Editorial: The future of the MacBook Pro

There are more rumors about a pending MacBook Pro refresh than just about anything else right now.

Let’s take a look at Apple’s professional notebook, and where it might be headed…


Right now, every MacBook Pro ships with a spinning hard drive, but customers can upgrade to an SSD for an extra pile of cash.

The MacBook Air, of course, uses flash-based storage. There’s not even an option for a spinning disk.

The big headline here is that the Air’s storage is a custom-built part. By avoiding the standard hard drive enclosure and connections, Apple was able to shave a ton of space out of the machine.

If the company is looking at thinning down the MacBook Pro, these razor-thin storage components may show up in new models.

However, the MacBook Air tops out at 256 GB of storage. The MacBook Pro can currently pack a 500 GB hard drive, or (for $1,300) a 512 GB SSD.

Prices will continue to fall, but until they do, many have suggested that Apple may ship a hybrid system — one with SSD and a classic hard drive, working in tandem. The common assumption is that the OS would live on the SSD, with user data on the hard drive.

I think that’s a great setup for some people. I’m thinking about ditching my MacBook Pro’s SuperDrive and popping in a SSD.

But I’m a power user. I know how Terminal works. On the other end of things, you have my parents, who (bless their hearts) misplace files all the time. Having two volumes would only further confuse new users. Of course, Apple could make the two volumes appear as one in software, but I’m not sure that would happen.

Another issue would be Time Machine, which currently can only use one volume as the source for data to backup.

The SuperDrive

The above question — on a slide shown during Steve’s 2008 keynote in which the company introduced the MacBook Air — is still being answered.

Again, the MacBook Air is showing where Apple is going. Without an optical drive, users get to enjoy a thinner enclosure with better battery life. Many people don’t think optical media is necessary for most users anymore. Just look at the Mac App Store. Like it or not, that’s the future.

Are we ready to say goodbye to optical media yet? People complained when Apple killed the 3.5-inch floppy disk drive in 1998 with the iMac. In retrospect, those people were wrong. Users who needed a disk drive used an external one — just like Air owners do.

I think the SuperDrive’s living on borrowed time. While it may not go away in the coming weeks, I don’t think it has long left to live.

Ports and Power

As usual, I’m sure new MacBook Pros will be more powerful with better batteries.

Rumors of more dense battery cells have surfaced over the last few days, and I think they’re probably accurate. When Apple moved to the unibody design, the company made a big deal of its new battery tech. I’m sure that has evolved over the last few years, and I think we may see the payoff soon.

On the I/O end of things, I don’t expect much to change. USB 3, Light Peak and Firewire 3200 are all too far off to see in the coming weeks.

Thin is in

The MacBook Air’s tapered case is possible due to Apple’s SSD components and ditching the SuperDrive. Even if Apple doesn’t make those changes to the Pro line, I’m sure that new models will continue to shed both inches and pounds. Even if the new units still ship with hard drives and SuperDrives, I bet the tapered case will show up anyways.

Of course, the wildcard is that the MacBook Pro could stay the same, and Apple unveil a 15-inch MacBook Air, giving notebook users more options than ever. That would really be something.

The Future

Whatever is released, some people will be in love with it, others will be disappointed. That’s just how things go. That said, what would you like to see in a new MacBook Pro? Fire off in the comments below!

Stephen Hackett, formerly a Lead Mac Genius at Apple, now spends his days running the IT department of a large non-profit in Memphis, TN. He writes about Apple, design and journalism at forkbombr.net. Like all twenty-somethings, you can find him… Full Bio