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The new MacBook is a laptop for the iPad generation

Andy Vandervell

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The new MacBook is a laptop for the iPad generation

OPINION Andy Vandervell argues the new MacBook is the hybrid iPad that Apple will never make

First you're in awe of how thin and light it is. Then you're amazed that it's totally fanless. Next you're floored by its beautiful screen. You're intrigued by its innovative Force Touch trackpad; envious of its flawless design; impressed that it'll still last nine to ten hours on a full charge.

But then... then you start to think about the practicalities. It doesn't have one normal USB port. There isn't even a microSD slot, let alone a proper SD card slot like every other laptop on the planet. If I wanted an iPad, I'd buy a damn iPad. In fact, I already own one! What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

And there's the key point. It will replace the iPad for some people. Indeed, when you look at it closely, it has as much in common with an iPad as it does a laptop.

It has a Retina screen like an iPad. It has a single connection for power and video out... like an iPad. Its only other connection is a headphone jack... just like an iPad. Hell, here's a great stat for you: the new MacBook is only 0.1mm thicker than the original iPad! Yes, seriously.

SEE ALSO: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids

Now let's flip that around – what similarities does it have with a typical laptop? It looks like a laptop. It has a keyboard like a laptop. It runs a laptop operating system and... Well that's all I have. By my count, that's a score draw.

That’s why I think the new MacBook is, in effect, an iPad-MacBook hybrid. It’s just not a hybrid in the way the Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid. It combines the spirit of the iPad and MacBook into one, not their incompatible designs. It is, in other words, the perfect laptop for the iPad generation.

Around about this time, some of you are thinking I’ve drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, that I’m a rabid Apple fanboy and my opinion isn’t worth jack. I urge patience. It’s true that all the things that make the new MacBook wrong for me (and you) are deeply annoying. Just try and remember that there’s a large body of people out there for whom none of those things matter.

Apple MacBook 2015

Let’s start with that SD card slot business. Have you seen camera sales recently? Every month the good folks at Gfk UK send me a report that shows the sales trends across various markets. I can’t remember the last time the photography market wasn’t 20 to 30% down year on year. That 20 to 30% are the people for whom a phone is the only camera they need, and whose photos sync wirelessly as they go.

Next, let’s talk USB. USB is great and this new USB Type-C connection is a special thing – I recommend you read Edward Chester’s guide to USB Type-C when you get a spare moment. But even I don’t need USB ports that often – I most often use them to access press kits I’m given on a flash drive.

For many people, a USB flash drive is a quaint tradition, though. They also don’t use printers – or at least use them wirelessly – they don’t have external hard drives and for the once in a blue moon that they’ll need a USB port, Apple will sell an adapter that includes video and USB connections. It’ll sit in a drawer for most of its life, I’ll wager. It’ll probably cost £50/$70 or so, but does that matter when you’re buying a £1049/$1299 laptop? It’s a bit like agonising over spending pocket change on a mobile app.

It’s a similar story for the video out. I bought a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable when I bought my MacBook Air back in… oh, 2011/12. I still haven’t used it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I just don’t need to plug my MacBook into screens anymore. Ordinary users need to do so even less than I do.

And this is why the new MacBook is Apple’s hybrid. Anyone who’s ever bought a keyboard for their iPad is looking at the new MacBook very hard right now. If you can live with an iPad paired with a keyboard, you can live with a proper laptop with iPad-like restrictions.

Moreover, so much of the software on Macs is now just like it is on iPads – the new Photos app, currently a public beta, is a near carbon copy of the iPad version. It’s increasingly true across the whole operating system, and that integration and homogenization is only going to increase.

Related: Intel Core M: How it makes the new MacBook possible

So, when a friend or relative expresses an interest in buying the new MacBook, remember that the things you care about probably don’t matter to them anymore. They’re a member of the iPad generation. They are, to use Steve Jobs’ brilliantly ambiguous term, “Post PC”. And, for them, the new MacBook is everything they need in a laptop.

Honesty007

March 10, 2015, 1:20 pm

Nice classification/summery of the New Macbook. It is how I saw it too. I don't think anyone in good conscience can accuse you of drinking any cool-aid. At least I hope not.

Darryl

March 10, 2015, 2:38 pm

We had a very similar conversation in the office this morning, in fact we went a step further and consigned the new MacBook to the realm of "sofa surfer." The reason for this is to which you have already eluded, that lack of ports.

I appreciate many many extremely competent photographers are using their phones for taking shots, but there's still a huge user base using CSC's/DSLR's and this is where the MacBook fall short. I was hugely optimistic for a Retina screened Air, for that is what it is, but the lack of slots to quickly utilise a Lightroom development process leaves RAW file shooters in the dark.

Finally, the low power of the machine, contributing to a great battery life, means many "pro" photographers will stick with the MacBook Pro, me being one of them. I had looked forward to a lighter processing machine, unfortunately this is not it.

