Apple

Apple's MacBook lineup: Which works better for business?

Jesus Vigo examines the pros and cons of Apple's MacBook lineup to determine which works better for business.

MacBook lineup

Apple's annual events elicit something of fervor in crowds. When announcing the latest iteration of an iPhone or the newest iPods in the times prior the 2007's unveiling of the first gen iPhone, it was not uncommon to hear of one or several groups forming lines to be the first to nab a coveted iDevice.

At the recent Spring Forward event, Apple broke its silence regarding pricing and specs for the much-touted Apple Watch, and publicly showed the latest in the MacBook line — the New MacBook, which is a slim, sleek, state-of-the-art engineering marvel contained within a 2 lb frame with a Retina screen and next-gen USB-C connector.

As with most forms of technology, the latest and greatest — whether it's a product released by Apple or rival Samsung — the general public wants it... but do they need it? Perhaps, more importantly, will it suit their needs better (or worse) than another product? When looked at from a logical perspective, the answer might just surprise you. Let's take a closer look.

New MacBook

Description: The newest MacBook in Apple's stable of portable computing devices. Forward thinking, über efficient to balance both power and performance, and the lightest full-size device with a high-def Retina screen and rated at up to 10 hours of battery life on a full-charge. Cost: $1,299.

Figure A

What are the key specifications?

This New MacBook is packed with new technology not available on other devices — Apple or other 3rd-party laptops. The most controversial decision is two-fold surrounding the same item: USB-C connector. The newest USB connector allows for blazing fast (5 Gbps) transfer utilizing a new cable connector, which is not only reversible, but also can carry video streams and electrical over the same wiring as data. This means one cable will essentially pull triple duty in charging the laptop, perform data transfers to external devices, and carry video/audio to external monitors, all while remaining backwards -compatible with previous USB standards and connectors.

In addition to the USB-C connector, is the inclusion of a Retina screen on a lighter, non-Pro labeled laptop. It also has a new, more mechanically robust keyboard that pulls the keys in closer together, but making them larger and utilizing the additional space on the sides of the keyboard for more real estate.

The existing trackpad, which has been a staple throughout the entire MacBook lineup, has been replaced by the Force Touch trackpad. The latter uses multiple touch sensors within the pad itself that detect previously used gestures like its predecessor and makes it pressure sensitive to allow a whole new slew of gestures that integrate with apps, offering a whole new level of control never experienced before. Lastly, the reengineered system would not be complete without both a redesigned battery that fits modularly into the redesigned, all-aluminum chassis. By shrinking down the die size of the CPU, storage, RAM, and logic board, the system is freed up to allow more space for its battery and — as a by product of the reduced system internals — it's whisper quiet as the internals do not require additional cooling typically found by using small fans to cool the CPU down to prevent overheating.

The New MacBook is Apple's lightest laptop ever, barely tipping the scales at 2.03 lbs.

How could it better serve businesses?

Depending on the type of work performed and where it's performed, this will vary from professional to professional. However, the largest complaint by far has been the lack of ports — most notably the lack of multiple ports. USB-C is new and, as such, there will be growing pains as devices inevitably transition to the new style connector. But one port is still just one port, and that is extremely limiting.

Ask any IT admin, and the lack of an Ethernet port is a killer. Wi-Fi is nice, but how do you go online when Wi-Fi is down or if there's no wireless connectivity at all — only wired Ethernet? At least using an USB-to-Ethernet adapter would alleviate this problem, but it might prove difficult if the laptop is low on power and you have tp utilize that sole port for charging.

Who is the target audience?

While the New MacBook could conceivably be used by just about anyone in any range of professions, the sad truth as that, with the lack of several business-oriented ports and the inclusion of just one USB-C port in total, multitasking or simply those who find themselves using several ports at once to sync their smartphone, backup files to external devices, and charge their laptop simultaneously will be forced to pick one task and stick to it or carry an assortment of cable adapters and perhaps even a USB hub to power all their devices at once.

The New MacBook — in its current iteration — will likely be adopted by general end users that do not require more than one or two apps at a time and those causal users that typically focus on just one device at a time.

MacBook Air

Description: The MacBook Air has been Apple's de facto ultraportable since its release in 2008. The form factor notwithstanding, the Air has taken the lead in SSD performance, incredible battery life (up to 12 hours on a full charge), and has been able to pack a powerhouse into the small frame.

Figure B

What are the key specifications?

