Tag Archives: MacBook Air

The Surface Family Evolves: Where Does It Go from Here?

On May 20, Microsoft officials announced the latest entry in the family of Surface devices, the Surface Pro 3. This device is a larger form with many updates to the existing pro device, the Surface Pro 2, and comes only eight months since the launch of the Surface Pro 2. So now, Microsoft has launched three generations of Surface in the span of less than two years, being incredible for a company which only recently pivoted to devices and services from software.

Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3

The launch of Surface Pro 3 however raised several questions: why isn’t there a Surface 3 (the ARM-based version) to complement the Surface Pro 3? Why also, didn’t the much-rumored Surface Mini launch alongside the Surface Pro 3? What is the goal of these Surface devices, according to Microsoft?

 

Where is Windows RT?

The first two questions have a common thread, and that is Windows RT. The ARM-based version of Windows has had very little success both from OEM adoption as well as sales perspectives. OEMs have slowly been pulling out of making such devices, and with Nokia’s devices group now a part of Microsoft, Microsoft is the only company that makes Windows RT devices. The operating systems group at Microsoft is undergoing some level of consolidation and transformation, and there is a possibility of some fundamental changes coming to the Windows RT OS as it merges with Windows Phone OS. It would be somewhat silly to offer a Windows RT device that may need some major updates in a few months when the operating system makes potentially big underlying changes. Also, let’s not forget that Nokia also makes a Windows RT device (Lumia 2520) which may now become a contender to be the only Windows RT device Microsoft produces. Hence, the lack of ARM-based Surface at this point in time.

 

No room for Surface Mini

Surface Mini on the other hand, has a bigger issue. The rumors were that it would be an 8” device and regardless of whether it was going to be an Intel-based device or an ARM-based device, it would really offer no differentiation from the several other 8” Windows devices in the market today. All of the existing devices are Intel-based and as a result, are able to run old Windows desktop programs just fine. Most of these existing devices are also priced at the very low end and as a result, Microsoft would have to start competing on the low end which I am not sure they want to do. There are also rumors that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the new devices chief Stephen Elop decided to remove that device from the announcement for precisely that reason – it offered no differentiation from whatever else is out there in the market. If that is in fact the case, I commend them for doing so since it is not easy to change directions this way and at the last moment.

 

Who is the Surface for? What does Surface mean for Microsoft?

That brings us to the last question – what is the role of Surface devices? Microsoft executives have constantly said that Surface is not meant to compete with the OEMs but instead be a reference design for OEMs. However, the huge write-off Microsoft took at the end of the past fiscal year related to excess inventory of the original Surface shows that at least someone at Microsoft expected to sell these devices in larger volumes.

The Surface Pro 3 is indeed unlike anything else in the market today, both from a Windows devices perspective as well as the competition’s devices. There are Android tablets of all shapes and sizes that are selling quite well, but they are limited to a maximum of 10” form factor, and while there have been rumors of an “iPad Pro” sporting a larger display than the current iPad, those have been simply rumors. At the launch event, Microsoft made the point that the Surface Pro 3 is aimed squarely at the laptop user (there were a *lot* of MacBook Air comparisons) rather than the tablet user. The viewpoint they provided was that most of the iPad customers also have or buy a laptop, so why not make a device that can do both the tasks well? The Surface Pro 3 specifications are obviously more “computer”-like than “tablet”-like, starting with the processor which is not an Atom variant but in fact, it is a Core processor. At the same time, it is so much lighter than a laptop – even MacBook Air that they compared to at the event – that you could see yourself using it as a tablet every so often.

The Surface Pro 3 pricing is in line with a mid- to high-end laptop, depending on the configuration you choose. You could get the entry-level model with a Core i3 processor and 64GB storage for $799 and the highest-end model with a Core i7 processor and 512GB storage for $1,949. Both the ends of that spectrum are higher than the average for a Windows laptop with similar specifications.

Another example to understand where Microsoft is going with this family of devices is the included (and completely re-done) pen. There is a deep integration built into the pen which enables the customer to launch OneNote even when the screen is locked. The OneNote emphasis shows not just the integration aspects but also the intended, or expected, use of the device.

