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.

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  • Prior to the new Dell XPS 13, I would say that the MacBook Air was the best value laptop on the market. With a starting price of $1549 CDN and no backward compatible USB ports without a $100 CDN dongle, the new MacBook is unrecommendable with competitors like the XPS, Surface, and the current MacBook Air lineup.
  • I'd also maybe toss in the Samsung ATIV Book 9 (2015) to that too. We should have one on Windows Central tomorrow or Thursday. By all intentions, is the same type of device as the new MacBook: 12.2" 2560 x 1600 display (non-touch) 4/8 GB RAM; 128 / 256 GB Storage 2.1 pounds Intel Core M 5Y31 Price is either $1,199 or $1,399 - not cheap either. However, it does have, wait for it, 2 USB 3.0 ports and micro HDMI out.
  • Daniel, what are you doing here? I'm telling :-) Then again, what am I doing here??? Ah... the freedom to participate in any article we choose.
  • Freedom? This is America*edit, well it is for me, so hush*. We don't have that here. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • It's $25, not $100. And USB-C is a standard; it’s ripe for third parties to make cheaper ones if $25 breaks the bank.
  • Sorry, was referring to the display + USB adapter. I can't imagine buying the USB 3 adapter and having to fork out for the display adapter afterwards.
  • If you need ports then the Air or 13" MBP is a better choice. But to say it's unrecommendable is a bit of a stretch. I know plenty of people that haven't so much as plugged in a USB stick into their laptops. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'll put it this way - I'm a BlackBerry fan, but I cannot (and do not) recommend a BlackBerry smartphone to the vast majority of users already on other platforms. Want an ultra portable device for web browsing, email, and word processing? Get an iPad Air 2 with a Bluetooth keyboard case for $600-$700. Got a few more dollars? Need more power, ports, and connectivity? Get a MacBook Air starting at $899 ($1099 CDN)
  • Good article, objective and highlighting the good and the bad - wish you had done the event coverage As for the Macbook, it's thin, light and looks good but it costs a fortune and is crippled by a severely low end processor and lack of ports - only Rene could get excited by this Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • "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." This is a really poor argument for anything. I could check all those boxes with a Raspberry Pi. Potential buyers have a right to expect a little better performance than their iPad when they're buying a $1200 device. Especially if they're picking one up after using a Macbook Air, which will very easily run circles around it. The only reason Apple is really going to get away with this sort of performance setback is because the average user doesn't know any better. The only time users hear about ANY consequences of their hardware purchases is when it lights up in the media (see also: Antennagate). The end result is that people who have to support these users (IT folks) are the ones that lose. "Why is my new Mac slower than my old one?" "Because you bought a slower Mac." This is a conversation that will never parse for any regular consumer.
  • The Yoga 3 Pro uses this CPU (at least some variants do). Would have been nice for the article to mention this so that readers can seek out benchmarks and reviews if needed. But I agree totally... If the CPU limits certain activities (or makes them slower than Macs sold several years ago) I think that should be somehow explained by Apple as a trade off against the extreme portability. I don't see that right now on their site. In some ways I don't blame them... But this is a expensive laptop and I would love to know what I'm getting for the money.
  • "Potential buyers have a right to expect a little better performance than their iPad when they're buying a $1200 device. " That's actually $1300. And yes, I think the price is high, especially considering that the 13" MBA is $300 cheaper. And yes, it has lower processing power. Less bang for the buck. On paper, anyway. "The only reason Apple is really going to get away with this sort of performance setback is because the average user doesn't know any better." Wrong. The average user doesn't need more performance. Only the "Pro" market requires high performance. There's a 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display for them, starting at the same price. If they can deal with a screen that small. And no, wrong again. It's not a "setback" in any way. You want light weight and a thin enclosure? You want something other than silvery aluminum? Get the MacBook. You want power because you're a "Pro"? Get the MacBook Pro. Flip a damn coin. The new MacBook doesn't replace any existing Mac. They're all still there.
  • Who said anything about "high performance"? I am talking about not taking a hit to the baseline performance that users expect. Users are going to see this as a replacement to the MBA, regardless of how you advertise it. It's light, it's thin, it's not going to be taken as anything else. And yet, somehow, it's dramatically slower to the user. They didn't want a Pro, why would they, they just wanted something that's at least as good as what they already had. And that is something you won't be able to explain to the average consumer, period.
