2013 – The Year In Review For Apple Portables – The ‘Book Mystique

2013 has been a vintage year for Apple portable computers — both laptops and tablets. At least the year’s second half. It got off to a slow start, with there having been a big tranche of hardware releases in late October, 2012, including the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and iPad mini introductions, plus a significant speed bump and new Lightning connector for the 4th-generation full- sized iPad with Retina Display.

With the iPads that recently fresh and refreshed respectively, there would be no March iPad announcement in 2013, but the rumor mills kept churning out speculation and/or intelligence regarding a MacBook Air with Retina display.

When the refreshed MacBook Airs did arrive at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in June, there were no Retina displays, but the upgrade was something of a stealth tour-de-force overhaul. The mid-2013 Airs didn’t look any different, but there were major improvements inside and in terms of functionality.

Photo Courtesy Apple

The marquee new feature was an upgrade to Intel’s much-anticipated high efficiency, fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs, popularly referred to by their development code name Haswell, which extended Apple’s projected battery runtime to nine hours for the 11.6-inch model and to a whopping 12 hours for the 13-incher. Subsequent independent testing has confirmed that even those estimates are conservative for some sorts of real world use. The 1.3 GHz Core i5 Haswell CPUs in the new base model mid-2013 models are actually clocked lower than the 1.8 GHz Sandy Bridge third-generation Core i5 processors used in the preceding mid-2012 MacBook Airs, but overall computing performance remains roughly the same in benchmarking.

The mid-2013 MacBook Airs also got Intel’s HD5000 integrated graphics processor, which is substantially faster than the HD 4000 units in the mid-2011Airs – up to 40 percent faster for gaming and graphics-intensive apps according to Apple, and again confirmed in independent testing. Also substantially improving the Airs’ performance are new flash data storage drives that Apple says are up to 45 percent faster than the previous generation and nine times faster than traditional hard disk drives. Another speed improvement is found in new, 802.11ac Wi-Fi — claimed to be up to three times faster, although you’ll only benefit you if you’re connecting to an 802.11n router or other device such as Apple’s new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware. However, it’s future-proofing in any case.

Finally, proverbial icing on the cake was a $100 price cut to $1, 099 for the 13-inch MBA, and a standard equipment upgrade from the former, absurd 64 GB standard of the previous base $999 11.6-inch model to the same 128 GB spec. as the 13-incher, which itself is pretty marginal, but also amounts to the equivalent of a $100 price cut for the smaller Air.

Upgrading to 256 GB storage on either model is another 200 bucks, and you can go with 8GB instead of the standard 4GB of (non-upgradable after manufacture) system RAM for yet another $100.

Returning good stuff includes you two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port, plus an SDCard port for the 13-incher, and a backlit keyboard.

Photo Courtesy Apple

In my estimation, these mid-2013 MacBook Airs represent the best value for the money that Apple has ever offered in notebook computers. I wish the battery, RAM and storage drive were user-upgradeable/replaceable, but I put my money where my mouth is and bought a mid-2013 13-inch MacBook Air on Apple’s Black Friday sale event, and so far it’s proving to be pretty much what I’d expected. It won’t last 14 years (and counting) the way my old Pismo PowerBooks have, but it should be a nice tool to use for the next three or four.

The mid-2013 Airs’ display resolutions remain at 1,766 x 768 and 1440 x 900, which was a disappointment to some, but helped facilitate that welcome price cut, and if you really must have a Retina display in an Apple laptop, there’s the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (about which more below) with 1,920 x 1,080 panel resolution starting at $1299 with a 128 GB flash drive and 4GB RAM. Personally, I find screen images and text small enough and then some for my 62-year-old eyes at1440 x 900 on my new MacBook Air.

New iPads, Upgraded Retina MacBook Pros, OS X Mavericks, iOS 7 And Free iWork

The second tranche of 2013 Apple portable hardware releases came on October, 22 – one day short of a year after the release of the original iPad mini and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. But first came iOS 7 on September 10 — the most comprehensive overhaul to date of Apple’s mobile OS since the iPhone operating system debuted back in 2007.

