The new Retina MacBook

MacBook

On Monday 9, Apple introduced the new Retina MacBook. The unveiling blew me away. All the videos featured during the keynote were characterised by excellent animations and visualisations, and I loved how the MacBook Design video covered every little detail inside the new MacBook, and out. The phrase ‘a feat of engineering’ may be a bit overused today, but it’s quite apt to describe this new MacBook.

By now you all know about the design and the technology: the incredible thinness (only 13.1 mm at its thickest point) and lightness (920 grams)[1], the new, Apple-designed butterfly mechanism of the keys, the new trackpad with Force Touch, the single USB-C type port that replaces every traditional port you’ve seen in MacBooks so far, the absurdly thin and bright Retina display, the unprecedented level of miniaturisation in a motherboard, the custom battery design, and so forth. If you don’t know about these things, scroll through the fantastic Design page on Apple’s website for a refresher.

There’s little to comment on these aspects: the MacBook is a beautiful machine, it perfectly showcases what Apple is capable of, it introduces intriguing technologies which undoubtedly will improve the user experience. Its presentation left me lusting for one, and since now Apple offers a choice of colour, I’d really love to get my hands on a Space Grey MacBook. Still…

Is this going to be my next Mac?

Many of the articles about the MacBook I’ve read so far, when it comes to giving readers advice, make a similar point as Kirk McElhearn’s in his The New MacBook May Not Be for Everyone, But it Might Be Right for You. Kirk concludes:

So, is the MacBook for you? If you see yourself in the above description, either wanting a second Mac, or only using your Mac for limited tasks, then, yes. It’s small, light, has a retina display, and very long battery life. However, if your laptop is on your desk, with several devices connected to it – especially an external display – then, no, it’s not for you.

It’s clear, solid advice. If someone asked me, I’d say the same. And yet, when I ask myself Is this going to be my next Mac?, I’m torn. Rationally, I should not be. I fit the ‘power user’ profile. I keep my current MacBook Pro in desktop configuration 90% of the time; it’s attached to a 23-inch external display, and its ports are often all occupied: one USB port for the keyboard, the other for the current external Time Machine hard drive, the FireWire 800 for another drive… you get the picture. I don’t use particularly resource-demanding software, but every now and then I’m in GarageBand or iMovie or Aperture, and I’m currently working on a small project in Final Cut Express which is mostly an excuse to learn to use this kind of software. I’m generally using regular-people-grade applications, with the necessary excursions into more sophisticated programs.

So, on the one hand, if I look at the software I use and how I use it, the new MacBook could probably be enough, and my eyes could finally use a nice Retina display. Given that my current MacBook Pro is a mid-2009 model with 8 GB of RAM and still has a hard drive, the 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.4 GHz), together with the 8 GB of (faster) RAM and 256 GB of flash memory is probably going to perform better even if it’s not the fastest chip currently available in an Apple laptop.

On the other hand, the limited connectivity of the MacBook is a serious hindrance. If I could use the new MacBook in a desktop configuration and in combination with all of my current drives and peripherals, I wouldn’t hesitate to consider the purchase — it’d really be great to have such a versatile machine: extremely portable and easily expandable once in desktop configuration.

The tale I’m telling myself now is that I could use the MacBook as a second machine. I’d basically relegate the older MacBook Pro to the desk, with all its current external drives and connections, and turn to the Retina MacBook as a machine for day-to-day activities (especially when I need to leave my home office) and, above all, as the perfect writing environment. But then when I’m home I’d have to find a new workspace for the MacBook because it would make little sense to just go back to the older MacBook Pro sitting at my desk and leave the newer MacBook in my backpack… Did I mention I was torn?

Well, take all these musings at a hypothetical level, because at the moment I can’t afford any new Mac, not even the entry-level Mini. But if I had that money, I would be seriously undecided — my rational side would advise against buying it, choosing instead the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display; my emotional side would want the 12-inch MacBook, because… have you seen it!?

But let’s talk about price now.

The price is not right

Not in Europe, at least. Probably due to the current exchange rates and the always unwelcome VAT, in Europe the prices of the new MacBook become insanely inflated, in my opinion.