  • It's like the iPad 3 ipad 4 debacle. In October all the new adopters will be upset when it gets a huge spec bump.
  • It's not always about the performance. For some they really don't do a great deal of power usage. In fact how many really just do the following; Browse the internet
    Receive, Answer and send email
    Write a letter or two and curate their pictures. 5 years ago I did most of my work using applications all the time but these days most of the tasks that required stand-alone software now is done using web applications and the overhead of the computing is on the server side. In fact these days I write most of my letters on a web-based wordprocessor, the spreadsheets I used to make are now done using web-based spreadsheets that do just fine. I never did special spreadsheets that created scientific calculations or complex spreadsheets just basic business spreadsheets and the web-based spreadsheets are just as quick or quicker than the same ones that used the excel (in fact many were imported from excel). What advantage would it have for someone like me or like those that really do non-power computing functions to getting the MacBook rather than an equivalently priced MBA? I suppose that the retina display would make a difference. I suppose the single USB-C may be an issue to some but the adapter is a small price to be able to connect the few USB devices I use. In fact that is my only reservation. Right now I use a 27 inch iMac (2012) and while it is working fine I don't need the huge screen and a retina 12 inch screen would do just as well for my needs. I hear the argument from some that there are perfectly adequate Windows systems out there that are cheaper with better or equal specs it but that's the trouble they run Windows and if I wanted to torture myself I would have bought a Windows Machine for less than the price of my iMac!
  • Web-based applications require MORE performance to perform the same actions, so in fact, your reasoning works against you. Here's the thing. People keep claiming "oh you don't need a powerful system if all you do is read email and browse the web". Yeah, but that's a horrendously misleading statement, which is my original point. Let's make an exaggeration. Take a PC from 2001. It can "browse the web" and "read email". It can. It used to, back in 2001 after all. Would you want to though? Absolutely not. The performance impact would make using the PC for these tasks a nightmare. We are in an age where web browsers are being asked to do more and more. Remember when GMail didn't even have a loading bar? I do. These sorts of performance setbacks are things that impact the average user doing their average, day-to-day web browsing and email checking. Websites aren't going to suddenly stop growing in complexity just because you decided to buy into Apple's mistakes.
  • The 13" MacBook Air isn't $300 cheaper. It is exactly the same price as the new MacBook - $1299 - for the model with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The new MacBook doesn't have a cheaper model with 4GB/128GB, that's all.
  • Yup Sent from the iMore App
  • Can you buy it cheaper? Yes? Then it's cheaper. After all, the running argument is that people don't care about the performance, so why would they buy something with more RAM?
  • When your typical $500 laptop has more gigahertz than your typical person will ever need - and PC manufacturers are stuck in a race to the bottom - you're going to see the 2015 MacBook. Optimize instead for extreme portability (i.e. thickness, footprint, weight), low power consumption, and long battery life. Polish things we thought were good enough (keyboard, trackpad), add a stunning design and razor sharp display. With a fast SSD and (presumably) smooth scrolling, and it's plenty of power for those doing office work, web browsing, listening to music, and basic photo work. To the contrary, the likely consumer is someone who highly prioritizes portability and design - and is informed about the tradeoffs. Apple's not fooling anybody - did they demo Final Cut on the thing? Are Apple Store specialists really gonna oversell the thing and have angry customers at their door the next week?
  • Yeah it's too bad that your average $500 laptop still has a faster CPU than this Macbook. You are not really comprehending the real performance hit of having a CPU that is unable to be actively cooled. You're going to see smartphone-level performance out of a machine running desktop applications. This isn't about running Final Cut, this is about the basics, and at the level of performance sacrifice they had to make, it's going to suffer even for something like web browsing. Web browsers are not fast, small little applications anymore. They are behemoths, practically entire operating systems of their own. You're looking at something that is slower than a Macbook Air by a large margin, for what? People bought the Macbook Air for precisely what you explained: they wanted something thin and light, just enough to do browsing and email. The Macbook Air filled that space just fine. This device? I don't know what market it's aiming for. It's a Macbook Air without the performance to do basic tasks adequately. It can't even use a USB stick or charge your iPhone without a flippin' dongle, so where's the "slimming" factor? You're going to end up using a bag of dongles just to use the device in any sort of work environment, and if you're at home, why aren't you using your iPad or iMac?
