I’ve just tied the knot on my first year as an iPad user. When I bought my iPad 2 in June, 2011, after waiting several weeks for stock to arrive at my local Apple reseller, My hope was that the iPad purchase would extend the tenure of my late 2008 2.0 GHz aluminum unibody MacBook beyond my penciled-in provisional target of three years as my main production computer.
Well, as it’s turned out, I’m indeed well into my fourth year with the now middle-aged MacBook, and still have no near-term plans to replace it, which is at least partly attributable to having the iPad, but not quite the way I had imagined. Which was that the iPad might serve as a sort of more portable, more laid back surrogate for the MacBook that would still be able to perform most of the tasks I require of a production tool. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that was not to be.
That was a major disappointment, which caused my early days assessment of the iPad to be a fairly negative one. The things I miss most, in no particular order, are real multitasking, pointing device based text selection/manipulation precision and reliability, document level access to the file system, and easy hard-wired input/output connectivity (ie: no standard USB port and/or media card slot). Those shortcomings defeat the iPad’s potential as a satisfactory production platform in my estimation.
However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t found the iPad useful. It gets a lot of use, and has without doubt cut down significantly the number of hours I spend on the MacBook every day. Indeed, so much so that the laptop’s third anniversary in service, which would previously have been a noteworthy date reminding me that it was getting to be time to start seriously thinking about a system upgrade. As it stands, I’m still in no hurry more than three months on, although three factors are lining up that may force the issue by year-end, if not before.
The first is that the little 160 GB hard drive is not far off being full in practical terms. The second is that I am finding lately that the four gigabytes of RAM that I have is not enough, with the FreeMemory monitor app frequently indicating that my free memory reserve has dropped into double or even single digit territory. The third is OS X 10.7 Lion, which I have up to now successfully resisted installing on the MacBook, but am recently noticing that I’m shut out of an increasing retinue of software for which Lion is the minimum requirement, and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is about to be released, which will inevitably result in support for OS 10.6 Snow Leopard diminishing more rapidly. It’s not a biggie for my production suite of software yet, but it blocks me from testing some apps for reviews.
Now, none of the three is a total deal-breaker as far as the MacBook is concerned. It still seems to be in fine fettle, having never missed a beat since I bought it in March, 2009. I could install a larger capacity hard drive or even a SSD, bump the RAM up to 6 GB or even 8 GB, and install either Lion or Mountain Lion. However, I’ve always been of the conviction that in most instances spending serious money upgrading a three or four year old computer, especially one with a lot of hours on it, isn’t really a cost-effective strategy, and one is generally better-advised to put the upgrade cash toward purchasing a new, or preferably Apple Certified Refurbished machine, the latter which I’ve had excellent experiences with – including my current MacBook and the G4 PowerBook that preceded it as my anchor Mac.
The MacBook is powered by a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU with an Nvidia GeForce 9400m graphics processor, both of which just made it under the wire (it is presumed) for OS X Mountain Lion support, but that will almost certainly be the end of the road for OS support on this machine. And frankly, while the C2D and 9400m silicon have proved satisfyingly lively for the past three-plus years, the old MacBook is beginning to feel distinctly like it’s breathing hard sometimes in recent months. It will still make a superb utility laptop for a good long time yet, but it’s time to think seriously about moving on for a number one Mac.
The problem is that deducing the right move is more complicated than it used to be, especially with tablets having entered the equation. Emergence of Apple’s tablet in many ways improves the computing experience. Instant wake-up, being able to work or play comfortably almost anywhere, and the iPad’s general liveliness have proved addictive. But it certainly hasn’t simplified things, at least for those of us who do serious work on computers. And I remain to be convinced that it’s made things cheaper.
Presuming that I will continue to want to have both tablet and laptop, choreographing updates of both types of computer rather than just one promises to adds another layer of complexity as well as expense, and what I don’t want to get stuck with is having to upgrade both systems at the same time or in close succession. I figure I lucked out a bit in that the third-generation iPad didn’t induce upgrade pangs for me, as I’m a bit of a Retina display curmudgeon, and would probably opt for the holdover $399 16 GB iPad 2 rather than a new iPad were I starting from scratch today.
