It looks like Ultrabooks may indeed be catching Apple’s attention. Bloomberg reports that Apple will be launching refreshed versions of the MacBook Pro which will use Ivy Bridge processors, have a slimmer body, high resolution retina display, and include “flash memory to cut startup times and extend battery life”.
Bloomberg cites the source of this information as “people with knowledge of the plans” who didn’t want to be identified — fairly common for pre-announcement Apple information:
The MacBook Pro machines, to be unveiled at Apple’s annual developers conference starting June 11, also will feature high- definition screens like those on the iPhone and iPad, as well as flash memory to cut startup times and extend battery life…
Apple’s new laptops will run on Intel’s new processors, code-named Ivy Bridge, and will have a slimmed-down body design from the current 0.95-inch (2.4 centimeter) thickness…
An Ivy Bridge CPU refresh is pretty much a no-brainier; we’ll certainly see Core i5 and Core i7 options from any new MacBook. MacRumors reports that benchmarks for unreleased MacBook models are appearing in the Geekbench benchmark database. Listed there is an entry for a ‘MacBookPro9,1’, which corresponds to an unreleased MacBook Pro model. The entry lists an Intel Core i7-3820QM @ 2.70 GHz along with 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM which scored 12252 on the benchmark. It’s unclear from the benchmark whether or not an SSD or HDD is present.
Apple already uses flash storage in the MacBook Air which allows it to resume from standby nearly instantly, just like Ultrabooks with Intel’s Rapid Start technology. The MacBook Pro can be optionally equipped with a 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB SSD, but doing so increases the price significantly (+$200 for 128GB, +$600 for 256GB, and +$1200 for 512GB!). Clearly Apple can’t just slap SSDs into the MacBook Pro by default, as it would drastically increase the price. However, Apple could take a page out of the Ultrabook playbook by adding a small supplemental SSD ‘performance cache’ which wouldn’t be as pricey, but would still offer enhanced responsiveness. The latter would of course require that Apple make space for such a cache!
A retina display is possible. We know that Apple has the know-how to make displays beyond HD thanks to the tremendous 2048×1536 (263.92 PPI) display on the latest iPad. The biggest questions to be asked about a retina display are whether or not it is necessary on a laptop and whether or not it is practical from a cost standpoint. For one, laptops are quite different from tablets — tablets are used at varying distances while laptops tend to stay at a static distance. Given that laptops aren’t often used to close to the eyes, one would think that a 1080p resolution would suffice. The cost factor is interesting as well. On the one hand, Apple managed to add the retina display to the latest iPad without increasing the price. On the other hand, at least one analyst thinks that the screen would increase the production cost of a MacBook pro by around $100, as CNET reports. From CNET’s story, NPD DisplaySearch Senior Analyst Richard Shim says that the screens Apple would be likely to use are 15.4″ @ 2880 x 1800 (220 PPI) and 13.3″ @ 2560 x 1600 (227 PPI).
The closest Ultrabook competitor, in terms of resolution, to a retina-display-equipped MacBook Pro would be the forthcoming Zenbook Prime series from Asus (UX21A and UX31S) which will be offered with full 1080p HD displays, and are likely to launch around Computex at the beginning of June.
As for thinning up the MacBook Pro, it does seem obvious, but Apple surely doesn’t want to step on the toes of the MacBook Air. The Air, which has been Apple’s ultraportable since its introduction in 2008, is now in its fourth generation and will likely be releasing a fifth generation alongside the upcoming MacBook Pro refresh. Unless Apple wants to collapse the Air and Pro series into a single series (I doubt they do!), then it is important that they offer differentiation between the two. If Apple does a complete redesign of the MacBook Pro it will likely be thinner, but the question then becomes how thin? How thin can Apple push the MacBook Pro before it is indistinguishable from the MacBook Air? Apple is the only one that can answer that question — I’m very curious to see how they handle it.