To the rest of the world, Apple’s event today was about new iPads.
To most people reading this site, it’s probably more along the lines of, “can I finally stop putting off buying the new MacBook I need?”
Answer: yes. But let’s quickly review what was announced that’s relative to music makers and live visualists:
- A new GarageBand, in line with Logic Pro X, for iOS and OS X
- MacBook Pro line that now has updated Intel graphics and chips, better performance and battery life (good) but completes the march to non-upgradeable memory, glossy displays, and SSD-only storage (bad, for some)
- The US$2999 Mac Pro – for those looking for a studio workstation for video or audio, now you know the price.
- New iPads, of course, and continued advances in mobile performance that will expand what they can do.
I’ve enjoyed Twitter and Facebook banter about the significance here perhaps more than usual – it was great to talk to people who use this stuff seriously in their work about what it means. (So, no, this isn’t about being a fanboy.) PC users, yes, you can still choose big machines at lower prices that have matte displays. (Though, if you want slim, light, and long battery life, you’re beginning to look at machines that resemble Apple’s in pricing, design, and functionality.)
For the Apple side, though, here are some reflections:
The Software Picture
1. Apple remains committed to their creative apps. On the Pro side, Aperture, Final Cut, and Logic got nods as the apps that couple with the Mac Pro hardware. Aperture and Final Cut were specifically described as recoded for the Mac Pro. Logic Pro X was not explicitly described as such, but Apple told CDM way back in summer that we could expect an update of Logic to take advantage of the new hardware. And GarageBand got a big center-stage demo from Xander Soren for the first time since 2011’s Back to the Mac event.
2. GarageBand being free is a big deal. GarageBand is now standard on iOS as well as the Mac. And it includes a lot of the same design cues and functionality (the automatic Drummer) that Logic does. That means for Apple-centric users, it will likely be the lingua franca in music making.
3. We’ll want to watch Mavericks compatibility. Music developers, fail to test Mavericks, the new OS X, at your own risk. Free upgrades mean that a whole lot of Mac users will be upgrading on day one. On the other hand, I think that agile developers could benefit from this in the long haul, as it will mean less need to support old OSes. And in particular, Apple is not only making upgrades free but offering them to lots of old OS versions. The bottom line: just as on iOS, Mac users are likely to largely be running the latest-and-greatest, and anyone not wanting support headaches will want to keep that in mind.
The Hardware Picture
4. The Mac Pro at US$2999 is an impressive workstation. Look, the Mac Pro isn’t for everyone. But for someone wanting a serious workstation or doing video editing, the Thunderbolt workflow and its mess of ports may actually appeal. It will continue to annoy those who prefer internal storage or who have an investment in internal expansion cards. But I think those who do have three grand burning a whole in their pocket may well take a hard look at this very high-end machine.
Of course, for the majority, the real focus will be on MacBook Pro…
5. For music, the MacBook Pro 13″ is a clear sweet spot. The good news is, Apple now includes the latest Intel chipsets across the whole line. Combined with OS X Mavericks, that means improvements to battery life and use of integrated graphics (for visual work and OpenCL computing) that come from both the OS and the hardware. And the prices seem not unreasonable for high-end features, a design lots of people really love, and an OS that for many is worth a premium.
6. But get the specs you need right away – and forget about conventional storage. The bad news is largely to do with upgradeability. Expect to splurge on the US$1499 model, for 256 GB internal SSDs and the full 8 GB of RAM. (If you can live with a small SSD, you can upgrade the entry level to 8 GB for a total of US$1399.)
The SSDs are a whole lot faster and more reliable than conventional drives. But it means you will need to tote around a USB drive for extra storage for things like sample libraries.
7. High-end visuals will cost you, too. The 15″ MacBook Pro starts at US$1999, but for dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics and 16 GB of RAM, you’ll need the US$2599 model. At that price, I imagine even some deep-pocketed users would consider spending their money on the Mac Pro instead, with much greater performance and connectivity.
8. It’s glossy Retinas or nothin’. Matte display options are, perhaps as expected, evidently a thing of the past – even on the high-end MacBook Pro. 15″ non-Retina is gone, too.
9. iPad will continue to dominate. I’ll leave it to someone else to cover tablets, but while there’s a lot of promise on the Windows side, iPad is for now still where the action is. It’s desirable, and it’s what consumers actually use. So not only does it have the back catalog of creative apps, but it will continue to get them.
And one more reflection on GarageBand…
10. Logic isn’t looking more like GarageBand. GarageBand is looking more like Logic.
Images from Apple of the Mac version: