New MacBooks, new interface, new OS

Whoof…this is working out to be a hell of a week for Apple news. I was expecting them to release the 2011 MacBooks yesterday, and I was certainly expecting them to include a new combination data/display port that they developed with Intel.

I wasn’t expecting the first developer preview of the next edition of MacOS. It’s terrific news in and of itself: it means that the OS is well on track, and the new elements I’ve seen are pretty exciting.

But my curiosity about next week’s iPad event has been kicked up a few notches. Wednesday would have been the perfect opportunity to quickly walk the media and analysts through some more of Mac OS X 10.7’s new features. As soon as they made the preview available to developers, everybody was going to start writing about it. Apple didn’t have to release the developer preview yesterday. They could easily have done it on the same day as the iPad event.

So it’s…interesting…that Apple passed on this opportunity to walk the press and analysts through their first exposure to 10.7. It would have been a piece of cake to slip a 15-minute Lion highlight reel into Wednesday’s presentation.

One possible explanation: this iPad news is going to be a lot bigger than we’ve supposed.

Another possible explanation: Apple just wants to make sure that the focus is 100% on the iPad news, whatever it is.


The new MacBook arrived in my office this morning and I’ve just had a briefing with a few Apple folks. Here are some bullets from my notes, incorporating both Apple’s pitch and their answers to my questions.


  • The new Sandy Bridge CPUs have integrated GPUs. Part of the whole point of this architecture is to put as much as possible on the chip. Yes, reducing the physical distance between sections of the system results in increased speeds; I remind you that the speed of light remains a constant. The machine also has a conventional outboard Radeon graphics accelerator. Whenever a GPU-intensive app (like Aperture, Photoshop, games) is launched, the MacBook switches to the Radeon, system-wide.
  • Why bother with two GPUs? So that the MacBook can choose between “optimal power consumption” and “optimum graphics performance” on the fly.
  • The new iSight HD chat camera shoots 720p video in widescreen format.
  • The cited battery life of the new MacBooks is lower than their predecessors (7 hours). This is actually due to a new testing protocol that Apple feels is more accurate. The automated test mimics real user behavior by visiting websites, playing Flash content, etc. Apple claims that 2010 MacBooks benchmark a little below the 2011 models using the new battery test.


  • Thunderbolt isn’t controlled by proprietary licensing, as the iPod/iPad dock connector is. Any manufacturer can make any kind of Thunderbolt cable or device they wish. They just need to buy Intel’s controller chip. So if (for example) someone wanted to take advantage of the 10 watts on that port and manufacture a Thunderbolt to USB cable that could fast-charge an iPad or iPhone, they could go right ahead and do that.
  • Is it suitable for mobile devices? Like…I dunno…phones and tablets? No comment. But vis a vis its implementation in the MacBooks, Apple is pleased with Thunderbolt’s power management features.
  • These MacBooks can’t boot off a drive attached to the Thunderbolt port. Not today. Target Disk Mode will work, however.
  • Thunderbolt incorporates two independent and bidirectional channels. The theoretical max speed is 10 Gbps, but if Apple wanted to get cute with the numbers they could claim that its absolute theoretical max throughput is 40 (as in: a 10 gig transaction up and a 10 gig transaction down on each of the two channels).
  • Data and display interfaces are on separate channels. A big data transaction shouldn’t interfere with the performance of your display.
  • The data interface is essentially PCI. So engineering a FireWire to Thunderbolt connector would be more similar to “wiring up a cable” than “designing a bridge controller.”

Mac OS Lion Developer Preview

  • iOS-style multitouch is all over the place. In Preview, for instance, you can turn pages by dragging, just like in iBooks. The familiar “double-tap to zoom” behavior in the iOS version of Safari is in the desktop edition. Etc.
  • Autosave and Versions are now integrated at the OS level. If an app want to support a “Time Machine”-style rewind of a document to the state it was in a week ago, Lion provides all of the machinery for that.
  • “Resume” lets you suspend apps the way you do in iOS. Rather than an app relaunching and re-opening the windows you had open the last time you ran it, Lion simply freezes the app in its current state and then restores it.
  • An existing app that has a fullscreen mode can support Lion’s new Fullscreen feature by hooking into the new infrastructure. They won’t necessarily need to write a new Lion-ey fullscreen mode.
  • The Lion version of FileVault allows for a (yes, iOS-style) “remote wipe” of user data: Lion just burns the only copy of the key that it needs to decrypt the user’s directory.

The Lion discussion had a consistent theme: there are a lot of iPad concepts that translate nicely to the desktop. Silly people have mused on that idea and imagined that Mac OS X would inevitably turn into a tablet-style, multitouch OS, if it even continued to exist at all. But when Apple talks about bringing iOS features to the desktop, they’re just referring to features that make the iPad slightly more awesome, like remote-nuking a stolen computer, and being able to close an app without having to spend five minutes closing all of its windows and saving its data.

Many of these features have nothing to do with multitouch…though yes, absolutely, you can expect to grope your Lion a lot more than you pawed your Leopard.

I remind you that all of the above are just notes copied down from what Apple said. I haven’t researched my review yet…and it’ll be a number of months before we can understand the full scope of these statements. Overall, I’m pretty excited about Lion. It appears that the Mac OS is about to receive a sorely-needed shot in the arm. It’s always a good thing when I get a briefing and think “Man, I know exactly how I’d use that feature…” at several different points.

