The New Mac Lineup

Apple did something on Monday that Mac fans have been waiting years for — they released updates to nearly every Mac in their lineup. The iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, and even the MacBook Air saw improvements. And that’s setting aside the announcement of a new machine — the iMac Pro, which I plan to discuss in a future Linked List entry. This is exactly what Apple needed to do if they wanted to instill confidence in the Mac community that they still cared about the platform. And judging by the reactions I’ve seen online, it worked.

Of all the machines updated, the iMac is the most appealing to me. The new line features faster processors, higher RAM ceilings, the addition of two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, and discrete graphics for all of the 4K and 5K models. That’s a compelling product. Especially the entry-level Retina machine that’s now priced at $1299.

If I was buying a new Mac today, the entry-level 4K iMac, upgraded to a 256GB SSD would be the machine for me. The vast majority of my computing takes place on iOS these days, so I don’t have much need for a portable Mac. But I need a machine that can be left on at all times for Plex that is also accessible remotely with Screens for the rare occasions when I need a Mac for some random, impossible-on-iOS task.

Of course, as expected, there were minor updates to the 12-inch MacBook — Kaby Lake processors, improved graphics, and faster SSDs. But I was surprised to see updates to the MacBook Pro line. I know there were rumors of it during the lead up to WWDC, but with Apple’s recent track record, I was skeptical that they would refresh a product that was introduced so recently — they just came out seven months ago. A handful of years ago, when Intel was releasing new, faster chips with more regularity? Sure. But based on the last few years, I don’t expect refreshes that are quite this quick.

The biggest news here is the price drop on the Touch Bar-less 13-inch MacBook Pro. It starts at just $1299 now, which seems to be the new sweet spot for Macs. The 12-inch MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 4K iMac all start at $1299. It’s Apple’s new line in the sand, of sorts — if you want a Retina display, you’ll have to spend at least $1299 for it. I wish they could make Retina more affordable, but at least they’re heading in the right direction.

This does leave me wondering why someone would buy the 12-inch MacBook over the Touch Bar-less MacBook Pro when they’re identically priced. The extra storage on the MacBook is nice and, if that extra pound means a lot to you, the MacBook is lighter. But the 13-inch offers an additional USB-C port and is a lot more powerful than the MacBook. Maybe Apple will drop the price of the 12-inch with the next revision, it would really help smooth out their offerings.

I was surprised by the MacBook Pro updates, but I was shocked that Apple did anything to the MacBook Air. When John Turnis mentioned the “bump in megahertz” that it was receiving, I genuinely laughed out loud. I expected the MacBook Air to die a slow death — without any updates at all — only kept around as a placeholder until the 12-inch MacBook could be sold for $999. But the base-model MacBook Air is now available with a 1.8GHz Broadwell-based Core i5, which is just 200MHz faster than the previous base-model. It’s a paltry update, but the MacBook Air may still be Apple’s most popular Mac. And as long as that’s the case, they really should continue improving it.

And speaking of slow deaths, what’s going on with the Mac Mini? It’s the only Mac that hasn’t received any attention — no updates or even announcements of a future update. The current Mac Mini was initially released in October 2014. Since then, I don’t think there’s even been any rumors of an update, let alone an indication from Apple that one was coming.

Apple’s Mac lineup is far healthier today than it was before WWDC, but we’re not out of the woods yet. We know there’s a Mac Pro refresh in our future, but the Mac Mini is still a mystery. I’d like to see Apple ship a Mac Mini update before the end of the year — a simple configuration refresh with modern processors, increased memory, and Fusion Dives as standard would suffice, there’s no need for a major redesign. If Apple could manage that, we will have seen activity on every single Mac Apple offers in a single twelve month period. And that’s something we haven’t seen since, what, 2012? The Macintosh platform might finally being going through the revitalization that we all hoped for.