May 9, 2011

Thunderbolt Is Key To the Portable Mac's Future

Marco Arment posted a succinct piece today on the future of Apple's laptop computing line, and how it revolves around their new Thunderbolt port technology.

Apple has rolled out new MacBook Pro and iMac models over the past months, both possessing this new port technology. If Marco is right about the company superseding Ethernet and Firewire ports with the new connector, and doing so on the next generation MacBook Pro 15-inch model, I think we can expect to see the Apple laptop lineup evolve into the following:

  • 15- and 17-inch wedge-shaped MacBook Pros. As Marco notes, inclusion of a Thunderbolt port allows these machines to shed their Ethernet and Firewire ports, which require current models to be as thick as they are. I think these models lose their internal optical drives, not due to space considerations but as an industry-leading move away from that aging technology. Software is downloadable or may be offered on cheap USB flash drives, while movies may be streamed. DVDs make for poor backup media. For holdouts, the nternal optical drive is easily and cheaply replaced by an external unit. Steve Jobs said (via All Things D) that the MacBook Air's industrial design will be the future for laptops. Here's where we see it spread further.
  • a merged 13-inch MacBook Pro/Air with fewer ports and SSD-only persistent storage. The only significant differences between these two machines today are the Pro's newer, faster processors (expect them in new Airs, soon), available hard drives (the loss of which would be less an issue as SSD component prices fall) and connector ports. This Pro's built-in optical drive goes away, as well. Reduced component prices allow the base model to replace the current entry-level 13-inch white MacBook, too. Often overlooked, this lowest-priced MacBook currently counts for one-third of Apple’s notebook business, which itself equals 73% of all Mac sales (Shaw Wu, analyst for Sterne Agee via Cult of Mac).
  • an 11-inch MacBook Air. This model will look and feel more like an iPad with an attached keyboard as OS X adopts more of iOS's interface features in the upcoming Lion refresh.