Thoughts on the Apple iPad / MacBook Pro event

I wasn’t planning on watching the live stream, knowing that the days of the ‘one last thing’ are now well and truly over. But the lure of the Apple keynote remains strong, and the promise of lots of products being ‘covered’ (compared to the iPhone 5s and 5c unveil, which was confident yet too narrowly focused) steadily ate away at my resolve. Before long, I found myself staring groggily at the Safari page at 2am, unable to close my MacBook’s lid. Here are some thoughts on the day’s announcements:

New MacBook Pro retina
– My main computer is the original lowest-end 13 inch MacBook Pro retina (MBPr) model from last year, and apart from the woeful lack of storage (128GB) it’s far and away the best computer I have ever used. MBPr’s combination of crazy-high resolution, typically satisfying build-quality, slim size and mostly excellent power management makes for an unbeatable package, so the only interest I had today was to see what sort of battery life the new models would get. This year’s new MacBook Airs got up to 12 hours with Haswell CPUs, so my hopes were pretty high. 7 hours on my current MBPr is by no means bad, but a laptop that lasts more than a dozen hours in the wild pretty much solves the battery life conundrum that portable computers have suffered for as long as they have existed. Perhaps I should have remembered that the MBPr has to drive its awesome resolution and so it’s unreasonable to expect Air-like battery life, but Apple is nothing if not inspiring of unreasonable expectations. 9 hours for the new 13-inchers (and 8 for the 15-inch version) are still damn good, but probably not enough for me to upgrade for it alone. I will have to wait for the day MBPr catches up to MBA’s maximum battery life. I was a little puzzled to see that the RAM for the base MBPr model has been reduced to 4GB. The 8GB on last year’s models is a great asset and makes the MBPr more than an adequate alternative for desktop computing, so to see it get halved for the new base model is somewhat disappointing.

iPad Air and iPad mini retina
– I had such great expectations for what I was sure would be a retina-fied iPad mini that I sold the original mini and was all but ready to take my credit card out as I watched the unveil. And the new iPad mini with retina was exactly what rumours said it would be: the same form factor, with a resolution that was no longer an anachronism. Surprising, though, was just how attractive the iPad Air seems. All speculation pointed to it taking on the iPad mini form factor with chamfered edges and all that, and such talk didn’t seem to make anyone particularly excited, but watching the keynote and finding out how much lighter and smaller it’s become, I found myself responding with far greater enthusiasm. I have gone from ‘The new iPad mini is so mine – I’m gonna get it as soon as it comes out’ to ‘Will have to see both the Air and the mini in person before making up my mind.’

OS X Mavericks
– Almost all the things that we needed to know about Mavericks was already shown off previously, so it was a matter of how much it was going to cost and when we could start downloading it. As Craig Federighi started to build up the rhetoric on the pricing and release date towards the end of his presentation, you started to sense that on both points Apple were going to be rather magnanimous, and so it proved to be. There’s no twisting it: Apple has done a nice thing giving away Mavericks (and iWork and iLife) for free, and deserves nothing but praise for the decision.
– I am writing this with the new OS installed, and generally everything moves with a better sense of nimbleness and clarity. Obviously a lot more time is needed to give a full impression, however. One caveat: my MBPr is getting unusually toasty with just Chrome and Ulysses open, although the battery does not appear to be draining any faster.

The Black Knight
– Phil Schiller provided a genuine moment of (unintentional) hilarity when he spoke of his love for Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies, only to suffer a brain scramble and call it ‘The Black Knight trilogy.’ What made it doubly hilarious was that you could tell as soon as he said it Schiller knew he cocked it up, and indeed he appeared ever so slightly cowed for the rest of the keynote. It’s a shame, because he is usually the most affable of all the Apple executives who appear on stage, but funny nonetheless.

A new MacBook Pro retina with a 12-hour battery life would have made me seriously consider upgrading after only a year, but as it is I can safely hold off for now. On the other hand, what was going to be a sure-fire purchase of the new iPad mini retina is now no longer a foregone conclusion, and I will have to see the iPad Air in person before making up my mind. For such a heavily telegraphed device, it was still a pleasant surprise.

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