Apple’s WWDC News: What’s Hot and What’s Not
The new MacBook Pro is one sweet, sweet machine. Apple's announcement at WWDC today of its next-generation notebook computer, boasting a retina display and a flash system drive, generated lots of heat and buzz on the Internet, not to mention some griping from video pros who hoped for a powerful refresh of the Mac Pro, once the flagship computer in Apple's lineup. You should read Beth Marchant's coverage of the main points of the announcement at our main site. Here's a look at what tweaked my pleasure centers and pain receptors as I watched the news roll in today.
1) Retina display!
Anyone who works with HD (or higher-res) media for a living has to be excited about the prospect of having a window of pixel-accurate 1080p video on screen — with plenty of real estate left over for an editing, VFX, or color-correction interface. (Final Cut Pro X is getting an interface update as we speak to take better advantage — for those of you faithful still using it.) The better-than-HD screens were tantalizing when they showed up on this year's iPads, but having one in a notebook form factor is like an answered prayer. This should have a real impact on usability.
2) Who knew the most powerful MacBook Pro would also be easiest to carry?
Speaking of usability, while it's nice to have a mobile editing system, those 17-inch MacBook Pros got kind of heavy if you had to schlep them around with you all day. Impressively, the most powerful MacBook Pro in the new line-up, with its drool-worthy retina display, is also the lightest — coming in at 4.46 pounds compared to 4.5 pounds for the 13-inch version and a hefty 5.6 pounds for the non-retina 15-incher.
3) A return to Nvidia graphics.
OK, Nvidia graphics hardware isn't necessarily better or more powerful than AMD, but the fact that Adobe has so much experience with its Mercury Playback Engine and Nvidia's CUDA technology means, hopefully, Creative Suite apps like Premiere Pro and the must-have After Effects will support the GeForce GT 650M chips inside the two 15-inch MacBook Pro units announced today sooner rather than later.
4) USB 3.0!
Apple has been accused of forcing technological change on its users, especially with moves like last year's unilateral introduction of Thunderbolt technology to the marketplace in MacBook Pros. The inclusion of USB 3.0 alongside Thunderbolt technology in the new MacBook Pros is a nice nod to the fact that, especially when it comes to storage workflows, not everyone is going to want to do it exactly Apple's way.
5) Thunderbolt adapters for FireWire 800 and GigE
Speaking of flexibility, Apple introduced some useful, inexpensive adapters to its Thunderbolt line-up. The Thunderbolt-to-Gigabit-Ethernet adapter is in the Mac store now for $29, and although I can't find it at the moment, a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire-800 adapter that should come in handy for legacy hardware is also promised. These are important because the slimmed-down top-of-the-line MacBook Pro no longer has room for relatively bulky networking and FireWire ports. (You're lucky you get an SDXC card slot.) Its non-retina brethren still have Ethernet, FireWire, and audio line-in/line-out jacks.
1) What happened to the 17-inch MBP?
One of the most frustrating things Apple does is keep its users guessing about its intentions. And so it goes this time out, with the 17-inch MacBook Pro apparently being put out of its bulky, hefty misery. But we have to say apparently, because although the former kingpin of the MBP line-up has been deleted from the Apple Store online, there's always the chance that, at some point, we'll suddenly get word of the impending arrival of a 17-inch next-generation MacBook Pro (a la the delayed introduction of the first 17-inch unibody back in 2008/2009). The increased resolution for the 15-inch version is awesome, but when your eyes are drooping shut at the end of a marathon editing session, that extra inch of screen space all around can make a big difference. We'll put the question to our friendly Apple contacts next time we see them and see what kind of answer we get.
2) What happened to the Mac Pro?
Apple's product intros tend to follow the maxim "Go big or go home." There's rarely anything wishy-washy about the way they introduce new products — the technology is "magical," the engineering is "beautiful," the new display is a "killer." That has to be why no mention was made of the anemic upgrade to the Mac Pro line-up during Tim Cook's speech. (By Apple's own benchmarks, you'll only eke out a 20 percent speed gain in FCP X over previous-gen systems from 2010.) And it's why the new Mac Pro update is so puzzling. Observers were expecting Apple to either bring the Mac Pro up to date or let it die with dignity. Instead, the company put it on life support. The systems are now available with incremental upgrades of the processors and … well, there is no and. No Thunderbolt, no USB 3.0, no new graphics card options. The Mac Pro remains the most powerful Mac available, but Apple's heart doesn't seem to be in it anymore. Expect the Hackintosh community to become more active over the next few months as users cobble together hardware that runs OS X effectively and powerfully. Then again, Mark Pederson of OffHollywood here in New York tweeted today that "the bad-ass Mac Pro" is coming in October. Keep hope alive?
3) USB 3.0?
Is Apple's support for USB 3.0 an indication that Thunderbolt adoption has been slower than expected in the year or so since its introduction? By punting the question of USB vs. Thunderbolt back to the user, Apple gives post-production pros one more piece of the workflow puzzle to sort out before they sink any more money into storage hardware.
4) Flash memory is expensive!
Solid-state flash storage technology helps make the redesigned MacBook Pro light and speedy, but flash storage doesn't come cheap. The $2199 price tag quoted at WWDC buys you only 256 GB of on-board storage. Obviously, you'll be using external drives for your media storage. Still, I know that I'd like to have more memory on board for comfort's sake. A few hefty software packages, a few multi-gigabyte games, some temporary storage for FTP downloads and other incidentals, and you're really starting to chew up space. Be aware that a retina MBP with 512 GB of storage will run you $2799, and upping that to 768 GB — a big deal by flash-memory standards, but fairly typical, if not smallish, for today's HDDs — runs the price tag up by another $599. Max out your memory at 16 GB and punch the Intel Core i7 processor up to 2.7 GHz from 2.6 GHz (because why not? you're already spending enough on this machine that it doesn't make sense to cheap out on RAM and CPU speed) and you're looking at $3749 for the system.
5) Goodbye, optical disc drive. You'll be missed?
OK, this complaint might be a bit weak. I'd like to have it on board, but Apple will happily sell you an external USB SuperDrive that will fill all of your optical-disc needs (unless, um, those needs happen to include Blu-ray playback, which Steve Jobs famously described as "just a bag of hurt") for a measly $79. So … $3828 and you're all done. (Hey, you could buy a 12-core Mac Pro for that!) Is it worth it?
Well, you can't toss a Mac Pro workstation into a messenger bag. And did I mention the new MacBook Pro is one sweet, sweet machine?