Now that the MacBook Air has been revealed, many are curious about what's next.
The MacBook and the Mac Mini continue to be lower-cost winners for Apple and their customers. It isn't costing Apple much to keep these designs around, and they continue to sell well. I don't suspect that Apple will substantially change these machines until Intel releases a compelling alternative to the Core 2 Duo platform.
The MacBook Pro is also a winner, but its basic design has been around since about 2003. I suspect that the MacBook Pro will have a substantial redesign in mid-to-late 2008.
Does the MacBook Air reveal the roadmap for the Pro?
It's time for an update, and Apple's recent products should give us a hint of where its going: Thin and Gorgeous.
Apple's most recent new products, the Nano, Touch, and Air, all follow that attractive theme. Products that don't fit that mold are clearly yesterday's designs. Apple's flagship notebook line no longer fits the future.
The MacBook Pro is a pretty device, but now it's boxy and dated. But it remains quite capable: a recent report concluded that the MacBook Pro runs Vista faster than any other notebook.
How Apple could update the MacBook Pro line is fairly clear: The new Core 2 chipset used in the Air requires less space, less power, and less cooling. Using this class of chipset in the Pro series will permit it to be substantially smaller. I expect a 15" and a 17" Pro that is substantially thinner and lighter than the current series. Being a "Pro", I expect Apple to retain all of the ports and features of the Pro series. Except one....
Internal optical drives: Deprecated, or obsolete?
The big question is: will Apple keep the optical drive in the Pro? An optical drive adds a lot of volume and weight. It reduces battery life. An optical drive reduces the overall reliability of the machine. And with BluRay, optical drive technology is in flux. Given all that, Apple may conclude that the lack of the internal optical drive will make the Pro an even better platform.
Other Air features for the entire Notebook line
The Air also points us to other new features. A new Magsafe connector and micro DVI connector are well suited to thin platforms. I suspect that Apple will commonize these interfaces on their product lines to simplify the customer experience, and to reduce the number of dongles and adapters they need to stock. And for the same space saving reasons, Apple may switch to the small 4-pin FireWire interface, as seen on numerous laptops, as it is both common and small.
The Nano and Air shows us that Apple is being aggressive in terms of design. The MBA is a compete rethink of notebook design. Many of these lessons learned should find their way into the MacBook Pro as Apple redefines the high-end notebook computer market.