The MacBook and the future of Apple laptops

Tim Cook was unambiguous about the new MacBook during his most recent conference call with financial analysts:

We believe — and I think most everyone agrees — this is the future of the notebook.

The new MacBook hasn't exactly wowed early reviewers with its performance capabilities, but I think the laptop is fundamentally designed to appeal to a different class of user than Apple currently caters to with its MacBook Air and the Retina MacBook Pro.

Having said that, the company is likely going to continue to make powerful laptops that appeal to its current customer base. So when Cook says that the MacBook is the future of the notebook, what does he mean?

I'm certain the Force Touch trackpad will be in the next version of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

The MacBook's wacky and magical new Force Touch trackpad has already begun to spread across the rest of Apple's laptop line. It's already on the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and I'm certain the new trackpad will show up in the next version of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro when it gets an update.

I'd love to see the new keyboard make it into the next 15-inch MacBook Pro, too: Using the new MacBook's keyboard is an exercise in retraining muscle memory, in part because it's a more compact case design (the keys are closer together than they are on any other MacBook). Combine that slick design with the full-sized spread of a 15-inch laptop, and you'd have a powerful combination that would enable Apple to make the Retina MacBook Pro even more slender than it is now.

That said, I don't think we need to worry about Apple "dumbing down" the rest of the MacBook line with slower processors or less capable integrated graphics systems. One of the reasons we haven't seen a refreshed 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro is because Apple's still waiting for the right Intel Broadwell processors to become available for it. Those processors will deliver the performance pro users expect, all the while improving efficiency over the current Haswell processors in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. (The 13-inch made the Broadwell switch when the new Force Touch trackpad version shipped in April, though it was a tad overshadowed by the MacBook's launch.)

New Mac customers simply assume that they'll be able to go gold, silver, or space gray.

One of the most remarkable things about the new MacBook is just how thin and light it is. It's substantially thinner than the MacBook Air, and not all that much thicker than a full-sized iPad. Obviously there are physical constraints engineers have to deal with based on the size of the display, but it wouldn't surprise me to see future MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs sport similarly thin designs, especially as Apple spreads USB-C throughout the product line — which seems rather inevitable.

I additionally look forward to the continued evolution of the MacBook itself. It's the first Mac to sport Intel's Core M processor: a lower-power, smaller microprocessor compared to the circuitry you might find in other Mac laptops. It's one of the reasons Apple was able top make the new MacBook as tiny as it is, and without a fan to boot.

The Core M doesn't offer the same performance as the Core i5 processors found in other Mac laptop models, but Apple has total control over hardware and operating system software, which enables them to get performance out of the system that you simply won't find in other computers that use this same processor type.

It also wouldn't surprise me at all to see Apple add different case colors to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air line going forward. Before you dismiss this as an unnecessary complication, consider this: Almost every time I sell a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro in the store I work in, customers ask me what colors are available. New Mac customers — especially those who are buying Macs for the first time — simply assume that they'll be able to go gold, silver, or space gray, like they can with the phone.

The 11-inch MacBook Air seems like the odd man out at the moment.

The real question I have is in regards to the future of the 11-inch MacBook Air. The 11-inch MacBook Air seems like the odd man out at the moment: It gives Apple a laptop that retains for less than a grand, but it does so without differentiating performance between it and the 13-inch MacBook Air model, save for the 13-inch's display. Unfortunately, the emphasis on small size and light weight puts it in competition with the new MacBook.

For now, anyway, customers more concerned about price will continue to get the MacBook Air, so it'll be interesting to see what Apple does to differentiate the low-end MacBook Air going forward.

