Apple is Rewriting the Rules of Mobile Computing

Last week I wrote an article for Tech.pinions Insiders posted minutes after Apple released the new Macbook. In that piece, I suggested the MacBook was a very important development in mobile computing and could set the tone for the future of mobile. Now that I have had a bit more time to digest what Apple created with the new MacBook, I wanted to weigh in on a couple of things I have discovered over the last week.

The first thing I was impressed with was the size of its new logic board. It is basically the size of two iPhone logic boards side by side. There is a reason for that. Apple has been doing powerful smartphone motherboards for 7 years. It is clear some of the team that designed this new logic board was from the smartphone team and they had a lot to do with Apple’s move to miniaturize this for the smaller Macbook. The other aspect is that, in general, Apple is a master of miniaturizing technology for use in their products. Look at what they have done with the Apple Watch. There is a fully functional computer inside the watch and, once people like iFixit take it apart, they will find a marvel of engineering inside.

The second thing is it is now clear Apple has greater control of not only their new terraced battery design but the chemistry involved. Apple used the term “all day computing” when they announced this MacBook and that means it should get around 18 hours of battery life. While I am sure they do some software tricks to help get this type of prolonged life, these are a new type of battery designed internally and, more importantly because of their terraced design, Apple had room to put what looks like four batteries in the open area of the case. This is another example of Apple’s push toward miniaturization.

The third thing that is really important is this new trackpad with the tactic (haptic) engine and the force gesture layer. In essence, this gives them three layers of input on a single trackpad. While Apple did not go into details about how we might use the Taptic layer, they clearly can do some innovative things around it via software and software app calls. Also, since this Taptic feature is in all of the Apple Watches, people who have them will want that same feature on new and future MacBooks, too.

The fourth important thing was the use of USB-Type C connector to power all sorts of functions like VGA monitors, HDMI, and standard USB backward compatibility. But what many missed is Apple has gone away from proprietary connectors and seems to be moving the Mac towards what I believe will eventually be no connectors at all. I believe when Apple introduces new Macs either next year or the year after, everything will be wireless, including charging.

Finally, the actual size of this MacBook is important for a couple of reasons. As I told dozens of media folks who asked me about this new Mac, I saw this MacBook as being representative of Apple’s overall expertise to make things smaller and lighter and still have enough power for us road warriors to be highly productive. However I believe this design signals what could be the end of the Macbook Air by 2016 and that all laptops from that time on will be ultra thin and light pure MacBooks. The only difference will be the size of their screens. Apple has proven they can miniaturize the components and, in the process, give themselves much more space to work with in future designs. Imagine a 14″ MacBook in the near future that comes in at 2.5 pounds and still has Intel True Core processors and all day battery life. I can’t imagine why Apple would need to keep the MacBook Air in their line in the future if they can make a Macbook even thinner and lighter than the current MacBook Airs on the market today. In fact, to do a new MacBook Air would be redundant.

The other laptop OEMs have taken notice of these developments and they will go to school on Apple and this design. While it may take awhile, I suspect Apple will push all of those in mobile computing down a similar design path and all notebooks could be thinner, lighter, and more powerful, thanks to Apple rewriting the rules of mobile computing.

One last thought — if Apple is squeezing down these logic boards using a smartphone design mentality, imagine what they might be able to continue to do with future iPhones and the amount of power they might be able to pack into them…could be interesting.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

64 thoughts on “Apple is Rewriting the Rules of Mobile Computing”

  1. The current machine has two advantages. Weight and battery life. It’s the only value add over it’s other models. The singular USB is not the “real” USB 3.1, as it will only support 5 GBps (bidirectionally), not 10 Gbps. It’s an interim spec. Core M, while sufficient for common tasks, is nothing to write home about. It’s a step up from today’s Atom. So what does $1300 buy me? About 1/2 pound lighter and a couple of hours more run time, at the expense of many other features. If that’s what matters most, then it’s a good deal.

    Lest anyone thinks I’m singling out Apple, the Yoga Pro 3 is a better value, with better screen and all ports, and still a poor performer, at the same price. The new MacBook probably has better battery life.

