Thoughts On An Ideal Mac Lineup
With Apple’s ‘Peek Performance’ event happening tomorrow and rumors swirling regarding which new Mac if any, they’ll introduce, I thought it was high time to get my ideas out on where I think Apple should go with their Mac lineup. Granted, I’m not in the market for a new Mac, but I do have #opinions about what would make sense for a typical customer walking into an Apple Store these days.
I’m not the first, but I am the latest to say that Apple would benefit by returning to Steve Jobs’s famed product grid. David Sparks recently explained a similar decision tree that I agree would work well:
I also just like the symmetry of it all. You go into an Apple store and answer two questions:
- Consumer or Pro?
- Small or large?
Let’s compare that ideal flow to where we are today.
Confusion Remains a Product in Our Lineup
Take the current 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro, for example. Who is it for? Well, I suppose it’s for someone who wants a ‘Pro’ laptop with more power than a MacBook Air, except not really because they both run on the M1, so the performance difference is negligible. So maybe it’s for someone who wants a small(er) laptop and doesn’t need all the performance or cost of the “real” 14 or 16-inch MacBooks Pro. But, again, why not go for a MacBook Air, which has the same size screen and processor, but in a smaller form factor? Okay, got it. It’s for the customer who wants the Touch Bar. Nailed it. But…I wouldn’t get too attached, seeing as the Touch Bar has never received an improvement, and it’s missing from all of Apple’s other laptops.
Apple gets a little leeway, for now, being that they’re in the middle of a major processor transition and all, but I’ve long felt that the Mac’s variety has needed paring down. You could say I cherry-picked the 13-inch MacBook Pro for my example since it’s widely thought that it doesn’t have a secure spot in the Mac family anymore.
So allow me to spell out the Mac lineup that I want to see Apple make.
An All-Stars Lineup
- 12-inch MacBook (with M1)
- 14-inch MacBook (with M1)
- 14-inch MacBook Pro (with M1 Pro or M1 Max)
- 16-inch MacBook Pro (with M1 Pro or M1 Max)
- 24-inch iMac (with M1)
- 30-inch iMac Pro (with M1 Pro/Duo, or M1 Max/Duo)
- Mac mini (with M1, M1 Pro, or M1 Max)
- Mac Pro (with M1 Pro Duo/Quad, or M1 Max Duo/Quad)
The cohesion would be refreshing. Every product would have its place.
This kind of lineup makes Apple’s laptops easier to sell, too. Back to Sparky’s questions: Do you prefer a smaller and more portable screen or a larger but heavier one? And do you need a consumer model or a pro one? If they go for a pro model, the follow-up question is simply, “Do you need more power (M1 Pro) or all of the power (M1 Max)?”
With some bezel-shrinking magic, the 13-inch MacBook Air transforms into a 14-inch MacBook. Folks have wanted a bigger entry laptop for ages, and it’s time they got it. The discontinued-but-not-that-old 12-inch MacBook was beloved despite being underpowered, but Apple silicon would unleash it to be the ultimate thin-and-light-yet-still-capable machine it was meant to be. I see it featuring the same entry-level chip as the 14-inch model.
I think that ‘Pro’ products deserve to have their features and enclosures designed around the capability of their chipset. We should no longer see the days of computers being “designed into a thermal corner” or throttled because Apple tried to pack a screamer chipset into a case that was made for something more pedestrian. That’s why I think it’s time to bring back the iMac Pro with a design specifically made for the Pro and Max flavors of chips.
And they’ve got to get rid of that 13-inch MacBook Pro. That laptop is overshadowed by both the raw power of its truly ‘Pro’ bigger brothers and its smaller-but-just-as-fast sibling, the MacBook Air. The latest MacBooks Pro are the best Apple’s ever shipped, and I think they’ve hit a sweet spot in regards to power, thinness, battery life, and overall premium features.
The M1 iMac found a good screen size at 24-inches. It seems to be plenty large for most users but in a shockingly small footprint. The iMac Pro’s screen could stretch out with a similar 3-inch expansion to 30-inches without dramatically increasing the overall display size. If M1 Pro and Max can fit in a laptop, all that extra room in a desktop should be plenty for dual Pro or Max chipset.
The Mac Pro would live on for the extreme end of computing needs. We’ve heard whispers that it would get a dual or quad Apple silicon setup for ages. However, with all the extra thermal headroom in the current badass Mac Pro case, I don’t think it’s even in need of a significant redesign. Hopefully, the switch to Apple’s in-house processor would not significantly restrict the other user expansion possible with the Mac Pro.
The Mac mini is the only odd one out, offering pro-level chips without being a ‘Pro’ device. But the Mac mini has always been that “release valve” product by filling lots of kinds of needs where the other Macs could not, therefore earning its expanded role.
A Few Other Thoughts
- The age of the odd-inched Mac displays is over. It’s time to usher in only even-inched screens!
- I’ve specified the M1 series of chips in this post, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the M2 series debut as soon as tomorrow. To me, this lineup would work for years to come as Apple swaps in ever more advanced silicon.
- As far as price points go, hitting $999 for the entry laptop seems to be crucial. Could a 12-inch MacBook do it? I think so, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the current M1 MacBook Air stick around for a little while until the M2 12-inch MacBook could take its place.
- Related: The ‘Air’ brand has started feeling tired to me. Regular plus Pro makes everything easier, just like with the iPhone.
- Relatedly related: The guys on the Connected podcast had a good discussion regarding the merits of a larger MacBook Air and how Apple has struggled to hit the price points they want.
- I really want to see the 24-inch iMac’s gorgeous colors come to the MacBook lineup. Of course, I’d love to see more colors for ‘Pro’ products too, but I’m not as dead-set on it.
- Also color-related: It’s time to retire the gold laptops. They look really out of style these days.
- I’m not convinced about how the latest rumors of a ‘Mac Studio’ would play in.
If the rumors are to be believed, my ideal lineup doesn’t have a great chance of manifesting at tomorrow’s event. But I’ll be watching with fingers crossed for signs that Apple sees the need for a more cohesive Mac family.