What innovations are you looking forward to in the Mac laptop line? What are you using now, and are you eyeing an upgrade this year? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Peter Cohen
49 Comments
  • I really don't like the new keyboard it's too firm :/ Sent from the iMore App
  • I tried the new MacBook at my local Apple Store the other day. The Force Touch, I like a lot. Bringing it to all Apple laptops will be a good thing. The keyboard though, not so much. Then again, I'm not exactly a huge fan of the keyboard on my current 13" rMBP either, or any laptop keyboard since the late IBM and early Lenovo era ThinkPads. Maybe I'm just old. Outside photo-editing and the occasional drag-n-drop action , my keyboard-to-mouse/touchpad ratio is somewhere around 90:10 - the type of person with Vi binding plugins for his web browser and dynamic tiling window managers on top of his desktop environment (or on another OS in a virtual machine), if you get my drift. I need to get a bit physical with keyboards.
  • I'm a fan of mechanical keyboards, but I find a lot to like about the new MacBook's keyboard. The one downside is its closer layout, with less distance between keys. That means touch typists need to retrain muscle memory for accuracy, and that's a learning curve.
  • Through future refreshes I really want to get my hands on something close to the following: - 15" Retina Screen
    - Thinness of Air
    - Force Touch
    - Space Gray
    - Minimum Processing Power of Current Airs
    - If USB-C then at least three of them
    - New Keyboard Sent from the iMore App
  • "but it does so without differentiating performance between it and the 13-inch MacBook Air model, save for the 13-inch's Retina display. "
    The 13-inch Air doesn't have a Retina display.
    I agree that the 11 inch Air seems the odd man out, but only because configuring it with the 256GB storage and 8GB RAM of the MacBook brings it in line with the MacBook's price—albeit almost 20% heavier; with a smaller, non-Retina display; and lacking the new trackpad.
    Yet what will happen is that the new MacBook will cause a bump in sales for the baseline Air due purely to price. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know what the word Retina was doing there. I removed it. :\
  • Fortunately, Apple does not set the standard for the future of laptops. For people doing real work, Apple's vision is too impractical. Apple is not a significant seller in the laptop industry nor are they gaining much ground. They can afford to strip away features and call them innovations because they have a following that will rationalize anything Apple does as an innovation when, frankly, they don't understand the meaning of the word.
  • Right because the MacBook Air didn't set the road map for the future of all laptops? It was called impractical at the time and since then most laptops have evolved toward that standard. Hence: Ultra Books. Sent from the iMore App
  • Oh please! There is not a lot of ways to make a laptop out of aluminum that doesn't look like the MacBook Air. Almost any thin aluminum laptop is going to look like the Air.
  • Weird that nothing looked like a MacBook Air until Apple built the MacBook Air, huh? And now you can't build a thin laptop that doesn't look like the MacBook Air? Same story as when the first iPhone came out, and suddenly, no one could build a phone that DIDN'T look like the iPhone. In reality, you CAN differentiate via design, which is why Apple doesn't build stuff that looks like anyone else's stuff. Then again, there are leaders, and there are followers.
  • Well said. Totally agree. Sent from the iMore App
  • Jeez TechPeeve, that's quite an interesting alternate universe in which you live in...
  • Are we still trotting out the 'real work' dead horse in the year 2015? I thought that misnomer got put to rest long ago.
  • "Are we still trotting out the 'real work' dead horse in the year 2015?" Today's dead horse is "productivity", which can only be accomplished with Microsoft Office. No other tool allows you to be "productive".
  • Fortunately MS Office is available on Mac, so I guess one can get 'real work' done to increase their 'productivity' after all. Whew! That was a close one.
  • Woah, it's 2015 and someone thinks that you need MS Office to do work?
  • I agree with you. I could complete approximately 1% of my work with with the MacBook. Even if I installed Windows. I really like the hardware design of the MacBook. At the Apple Store, I instantly loved the trackpad, and was typing quickly on the keyboard. But for that price, & lack of ports, (and touchscreen) I would rather buy a Lenovo Yoga for a lightweight work computer. If I just wanted a "round-the-house" laptop, & I had an extra $1300 burning a hole in my bank account, I would consider the MacBook. Sent from the iMore App
  • Good luck with Lenovo support from many user reviews I've read on many sites.... ....the old saying "cheap can be dear" is still true...
  • The new Macbook is cool, but I really hope they don't strip much (if any) from the rMBP's in future updates to stay inline with this new design style. Especially the 15". Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I don't think anybody is worried about "dumbing down" in terms of processors, but "dumbing down" in terms of ports. I'm all for a USB type C port replacing existing USB ports, but replacing them *and* my thunderbolt and MagSafe ports with a single port and necessitating the carrying of adapters is a huge step backwards for users who do not prize silmness above all else. Sent from the iMore App
  • Except Apple hasn't done that with the rMBP. Heck they even updated and kept the Airs around. So clearly Apple isn't rushing to remove all ports on their laptops. The rMB isn't designed for people who need lots of ports. The iPad only has one port and Apple sold over 12 million of them last quarter. Once the MacBook becomes cheaper I fully expect it to be a big seller and probably take sales away from iPad.
