10 things the next MacBook Pro needs

Hey Apple, want to impress me (but not your shareholders)? Release an iPad Air.

What's in store for the 2012 MacBooks?
What's in store for the 2012 MacBooks?

With “new” iPad furor subsiding, it’s time to turn our latte-fueled attention to the upcoming Macs. Come June, possibly May, Apple will release its updated range of MacBooks for 2012. I might suspect that the prospects of a thinner, and lighter MacBook Pro would be a slam dunk. But there’s the 3rd gen iPad. Wowza display, yes, but a bit of a porker that one – especially when compared to the likes of the Android-powered Asus Transformer Prime and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

I’ve been a Mac convert since mid-2010. Then I configured a modest MBP 13 via the Apple web site, and had it drop shipped to a hotel in Wall Walla where I was attending a wine conference (WBC10).

My biggest fear was letting go of the trusty trackpoint- that little red stick found between the “G” and “H” keys on ThinkPads. Friends on Facebook and Twitter told me to “totally take the leap” and to “not look back.”

They were right.

While I still believe Lenovo makes the best keyboards in the business (with Apple a close #2), just about everything else about the 2010 MacBook Pro is aces: the best-in-class screen contrast, the build quality featuring that stunning aluminum casing (same as previous generation), the backlit keyboard, the whisper quiet operation, and the large, gesture-happy trackpad. As a whole, it’s impressive stuff. I use it daily, and have taken it on trips across the world, including to the brutally hot desert of the Baja. Not once has it failed me.

And yet, there’s always room for improvement, or, in the case of Apple, innovation.

I should point out that I’m not an OS X groupie. There’s just too many little quirks- like resizing windows, or installing apps, or trying to get an SD card recognized after three attempts, or the fact that files I’ve deleted sometimes still remain (unmovable) on the desktop until rebooting. Overall I’m far more efficient and comfortable with Windows 7. It might look plain, but it’s Microsoft’s best ever OS, and every ounce of their knowledge is reflected in its highly functional design (I dread a world of Metro).

With that, here’s 10 things- in no particular order- the new 2012 MacBook Pro needs:

1. Thinner design

Even though the iPad gret slightly larger, I expect the new MBP to go on a dramatic diet. In fact, as many suggest, Apple may very well unify the brand under the “Air” moniker. Perhaps we will see “Air Pros”? Regardless of naming conventions, at 4.5 pounds both the 2011 and 2010 models look less Tony Stark, more Tony Soprano. With the rise of the ultrabook that needs to change.

2. USB 3.0

Because it’s faster (and only 1% of my peripherals are FireWire enabled).

 3. NO optical drive

Okay, so classify this as something the new model doesn’t need. Absolutely doesn’t need. OS drives are akin to 3 1/2″ floppy drives when the original iMacs launched. Jobs boldly scoffed at including floppy drives, and against tremendous backlash, only shipped a CD ROM. How on earth would we install our software? Somehow we survived. I will miss, however, that robotic grunt (the last hurrah) the never used (haven’t we all long ago ripped our Robbie Williams’ DVDs?) slot on my MBP makes every time I power it up.

4. Bluetooth 4.0

Because it’s better.

5. 18 hour battery life

Let’s call it a stretch goal. Two years ago, battery life on Macs was remarkable. Today it’s still more than respectable, but Apple’s about pushing the envelope. So let’s push for 100%+ improvement here. Currently I’m getting about 6-8 hours. Pretty good. But this is 2012 and that little upstart Asus Transformer Prime can do it (granted, in Android it’s running a mobile OS), so let’s push here for about 18 hours battery life.

6. Retina display

Word is Apple will launch the new Macs (or at least the top end models) with a Retina-like 2880×1800 resolution. Given the manufacturing difficulties we read about with the new iPad and its Retina display, I wonder how it will pull this off. When it comes to precision panels capably of delivering ultra-res it seems like Samsung is the only game in town. Will there be quick stock outs with the 2012 run, while suppliers scramble to keep assembly lines moving?

7. Intel Ivy Bridge Processors

Sandy Bridge, good on you, but it’s already time to move on. The odds are strong that the 2012 MBP range will feature the new Ivy Bridge chips from Intel. If history is any indication we’ll likely see the 15-inch models get the speed treatment, followed soon after by the 13-inchers.

David Lynch alert: this is where we get all fuzzy and add a dolop of Mulholland Drive to our prognostication… not to dream is not to live, no?

8 iPad Hybrid

Hey Apple, want to impress me (but not your shareholders)? Release an iPad Air. I’ve written about this since… well, forever (Why Apple should make an iPad Air). It’s a dream rig. Take a MacBook Air and in the place of the standard panel, put an iPad. Yes, it’s an Asus Transformer Prime for the rest of us. Except, this would be a full-blown OS X experience in laptop mode, and the super smooth iOS experience we all know and love when in tablet mode. So you know I’m not completely crazy, the odds of this (ever) happening are extremely low imho, for one simple reason: cannibalization. Such a hybrid would combine two product sales into one. Why buy both an iPad and a MacBook Pro when you could just buy a would-be iPad Air and be done with it? I dunno. Ask Cowboy.

