Let me dream of a MacBook Pro SE

Tech Life

Before the end of the week, my current mid-2009 MacBook Pro will finally undergo a minor surgery: I’ll install the Data Doubler and 240 GB SSD I’ve recently purchased from Other World Computing. The internal optical drive started acting up about three years ago, so thanks to this kit, I’ll put the SSD in place of my current 500 GB hard drive, and keep the hard drive internally by installing it where the optical drive used to be. This will hopefully extend the life and usefulness of this trusty machine long enough to help me figure out which Mac to purchase later this year (or early next year), because frankly I can’t seem to make up my mind on the matter.

I’m less mobile than I once was, so I’d probably be fine with having a modest iMac or a maxed-out Mac mini as main machine, and keeping this MacBook Pro as a secondary, portable solution if need be. At the same time, a laptop can still offer the best of both worlds: when I need to be on the go, I just disconnect everything and take the Mac with me. When I’m back at the home office, I set it up as desktop machine, connecting it to my external display, keyboard, mouse, and external hard drives. So I’m still keeping an eye on MacBooks, especially the Air and the Pro, since the regular MacBook will never appeal to me given that deal-breaker of a keyboard. I’m looking at the Air family to see how long it’s going to last and, in case Apple decides to keep it around as an entry-level option, whether it can offer me enough spec-wise to choose it as my next machine. (I’m more interested in CPU performance, battery life, and ports rather than having a retina display, as incredible as that may sound for some).

A recent rumour, based on leaked photos, hints at a redesigned MacBook Pro which

  • will have a thinner and lighter form factor
  • will be equipped with four USB-C ports
  • will probably feature an OLED touch panel replacing the top row of function keys on the keyboard

Assuming of course the leaked images are legitimate, my first reaction was that this is not a direction for the MacBook Pro I’m particularly interested in. Having just USB-C ports might be a step towards versatility for Apple and for some users. For me, it simply means ‘Adapters Everywhere’ which, considering how much Apple charges for adapters, in turn means an unwelcome additional expense. I’m also concerned by the terrible precedent set by the 12-inch retina MacBook keyboard, and of course this is where Apple is going with all Mac laptops if they want to make them thinner. In short, if this is where the MacBook Pro is headed, then no, thanks, I’ll pass.

I’ve grown tired of this kind of hardware anorexia. It’s not that I don’t appreciate thinness and lightness in a portable device. It’s that ‘thinner’ can’t possibly be a design answer for everything. What’s worse is that thinness has become the defining feature, the one that drives everything else, the one that dictates all subsequent decisions and compromises. Why can’t thinness be put aside for once with a supposedly ‘pro’ machine, while performance, connections, and expandability are given the priority they deserve?

With the iPhone SE, Apple has shown that they can revisit an ‘old’ design while delivering a powerful device with up-to-date technology. My current dream is to see something of the kind happen with the Mac as well.

The ‘Special Edition’ MacBook Pro I’m dreaming about isn’t something technically unfeasible; it simply goes in a direction Apple doesn’t seem interested in keeping anymore.

The look — My dream MacBook Pro SE is based on the current 15-inch retina MacBook Pro. Same size, same retina display, same thickness, same Force Touch trackpad (or incorporating any Taptic Engine improvement Apple may introduce in the next months), same keyboard with the awesome and usable ‘inverted T’ arrow key placement:
MacBook Pro arrow keys and trackpad

As for the colour, what I think a Special Edition deserves is black — something like the Razer Blade:

New Razer Blade


Connections — Current MacBook Pro laptops are equipped with a MagSafe 2 power port, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3 ports, an HDMI port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot.

MacBook Pro ports

My dream MacBook Pro SE would have more or less the same connections, but two Thunderbolt 3 ports (instead of Thunderbolt 2), and an additional USB port. It could be a third USB 3 port or, if Apple is really considering phasing out the MagSafe connector in favour of USB-C (another questionable decision, if you ask me), it could be a USB-C port placed where you would currently find the MagSafe 2 power port.

The brains — The dream MacBook Pro SE would obviously feature a next-generation Intel processor, and a capable graphics card.

Memory and Storage — A minimum of 16 GB of RAM, upgradeable to 32. And since I’m dreaming, let’s say user-upgradeable. Storage: a big SSD. It’s a Special Edition, so let’s say 1 TB.

Battery and a final trick — I’ve reserved the ‘daring and outrageous’ design idea for last. The dream MacBook Pro SE doesn’t have to have this feature at all costs, but I’m sure it would make a lot of people happy. Remember the late-2008 aluminium unibody MacBook? Remember how easy it was to access the battery and the hard drive?

MacBook A1278 access door 1


MacBook A1278 access door 2


MacBook A1278 access door 3

All 3 photos © iFixit

Imagine something like this in my dream MacBook Pro SE. An easy-to-access panel that lets the user replace battery and solid-state drive without having to use a screwdriver. The access door mechanism and the separation from the rest of the chassis could be made more subtle and tighter, so that they would be barely noticeable when closed. In my dream configuration, this can be a totally optional feature, but again, I believe a lot of Mac users would love it.

I don’t see any particular technical hurdle that would prevent Apple from building such a machine. This ‘MacBook Pro SE’ would also probably have a better battery life because it would contain state-of-the-art Apple battery technology in a case that’s as thick as the current retina MacBook Pro.

But Apple won’t make such a machine because by their standards it’s not sleek enough, not forward-looking enough, not thin enough, and so on and so forth. But I think that, as a final testament to a classic MacBook Pro form factor before the next anorexic models come up, it would be one hell of a performer, making a lot of pro users really happy, yours truly included.

The Author

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