The Hoarders Will Hate the Next MacBook Pros
The Apple rumor machine has turned its unblinking eye on the MacBook Pro. Talk of a complete redesign is bubbling up, and there's much speculation that the next 15-inch Pro model will look a lot like the MacBook Air. There's a lot to like about sleek lines and light weight, and a lot of users really could do without that optical drive. But the future might not look so bright for everyone.
Feb 16, 2012 5:00 AM PT
While the last update to the MacBook Pro line came in October, the overall MacBook Pro design is getting a little old. But it's not bad. I have a buddy who just replaced his aging 15-inch MacBook Pro (motherboard died) with a new 15-incher, and he's insanely happy with the wicked speed boost and sturdy unibody design.
But I asked him, '"So what about the CD/DVD drive? Do you think Apple will keep it after the next MacBook Pro update? Do you think the next MacBook Pro will be more MacBook Air-like?"
He looked a little puzzled. "It's still useful," he stammered out, but he didn't pounce on any uses that were critical to him. Instead, the conversation turned to the cheap price of RAM that he just bought.
This guy is a systems administrator, a networking guru consultant guy, and his MacBook Pro is usually so busy that it only sleeps when he sleeps. And yet I got the feeling that he didn't much stick anything into the optical drive slot very often at all.
When Apple ditched the optical drive on the MacBook Air, maybe they weren't predicting the future so much as living it.
Do You Need the Drive?
I've had an irrational attraction to the drive for far too long. Until recently, I believed that I really needed it. In fact, had the Mac mini that was introduced last summer had the optical drive, I would have pounced on it then, at least thinking that if I didn't like it on my desktop, I could always transition it to the living room and the HDTV, where it could play an old-school DVD in a pinch. Sure, I could have purchased a separate MacBook Air SuperDrive, but it wasn't tidy and integrated. So I hesitated, hoping for a significant MacBook Pro update in October, which didn't come.
And what I've realized recently, as I was looking for CDs and DVDs to burn -- the first, for a music CD, since I somehow broke the auxiliary audio in my pickup, and the second for a DVD slideshow of a wedding that I shot for a family member -- I realized that I hadn't used the optical drive for months and months. In fact, I could not remember when I had last used it.
I truly had an emotional, irrational attachment to the drive.
Heck, in the laptop world, maybe only the people who really need optical drives are hoarders.
Whither the Hard Drive, Too?
What, then, does that say about the hard drive? Am I a hoarder with my hard drive?
I don't think so.
My iPhoto library is 80 GB, and it's only rapidly accelerating in size thanks to iPhone 4-based video. In addition, I have plenty of movies, home videos, and TV shows cluttering up my iTunes library. As I add hefty apps and textbooks and do things like attempt to create iBooks-based volumes, I only start using up more disk space. Of course, in regard to the TV shows, I know that I can offload them to an external hard drive and trust that Apple will give me access to them in the future via the cloud anytime I want. That's cool.
And you could argue that I could store a lot of photos and video in the cloud. But frankly, I'm not seeing it being a) cost effective, b) fast enough, and c) trustworthy enough. For example, I generally trust Apple, but trust Apple with the last 12 years of my life in pictures and video? No way. Same goes for most of the other big companies. And it's not about effective backups, it's about accounts, humans, bureaucracy and access. Can you imagine making a phone call into a customer support center and trying to get them to help you replace a photo of a trip from 2004? The one with the dog, the smile, and the sunshine behind?
So yeah, I need an onboard hard drive that's far larger than 128 or 256 GB.
Little SSDs on the MacBook Pros?
What's missing from the MacBook Air line? A version with a 15-inch screen. Portability is fantastic and all ... until you have to crank out some real work. At that point, a 15-inch screen can be critically important. What's missing from the MacBook Pro line? Svelte lines. My buddy's new 15-inch MacBook Pro (which you can't help but compare to iPads and MacBook Airs these days) is an absolute beast!
There's definitely room for a new pro-grade redesign.
The latest rumors seem to revolve around the notion that MacBook Airs are selling well with consumers, that Steve Jobs mentioned something about the Air being the next generation of MacBooks, and that Intel's Ivy Bridge processors will finally hit this spring. All of these three items point toward an Air-like redesign. Besides, how can Apple get better battery life and performance into its Pro models? Get rid of the optical drive and spinning-platter hard drives.
I've so far been lucky. I've been able to avoid buying new generations of MacBooks for multiple years, and my MacBook has served me well. But it's time to upgrade. It's at the edge of its useful lifespan, and in certain ways it's now holding me back. So come this spring, I'll be looking critically at the new MacBook Pros and/or 15-inch MacBook Air -- assuming that any of these rumors and consumer needs actually intersect.
Apple's answers could be awesome -- or totally suck. How might they suck? An underpowered 15-inch MacBook Air with a small SSD hard drive. The size is good, but the storage and processor could easily make it a tweener device. And what about new MacBook Pros? Same potential problem -- will they give up on-board storage for a reliance on the cloud or Thunderbolt external storage? That would be terrible for anyone looking for a do-it-all machine at a reasonable price.
And that's the crux of the matter. My only hope is that Apple offers a reasonably priced 15-inch do-it-all option. Unfortunately, I'm afraid our odds are 50-50 at best.