Why the New Macbook is a Game Changer

Not long after the iPad came out, I was one of those people who thought it could replace my laptop. I bought a third party Bluetooth keyboard and tried to make it a mini laptop. The good news is, in this configuration, it actually worked well for taking notes, checking email and surfing the Web. In fact, not long after the Zagg Keyboard Case came to market, I put my iPad in this combo case and it actually even looked like a mini laptop.

However, I quickly discovered that, while the iPad was great for some productivity tasks, it could never replace my laptop. Anytime I had to do a heavy lifting project, such as working on large spreadsheets and charts, editing a long document and even managing my photos, I used my laptop. I suspect that, in the end, I use my laptop for 80% of my mobile computing productivity and only use the iPad in mini-laptop mode when going to a meeting to take notes and not wanting to carry a laptop with me.

Part of the reason for this is a laptop not only has a larger screen but its keyboard and trackpad/mouse makes it much easier to navigate large amounts of content and easily cut and paste things I need for these charts and documents. While I could do some of that with an iPad, it was faster and easier to use a laptop. Plus, the laptop has much more power behind it to help me be more productive. During the first two years the iPad and tablets were on the market, many tried to make a tablet work as their only personal computing device but, during the last three years, most found it could, which is partly why laptop sales are growing again.

When I saw the new MacBook, I immediately realized it kind of looked like my iPad/keyboard mini laptop but now had a full sized keyboard, a 12 inch screen and, more importantly, the full Mac OS X experience. Interestingly, weighing in at 2 lbs, it is actually lighter and thinner than my iPad with the Zagg keyboard. I have been testing the new MacBook for about a week now and I can see how this will become my go to, carry everywhere with me laptop and will now relegate my iPad to being just a great tablet again.

Although I have been using a 13″ MacBook Air for years, I found the new MacBook’s 12” screen worked fine for all of the things I do with a laptop. Apple used a new type of ultra thin keyboard that is slightly different than larger full travel keys, yet I found it was very easy to use and took only a few minutes to adjust to its feel. Apple has been criticized for using an Intel Core M processor in the new MacBook but I found it performs very well and, with its extra graphics processing power, it plays movies, videos and music flawlessly. Even with my relatively poor eyesight without reading glasses, I have had no problem using its Retina Display even though it has a lower screen resolution compared to the screen resolutions on larger MacBook Pro’s.

To be clear, the new MacBook is not designed to be a power laptop or one that demands very high speed processing and ultra-high resolution. This is what I call the ultimate road warrior or corridor warrior machine that is light and thin and can be taken with you everywhere. While its price point is a bit high for students, it would also make a great student laptop since it is very easy to carry and gives them the full power of OS X in a very small footprint. I still will use a more powerful laptop with a larger screen, most likely tied to a very large monitor, when I do complicated charts, presentations, sophisticated DTP and editing projects, etc. However, this new MacBook will now always be in my bag and become the laptop of choice when I am away from the office and on the road.

The new MacBook is actually a game changer for the industry for numerous reasons. The first is it helps usher in the era of the ultra-thin laptop. Dell’s XPS 13 and Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 3 are the first of this breed of ultra-thins but the new MacBook is thinner and lighter and, from a design standpoint, is the most stunning of these three clamshell laptops. Apple still believes touch is not important in clamshells while Dell and Lenovo add touch as part of their design. But this new breed of laptops will be a better option for highly mobile computing users than the current ultra-lights that populate the laptop market today.

What is inside this new MacBook will eventually influence the design of next generation ultra-thin and thin and light laptops too. Apple’s logic board is the size of two iPhone motherboards. Key designers of the iPhone team helped create the new MacBook logic board and crammed an amazing amount of technology into a very small footprint. This is also a game changer since it is bound to make some laptop vendors rethink how they design logic boards for their own ultra-thin and ultra-light laptops. Also, the new terraced battery design will force competitors to look much closer at how they design their own batteries if they want to get a competitive product in the market that even comes close to Apple’s ultra-thin design.

