Too closed to comfort

Tech Life

There’s no denying it: the new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a stunning machine and definitely packed with innovative features — apart from the display itself, just look at the pictures of the inside of the machine. I’m sure that this is the kind of product you complain about the price first, then when you look at it and try it in person, you probably start thinking that perhaps that price is more than adequate, in the end. Some MacBook Air owners are already conflicted, despite the new Pro being certainly bulkier and heavier than an 11- or 13-inch Air. I am positive I’d get one if I could afford it — just for that gorgeous Retina Display. Since I bought an iPhone 4, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of Retina displays. I’m short-sighted and have astigmatism and thanks to the iPhone’s Retina display I can read more and better, my eyes are less strained at the end of the day. And I’ve resisted buying an iPad until it sported a Retina display.

So yes, the Retina Display is the big deal of the new MacBook Pro. Let’s put it aside for a moment, though, and let’s focus on other things about this new laptop. As soon as I saw it unveiled at the WWDC Keynote, after the display-related ‘Whoa’ moment, my first thought was just like Gruber’s:

The new “next-generation” MacBook Pro with Retina Display is, in short, “Back to the Mac” for hardware. This is an iOS-inspired appliance — battery, RAM, solid state storage — all of it is sealed in a magnificent enclosure. Consider too that it no longer even says “MacBook Pro” on the front of the display. It’s just like an iOS device — a brilliant display surrounded by black glass.

I know this may sound a bit weird, but somehow it’s exactly this what makes me upset about this new machine. Remember: this new MacBook Pro is the shape of things to come. If the trend wasn’t clear enough with the Air, Apple is progressively closing down its machines. I really never had a problem with non user-replaceable batteries, but here we also have a fixed amount of RAM and disk space that either you choose to upgrade via Built-To-Order customisation (paying a handsome price) or you’ll have to live with it throughout the entire life-cycle of the machine. Which, by the way, is being artificially shortened year after year.

The new MacBook Pro also shows some bold design choices that leave me both positively and negatively surprised. This machine had to be thinner and lighter, and in order to accomplish that, some ports had to go (Ethernet, FireWire 800), others had to be modified (MagSafe), and of course goodbye to the optical drive and to the classic hard drive. On one side, I admire Apple’s bluntness, but then again, Apple isn’t new at mercilessly killing technologies considered by now obsolete. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with the general attitude: you can’t innovate by constantly looking in the rearview mirror. Yet, I look at this new MacBook Pro, I think of how I use a laptop, and realise that the new MacBook Pro wouldn’t be the best laptop to meet my needs. I would need to buy a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet Adapter, an external SuperDrive, some kind of video adapter to be able to connect my current external monitor to the Thunderbolt port (and I’m not exactly ready to drop 1,000 Euros for an Apple Thunderbolt display with all that glossiness thrown in my face), and last but not least an external hard drive, because those 256 GB of internal storage are just inadequate.

In other words, I come from a school of thought that views a laptop as a machine which has to integrate as much as possible (in a reasonable way, of course) to avoid the need to transport a slew of cables and peripherals with it when one’s on the go. In my case, what the new MacBook Pro loses in weight and bulk over past-generation MacBooks and PowerBooks, gains in additional equipment I would be pressed to bring with me most of the times. The purpose of a laptop is being a desktop replacement in a compact package. If I have to pack my bag with a couple of adapters, an external hard drive and Superdrive, well, I’d probably be better off with the 17-inch PowerBook G4 I’m using to write this article. It is heavier, surely, but ultimately more portable in such a context.

I know, my use case is a bit extreme and I’m simply not the target for the new MacBook Pro. Many habits and many pieces of equipment would have to change for me to make this new machine really appealing. But I don’t think I’m that alone in this. I don’t have a problem with ‘closed’ computers per se, I just feel that this new MacBook Pro is a bit too closed for targeting a ‘pro’ audience, at least for now.

The Author

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