WWDC 2012 – New MacBooks: Apple Blows Up the High End Computer Market…and also does a refresh that everybody ignores.

macbook-pro-retina-xlIt’s that time of year again.WWDC came in a 2012 fury and after two hours of spilling the beans on their new products and software, the internet is in collective shock. There are literally too many updates to talk about. But I’m going to try.

The stars of the show, of course, were the new MacBooks. Apple updated every part of their Macbook line up and even added a couple new ones. And since this is a developer conference, Mountain Lion is in tow to wrap it all up.

While no new hardware was announced on the iOS front, Cupertino did update iOS itself to version 6, including over 200 changes. However, most of the time “changes” to Apple also include the tiny tweaks that you may not notice. Mostly, to me anyway, iOS 6 is more of the same, but we’ll go over that in another post.

F&%$ You PC Market

In a move that’s bound to cause some food choking, roof jumping, or momentary lack of breathing for Windows PC makers, Apple has revolutionized the high end market of laptops. Heck, even revolutionized is too weak of a word. Apple has completely rebuilt their MacBook line-up. First of all, there is no more 17-inch MacBook. I think Apple made the right move here. They didn’t sell them much at all, they weren’t that much different from the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and they cost way more to boot. If you needed power, you got a 15-inch. You needed a basic laptop, you got a 13-inch. Only those with massive amounts of discretionary income and a desire for a desktop replacement (yet stupid enough not to go for an iMac instead for a fraction of the price) would purchase it. However, the most amazing part of this hardware update is what they did to replace it.

However, there are still three main configurations (and three upgrade options) of the MacBook Pro, and they did update the first two. So let’s spend some time on those.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The first two categories are the less amazing updates, and also the most predictable ones. The 13 and 15-inch MacBooks didn’t really change that much. The design is the same, and the hardware is about the same, but Apple did make some minor changes that needed to happen and negelected some things that still annoy me.

Display

Neither of these models got any boost in the display. There is still no option to get a 1920 x 1080 display in the 15-inch MacBook. The 1680 x 1050 matte display is still an egregiously overpriced upgrade. The 13-inch model still has the same 1280 x 800 display that looks disappointing compared to the 1440 x 900 display in the 13-inch MacBook Air.

CPU

Some minor performance boosts were predictable but nice to have. Both 13 and 15-inchers are getting the shiny new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel, although, we’ve already seen that this upgrade isn’t that big of a deal.

Memory

In a move that should have happened a year ago, Apple is finally upgrading the RAM that’s included in it’s MacBooks. Unfortunately the base models of the 13 and 15-inchers still come with 4GB, but now spending the extra $300 includes an upgrade to 8GB RAM in addition to the minor CPU and HDD improvements, so that your $2200 MacBook can finally feel modern.

Hard Drive

The most frustrating upgrade that didn’t happen was the hard drive. While it was nice when Apple upgraded their models to include 500GB and 750GB hard drives from 320GB and 500GB, last year, the fact that the most premium laptops on the planet include 5400 RPM hard drives is simply rediculous. 7200 RPM hard drives are a lotfaster than 5400 RPM hard drives, and they don’t cost much more. I know that they probably have some crazy contract with Hitachi, but you would think that they could flex their word dominating muscles and squeeze in some 7200 RPM drives or (gods forbid) maybe Hybrid Hard drives now that Seagate owns Hitachi.

GPU

The 13-incher obvious get’s an upgrade, but just from Intel 3000 to 4000 graphics, and the benefits are debatable, but there’s not much to report here.

The 15-incher, on the other hand, surprisingly goes back to nVidia for it’s graphics, this time around. While Apple’s switch to AMD, last round, shocked some folks, it was apparently a temporary switch. The brand spankin’ new GeForce 650M will be powering the new 15-inch MacBook Pros in either 512MB or 1GB configurations. The change will be welcome, I’m sure, because while the AMD graphics of the last generation (and it’s minor update) were much improved from the anemic GeForce 330M that proceeded it, nVidia has been severely tromping AMD in the mobile graphics segment for the last few years.

Ports

Normally I wouldn’t care so much about this category, but the fact that the new MacBooks now finally support USB 3.0 surprised me at first, but I’m not sure why. Ivy Bridge natively supports USB 3.0, where Sandy Bridge did not, and thus why Macs only now have it onboard. Sandy Bridge notebooks have been coming with USB 3.0 for quite a while, now, but typically it required third-party controllers, which Apple probably didn’t want to deal with (not to mention, these controllers would take more motherboard space, which Apple has precious little of).

So to conclude: your new 13 and 15-inch MacBooks are more of the same. They upgraded some things, didn’t upgrade other things, and generally these updates feel like a refresh. However, the elephant in the room is the new MacBook Pros with Retina Displays. While the name seems to say it all, there’s a lot more to these laptops than meet the eye.

Officially the Best Laptops on the Face of the Planet

No, this isn’t hyperbole. These laptops are literally perfect. Hey, if you don’t like MacOS X (and I’m sympathetic, believe me) put Windows on it. You won’t find a laptop that’s anywhere near as awesome as these babies. I guarantee you that PC makers will be trying to emulate this machine for years, and it will be the one to beat. So let’s dive in.

Oh, There’s the New MacBooks!

