I remember when I started using Apple’s first iPad in 2010; I realized that this was the future of computing. It was a small, thin, (relatively) light device that allowed me to perform many of the tasks that I performed. No more mouse or trackpad, and no more keyboard; the keyboard was on the display itself, but only when I needed it. I could use it anywhere, in any position, even lying down in bed. But could a tablet replace a laptop?
When you’re on the road, you need to bring one or several computing devices with you. Your smartphone may not be sufficient for the work you need to accomplish, so you probably also bring a laptop on your journeys. But, with the power and flexibility of today’s tablets, do you really need a laptop? Can you do all or most of the work you need with a tablet? In this article, we look at the pros and cons of replacing a laptop with a tablet.
Apple has a problem with batteries. In fact, the problem is so serious that the company had to make a radical decision in the latest update of macOS: they removed the battery time indicator. This appeared when you clicked the Battery menu extra in your menu bar, and it displayed an estimate of how much battery time was remaining on your laptop. Apple claimed this was removed because it was inaccurate; yet that indicator had been present on OS X for as long as I remember.
What suddenly made it inaccurate? The fact that many users are seeing far less than the 10 hours of battery life that Apple advertises with the new MacBook Pro? It wasn’t just Consumer Reports that saw this problem; lots of users and reviewers have seen it as well.
I tend to think that an inaccurate (but constantly updating) estimate is better than none. Otherwise, people will have to make their own estimates, which takes attention and is likely to be even less accurate. I never liked how the estimate claimed to be accurate down to the minute.
This is like being late for work and fixing it by breaking your watch.
Here’s the problem: it’s never, ever been accurate. I have a 12″ MacBook, which is, right now, 93% charged, and it says that I have 4:43 remaining. This is for a laptop which, at the time it was sold (it’s about 18 months old), claimed “all day battery life.” I’ve kvetched to AppleCare about this, notably because Time Machine was using a lot of battery power, and I eventually gave up. They were unable to resolve the issue, and kept bouncing it around to different senior advisors. (When they followed up at all; I had to set up three different cases, because the first two senior advisors just dropped the case and never got back to me.)
I don’t actually know how long the battery on this Mac lasts. And I never will. But I know that it is longer than the estimated amount of time. Since I wrote 4:43 above, the estimate has changed to 5:03, and I’m not doing anything on the laptop (I’m writing this article on my iMac).
This, in my opinion, is an example of Apple totally screwing something up. They sell these devices estimating their total battery life in hours, yet they can’t even have a way of showing people a more or less correct amount of time remaining? Removing the battery indicator is like telling someone to put some food in the oven until it’s cooked, rather than saying for how long. (Oh, and the battery indicator on my MacBook now reads 5:33. And it’s not doing anything.)
Want an easy way to find out how much time you have left? Open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities), and type this command, then press return:
pmset -g batt
As you can see, my battery time remaining now estimates at 5:53.
Or use Bjango’s iStat Menus, which is a great way of keeping tabs on your Mac. It has a battery module; here’s what it looks like:
Yep, my MacBook now says 6:03…
Note: Many people are saying that since iOS doesn’t indicate the remaining time, why should a Mac do so? There are very different use cases between the two types of device. In most cases, you don’t use an iOS device continuously (I know, some people do “real” work on an iPad…). As such, the remaining time isn’t much help when you use your phone for a minute here, five minutes there, etc. With a laptop, you are more often working for longer periods of time, so it’s essential to know how much time you can work before you have to charge the device.
If you use a laptop, and your battery dies quickly, check and see if you accidentally left iTunes open on an iTunes Store page, even in the background. Look how much CPU it uses to simply display a front page, and rotate graphics in the carrousel at the top of the page (the display is from iStat Menus):
Lest you think that a lot of the CPU that iTunes is using is to play that Allman Brothers song, here’s what happens if I switch out of the iTunes Store.
Together, iTunes and coreaudiod, which processes audio played by iTunes or other apps, use about 7% of CPU.
So don’t leave iTunes open on an iTunes Store page in the background if you’re using a laptop.
Back in the day, around ten years ago, there was a big deal about “switchers” moving from PCs to Macs. Apple was promoting this, teaching people how they could switch to a Mac, how to copy their files, and how to understand what was different on Mac OS X.
