The New MacBook Is Inspired… Just Not By The iPad


The definition of portability has changed in the past several years led by iPhone and iPad. So we challenged ourselves to take everything we had learned in designing iPhone and iPad and do something incredibly ambitious and bold. We challenged ourselves to reinvent the notebook.

With these words at Apple’s March 9 event, Tim Cook introduced the new MacBook, the thinnest and lightest laptop the company has ever produced. Marketing chief Phil Schiller followed to discuss the main benefits of the machine, which breaks ground in many respects.

Apple has long talked about how innovations cross over between its Macs and iDevices. However, looking at the svelte new laptop’s signature features, it’s difficult to find many that were inspired directly by the iPhone or iPad. And much of what’s new relates to the features that make the MacBook a Mac.

For example, unlike Microsoft, which continues on its quest to blur the distinction between the tablet and laptop with its Surface devices, Apple purposefully keeps iPads and Macs distinct. MacBooks, for instance, use Intel processors, while iPads use Apple’s homegrown A-series ARM-based chips. And while all iPad apps run full-screen and take advantage of the device’s touch screen, MacBooks continue to eschew touch screens in favor of a windowed interface optimized for trackpads and keyboards.

The new MacBook keyboard uses “butterfly” mechanisms for better key rigidity.

In fact, Apple lavished attention on the new MacBook’s trackpad and keyboard, improving their stability and thinness. The company cited the full-sized keyboard as dictating the MacBook’s new display size (12″, revisiting a size it offered in the era of PowerBooks) and implemented new key mechanisms and backlighting technology. Obviously, these didn’t come directly from the iPad, though one could argue that the iPad’s glass provides a stable, uniform tapping experience.

The new MacBook’s trackpad also includes Apple’s “taptic” vibration feedback feature—which makes it feel as if you’ve clicked it even though it doesn’t move downward when you press—and a new Force Touch feature that allows pressure sensitivity to clicks. These both debuted in the Apple Watch, although they are strong candidates to make their way to the iPhone and iPad at some point.

The slender laptop’s logic board is only a third of the size of the MacBook Air’s and lacks a fan. Minimal logic boards and fanless designs are of course hallmarks of phones and tablets, including Apple’s own. However, the MacBook’s electronics diet represents only the latest generation of a decade-long trend of shrinking logic boards from Apple and other PC makers. Much of Apple’s latest work in this area has been enabled by the Intel Core M architecture. For example, it’s nearly a sure bet that the next generation of Microsoft’s Surface Pro will also lack a fan. (The Surface 3, based on a cool-running Atom processor, is already fanless.)

Less Circuitry, More Battery

Apple has taken advantage of the diminutive MacBook logic board to include a beefier battery. Indeed, to maximize the space inside the computer’s chassis, it has developed a terraced battery system that allows the placement of thin slices of battery to fill the area inside the device. We’ve heard about batteries being adapted to the chassis using a stepped design before from a phone, but not from the iPhone. LG, for one, talked up how it adapted its battery to maximize capacity in the curved back of the LG G2.

The LG G2, with its curved back, featured a stepped battery.

And for when that MacBook’s battery finally needs replenishing, the computer features a new power connector based on the emerging USB-C standard. Unlike Microsoft’s Surface 3, which uses the ubiquitous Micro USB standard for charging, the MacBook’s port isn’t compatible with those of existing smartphones. And while it’s reversible like the Lighting connector on the iPad and iPhone, it’s not compatible with them, thus raising the question of whether Apple plans to give up on more than a decade of going its own way with proprietary mobile device connectors. As with the keyboard and mouse, though, there is a loose lineage here, with the new MacBook, like the iPad, having but a single multipurpose connector for charging and expansion and a headphone jack.

Then there are features from the iPhone and iPad that Apple could have brought over, but hasn’t—at least yet. The most welcome of these would have been Touch ID, the fingerprint reader that is making strong progress toward eliminating password entry on iPhones. On the iPhone, the killer app for the technology has been Apple Pay, the company’s technology that allows you to pay with an iPhone at retail stores. However Touch ID has also shown up on iPads and can be used to log into online retailers, so it wouldn’t be a shocker to see it show up on some future version of the home button-bereft MacBook.

The new MacBook is available in silver, gold, and space gray, the same hues as the iPhone. It has a Retina display like those devices, but is not the first MacBook to offer one. Beyond that, it takes only philosophical cues from its more mobile siblings—thinness, a fanless design, minimal connectors. It’s a DNA that makes the iPad and iPhone this next-generation computing device’s cousins, not its parents.