It’s clear that Apple put their main design effort on these machines, as they are clearly the future of Apple’s laptop efforts. They have a redesigned version of the normal 15-inch MacBook Pro shell that is thinner, adds more ports, and removes the CD/DVD drive.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh noes, no CD/DVD drive?” and I say get over it. I haven’t used an ODD in a laptop in years, and I honestly haven’t really needed to. On my Alienware M11x, I have Daemon Tools and a folder full of ripped ISOs, but honestly, I never really touch them. Most of my games either don’t require the disc to play or are on Steam. If I need to install something, I only need to install it once, which is why I have an external drive at home. Nobody seems to use discs anymore. You can easily e-mail/cloud share/store on a flash drive whatever you want, and it’s actually easier than a disc.

It also makes sense considering that Apple wants to push iCloud, iTunes, and the Mac App store. You may or may not use these things, but Apple will assume that you will.

Retina Display

Obviously the biggest feature of these models are their 15-inch displays. I would love to get my eyes on one of these, because a retina display in a laptop is way more useful than a retina display in an iPhone or iPad. Pixels don’t matter that much when all you have is one thing on the screen.

The new display is a 15.4 inch LED IPS display with a staggering 2880 x 1800 resolution. If you’re keeping count at home, that is exactly two times the pixels of the standard 15-inch model. Unlike the iPad, almost every program on a computer will take advantage of this resolution immediately, if anything, because it means more screen real estate, however, Apple is also promising that all the native apps and it’s own higher end apps (Aperature, Final Cut Pro, etc.) will take advantage of the resolution in full screen mode (presumably by being able to render that many pixels accurately). Programs that require you to select a full screen resolution (the only example I can think of is games) will either not support the full resolution or will have to be updated, however, they still should support 1920 x 1080, which would  be the next logical step down. On that note, Diablo III apparently has been updated to support the full resolution.

It’s kind of funny that the first MacBook to support 1920 x 1080 has a screen who’s native resolution is 2880 x 1800. Overkill?

The Real 15-inch Pro You Actually Want

Under the hood is pretty much the perfect laptop build. Literally, it’s amazing and it blew me away.

CPU

Of course you get the latest and greatest from Intel, the Ivy Bridge i7 processors (2.3/3.3 GHz and 2.6/3.6 GHz if you want specs).

Memory

Also coming standard is the above mentioned 8GB of RAM

Storage

The most well praised (and a bit ironic) move was to make SSDs standard. Yes, your base level 15-inch MB RD will come with 256GB of Flash Storage, with 512GB offered on the upgraded model. It’s about time somebody other than ultrabook makers did that. Flash storage is the best thing since sliced silicon in the computer world, and finally prices have come down enough for Apple to fully embrace it. Though their standard Pros still come with 5400 RPM drives *facepalm*

GPU

Well this should be obvious. Apple put in the same exact GPU as the 15-inch Pros, except that 1GB GDDR5 is standard instead of the upgrade.

Ports

In another surprising move, Apple included 2 Thunderbolt connectors in addition to the 2 USB 3.0 ports. They even threw in an HDMI port as consolation for the loss of the CD/DVD drive. Yes, you can now sell off your Moshi mini DP to HDMI adapters.

However, in a bit of a frustrating move, Apple decided to kill off the Firewire 800 port in this model. Unforunately, this is still a widely used port for various high end production tasks, and I don’t quite believe that Apple couldn’t fit it on there since they removed the CD/DVD drive. Consequently, Apple would, of course, love to sell you a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter, should you need the apparently outdated port.

So, despite the loss of the FireWire port, which, I suppose is remedied by an adapter, this is the perfect laptop. It’s got power, it’s got design, it’s got the most amazing laptop screen on the planet, it’s got great graphics, and it’s even got a fairly large SSD.

And while it’s premium $2100 starting price is out of many people’s price range, I feel like it’s a bit of a bargain. This laptop feels like a concept laptop that should cost a lot more, and the question I ask myself is why would anyone pass this guy over for the upgraded 15-inch? Slower but bigger storage? CD/DVD drive? I don’t know.

Apple Has Done it Again

It’s been clear that for the last few years of his life, iOS was Steve Job’s baby. But it’s also sad that he really ignored the laptops and desktops that started the company. iOS has become their bread and butter, and it is the onlyreason why Apple is now the most important tech company in the world. iOS sold MacBooks. Steve was smart to focus on it. But for many of us, iOS represents Apple’s turn to gimmicktry and toys. iPads are great, but they are really just addictive digital distractions that remove us from the world, and thus why they sell so well. A laptop, though is powerful enough to be more than a distraction, but it’s also not mobile enough to be everywhere with you. To me it’s the perfect balance of utility, entertain, but also restraint.

So it makes me happy to see Apple finally focusing on innovating laptops. To be fair, Apple didn’t need to. Windows OEMs are still way behind Apple in building the kind of machine that Apple cracks out every day. Apple’s older MacBooks weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they were the best that you could get.

Now the best that you could get just got better. But instead of being fine with that, they also redefined the high end laptop.

So I expect PC OEMs to try to compete with Apple in this regard. I expect the next HP Envy to come with a “retina display” that can’t render red, standard SSDs, and a sub-standard Clickpad. I expect the next Dell XPS to combine a great 1080p display with SSDs, marginal graphics and a metal finish that still feels like plastic. I expect the next ASUS machines to try to impress you Hybrid Drives, Ivy Bridge, great battery life, and yet have no graphics and to be covered in plastic and rubber. I expect Acer to build machines that have faux metal cases Ivy Bridge, great graphics, standard SSDs and yet have no battery life, fall apart within 2 years, and continue to use the most gawd awful keyboard known to man. I expect this because this is what they do. And Apple doesn’t even care about Macs anymore.

Please prove me wrong.

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