Now, Microsoft is telling MacBook users how to switch to their Surface Book.
It’s true that this is an attractive device, and everything I’ve heard about Windows 10 is very positive. (I don’t have a PC, and haven’t had one in several years; I have no need to run Windows, but I’d be curious to try out Windows 10.) Microsoft has got game, and it’s good to see competition that will make Apple work harder to improve its hardware and software. And it’s interesting to see Microsoft hit back at Apple with an ad campaign that Apple used more than ten years ago.
A long time ago I learned an important lesson about being a product reviewer: Always consider the audience for a product. They’re who you’re writing for. I have a recent-model MacBook Air, so am unlikely to be interested in buying a new MacBook–but the facts of my personal relationship with technology should not really matter when I’m thinking about the bigger picture.
I think about that a lot at times like this, because I suspect a lot of the reaction to the MacBook among people who follow technology and Apple on the Internet comes from a similar place. People are often offended when a product exists that they wouldn’t buy, one that isn’t even targeted at them.
We are so used to Apple making shiny new stuff that we want to buy, that when a device appears whose design decisions are completely at odds with what we value, it’s off-putting. And that’s one reason why the MacBook (and the Apple Watch Edition, for that matter) drive some people batty.
Jason Snell nails it. Not every Apple product is for everyone.
I had the original MacBook Air, back in 2008, with the SSD. (I didn’t buy it; it was a gift from a client.) It was an overpriced computer – even more so with the SSD – but, wow, it was sleek and that SSD made up for any lack of speed the processor offered.
I loved that computer. I used it for about three years, then handed it down; it was still working until about a year ago.
I currently have a 13″ retina MacBook Pro as my second computer. It’s two years old, and it’s time for an upgrade. So the new Mac Book is for me. I don’t care if it’s not blazingly fast; it’ll still be faster than I need for a laptop. I’ve got a retina iMac for the stuff that hits the processor.
I get how some people are still holding on to old habits of using USB sticks to transfer data. Sneakernet’s still a thing, apparently? Not only has Apple tried to make the wireless transfer of files easier via AirDrop (when it works), but these days it’s easier than ever to share files via Dropbox and Google Drive and the like. Most people don’t need to use USB flash drives regularly. Apple shouldn’t build new tech to support people who are reluctant to give up old habits.
I actually often use sneakernet to transfer data to and from the MacBook Pro; or at least I did until recently. I had a two-year old AirPort Extreme, and only got about 3-4 MB/sec. I upgraded to the latest model, and I now get about 15 MB/sec; this is good, but I think we need faster wireless. If I’m copying a movie from my iMac to my laptop, it shouldn’t take ten minutes over wi-fi.
While the Apple Watch introduced on Monday was a new product for Apple, the company also showcased a new laptop, the MacBook (without modifier). This new addition to Apple’s notebook product line is lighter than the MacBook Air (so it should be, perhaps, the MacBook Helium?), and comes with a raft of new features: a new keyboard, extended battery life, a new trackpad and more. The MacBook is also Apple’s first fanless notebook, meaning that the only moving parts are the keyboard and trackpad. This ensures that it is the quietest Mac ever made, and the lack of fan also saves a bit of energy. (To be fair, while the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have fans, you only hear them when using processor-intensive applications.)
But the main difference between this computer and other laptops is its single USB-C port for connecting peripherals. (There is also a standard headphone jack.) As such, this Mac isn’t for everyone. But is it right for you?
I write this article on my MacBook Pro, a 13″ retina model that’s about two years old. It weighs 3.57 lbs, just a tad more than the current retina MacBook Pro, which weighs 3.46 lbs. Compared to the MacBook Air, this is a heavy computer; even the first MacBook Air, which I had back in 2008, weighed 3 lbs, and the current 13″ model is just under that at 2.96 lbs. The new MacBook weighs a mere 2.03 lbs, or less than a liter of water (0.93 kg). The new MacBook still a bit heavier than the first iPad – 1.5 lbs – but it’s truly a featherweight.