Another thing it will influence is screen sizes in ultra-thin laptops. The Dell XPS 13 and Yoga Pro 3 both sport 13″ screens. When you put them next to a MacBook, they seem large by comparison since even that extra inch impacts their overall form factors. Apple believes a 12″ screen is the perfect size for a road warrior laptop and I tend to agree. It is a great size for us road warriors who need a fully functional OS X laptop but covet the small size and weight this delivers.

The other thing it will influence is design. It is clear to me Jony Ive is the new Steve Jobs and from now on design will be at the forefront of everything Apple creates. If you look at competing ultra-thins, they still look like mainstream laptops with color schemes that do not vary much. Apple has used design and color in the new MacBooks to make them stand out — they are highly distinctive.

This is the type of laptop I have been wanting for decades. Thin, light, under two pounds, it has had the same effect the original iPad had on me in that the iPad became a device I always have with me. My iPad is still going to be a faithful companion but I will now take the new MacBook with me as well and have the best of both worlds during my business day. This is by far the best ultra-thin laptop on the market and will become the gold standard for this type of portable computer.

I realize that Microsoft’s Surface Pro and tablet/keyboard combos make sense for some people. And in the Windows world the Surface Pro, Dell’s XPS 13 and Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 3 fit the ultra-thin need for the Windows crowd at least today. However, for the Mac crowd and switchers, the new MacBook delivers a great ultra-thin notebook experience I believe is even better and, for this group, it will have a lot of appeal. There is no question in my mind Apple’s new MacBook will be a big hit with those who want an ultra-thin portable device to carry with them all of the time. And no doubt it will eventually influence their competitors in the same way the MacBook Air pushed them to rethink their designs and create similar products just to stay competitive.

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.

1,103 thoughts on “Why the New Macbook is a Game Changer”

  1. I don’t see how this qualifies as “game changer”. Laptops have been getting thinner and lighter since the Toshiba Libretto or Cambridge Z88, with the MacBook Air a nice example in a more modern IT era. Even you list a number of laptops that are very similar in size/weight/specs (forgetting the Asus ZenBook UX305 and HP Spectre X360 among others). a 1″ screen size difference or half-pound weight difference does not a game changer make.
    So yeah, that MBA is nice, but it’s not like you have another choice but to love it if you want a decent-rez Mac ultraportable anyway. If you’re not beholden to the Mac ecosystem, there are plenty of very similar alternatives.

    1. “I don’t see how this qualifies as “game changer”.”

      ‘Game changer’ may be overblown, but it’s certainly an ante-upper. It’s the next logical step in evolving the MacBook Air – thinner, lighter, no moving parts whatsoever, an IPS screen, and yet still enough battery life that you can recharge it overnight and never have to worry about carrying the charger around when you’re using it. It took a long time for other laptop OEMs to get their act together to match the Air. Now that they’re finally doing so, apple has increased the stakes.

      The macbook air was originally designed to appeal to ultraportable users, a market niche whose fetish for carrying as little luggage as possible is perfectly matched with Apple’s fetish for thin & light. Then a strange thing happened — as the tech got cheaper, the air became Apple’s mainstream non-pro laptop, displacing the macbook. Now once again they’ve made a niche laptop for the anti-luggage fetishists, and once again have three laptop models – for power users, ultraportable users, and everyone else. The names have switched around, but everything else as it was back in the late oughts.

  2. Looking at the specs in isolation leaves me unimpressed, but when put in context, the Macbook is a very attractive device:
    1) a 12” screen is really useful because the footprint of the Macbook is slightly smaller than paper of Letter/A4 size (which gets carried in the same case)
    2) the processor is really useful because it is fast enough for email, word processing and internet browsing, but does not need a fan
    3) the battery life is long enough so you can leave the charger at home (or desk), that together with the 2-pound weight makes for a very light and slim package
    Getting things just right is not a waste of time; a slightly oval wheel gives you a bumpy ride, where a round one is much smoother. Then again, there are people who swear by their 17” laptop with numpad and 2-pound-brick-for-a-charger. To each his own.

