Screw Upgrades: The New MacBook Pro IS the Future

Apple released a new MacBook Pro this week and I want one. Badly. More than I have wanted any gadget or computing device in quite some time.

The machine is pricey. With AppleCare, tax, an upgrade to 16GB of memory and a few accessories, it’s easily over $3,000 for the base model. That’s even more expensive than my 2009 27" iMac, even though spec-wise, it’s not that much of a bump. Still, I want one. Badly.

As my colleague Pete Pachal described the machine in his excellent review, this really is computing in the future, today. I’ve only spent a small amount of time with our test unit – but in that time, I’m already convinced that this is the most significant Mac product update Apple has released in at least five years.

Thin AND Powerful #

On Twitter, @JaceFuse said something that got to the heart of why I’m so bullish about the new MacBook Pro:

“Other than the form factor and the screen.” That’s the whole point, this machine IS the form factor and the screen. Just as the new iPad was the retina display, the new MacBook Pro is the new form factor and the astoundingly great display. That’s it.

Yes, it’s about time Apple had USB 3 on its devices (but really, we had to wait for Intel to start putting them on standard, that’s just how it goes), and yes, as my boss Lance Ulanoff likes to point out, Ultrabooks have been in the 15" space for close to a year. (Still, as I insist on pointing out to him every time the term Ultrabook is mentioned – that entire category is a complete reaction to the success of the 2010/2011 MacBook Air. Period. End of discussion.)

That doesn’t change the fact that to my knowledge, there is no other “Ultrabook-sized” quad-core i7 on the marketplace. Dual-core, sure. Quad-core? No. That’s a big jump. That’s a big deal. And maxing out at 16GB of RAM is equally impressive. As is the discrete onboard video card.

On a desktop-replacement, that might be par for the course – but in something that still weighs under 5 lbs and as almost as thin as a MacBook Air, that’s game changing.

It’s as powerful as my 27" iMac, but in a package a fraction of the size. With a screen that has better resolution.

So yeah, aside from the form factor and the screen, it’s not that great. Of course, the display and the form-factor are – to me – EVERYTHING.

The Trade Off: Serviceability and Upgrades #

The big sticking point with my more geek-minded friends – and my husband – with regards to the new MacBook Pro is the issue of user-side serviceability.

As has been discussed countless places, the RAM is soldered on and can’t be changed after purchase, the battery is actually glued inside the case, and the screen is fused to the housing. The hard drive likely will be replaceable and upgradeable with after-market parts from shops like OWC, but this is the most appliance-like MacBook Pro yet.

Already the gang at iFixit are making hay out of the issue. Now, I want to be clear, I really, really respect and like iFixit. Their rundowns and how-to guides are fantastic resources. I am in awe of their photo abilities and repair skills.

Still, when I read an editorial like this one, I have to call bullshit. Wiens makes some great points, but MANY of his underlying problems are directly tied into the fact that the lack of user-serviceable parts has a direct impact on his business.

His entire business is predicated on offering how-to guides for free, alongside tool kits and after-market parts. A big part of the reason he gets so incensed about the lack of upgradability and serviceability of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and new iPad is that the service market for those devices is very much attached to authorized Apple repair centers. The more appliance-like and non-user fixable these devices become, the more it affects his business.

I understand and respect that. But don’t turn a threat to your business into a bogus argument about how Apple is hurting the environment and making the way for planned obsolescence, etc.

No, what’s happening to PCs is very similar to what has happened to cars over the last 20 years. In order to be more powerful, more efficient and more streamlined, the products not only require less user interaction – they inhibit that interaction.

If you buy a car today, you can’t self-service it the same way you could in 1992, let alone 1972 or 1982. The machines are much more complex. As a consequence, you’re less likely to locate a guy who charges 1/10th the price of the dealer to fix your 2004 Volkswagen. It’s just the way it is.

As a value-conscious consumer, I don’t love the fact that you have to max out the RAM upon purchase of a MacBook Pro retina or MacBook Air – but I accept that it’s the price for this kind of progress.

Moreover, the RAM and the hard drive have historically been the only really user-replaceable aspects of the MacBook line – swapping out an optical drive for a second hard drive or replacing a battery aside. It’s not as if I can replace the integrated graphics card on the MacBook Pro I’m typing on without spending a ton of money trying to track down the part – at which point, I might as well just take it some place with the actual connections.

If the new MacBook Pro means that I have to take it in to Apple or TekServe for repair if it needs a new battery or has an issue with the screen – well, OK.

Frankly, the fact that computers are now powerful enough to be built more as appliances is great news. This is progress – even if it rankles the collars of nerds everywhere.

This is the future. I’m embracing it.


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