  • 1) I don't think it's true that it can't do basic tasks adequately. If I'm not mistaken Broadwell chips have gotten benchmarked as roughly equal to 2012 MacBook Airs. 2) Yea you'll probably want a dongle, but like a Super Drive you'll put it in your drawer or your suitcase and not need it the majority of the time. 3) not everyone has an iPad. And if you were on the fence about it - questionable of the iPads productivity for example - this might be the product for you.
  • Apple is going to make bank off of $29 adapters.
  • Whilst I agree with the sentiment, this article could do with some actual facts to help form a useful comparison. E.g. Information about the screen and the scaled resolutions it offers, battery life estimate comparisons against iPads and other MacBooks and so on.
  • I want the Space Gray MacBook so bad. But I'll never get one.
    Because I need a 15" screen and the power to run Xcode etc.
    And that forces me to use a MacBook Pro. But hey, Apple, how about giving us Space Gray and Gold MBP's?
    It would be just a small matter of anodizing.
  • I'll take a space gray 15" Pro Retina. With a slightly new slimmer profile. Is that too much to want in the next Pro Refresh? Sent from the iMore App
  • So yeah. Read my other apple blogs, then read this one. iMore always has the best articles on the new sh!t. Thanks!
  • We tend to compare something new to what is already out there. I do this also. It gives you some sort of reference, or guide. I think iPad Pro crosses my mind looking at the MacBook. We complain about the new connector, and lack of connections. I do not want a bunch of adaptor cables to meet my needs, but the MacBook will not meed my needs. I believe it is geared toward a different customer. If you do not have an iPad, get the MacBook. Now for something else. These "little bumps" in improvement is really getting old. The new MacBook Pro should have been much better. The 2014 MacMini could have been a whole lot better, and the Apple display. Just update it, or do away with it. Notice Thunderbolt display boxes have a picture of Yosemite on them, giving you the impression it is a new updated display. Come on Apple, you have lost the wow. I do not see it in the watch, and the MacPro was 12/19/2013. Only the 13" MacBook Pro was updated, not the 15" a lot to considered when thinking about upgrading to a new computer.
  • This thing is a pos! Not only is it extremely underpowered, it has a lousy keyboard, screen real estate, and one measly port. Anyone who buys this is the quintessential Apple fanboy. Cook and Ive are laughing all the way to the bank. $1300 is an absolute joke. This reminds me of the first mba. Way overpriced and way underpowered. It was funny reading Mac forums where defenders of it were trying to sell theirs, even at huge losses, but no one was buying. Jony Ive's almost metaphysical descriptions of his "creations" really gets old. People, start demanding more from Apple. Sent from the iMore App
  • It does remind me of the original MBA... And we all know how that ended up going. Sent from the iMore App
  • So you've tried the keyboard then? Sent from the iMore App
  • This was so wrong. Apple watch that are not different from android wear and a notebook that one is going to want (seriously 256 or 512Gb of storage means external hard drive). And did i mention that they bumped up prices ? Even iPhone 6 that is already out. In europe it is now about 100 euros more. Just like that so for the price of 64Gb now you get 16. I am sorry but Apple is going down. I am more that happy with my macbook air. 2 years old and still rocking!!! But after that unjustified increase in price... i will consider it
  • I think it's going to be a huge hit. It's basically an expensive chrome book. It's a shame they used the MacBook moniker as that brand was synonymous for education computers and this MacBook clearly does not have education in mind
  • Jeez dude. What is it with you and gold?
  • Wait so maybe I misunderstood the new lineup of notebooks. This isn't replacing the Air or Pro models, right? There's three models to choose from now: Macbook Air, Macbook, and Macbook Pro. Is this correct?
  • I was confused as well...
  • That is correct. What's more, there's still a 2012 MacBook Pro model that has a hard disk, SuperDrive and upgradeable RAM.
  • thanks!
  • I don't rush out to buy the latest and greatest while it's fresh-off-the-vine. I can't afford to and even if I could, I still don't believe that I would. I feel this is a true taste of things to come. I wouldn't be surprised to see something similar happen to the 21" iMac line, but that may very well just be me.
    "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." Perfectly said.
  • "Can it check e-mail? Check. Surf the web? Check. Help with homework or the occasional work project? Surely." Is this really a buying argument for a $1300 computer? Aren't those arguments for getting a tablet these days?
