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Hopes and Dreams for the Next Mac

In 2015, the sole major improvement (or at least change) on the Mac platform was the introduction of a slimmer, lighter MacBook. But the MacBook wasn’t for everyone. For road warriors who didn’t need a lot of power, and could survive without having to hook up a bunch of extra stuff, it made perfect sense.

At first, the tech media, in large part, dismissed the product as an overpriced indulgence, since it only had a headphone port and a USB-C port that doubled as a charging connector. To get multiple functions, and still keep the charging cable connected, you needed an adapter. What about all that stuff you travel with?

Well, for many people, none of that’s necessary. Although the MacBook’s Core-M processor offers lower power than any other Mac — even the iPad Pro benchmarks better — it’s quite enough for what most people do when on the road. Well, if you’re not handling 3D rendering, mathematics or high-energy games. So it has more potential than you might think when you look at the tradeoffs.

For 2016, there will be no doubt be a refresh, to take advantage of a new, faster generation of Core-M processors that also promise speedier graphics. Both would be useful improvements. Maybe Apple will find a way to drop the starting price to $1,199. Cutting the price of note-books is not uncharted territory for Apple.

But what about the rest of the Mac lineup?

Well, the 27-inch iMac is probably going to stay as it is for a while, having had a decent upgrade last year. But there is just one 21.5-inch model with a 4K Retina display. Most of the rest of the line, except perhaps for the entry-level model, will probably be similarly outfitted by the end of the year, at least that’s what I expect. I don’t foresee any changes in the form factor, but it would be nice to be able to upgrade RAM on the smaller iMac. It’s not that it would change the design all that much to give customers something they used to have.

But most Macs sold these days are note-books, and the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro have existed with the same form factor for several years, even though the internal components have been regularly upgraded. So is it time for Apple to make them thinner and lighter? What about moving the MacBook Air to all Retina displays? Good question! It may still be about the cost of those displays, but being able to provide the $899 model with Retina would be real nice.

Regardless, having a fairly low-cost Mac note-book out there, even if it lacks a few features, is actually an important achievement for Apple. The price is still higher than many PC note-books, but it keeps Apple in the ballpark. So I don’t see this model disappearing, any more than I see Apple discontinuing the $1,099 21.5-inch iMac. It may be underpowered, an underachiever, but it is still good enough to put iMacs in the hands of people on a more restricted budget, and some of these potential customers may not even be all that concerned about what they are giving up.

Back to note-books: With Apple’s penchant for thin, thin, and thinner, it is quite possible there will be all-new MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. The MacBook has been touted as the forerunner of a future generation of MacBook Airs, though the price is a little higher than one might have expected for an entry-level note-book. But the adoption of USB-C on at least some Macs, perhaps integrated with the new Thunderbolt 3, which uses the same connector, is a near certainty to my way of thinking.

I hold out little hope that Apple will consider making it possible to upgrade RAM and storage on these new computers, however. It may be that there aren’t enough people out there to sway Apple to move in this direction. I don’t assume the needs of the so-called power user are getting much weight.

I’m not going to push the envelope to suggest there will be any new models out there.

I suppose it’s likely that the Mac mini will get a simple component upgrade, but not much else will change. The fate of the Mac Pro is a little cloudier. Apple made a huge splash of breaking the mold for its high-end workstation in 2013. The first units shipped by the end of that year, but Intel has updated its Xeon processors since then, and all we’ve heard from Apple are crickets. So is this model going to fade away out of disinterest? It’s hard to know since Apple has not exactly been forthcoming about actual sales for individual Macs. But this is a showpiece, so I would expect some sort of upgrade.

That is, unless Apple decides that it needs a Mac workstation that restores some of its former level of internal expansion. The current Mac Pro has been polarizing, but there may not be enough demand for a wholesale revision, or even an alternative. But the original is probably not going away.

And what about a new line of 4K and 5K displays? It’s about time, but there have been issues of connectors and ports that have, up till now, made it difficult. But I don’t think Apple expects Mac Pro users to continue to go elsewhere when they need high resolution displays.