The 'Book Review

MacBook Pro Price Cuts Portend New Models?, Retina Display MacBooks Expected to Cost More, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.05.29

General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion


Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Best Buy MacBook Pro Price Cuts a Sign of New Models?

DigitalTrends' Jeff Saginor reports that Best Buy is discounting Apple's current MacBook Pro models, leading to increased speculation that an update of the company's notebook models will be coming soon.

Saginor says Best Buy is discounting the MacBook Pro by at least $100 - and high-end 15.4" models are now offered at nearly $200 off Apple's seldom-reduced MSRP. From this he deduces that Best Buy (and Apple?) are clearing the decks for the launch of new models, which could possibly debut alongside OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, iOS 6, and iCloud updates at the World Wide Developer Conference 2012, which begins June 11.

If so, that would be the first time in 13 years that Apple debuted notebook hardware at the WWDC, the last instance being the PowerBook G3 Series Bronze (aka: Pismo) in 1999. Citing more recent precedent, Saginor notes that last time Best Buy significantly discounted an Apple product was a $50 dollar iPad 2 price cut back in February, with the new iPad was released a week later. It bears noting that in hindsight, that wasn't much of a deal, since the iPad 2 remained available after the New iPad release at a price of $100 less and with a new, faster, lower power consumption version of the A5 CPU sweetening the value further.

Retina Display MacBook Pros Expected to Be a Hit Despite Higher Price

Macworld UK's Karen Haslam says that the new MacBook Pro may cost more than the current models due to the cost of the Retina Display screen Apple is said to be using, but that won't stop fans buying the new model, noting that responders to an informal Twitter query affirmed that they would still purchase a new MacBook even if it was priced at $100 more, according to Mac.Blorge. Haslam also cites Computerworld blogger Jonny Evans' musings on the iPhone and iPad halo effect, observing that the faster, better, slimmer new higher-than-HD def Macs will not be aimed at a 1999 audience of 20 million Mac users, but at a global audience constituted by users of every iPhone, iPad, or Mac user on the planet.

You Might Be Underwhelmed by the Resolution of Retina Display Macs

Cult of Mac's John Brownlee asks, "How many does pixels does a Mac really need to qualify as Retina, anyway?" He notes that Macs with Retina displays are looking increasingly likely, with many expecting an iPhone or iPad-style resolution doubling. Ergo, the current 15" MacBook Pro has a 1440 x 900 display so a Retina Display 15" MBP would purportedly have a 2880 x 1800 display.

However, Brownlee observes that a disconnect in that school of thought is that there's no benefit to Apple handling a jump to Retina Display Macs this way, because its current Macs are already almost Retina quality.

Brownlee suggests resolutions of 1680 x 1050 for 11.6" MacBook Air and 1920 x 1200 for 13.3" and 15.4" MacBooks, along with 2560 x 1440 for the 21" iMac and 3840 x 2160 for the 27" iMac.

Once You Go Mac, Can Dell's XPS 13 Bring You Back?

Forbes' Brian Caulfield says that ever since back on October 20, 2010 when Steve Jobs introduced the second generation MacBook Air, he's wanted one badly - resolving that his next personal laptop would be an Air.

Rather than buy one, he waited. And waited. And then earlier this year, Dell introduced its XPS 13 Ultrabook - thin, light, and quick - and while it's not as flashy as the MacBook Air, Dell's designers have pulled off a number of clever tricks, e.g.: cramming a 13.3" screen into a ridiculously small package with a smaller footprint than Apple's 13.3" MacBook Air. Even more impressive: The Dell is $300 cheaper. It's missing some features you'll find on the 13" MacBook Air, although he concedes that there's no Secure Digital Card slot and the screen is lower resolution, but that said, the Dell, which starts at $999 with a 128 GB SSD, doesn't feel cheap, and soft touch plastics, metal highlights, and an aluminum lid give the XPS 13 a higher-end feel than some much pricier Windows machines.

But at the end of the day, Caulfield finds the XPS 13 doesn't do enough to lure many people back from Apple, and while his next personal machine won't necessarily be a MacBook Air, it won't be the XPS 13 he tried out either.


