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The Missing MacBook Link

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 19, 2010 5:00 AM PT

On Wednesday, Apple will hold a "Back to the Mac" announcement for the media. As with most Apple announcements from CEO and pitchman Steve Jobs, I find myself eagerly anticipating the day and big reveal. Along the way, I try to sort out my own hopes and needs against what Apple might actually deliver to the world at large.

Obviously I'm just one guy among hundreds of millions of Apple customers, but if I held the keys to Apple Cupertino headquarters, I'd start with my core Mac needs first: a better mid-level MacBook Pro.

The Missing MacBook Link

When Apple sends out invitations to the press for its media events, the company never really reveals what the announcement is, but it does provide some clues. This time around the invitation graphic shows an Apple logo cutout with a sliver of a lion showing through. The current version of Mac OS X is 10.6, so you can bet that Jobs will show off Mac OS X 10.7.

Revealing the Lion

Along with an updated OS, I expect Jobs to announce new versions of iLife and iWork ... both of which I'm looking to upgrade to since I'm still using '08 versions. I'm also hoping that he'll announce FaceTime for the Mac, and if we're lucky, tell us what all those servers in Apple's new North Carolina data center are going to be used for. With Apple's new Apple TV streaming model, the convergence of the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, new Macs, and data plans for the iPad and iPhone, I gotta wonder when it's all going to be tied together nicely with Apple's MobileMe service and iTunes ecosystem with content subscriptions. Some sort of new cloud is gathering, that's for sure.

But back to the here and now. The latest rumors point to the MacBook Air, which is in sore need of an upgrade. The basic form-factor is pretty solid, but for the price, it sure seems like it could use a faster processor, more port options, and maybe even some form-factor tweaks to make it thin enough to be deemed a dangerous weapon at airport security checkpoints.

Might Apple also bring touchscreen love to the Mac? I hope so, but it's not at the top of my need list. Sure, a touchscreen iMac seems long overdue, especially for the family computer, but a touchscreen laptop might also handy. Better yet, there are some rumors that Apple might deliver an iPad-like Mac that runs Mac OS X instead of iOS. I doubt it, though. It seems like a big leap in design and product innovation that's too soon for Apple on the heels of the wildly successful iPad.

Bigger, Faster, Stronger

The iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro all received updates this summer, so I'm not hoping for much. As noted, the MacBook Air will almost certainly get an update. But what about the rest of the MacBook line?

I'm not sure that Apple can make its unibody aluminum MacBook Pros any stronger, but I would not be surprised to see new MacBook Pros with faster processors, more standard RAM, and larger hard drives. I'd be thrilled to see some flash-based hard drives tossed in too, even if it's a dual-drive solution that lets the fast flash be used for startup and I/O intensive operations.

But bigger standard hard drives and the latest Intel processors are relatively mundane expectations. What I'm really hoping for are either denser screens ... or a better mid-line option for a 15-inch MacBook Pro. Let me explain.

The current 13-inch US$1,199 MacBook Pros are, relatively speaking in Apple Land, a wicked good deal that will only be better once Apple drops in an Intel Core i5 processor like the kind already found in its larger siblings -- or an iteration thereof. But the screen size on the 13-incher -- 1280 x 800 -- simply sucks for any serious work for any period longer than a couple of hours. I gotta say, even for email, I just want more space when I'm using a MacBook. A MacBook Pro is for real action, and to me, real action requires more space. Right now, my MacBook is hooked up to an awesome 24-inch monitor. So, most of the time, the screen isn't a big deal. But when I travel, I need a bigger screen.

The answer is easy enough: I need to shell out $1,799 for a 15-inch MacBook Pro. But that's a tough leap for me, both physically with the bank account and conceptually with the price-to-value ratios involved. At $1,800, shouldn't I consider buying a 13-inch MacBook Pro and an iPad? Might that be smarter? What about a huge iMac, saving my old MacBook for limited traveling? What about a Mac mini and an iPad?

I'm just saying, I get hung up on the $1,800 price tag, and it's hard for me to imagine that I'm the only one choking here. I just had a buddy consider a MacBook Pro, but he opted for a Windows-based laptop simply because he could get one with a decent -- not fantastic -- 15-inch screen. And now he's looking into creating a partition to run Linux on it too, possibly ditching Windows altogether. The guy was ripe for a MacBook purchase, but he looked over the options and settled for something else.

And now, with all the hype and hoopla over the iPad and super mobile devices, I'm afraid that Apple innovation is getting focused on mobile devices rather than workhorse laptops at consumable prices.

Retina Displays for MacBook Pros?

If I'm really lucky, Apple will bring its awesome Retina displays (first introduced in the iPhone 4) over to its MacBook Pro line. I'm not sure how possible this is in screen sizing and available components, but as a consumer, it's a tantalizing possibility. While the 15-inch form factor size is just about perfect to me, I could settle for denser pixels, which would also effectively make my on-screen work area larger.

Fingers crossed until Wednesday.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.


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