The tubes have been alight with thoughtful bloggers and tech-journo wankers alike blustering about with their “thoughts” and “feelings” and “opinions” on all of the new products announced at yesterday’s Apple event. We saw a lot jammed in to a small time slot yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t able to watch the live stream; it wouldn’t load for me. I was relegated to watching text and pictures whizz by on liveblogs1 while enjoying an overpriced cup of coffee and $9 grilled cheese sandwich at a hipster cafe whilst ignoring my friend Erica who had joined me for lunch2.
Enough chatter! Allez blog!
First, I’d like to point out where I was right, because I love to hear myself talk. The answer, for those wondering, is almost everywhere. But I faffed it in a few places. We saw iMacs, iPad Minis, a 13” Retina MacBook Pro, and very rushed Mac Minis. We saw no Mac Pros. We also saw a bumped up iPad Senior.
The Mac Mini and the 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Not only did the Mac Mini fail to gain GPUs across the board, the high-end BTO GPU option has been whacked like a mobster in a bad track suit. The Mac Mini has always been Apple’s unofficial offering in the HTPC market, cemented by the fact that until the Retina MBPs it was the only modern Mac that offered HDMI as an output option. The Mac Mini also has plenty of IO, not unique to Apple’s desktop line but useful for using it as both an HTPC or home server. Four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Thunderbolt do nothing to hurt the Mac Mini in either of these rolls. Additionally, the Mac Mini can be ordered in a 1 TB Fusion Drive configuration; interestingly enough, the server model doesn’t have this option. And Intel HD4000 is more than capable of grinding through 1080p video, especially when using H.264 due to the hardware acceleration introduced with the Sandy Bridge chipset.
All in all, the Mac Mini is quite a powerful little machine at its price point, even without the GPU. I knew that Apple would rush through any discussions of the Mac Mini if they talked about it at all, but I think that the machine is really undersold. It occupies a really weird niche; not quite as powerful as an iMac, not quite as portable as a notebook. But they’re interesting machines, and have always held my attention captive even though I’ve never owned one.
Equally interesting, to me, is the 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I’ve never much cared for 13” notebooks. I’ve always been the guy with a leaning towards big, ugly laptops. My first notebook was from the now defunct Hypersonic-PC company, a 17” beast with 1920x1080 resolution and a 128 MB discrete GPU. That thing was hot shit back in 2005. My current rig is an early 2011 15” MacBook Pro. 13” seems small for me. I’ve toyed with the idea of one day owning a 13” MacBook Air because of the much higher pixel density and the incredible level of portability. With that said, it would seem like the 13” would also interest me.
Honestly, it doesn’t. But it’s still an interesting machine, and it’s indicative of the direction Apple is taking their product lines. I was a little surprised that Apple,
- Put so much RAM in the 13”. I was almost certain they were gonna go 4GB/8GB and leave the 15” to run with 8GB/16GB. I was wrong.
- They skimped out on the GPU. The 13” has never had a GPU, but I was also pretty certain that you’d need one to comfortably support that kind of resolution.
Between this and the Mac mini, it seems like Apple is really going all-in with Intel’s HD4000 graphics. When Intel first announced Ivy Bridge, they made claim that HD4000 graphics were capable of handling resolutions up to “4K” (maximum of 4096x4096). Intel’s integrated graphics processors are becoming more and more powerful each year, and it seems that Apple is prepared to go all in on Intel continuing to improve these chipsets at this pace. Integrated GPU’s keep cost, thermal profile, and battery life in check much better than the best discrete GPU could ever hope to. The Mac Mini isn’t targeted at the high performance gaming/video processing/photographer/graphic design crowd. But the MacBook Pro is. So clearly Apple has a lot of faith in Intel’s integrated GPU technology.
I honestly haven’t used a computer with an integrated GPU in years, so I don’t know how far the technology has come first-hand. It’ll be interesting to see how the 13” holds up in the real world once they’re out in the wild.
The obvious statement is that these things are gorgeous. We did get some display “improvements”, but no retina; as I said before, this is for good reason. The new iMacs have bailed on the optical drives. Pleasantly, there hasn’t been much hullabaloo about this. Optical media is dead; for geeks, it was dead long before devices stopped shipping with them. And now digital media is trickling its way in to mainstream culture, and we’ll all be the better for it. Let it go.
