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


  • GalakFyarr

    how about people who need a more powerful, yet still portable, mac? (and not a Mac Mini).

    MacBook Pro is there for you.

    Oh sure, the Air will grow more powerful over time, but so should the Pro.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      I know what you mean and I tried to address this concern, but it’ll be interesting to see what Apple actually does. I think they’ll keep just the 17-inch model on board for such needs.

    • Richard

      MBP 17″ is not the answer for who need powerful yet portable Mac. Moving with a large-n-heavy notebook may not be an issue for people who live in US, but that would be a nightmare for the rest of the world.

      A MBP 17″ can hardly fit into regular business backpacks; most of these backpacks are designed for notebooks under 14″. I know that there are suitcases dedicated for MBP 17″, but these suitcases are designed to hold your notebook between parking-lots and office, not for the pedestrians. You just can’t hold your MBP 17″ with single hand while walking 3 miles from home to office and office to lab everyday — and that’s what I’m doing now.

      The MBA is not a proper solution for me either, since I NEED to use VM and the “legacy” Ethernet environment in my office, for some lab equipments that accepts only raw Ethernet packets (Yes, 802.3 ETHERNET packets, NOT IP packets), and please don’t make me LMAO by telling me I can use that pitty-tiny-miserable USB-toy.

      Now the MBP 13″ can perfectly full-fill my needs. I don’t mind switching to MBA if the next generation MBA would provide physical Ethernet port — NOT the USB dongle, and capable to run Xcode and VMWare-Windows simultaneously.

      • Jimlad

        Nothin wrong with the USB – Ethernet dongle.

        I have one and it works great!

        Perhaps it doesn’t support your legacy stuff… but then, its time to move on isn’t it really =)

      • Chuck Crawford

        I did just that for several years: traveled extensively with a 17 in MBP. First, as with purchasing a “home” for any MBP I chose one that fit. I had (still have, my wife now uses the 17) a sleeve and an excellent backpack that worked beautifully. I walked, talked and even ran a time or two with the MBP in my hands with no ill effects to me or the computer (or to any bystanders). The only problem I ran into was with airline seat-back trays: so little room, so much laptop. But it was worth it. The view was terrific.

    • Max

      I think the power won’t go down if they merge, but it would look a lot like a MacBook Air of they just ditched the optical drive

  • Curtis

    The comment about not being able to upgrade the SSD is false. You can currently buy a replacement from OWC that is even faster than the original equipment. I don’t know about you, but I consider myself a power user, and also consider this a decent replacement for my workhorse 15″ macbook pro. I can put the music I don’t listen to from my 150Gb library on an external and copy stuff back and forth to itunes as I see fit. I think the total of all my playlists is like 32Gb. I’ll take the plunge and sacrifice some storage space for speed/weightloss/smaller size.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Oh? I heard somewhere that it was no longer possible, but I guess that was incorrect. Anyway, the reason I said it won’t work for power users is that the processor and RAM are lacking and some apps really need these resources.

  • http://mothership.co.nz Karl

    Another option to buying an external optical drive is using DVD/CD sharing, which allows Macs without drives to access the drive of another PC or Mac on the same network as if it were it’s own. Very useful for the (extremely) rare occasions we’ve needed to mount a CD or DVD.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Indeed this is quite useful, but most people don’t have two Macs on hand ;)

      • foljs

        As it says above, it also works with a spare PC.

  • Tim Park

    I currently have a 2007 Macbook Pro 17″ Dual-Core running albeit sometimes sluggishly OSX Lion with the release of Mountain Lion and it’s I2, i5 and i7 only compatibility I realised that I was going to have to buy new this year. My 17″ has basically been a desktop replacement very rarely leaving the flat.
    So I have worked out that the best value for money is to get iPad3 64GB (wifi only) and an iMac 27″ (fully loaded). This will give me the best combination of portability and power for less than a fully loaded 17″ Macbook Pro (I live in Guernsey a Sales Tax/VAT free island). So once then pennies add up that’s what I want to do.

    With regards to a “merging” of the product lines. I think it’s too early for Apple to ditch the CD/DVD writer built in. While I now download probably 75% of yearly purchased music and “rip” the other 25% (from purchased music). People “in general” still like to feel the goods they’re buying.

    • iThings

      At first ditching CD/DVD drive will always be too early for many but Apple likes to do this kind of stuff anyway. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or bad, the fact remains that having an all-purpose notebook that additionally can play some media is important and taking an external optical drive with you defeats the notion of portability. Only one question remains – when will Apple decide that portability is more important than everything else ? When you take into consideration the recent digitalization, cloud storage and how well iPad sells I would say any moment now.

    • Jimlad

      Mountain lion runs on 64bit core 2 duos.

      “64-Bit Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better required”

      Apple tends to support computers at least 3-4 years old with each new OS. (from the OS release date)

      So just look back to what they had then.

  • ithings

    I was thinking about this scenario for awhile now and it’s possible we’ll soon get a combined unified MacBook if Apple decides to go all the way with ‘iPad-ing’ i.e. no optical drives and no upgradibility. Apple doesn’t like it when you open/tweak their stuff so a big no to exchanging batteries/drives etc. It’s very sensible when you think about the fact that it works (and sells) with iDevices.
    They like to keep their lineup streamlined so let’s take a look at their products and think what’s really necessary in the near future:
    MacBook 11″ 13″ 15″ 17″ – notebooks are essentially the bread & butter in this day and age
    iMac 21″ 27″ – needs to exist because people want a desktop machine that’s capable of heavier work (the next refresh could replace Mac Pro in specs for most)
    Mac Mini – is one of a kind because it’s a smaller, cheaper option and you can choose a display if you want to experience the Mac magic (basically it’s the other side of the coin with iMac and replaces Mac Pro in a different way at home)
    iPad – the tablet
    iPhone – flagship smartphone
    iPod nano & touch – something for people that don’t want their iPhone
    Cinema display + Apple TV = iTV ?