United States Europe
(ES, FR, DE)
Europe
(IT, IE, PT)
MacBook (1.1 GHz, 256 GB storage) $1,299 €1,449 €1,499
MacBook (1.2 GHz, 512 GB storage) $1,599 €1,799 €1,829

 

(ES is Spain, FR is France, DE is Germany, IT is Italy, IE is Ireland and PT is Portugal)

There has always been a difference in price between the United States and Europe when it comes to Apple products (and many other products, of course), and the most common occurrence is finding the same price figure in different currencies (e.g. $799, €799). This common occurrence is what I’ve come to accept as ‘reasonable’ despite the inherent difference (in the above example, €799 are $842.70 at the current exchange rate). In recent times, however, the difference between prices in dollars and prices in euros for Apple products has been increasing. For instance, the entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air costs $899, and the best 13-inch MacBook Air costs $1,199; but where I live it’s €999 and €1,349 respectively (in Italy, Portugal and Ireland they cost even more — €1,029 and €1,379 respectively).

This tendency, in my opinion, is even worse in the case of the new MacBook. The specific price tier of the MacBook, if considered in US dollars, places it in what I would call a ‘premium consumer’ range. But once translated into euros, it jumps to a higher tier. The €1,829 of the 1.2 GHz model, in particular, feels more like the price of a ‘pro’ Mac. For example, the base model of the mid-2012 15-inch MacBook Pro (non-Retina) cost €1,879 at the time of introduction. Or, if we want to compare it with a current Retina MacBook Pro, the 1.2 GHz MacBook costs more than the middle 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (€1,699). In short, it feels overpriced for what it does — at least, it feels overpriced to me.

You could argue that the new MacBook, due to its design and technological breakthroughs, warrants the premium price tag, just as it happened in 2008 with the first MacBook Air. And I’m inclined to agree. The big difference, though, is that the first-generation MacBook Air was priced $1,799 when it was introduced. The premium feel was all there, up front. And its value correctly translated into €1,699. With the MacBook we have a machine which Apple values at $1,299 and $1,599, and on the European market is instead priced at €1,449/€1,499 and €1,799/€1,829 — that’s not the same perceived value as it was in the case of the first MacBook Air. Not only is it effectively more expensive, but it also feels more expensive than it should.

It’s ultimately this ‘inflated’ price what has cooled my enthusiasm the most as I was taking this new MacBook into consideration as my possible next Mac.

Coda: What about the Air family?

During the introduction of the new Retina MacBook, some people over Twitter shared their unanimous feeling that the MacBook Air is going to fade away eventually. The 12-inch MacBook is lighter than the lightest Air, and has a Retina display, and a comparable battery performance. It’s easy to imagine that the next step is to have Retina displays everywhere across the laptop families, and to return to a more simplified structure having MacBooks as the consumer line, and the MacBook Pros as the professional line. I still think Apple would need an affordable entry-level machine, though, maybe the only model without a Retina display. Here are a few possible scenarios:

  1. MacBook Air family goes away. MacBook family expands including a cheaper non-Retina 11-inch model (but at a better resolution than the current 11-inch MacBook Air) priced, say, at $999.
  2. MacBook Air family remains, but simplified: only one 11-inch and one 13-inch model configuration; the MacBook could remain as it is now (just one 12-inch model).
  3. MacBook Air family goes away. The MacBook remains as it is now, just a 12-inch model, but with more configurations to choose from and revised prices to extend to the lower end of the range. Imagine something like this:
    • 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor – 128 GB flash storage – $1,099 (or 4 GB RAM and $999)
    • 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor – 256 GB flash storage – $1,299
    • 1.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor – 512 GB flash storage – $1,599

I’m really guessing here, obviously. We’re entering a transitional phase now, and never before has the Apple laptop offering been so crowded. I believe a pruning is coming, though, and I find difficult to predict Apple’s next move here. Let’s say that going towards a ‘Retina everywhere’ approach for the MacBook families is a reasonable step; on the other hand there needs to be an entry-level crowd pleaser (and good seller), and the MacBook Air family is doing a great service to Apple in this regard, so… we’ll see.

 


  • 1. Just to give you an idea, my iPad 3 in its protective case, plus the Apple Wireless keyboard in the Incase Origami Workstation together weigh 1,325 grams.

 

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!