27 thoughts on “New MacBooks, new interface, new OS”

  1. Any idea on when we’ll start to see Thunderbolt devices hit the market? Like a desktop dock connector? Besides that, this will be my next computer. I’ve been waiting for Apple to update the GPU to 1GB for gaming. Another question is can users change the memory on the new MacBooks? I really don’t want to pay $200 extra for 8GB and would rather pay to buy memory and install it myself (Unless this isn’t possible)

  2. Will implementations of Thunderbolts in other Mac computer devices (ie Mac Pro’s) require Apple to upgrade those devices, or will we be able to install cards on our own (and does that defeat the speed advantages if its having to go to a copper motherboard)?

  3. “Silly people have mused on that idea and imagined that Mac OS X would inevitably turn into a tablet-style, multitouch OS, if it even continued to exist at all.”

    By that you mean Alex Lindsay? I’m glad that you’re around to knock down his silly ideas about the future of Mac OS X on MacBreak Weekly.

  4. I was hoping to see hybrid or SSD drives as standard equipment – based on a lot speculation regarding the “future of laptops” part of Jobs’ Macbook Air presentation. I guess that’s the danger of letting the speculation capture the imagination.

    Did you by chance play with the new Facetime HD camera (and the 1.0 release)?

  5. Here’s a question I’ve not heard an answer to: With OSX Server getting merged into the main OS does that remove the ability to legally virtualize OSX Server? Probably not a big deal for people outside ITS, but with the world of the back room going to VMWare I gotta wonder if Apple is trying to get all the way out of the server room.

  6. Here’s my two cents:

    TB is PCIe based and since iOS devices are ARM based, I don’t think we’ll see TB on any iOS device for a while.

    Unless Apples has found a way to implement PCIe on iPad 2, which would make for a big announcement on Wednesday. However, I’m pretty sure the large majority of Wednesday’s event will be about iOS 5.

    I think Apple is intentionally keeping 10.7 away from iOS 5 because side-by-side it will be blatantly obvious how quickly they are merging. Apple isn’t quite ready to merge them yet.

    Which brings me to my crazy conspiracy theory: within 3 years, Apple will have all ARM-based products. 16, 32, 64 core Mac Pros running iOS 11 (I’ve decided OS X 10.9 will be updated to iOS 11)

  7. @Gregory – I would imagine the memory will be interchangeable – I have the most recent MacBook Pro before this latest model, and it comes with a manual explaining how to upgrade the RAM yourself, however I believe that if you have applecare and have to send in your machine to be looked at, Apple may whine a bit. Still, I’d always go with the DIY approach, Apples prices are a ripoff

  8. What about the dog that didn’t bark? The White MacBook, with iOS and Lion converging in concept and capabilities are we to look on the iPad as the new MacBook? If Apple is really going into the Cloud then the smaller storage on the iPad doesn’t matter so much.
    Seems like the MacBook Is going into retirement like the iPod Classic.

  9. Probably not, but…iPad/white macbook hybrid or an uber iPad designed for students? Lion server makes the xserve kill off make sense a bit.

  10. I would expect to see TB on iOS devices very soon, because the ability to sync them in seconds instead of minutes would be a compelling competitive advantage over USB-based devices.

  11. Really looking forward to the iPad 2, hopefully we’ll get a proper iPad update and NOT a iPad 1.5 as some of the rumors are suggesting.

    I’m all for making OS X easier to use, but it still needs to be easy to produce content on. iOS devices are easy to consume content on, not produce.

  12. Great article. I especially liked the phrase ..”you can expect to grope your lion a lot more than you pawed your leopard.”.

  13. If the iPad 2 had TB, Apple could capitalize on laptop iOS capabilities that Google wouldn’t be able to match for a long time.

    The iPad 2 could function as a secondary display for the laptop. If your MBP and tablet were connected, application document synchronization (and versioning and rollback) could be completely seamless. The thing Apple can bring to the game is total hardware and OS compatibility.

    One more thing: TB on the iPhone 5 would make an even more compelling case for customers to go all-Apple with their computers.

  14. The NAND in iOS devices to date isn’t fast enough to sync in seconds. Current iOS devices don’t come close to maxing out USB 2.0 in through put. Sure TB on an iPad would make it a viable display, there’s no PCIe bus on an ARM-based devices for TB to tie in to.

    You would need a significant architechture overhaul in iPad 2 to enable TB. I’m pretty sure the next iPad is an iPad S, like the iPhone 3GS, just a nice, incrimental spec bump.

    I think iPad 3, hopefully out before Christmas will be the one everybody wants. I’m sure Apple knows that people won’t upgrade a $500 devices yearly when they’re already getting new iPhones yearly.

  15. Thunderbolt HD/thumb drive Windows VM possible? Would gaming via this be feasible – seems the speeds would be faster via a RAID SSD Thunderbolt drive than the stock HD!

  16. Any thoughts on when we might see Thunderbolt on the MacBook Airs? I realize they only recently came out, but one can hope, right.

  17. @Rob I just bought one of the new 13″ MBPs, but what I really *wanted* was an updated 13″ MBA w/ a Sandy Bridge processor and the Thunderbolt port. Who knows how long that will take…

  18. All this talk about the iPad 2 really more like an iPad 1.5…Does that mean that if a new one comes out for Christmas, they’ll call it the iPad <3 !?

  19. What about the possibility to use Thunderbolt to turn on a Mac as previously possible with ADB and USB keyboards as well as USB dongles like i-Cue?

    That is extremely convenient when the Mac is behind the desk, for instance.

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