Nothing comes without a cost. I couldn’t help but think that to myself as I looked at the new Retina MacBook Pro. It’s slimmer, more powerful, and packs a whopping 5+ million pixels into a 15″ screen. It’s gorgeous, and all in all, a beautiful, beautiful compromise.
The MacBook pro is an interesting creature, one that should represent the melding of two worlds. As the “Pro” moniker suggests, it should be sufficiently capable of performing demanding tasks and yet also emphasizes the same key features of a laptop. But Apple, for the sake of aesthetics, has compromised both of these worlds, resulting in a product that both fails to realize its pro potential, and struggles to find its rightful place among the Macs.
As the 17″ inch MacBook Pro has been killed off, the new Retina MacBook Pro is the highest-end Pro-branded laptop. It is also the slimmest by a significant margin. So slim, in fact, that it nearly, nearly rivals the MacBook Air. But this comes at an obvious cost in both flexibility and power.
The MacBook Pro is supposed to be a Pro machine, something for serious work. Yet the aspect of svelteness and portability is so emphasized, you might imagine that this was simply a tool for word monkeys, for hacking away at an article, instead of a machine for power users who daisy chain drives, displays, or do any kind of hardcore video or photo editing.
The content producing market is the one the Pro line is aimed at, and that’s what should be its primary focus. That’s not to say that the machine is a weakling. It supports 16GB of RAM, has a shiny new Ivy Bridge processor, and a Kepler GPU. But for all the computer it is, it sacrifices ultimate potential in the pursuit of a slimmer figure. No more FireWire, no more Ethernet port, no optical drive – although for some bucks you can buy adaptors and a USB SuperDrive provided by Apple. Also, no more cheap do-it-yourself memory upgrades. 16GB (8GB plus the base 8GB) of the new soldered-on RAM will cost you an additional $200. And the new battery, despite being significantly larger, ekes out the same battery life.
All told, you’re looking at a machine that will cost $3749.00 to max out, not counting the additional cost of adaptors and optical drives. But the cost isn’t the real concern. It was the potential that the the MacBook Pro represented. Instead of shaving off every millimeter possible, what kind of machine could it have been had the thickness been maintained? Instead of putting the original capacity toward a gigantic battery, useful ports or more powerful guts, Apple chose aesthetics. Instead of really going for it and hulking out the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple created a more restricted product that has introduced a new, nebulous category that meanders somewhere between ultraportable and desktop replacement. You could, of course, sacrifice all of that and buy one of Apple’s upgraded MacBook Pro models, sans the Retina Display, instead.
The answer to why the Retina MacBook Pro is such a slim product baffles me. There’s already a super sleek MacBook, the Air, and the existence of that laptop alone makes the new Retina Macbook Pro seem like such an awkward fit. For those who simply want a slim, portable laptop, the Retina MacBook Pro does provide this and a fantastic display, but these advantages are offset by weight and expense. And for the professionals who desire a powerful, flexible machine, the laptop does provide power, but unfortunately without options provided in the past, and the promise of even greater power broken at the behest of design.
I’m not saying the new machine is not a good one. It’s a better MacBook Pro, but it’s not the monster it could have been.