Sonnet Technologies Echo Pro Thunderbolt-to-ExpressCard Adapter

Bare Feats' rob-ART Morgan reports that Sonnet has created a unique Thunderbolt-to-ExpressCard/34 adapter that presents a host of possibilities for anyone with a Mac sporting a Thunderbolt port. The product is called the Echo ExpressCard Pro Thunderbolt Adapter, and Morgan says we should think of it as a "gateway" to storage options other than an expensive "pure" Thunderbolt enclosure - a way to use, for example, an eSATA enclosure you already own, and noting that it performs very well, especially when teamed up with Sonnet's new Tempo edge SATA Pro 6Gb/s ExpressCard/34 with single eSATA port, and that the Echo ExpressCard Pro Thunderbolt Adapter with the Edge 6G card supports booting into OS X, and can be used with any Mac that has a Thunderbolt port including the iMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini, and that for owners of MacBook Pros with an ExpressCard slot the new Sonnet Tempo edge SATA Pro 6Gb/s ExpressCard/34 inserted in the MacBook Pro's built-in ExpressCard/34 slot does sequential reads and writes just as fast as when it is plugged into the Echo Pro - making it the fastest eSATA ExpressCard available.

Tech Trends

Netbooks Not Dead Yet: Acer & Asus to Launch New Netbooks with Upgraded Atom Processors

DigiTimes' Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai report that with most other vendors having quit the netbook market and netbook shipments becoming more stable, Acer and Asus plan to launch new netbook models with Intel's upgraded dual-core 1.6 GHz Atom N2600 and 1.86 GHz M2800 processors, complete with Hyperthreading and SpeedStep, adding new function design to improve performance and a Windows 8-based model set to appear at the end of the third quarter, according to sources from notebook players.

Chen and Tsai note that while the netbook segment is fizzling in mainstream markets, demand still remains strong in emerging markets.

Affordable Thin-and-Light Notebooks Won't Necessarily Be Called 'Ultrabooks'

Tech.pinions' Ben Bajarin predicts looming laptop wars coming - not between Macs and Windows based notebooks, but intramural rivalry between Intel-spec'ed Ultrabooks and thin and light non-Ultrabook designs from PC vendors.

Bajarin says one thing he's learned in 12 years as an industry analyst it is that OEMs don't generally like being told what they can and can't do with their hardware designs, and while every OEM wants to take advantage of the thin-and-light designs driving Ultrabooks, they may want to vary the CPU capabilities, but if they want to use, say, an non-Intel chip such as AMD's 2nd-Generation A-Series APU, codenamed Trinity, in a design that looks exactly like an Ultrabook, they can't call it an Ultrabook, since the latter is an Intel trademark with strict guidelines attached.

He notes that HP recently launched a new laptop line called SleekBooks, and he expects that similar Ultrathins will enter the market well below the price of Ultrabooks, suggesting that with all of these options consumers may very well go with price and walk with with something other than an official Ultrabook - perhaps not even knowing they didn't purchase a real Ultrabook.

Bajarin also suggests that while Apple's iPad has served as a supplement to existing notebooks for some users, making it easier to delay the purchase of a new system, he thinks that pent-up demand for laptop upgrades is substantial, and whether it's Ultrabooks or generic thin-and-lights that will look and smell like Ultrabooks but be priced quite a bit lower, he anticipates at least a short term positive spike in notebook sales over the next few years.

Ultrabook Laptops Are More than Just MacBook Air Clones

PC World's Melanie Pinola notes that PC Ultrabooks are sleek, super-thin laptops that often feature a sliver, wedge, or tapering design - just like the Apple MacBook Air. However, she contends that despite Ultrabooks' design similarities with Apple's ultraportable, Ultrabooks really are a unique new breed of Windows laptops, offering a distinct combination of performance, good looks, and features - some of which not available on the MacBook Air.

Nor are they necessarily copycats. Pinola observes that in 2003 - five years before Apple introduced the MacBook Air - Sony released a premium, super-thin, 1.8-pound laptop, The Vaio X505, whose enclosure tapered down to 0.4" at the front (thinner than the Air) and had the sleek metallic body found on Ultrabooks today. She also notes that the HP Envy Spectre XT, for example, has a magnesium body with a brushed design and a rubber bottom coating, while the Air uses aluminum with no pattern or bottom coating, and while even though Ultrabooks do look exactly like the MacBook Air, often there are significant differences inside. Besides running Windows, using Intel processors, and meeting the thinness requirement, laptop makers are free to adapt Intel's specifications for Ultrabooks as they see fit.

Some Ultrabooks push the dimensions of Ultrabooks with larger displays, and Ultrabooks tend to offer more I/O ports and expansion headroom and flexibility than the MacBook Air does, with options for both SSD and hybrid hard drives, the hybrid alternative increasing storage capacity in exchange for a bit of a performance hit, and some models offer discrete Nvidia graphics.

Bargain 'Books

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