    When netbooks came out, their value proposition, at the time, was size, lightness, and battery life. They were cheap enough to be almost disposable. This machine is not cheap, and it costs $79 for an accessory to put back what they took out. At that price, it’s nickel and diming.

    You’re absolutely right that other OEMs will adapt the good and the bad aspects of this machine. That’s because some of them lack imagination and integrity. As far as “going to school on Apple” it will be seeing what the market will bear. As far as the tech goes, the fact that this can happen relatively quickly indicates that (for those skilled in the art), it’s not that terribly hard to do.

    1. Please give us some insight what were your thoughts on first MacBook Air when it came out back in 2008. Knowing your thinking process I’m pretty sure you’d be furious for the omission of optical drive. See lack of choice for the consumer. 😉

      1. Be warned this cannot be a short post, I will distill as best I can. Your interest in my opinion intrigues me, perhaps suspiciously, but you did ask.

        Many things have happened since 2008. In 2008 I bought my first MBP. It was my favorite computer in years, especially since coming off Vista (a true abomination). Apple had gone Intel a couple of years prior, and I let my guard down and trusted them. Big mistake on my part, but in 2008 I was happy with them. They had not yet shown their current colors.

        In 2009, I gave the 2008 to my daughter and stupidly purchased the 2009 model. I was not yet sufficiently “Apple Aware” that you are required to eat the dog food they decide to serve on their terms and whims. The Expresscard slot was removed, and there were no USB3 ports. Just super slow USB2. I never even booted it. The very next day I went to exchange it for the 17” (which I didn’t really want, but retained Expresscard). Of course, I was willing to pay the difference. That’s when I was informed it would cost me a $330 restocking fee, in addition to the difference. (The restocking fee got discontinued in 2010, or so). No other machine ever left me so wanting, and I was out $2200. Another big mistake on my part. So, I ate my dog food. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

        During the same time period, in iPhoneland, the App Store came to being, and lo, it was the only source for Apps, and it was curated. That’s tantamount to censorship, and I don’t take kindly to censors. In parallel, I went to the Genius Bar to get a botched software update fixed, and I was told they couldn’t help me because the sensors indicated “water damage”, and I had no recourse. There was much of a heart to heart with the store manager (/s). I did my one and only jailbreak on the device, and paradoxically, it fixed it. I was vindicated a couple of years later when Apple settled a lawsuit for faulty water sensors for $53 million. I got a check last October for $320 as my share of the settlement. I put it towards a full price Note4.

        Needless to say, I don’t respect a company that locks me in and expects me to conform on my own property. It’s a mismatch of expectations, and I highlight those mismatches when I post. Others may feel the same, and someone has to counter the cheerleading. I’m quite serious about this, Apple is worse at controlling than MS ever was, on their worst day. And I was an advocate of busting MS up! Man, I tell you, Apple had me running back to MS like a bitch! 😉
        Fortunately Win7 was finally good, and it worked out (along with a consent decree).

        But…to answer your question. I thought the MacBook Air was gorgeous, and I bought better valued Ultrabooks from elsewhere. At the time of the MBA launch I got a Toshiba Portege (which had a DVD drive). The MBA was still user serviceable, as was the rest of their computer line. It didn’t bother me that much. What DID bother me was when I bough the external Apple Superdrive (to match my Mac Mini aesthetically) only to find out it was firmware locked only to the Mac Mini and the MBA. It also would not work with PC’s. So, in other words, they went to additional effort to make it incompatible. Who does this? This is a good “experience”?

        There’s much more, and even some very positive experiences too, but you asked…

  2. So long as Apple continues to make the MacBook Pro line I’ll be able to buy a usable MacBook. I worked out what it would take to connect the new MacBook to an external display (DVI, VGA, HDMI), an external storage device (USB 2.0/3.0, FireWire, eSata, Thunderbolt), while also charging the MacBook. Whoa!

    1. Apple’s message for the new MacBook is the “future” of computing with the majority of your computing time is spent sans wires. That sometimes means making some concessions and changing how and what you deem the perfect computing environment.

