The 13-Inch (non-Retina) MacBook Pro has been Apple’s value leading laptop, and hence the best selling Mac system model, for years, which is of course why Apple has continued to upgrade and sell it over its long and successful production run that began in October, 2008 with the (non-Pro) aluminum unibody MacBook. However indications are that the curtain is poised to drop on the 13-inch Pro, which will end the era of Apple laptops with moving parts internal drives — hard magnetic and optical. Even with its low-res by today’s standards 1280 x 800 display, the old-school 13-inch Pro has remained popular with users with its large capacity 500 GB standard hard drive and do-all on-board connectivity (Thunderbolt, USB 3, FireWire, Ethernet), and by Apple standards low base price of $1,199.00 with 4GB of RAM and Core i5 power, but it looks like Apple is preparing the 13-inch MacBook Air to fill the 13-inch Pro’s big boots as the company’s value leader laptop.
My inference is that the non-Retina MacBook Pro’s future has dimmed considerably with the announcement of the new MacBook Airs this week. There had been rumors that at least the 13-inch MacBook Pro non-Retina would get one last refresh with Intel’s 4th-generation Core i silicon (“Haswell”) and Intel HD 5000 graphics thanks to that model’s continued strong sales. However there was no mention of any MacBook Pro hardware updates in WWDC the keynote Monday, and it looks very much like the 13 inch MacBook air is being groomed to receive the baton passed from the non-Retina 13 inch MacBook Pro to become laptop volume value leader. A welcome price drop for the base 13-inch MacBook Air model from $1,199 to $1,099 certainly sweetens the Air’s value equation, although personally I don’t think 128 GB of storage is anywhere near enough these days, and savvy buyers will pony up an extra $200 for a 256 GB flash drive. Ouch! – we’re already back up to $1,300, and we still have only 4 GB of non retro upgradable RAM. Ordering with 8 GB brings us up to $1,400, but would stilll be the prudent option provided your wallet will stand it.
Personally, I’m currently in the hunt for a laptop upgrade. My late 2008 aluminum unibody MacBook is still working beautifully, but it’s well into its fifth year of faithful, flawless service, and the little 160 GB hard drive is pretty well bung fall in practical terms. I could upgrade the hard drive, perhaps add another 4 GB RAM, and get another year or two service out of the old machine has my anchor Mac, especially as It looks as if OS X Mavericks is going to support Core 2 Duo machines like mine, but the 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo processor is definitely a bit puny by today’s standards (yes, the new Air’s base CPU is clocked at just 1.3 GHz, but Haswell wrings a lot more power out of those processor cycles. The combination of Haswell, the friendlier (base) price, and new flash memory that Apple says is 45 percent faster than the already speedy flash drives that have been used in recent MacBook Air revisions begin to form a critical value mass that’s getting harder and harder to resist.
Some commentators had been predicting a complete MacBook Air form factor overhaul, and even Retina display availability on the Air, at least as an option. Neither materialize on Monday, and that doesn’t trouble me. The current MacBook air form factor is not yet three years old, and I don’t perceive anything particularly wrong with it. The tipping point might be a necessary redesign to conform the enclosure to a Retina display, but they didn’t announce any Retina display. I’m not unhappy about that either. If one wants a Retina display and their budget will stand it, there’s a perfectly good Retina MacBook Pro available. Personally, I’ve been getting along quite well with the 1280 x 800 screen resolution on the MacBook, and the 13 inch MacBook Air’s 1400 x 900 display resolution would suit me just fine. After all, that’s the screen resolution of my old 17 inch PowerBook G4, and it seemed huge at the time.
I remain unconvinced that a Retina display is a must-have feature. Unless one is specializing in high-end graphics work, the Retina resolution, while nice to have, seems superfluous. I suppose it’s inevitable that some day all Apple Macs and mobile devices will have Retina displays, but they really make more practical sense on the iPhone and iPod touch. I haven’t felt hard done by with the 1024 x 768 display in my iPad 2.
The Retina display is relatively expensive, and putting one in the MacBook Air would necessarily increase the price and spoil its price-leading value for those of us who can happily live without Retina resolution.
Meanwhile, the really exciting news with the June 2013 MacBook Air revision is Intel’s new fourth generation “Haswell” Core i processors, which offer both speedier performance, and a more efficient thermal profile that both allows the Air to run cooler, and extends battery life. For once improvements in both without compromise. Intel’s new HD Graphics 5000 integrated graphics processor sweetens the appeal even more. Intel’s previous IGPUs have tended to be underwhelming performers compared with the Nvidia units that were used in earlier unibody MacBooks like my late 2008 model. However, reportedly that’s been fixed with the HD Graphics 5000, which Apple claims to offer up to 40 percent faster performance than the previous HD Graphics 4000.
Nor was the little 11.6-inch MacBook Air passed over for some value enhancement. It’s entry-level price remains a dollar less than the psychologically significant $1,000 mark, but for that you now get 128 GB of flash memory instead of the less than marginal 64 GB the base 11-incher has shipped with since its debut in 2010 – amounting to a defacto price cut of a higher percentage than the 13-inch model’s nominal $100 reduction.
The parsimonious power demands of the energy-efficient Haswell family Core i5 and Core i7 processors gives the 13-inch MacBook Air up to 12 hours of battery life and up to 10 hours of iTunes movie playback. The 11-inch MacBook Air now delivers up to 9 hours of battery life and up to 8 hours of iTunes movie playback, based on Apple test reports. MacBook Air also now supports next generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi for wireless performance claimed to be. up to three times faster when connected to an 802.11ac base station.
One area where the MacBook Air, old or new, falls well short of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is I/O support. The MacBook Air has one high-speed Thunderbolt port and two USB 3.0 ports, but no FireWire or built in Ethernet.
For the present, the MacBook Air will continue to ship with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, until OS X 10.9 Mavericks is ready for projected consumer release sometime this fall – a factor that might influence some customers’ upgrade timetables. However, while Mavericks pricing remains to be announced, it presumably will be either the $19.99 or $29.99 price points of its two most recent predecessors, so it shouldn’t be a major factor delaying purchase decisions, and it’s no hardship to have a machine that will support more than one OS version.
The refreshed MacBook Airs are available immediately through the Apple Online Store (http://www.apple.com), Apples retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers.
The 11-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1.3 GHz processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, 4GB of system memory and starts at $999.00 with the upgraded base 128GB flash storage memory configuration. With 256GB of flash storage the price bumps up to $1,199.00 (US).
The 13-inch MacBook Air also comes with a 1.3 GHz processor offering short burst Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage at the new starting price of $1,099.00, Upgrading to 256GB of flash storage will cost $1,299, which is only $100 greater than the preceding model’s base price was with 128 GB, making the storage upgrade something of a bargain for just $200. Configure-to-order options include a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz ($150), up to 8GB of memory ($100 and something to also seriously consider because the Air’s system memory can’t be upgraded after manufacture) and up to 512GB flash storage. Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at: