Have no doubt about this: Apple is revamping their MacBook Pro line in 2012 in a radical way -- not merely evolutionary. We know this not because of the usual rumours , but because there is no way this will not happen.
This is what we expect.
A radical but logical change
When Steve Jobs said that the MacBook Air was the future of laptops, he was right. To the disgust of a vocal minority, Apple destroyed lots of ancient technology with the Air. They simplified its guts and squeezed its industrial design to create an amazing machine. The result was a huge success -- and the whole industry started their photocopiers once again.
It's only logical that they will take the same steps with their MacBook Pro. It's not only a rational consequence of the Air, it's also extremely convenient for their bottom line and their public image: The new MacBook Pros -- and not the beefed-up iPad 3 -- will be the first real test for the new executive team at Apple.
They need to make a statement. Here's how.
The new MacBook Pro will use Ivy Bridge, the new Intel 22-nanometre architecture with 3D transistors that will provide quite a speed boost over the current MacBooks. Intel estimates that it Ivy Bridge will provide a 20 per cent performance boost with comparable Sandy Bridge laptops. Ivy Bridge also provides a 30 per cent boost in integrated graphics performance, although these machines will use something stronger to drive graphic intensive applications (more on this later).
No hard drives
Screw the hard drives. It's antiquated technology with a negative impact on battery life. Apple loves SSD and Apple users love SSD. They may not be the cheapest, but it's the fastest, safest and most power efficient storage technology for mobile devices. Moving their entire laptop line to SSD will also give them more buying power, which will help them keep the same price and benefit margins.
SSDs are also key for speed. In fact, for most consumers, it's also one of the key factors to boosting speed perception, even more than the processor and the graphic cards. When everything loads and saves almost instantly, people instantly get it, which is what happened with the Air.
No legacy stuff
The new MacBook Pro 2012 line will get rid of legacy technology. That means no more optical drives, and no more Ethernet port and FireWire. These machines will have nothing but a bunch of Thunderbolt and USB ports, plus the SD memory card reader, just like the MacBook Air. By taking this out, the new machines will save space and simplify the electronics on board.
I can't remember the last time I used my optical drive. All my media and application consumption goes through online services. And I can't remember the last time I used my Ethernet port. Most consumers are in the same position. And while FireWire is the only point of conflict I may have -- since I use it for backups and extra disk space -- an adaptor will easily an cheaply take care of any legacy equipment. In fact, there's plenty of Thunderbolt adaptors at this point, for FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, and even PC Cards.
The machines will have a high definition Retina-ish display. This is part of Apple's ongoing move to HiDPI.
How much? They will not be as dense as the iPhone's 326 pixels per inch -- which is as high as your average printed page -- but they will be close enough. The current 15-inch MacBook has a 128-pixel-per-inch display (1440 by 900 pixels), while the 17-inch runs at 133 pixels per inch (1920 by 1200 pixels). These relative resolutions are similar to the current MacBook Airs. The question now is if they would be able to double these resolutions to 2880 by 1800 pixels and 3840 by 2400 pixels. It seems insane and there's no evidence of anyone manufacturing these kind of displays.
But we know that there are graphic cards that can push that kind of power. We also know that, before the iPhone 4 came out, nobody had heard of a 326ppi Retina Display before. Apple had bought all of them and they kept the lid on them until the iPhone 4 was announced.
Perhaps Apple will just increase the resolution to 180 or 200ppi. Given the distance from your eyes to the screen, 200ppi will be enough to achieve close to the effect of a "retina" display in the iPhone, the point in which you can't see pixels. And still, it will be a lot of extra pixels.
All those extra pixels will require a lot of graphic muscle. Apple uses AMD Radeon graphics in all their MacBooks now, so most probably they will stick with them. AMD is set to introduce their new high end, mobile 28nm process graphics engine in the second quarter of 2012. They will be part of the Radeon HD 7700m family.
If Apple continues with AMD, the top of the line MacBooks will likely use the HD 7770M (their current notebooks us the HD 6670M). Given the boost in resolution, I wouldn't be surprised if the highest end came with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The current top of the line MacBook has 1GB of GGDR5 RAM. The cheaper option could be the HD 7750M, with 1GB of GGDR5 memory.
If Apple decided to change with Nvidia, it's not clear what would they use. Someone leaked that Samsung's Ivy Bridge laptop would use a Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M with 2GB DDR5, but GTX graphics would probably run too hot to be incorporated into a super-slim product like the MacBook Pro 2012.
That will be the biggest selling point of these new MacBook Pros. These things will have a super-slim wedge profile. Perhaps even more so than the Macbook Air, given that they will have a largest surface to spread the components. They will also be really light compared to the current machines, all thanks to the saving achieved by getting rid of so much legacy crap. Although maybe they will be less aggressive on the weight shaving and increase the space used by the battery.
Something that will make everyone extremely happy and will be truly disruptive: some insane battery life. Given the reduction of components and the lack of a hard drive, an increased battery life seems more than reasonable no matter what. If they decide to increase the amount of battery cells, then maybe we could witness a laptop that will run for an entire work day on a single battery charge.
One more thing: Full surface trackpad
This is something that has been rumoured before, but now I believe it may happen: the entire palmrest of the new MacBook 2012 will be a multitouch trackpad. It's obvious that, technologically, Apple can accomplish this. But they would not do it just because they can. They would do it mainly for two reasons.
The first, because the full surface would be the cornerstone for the final step in the metamorphosis of Mac OS X. A metamorphosis that started with the success of multitouch and direct interface manipulation on iPhone and iPad.
Lion brought some of those concepts into Mac OS X and, while it isn't the successful merging that I was hoping for, it clearly shows where Apple is headed. The next Mac OS X will only get deeper into multitouch, just like Microsoft is doing with Metro and Windows 8. A full surface trackpad -- not a touchscreen -- will be the key in this transition for laptops and the desktop (for an idea of how this could work you only need to see the video next to these lines).
But there's perhaps a more important reason for the introduction of such an innovation: the "one more thing" factor. Cook and the new executive team need to show the world that they have what it takes, that they can keep innovating and pulling rabbits out of their hats just like the old boss did. He would have gone something like this:
"But why have just a trackpad? The current trackpad is very good, but too limiting. What about if we could give you the entire palmrest as a trackpad? It's a hard technological challenge, but we found a way to differenciate between your palms and your fingers, so your MacBook doesn't get confused and you can use multitouch with Mac OS X as easy as you can do it in your iPad! So we did it. We are eliminating the little trackpad and giving you a trackpad when you can freely use multitouch. We love it. And we think you will love it too. Let me show it to you."
Showing the world that they can pull something like this will be the perfect "Yes We Can Kick arse Without Steve" statement from Cook's Apple. Because, even while they have their amazing economic results, they need to demonstrate the world that they can keep "making magic" happen for a long time.