Fresh Picked Apples

MacBook a Sign of Things to Come to MacBook Pro Line

- 2006.05.26

Due to Apple's recent penchant for making mysterious "come and see what we did" announcements prior to the release of new products, there were some questions raised when the MacBook made its unannounced debut in the Apple Online Store last week.

What had been rumored for some time simply appeared, and all of a sudden the computer world had an Apple branded, Intel-based consumer notebook. Yet, looking at the recent history of the iBook, Apple's behavior towards what is now the MacBook continues a trend started in October 2003.

That Was Then

Back then, I was waking up every morning, getting on my very slow PC, and surfing directly to the Apple Store hoping that the iBook had been updated. I had decided that my first Mac was going to be brand new and portable, and I was very patiently waiting for a refresh to the iBook line before I made a purchase.

The most common (although speculative) logic at the time was that the iBook would get a next-generation G3 chip that topped 1 GHz, and that this chip would carry the consumer notebook until Apple could put a G5 chip, which had debuted in June of that year, into a PowerBook, leaving the G4 for the iBooks.

Much to the surprise of many, the iBook got a G4 chip, effectively ending the G3 era of Apple products. Even more surprising, though, was how closely the iBook resembled the PowerBooks of the day. The PowerBook line had just been refreshed in September 2003, and what was previously a wide gap in perceived performance had suddenly been closed sharply.

The 12" PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz seemed especially overpriced now that the 12" iBook G4/800 MHz was available. In spite of subtle differences in configurations and a couple bells and whistles (mini DVI port, audio out, and built-in Bluetooth on the 12" PowerBook) the 14" 933 MHz iBook G4 I purchased was pretty close to being the same machine as the 12" PowerBook for $500 less.

The iBook was a slam dunk for me, and it has been a workhorse since the day I got it.

This Is Now

Fast-forward to May 2006. Once again you can find a freshly released MacBook similarly configured to a MacBook Pro for a lot less cash.

The gap in features between the two systems has increased somewhat in three years, but for someone looking for a notebook that will deliver excellent performance on the most common computing tasks, the value choice is clear. One could even make an argument that the 2.0 GHz MacBook is the new 12" PowerBook.

Now that both Mac portable lines are Intel-based, what do the current configurations mean for the future of Apple notebooks?

Jobs and Co. may be tipping their hand a little bit as to what we are going to see down the line.

The first thing that stands out is the easily swappable hard drive on the MacBook. It's rare that you see what has traditionally been a pro feature (upgradeability) debut on a consumer computer.

The magnetic closure on the MacBooks could also signal a migration away from the latch system for pro users.

Lastly, the glossy screens that are now optional on the MacBook Pro systems were ushered in by the MacBook release.

Three pieces of notebook innovation pioneered by the MacBook. When is the last time that happened in Cupertino?

Apple certainly has shifted its business model towards the needs of the consumer, and with the anticipation that the MacBook may become Apple's biggest hardware seller, it makes sense to deliver something new in an effort to win converts.

However, the system that has become the MacBook Pro has always been looked upon as the Apple notebook. Without a significant push to add some horsepower to the next revision of the MacBook Pro line, the status symbol of the Apple portable family may go from being a shade of gray to something that is either black or white. LEM

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