      Sharing files means using the cloud or AirDrop (if two Apple devices are present). Sharing your screen is easy with the newly priced Apple TV at $69. You could also invest in a wireless SD card, otherwise once you’ve plugged in the SD card dongle there’d be no need to keep it plugged in once you’ve transferred the content. And since the battery lasts 9-hours worry about the power shouldn’t be a problem.

      With all that said I’d like to believe that Apple will keep the Pro line around for the long term realizing that there are true professionals that need multiple ports as well as Firewire. For the rest of us one port and using cloud services will be more than enough.

      1. Apple’s web page for FCPX and Logic Pro showing them running on MBP and a lot of creative professionals use MBP. So I don’t see the Pro line going anywhere anytime soon. Having said that, they might not get the attention, in terms of frequent upgrades, as other Apple devices.

      2. “the “future” of computing with the majority of your computing time is spent sans wires.”

        How does this machine help me do that in a way I currently can’t?
        YMMV, but IMO the cloud should be a peripheral to the computer, not the other way around. That’s mainframe….

        1. “…the cloud should be a peripheral to the computer, not the other way around.”

          I respectfully disagree. We’re all connected 24/7 so the idea that a computer isn’t constantly downloading/uploading information is about as foreign as a frigidly cold and snowy July in Phoenix.

          As for what this computer can’t do that you aren’t already doing today? I don’t know what kind of computer you own, when you bought it or what you do with it. Might be nothing but if companies thought we didn’t need a new computer every year they’d only make a new model every 5 years when we needed it.

          1. I take it you never go somewhere remote. Heck, I lose signal in NY, Chicago, everywhere I go.
            Then, the cloud is slower, far more expensive, and thus wasteful as a primary storage device. Would you trust a hard disk with cloud level speed, reliability, and cost?

          2. I’m not even sure what we’re debating right now. At the end of the day the new MacBook is still a computer and like any computer being online, by today’s standards, needs to be online to be truly effective.

            If you travel outside the realm of wifi or strong cellular signals your plight won’t be any better or worse than with any other computer regardless of the amount of ports it has or doesn’t have.

            If we’re debating price we can put the brakes on this verbal volley right now. One man sees price, the other sees value.

          3. Hey friend, it’s you that brought up the cloud. If a computer is cloud dependent, in my book, it’s a miss. The more full featured computer can do cloud, or no cloud, otherwise you may as well get a chromebook.

            There is also no way to discuss value, without discussing price. IMO it’s an underpowered, underfeatured computer precisely because of price.

          4. But don’t weight and battery life count in measuring “features”?

            Apple said the new MacBook is the future. By not EOLing MBAs and MBPs, it’s clearly not the only notebook of the present. But just like the MBA had to start the migration into the future back in 2008 (or whenever it was), the MB is starting that migration for those who already value mobility features. Some other people will note this “future” and begin reconsidering buying peripherals and accessories that use old ports/technology, and begin thinking more about using the cloud/wireless technologies. Also, Apple is emphatically announcing to its component suppliers what it will take to get its future business. I’d think Intel is redoubling efforts to advance the Core M line for its no longer just speculation Apple will introduce more mobile notebooks with less raw processing power.

          5. I agree there are other models to choose from. My comments were directed to this model. I believe I said as much.

            We both see the same “future”. I suspect you approve, while I don’t. As I’ve already said, I’m fine with the cloud, as a “peripheral”. The future you and I both see is not “offering” the cloud, but imposing it. Perhaps that’s where we differ. Having the majority of computers under central authority of “cloud providers” is the return of the mainframe. That, dear friend, is the past, not the future. It’s what the PC liberated us from.

          6. I don’t agree that the new MB imposes the use of “cloud providers.” The change is that your external storage, whether local and/or Internet cloud, is accessed via wifi. It doesn’t have to be the Internet cloud; it can be a local hard drive with wifi (i.e., Apple Time Capsule).

            I agree MBP doesn’t go away. But MBA probably will as Intel makes more powerful but still efficient Core M chips. Apple has just shown it can make a very mobile Retina display notebook – for now, it is more expensive, has same battery life, and has a slower CPU (raw power) than the 2015 non-Retina MBA (but likely as fast as the 2014 non-Retina MBA).

