The Biggest Problem(s) with the MacBook 2015

It’s not all sunshine and daisies with the new MacBook. There are a couple issues that may cause it some big problems…

MacBook

I’ve been into mobile computing since 1992. I’ve had DOS/Windows based laptops in my backpack since DOS 3.x, and to be quite honest, I *DO* know what I’m talking about when it comes to portability and power while on the road.

And I do admit it… I’m a bit of a road warrior and a power user. I know that I really want more of the desktop replacement kind of notebook or mobile workstation. I want to do what I want to do – make use of my mobile darkroom, for example – while I’m out on a shoot, or be able to edit app screen shots or product photos I’ve snapped without having to compromise on capabilities or performance.  Yes… If you could put the horse power of a Mac Pro into a thin retina display laptop, I’d likely find some way to justify the purchase (much to my checking account’s dismay…)

So, when Apple announced the new MacBook 2015, and I saw it in that cool gold tone, aluminum alloy… I was like, “Oh yes, baby…!  Come to papa!”

However, after further consideration and a bit of research on what the newest member of the Mac notebook family is, can, and cannot do, I think I’m going to pass; and the reasoning behind it (aside from what you can see above), may not be widely known yet. So… here’s why…

Processing Power

The new MacBook 2015 comes with the new Intel Core M processor. Think “M” for mobility, here. The Core M processor is a power-sipping mobile processor that is meant for mobile applications like the new MacBook 2015. It can work with just 5W of power, and doesn’t need a cooling fan (further enhancing battery life) as well as contributing to the new MacBook’s svelte form factor.

However, because it doesn’t consume a lot of battery power, and because it doesn’t need a fan to cool it, it isn’t really a high-end work horse of a processor.  As such, don’t expect to run apps like Aperture, Final Cut Pro or PhotoShopCC on this thing and have it work the way any of your other, more well-endowed Mac do. It’s just not built that way.  Core i5 and Core i7 processors have a HECK of a lot more punch, though , they’re not as gracious with your battery life.

The MacBook 2015 is intended for web surfing, email, and moderate productivity apps (Word, Outlook for example should work well. Apps like Excel and PowerPoint may tax the device a bit, depending on the numbers you’re crunching or the presentation your pushing.). While the device has a premium price (it starts at $1299), it clearly does not have premium specs

Upgradability

Nope.  Don’t even go there…

The trend since the introduction of the Retina MacBook Pro back in Early 2012 has been static components, or providing a computing product without any end user serviceable parts. Popular items like RAM and hard drives/ SSD’s are now configurable at time of purchase and…that’s it.  You can’t change or swap them out at all; and if you do – as in the case, say of the 2012 to 2014 MacBook Air’s – you totally void your warranty.  The MacBook 2015 is configured THAT way – totally non-user serviceable.

It’s no surprise really.  If you remember the interior shots from the Keynote, the interior of the device is ALL battery.  If the SSD, RAM or logic board (which is smaller than a 3″x5″ card…) fail, the only thing that Apple is going to do for you, is to likely replace the entire logic board.

So the best thing that I can tell you here, is to buy as much as you can afford; knowing that the device isn’t meant for digital darkroom or macro or transaction intensive spreadsheets and the like. If you don’t the MacBook 2015 is likely going to be a huge disappointment for you.

Web Cam

At 480p, the web cam on the MacBook 2015 is pathetic. Its SD resolution is, at best, yet another compromise in what is clearly meant to be a premium product.  Any modern smartphone, including the iPhone 5 or later, has a better front-facing FaceTime camera than this one.  If my smartphone has a better web cam, and costs half as much as this notebook, why do have to settle for this woefully pathetic excuse for a FaceTime camera in what is clearly a modern, advanced, technology filled device?

This clearly makes little to no sense at all.  Apple needs to correct this in the next iteration of this device, without raising its price even a penny.

Connectivity and Expandability

Notice… I did not say “upgradability.” Expandability is not upgradability.  The device itself is NOT upgradable.

Wireless connectivity is handled via 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0 radios on the postage stamp sized logic board.  That’s not where I’m concerned. Those features come pretty much on any and every notebook on the market today.  What I’m really speaking to here… is the lone USB-C port on the device.  Aside from a headphone jack, it’s the only hardware port on the MacBook 2015.  Let me say that again…

The lone USB-C port is the only port on the machine.