Speaking of which, I’m doing pretty well with the 16 GB capacity on my year old iPad 2, confirming that I chose correctly when I went with the 16 GB unit, being as I still have nearly 10 GB free after 12 months use. Of course, I don’t have a large music collection and I’m not much for watching feature films and T.V. shows on a 9.7-inch screen, so your mileage may and probably will vary.
Anyway, I’m not in the slightest tempted to think of upgrading to a new iPad until at least the next revision debuts next March or so which may help make a laptop upgrade look sensible for later this year. The operative conundrum is of course which one? In many respects I’m inclined to go for the latest iteration of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which got a nice refreshment at the WWDC with Intel Ivy Bridge processors and the HD graphics 4000 IGPU, plus USB 3 support and a few other tweaks. Another attractive option would be an ACR mid-2011 an Sandy Bridge 13-inch MacBook Pro which is a pretty decent performer that can also still boot into OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, thereby still providing Rosetta support for legacy PowerPC applications, and support for my Apple USB dial-up modem, which the new Ivy Bridge 13-incher doesn’t.
If the latest 13-inch Pro had received a panel resolution upgrade from the WXGA 1280 x 800 that dates back to the original polycarbonate MacBook of May, 2006, that model selling for $1199 with 4 GB of upgradable RAM and a cavernous 500 GB hard drive would be a near no-brainer in terms of practical value. Not very adventurous for me because it’s a near dead-ringer for the MacBook I’ve been using for more than three years, but that machine’s rock solid and trouble-free performance is strong commendation, I still like the form factor and styling, and the modest screen resolution is in many respects better for a bifocals wearer like me than something higher-res. There’s good reason why the 13-inch Pro has been Apple’s best-selling laptop model by a wide margin, accounting for some 46 percent of portable model sales in Apple’s last fiscal quarter.
The refreshed old-school unibody 15-inch MacBook Pro is also very appealing, especially as it’s likely the ultimate iteration of the original unibody MacBook Pro design now that the 17-inch model has been terminated, and having received what is likely to be its last revision. However, it’s still more expensive than I can really justify, especially with tablets now in the mix.
The MacBook Air is seductive of course, especially with the WWDC Ivy Bridge/HD Graphics 4000 speed bump, upgrade to 4 GB standard RAM (now upgradable to 8 GB at time of manufacture) and price cuts on all but the entry-level 11-incher, but SSD capacity greater than 128 GB remans dauntingly expensive, and as noted I’m already getting crowded out of a 160GB HDD on the MacBook. I’m not a convinced Cloud convert (save for synching work in progress via Dropbox, which I can’t imagine how I ever got along without), and I’m not inclined to entertain the concept of not keeping local archives of all my stuff on my primary machine’s drive. I may eventually be persuaded to compromise via a compact external hard drive for archived storage, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Of course, I said the same of living without FireWire support when I bought the MacBook, and I’ve survived.
Perhaps a more problematical sticking point is the MacBook Air’s non upgradable RAM although the new maximum 8GB RAM capacity takes some of the sting out of that. As noted, I’m already slamming up against a 4GB RAM ceiling with the MacBook. However, a RAM upgrade up front at Apple’s sky-high memory prices adds to the comparative cost considerations, and enhances the status of the 13-inch MacBook Pro as the value leader.
A new 13-inch Retina display MacBook Pro is rumored to be coming in the fall, but as fore-noted I’m a Retina resolution iconoclast, and presumably the new 13-inch Pro model will, as iFixIt CEO Kyle Wiens observed regarding the new 15-inch Retina model, “pack everything we hate” (in terms of difficult internal access, non-repairability and non-upgradability) into a beautiful package. Consequently, a new model 13-inch Pro doesn’t enter into my upgrade roadmap deliberations even provisionally.