OS 7 is claims to have more than 200 new features, including Control Center, Notification Center, improved “Multitasking” (so-called), AirDrop, enhanced Photos, Safari and Siri, as well as a completely redesigned user interface, and reengineering with 64-bit processors with Xcode support and the ability to run both 32-bit and 64-bit apps.

Personally, I haven’t been blown away by iOS 7 on my iPad 2. The upgraded OS runs significantly slower on the old A5 equipped machine, although I suspect this would be a non-issue on an A7 iPad Air, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

iPad Air And iPad mini With Retina

The iPad Air – Apple’s latest iteration of the full-sized 9.7-inch tablet – was rolled out at the October 22 special event, along with a new iPad mini with Retina display, and refreshed Retina MacBook Pros of both sizes.

Photo Courtesy Apple

The iPad Air’s 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 resolution Retina display is carried over from iPads 3 and 4, but grafted into a new thinner and lighter from factor. Weighing in at just one pound, iPad Air is 20 percent thinner and 28 percent lighter than the fourth-generation iPad, thanks to a a 43 percent narrower screen bezel, al la the original iPad mini, and thinner enclosure section.

Apple says the iPad Air’s dramatic downsize is attributable largely to the power efficiency of the new Apple-designed A7 system-on-chip that debuted with the iPhone 5s in September, which allows the battery to be even smaller, helping reduce overall volume by 24 percent from the previous generation, while doubling computing and graphics performance and maintaining the nominal up to 10-hour battery life.

Apple also announced a new iPad mini with Retina display, boasting the same pixel count as the 9.7-inch iPad panel on its 7.9-inch screen, for a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. The new mini iPads also get the same 64-bit “desktop-class” A7 SoC as the iPad Air, which means that users who opt for the iPad mini now don’t have to compromise performance in order to get the smaller form factor. Nevertheless, with the iPad Air slimmed down, and costing only $100 more than the Retina mini, I see little reason not to opt for the larger display of the iPad Air, which is improved over its predecessors in just about every way, and still selling at the same price points.

Photo Courtesy Apple

Apple notes that The 7.9-inch Retina display of iPad mini is 35 percent larger than screens on 7-inch tablets, and that it’s the only small tablet to deliver the full iPad experience, now with Retina panel quality. Movies play at full 1080p HD-resolution.

Photo Courtesy Apple

Apple’s A7 chip that powers both the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display features 64-bit architecture, faster graphics and improved image signal processing from previous generation models, with Apple claiming up to twice the CPU and graphics performance on iPad Air compared with its immediate predecessor, and up to four times the CPU and eight times the graphics performance for the iPad mini with Retina display compared with the original iPad mini. Both new iPads also feature the M7 motion coprocessor that gathers data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 for improved power efficiency.

Both new iPads also feature two antennas to support Multiple-In-Multiple-Out (MIMO) technology, bringing claimed twice the Wi-Fi performance to iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display at a data rate up to 300 Mbps. Cellular models come with expanded LTE coverage to accommodate more LTE networks worldwide, while continuing to deliver support for other fast cellular technology around the world (DC-HSDPA, HSPA+).

iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display now have new FaceTime HD camera with improved backside illumination sensors featuring larger pixels for better low-light performance. Apple says the iSight camera with a 5MP sensor and improved optics, combined with iOS 7 and the image signal processing of A7, further improves still image and video capture on iPad bringing faster auto-focus, up to three times video zoom, five times still zoom, better dynamic range and automatic image and video stabilization. I’m disappointed that they didn’t go with the even better 8 megapixel camera that the iPhone 5s got, but at least it’ll be a big step up form the poky 2 MP shooter in my iPad 2. And yes I do take pictures with my iPad, being secure enough that I don’t care if somebody thinks it makes me look like a dork or not. It’s handy.

A moderate disappointment for me is that there was no Gold color option, which would have been my choice of livery for the new iPad Air I plan to purchase in 2014. Space Gray/Black does nothing for me, so it will have to be a Silver/White unit the same as my iPad 2. Go figure.

