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I am going to buy a MacBook for iOS development as its main use, though I will also use Photoshop some for image processing.

I am choosing between the new mid-2011 Macbook Air and the early-2011 Macbook Pro.

Both 13" for portability, when at home/office the idea is to use it with an external monitor.

These are the configurations:

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13-inch MacBook Pro
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2.7GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7
8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x4GB
128GB Solid State Drive
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
$1,899.00
-------------------
2.3GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5
8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x4GB
128GB Solid State Drive
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
$1,649.00
-------------------
-------------------
MacBook Air, 13-inch
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1.8GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7
4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
256GB flash storage
$1,699.00
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1.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5
4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
256GB flash storage
$1,599.00

Last thing, based on Apple's product cycles, buying MBP now could be something I may regret because we are half passed its cycle. So buying MBA will assure I wont buy a new laptop which in a few months could become "old". And I need it by the end of August.

That said, any advice would be great.

UPDATE

Battery life is the same in both, MBA wights: 2.96 pounds (1.35 kg) and MBP: 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg)

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Since everyone's opinion on this is equally valid and things change over time, this is hard to answer objectively. Pricing, risk of a future mac release, guessing your actual workload are subjective and better asked in the chat as opposed to a question that should have a definitive/objective answer. To answer this is to decide what your cost per hour is of having a different chip/storage system and estimate SSD/HDD efficiencies. We have no way of knowing if your coding needs a $4k Mac Pro or would be fine using a used 2008 MacBook. –  bmike Aug 15 '11 at 16:30
    
Thats right. But now i need to select an answer as correct. –  Nicolas S Aug 15 '11 at 17:24
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6 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The things that are easy to quantify are screen real estate. If you want more pixels - get a screen with more pixels. The Air fits 15" of normal screen pixels in the 13" package. The 15" MacBook Pro can have a high resolution screen option like the pixel density of the base model 17" MBP. The 13" MacBook Pro you list has the almost the same pixels as an 11" Air.

Another tradeoff is the Air will have a much faster IO system due to the SSD drive being faster than a spinning HDD. For light crunching of video and still photos, the CPU in the Air performs close enough to the other CPU in the full Pro line as to not be a big drawback for most.

The SSD speedup is huge for most developers - so that alone seems to trump most people that run Xcode - they really want to optimize for low latency IO and work iteratively. The downside is a smaller drive.

Compromises abound!

It takes great discipline to optimize code when your development workstation is running with tremendous horsepower. It almost makes sense in a way to choose as underpowered a machine as you can stand to run your code in simulation. You are forced to preview a bit of what the execution of that code will be on lesser powered mobile devices and entry level consumer macs if they are the end users of your development efforts.

I hope these help you compare the tradeoffs and make a great choice. I envy you for having either of these - people have developed code on far less capable machines than even a 4 year old MacBook - so you really have no bad choice and can let he potential payoff of your development efforts guide how much capital you want to invest before you are selling your efforts.

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+1 " It almost makes sense in a way to choose as underpowered a machine to run your code in simulation." –  spudwaffle Aug 15 '11 at 19:40
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Do you want power or portability? The MacBook Air's strength is the latter. Will you be compiling monster code? Or working in coffee shops? The only one who can decide that is you.

And do you really think you'll be disappointed if a new MacBook Pro model comes out in 6 months time? The evolution of these laptops tends to be incremental rather than revolutionary. I, for one, am still very happy with a four year old MacBook!

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You are right about power/portability. I really need to use it anywhere without it being an issue, battery like is almost the same. SSD make the mbp reduce booting time and overall speed. –  Nicolas S Aug 15 '11 at 15:13
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I think the 2 laptops are powerful enough for ios applications compilation.

I would make my choice on the other features :

  • the MBP has more usb ports, which allow you to use multiple usb devices at the same time. With the MBA, you will need a usb hub each time you need to plug more than one device. that is something you need to think about if you want to develop directly on an iOs device, and use a usb hard drive (for example) when your not at home or office.

  • the MBP has a greater battery life-time. If you want to work while moving, that's important.

  • the MBP has a dvd drive, which might still be useful...

I use my laptop for these kind of things, and my next computer will still be a 13" MBP, to keep my huge battery-life

PS : sorry for my bad english

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Your English is fine! –  dan8394 Aug 15 '11 at 14:45
    
But I'm not sure about everything you wrote - according to Apple's website, the MBA has identical battery life to the MacBook Pro...! –  dan8394 Aug 15 '11 at 14:48
    
Oops, sorry ! I was on the 11"MBA page :( and the MBA now has 2 usb ports. really sorry for that mistake. –  Benjamin Dubois Aug 15 '11 at 14:51
    
However: the MBA has a higher resolution screen than the MBP. May be an important distinction for both programming and image editing. –  mss Aug 15 '11 at 15:04
    
A good point is the screen resolution, being a 13" the real estate pixels are really usefull for testing in iPad simulator, even though it wont fit without being scaled in any of these. –  Nicolas S Aug 15 '11 at 15:11
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Macbook Air. It's got a better display, and the CPU's have jumped up to as fast as last years MacBook Pro.

The only question right now is 13" Macbook Air or 15" MacBook Pro with quad core. 13" MBP really has almost no reason to exist...

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There is always something great around the corner, and what you buy will inevitably be updated and possibly even reduce in price in 2/6/12 months etc. Don't worry where you are in the product cycle, worry about whether the item you choose is fit for your intended purpose.

Take a good look at your most important considerations, be it battery life, expansion capability, weight, price etc, and base it on that. My gut feeling is that if you are going to use Xcode and Photoshop regularly, i.e. every day then the Air might get long in the tooth faster than the Pro (i.e. in say 2 years when newer versions arrive with greater minimum requirements), which is both slower and has half the RAM. IO speed shouldn't be much of an issue for this sort of work, so the SSD while nice isn't a must have for your use. IMO :)

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The thing about ssd is that it speeds up every task, and booting time. ive heard that mbp with ssd can pair up to mba speed for not so processor-heavy tasks. –  Nicolas S Aug 15 '11 at 15:09
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-The new Macbook Air's benchmarks are virtually indistinguishable from the Macbook Pro's, though slightly more expensive (Flash memory really helps)-.

I didn't see your laptop choices, sorry. Yeah, your MBP choices are faster than the MBAs. Plus, they have good graphics cards.

Resolution may come into play as well.

It is also far lighter and more portable. As a student and iOS developer myself, I went for the MBA because of its portability and power. It all depends on how much you travel, I guess.

You may want to look into the innate limitations of having an MBA. 2 USB ports, no CD Drive and a (relatively) small screen are three. Because of these limitations, I would buy the MBP if you don't have another computer that is very powerful. If you are just looking for a computer to do mobile work, I would go with the MBA, both because of its smaller size and because of its smaller cost.

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Is there any situation in which you would prefer to have a MBP? –  Nicolas S Aug 15 '11 at 15:15
    
Yes, definitely. If I rarely traveled, and didn't have to lug a computer all over campus, I would get a MBP. If I needed lots of computing power (I have a Mac Pro in my house, which brings me onto another point), if I didn't have another computer for lots of computing power if I needed it, and if I did graphics intensive work (MBA's don't have fantastic graphics cards...) –  Odinulf Aug 15 '11 at 18:03
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