A day before the event happened, there was growing speculation of a minor refresh for the MacBook Air. The chatter centered on a very modest processor upgrade, using the very same Haswell chip family that powered the 2013 versions. And, on Tuesday morning, it happened. It was a sort of 100/100 deal, with processor speeds boosted by 100MHz, and the price reduced by $100. Oh yes, iTunes movie playback time was extended due to some power efficiency magic of some sort. The rest of the product specs appear to be unchanged.
The benchmarks will, at best, yield a very modest performance boost. But shaving $100 off the purchase price is the most significant announcement of all, since it puts the MacBook Air into a more affordable place compared to Windows UltraBooks. Indeed, Apple is making a big deal of the modest price cut. No doubt their efficiency in buying components for the new boxes will keep profits high.
But what about the rest of the Mac lineup for this year? Just what sort of changes or improvements might we expect?
Well, with the Mac Pro backordered, one hardly expects much of a 2014 model update unless Intel gets some really spiffy new Xeon processors out over the next few months. Even then, it would be a simple refresh. But maybe costs of the speediest SSDs will come down enough for Apple to offer 512GB as a minimum. Presenting 256GB on a high-end workstation sounds insulting, even 512GB is too small, and it does appear these drives are getting cheaper, at least when you check out third-party solutions.
Overall, however, I’m not expecting much if anything to change with the Mac Pro. The 2013 version, which shipped so late it barely qualified for that label, was so very different from previous Mac Pros, or any PC for that matter, that it’s not something that would be overhauled very much for a few years.
The other Mac form factors seem equally certain to look pretty much the same, although the raw components will no doubt be updated as new and better parts are available.
As to existing models, time is short for the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro, since it’s only $100 cheaper than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. But there is that 500GB traditional hard drive and the optical drive on the former. Customers may buy it for that reason alone, not caring so much about the joys of a Retina display. Besides, the 128GB SSD on the Retina display model is downright paltry. Again, I think Apple can afford to make 256GB the minimum without seriously hurting profits. They know how to make deals for great parts prices.
There is, of course, the Mac mini, which didn’t get much love in 2013, and still exists in 2012 form. It’s still a pretty desirable box, perfect for general use. Indeed, I know people who have traded down from larger Macs because the mini was good enough. But why didn’t it get the Haswell chip? Well, the biggest advantage is of the new processor is lower power usage, and better integrated graphics. The former, though, doesn’t mean a thing for a computer that’s always connected to the wall outlet.
Maybe there will be a mini refresh when the Broadwell chips are ready. But I don’t see a new form factor in the near future, since the question would be: Why? Yet there is one set of rumors suggesting Apple might dump this model for a cheaper iMac. But that hardly makes sense, since they don’t always fit the same usage patterns so far as I can see.
There are also occasional rumors about a possible MacBook Air with Retina display. I think there will be one, but possibly, at the start, as a separate premium-priced model. I don’t know that Apple is capable of getting a Retina display priced low enough to offer one for the same price as the standard resolution version, but this is Apple, and that development would be significant for the cheapest Mac note-book.
I think that should cover it, except for yet another set of rumors about the alleged convertible Mac, or a so-called iPad Pro that may or may not be able to also run OS X. Of course the latter doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Besides, convertible note-books have gone virtually nowhere in PC-land, and the computer makers are reportedly cutting back on buying those PC-based touchscreens. That hardly augers well for the form factor, and it’s not one that Apple has ever considered.
Besides, is there even any genuine consumer demand for a note-book computer that can double as a tablet, with a touchscreen? The fact of the matter is that this is the singular approach PC makers took for tablets for years before the iPad arrived. “The year of the tablet” never came, but somehow, in the twilight of the PC era, some companies still believe that the success of tablets means they can trot out old form factors and give it another go. Maybe Ford should next consider reviving the Edsel. It would make just as much sense, don’t you think?
It doesn’t mean Apple has run out of surprises for Mac hardware, but you have to be realistic about where it fits in Apple’s mobile-based ecosystem, and be pleased the computers and the OS are still getting regular updates.