Which Mac for Web Development?

With quite a few options to choose from, which Mac is best for web development?

Apple’s Mac range has long been a topic of debate amongst the web development community.

A sizeable number of developers do (and probably always will) prefer Windows PCs to work, usually citing that they offer more options and are as good as Macs, often without the price-tag. Our team uses a combination of both Macs and Windows machines to develop websites and themes, and even our own developers are torn between which OS they prefer.

However you see it, the choice is largely down to personal preference, and of course how much of a beating your wallet can take.

In this post we’re purely discussing the most popular products of the Mac range that Apple ships as of 2016, comparing each product of their lineup as possible candidates for the seasoned web developer. Read on for our take on the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac for web development.

MacBook

The prettiest and most portable range of Apple’s current Mac lineup is undoubtably the new MacBook. They come in a range of colors — silver, space grey, gold and rose gold, boast a slimmer unibody chassis than ever, and weigh a staggeringly small 2 pounds. You’d have to be quite uptight not to consider one, regardless of their tech specs.

What’s good

The MacBook comes with a retina display of 2304x1440 (translating as 226 pixels per inch), which is great for developers who have the pleasure of working with retina graphics for the web.

The baseline model also ships with 256GB of onboard flash storage, which is impressive considering the measly 128GB that both the MacBook Air and Pro offer at baseline.

Of course, there’s no denying the brilliant portability of the MacBook, which will prove second-to-none if you use your Mac for dual purpose or on-the-go. It’s the slimmest and lightest of all Macs, and that’s an important consideration for those who spend a lot of time working whilst traveling.

We couldn’t possibly review this Mac without commenting on its beautiful range of colors, something we hope Apple will at some point introduce to the rest of its Mac lineup… imagine an iMac in rose gold!

What’s bad

Unfortunately, this laptop does come with its fair share of drawbacks, when considering it from a web development perspective.

The processors built into the MacBook are a far cry from the offerings of opposing MacBook products. This is one of the most significant drawbacks of the MacBook, and it’s sure to say that you’ll probably notice this after some use, especially if you’re doing anything more than word processing and simple web markup.

For a machine that is probably less useful than its competition, the price of the MacBook is probably a little unjustified. It comes with poor webcam resolution (currently 480p…), and no standard USB ports.

Also worth noting is its apparent flimsy design. Elegant as it may be, a smaller, thinner laptop makes for a more damage-prone one. One drop and you could be on your way to your nearest Apple repair store. You can probably relate to this if you’ve owned a fair share of iPhones over the years. Many early users also report having to get used to a noticeably shallower keyboard, which feels unfamiliar to the touch.

Finally, the MacBook’s screen size is really somewhat of a letdown. It may only be 1 inch smaller in size than the MacBook Pro’s baseline model, but on a screen of that size it really makes a difference. This is possibly one of the most deciding factors if you work with graphics and enjoy slightly more screen real estate.

In conclusion, it currently feels as though the MacBook is more of a showy device than anything else. It’s pretty and the display is pixel-perfect, but in terms of processing power and bang for your buck, we don’t feel that it’s quite there yet. Perhaps in a year or two we’ll see a newer model with a larger screen and configurable memory and processing power, but for now this laptop is probably best left to those who spend their days in Mail and Word.

MacBook Pro

Probably Apple’s most popular and recognized laptop is the MacBook Pro. The small, lean unibody of the 2015 model isn’t too much larger than its closest opponent: the MacBook Air.

Shipping with a retina-ready display in both 13 and 15-inch sizes, the baseline MacBook Pro comes with 8GB of onboard memory and 128GB of flash storage.

Since 2006, the Pro has been refined numerous times to make it what it is today. One of the most popular choices of laptop among web developers and professionals in the digital space in general, it’s hard to fault it. The laptop’s onboard memory and processing power make for a portable powerhouse, as the baseline model weighs just under 3.5 pounds.

Perhaps what is best about the MacBook Pro is its range of models — there are 4 options for storage space (128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB), a choice between 8 and 16GB onboard memory and a range of 6 Intel Core processors to choose from.

Not to be forgotten is the 2015 model’s retina display, starting at 2560x1600 pixels, which is 227 pixels per inch on the 13-inch model.

The MacBook Pro is a great machine for full-time web developers, and is notably apt for those working with graphics and other types of digital media. Most won’t hit trouble managing a localhost environment with heavy code and graphics, but even if you do (unlikely), every model is configurable to 16GB of memory.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the MacBook Pro is probably the most durable of Apple’s laptop range, as it’s thicker and provides a glass display, as opposed to the LED-backlit display that ships with the MacBook and MacBook Air.

Overall, we think that the MacBook Pro lives up to its name, and provides a great experience for web developers. It’s portable (albeit a little less than Apple’s other MacBook models), powerful, and its display looks great.

MacBook Air

First released in early 2008, the MacBook Air has been selling strong for more than 8 years. It’s one of Apple’s highest-selling Macs, and for good reason. For a device that weighs just shy of 3 pounds, Apple certainly have managed to pack in a lot of power.

The Air’s unique selling point has always been its portability — it’s a nifty machine for people who are on-the-go. However, for web development and graphic design, portability is not necessarily the most important consideration. Yes, the Air is several pounds lighter than the current version of the MacBook Pro, but sacrificing memory and processing power for slightly better portability is something to which you should lend some serious thought.

The priciest MacBook Pro ranks in at 4 times the onboard memory than that of the baseline Air, also offering a broader range of processors (up to 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7). Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time developing with the MacBook Air knows that eventually it can start to slow, and once it becomes sluggish the Mac really loses some of its flair. RAM and processing power are particularly important considerations for developers working in a localhost environment, especially with a resource-intensive CMS.

Another limitation of the Air is its highest configurable flash storage space of 512GB, which comes at a hefty price. In contrast, the Pro can be configured to around double that, if need be. This is a particularly important consideration for those who work with graphics and rich web media, as any designer knows that file sizes can quickly add up.

As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Air, one final point to note is its lack of a retina display. As we move more toward a retina web, it’s important for web devs to embrace this technology. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to overlook if you’re working with a machine that doesn’t show your content in high resolution, and even if you aren’t overlooking the importance of retina-ready content, it’s awkward to work with and produce it on a non-retina display.

To conclude, as portable as the MacBook Air may be, its many drawbacks render it far from the best choice for modern web development. Perhaps four or five years ago it would have made for a great choice, but with the direction things are moving in that’s definitely not the case today.

The iMac

Undoubtably the most internationally recognized desktop computer of the modern day, the iMac is possibly one of Apple’s most revolutionary creations. First introduced in 1998 (and heck, have they come a long way since then!), today’s iMac combines powerful processing power and crisp graphics in a glorious all-in-one silver aluminium chassis. Forget CD drives and a large external HDD — this Mac’s streamlined design is fit for offices of any size.

The iMac currently ships in 2 sizes — 21.5 inches and 27 inches respectively. While the smaller display serves as a great introduction to the iMac line, the larger screen size offers an increased amount of pixel real estate, and is hard to beat if you work regularly with retina images and graphic/web design. Of course, along with the larger display comes increased processing power and more impressive specifications overall, even at the baseline model.

We think the iMac makes a great choice for both web designers and developers, particularly if you work with rich media such as image and video. Its impressive specs are certainly fit for high-intensity work in all fields of digital media. While the 21.5 inch model is great in its own right, the larger iMac really is a beast of its own.