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.