How Apple’s MacBook Pro Might Turn to Air

When OS X Lion was released last year, Apple put a lot of emphasis on how speedy it was on their MacBook Air line of ultra-thin notebooks – or “ultrabooks”, if you will. An example of this can be seen all over the operating system’s main webpage as Apple seems to be giving attention to mainly the MacBook Air in their slideshow of the key features included with OS X Lion. It’s quite apparent that Apple is trying to say something with all of this, but what exactly is that message?

I believe the corporation is hoping to move towards the MacBook Air and oust the Pro from the picture almost entirely. It was obvious that they were going to do this when they discontinued the original MacBook last year; this in turn made the Air their entry-level notebook, which is what they wanted since it sported an SSD that was ten times faster than the white MacBook – regardless of the task. But what is their master plan for all of this? Let’s explore some potential scenarios.

The Possibilities

The dimensions of Apple's current MacBook Pro

Now that I’ve given you a brief idea of what I’m going to talk about in this article, let’s get to the fun stuff. First, I’m going to talk about the possibilities and what Apple could do with their current MacBook Air line. I’ll do this in list format with summaries of each idea and possible scenario to make reading a bit faster. Some of these may not be all that realistic, but there’s always a chance of something beyond what you’d expect. Let’s take a look.

Good Stuff

You open it and it turns on -- fast

In this section you will find some of the good possibilities of a Pro to Air merge.

  • It’s compact and light: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a 15-inch notebook that isn’t thick or heavy? It’s incredible how tiny a MacBook Air is, actually. When you first try it out, you’ll probably be scared that you’re going to snap it, but it’s actually very well-crafted.
  • The SSD is default: You won’t have to pay extra for a solid state drive in this notebook, though you will if you need some extra storage — and when it comes to SSDs, the price goes up really fast. Hopefully Apple will reduce the prices a bit when they merge these two notebooks because I’m sure many music lovers and users of space-taking software will be rather upset.
  • Speed: With an SSD on board by default, this new notebook will be extremely fast and will likely start up in about ten seconds, waking from sleep instantaneously. If you’ve ever used the iPad, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. You open it and it’s on — perfect.
  • No moving parts: I see this as a great benefit to any users who travel often, even if it’s to and from the office, since many standard notebooks in this day and age have a spinning hard disk that just asks to be scratched when carried somewhere.
  • Better for the budget: First, let it go on record that I’m not trying to say Apple products are cheap, just that the Air is currently their cheapest notebook. So, if you are looking for something comparable to the retired white MacBook, then this may be it.
  • Unified name: I’m not sure if this will actually happen, but there is the remote possibility, so I’m going to mention it anyway. I think that Apple might eventually unify the naming of their MacBooks to simply “MacBook” instead of the “Pro” and “Air” titles. They won’t be eliminating the Pro entirely though. Instead, I think they’ll keep the 17-inch model for users who need a powerhouse and transition the 13-inch and 15-inch models to the “MacBook” name in the form of what we currently call an “Air”.
  • Retina display? This is highly unlikely, but I’m sure it’s in the plans. Apple’s MacBooks will one day be sporting a beautiful Retina display. This means that whenever you’re done with your iPad or iPhone, you won’t have to come back to your desktop, and see all those unsightly pixels. I’m sure this is a ways off, but there’s no harm in mentioning it as there’s always a possibility it will happen sooner than we expect.

Bad Stuff

This is your new optical drive, should you purchase a MacBook Air

Here you will find some of the downsides of having a much more compact notebook.

  • No optical drive: This is one of the obvious moves that has been expected for some time now. It seems that Apple isn’t ever going to hop on the Blu-Ray train that Sony started back in 2006. Instead, they are one step ahead of the current market and into the cloud. This got even more realistic when they announced 1080p iTunes video content back in March of this year. Sadly, one major downside of not having an optical drive is that there is no way to import a CD or play a DVD. For audiophiles, this is appalling and may seem completely undesirable; the same goes for lovers of the traditional film on a disk, but there’s actually a simple solution to the problem. All you have to do is purchase an external disk drive, which I actually just did to rip Blu-Rays with. It was only $60 and can play Blu-Ray disks, so I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. In the end, it all comes down to the choice between functionality and portability (back in the day, everyone thought Apple was nuts for abandoning built-in floppy disk drives).
  • You may need an external hard drive: If you have a lot of data on your current MacBook Pro, then the transition to an Air could be a bit bumpy for you since its storage is anything but large. I’m not saying you won’t have any space at all, but you’re definitely going to need an external hard drive if you have a lot of music or use spacey software like Logic Pro because the current default SSD size is 64 GB and prices rise fast as I’ve said before. One nice thing about the new MacBooks is that they have Thunderbolt, which means you can read from an external drive much faster than before. In other words, you can purchase an extra SSD just to put data on, though it may be expensive.
  • Little upgradability: Even though the Air is a beautiful machine, there’s literally no room for expanding its capabilities. For instance, the max RAM available is 4 GB and you have to add it on Apple’s website during your purchase since it’s soldered to the motherboard. In addition to that, there’s no way to upgrade the SSD manually, meaning that you had better find the right size when you purchase this computer or you’re going to be shopping for external storage.
  • Limited performance: SSDs are great, but they only boost the performance so much. There are a lot of heavy applications that depend on the CPU and RAM and right now neither of these is very powerful. I’m sure Apple will make some tweaks in the future, but the MacBook Air is completely unappealing to any power user at the moment.

The Rumors

Lots of MacBooks in different sizes, via Macworld

Keep in mind when reading these that there’s a good chance they may never come true.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Apple rumor mill, then you probably know that there has been word about a 15-inch MacBook Air for quite some time now. First there was a report from DigiTimes — please note that they are a highly unreliable source, but nearly all rumor sources are — back in February that claimed Apple would be releasing a new revision of their MacBook Pro this month. The report further claims that Apple will be completely redesigning their MacBook Pro line, which hints that they may keep the name and just give it a fresh look instead of combining it with the Air, but please remember that this is just a rumor.

Fast-forward to March 14th, an accessory vendor told Electricpig that a 15-inch edition of Apple’s MacBook Air would be arriving in April. Well, it is April right now, so maybe we should be expecting something. It’s not usual for Apple to announce these sort of things in an event, but rather to just take down the pages on their website for maintenance and then publish some new product information.

Combining It All

As you can see, there’s quite plenty of reasons to think that Apple may soon be combining the Pro with the Air, possibly even resulting in a single unified “MacBook” line. Now that I’ve ranted about what I think, it’s your turn to tell us your thoughts on what Apple might have in store for this year’s MacBook revision(s). Give us some feedback in the comments below; I hope you enjoyed this post!

MacBook Air icon via IconsPedia