  • Tablets don't suit everyone. Especially people who like to type and feel a real keyboard.
  • That same argument justifies Chromebooks with more connectivity, and much much cheaper. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • +1 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I actually agree, I'm not so fond of screen keyboards either, but for this price you can get an iPad Air 2 128gb with 4G LTE, a great bluetooth keyboard/case, and still have money for an Apple Watch. The lack of 4G LTE on such a minimalist device, designed to be connected to the cloud at all times, is baffling.
  • Except the new MacBook has 256 GB of storage, a 12- inch Retina Display, a keyboard, and runs OS X (and all the associated pro software). iPad has none of those.
  • But it won't run any of that pro software well. That's also the point. Like would you really try and use Final cut Pro on this thing? That's pro software. Logic? Pro software. Unless you're here ranking about Pages or Keynote. That's not pro software. And the ipad does those perfectly well. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • I think we have seen this before (First iphone) Too expensive, Not practical(No 3G, 8GB storage) Sensible folks(Like me ;) ) bought the second one iphone 3G. This is another Pixel(Chromebook)...Proof of concept. We all want one...But darn, the 2012 airs we currently have do everything this one will. This is about a status symbol, plain and simple...I just want that screen and 2lb weight!
  • Excellent article, had a confusion about in what category the new macbook fits... I would definitely buy it, i just stream videos to apple tv, surf web, email, etc... a "power user" should buy a mac pro and stop bitching...
  • Probably a dumb question, but I do a lot of presentations - will I be able to plug this thing into the wall and a projector at the same time? If not, then I'll stick with the air.
  • You will need a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, currently running at $79, but yes, you can do that.
  • I know the vast majority of people hating on this are those who don't understand it's place. The only thing I question is the price point and where it leaves the Macbook Air line in the future. That is another argument for another day. I will be the first to say: It is and amazing piece of architecture! But, it's not for me. I don't know if I consider myself a "power user" because I don't write code or do any serious photo/video editing. But, I do keep multiple apps running including iMessage, Tweetbot, Airmail, Parallels with Windows 7 (2GB of dedicated RAM), Safari with 5-10 tabs, iTunes, Pages, and multiple PDF documents all at one time spread across multiple desktops and at least one external monitor. I also stay connected to an external hard drive and a USB keyboard. I use a 13" rMBP i5 and 8GB of RAM and it is just right. I've tried working a day with my wife 13" MBA i5 and 8GB of RAM and it feels strained. It just runs a little slower and the fan kicks on a good bit. The rMBP is for me. The new MacBook is not. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate what Apple has done with it.
  • Anyone else think this should be a 4g lte laptop ? Since its as close to the ipad air as possible, why not? Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple clearly wants you to use your iPhone for 4g LTE connection, and set up a personal access point from there. Clunky as hell if you as me, I agree this Mac should have its own 4G connection.
  • It seems MacBook Air fits this laptop for a name and class of device better than MacBook. Maybe a name change and reclassification for MacBook and MacBook Air needs to happen. Price-wise, it fits with the Macbook class, but everything else fits with the ultrabook MacBook Air class. Beautiful device; just kind of a weird placement.
  • "The new MacBook's clock speed is considerably lower than the MacBook Air [...] 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." One thing comes to mind: what is the Macbook Air for, then? Or did you just write the exact same thing about the Macbook you could have written about the Macbook Air when it came out years ago? As far as Im concerned, this device at this price point is a no-go despite being wonderfully designed. I was expecting a Macbook Air with Retina, not an expensive Netbook. Why wouldnt they do that? to protect an upcoming iPad pro?
  • This is a MacBook for iPad users who have never had a Mac. Everything about it says "entry level" and I doubt anyone who visits iMore will be the consumer for whom it was built. It's an iPad dressed as a Mac.
  • My iPad 3 will die eventually, I've been wondering whether to replace it or not when the time comes. The new MacBook adds another alternative to the mix. I don't expect to have to decide any time soon.
  • I have a hard time getting my arms around the marketing logic of this thing. Until now, you had the MBP for people who needed MOAR POWER in a portable computer (and didn't mind the weight that came with that), and the MBA for people who needed the lightest, thinnest laptop available. Where does the new MacBook fit into this scheme? Is it meant to be even lighter and thinner (and less capable) than the MBA? If so, its naming is a bit odd.