The New MacBook May Not Be for Everyone, But it Might Be Right for You

Macbook select spacegray 201501While 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.

34 thoughts on “The New MacBook May Not Be for Everyone, But it Might Be Right for You

  1. It’s not for me. I have a 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro and it works great for me. I prefer having ports without the need for the port splitter and I prefer a 15-inch (17 would be better) screen for work.

  2. It’s not for me. I have a 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro and it works great for me. I prefer having ports without the need for the port splitter and I prefer a 15-inch (17 would be better) screen for work.

  3. I could see my wife being quite happy with this – she doesn’t need ports outside the one USB, and doesn’t mind small displays. Considering I only use my laptop rarely these days, I’d probably be fine with this also.

  4. I could see my wife being quite happy with this – she doesn’t need ports outside the one USB, and doesn’t mind small displays. Considering I only use my laptop rarely these days, I’d probably be fine with this also.

  5. I do NOT blive this is the end of the MacBook air unless Apple is able to decrease the price on the new MacBook with the current price there will still be a space for the air. It is after all faster and cheaper this the MacBook.

  6. I do NOT blive this is the end of the MacBook air unless Apple is able to decrease the price on the new MacBook with the current price there will still be a space for the air. It is after all faster and cheaper this the MacBook.

  7. It is a dilemma, and thanks for presenting the various use cases so clearly, but not sure I agree with your conclusion. I have apple’s old 24″ display with the three headed connector for laptops, meaning I’d need the $79 dongle too. (My other USB peripherals, like speakers and dvd drive, will connect to the USB ports on the display itself. ) Kirk, do you know whether that dongle will work with the display’s triple connector?
    But I still use my MacBook (currently a 13′ Air from 2011) a lot when I’m away from the home office, so for me, the retina display would still be useful, both at home (because my external display would get a little sharper, up to its max resolution), and away (because retina). I don’t want the weight of the Pro, and I do want the sharper screen, so I am thinking that the new MacBook is for me, external display and all.
    The dilemma for me now is: is the retina screen worth $500 premium, when you add in the dongle? My aging eyes say yes, but my wallet isn’t so sure. I think it’ll take a trip to the Apple Store so I can see the screens side by side to know for sure.
    I too expect the Air to go away, probably the 13″ model first (since you can get the Pro in that size) and then the little guy, although they might keep it as an entry level Mac until the iPad gets Mac OS X features like file management and multitasking.

    • You sound like a prime candidate for the MacBook Pro, because of using an external display, and wanting a retina laptop. The advantage to the MacBook is the very light laptop with retina display. It’s a tough choice.

        • Yes, I just checked with Apple, which said “You can connect your Apple Cinema display to the new Macbook with the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter.” So I can have both Retina and light weight — but it’s a $230 premium to do so (new MBP + adapter vs. 2014 refurb MBP). That’s the dilemma. Sigh. I guess I’ll go check ’em out side by side at the apple store and see if the lesser weight (2 lbs. vs. 4.5 lbs) is worth it.

      • Update: Apple Support now says the new MacBook does NOT support my 2008 Apple Cinema Display after all. Since my current MacBook Air is working fine, I may wait awhile to see whether some third parties come up with cables/adapters that will make it work with the ACD’s mini display port, but if not, I’ll get a MacBook Pro, as Kirk suggested in the first place. It’s really a much better value, and even though it too needs an adapter to work with my ACD, it’s a much cheaper one, and my total cost is still almost $200 cheaper — at the expense of more weight. But then I have my iPad mini, which will work for many though not all of my portable needs. Too bad, though; I did check out the new MacBooks at the Apple Store and boy, they’re light and pretty and would be just right for my needs, if only they supported my big external display, which I definitely need for my work.

  8. It is a dilemma, and thanks for presenting the various use cases so clearly, but not sure I agree with your conclusion. I have apple’s old 24″ display with the three headed connector for laptops, meaning I’d need the $79 dongle too. (My other USB peripherals, like speakers and dvd drive, will connect to the USB ports on the display itself. ) Kirk, do you know whether that dongle will work with the display’s triple connector?
    But I still use my MacBook (currently a 13′ Air from 2011) a lot when I’m away from the home office, so for me, the retina display would still be useful, both at home (because my external display would get a little sharper, up to its max resolution), and away (because retina). I don’t want the weight of the Pro, and I do want the sharper screen, so I am thinking that the new MacBook is for me, external display and all.
    The dilemma for me now is: is the retina screen worth $500 premium, when you add in the dongle? My aging eyes say yes, but my wallet isn’t so sure. I think it’ll take a trip to the Apple Store so I can see the screens side by side to know for sure.
    I too expect the Air to go away, probably the 13″ model first (since you can get the Pro in that size) and then the little guy, although they might keep it as an entry level Mac until the iPad gets Mac OS X features like file management and multitasking.