So the new MacBook is clearly designed for people who want a light computer to carry around with them. But there has been a resounding chorus of complaints about the lack of ports. These are similar to the gripes that were heard when Apple removed the floppy disc drive or the optical drive from their computers, but Apple is betting on the wireless capabilities of this Mac to provide much of the connectivity that people need.
Most people don’t need two Macs, but I do. In my home office, I have a retina iMac, and the 13″ MacBook Pro. I use the latter as my second Mac: it is insurance in case my main Mac needs repairs, so I can keep working. It is a test Mac, so I can try out software, or even new operating systems, without compromising my main computer. And it’s the computer I use when I want to just write, and not be distracted by everything that is on my iMac’s 27″ display, sitting comfortably in a leather Stressless chair in my office, instead of sitting at my desk.
I rarely need to connect any peripherals to this device. I do sometimes connect a microphone, via USB, to use Dragon Dictate, but I also have Bluetooth microphones that I could use. (The microphone I use, the Plantronics Savi 745 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is by far the best microphone I’ve tested for speech recognition, which is why I prefer it over any Bluetooth headset.) I occasionally connect an external hard drive to my MacBook Pro to copy files, or to clone the operating system. But I run Time Machine backups to a server, over Wi-Fi, so most of my backups are wireless.
I can easily imagine using the new MacBook and not worrying about the single port. I can get an adapter that lets me connect a USB 3 hard drive, or my microphone, when needed.
However, I understand that power users (I hate this term, but there’s nothing better), who only have a single Mac, will find this new MacBook to be lacking. Apple is selling a number of adapters, such as the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, which provides USB-C, USB 3.1 and HDMI connectors. But at $79, this is a pretty expensive dongle. You’ll also be able to buy a $19 USB-C to USB Adapter, which will allow you to connect a legacy USB device. And there will certainly be a number of third-part docking devices with multiple ports, for those who need them.
One thing that’s missing from the new MacBook is Thunderbolt support. None of the adapters that Apple shows so far manage this connector. And display port too; for now, there seems to be no way to connect an external monitor. But, again, this is not a Mac for power users; this is a Mac for people who either use their computers for basic tasks, or as a second Mac.
The MacBook line now contains three models: the MacBook Pro, the power user’s computer; the MacBook Air, a light Mac, with a few ports, but not a retina display; and the new MacBook. I predict that the MacBook Air will fade away before the end of the year, leaving only two devices: one for power users, and one for everyone else.
So, is the MacBook for you? If you see yourself in the above description, either wanting a second Mac, or only using your Mac for limited tasks, then, yes. It’s small, light, has a retina display, and very long battery life. However, if your laptop is on your desk, with several devices connected to it – especially an external display – then, no, it’s not for you.
Rumors are circulating about a potential 12″ MacBook Air, which would replace the two existing models, one with an 11″ display, and the other with a 13″ screen. I love the MacBook Air; I had two over the years, starting with the first model back in 2008. I don’t have one any more, though. Since the MacBook Pro was released with retina displays, I shifted to that model. But my current MacBook Pro is getting on two years old, and I would be very attracted by a retina MacBook Air.
Over the years, Apple has used a variety of materials for its laptops. The first Mac I owned, the PowerBook 100, came in the drab, dark gray plastic that Apple used for several generations of portable computers.
The iBook, which debuted in 1999, came in several types of plastic. The first clamshell models had colors, like the early iMacs, and later iBooks were available in any color you wanted, as long is it was white or black.
But in 2001, Apple shipped the PowerBook G4, with a titanium body. This was the first metal laptop in what would become a long string of models. The titanium body didn’t last long, and was plagued by hinges that broke under normal use. Two years later, Apple shipped aluminum body PowerBook G4s, and the company has stuck with aluminum – or aluminium – ever since.
I would love to see a changed, and the one material that seems to be perfectly adapted to portable computers is carbon fiber. This material is a bit lighter than aluminum, and can be a lot stronger, though it has manufacturing constraints. Aluminum can be extruded and milled, whereas carbon fiber has to be molded, then baked. This process might be too expensive for portable devices.
However, it would certainly look cool. It’s been many years since there were black Apple laptops. With a sleek carbon fiber body, with visible grain, Apple could make black the new black.