          7. Try dual booting via WiFi friend…
            You know, to use “other” OS’s. And overall speed will go back 5 generations too, at least. Since when did speed on a $1300 machine become unimportant?

          8. “Since when did speed on a $1300 machine become unimportant?”

            When other factors are your priority. Speed might not be among the top considerations for some people. Obviously speed is a top priority for you. That’s great. For. You.

          9. Speed hurts no one, not having it hurts some. At $1300, I think you’re going too easy on them. I was just as hard on Lenovo for the Yoga 3 Pro.

            There’s an Asus that is light, has a Core M, and more ports. $700! If this machine had full ports, as the Asus, and since it has a step up on the screen cost $900, I would be more forgiving.


            But that’s a race to the bottom right? I like quality races to the bottom as a buyer.

          10. “Speed hurts no one, not having it hurts some.”

            Nonsense. Speed absolutely has an impact on the overall design of any device. You’re doing that magical thinking thing again where you can add X and wish zero impact upon Y.

          11. Though I know, and understand, and even respect, where I think your coming from, to quote Wolfgang Pauli “That’s not even wrong!”

            Speed is not bad, inadequate battery technology is bad. Would you feel the same when it’s plugged in? Would you feel the same on a desktop?

          12. You’re conflating functional and non-functional, as well as form. You simply cannot make the blanket statement “Speed hurts no one, not having it hurts some.” since that statement is false. I realize you wish that statement were true, but wishing does not make it so.

          13. Depending on the user’s wants and needs, some computers are fast enough, and other features take priority, and this is indeed worth the price for them. You cannot say “Speed hurts no one, not having it hurts some.” and you cannot say “It isn’t worth $1300”. Those statements are only true for you. But it sounds like you’re trying to argue that your point of view is universally true. It is not.

          14. Um, hate to tell you that the population of dual-booted via an external drive is very very small, and not the target audience of this model. I would’ve thought that was obvious. Again, duh, people with niche use cases will buy another model, buy the adapters, etc.

            I didn’t say speed was unimportant, but it is just one “feature” among many. I said the raw speed is likely no slower than the MBA that was just replaced, and Apple laptops sold quite well last year.

            The key point is that as of early last month, no one could get any Retina and MacOS combo at any speed in an MBA-SWAP (thin Size, 2lb Weight, 9 hrs of Power) package. Now one can. And that market is much larger than the market of dual-booters using external drives. Especially when you add in those who want the matching gold or space gray 😉

          15. If you go anywhere beyond the basics, WP, Web, email anything anyone does is a very small proportion of the population. That’s why machines should be as versatile as possible. Still if this were significantly less expensive, and the hub adapter were included, it would help it’s case.

          16. But size, weight, and battery life does matter to a large percentage of notebook buyers. That’s why notebooks should place mobility on par with or above versatility (once you pass some versatility threshold – which doesn’t include many niche cases). There’s clearly a balance or tradeoff between mobile and versatile. I keep getting the sense you think “features” and versatility doesn’t include mobility (or comes at zero cost to mobility).

          17. I can respect that, easily from you, even from Gorillas from Space. It isn’t worth $1300.
            The laws of physics demand fixed amount of energy for a fixed amount of work. This is not open for debate. Instead of battery life, if we thought of units of work performed per charge you will find that many of these machines fall behind there as well. Even at the expense of speed. That’s why battery life varies so much between watching movies, photoshopping, video editing, and emailing, or web surfing. It’s also why higher rez screens consume battery quicker and why IGZO consumes less battery at a given resolution.
            Most common tasks are no longer CPU bound, which means they require fewer units of energy, due to fewer units of work. There is no rationalization around it, other than the balance between the two you mentions. We should really thing of these as miles (kilometers) per tankful at a given speed. I would not pay Mercedes pricing for a Prius.

          18. There are a number of Mercedes you can buy that are actually cheaper than a higher end Prius.

          19. Not for you but for many people, it’s worth $1300. Those who want a Mac with Retina display in a more mobile package (much thinner and lighter) than the 13.3″ MBP Retina (which is also $1300).