Since the event, it’s come out that the 21.5” iMac will use the same soldered RAM installations being used in the new MacBook lines. This, of course, has people in a stink. The same way that they were in a stink over the RAM in the Air, and the retina MBP, and they will be forever and ever until Apple does this to all of their computers. But the fact of the matter is that most people just don’t care about things like that. And as time goes on, less and less will. It’s akin to the shift that televisions and cars have gone through over the past 30 or 40 years; the technology has become less and less user serviceable as a tradeoff for the creation of better products. And as long as the computers are reasonably built and moderately “future-proof”, then I don’t see the issue. Apple has shown that they are cognizant of this, in that their baseline specs have improved dramatically over the years. They used to ship computers with laughable RAM and subpar processors and have since shifted to being first to market with new tech and shipping 8GB of RAM as a minimum in most of their product line. Yes, if you break the machine, then you are now at some level of fucked. But this holds true for lots of things; just because it hasn’t necessarily held true for computers over the years doesn’t mean we’ve somehow gained an inalienable right to computers that are easy to repair. There are lots and lots of consumer products that cost a lot more than a Mac that are also a lot more fragile and irreparable.
Along with the iMan announcement came the reveal of what Apple is calling Fusion Drive. I quipped a few times yesterday that it sounded like it was built on top of Intel Smart Response, but as more information has come out this seems like it may not be the case.
The best explanation for the technology, and in fact the explanation that lined up with my mental model but not with my words, comes from Ars Technica. They surmise that Fusion Drive is more or less an implementation of Automatic Tiered Storage; which is fundamentally different than a caching model which would be used by Intel Smart Response. Very clever.
And, as noted before, the Fusion Drive is available as an option on the Mac Mini non-server models. Hopefully, as Marco Arment opined on Twitter (now deleted), this will be available in a software update to previous year devices equipped with an SSD+Platter combo, but I find it unlikely; there has to be some sort of hardware level thingamajig going on to make this system robust, probably some sort of RAID controller. Then again, I’m way out of my depth on this one. So don’t take my word for it.
The iPad Mini didn’t shock anyone, but what was a little surprising was that it wasn’t priced more aggressively. But it’ll still sell like gangbusters, and if you don’t think that’s so then you’re a crazy person. But why not price the iPad Mini more competitively? I think that the answer could be pretty simple; the iPad mini isn’t a disparate “product” from the iPad. It runs the same apps, has the same resolution and display ratio, uses the same architecture. It’s just an iPad. Apple doesn’t care if you have an iPad mini or if you have a big-boy iPad. They just care that you have an iPad. If you walk in to a store and you walk out with a $329 iPad mini instead of a $499 iPad, it’s not a huge deal. You still walked out with an iPad. More aggressive pricing on the iPad mini isn’t strictly necessary; look at how well the original iPad has been selling. The iPad will not fail to be successful going forward; and introducing a model with a reduced price, no matter how minor, will only make it more successful.
Regarding the “Senior”, I was a little shocked at the fact that they bumped its specs; they didn’t do anything revolutionary. They added a lightning connector. And they added an A6X, which if the A6 is any indication should be a screamer of a processor. If you listen to Build & Analyze, you know that this will make people like Marco happy since the current iPad stutters a little bit on graphical tasks that aren’t hardware accelerated.
Most interesting, though, is something pointed out by Marco:
The timing of the update — just 6 months after the iPad 3, instead of the usual year — will anger a lot of iPad 3 owners. But the previous March releases of the iPad 2 and 3 were more problematic.
Many people give or receive iPads for the holidays, and their new gifts were one-upped by new models just a few months later. This undoubtedly caused some buyers not to give iPads as holiday gifts, waiting for the new models instead.
This new timeline makes a ton of sense for a product that’s so wildly popular like the iPad.
Old MacBook Pros
So what happens to the old, non-Retina MacBooks? I still think they’re on the way out. I had no idea that the 13” MacBook Pro was the most popular notebook being sold by Apple. These things will be around for a while, I’m sure of it, if only because of the pricing. Apple won’t kill the MacBook Pro non-Retina until they can price the retina displays lower; right now the overlap between the Air and the non-retina MBP is awkward, but the popularity of the MBP is dictating what exactly Apple is allowed to do with the life of the product. And that price definitely has something to do with it.
The real question is, what will we get to see announced this Spring since the MacBooks Pros and iPads already got updated?