9. Bezel controls

Let’s take advantage of that dark border around the display, the photo frame that doesn’t do much – anything – other than reflect the world back at us. I’d like to see capacitive controls here for  volume, brightness, app control, etc. The imagination runs wild with the possibility.

10. Dolby SRS Surround (or better)

How? Put pulverizing speakers everywhere on the thing. Yes, it would likely impact #1 and #5 above, but this is an alternate reality, and Apple is good a making dreams come true.

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  • Miceblue

    I agree with all of your points except for the optical drive and iPad/Macbook hybrid.
    1. I most definitely rip my music CD’s. The sound quality you get from a CD is superior to what you can download from the iTunes Store and/or Amazon MP3. Lossless >> Lossy
    You’re just paying for the convenience when you buy from those stores. Some of the CD’s can actually be purchased for less money than the digital downloads and not all digital downloads are available for all albums. iTunes’ and Amazon MP3’s Asian music selection is particularly weak.
    2. I’m not a fan of iOS, so that puts me at a bias against the iPad/Macbook hybrid. Mac OS X Lion and OS X Mountain Lion are terrible updates for my workflow/productivity as all of the iOS junk interferes. For my workflow, BetterTouchTool + Exposé + Spotlight + Dropbox >> Lion gestures + Mission Control + Launchpad + AirDrop and/or iCloud

  • Michael

    I agree with Mice. The fact that no HDD = only 64 GB is pathetic, and the macbook air is pathetic for that reason. Also, the hybrid is just a joke, i’v never even heard of that until now, sweet jesus don’t let it happen. I will also be using an external/optical drive to install windows for gaming. In fact, if it doesn’t at least come with dedicated graphics for the 15 inch model and an HDD, then i’ll probably buy a PC tower. I was just hoping to play games without the hassle of windows on a normal PC.

    • Alf

      I bought a 2011 MBP 15″, my first mac. already regret it, I could have got a PC 4 times more powerful for the same price. I love OSX but I think I’m just going to use hackintosche in the future.

      • I bought a 2011 mbp 13″ as an upgrade to my Hp Pavillion laptop. I was adamant about not buying a mac because of how many people that told they were rip offs but I settled on it. To get the same features I wanted (backlit keyboard, long battery life, metal casing, and decent brand name ex. VAIO) I was paying $900. I picked up the macbook because it was $1k bundled with the office suite, the OS and I wouldn’t have to deal with the terrible driver compatibility I always encounter on windows.

  • James

    I agree, Though 15 hours seem like a more reasonable stretch goal. Your best point is the Bezel Controls, if they were backlit light the keyboard not only would that be function but it would look astounding.

  • jkool

    The macbook pro line is not and should not be designed to integrate into your workflow as a writer. The “pro” moniker has always designated a trade off for speed and power before weight. 

    While thinner would be nice, the size would have to come from the battery pack (because it isn’t coming from the chipset). It could come from the disk drive, but too many professionals still need access to this in order to integrate the laptop into their mobile work flow. 18 hour battery life would be fantastic, but battery technology has not evolved much in the last 5 years. Due to this, the current technology is already at maximum density and the only way to increase available power is through increasing the size – which is impossible if you want a thinner laptop with the same capabilities. A HDPI screen would be great, but I doubt it will use pixel doubling. Pixel doubling was used in iPad 3/iPhone 4 as an easy way to transition to HDPI in a highly standardized interface to avoid making apps that hadn’t updated look terrible. Expect something reasonable, but not a higher resolution than a 27″ iMac as that is pushing the limits of resolution on the human eye at the distance of a laptop. No one wants their MacBook pro to be an ipad. If you want an iPad, buy an iPad. Again, this class of laptop is for power users who appreciate a full fledged operating system (the same ones who are hating on “metro” in windows 8 for its complete lack of functionality on a laptop/desktop. Bezel controls don’t make any sense at all – do you really want to reach out and touch your screen – interupting your keyboard/mouse workflow – just to use a UI element. If you are watching a movie, it is still more reasonable just to use a mouse. If you want to adjust brightness you have a much more convenient control on the keyboard. 

    I would rather see space go towards a bigger battery than have some stupid “dolby surround” branding on my macbook pro with speakers that sound less than marginal and take up more space. On that note – no one in a public place wants to hear your music/movie, bring your headphones that will sound worlds better anyway. 

    USB 3 is integrated into the ivy bridge chipset now and should be the default (this is what apple was waiting for). Bluetooth 4 should be on board if it is on the new iPad. 

    I am hoping that apple built in support for the new WiFi standard 802.11ac. Sounds like the most recent rumors also indicate a faster processor level than last years as well for 20% improvements. 

    Honestly, it sounds like you might want to just stick with the MacBook Air line – it fits almost all of your needs. For those of us who have bought MacBook Pros for nearly the last decade in order to work within the audio/video/photography/architecture/engineering field in a mobile context – we’ll be buying the new ultimate mobile powerhouse. 

