Thoughts on Apple’s new MacBook with Retina display

As rumored, today’s event included the unveiling of an all-new Apple portable. While the rumor mill was calling it a MacBook Air, the new machine returns to familiar ground and is just called MacBook.

(It even comes in colors, and my, the Space Gray looks good.)

Specs-wise, the machine is a 12-inch notebook with a 226 pixels per inch Retina display and an Intel Core M processor with 8 GB RAM, which allows it to run fanless. It forgoes all ports ever shipped on an Apple notebook for a single, solitary USB C port across from a headphone jack.

The limited I/O is interesting. The trend started with the original MacBook Air has reached its logical conclusion[1] in this machine. Almost everything will require a dongle,[2] and with no hub in sight, this machine could be annoying to live with for the power user. (Oh yeah, there’s no Thunderbolt here.)

The keyboard is all new and ditches Apple’s traditional switch design for something far thinner, meaning the travel on this keyboard is going to be less than what we’ve been used to for several years.

More importantly, the trackpad is all new. Gone is the hardware that allows the glass surface to click. It now stays in place, and uses haptic feedback and force sensors, not unlike the Apple Watch. Here’s how Apple describes it:

Force sensors detect how much pressure you’re applying, and the new Taptic Engine provides a click sensation when you press anywhere on the surface. Now the click that once was a single, mechanical function is just the start of what you can do with Force Touch. The sensory capabilities of the Force Touch trackpad allow you to tell your MacBook what you want it to do based on subtle differences in the amount of pressure you apply. This makes it possible to perform a variety of different actions in different apps, all on the same surface. And it can respond with haptic feedback you can actually feel, making your MacBook more usable and personal than ever before.

Hands-on reports are mixed as far as if this change is a good one, and there’s no doubt that it will take some getting used to, but I remember complaining when Apple took the button away, and now I’m fine. Time heals all temporary growing pains.

Priced at $1299 for the 1.1GHz/256GB model or $1599 for the 1.2 GHz/512 GB, it’s the simplest machine Apple has shipped in a while. In fact, the ordering page looks like that of an iPad or iPhone:

I don’t think that’s by accident. Everything about this computer screams “simplification.”

It’s easy to think about the original MacBook Air when looking at this thing, and I’m sure that technology found here will bubble its way up.[3]

That’s not to say that I think we’ll all be using fanless, low clockspeed machines in a few years. I think the MacBook Pro will pick up some of the tech here, but remain bigger, heavier and more powerful than this thing.

The real question is what happens to the MacBook Air. I’ve seen countless tweets from people freaking out that this new MacBook is thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air, which existed on such claims for so long.

As it stands today, the MacBook Air is a much more flexible machine with a better CPU and the inclusion of Thunderbolt. Can the fanless MacBook ever catch up and offer something equivalent to i5s and i7s found in the Airs these days? I can’t help but think it can, and at some point, the lines will merge. Until then, there are a lot of great Apple notebooks in the sub-$1500 space, and even though my needs couldn’t be met by the new MacBook, it doesn’t keep me from wanting one.

  1. Don’t email me about wireless charging.  ↩
  2. Apple is selling three adaptors for the machine.  ↩
  3. In fact, Force Touch was added to the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display today.  ↩