 

Surface Pro 3 Numbers
Surface Pro 3 Numbers

The screen at an excellent 2160×1440 resolution, the aspect ratio which is a much better 3:2 than 16:9, the higher power processor and the pricing all point to a realization at Microsoft that it is better to compete with the laptop than with the iPad. Think creative professionals like artists, medical professionals, or the “information worker” in corporations. Think students on a budget, who have the funds to buy only one device which needs to be their television, book reader as well as productivity tool. These are the customers Microsoft seems to be aiming at with their Surface Pro devices now.

So Microsoft is clearly going for the laptop user and giving that user the choice of using that device as a tablet. They know that the OEMs are able to compete at the low-end, especially with the recent announcement of making Windows free for 9” and lower screens. Knowing that Apple has consistently outsold Windows in the PC sales for the past several years, it makes sense for Microsoft to address the high margin area so they don’t have to sell extremely large volumes in order to justify the business.

I still expect Microsoft to release the mini tablet, and there are multiple possibilities there too: a productivity mini tablet which would have the upcoming touch version of Office (codename Gemini); a larger phablet-style device like the Lumia 1520 and of course, a gaming-oriented mini tablet with some type of Xbox brand and tie-in. All of those have dependencies that need to be addressed before these products can come to market in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.

There is an empirical truth to Microsoft products: by version 3, they perfect the product. Surface Pro 3 surely looks like a “perfect” product, we will see if the market agrees with Microsoft or not. The Surface business has steadily grown in volume and with Windows 8.1, Microsoft may have enough to get CIOs interested in upgrading to Windows 8.1. If so, there is a large-sized market opportunity that is for Microsoft to dominate, given their past relationships and reputation in the enterprise. If that happens, it may create the virtuous cycle that Microsoft has been able to create in the past with Windows and even now with Office. Many will use these devices in school and workplace and would like to continue that experience at home.

Microsoft certainly seems to demonstrate that it is in the devices market for the long run. Naturally, mastering manufacturing cannot happen overnight. It is now up to the customers to decide if all of that is worth it, by speaking with their wallets.

Are you interested in the Surface Pro 3? Were you disappointed by the absence of the Surface Mini? Sound off in the comments below.

(All images and the video, courtesy Microsoft’s official websites)

Apple Reduces The Prices Of Retina MacBook Pro And MacBook Air

Apple today announced that it is giving its Retina line-up of MacBook Pros a mid-cycle refresh along with a price cut. The cheapest MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the 13-inch rMBP, sees a $200 reduction in price and will now cost $1499. The top-of-the-line 13-inch rMBP sees a $300 reduction in price ($1999 vs. $1799), and will also sport a slightly faster (2.5GHz vs. 2.6GHz) Core i5 processor.

The prices of the 15-inch rMBP remain the same, but both the variants get an upgraded processor. The base 15-inch rMBP gets a 100MHz speed boost to 2.4GHz (Core i7), while the top-of-the-line variant gets a speed bump to 2.7GHz, along with a bump in RAM capacity to 16GB DDR3L from 8GB DDR3L. The prices of updating the SSD storage options for the rMBP have also been decreased considerably.

In addition to all this, Apple also announced a $100 price cut on the base 13-inch MacBook Air model. The price cuts are already in effect at all the Apple retail stores and at the company’s online store.

Apple Rolls Out Software Update For June-2012 MacBook Airs and Retina MacBook Pros

Apple has started rolling out a new software update for all the Macs that it had introduced in June 2012, including the MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina.

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Update 2.0 weighs in at 127MB and the change-log from Apple suggests that it includes “graphics performance and reliability improvements and improves compatibility with some USB devices”.

Apple recommends this update to all the June 2012 MacBooks, so do update if you own one of them. Early reports suggest that the update has fixed the freezing issues that many people experienced for around 30 seconds when they plugged in a USB drive to their Retina MacBook Pro(s). It, however, does not fix the image burn-in issues on the Retina MacBook Pro(s) with an LG display panel, or the flickering issues that have plagued rMBP owners since quite sometime.

