Apple’s new MacBook, which limits input and output to a single USB-C port and a simple 3.5mm audio in/out jack, has been characterized by some as a move that’s antagonistic to the consumer. Critics point to the single port, as well as the performance limitations inherent in using an Intel Core M chipset for power management and fanless logic board design, as causes for complaint, and in some cases as causes for nearly inchoate rage.
But in truth, the new MacBook is nothing short of the future, delivered ahead of schedule and without exorbitant cost, with a bright neon “OPTIONAL” sign flashing overhead.
The new MacBook is an engineering showcase, inside and out, top to bottom. That doesn’t mean it’s the best computer available in Apple’s lineup for any given consumer: It is designed for a specific audience, and it’s designed to anticipate the growth of that audience in the years to come. In many ways, Apple’s new MacBook will appeal to the same crowd that is just fine using an iPad as their primary computer, and judging by the cumulative success of the iPad since its introduction, as well as the general trend of the PC industry, that’s a good bet to make.
In other words, that Core M processor isn’t hiding – Apple isn’t claiming this computer is a powerhouse media-editing tool. Instead, it’s a fast, light, everyday machine. It’s a gazelle, not a rhino. If you want a rhino, Apple has plenty of those, too – the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro with Force Touch is a prime example.
The 12-inch MacBook isn’t even occupying an exclusive price point among Apple’s notebook lineup. You can get the current MacBook Air starting lower and ranging through that $1,300 zone and well beyond, with updated internals also debuted at Monday’s event. If the $1,299 MacBook were the only game in town for someone looking for a portable Apple OS X computer in that price range, and if it offered the port loadout it does in today’s computing and computer accessory environment, then some of these complaints might be valid – but it isn’t, and they’re not.
As someone who has actually touched, held and used the new MacBook, I can personally attest to the fact that this is a fully realized piece of equipment, and one that offers significant advantages in exchange for its perceived trade-offs. As with any purchase decision, prospective buyers will have to weigh the device’s particular strengths and weaknesses against their own usage habits; something which, again, hardly merits ire.
Apple’s main strength when it comes to product design is being able to intelligently adopt new technology both early and late, depending on when it thinks it will provide the most value to users. Some things like NFC come after they’ve been out and available for a while, but in time for mass adoption in specific settings, and other features like Touch ID and Thunderbolt leave competitors scrambling to catch up. The USB-C shift is like those latter examples, a push forward that is part-and-parcel of the reduction of ports that accompany its introduction.
Behold my beloved 12-inch G4 PowerBook: Witness the many ports it provides. The left side of the machine is like the cratered surface of the moon, and the right side is dominated by an optical disc drive (it also weighs more than twice as much as the new MacBook, and it has a fan: boy does it ever have a fan). And yet today most people couldn’t even name each of those ports, let alone find a worthwhile way to use them.
The ultimate test for the new MacBook, as with any product Apple brings to market, will be in how it satisfies the needs of its everyday users. A lot of people have theorized that the notebook might not be able to handle some tasks like photo editing that even more casual computer users would need, but a lot of that is conjecture based on artificial tests on the Core M that spit out numbers about how the processor behaves on paper in a vacuum. Intel’s Turbo Boost tech doesn’t necessarily play nicely with these kinds of benchmarking tools, and virtualized testing is never a good substitute for real-world use.
The all-new MacBook represents a paradigm shift in personal computing, but Apple isn’t dragging anyone kicking and screaming into the future. I suspect, however, that those who do accept the fast-forward invitation ultimately won’t be all that troubled by the trade-offs it represents.