          20. “There is also no way to discuss value, without discussing price.”

            Swing inna miss. But let me help you.

            First, let’s put a pin in the “underpowered” statement until we have actual benchmark tests. You might be right but I won’t concede that point until we have actual data to comment against. We can agree, however, that this Mac wasn’t built for heavy Photoshoppers or movie editors.

            Respectfully you can give the price argument a rest. Maybe you don’t follow the market but Mac has grown consistently YOY for the last decade while PC sales have dropped YOY in the same period. High-prices be damned, Apple’s wares are held in extremely high regard irrespective of the competition’s startlingly lower price point.

            Moral of the story: There’s no need to discuss price when you’re discussing value.

          21. So it would have value at any price? You might want to re-think that. I say a Mac Mini should cost $10,000. It has value after all.

            Edit: Or I can put it another way, due to it’s ease of use Apple gets to overcharge by under specing. Not by a little, but by a lot.

          22. Maybe you don’t follow the market but Mac has grown consistently YOY for the last decade while PC sales have dropped YOY in the same period.

            So? Macs still didn’t break 10% marketshare. You make it sound like the PC is dying while the Mac is winning.

            But we all know it’s a pretty stable market. Or is this gonna be “the year of Mac”

            First, let’s put a pin in the “underpowered” statement until we have actual benchmark tests […] We can agree, however, that this Mac wasn’t built for heavy Photoshoppers or movie editors.

            You answered your own question. That’s what underpowered is by definition. I’m not sure what do you mean by “heavy photoshopers” but if Photoshop runs slowly, a lot of things beyond just your browser will run slowly.

            There’s no need to discuss price when you’re discussing value

            That’s how value is estimated, you check what it’s worth vs what it costs.

  3. I’m eagerly awaiting the benchmark tests as many pundits are already dismissing the Core M processor as a step back especially considering the price point.

    Apple has unapologetically always been on the lower side of the tech spec wars and yet their wares are typically comparable or even exceed expectations where Windows-based machines have higher specs with equal performance.

    I’m eager because I’m looking forward to the benchmarks coming back solid and silencing the pundits that think a Core M processor on such a small logic board, while not a showstopper, is more than capable. Obviously this machine wasn’t made for the full-time photographer or graphic designer but it should be more than enough for journalists and executives that do little more than checking email and reviewing spreadsheets.

    1. “Obviously this machine wasn’t made for the full-time photographer or graphic designer but it should be more than enough for journalists and executives that do little more than checking email and reviewing spreadsheets.”


      1. You missed his point completely. It’s how Core M performs *in the new MacBook* that matters. Apple hardware vs other hardware isn’t a ‘one to one translation’. You can’t assume that because your Core M sucks, that the new MacBook will also suck equally. It may surprise you.

        1. Because the new Core M in the new MacBook will magically turn into a beast? It will be compared to other Macbooks.

          1. Apparently it will be compared to non-Apple Core M machines, that is what you did after all. Who will be comparing it by the way? Nerds like you, which is basically nobody. Computing has moved far beyond you, normal people look at jobs-to-be-done, and if the new MacBook works for them on that front, they’ll be happy with it. But but but specs! performance! sucks! *head of nerd explodes*

          2. No sir. I compared Win8.1 machines with Win8.1 machines. Nerds like me inform. Core M sucks! The only way it wouldn’t suck is in a $600 machine.

            But hey, I think you should buy two @ $1300!

          3. Let me fix your comment: “Nerds like me inform. Core M *in Win8.1 machines* sucks!” If that’s what you actually meant, then my correction should stand. Unless you did mean to make the assumption that because Core M sucks in your Win8.1 machine that it also must suck in the new MacBook. But that can’t be right, since you just said you were not doing that.

            Hmm, then it’s weird that in response to a comment about Core M in the new MacBook possibly surprising with its performance that you would tell us all how much Core M sucks in your Win8.1 machine. Oh, but you left that part about Win8.1 out, you just made the blanket statement that Core M sucks.

            So which is it? Do you know that performance re: Core M sucks in all machines including the new MacBook, or do you only know that it sucks in your Win8.1 machine? Nerds inform after all.

