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Hopes and fears for a new MacBook Pro

With the rumoured (hopefully) imminent launch of new MacBook Pro models, I thought I’m commit to blog a collection of thoughts I have about how Apple could improve it, how much I’d like to see them make the suggested change, and how likely I think it is that they’ll do so…

Multitouch

I’ve seen a number of pictures of the MacBook Air where the trackpad just looks too big – out of proportion with the rest of the machine. Additionally, given that (as I understand it) multitouch is only enabled in iPhoto, it’s currently a bit of a one-trick pony.

Having said this I’d hope for a new (faster?) Safari build to be included in the forthcoming OS X 10.5.2 release, and I’d be surprised if this doesn’t offer iPhone-style zooming of web pages with multitouch-enabled machines.

I guess the only real question here, then, is when and how Apple will add Multitouch into its keyboard and mouse designs – as I’m sure iSight-less Mac Pro owners (and, for that matter, Mac Mini owners) must be feeling left out!

I want: Meh – it’s a nice-to-have, but until the entire OS supports it, it’ll still be a toy…
Chance of inclusion: 99%(!)

Blu-ray Superdrive

(Would that make it a hyperdrive? … or even a fanatadrive? 😉 )

On the one hand, now that the HD-DVD camp seems to have abandoned all hope, Blu-ray is a safe choice – and the addition of a Blu-ray drive it would help to differentiate the MacBook Pros from the MacBooks (a difference which currently stands at (in order of desirability) a back-lit keyboard, a choice of screen finish, body material (the black MacBook is much more cool than any MBP…), speed, and the rather disappointing Firewire 800).

On the other hand, it would bump up manufacturing costs disproportionately, it’d probably be power-hog, and (crucially) hardly anyone would actually use it.

The real nail in the coffin of this one is that the recently-updated Mac Pros didn’t gain a Blu-ray option: Apple wants HD content to be delivered over-the-air or over-the-wire, from its iTunes store with its DRM. At this point, it can still get away with it, and the spoils are there for the taking.

After years, decades, of being on the back-foot I think that the one thing that Bill Gates had the foresight to get absolutely right was the changing face of content-delivery:

“… HD versus Blu-ray, that’s simply the last physical format we’ll ever have.
Even videos in the future will either be on a disk in your pocket or over the Internet and therefore far more convenient for you.”

I want: Not at all. If it’s a BTO option, then I’ll happily save some cash by not including it.
Chance of inclusion: 5%

Updated keyboard

With Apple’s decision to remove the ‘num-lock’ and numeric keypad functions from all of their keyboards, some redesign was always going to be on the cards – and since even the keyboards supplied with the Mac Pro are now the square-style MacBook keys, this seems like a no-brainer.

Given that the diagonal lip down from wrist-rest height to keyboard-tray height on MacBook Pros is very susceptible to wear (the paint has completely stripped off mine, leaving bare metal beneath the cursor keys) this is a change that can’t happen a moment too soon!

(I’m also hoping that cases of the screen becoming impregnated with dirt that’s practically irremovable due to pressing against key-caps will be banished with this too)

A plea to Apple:

Please take a hard look at your non-US keyboard layouts! The configuration of the Apple keyboard is so inferior to the (admittedly, truly excellent) layout of my ageing Sony Z1 that it’s almost painful! The Z1 has no keys protruding from the bottom row (as many laptops seem to do in order to hit the bottom three cursor keys in), and no spaces around them: the the left is a single-width shift key, and on the right is a function key (which makes paging up and down very easy), and all with a full-size return key above. Compare this to Apple’s current layout, which has no ‘#’ key (argh!), has a narrow return key (ugh), half-height cursor keys (why??), and spaces above the left- and right- cursors. To add insult to injury, there’s a completely useless Enter key on the bottom row which few people realise is there, fewer know what it does, and no-one actually uses! The only function of this key appears to be for third-party utilities (such as the excellent DoubleCommand) to try to remap as a function key!

We really want full-sized keys, more function keys which are more sensibly placed, a real octothorp key (programmers would rejoice), and a real UK layout with all the keys in the right place! If nothing else, think how much this would simplify Boot Camp drivers…

MacBook-style keyboard:

I want: If nothing else, worth it for a more sealed-type keyboard which doesn’t trap crumbs to easily.
Chance of inclusion: 95%

Proper UK layout:

I want: Yes! I’d actually pay more for this as a BTO option if necessary!
Chance of inclusion: 0% (sob)

Magnetic catches

Let’s face it, the little metal catches on the current MacBook Pros – whilst quite nicely designed, and the product of a bygone era. Nowadays these anachronistic catches are simply holes in the chassis which both break the clean lines of the machine and gather all sorts of dirt and cruft. Worse, the piece of chassis above the release catch (which wouldn’t be required with a magnetic system) is very thin, and has bowed on my machine. Given that the MacBook Air has magnetic catches, I’ll be distinctly unimpressed if this one isn’t present.