  3. A very nice and generally objective article. You did look outside of the garden and I like that.
    If you ascribe to the notion that the best computer is the one you have with you, I find this system “wanting”. The compromises involved require a decision at home of “which machine do I bring”. I too use my various machines situationally-when I have easy access to all of them. When I don’t, I always bring a machine that can stand alone the best. I call it my “If stranded on a desert island” philosophy. But that’s me…
    In the end I basically have two major objections to the device. Price and Ports.
    I would not object to the level of performance a Core M provides at $600-$700. I find $1300 to be ridiculous.
    Regarding ports… If I need to carry and attach a separate $80 hub (an insult!) to attach anything to it, I would rather carry a more capable machine and an external battery (such as the optional 12,000 mAh battery on the XPS 13). The likelihood I would need to attach extra juice on that machine is far lower than the likelihood I would need to attach ports.

    1. You aren’t the target market for the new macbook. It’s aimed at ultraportable users, basically people with a fetish for carrying as little as possible along with them as they travel about for work or school, and who are willing to pay a premium for shaving a few ounces off the weight of their carryon.

      See my other comment here, and also cf anandtech’s review of the original MacBook Air, especially the opening section where he explains the market niche the air is aimed at.

      1. No disagreement with what you said. I highly doubt it will be sold with consideration to “weight fetishists” exclusively. “Most people” would get it just because. My intention was to point out pitfalls as I see them, especially on price and ports.

        1. The point is, ultraportables aren’t priced based on megahertz or megabytes. And they aren’t sold to people who value those stats. Instead, they’re priced and valued on ounces and cubic inches.

  4. Apologies, everyone we are having a system glitch with our backend that is doing some funky things today with posts and comments. I know people commented here before and they got deleted by the system. Sorry again.

  5. Two things:

    First, I completely agree with the bulk of this article. I have no doubt that the new Macbook will be the template for all future Apple consumer laptops and later will be the template most used by competing notebook manufacturers.

    Second, on the flip side, I’m wondering if Apple’s new taptic engine — which allows more precise touch feedback — will negate the need for stand alone keyboards on touch devices. If the taptic engine can emulate the tactical feedback provided by a tactile keyboard, then typing on a piece of glass will become much easier and more intuitive.

    1. Hmm, that’s interesting. Of course what’s great about a keyboard case for an iPad is typing on one surface while viewing the full screen of the other surface. But what if the place where the keyboard is now on the MacBook becomes a flat slab which can be a keyboard, or some other set of controls/interface as needed?

    2. “the new Macbook will be the template for all future Apple consumer
      laptops and later will be the template most used by competing notebook
      manufacturers”

      I sure hope not. The new macbook is squarely aimed at ultraportable buyers. It provides them with something significantly thinner, lighter, and with a far better screen than the macbook air. For those with a fetish for having the lightest possible carryon, that’s great. But it does that at the expense of keyboard feel, at the expense of battery life (compared to the 13″ macbook air), and at the expense of computing power. It’s a severely compromised laptop for people who can’t bear the thought of lugging around an extra 8-16 ounces for a macbook air.

      Sure, I’d be very surprised if the next redesign of the logic board on the Air doesn’t shrink it down dramatically and enable something like 18 hours of battery life. And the taptic touchpad is probably going to become standard on all apple portables, plus become the new standard desktop touchpad for those who don’t want a regular mouse. But I doubt that Apple is going to take away the SD card slot on the air, or the thunderbolt port. Or make the macbook air line go away (although it’s probably going to go retina at some point).

      What apple has done is resurrect the 3rd tier of their lineup — a few years ago, it was Macbook Pro for power users, macbooks for everyone else, and the macbook air for anti-luggage fetishists. Then the macbook air got a lot more powerful and a lot less expensive, and it became the macbook for everybody who didn’t need a macbook pro, and there was no longer a premium, highly compromised macbook (priced by the inverse of its weight) for those who needed to shave as much weight and bulk off their carryon as possible. Now there is again.

  6. Isn’t this the ipad pro? Too bad they didn’t squeeze in the cell radios from the ipad though to make it a truly use anywhere machine. Maybe they couldn’t optimise OS X data usage like they have on iOS.