MattMe

March 10, 2015, 2:57 pm

Agreed, this laptop is aimed at people who are different from most of the regular readers of this site.
But that just highlights bigger concerns. If I do decide to accept that my friends and family don't need video out or SD card reader or even USB (they do, by the way), how could I live with myself for advising a Macbook is a good buy for a casual sofa-surfer? £1,300 for £600 worth of equipment that adds further restrictions than any other solution? Yeah, it's nice and shiny and great, but that kind of money if for pro/power users. £600 gets you the same or very similar spec (close enough for these hypothetical, completely wireless casual users) and still looks pretty, lasts all day and is lightweight, fanless and everything else great about the new Macbook. You don't get an Apple logo on it though.

I'm not accusing you of fanboyism, but I am accusing you of being wrong in your assessment of why this device makes sense.

You and I are obviously very different computer users as I can't remember the last time I didn't use my laptop without a second screen at every opportunity, or when I didn't have 2 things plugged into it. Arguably in the future this could all be done wirelessly, and is only generally required when 'docked' at a desk, which is usually when at home.
Lets compare this to a Surface Pro 3 or the Asus UX305. Where does it fit? Which is it better than, because it's more expensive than both. *Put together*. Tell me who this makes sense to?

pimlicosound

March 10, 2015, 4:23 pm

This reminds me of this TR opinion piece from back in 2008: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

The original Macbook Air was rubbished for its lack of connections (No Firewire! No Ethernet!) and other compromises in the name of style. I seem to remember another TR article (I can't find it now) called "Why we won't be reviewing the Macbook Air", which argued that the Air wasn't a real computer, only a "device".

And here we are, doing the same thing all over again, even as the Macbook Air has proved to be the most popular computer of the last half decade.

Yes, the new Macbook has compromises. But pretty soon, those compromises will cease to matter to the vast majority of people, including the readers of this site. In another few years, most consumer laptops will probably look something like this, and we'll have to find something else to complain about.

Prem Desai

March 10, 2015, 5:05 pm

Absolutely spot on Andy.

Everyone has different requirements and this will suit many.

It should be noted that the downside of all this slimming down by 0.001mm and taking out 'unnecessary' ports is that the machine has absolutely no flexibility.

If you ever wanted to download the picture from your cameras SD card whilst out and about, then you just cannot.

Or if you wanted to transfer large files, you'll need to source a network adapter or use slow wi-fi.

Similarly for the usb port - you'll need to carry adapters for anything you may want to connect.

This will suit some and not others.

Not for me - I need to have a network port, HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. SD card is nice to have.

Bob Forsberg

March 10, 2015, 5:36 pm

This new MacBook, I believe is also Apple's next generation iPad, housed inside a beautiful full sized keyboard case/cover with a lot of batteries. I agree with everything expressed in your article and the thoughtful comments written here, but this could really be Apple's attempt to float a trial ballon to see if this luxury iPad hybrid flies for $1,299.

Uncomfortable observations were the tepid responses during the traditional MacBook show & tell drum rolls, even with the interesting in-depth machining and battery manufacturing education portions. Pricing at the end also elicited an uncomfortable non-response from the audience.

I've been and currently am a multi high-end iMac user since their inception after using MacPros for many years prior. I've used MacBook Pros and all the iPads on a limited basis and my sons have been extremely happy I found them not my "preferred Apple products". But this new MacBook in space grey is replacing my current iPad and older iPod touch. If it only had data radios with its AC wifi, my iPhone 5 might be gone too.

LeeTronix

March 10, 2015, 8:41 pm

Its continuing lack of an SD card is beyond stupidity then again I think apple want everyone to use iCloudless ehem I mean iCloud yes the one that is really awful well dire maybe more suitable. One would think that the worlds largest tech company could invest in its rubbish cloud service first before releasing 1 port only devices at a premium as usual especially when its supposed to be thinner and lighter blah blah blah shame that is not reflected in a lighter cost.
Sent from my Surface Pro 3 :-)

Alex Cherry

March 10, 2015, 9:50 pm

802.11ac is plenty fast for transferring large files. Most D-SLRs have built-in wifi now. That's Apple's dream - not to sell you an adaptor, but to get rid of cables completely.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 9:54 am

Well, I imagine it's reasoning is if you need one you're probably better off with a 13-inch MacBook Pro.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 9:58 am

Yes, although my experience with camera Wi-Fi is that it isn't up to the task at the moment. Perhaps this will motivate camera makers to make their system work better!

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 10:00 am

Ha, I remember it well. As you imply, now is a very different world to then. And, if I recall correctly, one of the reasons we wouldn't review it was Apple wouldn't send one to us! ;)

pimlicosound

March 11, 2015, 10:04 am

BTW, do I get a prize for being a loyal reader of more than seven years? Perhaps a 2-for-1 coupon at Lidl?