          4. My comment does not require any fixing. When benchmarking CPU performance the machines should be as similar as possible. I reported my thoughts on it (yes I did some benchmarking) on how it stacks up on WIndows machines. It’s somewhere between an i3 and an i5, leaning towards i5.

            When it’s benchmarked against other Mac’s I’m very confident it will lose as well. But feel free to defend Intel as long as it’s in a Mac.

          5. Ah, so you haven’t benchmarked the new MacBook, you’re just confident it will suck. My, my, how quickly you went from nerd informing to nerd assuming.

          6. Correct. Based on data I have accumulated it’s a poor performer versus i5/i7. Even if OSX is more “efficient” it will be more efficient for i5/i7 as well. Confident!

          7. You’re stil missing the point. Performance requires context. For many the new MacBook will be the top performer. You’re stuck in the 90s comparing processors. Say hi to MC Hammer for me, Luddite.

          8. I gave full context. It will very likely be a poor performer versus it’s brethren at a ridiculously high price for the performance it provides and the compromises it makes. Like I said in my opening statement the value proposition is battery life and weight. Core M still sucks. Is it adequate? Yes, especially at $600.

          9. Battery life and weight are also aspects of performance. For some the new MacBook will be the top performer (even when compared to other MacBooks in the product line). Again, you seem focused on just one aspect of performance. That’s not context, that’s bias.

          10. You’re going to need that battery life if you want to do anything even moderately complex. There’s no defying the laws of physics, a fixed amount of work requires a fixed amount of energy. Yes, the chip is more efficient. Word processing, email, Facebook, non-cpu bound tasks are fine. At $1300 it involves too many compromises IMO. Some of them preposterous, again IMO.

            There’s also the concept of “battery bound”. What’s preferable 8-12 hours or 15-18 hours? One would need an external battery pack accessory for the rare times 8-12 doesn’t suffice, the other a hub accessory for inserting USB devices (all current USB devices).

          11. Notice how you’re talking about performance as it applies to your needs and your interpretation of value. That’s your bias. You can’t seem to acknowledge that the new MacBook will indeed be the top performer for many people.

          12. Oh please, you’re utterly unqualified to discuss bias. At $1300 it should “do more”. If that’s bias, then I agree I’m biased.

          13. I agree, you are biased. We all are. The key is to be aware of it. Perhaps you’ve taken the first step on your journey to self-awareness. Good for you.

            I understand why the new MacBook doesn’t work for you. Are you beginning to understand why you can’t make blanket statements such as “Core M sucks!”?

          14. You do seem more than a bit presumptuous as to the level of my self awareness, and that I need YOU to enlighten me. Since I have to spell it out in detail, “the calculating performance of the Core M, relative to i5, especially relative, to i7 sucks. This, at i7 prices”.
            Are you sure they didn’t choose the Core M, over the Atom or ARM (both of which would give even better battery life, and still be adequate for most tasks), so that people won’t call it a netbook?

          15. “You do seem more than a bit presumptuous as to the level of my self awareness”

            Yes, I see now I was too optimistic.

          16. To this day and likely for the foreseeable future, the slowest part of any computer is the user.


          17. “Yeah, well you’re a nerd and I’m cool and obviously everyone agrees with me so shut up!” – says the child when he loses the argument.

          18. When you do arguments like that, it’s obvious you have nothing constructive to say but keep going regardless. To “win”.

          19. I agree. I can certainly do better in the future not engaging with Will in the first place.

          20. “Because the new Core M in the new MacBook will magically turn into a beast?”

            I went back and watched the keynote intro of the new MacBook and Phil said it could be “turbo-charged” to 2.9GHz. So I suppose that means there is some magic going on after all.

            Again, we’ll just have to wait for the benchmark tests but I suspect the performance will be just fine. Obviously won’t blow the doors of a top-end Alienware system but I think it’ll perform better than some, like yourself, are expecting.

          21. That is what it does… 2.9 GHz Turbo Mode. All the new Core M’s do that. At $1300, it better be more than “just fine”. Just fine for what?

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