The Exciting Future of Apple’s MacBook Line

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In 12 months, Apple’s notebook lineup will be so different, we’ll barely recognize it. Physically, the computers may look the same, but the teaser that is the MacBook Air makes very clear the changes we can expect to see rolled out across the entire MacBook line.

“MacBook Air. The next generation of MacBooks.”

This is Apple’s tagline for the new MacBook Air. I believe it means everything that’s good about the Air will make its way into the MacBook and MacBook Pro within the next year. Let’s look at what’s next for Apple’s notebooks.

Battery Life

The older Air I own has a claimed battery life of five hours, but I never see more than three and a half with brightness all the way down and Wi-Fi off. The new Air claims seven hours of battery life in Apple’s “Web-test” which, according to the company’s performance page, “measures battery life by wirelessly browsing 25 popular websites with display brightness set to 50%.”

We can expect this new test to become the standard for how Apple measures battery life specs across the board going forward and I expect seven hours to be the new minimum standard for the rest of the lineup. Most Macs meet this now, in fact, so 10-12 hours may be a more realistic expectation from next year’s MacBook Pro, as long as Intel continues increasing the efficiency of its chips at the current rate.

SSD As a Standard

Solid State Drives (SSD) enable quick booting, instant on and faster launch times of applications. I believe every new MacBook Pro sold will come standard with an SSD, with an option to drop down to an HDD for $200 less if you just needs lots of storage (500GB+). For most users, 256GB is all they’ll ever need, and for huge media libraries, an external drive is always an option.

SSD is great, and it’s finally achieving a price point where Apple can include it as part of a base configuration. Remember, only a little over two years ago, a 128GB SSD add-on for the MacBook Air cost an additional $999. Now, the $1699 model comes with a 256GB drive standard.

Sorry, No Optical

I’ve talked to a lot of people in coffee shops, at conferences and even my less-techie friends and they all come to the same conclusion: Optical drives are kind of pointless. If all software manufacturers provided direct downloads or flash drives for physical installs, there’s be absolutely no issue.

The optical drive, as far as Apple is concerned, is dead. The company has the largest collection of digital media available for sale, and with the Mac App Store, Front Row and Apple TV, why would you ever need to burn content to a disc? The external Air Superdrive is still available, and it’ll probably gain compatibility with the rest of Apple’s notebooks as the internal drives disappear.

Thinner and Lighter

SSD and the lack of an optical drive will mean thinner cases across the board. The MacBook Air’s logic board in 2008 was a thing of beauty: smaller than the length of a pencil, and it powered the entire computer. I think the move to SSD flash storage that’s soldered to the logic board, paired with removing those gigantic optical drives, will mean most Mac laptops will slim down. We’ll see this in new revisions that come out in 2011.

Higher Resolution Displays

As I said in July’s post about iPhone 4’s Retina Display, Apple will be beefing up the resolution of all of its displays, starting with notebooks. The MacBook Air already has an improved display; the MacBook Pro is next. How high a resolution is too high? We’ll see how Apple navigates the line between display quality and the concerns of users with weaker vision or older eyes. Unlike on the iPhone, you can always change the resolution on your Mac if it makes for a better reading experience.

Conclusion

I’ve always been sure that the MacBook Air was a test bed for innovation, and a peek at what’s to come from Apple portables. Cupertino’s clearly gone “all in” techs like flash storage and battery improvements that it pioneered with the Air, and it’ll be genuinely exciting to see those developments trickle down to the rest of the line.

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