The future of MacBook

May 04, 2014
Hey! This is an old post. It reflects my views and the state of the world in 2014, but is likely to be outdated. You’ll find me on Twitter, building Nozbe, and making engineering blueprints.

My current Mac, a 15ʺ Late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro is a truly stunning machine. In many ways, it represents the future of a notebook computer. Its display is unbelievably great. The performance is fantastic. It ditches spinning platters in favor of solid-state storage, and legacy IO in favor of USB 3 and Thunderbolt. It’s thin and light, yet works 8 hours on battery. The keyboard and trackpad are a joy to use. The fans are inaudible vast majority of the time, and even when they do spin up, they’re surprisingly quiet. It’s really, really good.

But it would be foolish to think that this is the best we can muster. Here’s the list of improvements I would like MacBooks to have 5 years from now:

Form factor It shouldn’t weigh more than a kilogram. I don’t care much if it’s thinner, but if it is, it should feel as sturdy as it does now.

Screen The front glass should reflect virtually no light. (I’m not sure if there’s a technology for this, but the status quo is just bad.) The screen should go brighter when it’s sunny outside, but black should be pitch black when it’s dark. The latter isn’t possible with LCDs, so I hope OLED becomes a viable technology for MacBooks.

Performance It’s really good as it is, but I’d like even the smallest 11-inch MacBooks to be as fast as the current crop of 15-inchers is. Three areas where I see most room for improvement are: SSD, RAM and GPU. SSD, because even with the latest advancements, it’s still the bottleneck in many cases. And beefier GPUs with more RAM, so we can split UIs into more independent GPU-composited layers and make everything smoother.

IO I can envision the day when we finally free ourselves from the tyranny of stupid one-sided connectors. I’d like to see Thunderbolt, USB and HDMI connectors all abolished in favor of a single, thin, sturdy, reversible connector. See where I’m heading with this? Yes, I want Lightning on the host side. Of course that would mean Apple would have to make it an open standard and the world would have to adopt it. So, yeah… 5 years from now probably isn’t the day. But hey, a man can dream.

In fact, it looks like the situation is going to get arguably worse. There was a rumor recently of Thunderbolt 3 getting a new, thinner connector. I hoped Intel is working with Apple and Lightning will be that connector, but sadly its description doesn’t fit Lightning. Meanwhile, USB 3.1 will introduce a yet another shitty, albeit reversible, sandwich-style connector. Yes, both are improvements by themselves, but they’re still fairly incremental and the transition period will be quite painful.

But I digress.

Connectivity A computer in the 21st century should always be connected to the internet. There’s no excuse for not putting in LTE connectivity in a MacBook. Yes, sharing a connection with a smartphone works, but drains its battery quickly, and Mac software isn’t aware of constrained bandwidth and data caps. This needs to be rectified. And make it universal around the globe — no 5 stupid versions like with iPhones.

As a aside, I can’t wait until roaming charges are abolished. There’s no good technical reason why I should pay bazillion times more for phone calls and data just because I’m outside the boundaries of the country where I live.

Battery life 8 hours is good. 14 hours would be just perfect.

Cooling Quiet fans are good. But no fans at all would be so much better. We probably won’t see passively-cooled MacBook Pros anytime soon, but I’m pretty sure all Airs will be fan-less in 5 years. It’s the last mechanical part in a modern computer and I’d love it to die. It makes noise, takes up space and necessitates making holes in the enclosure (which makes it way too easy for accidental spills to fry your $2000 machine).

Everything else The front edge of a MBP is really sharp. It hurts my wrists when I’m typing with a Mac on my laps.

The top part of the trackpad isn’t clickable. So annoying.

The FaceTime camera isn’t good enough, especially when you have a 5-megapixel screen to see all the flaws.

The internal speakers are surprisingly decent, but they could be better.

And please, I’m begging you, invent a fingerprint-proof coating technology. It’s impossible not to touch MacBook’s glass bezel while opening.

That’s about it. Well, if they sprinkled it with an element of surprise (a feature I can’t even think of), that would be just perfect.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not really complaining at the current generation of Macs — they are awesome, the best they’ve ever been. I just like trying to predict the future and I thought it would be cool to write a post like this so I can get back to it 5 years from now and see how terribly wrong (or right) I was. And also, I think that it’s necessary for good designers and engineers never to be too content with the status quo. Even when things are pretty good, you have to see how they could (and should) be better. (If it’s perfect, there’s no reason for your job to exist.)

One more thing. I love smartphones and tablets as much as the other guy, but Mac continues to be the tool for unleashing my creativity and doing my work. Yes, it’s a truck, but I need a truck and Mac is the best fucking truck in the world. I’m happy that despite not being their biggest business, Apple continues to pour love and attention into this product. I hope they’ll never stop.

Live long and prosper, Mac.

Published May 04, 2014. Last updated October 05, 2015. Send feedback.