Tag Archives | MacBooks

The Case For a Mac Netbook

“There are some customers which we choose not to serve. We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that.”

–Steve Jobs in yesterday’s Apple earnings call, responding to a question about whether Apple will release lower-cost Macs

Let’s begin with a few disclaimers:

–I have no idea what products Apple is or isn’t working on;

–Attempting to reverse-engineer Steve Jobs’ thought processes is a hopeless task that usually leaves you guessing he’ll do the exact opposite of what he ends up doing;

–If you assume that Apple will jump on a bandwagon or respond to pricing pressures, you assume incorrectly–it’s quite possible that the company will never make anything remotely like a netbook;

–Making predictions about future Apple products most often ends up making you look dim and Apple look smart.

With that out of the way, the question that folks have been asking lately about whether Apple will or should release a netbook-like Mac is fascinating. Regardless of whether the company ever does unveil a small, cheap, simple Mac notebook, it’s fun to think about the prospect of one. And I’ve come to the conclusion that such a machine could be in the works, in a manner that’s consistent with the Apple way and the company’s product line as it stands today. I’m not calling this a prediction. But it is a scenario.

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Is the New MacBook Expensive?

When I first tried to compare the cost of Macs versus Windows PCs, I said that “Are Macs more expensive?” is one of computing’s eternal questions. It’s not, however, one with anything like an eternal answer. And the pricing analysis I did in that first article was rendered obsolete last Tuesday when Apple unveiled its new MacBook–which turned out to be a substantially slicker computer at a higher price point.

So it’s time to compare Apples and oranges Windows computers again. Let’s begin with a standard Mini-FAQ on the research effort that follows…

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The T-Poll: Is the Death of MacBook FireWire an Outrage?

A couple of days ago when I posted my initial thoughts on the new Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros, I declared that the lack of FireWire on the new MacBook was no big deal. Several commenters begged to differ with me. And now Computerworld has a good story by Gregg Keizer reporting that hundreds of angry users are bemoaning the MacBook’s lack of FireWire in Apple’s own forums.

When I said that the death of MacBook FireWire was no biggie, I confessed that I was basing that mostly on my own experience. But it is true that it eliminates the ability to use OS X’s handy FireWire Target Disk mode, which lets you easily and quickly copy files between Macs by treating one of them as an external hard drive. I will miss Target Disk Mode, but I’m thinking that Apple will get around to making it work with USB, too. And Targus already sells a $50 cable that lets you do USB transfers between two Macs or a Windows PC and a Mac.

Apple has a history of eliminating features such as dial-up modems and floppy drives before the rest of the market, and catching some flak for doing so. I’m still thinking that it’s doing something that will eventually seem like a logical move–but doing it before everyone’s comfortable. One thing seems certain: FireWire ain’t coming back to MacBooks.

Anyhow, it’s clear that the people who love FireWire really love it–but I’m still not sure whether they’re a tiny-but-noisy minority or a sizable chunk of Mac users. Let’s take a poll of the Technologizer community, shall we?

(UPDATE: Our coverage of this story continues with “FireWire Isn’t Alone: A Brief History of Features Apple Has Killed.” I dunno whether a decade of other examples of Apple axing stuff will make FireWire fans feel better or worse…)


I’m Calling It “The New MacBook Pro Hinge Flop Effect”

One of the nice things about Technologizer is that reviewing products can be a process that never quite ends. I give my initial take on a product like Apple’s new MacBook Pro, and do so quickly. Folks read those first impressions and chime in with questions and comments. I check out things I might not have thought to cover.

I didn’t mention the hinge on the MacBook Pro one way or another, but commenter Sensorrhea raised an interesting question:

What about the hinges? Can the screen be opened any wider than the previous MacBook Pro? The limited range has been a big problem for me in the past.

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Apple’s New MacBook Pro: The Technologizer Review

Finally! Writing about Apple rumors can be fun, but reviewing Apple computers is far more rewarding. I’ve spent the evening with Apple’s all-new 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new flagship of its portable line. (I used the $1999 model with a 2.4-GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and 256MB of RAM for its Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics processor; the $2499 version has a faster Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, twice the RAM and graphics RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. Other configurations are available, including one with a solid-state drive.)