    • You sound like a prime candidate for the MacBook Pro, because of using an external display, and wanting a retina laptop. The advantage to the MacBook is the very light laptop with retina display. It’s a tough choice.

        • Yes, I just checked with Apple, which said “You can connect your Apple Cinema display to the new Macbook with the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter.” So I can have both Retina and light weight — but it’s a $230 premium to do so (new MBP + adapter vs. 2014 refurb MBP). That’s the dilemma. Sigh. I guess I’ll go check ’em out side by side at the apple store and see if the lesser weight (2 lbs. vs. 4.5 lbs) is worth it.

      • Update: Apple Support now says the new MacBook does NOT support my 2008 Apple Cinema Display after all. Since my current MacBook Air is working fine, I may wait awhile to see whether some third parties come up with cables/adapters that will make it work with the ACD’s mini display port, but if not, I’ll get a MacBook Pro, as Kirk suggested in the first place. It’s really a much better value, and even though it too needs an adapter to work with my ACD, it’s a much cheaper one, and my total cost is still almost $200 cheaper — at the expense of more weight. But then I have my iPad mini, which will work for many though not all of my portable needs. Too bad, though; I did check out the new MacBooks at the Apple Store and boy, they’re light and pretty and would be just right for my needs, if only they supported my big external display, which I definitely need for my work.

  9. This is the new volksmac. Apple has tons of user data about how its notebooks are being used and I think finds that most people are using MBAs untethered and that a lighter, more solid machine with Retina display will be preferred by the types of people who’d typically be looking at a Macbook Air.

    This is definitely a first-gen product though, with many pluses as well as compromises: middling speed, inferior keyboard, better trackpad, better monitor, worse Facetime camera, nice color choices, no improvement in battery life, limited RAM/storage choices (and no BTO), and a relatively high price.

    When Apple can get prices starting at $999 and also be able to offer 16Gb RAM and up to 1Tb SSD the MBA line will go away.

    USB Type-C is a fantastic technology, and Apple donated more engineers to the project than any company except Intel (http://bit.ly/1tIm137), so they’re going to really put a lot of weight behind it. I would not be surprised if within three years Apple not only abandons Thunderbolt but also the Lightning connector. It just makes so much sense to use Type-C for everything given its power pass-thru, speed, future speed possibilities, cross-platform support, and lower implementation costs. If it were possible to come up with a USB-to-Headphone/optical-digital-audio-output-minijack then lots of current complaints could be attenuated if Apple just replaced the audio output with a 2nd Type-C port.

  10. This is the new volksmac. Apple has tons of user data about how its notebooks are being used and I think finds that most people are using MBAs untethered and that a lighter, more solid machine with Retina display will be preferred by the types of people who’d typically be looking at a Macbook Air.

    This is definitely a first-gen product though, with many pluses as well as compromises: middling speed, inferior keyboard, better trackpad, better monitor, worse Facetime camera, nice color choices, no improvement in battery life, limited RAM/storage choices (and no BTO), and a relatively high price.

    When Apple can get prices starting at $999 and also be able to offer 16Gb RAM and up to 1Tb SSD the MBA line will go away.

    USB Type-C is a fantastic technology, and Apple donated more engineers to the project than any company except Intel (http://bit.ly/1tIm137), so they’re going to really put a lot of weight behind it. I would not be surprised if within three years Apple not only abandons Thunderbolt but also the Lightning connector. It just makes so much sense to use Type-C for everything given its power pass-thru, speed, future speed possibilities, cross-platform support, and lower implementation costs. If it were possible to come up with a USB-to-Headphone/optical-digital-audio-output-minijack then lots of current complaints could be attenuated if Apple just replaced the audio output with a 2nd Type-C port.

  11. Just for the record, a liter of water weighs exactly 1kg. A cubic cm of water weighs 1g. It’s how the system was designed.

    • You did read what I wrote, right? I said it weighs less than a liter of water; it weighs .93 kg.

      If you want to be supercilious, a kilogram was originally a liter of water at the temperature of melting ice (and at sea level), but the current definition of liter and kilogram are such that they are not exactly the same.

  12. Just for the record, a liter of water weighs exactly 1kg. A cubic cm of water weighs 1g. It’s how the system was designed.

    • You did read what I wrote, right? I said it weighs less than a liter of water; it weighs .93 kg.

      If you want to be supercilious, a kilogram was originally a liter of water at the temperature of melting ice (and at sea level), but the current definition of liter and kilogram are such that they are not exactly the same.

  13. A little late to the party, but I was wondering if Dragon Dictate worked for you on the MacBook? Nuance’s recommended processor specs (“Intel® Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz or faster processor – Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 recommended.”) seem higher than the MBA’s processor, but I figured I’d ask if works for you. Cheers!

  14. A little late to the party, but I was wondering if Dragon Dictate worked for you on the MacBook? Nuance’s recommended processor specs (“Intel® Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz or faster processor – Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 recommended.”) seem higher than the MBA’s processor, but I figured I’d ask if works for you. Cheers!

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