  • Ipad isnt a full computer though. Big difference between use case for iPad and full blown laptops.
  • Yet. The article was to discuss Cook's assertion the MB design is the future of the notebook. If that includes the single-port+adapters wending its way to the MBP line, I will be one sorely disappointed longtime customer.
  • Only fair to contextualize your supportive iPad stat with the counter one that iPad sales are in decline throughout the current model's lifetime.... ...not that that's necessarily about its port complement.
  • There's no point to keep the MBA around. The rMBP will get thinner/lighter and the rMB will get cheaper. At that point there is no reason for MBA to exist.
  • Question is, when do we get to that point?
  • Probably the same time frame as the original 2008 Macbook Air: two or three years.
  • I don't think the Pros ever evolve to look like the new MacBook... I mean even now they've gotten thinner but doesn't look like an Air. Sent from the iMore App
  • The ratio of computing power to required device size to achieve that power will continue to improve however. It's been the way of it since 1946. I.e., our PC's (and everything else) will either become much more powerful in the same size class or slightly more powerful even as they shrink. Along those lines, I'm reassembling a retro stereo/home entertainment system from the 90's right now as a project (35" CRT TV, VHS, cassette deck, turntable and receiver). I popped the case on the double cassette deck yesterday and the vast vista of empty space (presumably for both heat dissipation and the size of the cassette mechanisms) - and the space between the huge (by today's standards) parts on the PC board was a real revelation after seeing pix of the iWatch tear down....
  • What apple does is fine with me, HOWEVER, I want Touch ID on everything I buy from Apple. It would clean up so much that gets in the way of going from thingie to thingie. Touch ID would be the coup de grass of the line up.
  • The new macbook gets me really excited for the next 15" macbook pro. I do not know how many of the features will carry over but in an ideal world i would want the following improvements:
    -A space grey option( i have wanted a black macbook pro ever since the black macbook)
    -A metal color coded hinge ( i doubt that this will be a reality)
    - new keyboard with individually lit keys
    - smaller bezels with an overall weight of 4 pounds or less
    -dedicated graphics on both models
    -forcetouch trackpad
    - replace magsafe 2 and usb 3 ports with usb type c and retain all other ports
    -10-12 hour battery life
    - 1080p facetime camera
  • Yes sir. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think there's a place for the absolutely thinnest, lightest notebook imaginable, even at the expense of ports, etc. I hope they don't take away all the ports on all their models, but I doubt that'll be an issue. But I think their branding scheme is in a bit of a mess now. The names seem to imply that the MBP is your choice for a bigger, heavier, but higher powered notebook, the MBA is your thinnest, lightest (but maybe less powerful) model, and the MB somewhere in between... but that's not the case. I really think they need to resolve this.
  • Would it actually be possible for Apple to build a laptop of the same general size and weight, but actually increase key travel? I want a keyboard with twice as much vertical travel than the current MacBook Pros and Airs. The new MacBook keyboard seems like Apple doubling down on bad.
  • I'm still rocking my late 2008 MBP, so the "thinner and lighter" bandwagon that Apple is continuously on, left without me. Not enamored with the retina Macbook Pro and not impressed with the new Macbook. The Macbook line is thin and light enough for me. As others have said, hopefully Apple won't dumb down the performance of the Macbook Pro line. Dumbing down their whole laptop line would ultimately cause them to lose the customers who want a quality laptop that has the horsepower and graphics to get things done. I don't see that happening. Hope I'm right about that. It doesn't matter to me how great the trackpad and keyboard are if the thing doesn't have the horsepower and graphics that I need.
  • I would really like to see a 16GB ram option on the macbook air. From a developer perspective, you need that extra ram when running linux on virtualbox on your macbook. I know you could go the macbook pro route, but the light weight of the air would be ideal for those who travel and program
  • The future of laptops is something Apple is afraid to release. For once they do so, they'll have the perfect product for most everybody... and this product won't be as profitable as their $1299 or up laptops. I call it the iOS Book. Apple may be calling it the iPad Pro. Basically a 13 inch iPad with a separate keyboard and Force Touch TRACKPAD. See how I put TRACKPAD in caps? This is the critical element... and it explains why such support isn't offered on iPads. For if it were, most people wouldn't need a MacBook. Like it or not, Apple, this is where the market is headed. 2 in 1. Surface Pro is going to force this issue. Apple's advantage here is that Windows sucks. If you look at all the 2 in 1 PCs coming online these days... Apple's 'two devices for the price of ten' days are numbered. Where Apple can innovate (read: charge twice as much as the competitors) is by getting it right. If Steve Jobs were alive, he'd be LhisAO at PCs which use the keyboard as their stand. Or laptops that form a 'tent' to present a standing touch surface. Both are about as elegant as McDonalds serving sushi. Apple engineers likely solved this problem years ago. And they're just taking in the last money they can selling iPad and MacBooks as separate devices. But again... those days are almost over.
