At Apple’s press event today, the company returned its mid-line MacBook to its product lineup. And yes, it’s the thinnest Apple notebook ever. But there’s much more to the new wafer-thin MacBook than meets the eye.
First, about the thinness. Apple exec Phil Schiller said that the company took what it learned from making the latest iPhones and iPads, and applied it to the new Mac’s design. The result is a notebook that’s only 13.1 millimeters thick, and weighs only two pounds. For perspective, that’s 24% thinner than the current MacBook Air.
Schiller demonstrated how some extensive reworking of common components had to take place to make a computer that thin. The new motherboard is one-third the area of the one in the current MacBook Air. The new MacBook also makes use of a Broadwell-based Intel Core M processor with a 5W power envelope, which allowed Apple to do away with fans entirely, saving more space.
The keyboard and touchpad feature some interesting new technology, too. Instead of a traditional scissor-switch keyboard, the new MacBook uses what Apple is calling a "butterfly switch," which is thinner than traditional scissor switches while offering a better typing feel—or at least, that’s the claim. Apple did show some slow-mo video of the new keyboard versus its older MacBook keyboards, however, and the key motion of the new switches does look considerably less wobbly.
The touchpad in the new MacBook takes some lessons from the Apple Watch. The new unit does away with the traditional switch design of older click-anywhere touchpads. Instead, the new unit senses pressure and provides haptic feedback through what Apple is calling a "Taptic Engine."
Because the trackpad relies on force sensors instead of a traditional switch, Apple was able to implement some pressure-sensitive features in the touchpad, as well. The company showed off several uses for the force touch gesture first seen in the Apple Watch, as well as pressure-dependent scrubbing in video apps.
Some of this technology has been around for a long time—Geoff first got a look at Synaptics’ force-sensitive touchpad in 2012—but the haptic feedback seems like a first.
Apple fans have been clamoring for a retina-caliber display in a MacBook-Air-sized chassis for a long time, and the new MacBook delivers on that front, too. The 12" display features a resolution of 2304×1440. Apple also rejiggered the driver circuitry for each pixel to allow more light to pass through, which is said to result in a 30% increase in energy efficiency.
Some readers might be wondering what Apple’s relentless pursuit of thinness means for the new MacBook’s battery life. Apple’s solution: pack every bit of the remaining space inside with batteries. Schiller showed how the company is now able to form batteries in layers that are form-fitted to the milled contours of the notebook’s chassis. The company claims that this process allowed it to fit up to 35% more battery capacity into the new MacBook than it could have with older tech.
Apple says that the improved capacity is good for all-day battery life, which means 9 hours of web browsing or 10 hours of movie playback by the company’s measure.
Aside from the obsessive thinning, the MacBook also does away with all ports save for one: a USB 3.1 type C port that handles charging, USB connectivity, and video output.
The new MacBook’s base configuration includes a 1.1GHz dual-core Core M with Turbo speeds of up to 2.4GHz, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage for $1299. Build-to-order options include a 1.2GHz Core M with 2.6GHz Turbo clocks or a 1.3GHz Core M with 2.9GHz Turbo clocks. You can also spec a 512GB SSD. Build-to-order options take the price to $1599 and beyond. Like the iPhone 6, one can order the new MacBook in space gray, silver, or gold finishes.
If you want an absurdly thin MacBook of your own, Apple says that its newest Mac will begin shipping on April 10th.