This means that you’re going to need to carry

  • A power brick
  • Some kind of USB-C docking station or hub, or
  • Dongles for everything you want to connect to

Dongles…!  Dongles everywhere! Dongles in your bag. Dongles at your desk. Dongles hanging off your nice, elegant, expensive, ultra-thin notebook.

I’ve heard many say that Apple’s embrace of USB-C is the start of the world without wires.

I disagree. That started in 2008 with the release of the iPhone 3G, at least from Apple’s perspective.

The exclusion of every other port or connector on the MacBook 2015 EXCEPT USB-C is Apple’s way of telling you that you’re likely not going to use a wired LAN line, won’t cable your iPhone to your Mac, won’t use a USB keyboard (wireless, yes… USB, no), and are likely NOT going to hook the Mac to an external monitor.  Apple is pushing portability and lapability with the MacBook 2015.

HOWEVER… if you want to use a wired LAN line, you’re going to need a USB-C to gigabit Ethernet dongle.  If you want to do that while you’re charging your MacBook, you may have a problem, unless Apple puts a USB-C female port in their charger, or gives you a way to connect both to the one port at the same time via a hub or some sort of portable docking station.

If you want to put an SD card reader on the MacBook 2015, you’re going to need to use a USB-C dongle.   If you want to connect to an external display, or to an external hard drive, or to any other external device or resource, you’re going to need to use a USB-C dongle; and again, if you want to do that while you’re charging your MacBook, you may have a problem, unless Apple puts a USB-C port in their charger, or they or a third party give you a way to connect both to the one port at the same time via a hub or some sort of portable docking station.

Apple’s going to push the wireless connectivity, but you have to wonder how that’s going to work, especially with wired LAN, external hard drive (for Time Machine, at least…) and external monitor connections.  It may simply NOT be possible… I don’t know, and very few will, until 3rd party accessory providers introduce their dongles and connectivity solutions for the MacBook 2015.

I have serious questions about use cases for this particular MacBook. While I know this device really is more of a luxury or casual use device, you have to think that users at some point are going to want to use Time Machine to back up their device, or use an external monitor and keyboard. Without a Thunderbolt Port, how does (and do they really..?) Apple envision users connecting this device to an external display?  They may not see or want that happening at all; though I have to believe that Apple wouldn’t actively prevent users of this premium ultrabook from connecting to their premium external display.  That just doesn’t make sense…unless they plan to redesign it to also include a USB-C connector that also provides power.

And cost..!

Let’s not forget about cost..!  The amount of dongles you’re likely to need isn’t going to be an economic or frugal endeavor, either.  A USB-C to USB adapter costs about $20 bucks. However, a USB-C to digital AV, multi-port adapter is $80 bucks, and has an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and a USB-C port (for either additional expansion or most likely…power. And while USB-C supports USB 3.1 with a bandwidth of 10Gbps (on line with Thunderbolt 1) and should be able to handle multiple devices at once, including video up to 1080p, you’re going to have to daisy chain everything off the one dongle; and that’s going to get ugly (and you should get prepared for messages from your iPhone that the accessory you have it connected to may not be supported…).

This particular device screams, “give me a docking station or give me death.” Whether that docking station is simply a build out or expansion of Apple’s $80 multiport adapter or something else from a third party, like Henge Docks, remains to be seen.

Is the new MacBook for you? Is it something you want to add to your computing toolkit? Is it the beginning of the future of (Mac and Apple) computing? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and give me your thoughts?

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  • jorge correa

    From what I can see from your review, I would be better off with a Net book…. and at $1299, it doesn’t make any sense to get one. Looks like Apple messed up really bad this time around……

  • larrymcj

    I had been contemplating a 13″ MacBook Air until enticing news of the 12″ MacBook broke earlier this month. My first thoughts were: oh, boy…Retina display, only one port to worry about, etc., but this article makes a lot of sense. The only thing now more positive to me about the new MacBook is the Retina display. And if I really get down to why I want the new laptop anyway, it’s for nothing but email while on the road several times a year.

    I think I’d like to save the extra money the MacBook costs, not to mention at least another $80 in dongles, and be able to do more than one thing at once with the multiple port configuration of the MacBook Air. Plus, I’ll have a much more powerful processor with the MacBook Air.

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