apple is set to drop the MacBook Air moniker altogether, and with some juicy gossip about a new MacBook hinge in the works, there seems like no better time than now to completely refresh the MacBook brand.

Related: Apple MacBook Pro 2016: Everything you need to know

Here are five things I’d like to see from this MacBooks in 2016.

1) Ditch the bezels

This is something Dell has done with fantastic effect since late 2014, when it launched its XPS 13. This effectively created a 13-inch laptop inside the chassis of a standard 11-inch laptop case – an XPS 13 actually fits inside a slip case designed for the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Dell followed that up last year with the XPS 15 which, while a fair bit larger, feels refreshingly compact and light.

For many laptops, the bezel represents an opportunity to stretch the keyboard out a little or even add a number pad, but none of Apple’s MacBooks, even the 15-inch MacBook Air, has one. Instead, there’s a cavernous amount of space on either side of the keyboard that could easily be cut.

Related: Best laptops 2016

Dell XPS 13 9

Of course, this bezel slashing doesn’t take into account the laptop’s internals, and it must be said that Apple is still a market leader when it comes to laptop battery life. Diminishing the size of the chassis, therefore, would be a problem.

Take a look at iFixit’s MacBook teardowns and you’ll see that every MacBook in the range is packed to the seams with cells. Ditch that bezel space and you’ll need to design a new battery and potentially decrease the capacity, or increase the density at some expense.

When you consider Apple has barely increased the capacity of its iPhones since they launched in 2008, I have doubts it can squeeze much more out of its current tech.

That means it must rely on more power-efficient processors from Intel if they want to keep battery life the same while decreasing battery capacity.

Still, this would be a huge step to making the MacBook more desirable.

2) Step up the graphics

Dell proved with the XPS 15 that you don’t need a fat chassis to slot in a capable graphics card. The 2GB Nvidia GeForce 960M can play the latest games at Full HD with the detail settings dialled down just a little.

The comparable AMD Radeon R9 M370X is a decent GPU, but it can’t match the GTX 960M for power, gaming or otherwise. This isn't AMD's fault, it's simply a lower-specification GPU that Apple has chosen for its top-end machines.

Apple will need to increase the power on its 15-inch MacBooks to make sure they don't lose customers who want top-end graphics performance for 3D work and gaming.

3) Add a touchscreen

Optional, of course, but there’s something to be said for being able to stick your finger out and scroll around web pages without having to use a touchpad. Sometimes it just suits your body position better to reach out and touch the screen.

Video: 13in MacBook Pro review

Of course, those who want matt or properly glossy screens for video and design work should be afforded this option, but I equally think less demanding consumers would appreciate a touchscreen on the MacBook and MacBook Air.

I can imagine why Apple has resisted doing it so far: perhaps it’d cause confusion for consumers, who associate touchscreens with iPads and iPhones, or perhaps their own market research suggests people really couldn’t care less about having a touch screen. I suspect Apple would say that if you want a touchscreen laptop, you should buy an iPad Pro.

There’s also the challenge of manufacturing the touch screen components and offering users yet more choices beyond the classic processor, RAM and storage options already available.

With all that said, if the rumours are true and Apple is looking to get its iOS apps to work nicely on OS X, adding a touchscreen would be a great way to encourage laptop users to start using mobile apps away from their phones and tablets.

New MacBook 31

4) New materials

Apple has already started down this road with the launch of the 12-inch MacBook, offering it in silver, grey and gold. The challenges of producing these choices on four more device form factors are certainly large, but not something that can’t be overcome by someone with as much buying power as Apple.

In this respect, I think Apple is still ahead of the game – its trademark silver aluminium still looks excellent, but there’s nothing classier than a slab of Space Grey, in my opinion.

Apple TouchID

5) Better security features

Microsoft’s Windows 10 is well ahead of the game when it comes to security features. The logging in process for OS X is like something from the 90s, with no proper lock screen, no alternative log-on options (such as PIN) and no notifications.

There’s no hardware for it, either. While most Windows laptops eschew a fingerprint scanner, more and more devices are getting dual cameras that work with Windows Hello, and soon there’ll be compatibility for proximity-based log-ins that work with the Microsoft Band 2.

MacBooks have none of these, even though Apple has a strong ecosystem of mobile devices that, theoretically, easily be hooked into the MacBook’s security protocols. If I wave an Apple Watch near my MacBook, that should be my key to log on.

All iPhones come with fingerprint scanners – if I want to log into my MacBook, why can’t I simply press a specific finger to my phone to unlock the device if they’re on the same Wi-Fi network? And why can't Apple just put a Touch ID scanner on their MacBooks? That would be nice.

What are your thoughts on new Macbook? Let us know in the comments below.

patrick

May 9, 2016, 2:13 pm

my macbook air form 2011 stills looks good even compared to new PC laptops out now so for me im in no rush to upgrade..

mode11

May 9, 2016, 9:17 pm

Slimmer bezels would certainly be nice.

The MBP is due a refresh generally. Apple probably favour AMD as they can get a better deal on the parts (though I'm not saying that's not a good reason).

Touchscreens are pointless. Even Windows laptops are backing away from them now.

Space grey MBPs would be nice. Aluminium still looks good, if perhaps a little easy to scratch. ThinkPads arguably have a more practical finish.

Touch ID could be OK for laptops. No one has an Apple Watch, so integration there wouldn't make much difference. A 'Hello Mac' system could work well for iMacs, though Mac Pro's might not have monitors with webcams.

Democritus3

May 10, 2016, 12:59 am

TBH the 13" macbook pro with retina is a design classic, mine is 3 years old - the build quality is such that it still looks and works great, the screen is flawless and it does everything I need (I don't think hardcore gamers buy macs for that purpose). I have never used a windows laptop that provides the same overall luxurious quality (have owned hp, asus and currently also have a surface pro 4, which is great in many ways, but the MBP is the one I take with me on long trips). Having said that, I agree that a refresh would be nice, but I hope they don't use the same keybard as on the 12" macbook

Securitass

May 10, 2016, 3:07 am

Yeah, I also hope they keep that dreadful MacBook keyboard away from their other models. The 0.0001 mm of travel distance is just horrendous to type on, its like typing on a touch screen with haptic feedback. Yeah, it can get the job done, but it isn't very comfortable.

Michael Passingham

May 10, 2016, 8:52 am

Indeed. I still lust over the 13in MacBook Pro; it's still one of my favourites and it's definitely a risk to overhaul it, but with so many other beauties being released this year I don't really think they have a choice.

Michael Passingham

May 10, 2016, 8:53 am

If Apple launched a Space Grey MBP, only my credit limit would stop me from rushing to my nearest Apple store to buy one.

andyvan

May 10, 2016, 11:17 am

I second this.

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