How Apple’s New MacBook Lineup Changes Everything

Apple’s MacBook line, from the ultralight MacBook Air to the new MacBook Pros with Retina display, is amazing. What’s notable, in the latest update, is a key transformation of the MacBook design philosophy and how it might affect customer thinking.


I own a 2011 13-inch MacBook Air (MBA). So the first thing I wanted to know about Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro (MBP) with Retina display is how much of a leap it is over my current MBA. That investigation turned up some interesting things.

The first thing I noticed was the apparent shift of the MBA from being the premium notebook that’s ultra-thin and lightweight to being the bottom of Apple’s lineup, by virtue of its standard display, for example 1440 x 900 for the 13-inch model. I’m guessing that positioning in the lineup is due to the fact that the PC makers have been fairly successful in mimicking the MBA with their Ultrabooks. Looking at the lineup, it’s clear that the days of the clunky notebooks are gone as the various PC makers have sought to emulate the success of the MacBook Air.

Samsung Ultrabook

The next thing I wanted to know about was the CPU speed. The very thin MBAs have always been on the low side in clock speed in order to avoid heat dissipation issues. Mine, with a dual- core i5, runs at 1.7 GHz and the 2012 model starts at 1.8 GHz. (A 2.0 GHz i7 is an option.)

But when you step up to the 13-inch MBP, the entry point is a 2.9 GHz dual-core i7. What I find interesting is that normally one wouldn’t be so very keen on that increase in speed because of the price we’ve typically had to pay is a much heavier MacBook -- about 4.5 lbs. I know from experience that that’s a weight that can become tiresome when carried around in a backpack for long periods of time.

The elimination of the optical drive in the new MBPs (Retina) changes everything. Now we’re looking at at a 13-inch MBA that weighs 2.96 lbs and a 13-inch MBP (Retina) that weighs 3.57 lbs. With all that speed and that beautiful, high-resolution display, I think the technical momentum plus coolness factor has moved back to the MBP line. My own feeling is that when I replace my current 13-inch MBA, it’s very likely that I’ll leave the entry-point MBA series behind. Astonishing.

Apple has provided a very convenient comparison chart that lays all this out in a way that makes comparisons really easy.

Apple's MacBook line. See link for full details.

But what I really like is Apple’s new thinking about how to make life easier for customers. For example, if you’re not ready to invest in Thunderbolt drives, it’s trivial to go buy a small, cheap USB 3 external drive as a Time Machine backup.

Suddenly all the agonizing decisions about weight, interface, display resolution and backups have eased. Buying the right MacBook seems easier than ever. The addition of HDMI tells me that Apple is now more interested in helping the customers solve problems and exploit their MacBooks effectively than before -- when a certain corporate agenda (or so it seemed) always put Apple’s notebooks at disadvantage compared to the best PC notebooks.

Finally, I really like how Apple is adopting this philosophy of retaining the older generation, be it iPad or MacBook, so that customers still have access to legacy interfaces, say, FireWire 800, and can take advantage of lower pricing. Not every customer needs a Retina display.

Apple's 13-inch MBP with Retina (Image Credit: Apple)

Looking at today’s MacBook lineup, I see a sense of balance and coherency and symmetry in the selections. There’s something for everyone and decisions are fairly painless, depending only on your budget. As for me, I may well be leaving the MacBook Air line behind now when I upgrade, and I think that that’s no accident. I think it’s an intentional byproduct of how Apple has constructed the current lineup.

Losing the optical drive and the attendant weight has made these new MacBook Pros very, very appealing. I suspect that’s also going to improve Apple’s average selling price (ASP) as many traditional MBA customers think anew about sliding back up the product line for a thin, fast, high-resolution MacBook Pro that has only a modest increase in weight.

This time around, painful decisions are more or less gone. And that’s where we’ve wanted Apple to be for a long, long time.