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Apple’s minor MacBook updates leave me in limbo

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It’s been a year and 10 days since I reviewed the MacBook Pro, damning it with the praise that it’s the same old excellent machine it’s always been. Better specs, a new trackpad, but fundamentally unchanged. Today Apple is repeating the formula with its refreshed MacBook and the elderly MacBook Air: making minor spec upgrades here and there, but leaving the basic experience unchanged.

I can’t be the only person throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation. Intel’s Skylake processors got announced at least three times during 2015, but only now do we see them appear in an Apple computer, and it’s only the low-power M variant in the MacBook. Where are our powerful new mobile workhorses, Apple?

The answer to my question is probably being prepared for an unveiling during the (just announced) Worldwide Developers Conference coming up in June. Rumor has it that Apple will give the MacBook Pro a major redesign and finally satisfy long-suffering upgraders-in-waiting like myself. That would be nice, but at this point I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to upgrade my laptop so long that it feels like it will never arrive.

New MacBook colors

This is the pathos of the strategic upgrader. I know too much about processor roadmaps to be the fool that buys a new laptop just before it’s refreshed. But I don’t know enough about Apple’s roadmap to know exactly when the actual products will materialize. On the one hand, this is what keeps things fun and exciting to follow closely: being able to interpret the drips of advance information correctly is a satisfying feeling. But on the other hand, miscalculating new product plans might leave you staring unhappily at your low-res MacBook Air for a year longer than you ever really wanted to.

I don’t really blame Apple for the seemingly slow pace of its upgrades. The truth is that the current MacBook Pro already has enough advantages — primarily that Retina display, but performance matters too — to make my contemplated upgrade of a 2013 Air a very reasonable proposition. But I want more. I don’t just want to buy a better laptop than my old one, I want one that’s better for tomorrow as well as today. And that’s where I’m at my most foolish.

The advantages of a high-resolution display such as Apple’s Retina or any of the growing cadre of 4K Windows laptops are easy to see. Modern displays offer sharpness and viewing angles that are markedly ahead of the stuff we had only a few years ago. I was convinced as soon as I concluded my MacBook Pro review last year that my Air had been obviated and it was time to move on to a finer display. But I waited for Skylake. In the autumn, Skylake came in the form of the Dell XPS and other Windows machines — which made me envious, but I wasn’t willing to compromise on the MacBook’s famously long battery life. So I waited some more.

At this point, I don’t know if Apple’s had issues with Intel’s processors, or if its big redesign has taken longer than expected, or if Tim Cook is secretly enjoying torturing people like me who just want a shiny new thing to fixate on. All I’m sure of is that Apple has been the most reliable innovator in laptop design for over a decade, and its next major change will probably be worth waiting for.