It is that time of the year and I wanted to upgrade my late 2011 13" MacBook Pro (with DVD drive) with one of the new ones, either a 13" or a 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display. Before I get into this post, a quick detour on why I prefer a MacBook Pro instead of a MacBook Air.
MacBook Pro v/s MacBook Air
MacBook Air is a excellent computer, and at least the 13" one can be compared with the 13" MacBook Pro (with Retina display) almost one on one. The MacBook Air comes with a low voltage processor that is mainly aimed at low power operation (to give insane battery life, almost 14 hours!), while the MacBook Pro 13" comes with the standard (Haswell) Intel processor, but the MacBook Pro still has good battery life of around 8 hours. The weight of these computers is comparable with the MacBook Air edging ahead of the MacBook Pro by being around 0.2 kg lighter. The MacBook Air does not have a Retina display that the MacBook Pro has. The MacBook Air might end up costing slightly less than the MacBook Pro (by around $100) when comparably configured.
But more importantly what is a computer worth if you do not weigh in its performance. The MacBook Air is a very capable computer and matches the 13" MacBook Pro (comparable configuration) almost always, but the MacBook Pro does perform better in certain intensive tasks. Head over to ArsTechnica for an excellent in details performance comparison of these two laptops. However in summary I felt that though the MacBook Air is an excellent computer, comparable to the MacBook Pro in many aspects, buying an Air means that I am sacrificing performance (and some features) for the portability of the MacBook Air. And since I don't need portability even to a small degree, I did not want to pay this price. Hence I ruled against buying a MacBook Air.
What about the MacBook Pro
Another point everyone considering a new Mac needs to consider is the refresh cycle. Apple though was slightly predictable a few years ago (iPhones around summer, iPads a little later and at least the popular MacBooks every year was the Apple update frequency), now under Tim Cook has resorted to releasing new products or updates to existing ones as and when they are ready. So this has made predicting product cycles slightly harder. But approximate timelines should still be easy to guess to a certain degree, based on the average age of previous models and following Apple news regularly. MacRumors has a nice buying guide to help decide when is the right time to buy an Apple product. And it says not to buy a MacBook Pro with Retina display now as it 20 odd days more than due for a refresh based on its average cycle.
Now unlike other Apple products, mainly the iOS ones, things are not entirely in Apple's hand for the MacBook upgrade and refreshes as it still relies on Intel for its processors (unlike iOS devices use Apple's custom made A series processors and is designed completely in house). And the recent rumors have suggested release dates for Intel's new Broadwell (2014) processors' release date moving around quite a bit from Fall this year to even next year. So that means this time around the MacBook Pros might see a delayed refresh! The MacBook Airs however were refreshed early this year, though the refresh was mainly spec bumps, it is probably a good time to buy a Air if you need something portable.
Want v/s Need to buy a laptop
Like many say, you should buy an Apple laptop based on your need (and not want) and I agree completely. Whenever you buy an Apple laptop, you can be rest assured that the computer will not become obsolete at least for a few years (in my case 3 - 5 years before I noticed any slow down) and hence the purchase will not be an unwise one. The problem arises when you are in my situation, where I wanted to upgrade my laptop but the need and want were almost equal. And thanks me being an avid Apple follower, I know all the rumors and noises surrounding Apple products, like the recent news on an impending 12" MacBook (Pro or Air or Air Pro?) and the fact that Tim Cook has promised new products packed 2014. This made my decision even tougher!
Next up generally around this time, there are some nice discounts on Apple laptops in the US, owing to back to school season from Apple and other retailers like Best Buy. However Apple has cut down on its promotions in the last few years to some discount ($50 - $200) on MacBooks (for students) and a $100 Mac App store gift card. Other retailers, mainly Best Buy though offer better discounts in most cases than Apple, haven't provided anything substantial this year to convince me to buy a MacBook close its refresh due date. I generally refer to AppleInsider's comprehensive price guide for anything Apple and any promotions or discounts or the best price for a particular model.
Another thing with the MacBook Pro lineup is that if you decide that you need a bigger display, then you have an option of thinking about the 15" Pro as well. Though they are more expensive than the 13" MacBook Pros and Airs, they are close to what anyone might consider a no compromise laptop and are extremely future proof. I had a 15" MacBook Pro laptop I bought in 2006 for around $2000 and I used it as my primary computer for almost five years with no issues, until I was able to sell it for more than $700 in 2011, when I bought my current 13" MacBook Pro (with DVD drive).
With all this in mind I decided it is wise to wait, at least for a few more months before jumping the gun on a new MacBook Pro. So unless you have to buy a MacBook right away I would highly recommend waiting to see what Apple has to offer this Fall.