Interestingly, what does unexpectedly enter into my general hardware upgrade deliberations is Microsoft’s bombshell announcement of its forthcoming Surface tablet PCs, which took me completely by surprise, and seem to address pretty well all of my main iPad criticisms. It’s early days yet of course, but based on what Microsoft has told us so far, it seems possible — even likely — that the Surface could actually be able to function as the more portable, more laid back laptop surrogate capable of production duty that I had initially hoped the iPad would.
We still have to see how well the Surface functions as a tablet, what sort of battery runtime will be achievable, and how much it will cost, but the prospect of a comfortably portable platform supporting a real keyboard that doesn’t involve either lugging around a freestanding Bluetooth ‘board or using a keyboard case, plus a built-in kickstand that obviates the need of a separate tablet stand, has real appeal.
Microsoft does seem to have come up with the most minimum-compromise solution I’m aware of. Combine that with the ability to work with a real desktop OS (even if it is Windows) and real desktop productivity software on a tablet with real x86 CPU power behind it for real multitasking capability and real user access to the document and folder level file system, and it sounds like the Surface may be a better solution for what I would like to be able to do with a tablet but have thus far been thwarted by the iPad’s limitations. From Microsoft, yet. Who knew?
The consumer model Surface is reportedly powered by a quad-core 1.4 GHz Nvidia Tegra 3+ ARM CPU with integrated Nvidia GeForce graphics, and will come in 32 GB and 64 GB flash/SSD storage memory configurations plus a microSD card slot, and (hooray!) also has a full-sized USB 2.0 port. It will run Windows RT, the ARM variant of Windows 8, and prices are projected to be in the neighbourhood of $599 for the 32 GB model and $699 with 64 GB.
The pro model Surface that interests me most will be powered by an Intel Core i5 CPU, come with either 64 GB or 128 GB of flash storage memory, and run the full x86 version of Windows 8 Pro. It will be thicker yet at 0.53″ (13.5 mm) and weighs 1.99 lb. (903 g) which definitely puts it in netbook territory poundage wise, and not that much lighter than an 11-inch MacBook Air (2.38 pounds (1.08 kg), but it gets an even better array of I/O ports, including USB 3 and a Mini DisplayPort, plus a micro SDCX card slot and a 2×2 MIMO antenna.
Another thing; iFixIt CEO Kyle Wiens has noted that based on Surface design drawings Microsoft has published showing standard Torx screws fastening the case, the Surface may be easier to get into than the iPad or Apple’s new Retina MacBook Pro which he’s declared “the least-repairable laptop we’ve taken apart.” Wiens suggests that battery replacement by the user may even be possible.
Way cool. I truly detest Apple’s increasing proclivity for sealed, non-upgradable computing devices, and lack of user-replaceable (let alone easily swappable) batteries is a particular sore point. I’m not an obsessive tinkerer, and I generally adhere to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought. However, if it is broke(n), I what to be able to get inside and at least take a crack at fixing it. Especially if all that’s wrong is a battery at the end of its useful service lifespan. Upgradability of components like RAM and storage drives also can extend the useful life of computers substantially.
Apple will replace your spavined and spent iPad that does not hold an electrical charge with a refurbished iPad battery for $99 plus $6.95 shipping, but not with your iPad but a different, refurbished unit so your data is not preserved.
It is possible for a technically inclined user to buy and install a new iPad battery, but it’s not a fun job, and likely to result in at least cosmetic damage. If, as seems to be the case, Microsoft is facilitating user access to the Surface’s innards and practical battery replacement, that’s just one more factor reeling me in.
I’m thinking that whatever, I’ll need a new Mac, and by mid-fall there should be some mid-2012 MacBook Pros and Airs hitting the Apple Certified Refurbished channel. As for the Surface, I’m disinclined to buy the 1.0 version of anything, so I’m hoping that the iPad 2 will tide me over for some time yet until the pros and cons of a potential tablet platform switch can be better informed and evaluated, although a possible wild card is that my wife is angling for a tablet.