Apple Updates MacBook, But Not the Value

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With nary a yellow sticky saying the Apple Store will be back soon, today Apple quietly updated the white MacBook. The company’s value laptop got a slightly faster CPU, better graphics, and longer battery life, but not a better price.

Like the recently updated 13″ MacBook Pro, the MacBook continues to use a Core 2 Duo CPU, now at 2.4 GHz, up from 2.26 GHz. Also like the 13″ MacBook Pro, the MacBook now uses the Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU and advertises up to 10 hours of battery life on a slightly larger 63.5-watt-hour battery.

Unlike the updates to the MacBook Pros, the MacBook saw no increase in memory (still 2GB) or hard drive size, which is still 250GB. The price remains $999, and that’s arguably the problem. Is the MacBook really a value anymore?

The biggest difference between the 13″ MacBook and the 13″ MacBook Pro is now the price, $999 versus $1,199. However, increasing the amount of memory to 4GB like the 13″ MacBook Pro narrows the difference to just $100. For that extra $100, the 13″ MacBook Pro adds an aluminum unibody enclosure, backlit keyboard, FireWire 800 port, and an SD card slot.

You also get a subwoofer in the MacBook Pro, not that it matters with tiny laptop speakers, but the those other features easily combine for a $100 of value. It’s hard not to see the MacBook as little more than a price point attraction to lure customers into an Apple Store where friendly associates can upsell to the MacBook Pro, not there’s anything wrong with that.

What might be wrong is the lack of a true value-priced MacBook at say, $799. While it could be argued that the iPad is the “post PC” portable at $499, the iPad requires a computer if for no other reason than software updates. This means a price-conscious consumer wanting an iPad is better off buying a PC, especially a laptop, if they want the iPad, too. Is that what Apple really wants? It’s something to think about.

The other thing to think about is when, or maybe if, the MacBook Air will be updated. Once again, the niche laptop was passed over. The MacBook Air was last updated in June 2009 at WWDC, meaning history may repeat itself this year, or maybe not.

Unless Apple has kept some magic in reserve, it’s hard to imagine how the five-hour battery in the thinnest of Mac portables will be increased. With the advent of the iPad, a truly portable computing device, it’s becoming more and more difficult to see where the MacBook Air fits into Apple’s portable future.

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