vision problems

Another milestone in computer technology has been reached.  Dropped upon the human race like a monolith of Kubrickian proportions, Apple released the new Macbook Pro a month ago to the usual pomp and circumstance.  The new model is incredibly slim at less than 2cm in thickness, and more importantly, features a breathtaking Retina display, clocked in at an astonishing five-megapixel LED display.

One question that arises is whether this incredible resolution is actually necessary.  Recently there have been calls in some (small) communities for higher-resolution displays, but are there actual, verifiable advantages to this?  Another question is that of the hardware’s ability to support it.  The Macbook Pro’s screen has more than double the pixel count of a 1080p display; the more pixels need to be driven, the greater the load on the hardware driving it.  The laptop features a GeForce GT 650M, which is more than enough to handle this sort of work, but this chip is only active when necessary; under less demanding circumstances it will rely on an Intel HD 4000, which while perfectly fine for multimedia use, isn’t well known for driving the equivalent of two and a half 1080p displaysThis is a lot of pixels for this chip.

Another feature of note is the new Macbook’s incredible thinness. At less than 2 cm, the laptop is slimmer than most keyboard keys are tall.  This feat of engineering was achieved primarily by soldering everything to the motherboard.  Everything.  Even memory is no longer user-replaceable, and while the SSD is not, in fact, soldered, it does save space by connecting through a proprietary daughterboard.  The casing requires the typical pentastar screwdriver to open, and the usual level of destruction to actually access the innards.  All this has resulted in iFixit declaring this the least repairable device of all time.

There is some defense for this new design methodology (emphasis on some).  When such extreme thinness is reached, the element holding back further progress becomes the connectors commonly used for memory and other peripherals, meaning that soldering these components saves valuable millimeters and allows that much more clearance to be reduced.  But therein lies the rub–is it really necessary to make a full size laptop this thin?  This makes more sense with smaller, lighter models (see: Macbook Air), but this is a general-use machine; portability is low on the list of priorities.  Previous versions of the Pro model came in at 2.5cm thick, which is still respectable–my personal laptop is 2.46cm, and I find this more than satisfying.  Even moreso, the Macbook Pro’s battery has been increased to 95Wh (and is, of course, unreplaceable by any means available to the consumer) and gets a healthy seven-hour charge.  By contrast, the Asus UL30 has an 84Wh battery that can easily hit the ten-hour mark; this I can attest to personally.  While the MBP is still getting an admirable battery life considering the hardware, it is clearly considerably less efficient than other designs.

At the same time as the announcement, the 17″ Macbook Pro was taken out of production by Apple.  About a year ago, the baseline Macbook was similarly (though more quietly) retired, though it was still available for institutional purchases until February of this year.  With the removal of the 17″ model, there are now only three laptops in total available from Apple: the 11.6″ Macbook Air, the 13″ Macbook Air, and the 15″ Macbook Pro.  I personally won’t be surprised if one of the two Air models is eliminated, or if the two model lines are merged into one, within a year or so.

Consumers now have to choose from a subnotebook with an SSD and soldered memory that is 1.7cm thick and features an aluminum body, or a notebook with an SSD and soldered memory that is 1.8cm thick and features an aluminum body.  As usual, Apple is dictating to its customers what they may buy–and buy they will, by the caseload.  No matter that owners might eventually want to upgrade their memory, have a need to replace the hard drive, or might not desire an aluminum body or even install a larger battery.  This is what Apple is selling you, and you will buy it.

What’s even worse is the way this will affect the secondary market.  When I say “affect,” it would probably be more accurate to say “destroy,” because that’s what is going to happen.  When in the past at least something could be salvaged from a dead laptop and used for future repairs, this won’t happen with the new MBP.  Getting the casing open alone is a pain, and the only part that could possibly be salvaged with any amount of ease is the hard drive.  There is no incentive to keep a secondary market going; no one will be motivated to take the time and effort to actually get these parts out of a dead MBP, let alone want to solder them into a new one.  This is already happening with the iPad–the device is so difficult to repair, that most reports I hear from users is that if there’s a problem, they are simply handed a new one at the Apple Store, and chances are the old one goes right in the trash.

In regards to Apple I have no cares.  Apple will do what it does, and if its customers are being inconvenienced, that is their business.  But in the last few years Apple has set a dangerous precendent.  Many other tech companies now look up to the guys in Cupertino.  When Apple does something, it (almost) invariably succeeds, and when it succeeds other companies see that success and want to replicate it.

I for one enjoy having a great array of choices when I go shopping for a new laptop.  And I, for one, will not be pleased if in the future every manufacturer is attempting to force me to buy an ultralight with soldered components and no choice of hardware.