  • there's very little in the macbook that appeals to me over the other macs offered of pc laptop options. I didn't like the keyboard and hated the lack of ports. Thinner isn't a selling point to me. If i had a choice it'd be the air, the pro or a cheaper pc laptop probably from asus.
  • I want a 13 inch macbook air with retina display and a touch screen. Then and only then will we have the future of laptops.
  • "We'll have the future of laptops when Apple releases the laptop specific to me and me alone."
    -Half the comments here. Hell, I want a Macbook Pro running Windows natively, Current Gen i7, current gen dedicated nvidia graphics, 2 1tb Samsung SSD'S in raid-0, 32gb of high performance RAM, and full sized arrow keys. Amazeball cooling in the same chassis as the current Pro Oh, and the battery life needs to stay at 9h+ And preferably cost no more than $1,600. Then we'll have the future of computing. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • I love, love, love my new MacBook. Up until I got it, I was doing ~95% of my non-work computing time on an iPad Air. Now that number has dropped to something closer to 50/50. I was doing so much on my iPad that I was considering upgrading it again, now it will probably go several more years before being upgraded. I'm sure that doesn't break Apple's heart since I paid more for the MacBook than I would have for a new iPad. Everyone focuses on the MacBook's weaknesses, which is unfortunate since it is really a very good computer. Sure, a second USB-C port would have been nice, but I'm managing quite well with just one. I travel a lot and go to a lot of meetings, so I was primarily looking for a note-taking machine. I went from looking at $100 keyboard covers for iPads to a $1,200 laptop, LOL. But now I can leave my work issued brick that Dell calls a "small form factor" laptop behind when I travel. And that is priceless! If this is the future of laptops I'm very excited.
  • I don't think the Air will exist as a line (either 11" or 13") in two years. The new Macbook feels like the replacement for both presuming sustained performance of the Core M in the future can approach that of today's Airs. Much as I like the aesthetics of the Macbook, it feels like a misstep. It's less powerful, has retina, but the same batter life as an 11" Air and less life than a 13" Air. That's a weird mishmash of advantages and compromises. What I wish they'd done instead of obsessing over thinness is this: Retain the Air chassis (externally). Used the extra space for more of the new sloped battery thus matching or exceeding the 13" Air life. Added a Retina screen. Retained the i5. But I think they're not really looking at the 2015 Macbook as anything but a compromise, much like the first Air. It's the earliest they could credibly ship a fanless Macbook.
  • I agreed with you, the "new" Macbook feels like a generation 1 product with some compromises left to be ironed out. (though I wouldn't go so far as labeling it a "misstep" as you do). I think the Air is gone (or at least not upgraded in two years as well - or maybe even 1 year?!) Anyways, spec-wise the Macbook as some pretty impressive stats in the RAM, logic board/controller architecture and it's SSDs.
  • Six years into my MBP 17" and it's still my favorite laptop (even though I have other newer ones). I don't want to let it go, unless they launch a 17" MBPR. Will I wait forever?
  • I had a 11" MacBook Air 2013 model and replaced it with a Mac mini. Air had a great form factor and it was very light, but it didn't have enough power underneath the hood for me to do my daily work, so I sold it. I think Apple should move features for the low power task to tablets and the iPhone 6s, and cater to power users with the MacBook products. It's great to have a light thin laptop until you realize you can only perform the most basic of tasks with it.
  • I finally saw the new MacBook (in gold) at a Best Buy near me a week ago and was amazed at how tiny and thin it is. I definitely don't think it would be for me though because I don't like that the keyboard is so recessed and that it has only the single USB port. :-/ The 13-inch MacBook Pro is definitely more my speed.
  • I have the MBP 2012 model. Looking at apples newer version of the MBP in the apple store I can see the appeal of the thin design but I don't know if I would want my MBP any thinner than they are now (rMB or MBA). I want to know I'm picking something up, something with substance. I would rather keep that size and improve battery life and features.
    In terms of 2 in 1 solutions that people believe apple will be forced to move to soon. I don't agree. When Steve Jobs announced the iPad he made something clear. It was its own class, and I agree. If I'm going to lugging around an 12 -13 inch iPad and a portable keyboard with a trackpad attached, I would just want a rMBP. Why would I want 2 things if 1 covers both. The iPad is there for games, around the home, recipes in the kitchen that sort of stuff.
    Also I can't use (using keyboard) my iPad while in bed unless I have the portable keyboard with me. Its just a hassle and an extra piece of hardware I would have to look after and keep on top of.
  • I'd like to see the MacBook design language across everything. 13" (the 12" currently is a weird stretch) and 15" macbooks in the MacBook form factor and 13" and 15" macbook pros that are maybe a little thicker. No more airs, no more non-retina pros. Just those 4 products in the macbook line. No more disc drives, no more extra ports. Clean, simple. When apple first ditched disc drives people thought it was a mistake but it's now pushed the market towards disc free. Looking forward to everything being wireless.
  • I'm using a 2009 MBP and am still very happy with it. An iPad Mini is great for surfing web whilst lounging about. Next upgrade might be something akin to new MB but ideally I would like a better processor and a couple of USB slots, the camera port in the MBP is useful as is the charging port. Wonder whether they might do a 14 inch screen version with a extra port or two?