The New MacBook: What it is and what it is not

Monday's Apple reveal of the new MacBook has some people shaking their heads no. Even if it's not right for you, Apple's gonna sell millions. Here's why.

First of all, if you haven't already read it, check out Ren and Rene's first look at the new MacBook:

  • Hands on with Apple's unbelievably-thin, battery-packed MacBook

Like the American Tourister gorilla

I'm hard on portable gear. My boss at Macworld at the time, a clean-shaven fellow from Nova Scotia named Jim Dalrymple, was totally horrified by what I'd done to the company-issued PowerBook G4.

"What the hell did you do to that thing?" Jim asked, incredulously, one day at Macworld Expo. I'd managed to crack the edges of the PowerBook, destroy the screen hinges and scratch the hell out of the wrist area on either side of the trackpad.

In late 2009 I had to get myself a new computer, because my 17-inch MacBook Pro died a premature death (quelle surprise). I scored an excellent deal on a white polycarbonate Mac model at Micro Center: 13-inch screen, 2.26 GHz processor, enough RAM and storage to get the work done.

It was a MacBook.

That MacBook is still with us. My about-to-turn 15 year old uses it. I've upgraded the RAM and replaced the hard drive with an SSD, and it's still pretty zippy.

Not your father's Oldsmobile

So I have very fond memories of the MacBook line, and still use MacBook hardware. I suspect MacBook is long in the memory of many Mac users like those that visit the Apple reseller I work at on the weekends. Many of them bring theirs in for service when the inevitable accident occurs, or when something needs replacing.

In 2010 Apple made its last MacBook model. Apple repositioned the MacBook Air to be its new consumer model, with the MacBook Pro squarely aimed at customers who wanted more beef. Last year, after a price realignment and some marketing push, Apple sold more MacBook Airs in one quarter than it had, ever.

It's very fitting that Apple has resurrected the MacBook moniker. They've done something very different with the line, however. To borrow an old marketing slogan, it's not your father's Oldsmobile.

About the USB-C interface

The most controversial design decision of the new MacBook has nothing to do with the bright, beautiful Retina display, the choice of chassis color or its incredible thinness. It has to do with Apple's decision to do away with all expansion ports except for a singular USB-C style connection. This marks the first time any Apple device has supported this interface.

USB-C replaces everything. There's no Thunderbolt port, no USB ports, not even a power port. That doesn't mean the Mac can't connect to anything, just that you're going to have to buy adapters to make it happen. Computer users are going to be seeing a lot of USB-C in the coming years regardless of whether they get Macs or PCs, so get ready.

Regardless, Apple has shown time and time again that it's willing to inflict some short-term discomfort to users if there will be long-term gain. Just like the floppy drive, just like optical discs. Just like the 30-pin dock connector and Lightning cables. It's happened before. People have moaned and groaned. And they've moved on.

  • Apple's new MacBook sports USB-C: Is Thunderbolt headed for FireWire's graveyard?

The new MacBook

The new MacBook is not aimed at power users, nor is it aimed at everyone else better outfitted with a MacBook Air. This new MacBook combines the overall practicality and usability of the Mac with, for the first time, the sort of Apple design fetishism we've seen in iPhones and iPads for years.

Gold. Gold! You can order your MacBook in gold. Coincidentally, the last Mac you could order in custom colors? The MacBook. For a while you could get your hands on either a white or black-clad plastic version. The black MacBook is still an object of desire for some old-school Mac users.

But what about that Core-M thing?

Inside is an Intel Core-M processor, a new fifth-generation Core chip design based on Intel's "Broadwell" microprocessor architecture. It's already been featured inside some new two-in-one convertible laptops and tablets that run Windows. But don't hold that against it.

The new MacBook's clock speed is considerably lower than the MacBook Air, but that's not a meaningful measuring tool for most people shopping for a new computer. They want to know what it can do. Can it check e-mail? Check. Surf the web? Check. Help with homework or the occasional work project? Surely.

The new MacBook isn't built for speed or horsepower. If you want to do Final Cut edits on your Mac or compile millions of lines of code quickly, stick with heavy iron like the Retina MacBook Pro or the Mac Pro. Even the iMac is a good choice.

Apple still makes computers you "power users" can enjoy. This is not one of them. People are asking a lot of good questions about the MacBook's overall horsepower and how exactly it can be used. Answers are forthcoming, since the MacBook doesn't launch until April 10th.

In the interim, rest assured that the arrival of the MacBook doesn't foretell the death or discontinuation of anything else. Remember, MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros just got a bump too.

Peter Cohen