Archive for June, 2012

First Impressions: The MacBook Pro with Retina Display: Not for Me!

When Apple released the new iPad, I took a look at it but decided the extra money for the Retina display wasn’t worth it.  Frankly, I’m not doing much real photography or video work, so while the extra resolution of the display was nice, I thought that the newness of the technology introduced as many problems as it solved.

Yesterday, I went down to the Apple Store and examined the new MacBook Pro with a Retina display.   Because the machine is a bit thinner and lighter than a normal 15 incher, I wanted to see if I was interested in trading in my current Core 2 Duo MacBook Air and my 15 inch MacBook Pro with an Intel 2.2 GHz quad-core i7 to get the new machine.  After lifting it and playing with it, I have decided that the answer for me is “no”.  Let me tell you why.

First, the Retina display is very nice and I can see a difference. That said, to buy one is to accept a display which will produce a mixed user experience.  While it will produce a great view for applications optimized for the Apple display, those are currently few and far between and all exist within the Apple exosphere.  I’m already pushing the envelope by using Lion (not my favorite Apple OS) to run Adobe’s CS5 Design Premium and don’t have to money to move to CS6 which (we are told) will be optimized for the Retina display at some point no one can pin down.  The rest of the world will look pixelated on this display, and I know myself well enough to know this will make me unhappy.  It will be sometime…and probably a very long one…before most applications and web interfaces in the world become Retina friendly, and I do not want to adopt one of these displays until that is the rule instead of the exception. I already spend too much time with the technology for the technology’s sake versus getting actual creative work done.  I don’t need to belabor it with this new toy.

The bigger turn-off for me was the very slight gain in both thinness and weight the MacBook Pro with retina represents.  There simply isn’t enough difference between its bulk and that of a “normal” MacBook Pro to make the move to the new machine worth it to me.  The MacBook Air is still the king of portable laptops as far as I am concerned.  While I don ‘t like managing two laptops, I do like the Air for traveling and I like having my MacBook Pro as a backup to the Mac Pro I own and a machine I can travel with when I really need the extra power.  While the 13 inch MacBook Pro is an even better go-between, its continued use of only dual core CPU’s and single-integrated Intel GPU’s make it a “no go” for me; I need something more powerful than that.

In the end, if I do anything this year, I may spend money upgrading to the new MacBook Airs. Certainly, a 1.8 GHz i5 is powerful enough for anything I need to do on the road.  In time, I hope the MBP will move more toward a true hybrid of the current Airs and MBP’s so I can have the power of a desktop in a truly portable machine, but Apple ain’t there yet.  There is still a gap in power and portability between the MBA and MBP even though I don’t suspect that gap will exist for much longer.  That means I’m going to keep my current MBP even if I decide to put it in the closet and pull it out for only those trips when content creation is key or my Mac Pro goes down.

The Failing of Thunderbolt: Pricing Only for Professionals

When Apple first unveiled its use of Thunderbolt, like many users, I was so hopeful that us Mac users finally high a truly high-speed interface that would allow us to turn out machines into a computer-version of the Swiss Army Knife.  But time has dashed that hope as Thunderbolt peripherals have very…very…very slowly rolled out.  It’s been almost three years since the technology was first demonstrated and over a year since Apple rolled it into their notebooks, but there are still only a few peripherals that truly allow one to tap the interface.  More are starting to show up in the market but there seems to be one constant trend that is guaranteed to keep the adoption rate down and eventually make the interface irrelevant.  Every Thunderbolt peripheral I’ve seen costs hundreds of dollars.   With Apple’s likely incorporation of USB 3.0 in its next line of computers, I believe that Thunderbolt will not be the average user’s storage transfer protocol of choice but will loose ground to USB 3.0.  Only professionals and some power-users will fork out the money to use Thunderbolt peripherals, and that’s too bad.  Worse, I see it as a harbinger of a bigger problem.

See, this is simply bad for Mac users, professionals, power-users, and pro-sumers especially.  There is every indication that Apple is going to abandon the Mac Pro, and that will leave everyone looking at only the iMac and MacBook Pro lines, neither of which is expandable except through their port-driven interfaces. That will mean USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt.  The high cost of Thunderbolt peripherals then means that users will either be forced to deal with a lack of expandability or pay a pretty penny to keep some in a market that will be limited to few choices.   In this type of an environment, I predict that many users will flock to USB 3.0.  Even though the data rates may be lower than they could get, the extra costs to get to higher Thunderbolt capable rates will not be worth it, except in professional markets where the extra investment costs can be recovered.  Even so, some professional users will still go to USB 3 since any investment they make to do so will be covered if Apple abandons the Mac Pro and they switch to Windows.  (How likely this is when Windows 8 arrives is debatable.)

Apple certainly is not helping things by only providing a “one size fits all” monitor that costs a dollar short of one thousand dollars as its only Thunderbolt peripheral. We own a 27 inch Cinema Display, but I do not have one on every Mac we own nor am I ever likely to equip them all with one.  Likewise, I especially won’t buy a 27 inch Thunderbolt monitor just to use Thunderbolt.  I’m starting to look more at third-party monitor makers for any replacements we might need, and that is a change for us.  We have enjoyed using Apple’s monitors in the past but the too severely restricted selection and high costs are forcing me out of that mode, just like I am also considering abandoning use of Apple professional software (Final Cut Pro Studio and Aperture) before it’s too late. If the Mac Pro goes, so will that software.

I don’t need to buy a new Mac to get USB 3.0.  I’ve already got it on my Mac Pro, though I would like to have it in my MacBook Pro.  In my mind, Thunderbolt is becoming less and less relevant.  The whole trend can be reversed if the market starts responding with lower cost Thunderbolt peripherals, but it is ironic that instead we’ll probably see high prices, right until USB 3 overtakes it and no one cares about Thunderbolt anymore, leaving all those 27 inch Apple Thunderbolt monitors sitting on the shelf, which might be exactly where they belong.

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