Thoughts on the New 12 Inch Retina MacBook (from a Photographer's point of view)
At the "Spring Forward" event held today in San Francisco which was mainly about the Apple Watch, Apple also announced the new 12" MacBook. The new laptop is a departure from the previous generation of Apple notebooks, and represents the first major departure from the existing designs in quite some time. The new MacBook is not replacing either the MacBook air or the MacBook pro but comes with a Retina Display and is incredibly thin. If you're a photographer looking for a new laptop the sleek design and retina display of this new model might be tempting. It's evening here in Dublin and I've been mulling over a cup of tea, so I thought I'd share some of the mostly random thoughts I've been having about the new notebook.
(These are just some musings after the event, so take with a grain of salt)
In some ways I'm not quite sure what to make of the new MacBook, especially from a photographer's perspective. On the one hand, there's no doubt that having a small and light laptop is a very useful tool to have for a photographer, and having a retina display at this price point is certainly attractive. On the other hand the new notebook makes some compromises that I'm not sure are enough to justify the thinness, at least for me personally.
The first is the much talked about single port on the computer. The new MacBook contains just a single USB type C port. This does everything from power to display in a single port. This means that if you want to power your laptop and import images from a card reader at the same time, then you need some sort of adaptor or hub. Apple is willing to sell you one of these, of course. If you need to bring a bunch of cables and adaptors around with you, this to me seems to negate the few millimetres saved by eliminating the other ports.
The point Apple made was that wireless is the way of the future and that ports aren't really necessary any more. In a way they have a point. Even looking at that concept through a photography lens (ha, get it!) it holds some truth. Many cameras are coming with wifi now, so it lessens the need to transfer via a card reader or via usb. On the other hand, wifi in most cameras is an awful experience, so many people still prefer to use a card reader. I know I do. I'm sure this will change in time though.
The port issue is probably not a huge deal at the end of the day though. It may be an inconvenience in certain circumstances, but you can get around it. The bigger problem I see with the new MacBook, at least when it comes to photography is the relatively underpowered cpu. I'm not sure how the performance of the Core M compares to the i5 or i7 but I'm guessing it's less (I would be happy to be proven be wrong). Coupled with the fact that the machine is driving a retina display too, I suspect that performance is not this new computer's strong point.
If it sounds like I'm being a bit hard on it, considering the price, then you're probably right. I am after all considering how it would be for photographers looking for a small machine, and I haven't even used one. There are certainly lots of good things about this new laptop too. It looks gorgeous, especially the space grey one (the Gold one is not my cup of tea, mind you). And of course, there's that display.
From my own point of view, my 11" macbook air is getting on a bit (it was the first generation with only 2gb ram) and this seems like a good machine for what I use it for, which is mainly writing and doing research. I use a retina MacBook pro as my work horse laptop when I need portable power, but I love the retina display for writing on too. I would love to have that display in a small portable package and now I can. Whether I would use it to edit images on is another question though.
If you're a photographer looking for a laptop, especially as your main computer, I would always recommend the MacBook pro line if you can afford it, but if you're on a tighter budget, then I'm not sure whether this new MacBook is a good option for you or not. It's obviously that the new MacBook is designed as a low end machine but given the way that Apple has done things in the past, I suspect that the new line will eventually phase out the MacBook air line.
If you had previously been considering a MacBook Air, then the new MacBook may be tempting. The fact that you can get a retina display laptop for around $1200 (for some reason a rediculous €1400 here in Ireland) is pretty great, and that alone is a good reason why photographers should consider it. However I would think carefully and wait till some benchmarks come in before considering one over a Macbook air or MacBook pro at this point in time, especially with the relatively low clock speed of the processor compared to the other options.
As with all things Apple related, people tend to have heated discussions and strong opinions on the matter. Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments but please keep it civil and see the comment policy for clarification.