For no particular reason other than that it’s fun to write and easy to read, I’m structuring this review as a Q&A. But first, an executive summary: This is one of the polished Macs ever made, and therefore one of the most polished PC evers, period. It’s not cheap–folks who buy computers by finding the most features at the lowest price may find it shockingly pricey, actually. And it’s possible to nitpick a few aspects of the design (before this review is over, I will). But I’m sitting here with both the old MacBook Pro and this one at the moment, and the new one is simply a much nicer computer at the same price.

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The Black MacBook, 2006-2008: May It Rest in Peace

So Apple released two brand-new laptops today. It also did minor refreshes of the MacBook Air (which will be around for years to come) and the 17-inch MacBook Pro (which is probably toast, long-term). And it kept the white MacBook in the lineup but knocked its price down by $100.

But it also killed a notebook. One which I own two of, both of which I’ve logged many hundreds of hours using. I speak of the black MacBook–which was on sale to anyone who wanted one on Apple.com yesterday and is gone, gone, gone today.

It’s kind of shocking: Nobody onstage today even felt the need to justify the move. (Now that I think about it, I should have used the time I got to ask a question during the Q&A to demand an explanation–if not to cause an ugly scene.)

I bought my first black MacBook on May 16th, 2006–the day the MacBook debuted–and first wrote about it later  that very day on PCWorld.com. We went through some tough times together: Mine, like more than a few early MacBooks, had a tendency to crash without warning. I wrote about that, too. Repeatedly. Along the way, Apple replaced its motherboard–and later decided the whole dang computer was a lemon and replaced it. That one developed nasty cracks in its case; so did the faster model I bought to replace it. (The main reason I know that Genius Bar service is so impressive is because I spent so much time talking to the Geniuses at my local Apple Store, seeking help for my ailing MacBook.)

I haven’t even acknowledged the fact that for some is the first thing that leaps to mind about the black MacBook: It cost $150 more than an identically-configured MacBook in a shiny white case. Yes, I paid the “sucker tax.” So, apparently, did lots of other folks, or the black MacBook wouldn’t have stayed in the lineup for as long as it did. (The black matte finish just looked more businesslike–to me, the black MacBook had a crisper, more corporate look and feel than the pricer and supposedly more professional MacBook Pro.) For months, friends, relatives, and random strangers on airplanes mocked me for paying $150 for a color: I gritted my teeth and soldiered on.

I’m trying to channel Apple here, but if the main purpose of the black MacBook was to provide a more businessy-looking MacBook than the white one, I can see why the arrival of a metal-clad model would render it superfluous. I guess. Aluminum, apparently, is the new black.

The black MacBook hasn’t quite disappeared from the face of the earth–it’s still on sale at BestBuy.com, and I bet it’ll be a little while until the sales channel’s supply is completely depleted. I’m not quite ready to rush out and stock up on them. (Truth to tell, I moved on to a MacBook Pro as my main machine earlier this year, though I still have use of my black MacBooks as a backup and the other is on long-term loan to a friend.)

Now that I think of it, though, black MacBooks should continue to be available, albeit in an unusual form: A company called ColorWare does custom paint jobs on Macs and other computers, and two blacks–Jet Black and Carbon Black–are in its pallette. I’m not saying I’ll ever buy one, but it’s kind of comfortable to know that I could…


My Non-Predictions About the Apple Event: How’d I Do?

Yesterday, I explained that I’ve sworn off predictions about Apple events. And then I outlined some…well, scenarios, if you will, about what might happen. I promised to get back to you after all was known. And here I am. What follows is my story from yesterday–it’s all verbatim, except for a new WHAT HAPPENED footnote for each item in which I attempt to reconcile my scenario with reality as it turned out. (Executive summary: I got some things more or less right, and many things either slightly or completely wrong, including some biggies.)

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Apple’s MacBook Event: Lots of Questions, Some Answers

Rumors. Press event. Answers. More questions. That’s the standard cycle with new Apple announcement, and since today’s press event provided lots of answers, we’re now officially in the More Questions phase. This post is not me attempting to put together a definitive FAQ–actually, it’s not a FAQ at all, since some of the questions are unanswerable, or answerable only by people at Apple who’ll probably never tell us. What it is are a bunch of the things I’m still wondering about, complimented with some of the questions asked by the inquisitive folks who attended our live coverage of this morning’s proceedings.