Apple Rolls Out EFI Firmware Updates For MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

After rolling out OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.2 and iOS 6 for its iDevices yesterday, Apple has today rolled out a new EFI firmware update the mid-2012 MacBook Air and other Macs.

The v2.5 EFI firmware for the Air  fixes some Turbo Boost related issues when using Boot Camp, which has been plaguing mid-2012 Air owners for quite sometime.

Below is the full change-log of the EFI firmware update for the mid-2012 MacBook Air(s) -:

This update is recommended for MacBook Air (mid 2012) models.

This update fixes an issue where Turbo Boost does not activate when using Boot Camp, and resolves an issue where NetBoot does not function properly when using an Ethernet adapter.

The first EFI firmware update for the Retina MacBook Pro fixes a bug where the system might just lock-up under heavy load, and also fixes the NetBoot not working when an Ethernet adapter is used.

Lastly, the v2.9 EFI firmware update for the non-Retina MacBook Pro fixes the system locking up issue under heavy loads and might need to be restarted manually.

Head over to ‘Updates’ tab in the Mac App Store to download and install the latest EFI firmware update for your Mac(s).

Apple Unveils The New 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air; Starts Shipping Today Itself!

As expected Apple has announced a new refreshed MacBook Air at WWDC. The new MacBook Air will come with Intel’s latest 3rd-generation Core processor (a.k.a Ivy Bridge), along with more RAM and a bigger SSD.

The top of the line MacBook Air can now sport a 2Ghz dual-core i7, 512GB of SSD with nearly double the read/write speeds from the current model, 8GB of RAM running at 1600MHz, an integrated GPU that is “60% faster”, two USB 3.0 ports and a 720p FaceTime HD camera.

The 11-inch Air will still retain its 1366*768 resolution and with prices starting from $999 and goes all the way up to $1099. The 13-inch Air also retains its 1440*900 resolution, and will cost $100 less than the current-gen 13″ Air.

Both the new Air(s) will start shipping from today itself.

Next MacBook Air Update to Offer Retina Display Too?

Yesterday, it was reported that  Apple is preparing to release thinner MacBook Pro models with Retina displays. The new MacBook Pros will reportedly also include ports for the MagSafe power connector,  two USB ports, and audio in/out jacks along the left side, with a battery level indicator also included along the same side. The right side is said to offer a pair of Thunderbolt ports, another USB port, an SD card slot, and a Kensington lock slot. It was also reported that iMacs will be receiving the Retina display too.

9to5Mac now reports that Apple is planning to bring Retina displays to the MacBook Air as well, with that upgrade being the most significant change for the next-generation line. The report also suggests that the chance of new MacBook Airs being announced at WWDC 2012 next month is unlikely. This is because Apple is still working to meet the Retina display’s power requirements within the MacBook Air’s thin form factor.

Once again, this is all speculation until Apple confirms. So, take it with a grain of salt.

Apple Considered Switching to AMD in 2011 MacBook Air

A new report regarding the 2011 MacBook Air reveals an interesting tidbit. An upcoming article regarding AMD by Forbes reveals that the company’s Llano family of Fusion combination CPU-GPU systems was under consideration by Apple to be used in the MacBook Air for its 2011 refresh. However, AMD lost the company’s business to Intel, since the necessary parts were late in being delivered to Apple and had high failure rates.

It is also reported that AMD also offered Apple on using its Brazos family of Fusion systems in the Apple TV, but Apple was uninterested in the offer. Ouch! Must have been a significant loss to the company business wise. Forbes’ Brian Caulfield revealed more regarding AMD’s efforts to gain Apple as a customer  in a separate article. In that article, he also went into more detail regarding the issues on Fusion chips planned for the MacBook Air.

MacRumors points out that this reflects back to a report from November from SemiAccurate, which suggested that AMD’s Fusion platform was Apple’s “Plan A” for the 2011 MacBook Air and that such machines were “on the verge of production” before Apple decided to stick with Intel.

