Last year when I wrote about the new MacBook Airs I offered two forward looking paragraphs:

What happens from here on out is what's really interesting. Intel has already committed to moving the TDP of its mainstream parts from 35W - 45W down to 10 - 20W. Since the Air is the new mainstream Mac notebook, Apple has already made that move. The performance in this 10 - 20W segment is going to get much better over the next two years, particularly once Haswell arrives.

The Thunderbolt Display is the first sign of what's to come. Moving IO controllers and expansion into the display, and potentially even moving discrete GPUs out of the notebook are all in store for us. Apple is really ahead of the curve here, but it's easy to imagine a future where laptops become a lot more like the new Air and shift to a couple high bandwidth ports instead of numerous lower bandwidth connections.

Perhaps I was being too aggressive in the prediction of a couple of high bandwidth ports. After all, the next-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display features four such IO ports (2 x Thunderbolt and 2 x USB 3.0). But you get my point. Gigabit Ethernet and Firewire 800 are both gone. The discrete GPU is still present but I suspect even its days are numbered, at least inside the chassis. The personal computer as we knew it for so long, is changing.

The personal computer is getting thinner, lighter, more integrated and more appliance-like. The movement is no longer confined to just Apple either. The traditional PC OEMs are following suit. Even Microsoft has finally entered the PC hardware business, something it threatened to do for years but hadn't until now. Distribution models will change, the lines between different form factors will continue to blur. What was once a mature industry is going through a significant transformation. It’s exciting but at the same time it makes me uneasy. When I first got into this industry everyone had stories of companies with great ideas that just didn’t make it. As we go through this revolution in computing I’m beginning to see, first hand, the very same.

Apple makes the bulk of its revenue from devices that don’t look like traditional personal computers. For the past couple of years I’ve been worried that it would wake up and decide the traditional Mac is a burden, and it should instead be in the business of strictly selling consumer devices. With its announcements two weeks ago in San Francisco, I can happily say that my fears haven’t come true. At least not yet.

It’s been a while since Apple did a really exciting MacBook Pro launch. Much to my surprise, even the move to Sandy Bridge, the first quad-core in a MacBook Pro, was done without even whispers of a press conference. Apple threw up the new products on its online store, shipped inventory to its retail outlets, updated the website and called it a day. Every iPhone and iPad announcement however was accompanied with much fanfare. The MacBook Pro seemed almost forgotten.

With its WWDC unveil however Apple took something that it had resigned to unexciting, dare I say uncool status, and made a huge deal about it. Two weeks ago Apple did the expected and offered relatively modest upgrades to all of its portable Macs, all while introducing something bold.

Apple calls it the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. You’ll see me refer to it as the next-gen MacBook Pro, Retina MacBook Pro, rMBP or some other permutation of these words.

After using it for the past two weeks I can honestly say it’s the best Mac Apple has ever built. And there’s a lot more to it than hardware.

Portability

If you were hoping for a 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s not what the rMBP is. Instead it is a far more portable 15-inch MacBook Pro. I have to admit I was a bit let down the first time I laid eyes on the next-gen MacBook Pro, it looks good but it doesn’t look all that different. The disappointment quickly faded as I actually picked up the machine and started carrying it around. It’s not ultra light, but man does it make the previous chassis feel dated.

While I never really liked lugging around the old MBP (and it always made me feel like the old fogey at tradeshows where everyone else had something 13-inches or smaller), carrying the rMBP is a pleasure by comparison. Pictures really don’t do it justice. The impressively thin display assembly or overall chassis thickness look neat in a photo but it’s not until you actually live with the rMBP that you can appreciate what Apple has done here. I carry around a 15-inch MacBook Pro because it’s my desktop, and as such it’s incredibly useful to have with me when I travel. For my personal usage model, the Retina MacBook Pro is perfect.

If your workload demands that you need the performance of a MacBook Pro and your lifestyle requires you to carry it around a lot, the reduction in thickness and weight alone will be worth the upgrade to the rMBP. If you spend most of your time stationary however, you’ll have to be sold on the display and internal characteristics alone. The bad news is if the design doesn’t get you, everything else will.


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, 15-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Design & Silicon
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  • wfolta - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    You may be satisfied with 1920x1200 on a 17" notebook. But once you try 2880x1800 on a 15" notebook, you will see pixels when you go back.

    Your eyes are literally opened. (Given that you don' have uncorrected vision issues.)

    It's not a waste of money, and if you really believe you can't see the difference, you're free to keep your money in your pocket.

    The rMBP is the most balanced laptop out there. What people keep throwing out as "way better" are in fact unbalanced laptops that are great for gaming but big and heavy, or are tiny and have batteries that last all day but don't have much computing power, or ...
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Is it really? Because seriously, those surface temperatures look unpleasant to me.

    I think the point we're both driving at is that there is no "best laptop" and while this may come closer for many, it's still going to fail to meet some users' requirements.
    Reply
  • kasparsv - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I mean do they look "bad" only in comparison with the rest of the system or are they actually worse-looking than on older MBPs? Reply
  • Randomoneh@gmail.com - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I don't know if anyone already said this, but some some studies show that average person can perceive much higher quality than Apple would like you to think.

    Of course, their wording wasn't "You can't perceive higher quality than this." but they pretty much implied exactly that.
    Reply
  • Randomoneh@gmail.com - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Oh yeah, and I forgot to add that I greatly appreciate what Apple is doing in terms of quality of their products. Reply
  • cdhorner - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I'm wondering what some of you working professionals with jobs like web/app developers are using as far as external storage.

    I'm looking for the first time to switch over from a desktop/office setup to a MacBook Pro, connected to an Apple 27" cinema display so I can work at a home office, as well as a secondary office location - and still have decent access to external storage. I've been looking at a cloud storage solution, but then the real point of having this in my opinion is to drop files on it - and access them directly through your file system (in OS X finder for example), with the ability to only store files for instance in the cloud and not on your machine as well in cases. Is this possible? I'm using DropBox right now, and at least under OSX it's pretty lacking...

    Do any of you guys have a similar type of setup/requirements?
    Reply
  • Fanfoot - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Fabulous review as always. One thing I'd love to see get some of your attention though is the trade-off between display resolution and battery power required. Obviously with the near doubling of WHr in the new iPad and the 23% increase in WHr in the rMBP, these higher resolution displays take quite a bit more power. Now obviously the early rumors that Apple would go with Sharp's IGZO panels for the rMBP turned out to be false, but I assume they're still a possibility for the long run, perhaps MacBook Airs for next year say, where there is less ability to make make the laptop thicker to add more battery and everything else has already been removed or paired down. I've never seen a real analysis of HOW MUCH more efficient IGZO is than IPS say. Would it allow a MacBook Air with 220ppi without increasing the battery size at all? Or is it really only slightly more efficient than IPS?
    Reply
  • Ritchey - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Wonderful! 3 external displays, all rendered useless as soon as you decide to click on full screen mode on the internal one... Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Hehehe... Not a problem worth mentioning in any review though, right? ;) Reply
  • jjjjj - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    I have heard that Mountain Lion fixes Lion's bad implementation of full screen mode. See http://www.apple.com/osx/whats-new/features.html#s... , although it's not clear from that description that it is actually fixed. Reply

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