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing the launch of the Apple Hi-Fi and 10 representing that of the original Mac, how big a deal was today’s news?

A. Interesting question! About a 5, I guess. These aren’t landmark, world-changing products, but they have lots and lots of technical innovations, and people have been waiting for them for a long time. (Even at Macworld Expo in January, an all-new Mac portable lineup seemed overdue.)

Q. What happened to the $800 MacBook?

A. $800 MacBook? Did someone talk about an $800 MacBook? The rumor originated on Duncan Riley’s Inquisitr, with a post that was originally called Exclusive: Apple to Launch $800 Laptop but has now backpedaled to the less definitive Tip: Apple to Launch $800 Laptop. (Wouldn’t Falsehood: Apple to Launch $800 Laptop be even more accurate?) Riley is saying his tipster confused Apple’s new $899 display with an $800 laptop. That’s quite a bit of confusing to do, and it spawned a heck of a lot of hubbub that amounted to nothing. (Although discussing the implications of an $800 MacBook had a certain amount of value even if no such beast exists.)

Q. Maybe the $800 MacBook is real. but in the wings? It’s not unusual for Apple to hold an event, then follow up with related products not too long thereafter.

A. Anything’s conceivable, but if the rumor sprung from misunderstanding of a pricing sheet’s reference to the new display, then it presumably wasn’t rooted in reality at all. I think there’s a good chance that Apple will someday sell an $800 laptop, but the company seems to have no interest whatsover in competing with supercheap, feature-laden Windows machines. In fact, with the exception of the new $999 MacBook–which isn’t that cheap–today’s announcements make the MacBook line even more upscale, and less directly competitive with the teeming masses of cheap Windows laptops out there.

Q. Is it worth getting excited about the new $999 price for the old-style MacBook, which used to be $1299 and remains in the lineup?

A. No, not really–I maintain that $100 price differences aren’t large enough to obsess over when you shop for a PC that costs more than $1000, and this one only makes the old MacBook (which isn’t a bad machine) a slightly better value. Note that there’s nothing historic about a $999 Mac laptop–the iBook once sold for that price.

Q. So should I buy the $999 white MacBook or the $1299 aluminum MacBook?

A. Depends on your budget. The extra $300 for the new model gets you quite a bit: much more style, beefier specs in general, the new Nvidia graphics which are potentially a big deal, and more. On the other hand, new Apple notebook designs sometimes have quality-control issues at first. Early adopters of the new MacBook will learn how robust it is, but the old white MacBook is a tried-and-true design that should be pretty free of surprises.

Q. Hey, are the new Macs expensive compared to comparable Windows machines?

A. For some people, the reflexive answer here will be yes, since even the $999 MacBook costs twice as much as some Windows laptops which are in some ways better equipped. But to me, the most interesting and fairest issue is whether the Macs are pricier than Windows notebooks which are similar. I’ll answer that question, I promise, but I want to do so when I have time to delve into research and space to discuss it at length. One note, though: I’m currently shopping for a 13-inch Windows notebook, and most of them cost a lot more than either the $999 old-style MacBook or the $1299 new-style one.

Q. What’s the deal with the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which is still almost the same basic design that Apple intoduced with the aluminum PowerBook G4 back in 2003? Apple barely mentioned it until someone in the audience asked, and even then nobody from Apple could remember how the new “refreshed” model was better.

A. You got me. It seems unlikely that the now-retro 17-inch MacBook will be along for very long, though. I’m assuming that there’s enough of a market to make it worth Apple’s while to make a new-style one. Perhaps it just couldn’t roll out everything it wanted to at once–if a new 17-incher arrives in the next 90 days, I wouldn’t be startled in the least.

Q. So is Apple’s new “unibody” aluminum-case design the much-discussed “brick” manufacturing breakthrough?

A. Well yes, obviously, although the Apple folks onstage today never called it “brick.” And Apple’s Jonathan Ive did note that it’s based on ideas first expressed in the MacBook Air case earlier this year.