Apple May Be Trying to Stop ASUS Zenbook Production

You know those ASUS Zenbook’s, which are a copy-cat of the MacBook Air? Well, it looks like Apple is finally doing something about it. According to a new report from Digitimes, an article from  Taiwanese newspaper Commerical Times claims that Apple’s manufacturing partner Pegatron has ended its relationship with ASUS for production of the company’s MacBook Air clone. Why? It was due to the pressure from Apple. I guess that’s the type of power a company has when it has over $100 billion in cash!

Apple reportedly was unhappy about Pegatron’s production of Asustek’s Zenbook models, which are similar to its MacBook Air, especially in its outer design, and therefore, demand Pegatron make a choice, claimed the paper, which added that Pegatron began to assemble iPhones for Apple in 2011 and is eager to solicit orders for next-generation iPads from the vendor.

MacBook Air Zenbook

It should come as no surprise, but Apple is displeased with the similarity in looks between ASUS’s Zenbook and the MacBook Air and forced the manufacturer to choose between one company or the other.

Pegatron will reportedly slow down production of the Zenbook by next month, which forces ASUS to switch over to Compal or Wistron for manufacturing. Thank goodness! At least this will stop one MacBook Air clone from contaminating the market.

Acer Working on Budget Ultrabook Priced at $699

According to a new report by Digitimes, Acer is working on a new 15 inch ultrabook, which will be priced at around $699. Taiwan based Pegatron Technoloy will manufacture the new budget ultrabook for Acer.

Ultrabooks are slim, light, yet powerful notebooks which offer much greater battery life than traditional notebooks. They are modeled after the Apple Macbook Air, and come with SSD storage and no optical drive.

Recently, there has been a relative slowdown in notebook shipments due to the growing popularity of tablets. Intel is spearheading the ultrabook effort partly to make notebooks cool again, and also because of the resounding success of the Macbook Air.

Acer, Asus and Toshiba recently launched their ultrabooks, but almost all of them have been priced higher than $1000, which is much higher than the average notebook.

Intel is reportedly offering a marketing subsidy to each ultrabook manufacturer to bring ultrabook prices down to $600 and spur sales.

With the launch of Windows 8 in 2012, ultrabooks could see a surge in sales. Rumors suggest that all major notebook manufacturers are working on touchscreen ultrabooks, which could act as a tablet, and would be perfectly suited for Windows 8 with the Metro UI.

If Acer is able to launch a $699 ultrabook soon, it could get a significant headstart over its competitors, unless they are working on budget ultrabooks too. In any case, the customer wins.

Apple to Launch 15-inch MacBook Air in Q1 2012

According to a report by our favorite Chinese rumor mill Digitimes, Apple will launch a new MacBook Air series with 11.6-inch, 13.3-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air notebooks in Q1 2012. The MacBook Air range is ripe for a refresh, and the addition of a 15-inch MacBook Air to the mix is great news for most of us. Currently, Apple makes only 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air notebooks. A 15-inch MacBook Air should attract many more customers who find the existing sizes a tad small to work with. The MacBook Air, which has been overshadowed by the success of the iPhone and the iPad, is a massive success in its own right. It has helped Apple capture a significant slice of the notebook market since its launch.

Reportedly, “related upstream players have already started pilot production of the MacBook Air models and will add a 15-inch model into the product line to expand its reach in the ultra-thin notebook market.”

Apple MacBook Air

The ultrathin notebook market is expected to see a lot of competition in 2012, as more than 50 new ultrabooks by various manufacturers are expected to be showcased at CES 2012. Intel is pushing manufacturers to develop ultrabooks, which will compete directly with the MacBook Air, using a $300 million Ultrabook fund by Intel Capital.

Acer, Asus and Toshiba recently launched the first ultrabooks, but they have failed to impress reviewers and consumers alike.

I’m dying to buy a moderately priced ultrabook with a touchscreen display, and Windows 8 installed. I’m guessing they will soon be available by the end of 2012.