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Apple’s New MacBook

June 18th, 2012 Comments off

A few comments on Apple’s new MacBook Pro “with retina display” computer.

First of all, the high resolution “retina” display on the new top of the line Macbook Pro is nothing new: super-high resolution displays for notebook computers have been around for a while. I suppose that this is just the reincarnation of the Steve Jobs reality distortion field: everything Apple makes is promoted as new and unique.

What is striking is the elimination of the Firewire port. Firewire has been an Apple standard for years and common for high-end video, photo and audio editing. Apple doesn’t even have the Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter available yet (“coming soon”). A real slap in the face to the existing customers.

Thunderbolt has little support outside of Apple and the accessories are rare and expensive. The consumer has to buy Thunderbolt adapters to use standard DVI monitors and Firewire drives and cameras, and to read CF cards. Most existing users will have a tangle of adapter cables to use their existing peripherals. Thunderbolt is a solution looking for a problem.

Also disturbing is the lack of an optical drive. I suppose Apple expects that the customer will buy all software and media (movies) from the Apple store. It will be rather disappointing to use that high resolution display to watch the content that is limited to compressed 720p from the Apple store, rather than the higher resolution (1080p) and lower compression of a Blu-ray disc. Of course I could use my Windows computer with a Blu-ray drive to read, remove the DRM, and then copy the results to the MacBook to watch. Probably not the solution that Apple has in mind. And how do you restore the OS if the hard drive fails? I guess you are supposed to pay the Apple Store to do it.

Apple is touting the new MacBook for content creation but it is limited to the super-expensive and low capacity flash memory drive. How much 1080p video is going to fit on that 768 GB flash drive? Of course the consumer is expected to go out and buy a new super-expensive Thunderbolt drive or a USB 3 drive for this.

Finally, we again have a non-user replaceable battery and probably a non-replaceable hard drive. And no Ethernet port – add another $30 for an adapter.

I agree that ideally I would go without optical discs and have everything on streaming Internet or fast local storage. But the reality of the current market is that optical discs are the best source of inexpensive HD movies for the consumer. For example, Netflix discs by mail is a far better value than the much more expensive, more limited selection, and lower video quality of the Apple iTunes store. This is mostly a function of how the Hollywood studios behave, but that is the reality of 2012. Even with an external BD optical drive a Mac will not play Blu-ray discs due to the DRM.

Flash storage is great and I have a flash drive for the OS and programs on my new computer. But until capacity goes up and costs go down, most users will need magnetic disk drives for data storage.

I understand Apple’s design choices, but it is not a good fit with the reality of 2012. I could make this thing work for me with a pile of  expensive adapters and external attachments, but what is the point? For far less money, I can have have (and do have) a higher performance Windows computer without these limitations. I like the Mac OS, but I have had my share of crashes and compatibility problems with my Mac and I cannot say that it is more reliable or easier to used compared to my current Windows 7 system. I became interested in the Mac to escape the proprietary lock-in of Microsoft product activation, but I see Apple doing its best to lock me into the proprietary Mac App Store and iTunes Store.

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