    I believe all of those above products have a place and it’s enough for most of us. I said “most” because that’s what counts in Apple book, if they wanted to please and produce stuff for everyone we would still have a floppy disk. See how good it looks without all of that 2/3G/4S/Pro/Air ? :-)
    What about Mac Pro ? Forget about it because I don’t think this kind of computer in 2012 is something that a lot of people would buy and Apple makes only stuff that others will want to buy tomorrow (and it costs too much for companies to invest in their businesses so the market is too small)

  • Amti

    “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.”

    The SSD in the current and previous model Airs is easily replaceable. Remove the back panel of the Air, then undo one screw, and the whole SSD blade just slides out. Easier to replace than a HDD.

    http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Installing-MacBook-Air-13-Inch-Mid-2011-Solid-State-Drive/6371/2

    High performance 3rd party SSDs (up to 480 GB) are available for the Air.

    http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/SSD/OWC/Aura_Pro_Express

  • Jeremy

    Hopefully you’re right about the ODD being gone. Same for the new iMacs.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      So wait, you’re actually anticipating a feature removal? That’s strange to hear.

  • Sigilist

    Soldered memory? Did I hear that right? Oh my…

    I bought 8gig of memory which I used to upgrade my pro and then swapped the old memory into my mini… all for $120.

    I wonder what Apple will charge for the design time boost, considering the good laugh I got when the “geniuses” quote me a price to just upgrade my pro.

    • ithings

      Hehehe, when I heard their genius price I though a blowjob was included.

  • Dave Clements

    My 15 inch 2.4ghz i7 MacBook Pro with 8gb Ram and a Corsair Force GT 240 SSD whips the hell out of every Air available and every air that’s likely to be available in the coming year or two at least.

    No chance would I be happy with the SSD’s Apple supply for a start.

  • B30

    Time will tell!

  • Haydn

    I actually think retina display for future Pro/Air is likely, because the Ivy Bridge processor not only runs on low power-consumption advantage, but it also supports up to 4k resolutions. It would be a pity that Apple only uses Ivy Bridge for power and speed considerations. I think graphics will change, so that in the end all of Apple’s popular devices will sport beautiful retina display. That is easier for users who have multiple devices, and those who uses Airplay or screen-sharing functions/apps a lot.

  • Terence

    I am one of those that I consider a power user. I currently use a 2008 MBP 17″. I like the 17″ since I need a lot of screen real estate. I also do lug it back and forth between home and the office as it is my only computer. I have to use AutoCAD on windows VD, and usually need to run sketchup and photoshop at the same time. When I upgraded to Lion, I was no longer able to all this. I too realize that I will need to buy new in the next couple of months and am debating what to do. I will likely get another MBP 17″ with 8GB memory but am thinking I should get it soon before Apple “upgrades” the line and makes this model unworkable for me.

    I do really like the Imac line, esp. the price point, but I need something portable, and running autocad on an Ipad just won’t work, as far as I know.

  • bb

    There is another element which is over-looked in most of these scenarios: the hard drive. With the current MB/MBP, one can simply swap-out one hard drive for another. Personally, I keep a mirror copy of my hard drive in a safe place. That way, if my current drive goes bad, I can swap in the copy and be off (no re-loading all my software, etc.). sound far-fetched? I have had to do it twice.

    This just isn’t possible with SSD’s, mostly for money reasons. I have an Air with an after-market SSD, which increases my storage (I still need an external hard drive…), but was very expensive. I won’t even think of the cost of having an identical copy to swap in as needed. And don’t forget, SSD’s can and do go bad, just like spinning drives. And they don’t always “clone” well, in my experience.

    Give me the peace of mind of having a duplicate copy of my entire hard drive in the bank in a form which I can easily install in my laptop.

  • jimlad

    Apple should include a HDD option in their thunderbolt display!

    It could be accessed over iCloud to retrieve documents … like back to my mac.

    ….. back to my display?! haha!

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  • http://harrisonstatham.com Harrison Statham

    Great Article! I always love all the speculative “what will Apple do next articles”! Although I enjoyed reading the article I have to disagree.

    I personally don’t see the MBP going away any time soon to be replaced with a MBA. I wager that Apple will add a 15″ MBA like everyone expects and keep their MBP line.

    Personally a MBA would never be fast enough for even the basic stuff that I do on my computer in my opinion, heck my MBP is a little sluggish now a days. Time for a memory upgrade I suppose..

    I would like to see the MBA line extended to add larger screens but I just don’t think that the MBP is going anywhere any time soon.

    Harrison

  • http://www.woodburningstovez.com/ Mike Gramsby

    This was a thought-provoking article. I hope Apple remembers that some people use their MacBook Pros as their only computer, as I do, and that we need drive space and power. I have a large hard drive and actually carry an external drive for my large collections of music and photos. If they do consolidate the line, there should always be an ample range of models.

  • jSmith

    If you’ve ever opened up a mbp u’ll notice it’s pretty roomy in there. It seemed like the battery, cd-rom and the hard drive were the parts that necessitated how thick the MBP is.

    I’m not saying they could make it as thin an air but, with no cd rom, smaller battery made possible by ivy bridge and the flash storage we see on the current airs, we could be getting the power of a mac book pro in a case that’s half the thickness. That would be pretty amazing

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