Photo Courtesy Apple

The new iPads come with iOS 7, and Apple’s iWork productivity apps — Pages, Numbers and Keynote — are now bundled for free with every new iOS device running iOS 7. The iWork apps are also available as free updates for existing users, so more iPad users will have access to these apps even if they can resist upgrading and choose to stick with their current machine for the present. All apps have been redesigned to match the look and feel of iOS 7, and have been optimized to support 64-bit technology.

The A5 powered iPad 2 and original iPad mini remain available at $499 and $299 respectively.

“For more information, visit:
iPad Air at The Apple Store

MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Both MacBook Pro with Retina Display models unveiled on October 22 were upgraded with 4th-generation Intel core i Haswell processors and Haswell-enabled longer battery life (although still about 30 percent less than the non-Retina MacBook Air), faster PCIe flash storage SSDs and the faster WiFi that the Airs got in June, and a graphics processor upgrade. Apple also announced $100/$200 price cuts for the two rMBP models respectively, starting at $1,299 for the 13-incher, and iWork and iLife free with every new Mac. Apple laptops now also come with OS X 10.9 Mavericks loaded up. The Retina displays maintain the 2012 spec.

Photo Courtesy Apple

Apple says the PCIe-based flash storage delivers up to 60 percent faster read speeds than the previous generation drives, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless offers performance that Apple claims is up to three times faster than before when connected to an 802.11ac base station.

The MacBook Pro with Retina display can be had with Haswell dual-core Intel Core i5 processors up to 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1 GHz, and Apple says the latest Intel Iris integrated graphics deliver up to 90 percent faster performance than the previous generation MacBook Pro with Retina display. The 13-inch model can also be configured with faster dual-core Intel Core i7 processors up to 2.8 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display gets Haswell quad-core Intel Core i7 processors up to 2.3 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.5 GHz, and Intel Iris Pro graphics for enhanced integrated graphics performance, or Iris Pro and GeForce GT 750M discrete graphics with 2GB of video memory for the ultimate in performance. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display can also be configured with faster quad-core Intel Core i7 processors up to 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.8 GHz.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display delivers up to nine hours of battery life — two hours more than the previous generation, while the Haswell 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display delivers up to eight hours of battery life, or one hour more than the previous generation.

In the I/O department, Dual Thunderbolt 2 ports deliver up to 20Gbps of bandwidth to each external device, allowing users to connect to multiple displays and high performance devices, while an HDMI port offers quick connectivity to HDTVs and projectors.

The MacBook Pros with Retina display are available through the Apple Online Store (The Apple Store Online), Apple’s retail stores, and select Apple Authorized Resellers. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available with a 2.4 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.9 GHz, 4GB of memory, 128GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris graphics starting at $1,299; and with a 2.4 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.9 GHz, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris graphics starting at $1,499); and with a 2.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1 GHz, 8GB of memory, 512GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris graphics starting at $1,799. Configure-to-order options include faster dual-core Intel Core i7 processors up to 2.8 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, up to 16GB of memory and flash storage up to 1TB.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is available with a 2.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.2 GHz, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage and Intel Iris Pro graphics starting at $1,999 (US); and with a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.5 GHz, 16GB of memory, 512GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris Pro and NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics starting at $2,599 (US). Configure-to-order options include faster quad-core Intel Core i7 processors up to 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.8 GHz, up to 16GB of memory and flash storage up to 1TB.

Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at:
The Apple Store Online

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead into 2014, I expect the year to unfold on a similar timeline to 2013’s. Another MacBook Air refresh, or even a major redesign of its form factor would be a reasonable anticipation for WWDC ’14. However, with a pattern having been established with the year’s major iPad and MacBook Pro rollouts taking place on October 23 and 22 respectively in 2012 and 2013, it would be reasonable to expect a repeat in late October, 2014. The big iPad news may be literally “big” – with rumors persisting that a 13-inch iPad (Maxi? Pro?) in the works for release next fall. We could also look for iOS 8 come September, and possibly OS X 11 as well.

Happy New Year!

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