I want: Shear laziness on Apple’s part if it’s not featured, so yes.
Chance of inclusion: 99.9%

More accessible internals

The MacBook is a triumph of elegant design: both the the memory and the disc drive can be pulled out immediately after removing the battery. Sadly, this never made it to the MacBook Pro where the memory is under a screwed-down cover under the battery, and getting at the drive requires the whole machine be disassembled.

On the one hand, given how much of a sealed-unit the MacBook Air is, the initial though would be that there’s no way Apple is going to open up their hardware… but I think there is a chance:

Right now, Solid-State Disc drives have too low a capacity to be of great use in MacBook Pros… but this could change quickly. Apple may want to make drives more accessible in order to easily allow their Genius Bar staff to sell owners expensive SSDs – sales which they might not get so immediately if the upgrade were effectively dependant on the purchase of a new machine.

On the other hand, there might just be so much stuff inside the MacBook Pro that there’s no space around the battery bay for this mechanism – but the MacBook Pro isn’t (currently) especially svelte, so if they can do it in the (smaller) MacBook, I don’t see why they couldn’t shoe-horn it into a MacBook Pro too.

I want: Absolutely – the ability of the MacBook to change drives at any moment is a great feature that is pretty much unique amongst modern laptops.
Chance of inclusion: 10%

Use ExpressCard slot to store and charge Apple Remote

I can’t believe that Apple still haven’t done anything like this! There is very little that uses the ExpressCard slot, to the point that it’s probably the least-missed omission from the MacBook Air. We then have the somewhat clunky IR port on the front of the current MacBook Pro chassis.

May I make a proposal?

Slightly increase the size of the Apple Remote, so that it fits comfortably within a ExpressCard/34 slot. Allow this device to mate with the ExpressCard connector, and charge the remote over this link. In addition to providing convenient storage for the remote (after all, who actually carries the remote around with them, and given that there’s not even an iMac-style magnetic site to latch on to how many of these remotes were subsequently lost?), the main benefit is that with a charging mechanism, a more powerful and power-hungry device can be used. At the very least, the remote could connect via Bluetooth to remove the need for the messy IR eye. Looking at what can now be done with small screens, a much more powerful device (akin to a Logitech/Slim Devices Squeezebox Duet) could be offered as a separate product (which I’m sure would be very successful) which could act as a replacement and dock via the same mechanism.

I want: Given that I keep misplacing the completely untethered Apple Remote (and have never even seen an ExpressCard device) this would be a bonus…
Chance of inclusion: … but perhaps too expensive for a product that few people care about enough – 8%

Internal graphics switched back to ATI

ATI is now owned by AMD which, given Apple’s close relationship with Intel, could have prompted the switch form ATI to nVidia graphics in the last generation of MacBook Pros. However, AMD is posing a much lesser threat in the CPU arena right now, and Intel still doesn’t have any high-end graphics options.

The main reasons for suspecting that this is at least possible, though, are the high-visibility problems that both the new MacBook Pros and the new iMacs have suffered with system freezes and resume problems – both of which were traced back to nVidia drivers. I’ll admit that I don’t know how much these drivers are created by Apple themselves and how much by nVidia – but no ATI-based machine suffered these problems.

Given the atrocious state of nVidia drivers on Vista and the Apple graphical problems, have nVidia yet again proven themselves incapable or properly supporting their hardware – and will Apple have pointedly taken notice of this?

I want: After the numerous and wide-ranging problems that my friends have suffered with nVidia hardware running under Windows and the Linux performance issues (for the core-logic chipsets) and lack of documentation across all of their products , I’ve sworn to avoid their components wherever possible – I just don’t trust them.
Chance of inclusion: 45% – perhaps more if the new model is a complete redesign… although the close partnership of Intel and nVidia for the Skulltrail platform may suggest against this. The only reason that nVidia components are present on Skulltrail boards is nVidia’s refusal to license SLI on chipsets other than theirs – even though this removes the possibility of four-way Crossfire and adds two additional and unnecessary bridge-chips to the system… so this may not be an issue.

So… there’s my predictions, let’s see how I do 🙂

One reply on “Hopes and fears for a new MacBook Pro”

Okay, so that was pretty much a bust 🙁

Right on the first count, but wrong on all the others… but just wait for the next update (at the WWDC, or not until August?) – I’m betting that even Apple can’t maintain the MacBook Pro/PowerBook design for much longer without any major changes, so let’s see how these predictions fair then…

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