Lightweight and battery life have always been the Air's claim to fame. Though other computers have tried to match its look, the Air counts among its features a solid, all-aluminum construction. Additionally, the Air includes the latest Intel dual-core processors and not the watered-down versions found on some competing devices, in addition to a solid set of ports for connecting USB 3.0 devices, Thunderbolt, and an SD reader (13" model). Cost:11" for $899; 13" for $999.

With up to 12 hours of battery life and the MagSafe 2 adapter, the Air sips instead of gulping down battery. And you'll never tired of tripping the cable only to see it disconnect gently from the system instead of being yanked out and destroying the charging port.

Lastly, there are two models: 11" and 13" each providing a similar set of specifications, with the 11" not including an SD reader and weighing about 0.5 lbs. less than its larger sibling.

Who is the target audience?

The target audience on the MacBook Air has always been mobile professionals and those who traveled and required a full-fledged notebook without the added bulk and minimal battery life. As technology progressed, Apple began to include more RAM in the base model and implemented SSDs that were rated faster in performance than many desktop stations. This has transitioned the Air from an executive or travel-only device to also include various other business professionals from finance and marketing to IT, and it has even gained a significant foothold from causal users given the discontinuation of the previous all-plastic MacBook model and the smaller size and lowered price point.

How could it better serve businesses?

The additional ports are a heaven send, especially when multitasking is required in order to get work done or power outlets are in high demand.

One sector the Air has yet to really permeate into is the creative realm. Given its efficiency and desktop-like capabilities, the Air could benefit from added RAM and more storage space for saving high-quality artwork and media files. Additionally, the inclusion of a Retina quality screen is something that many — business and consumer — have been clamoring for.

Lastly, the lack of Force Touch trackpad on the 2015 model Air is perplexing, as gestures are widely used across all business and consumer lines, making this a more efficient way to work.

MacBook Pro Retina

Description: The mobile Mac powerhouse. The MacBook Pro has seen many forms over the years, but Apple's attention to detail and high quality have set the Pro line apart from all the laptops available. MacBook Pro is aimed squarely at the creatives responsible for art, music, and movies. Pro devices contain the fastest components and feature enough CPU, RAM, and storage to be able to get the work done fast. Included are also a large number of ports for a number of external devices, ensuring that any wide-ranging connector needed to get the task accomplished are supported.

Figure C

What are the key specifications?

Besides the increased CPU, RAM, and storage, the Pro adds a number of additional ports such as multiple USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, and SDXC reader. Add to that a Retina screen and battery life of up to 12 hours.

Rounding out the incredible power offering on the MacBook Pro line is the inclusion of the MagSafe 2 charger identical to the Air to prevent accidental cord tugs from causing damage to the high-performing system.

Lastly, the Pro comes in two variations: 13" and 15" models that also feature an increase in power and connectivity for the higher-end 15" MacBook Pro. Cost: 13" for $1,299; 15" for $1,999.

Who is the target audience?

Creative individuals that require extra power, more storage, and higher quality screen real estate to complete projects and tasks that would ordinarily take lesser systems hours more to complete than the Pro. Since the MacBook Pro is the workhorse of the line, those looking for a system higher spec'd system have typically found what they're looking for in the Pro with increased storage and performance being the two most critical needs addressed.

How could it better serve businesses?

With the MacBook Pro weighing in at almost 3.5 lbs. and 4.5 lbs. respectively for the 13" and 15" models, this makes it a difficult proposition for travel or the mobile professional. While 4.5 lbs. is still very much so within the portable label, it's also nearly double the size of the Air and weighs more than 2x more than the New MacBook. The weight is certainly a point of contention for the avid traveler looking to work on the go.

Also, the prices (especially on the 15" model) could be more in line when compared to the other laptops in the MacBook lineup, as that makes it a harder sell for business to justify $2,000 expense comparatively to two 13" MacBook Air's or a New MacBook and an 11" MacBook Air.

The truth of the matter is that justifying the purchase of one MacBook over the other is both quantitative and qualitative. It comes down to a combination of "I want" vs. "I need."

The Enterprise has seen shifts in this, most recently with BYOD offsetting the "I want" by allowing employees fit the bill for the equipment that they want to get the job done.

Ultimately, it comes down to the end user and his/her workload and workflow. On paper, the New MacBook — while an attractive mix of new technology and definitely more in line with something I've personally been waiting for — will be a pass for me this time around, since I primarily use my MacBook Air for business, and the New MacBook is simply aimed too much at the general public to suit my current needs. By contrast, the MacBook Pro is often times an excessive monster that did more to hurt my back than speed up my workload.

Which model do you feel works best for you and your unique workload? Let us know in the discussion thread below.

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About Jesus Vigo

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

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