The MacBook becomes a video star
Apple’s choice of venues for unveiling the latest addition to its MacBook Pro line speaks volumes about what audience the company is targeting with its widescreen laptop. Announced at the same time video pros are descending upon Las Vegas for the annual National Association of Broadcasters trade show, the 17-inch MacBook Pro seems to be aimed squarely at creative professionals who shoot, edit, and produce digital imagery for a living.
The wider screen would be the first tip-off—this model features a 17-inch TFT display with a native resolution of 1,680-by-1,050-pixels, compared to 1,440-by-900 with the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The wider screen and additional pixels mean more room to work, something digital video editors and Photoshop pros out in the field will appreciate.
But of greater significance to video pros are two features that have been absent from the MacBook Pro lineup up until now. Like the PowerBook G4, the 17-inch MacBook Pro features a FireWire 800 port. The faster FireWire port had been missing from the 15-inch MacBook Pro offerings; in fact, the 17-inch laptop is the first Intel-based Mac to include a FireWire 800 port. The 17-inch MacBook Pro also sports a dual-layer DVD-burning SuperDrive, a feature missing from the 15-inch configurations.
David Moody, Apple’s vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing, told Macworld ’s Jim Dalrymple that these two features make their return to Apple’s laptop offerings because of the use of “different technology” in the 17-inch model. I’m sure that’s the case—but I also think Apple had extra incentive to include these features, given who’s the most likely candidate to purchase a wide-screen MacBook. An 8X SuperDrive that can burn to dual-layer discs would be a prerequisite for any machine targeted at a video pro. And while FireWire 800 hasn’t enjoyed widespread adoption, its faster transfer rates do appeal to people who have to move a lot of data back and forth—like digital video editors.
For that reason, I disagree with the more optimistic Macworld Reader Forum posters who are holding out hope that the FireWire 800 port will make an appearance in future 15-inch MacBook Pro models: I don’t think that will ever happen. Apple clearly thinks the appeal of that particular feature is limited to pros willing to pay for the high-end MacBook. However, I would expect at least one of the pro-level Intel-based desktops to include FireWire 800 when they appear later in 2006—that’s another Mac model of particular interest to digital-video pros.
Other random thoughts about Monday’s MacBook Pro unveiling:
• While FireWire 800 and dual-layer DVD burning made their triumphant return, a built-in modem did not. Then again, this is hardly a shocking omission, as modems have been left out of Apple hardware dating back to the last year’s revisions to the PowerPC-based iMac and Power Mac lines. And, of course, the initial round of MacBook Pro models didn’t include a modem, either. Apple has clearly written off that technology.
• I was a little surprised that the 17-inch model didn’t come with a little more processing oomph. Not that a 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo chip is anything to sneeze at—it just happens to be the same processor that’s already available as a build-to-order option for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. A $300 add-on, the 2.16GHz processor would boost the cost of that 15-inch model to $2,799—the same price Apple charges for the 17-inch MacBook Pro. Considering you’d get all the extra features listed above—the wider screen, the FireWire 800 port, the faster dual-layer SuperDrive—I can’t see why folks would opt for the 15-inch MacBook with the 2.16GHz chip when they can get a 17-inch model for the same price. Unless Apple’s considering a price cut for the other MacBook Pro models…
• Any time Apple announces a new computer, talk immediately turns to the next hardware release the company has planned. The speculation isn’t that unwarranted this time around—the 17-inch MacBook Pro’s arrival means the end of the 17-inch PowerBook G4, leaving the 12-inch PowerBook as the only pro-level laptop remaining at Apple’s online store. Naturally, this has sparked talk of what Apple plans to do with that segment of its laptop line. Produce a 12-inch MacBook model? Come up with an entirely new line of sub-notebooks altogether? Or just drop the entire idea of a 12-inch pro laptop like a bad habit?
I don’t expect that last option to happen—there’s just too much interest in a slim laptop for Apple to abandon that product. The question is, can Apple cram the features of a full-fledged MacBook into a smaller form factor? That’s why, if Vegas casinos actually accepted bets on things like Apple hardware releases, my money would be on a sub-notebook-style product—a slim laptop without some of the features you’d find in the larger MacBook models but with more processing power than what will eventually be available in the Intel-based equivalent of the iBook. Then again, maybe it’s fortunate that Vegas casinos don’t accept those kinds of wagers, as whatever I predict will inevitably be wrong.