When Apple released the redesigned the MacBook Pro in 2008 it soon established itself as the notebook of choice for graphics designers and photographers. While it was unsurprising that the 15” variant of the Pro was an instant success what was more surprising was that the 13” also proved wildly successful. It soon became evident that the 13” Pro filled a hole in the market for people looking for a powerful, well designed and relatively lightweight computer that could be easily carried around. In fact it became the go to choice for many students. However, the market has changed since 2008 and it seems as if the 13” MacBook Pro could soon no longer have a place not just in Apple’s line up, but also the notebook industry’s as a whole.
Announced in 2008 the MacBook Air was seen as a marvel in engineering and caught the entire PC
market off guard. Apple were by no means the first technology company to try to build a super thin
and light notebook in a wedge design (see the 2004 Sony Vaio X505 for example). What it did do,
however, is create a product with decent battery life and performance whilst also being eminently
portable. Indeed Apple has been refining the MacBook Air ever since and it looks like the 2012
variant could be the final nail in the coffin for the 13” MacBook Pro.
Prior to 2012 the 13” Pro offered up much better performance compared the the Air. Yet looking at the current possible configurations of Apple’s ultra-portable shows that it actually has the edge over the 13” Pro. Possibly the most important performance factor between the two is that the Air comes with, as standard, an SSD. For those of you yet to experience the speed of an SSD it is hard to explain
how big a difference to general performance it really makes. It simply makes applications and the
OS respond almost instantaneously, as well as consuming less power than a spinning disk drive.
You may be thinking that the Air has always had the option of an SSD and you would be right but
SSD performance has seen great leaps over the last four years and Apple is using a Samsung SSD,
widely regarded as one of the fastest and most reliable available today. Secondly the Air can also be
configured with up to 8GB of RAM just like the Pro can be. Previously it could only be configured
with 4GB. Indeed the £999 MacBook Air seems much better value for money compared to the
£999 MacBook Pro especially as an SSD provides a much more noticeable performance increase
compared to the faster processor in the Pro.
The Ultrabook Competition
This may lead you to ask why Apple is letting the Air cannibalise the Pro’s market. The answer to
this can be seen in the rise of Intel’s Ultrabooks. With Intel throwing large amounts of money behind its Ultrabooks initiative the MacBook Air would not be able to compete with offerings from Windows manufacturers if it did not have its performance increased this year. Take the Asus Zenbook Prime for example. It comes with a 1080p 13” screen and very similar specs to the MacBook Air. However, it lacks the ability to be configured with 8GB of RAM. Thus by adding more RAM Apple is able to offer another reason to choose the MacBook Air.
In fact Apple has seen that Ultrabooks are likely to eat into the sales of the 13” MacBook Pro and therefore decided it is better that they canabalise their own sales rather than sell fewer laptops in general. The fact is that when the MacBook Pro first launched it was one of the thinnest and lightest notebooks of its class. Now, however, the MacBook Air and other Ultrabooks represent the new age of computing and the 13” Pro is no longer the power and weight sweet spot it once
13″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display?
Could a retina display save the 13” MacBook Pro from entering into obscurity? This is an
interesting question as a retina display would certainly act as a substantial differentiator between
the Pro and Air. The problem for Apple is that if it upgraded its Pro with a retina display not only
would it probably be slightly more expensive but the Air would be left behind. Ultrabooks are
already starting to be released with higher resolution screens than both the Air and the 13” Pro.
Therefore if the Pro got a retina display there would be no reason to buy the Air unless you were desperate to have the Air form factor with OSX. If on the other hand you just wanted the best thin and light notebook you could buy you would likely be tempted by an Ultrabook with high resolution
This seemingly leaves Apple with only one option and that is to drop the 13” Pro from its product line up and instead put a retina display on the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is already seen by consumers as the ultimate portable machine and a retina display would only go and consolidate Apple’s market dominance in this field. In fact we wouldn’t be surprised if by the time Apple updates its notebook line up again there is no 13” MacBook Pro in sight.
Top Photo credit Ian d
Middle Photo credit Intel