Is Apple Trying To Shorten Your Mac's Lifecycle?

macbook air screen

Photo: Dylan Love, Business Insider

I’ve had Apple’s new Mac operating system, Mountain Lion, for a full day now on my MacBook Air. Overall, I’m liking it.

What I’m not liking is how my Air (purchased in late 2010) isn’t compatible with some key new features. Most notably: AirPlay mirroring, which lets you “mirror” your MacBook’s screen on your Apple TV. Apple says the feature only works in MacBook Airs purchased in mid-2011 or later.

In addition to displaying PowerPoints and websites on your TV, AirPlay Mirroring lets you use services like Hulu and HBO GO, which aren’t available on Apple TV, by running them in your Mac’s browser. I don’t have cable, so I was super pumped for this feature when Apple first announced Mountain Lion back in February.

Boy was I bummed yesterday when I found out I couldn’t use it.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my frustration. As BuzzFeed’s Matt Buchanan points out, there are a lot of negative reviews of Mountain Lion in the Mac App Store from frustrated MacBook Air owners like yours truly.

I spent some time today trying to track down the reason why Apple won’t let my MacBook use AirPlay mirroring. After all, my MacBook Air came out less than a year before the mid-2011 model. The internal hardware isn’t that different.

What’s the deal?

There seems to be two competing theories out there. The first is that this is part of Apple’s alleged “planned obsolescence,” or stripping out software features from older devices in order to provoke people into buying a new hardware. A lot of Apple critics accuse the company of this all the time.

There’s also a technical explanation, as explained in this excellent feature from a few days ago on Cult Of Mac. Apple likely didn’t include AirPlay mirroring in the 2010 MacBook Air because its graphics card isn’t powerful enough to crunch what’s on your screen and push it to your Apple TV. The 2011 MacBook Air’s graphics card is powerful enough.

The Cult Of Mac article also says if Apple were to allow AirPlay mirroring on the 2010 MacBook Air, it would have to suck some power from the processor, causing the device to heat up and possibly slow down other apps. Apple probably decided that wasn’t good for users. I spoke to another hardware expert, and he backs up what Cult of Mac says in its article.

I suspect there’s truth in both theories.

One of the big themes in Mountain Lion is making the desktop more iPhone and iPad-like. And like iOS 6, the soon-to-be released operating system on iPhones and iPads, not all of Mountain Lion’s hot new features are available on older devices. A good example of this is how Apple only allows you to use Siri on the iPhone 4S, even though it’s been proven that the iPhone 4 hardware can handle it.

That makes sense for the iPhone, as it only costs $200. That’s not a lot to ask for every two years or so. But I dropped ~$1,300 on my MacBook Air and it isn’t even two years old yet. And it’s already becoming obsolete.

And that really aggravates me. 

By the way, Cult Of Mac’s piece comes from someone who knows a thing or two about AirPlay on Mac: the CEO of AirParrot. AirParrot is a third-party app that lets you mirror your Mac’s screen on Apple TV. I’ve used the trial version of AirParrot (the full version costs $10) before, and it works pretty well on my Air.

The only thing keeping me from purchasing it was the promise of AirPlay mirroring in Mountain Lion. Since Apple won’t help me out, I’m going to take the plunge.

Anyway, if you think I’m full of it, or missed some sort of technical detail, please let me know in the comments.

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