Apple Portable Computing; What’s Coming In 2013? -The ‘Book Mystique

In last-week’s penultimate year-end wrapup ‘Book Mystique column, I reviewed the impressive array of developments during what has been a particularly fertile year for innovation in Apple portable computing, especially in the hardware context, what with three new iPad new model releases — two of them with Retina displays plus an all-new iPad mini, the introduction of a new MacBook Pro with Retina display lineup. adoption of Intel Ivy Bridge Core i processors across the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines, and new, more powerful A5X system-on-chip (SoC) processors for the 4th-generation full-sized iPad.

Apple’s MacBooks and iPads continued to be the best-selling products worldwide in their respective market categories, bucking an industry slump in laptop sales, and the non-Retina 13″ MacBook Pro,remained the best-selling Mac system overall. One departure from the scene was the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which Apple evidently deemed redundant with the release of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with its ultra high resolution Retina display, but I expect that the big 17-incher with its full array of connectivity ports, optical drive, and hardware upgradability will be missed by graphics and video professional power users especially.

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So looking ahead to 2013, it will be interesting to see how the MacBook Pro Retina revolution plays out. I expect that we will be saying goodbye to the now classic late 2008 unibody form factor 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, probably by mid-year at the latest, with the 13-inch MacBook Air catching the baton as Apple’s volume production consumer 13-inch model, as it did becoming Apple’s education market offering after the white polycarbonate enclosure MacBook was discontinued last year — the base 13-inch Air’s price having been dropped to parity with the smallest MacBook Pro’s last June being a hint.

It remains to be seen how receptive production-oriented power-user MacBook fans will be to learning to live with typically much less capacious SSD on-board storage, hard-soldered non-upgradable RAM, more limited I/O connectivity, no internal optical drives, and being chivvied by Apple to turn to the Cloud to take up the slack.

Turning to the iPad for a moment, the Japanese Apple-watching blogsite of Macotakara is reporting this week that they expect both a new, more compact, fifth-generation full-sized iPad and second-generation iPad mini with a Retina display of 2048 x 1536 (326ppi) resolution and a much more powerful A6X SoC to debut sometime in March, which has been the traditional release slot for new iPad models in what has been of course thus far been a very short tradition. The report says the Retina iPad mini is likely to enter trial production at the end of December.

If those rumors prove accurate, we could reasonably anticipate another round of iPad revisions in the fall.

Shifting our focus back to laptops, a word to the wise; if the more flexible and versatile old-school MacBook motif appeals to you, it’s probably time to pick up a unibody 13-inch or 15-inch MacBook Pro while they’re still available. It’s highly unlikely that the late 2008 form factor MacBooks will be upgraded to Intel’s next-generation Haswell family of Core i CPUs, which are expected to become available in 2013, and which we are likely to see in both the MacBook Air and the Retina display MacBook Pros.

Reportedly, Intel’s primary focus with Haswell will not be so much speed advances over the current Ivy Bridge Core processors, but in improved power management with enhanced thermal efficiency and lower power consumption, refinement of L2 and L3 cache performance, improvements in the CPU’s ability to handle multiple instructions simultaneously, and the ability to run two simultaneous floating-point operation

One of Haswell’s marquee new power management features will reportedly be “Active Idle,” whereby most of the CPU’s capacity shuts down, even for short periods of time like pauses in typing, but leaving a small percentage of the video output controller active to refresh the computer’s display and the full system primed to wake up in milliseconds on demand. Another power management tweak is lower power consumption with the CPU full deep sleep mode.

As for graphics, one of the more exciting bits of scuttlebutt is that Haswell will have a significantly more powerful integrated graphics processor (IGPU) unit that it’s speculated could allow Apple to offer a MacBook Pro with Retina display sans a tandem discrete GPU while still supporting the Retina screen’s processing demand. Reports indicate that Haswell’s IGPU will also support OpenGL 4.0 OpenCL 1.2, scaled-up graphics pipeline efficiency and more.

Macworld has a thorough profile of what we can expect from Haswell here:

The current MacBook Air form factor dates back to October, 2010, and is getting a bit long in the tooth. While I wouldn’t want to predict that there will definitely be a redesigned Air in 2013, it won’t be a big shock if there is. Which begs the question of what Apple might do with the Air, besides a Haswell speed bump — for example to differentiate it more from the Retina MacBook Pro models.

One conceivable avenue of new innovation would be to add touchscreen support, which, with Windows 8’s strong touchscreen orientation, is going to become more widely available on PC Ultrabooks. Full touchscreen integration on MacBooks would require some tweaking of OS X, and inevitably greater convergence of OS X with Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

That said, Apple’s decision to go with distinctly different mobile and desktop operating systems, a policy that was reaffirmed by CEO Tim Cook in a media interview last fall, is being vindicated by the lukewarm reception Microsoft’s Windows 8, with it’s confusing multiplicity of sub-versions is receiving from consumers and enterprise clients.

It’s implicit that there will be version upgrades of both OS X and the iOS in 2013. OS X is already so good that changes will likely be more in the vein of the aforementioned touchscreen support and other tweaking rather than major new features , although Apple could of course surprise me.

The iOS in the other hand has plenty of room for improvement. How many of its shortcomings Apple will choose to address remains to be seen, since some of them are attributable to policy and philosophical decisions rather than technical development limitations. The latter include the standard laundry list of complaints from production oriented and power users, like the lack of multitasking, no way to display more than one document or application window at a time, no user access to the file system, clunky and cumbersome text selection/cut/copy/paste, no standard USB connectivity or mouse driver support, and so forth. The odds of Apple addressing those issues are not great, although I keep hoping that they will surprise me. Another issue that may actually get attention is multi-user support, which Android and Windows Mobile/RT have and the iOS doesn’t.

It looks like another interesting year shaping up for Apple portable enthusiasts. I don’t think we will see the amount of hardware innovation in 2013 that we did in 2012, but something like a new MacBook Air might make that an excessively cautious surmise.

Happy New Year to all and see you here in 2013!

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