Q. Did Apple build a radically new factory to make unibody MacBooks?

A. I don’t know–if I’d had the chance to ask two questions rather than just one, I might have asked this. Here’s the video we saw at today’s event, with neat footage of a factory cranking them out. I’m assuming that the new Macs, like most computers, are actually built by contract manufacturers, though.

Q. How big a deal are the new Nvidia graphics?

A. I’m always leery about getting excited over new technologies based on theoretical technical excellence and benchmarks as opposed to real-world performance. But they sound neat across the board–the $1299 MacBook gets integrated graphics that close in on the performance of old MacBook Pros with discrete graphics, and the new Pro gets two powerful GPUs. From the standpoint of pure technical innovation, all this looks to be some of the bigger news to come out of Apple in a long time…even if Nvidia deserves most of the glory.

Q. The new touchpad–good idea? Bad? Neutral?

A. I wanna use it more before coming to any conclusions. Sorry!

Q. The new MacBook has no FireWire–a technology that Apple invented. Is that bad? Is it sign of things to come?

A. I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Professionals who use serious camcorders and superfast external hard drives still want FireWire, and the MacBook Pro still has it–in fact, it’s really part of what makes the Pro a pro product. For consumers, though, I think USB is fine. (I cheerfully admit to basing this conclusion on my own experiences: The only time I’ve used FireWire on my MacBook recently is to hook it up to another Mac for file transfers.)

Apple has a long history of getting rid of features that seemed mandatory a bit before the rest of the industry–floppy drives and dial-up modems come to mind–but it generally makes the right call, and I suspect it has here. This does, however, put the $999 old-style white MacBook in the odd position of having a port of interest to advanced users that’s missing in the pricier, more powerful new-style MacBook.

Q. Speaking of the old white MacBook, isn’t it kind of confusing that it has the same name as the new Macbook, even though it’s quite different?

A. Yes. Apple’s site calls it the “white 13-inch MacBook.” Which is accurate, but its whiteness is probably not the most significantly different thing about it compared to the new 13-inch MacBook. Maybe it should be called the “cheap MacBook” or the “plasticky MacBook?”

Q. How about Steve’s health? Did Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook and Senior VP of Industrial Jonathan Ive do some of the heavy lifting at today’s event because Steve couldn’t, or to usher them in as potential substitute Steves?

A. I don’t like talking about Steve Jobs’ health and its relation to Apple as a business; I’m neither a doctor nor a financial analyst, and the guy deserves his privacy. Suffice it to say that he appeared only briefly at the start of the event, then Cook and Ive did some of the presenting that Jobs might typically have done. But then he came back for the rest of the presentation, took questions, and chatted with attendees at the end. As to Cook and Ive and their involvement in the presentation, it made sense to me–Cook talked about sales stuff, which was logical for an operations guy, and there’s nobody in the world I’d rather hear talk about industrial design than Jonathan Ive. I kind of think it makes sense for multiple Apple execs to be public faces of the company, no matter what.

Got more questions? I do…and I’ll probably either append them to this post or tackle them in a sequel…


My Question With Steve

Yesterday, I posted about the fact that Steve Jobs usually doesn’t take questions at Apple press events–except when he does. I said that if he did, I’d try to ask a question on behalf of the Technologizer community. You are, apparently, a shy group–lots of folks read that post, but only two piped up with questions.

But the good news is:

A) Steve Jobs, Apple COO Tim Cook, and marketing head Phil Schiller did indeed field questions from the audience;

B) I was the very last person who squeezed one in (Steve greeted me like an old friend–oh, not really, he called me “blue shirt”);

C) I asked a question on behalf of a Technologizer community member thinking that I might not get a real answer–but I did, and it’s one I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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New MacBook Pro, MacBook, and Cinema Display…in Person

Want some beauty shots of Apple’s new products? Sorry, don’t have any–Apple’s Web site is now rife with ’em, though. What I do have are a few fuzzy photos I took at this morning’s event, plus some hands-on impressions.

One striking thing is that while the naming conventions of MacBook and MacBook Pro live on, the difference in industrial design does not. And even in terms of specs, the differentiation between the two classes of machine is blurry.

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