    • It could be interesting if Apple decides to merge the MBP and Air lines as I’ve been hearing!

  • Rswiebe

    Many of us still want the optical drive, if you don’t, that is why they have the Air!

    • Power to you. But why on earth would you want an optical drive?

  • Alf

    THINNER?!?!?! NO!!! 
    the air is for the size obsessed weaklings that can’t handle a 2-3 kg computer in their rucksack. I want POWER and better heat redistribution in my macbook pro, why is everyone so obsessed with portability? the macbook pro is a perfect size, it’s thinner than most laptops.
    NO OPTICAL DRIVE?!?!?!?
    the point of the PRO range is it is for professional designers and stuff, who use the bloody things. I use CD drives because the sound quality is much better and I love having a CD collection.
    iPad Air? that’s something that should be reserved for the ultra light, I can’t carry a laptop that weighs more than 13g, macbook air, not the pro.
    Retena display would use a lot of processing power and a hell of a lot of GPU power, I like to play my games at native resolution and I doubt the MBP would be able to stand 89,000 X 56,000 

    Good speakers would be awesome, but laptop speakers are never going to be as good as a great pair of Bose headphones (not beats, oooooooooo *shiver*)

    • Congratulations. You are the first person on Planet Earth to cry: “THINNER?!?!?! NO!!!”

    • Congratulations. You are the first person on Planet Earth to cry: “THINNER?!?!?! NO!!!”

  • Anon

    These are for the most terrible and unfounded suggestions/predictions yet, besides the ones that are as apparent as day.

    your not an engineer, so whats the point of suggesting an 18 hour battery if you have no practical knowledge saying its even possible?

    the rest of your suggestions either don’t apply to the MBP (iPad air) or will make it look cluttered and ugly (benzel controls)

    Thank god you don’t make any decisions. 

    • I guess you didn’t go for my David Lynch bit then.

    • Chris

      Lenovo advertises 15 hour battery life in their X and T series ThinkPads. I don’t see why this would be unreasonable for Apple.

  • You state you’re more comfortable on Windows. I’m curious about that.

    The only thing I question is that you state is that installing apps on a Mac is quirky. How is that when it’s usually just a drag and drop operation or a “wizard” style install like anything else? Again, I’m just curious, not criticizing.

    As far as SD cards not being recognized, or files not deleting, that sounds more like legitimate problems with your Mac. I’d get it checked out. That’s not normal, or “acceptable”, behavior for a Mac.

    Resizing windows on the Mac is something that Windows users often do complain about. Which leads me to my main point. I’m curious if the discomfort you describe about the Mac OS is more an issue of trying to shoehorn a Windows “mindset” into a different operating system. I’ve seen this many times in my consultancy. Oftentimes, Windows power users simply overthink things when switching to the Mac. I can’t blame them. This is the way they’re used to computing. But using the Mac doesn’t require as much effort. Once those power users “quiet their minds” and just allow the Mac to do what it does, their lives get much easier.
    And I’m curious why you decided to purchase a MacBook while attending a wine conference! Did you have a wine-soaked accident with your old laptop?

    • Marcel, thanks good question re: installing apps on Mac vs. Windows. I gave that some thought over w/e (wile planting a few orange trees no less!) and came to the realization that I may be indoctrinated over the years into the Windows way of doing things – which, as we know, is not always best. The drag and drop operation on OS X is a snap, as is removing an app (you don’t need to worry about a myriad of DLL files and other lurking surprises).

      Ha, no wine-soaked accidents, though that would make for a good story I’m sure!

      My Thinkpad was dog tired, due for replacement. The stallar aspects of the Mac in my decision: display quality (superb contrast), awesome build quality, long battery life, great keyboard (though, still 2nd to ThinkPad imho) and – this may seem minor – I like that you can open it with one hand, that the base stays firmly in place. Ahh, the little things…

      • Thinking about Apples while planting oranges … your circumstances while thinking about technology are quite interesting to be sure!

        The way I describe the Mac to clients who want to know the difference is that the whole is greater than the sum. There are so many fine little touches on the Mac hardware (such as MagSafe) as well as the operating system that most people simply can’t describe it beyond “this is the way computing should be”. So it definitely is the little things, but the little things aren’t so little.

        Incidentally, I don’t need to give this description very much anymore. It seems that as more people own iPhone and iPads, people are telling me that if the Macs are anywhere near as good as their iOS device, they’re sold. Then it’s fun to tell them that they’re preaching to the choir! The Halo Effect is Real.

        • I know – I’m not supposed to mix apples and oranges right?! Yes, we’re all prone to The Halo Effect, and/or Reality Distortion Field.

  • Jadyn

    Lenovo keyboards are horrible just saying. Had an Ideapad Y560P and my keyboard goes all possessed when i press certain keys. Trying to get it refunded because this is the second time in the Five month period that I have had it get it sent off to get it fixed. Ridiculous. When I get my money back, I am buying an MBP without a doubt