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 10:09 am

I should probably clarify that I do use multiple screens, just not at home. I don't even have a desk at home, but I use a laptop and a 24-inch Dell at work. This MacBook is obviously more of a at home on the move kind of laptop, hence the parallel.

As for the comparisons with the Surface Pro 3 and UX305, the MacBook is clearly more of a luxury/lifestyle device, whereas as the Surface Pro 3 is a professional product and UX305 is a mass-market ultrabook -- and a very good one. Point is, there has always been a market for luxury laptops and the MacBook clearly sits in that niche. People will pay for superior design and I don't think anyone can argue the MacBook isn't that.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 10:10 am

Honestly, the Core M processor doesn't have enough power for Lightroom anyway, so it's kind of a moot point. If you're using that kind of software, MacBook Pro is indeed where it's at.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 10:14 am

I think any reader that made it through the Cliff Jones era deserves some kind of award!

Ed

March 11, 2015, 11:23 am

In defence of Riyad's op-ed, the original Air was a very different beast to subsequent ones, and it arrived at a very different time. The original was much more expensive, relatively, and had only one USB port and one micro-DVI (ha!). Indeed the real story is that Apple did in fact backtrack and subsequent models added in the SD and extra USB ports.

I doubt they'll be doing the same for the new MacBook because times are indeed different but equally I wouldn't be surprised to see two USB Type-C sockets on the next one.

The one we all got wrong was the iPad, though again the first gen one was genuinely rubbish. However, the idea of completely inventing a new product type for a new type of user caught us all out. (to this day I don't use a tablet)

mode11

March 11, 2015, 11:53 am

A second USB-C port would be trivial to add, and would alleviate a lot of people's concerns (charging + using a USB stick simultaneously?). Though with 9 hour battery life, AirPlay mirroring, iCloud / Dropbox, wifi printing etc. perhaps it really is not necessary. If plugged into an (Apple) monitor, it could be charged up whilst the monitor provides all the USB (and other) interfaces you would need. I'm sure double-ended A/C USB memory sticks will be out before long too, so adapters for those will be unnecessary.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 12:32 pm

Hey, who's saying we got the iPad wrong, Ed? I was the one who reviewed it! ;)

As you say, original iPad was a classic 'first gen' device, rather like the original iPhone. The Apple Watch is the same, I think. We won't see the best from it until the 2nd generation.

andyvan

March 11, 2015, 3:51 pm

Good point. Although, interestingly, we haven't seen the power adapter for it yet. Would be trivial to add a normal USB to that, surely? I've seen it done before.

Rik Hemsley

March 12, 2015, 9:38 am

I currently use LR on a Lenovo T430s with an i5 (not sure which), with Nikon RAW files and JPEGs from a Fuji X. I've never noticed any sluggishness or delays when photo organising or editing. The only times I have to wait for it are rendering 1:1 previews and exporting.

I often import a few hundred photos at a time and when I do this, I just make a coffee while I wait for the previews to render. After this, everything is fast. It's not long ago that I moved from an X1 Carbon 1st gen (i5 U) - again, speedy - and before that a 2008 Macbook Unibody. That only had a Core 2 Duo and was still perfectly nippy in organising and editing.

So I'm not really expecting a problem with the Core M. Have you tested LR on it? If it was slow, perhaps it slows down with really high res files? I think the max I've used are about 12MP.

Prem Desai

March 12, 2015, 10:13 am

True, 802.11ac is fast. Problem is it's not available everywhere yet.

Also, it's not good enough for large files - I'm talking movies, backups,etc. this may not be a daily requirement, but when you need it, you can't whack a gigabit Ethernet connection ....

andyvan

March 12, 2015, 2:33 pm

I haven't, but Ed might be able to help there.

My understanding, though, is current Core M is similar to the earliest Core i mobile processors in performance. Good enough for normal computing, but I'd imagine big RAW imports would make it chug.

That said, it's all relative. If you got on ok with Core 2 Duos, it'll probably get the job done provided you're not too fussy. Plus, 8GB RAM and a fast SSD will help.

Alex Cherry

March 12, 2015, 3:00 pm

It is a relatively recent advancement, yes, but AC products have been on the market for over a year. If it's not where you need it

The theoretical max speed of 802.11ac is eight 160MHz 256-QAM channels, each of which are capable of 866.7Mbps — a grand total of 6,933Mbps, or just shy of 7Gbps. That's a transfer rate of 900 megabytes per second — more than you can squeeze down a SATA 3 link.

While I don't expect to see those speeds in real life, even hitting half that is plenty fast for anything but the largest file transfers. If you're shuffling multi-gig files around, carrying an adapter around to plug in is something you're going to do with any ultra-portable product. You want onboard Cat6, you need to look in another category of device.

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