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Archive for the month “May, 2015”

Denmark legislation another step towards a cashless Nordic region

As part of a pre-election economic package proposed by the Danish government, selected types of retailer could soon be permitted to turn away customers who can’t pay electronically. Should the legislation pass as expected, clothing stores, restaurants and petrol stations will be able to legally refuse cash payments from as early as 2016.

Such legislation already exists in neighbouring Sweden, where retailers can simply put up a notice if they do not want to accept cash.

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“We are strongly in favour of the legislation but would like to see a broader scope covering all businesses, as in Sweden,” said Sofie Findling Andersen from the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

“We are seeing the mobile payment market developing fast, but what is holding the industry back is the necessity to run these innovations alongside a cash-based system. Danish central bank studies show cash systems are one of the most expensive for businesses to run.

“We are also concerned for the safety of employees who handle cash, especially those working night shifts in densely populated or remote areas,” she added.

In practice, the legislation will make little difference to most Danish consumers. Daily life in Denmark, as in other Scandinavian countries, is already mostly cashless. Retailers accept payment by debit or credit card for even the smallest sums and only 25% of all retail transactions were paid for by cash or cheque in 2014 in Denmark, according to the Danish Payment Council.

Mobile payments are gaining traction too, with more than two million Danes using an official Danske Bank app called MobilePay. The app, which is linked to a user’s national insurance number, allows payment to be made to other phones or to a sensor at the till, with a simple swipe on the screen of a smartphone to confirm payment.

MobilePay is available for everyone in Denmark 15-years-old and above who has a smartphone, a Danish mobile number, a Danish payment card and a Danish bank account. Key to the high level of adoption was the acceptance of customers from any bank. Danske Bank reports that more than one-fifth of all retailers – both online and physical stores – accept MobilePay.

Ever since the internet came of age, there have been whispers of a cashless society, but while many countries have encouraged the practice, such as the UK experimenting with contactless payments, it is the Nordic region – Sweden and now Denmark – that is the first to move.

The rationale for Nordic governments is clear. Cash is easily destroyed, lost, and makes tax evasion and illegal transactions more straightforward to hide. But smaller retailers and sole traders could easily be left behind, so the key to total adoption is easy-to-use and flexible technology, something the region already has solutions for.

Along with MobilePay, the wireless card reader from Swedish payments company iZettle is already popular and could be the best system for smaller Nordic traders until technologies such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay are rolled out worldwide.

“These alternative payment methods could be great solutions for small businesses, especially those who operate on a seasonal basis and do not need or want to pay for a fixed terminal all year round,” adds Andersen.


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BT appeals to competition watchdog over EE acquisition

BT has claimed its proposed £12.5bn acquisition of mobile network operator (MNO) EE will be good for competition, investment and innovation in the UK, with both consumers and businesses benefiting from it.

In a submission to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is currently looking into the deal, BT said that because the number of UK MNOs would remain at four after the acquisition – namely EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – it would not reduce competition in either the fixed or mobile markets.

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It said that the ability of its mobile and landline rivals to compete using the Openreach network would not be affected, and said its broadband and mobile market shares would remain under the threshold at which regulatory action would be justified.

The firm added that its enhanced presence in fixed-mobile and quad-play bundling would give customers looking for such offerings more options to choose from.

“A larger BT will be able to invest and innovate more than now, something that’s good for jobs and good for customers,” said BT CEO Gavin Patterson.

“The acquisition will lead to greater competition given our history as a natural and willing wholesaler, enabling other companies to use the networks we own.

“We provide wholesale access to companies in the broadband market and we are happy to support others who wish to compete in the mobile market as well,” he said.

In its submission, BT asked the CMA to proceed straight to Phase 2 of its investigation, which would allow the watchdog to consider any complex issues in depth, without further delay, and a shorter end-to-end review period compared with its usual processes. The CMA is expected to make a decision on this early in June 2015.

Should the acquisition go through, BT would have 31 million mobile customers and the UK’s largest 4G network.

Consumer affairs advocate Which? is among those ranged against the deal, telling the CMA that the bundling of comms services in a quad-play offering made it harder for consumers to compare pricing to get the cheapest or most appropriate deal for their needs.

Additionally, BT’s communications provider competitors have called for outright separation of BT and its “arms-length” network infrastructure arm Openreach, arguing that the power it wields over the UK’s core network infrastructure means they have no incentive to invest.

Ofcom chief executive Sharon White confirmed in April 2015 that the regulator was considering its options with regard to the future of Openreach in an ongoing and wide-ranging review of the UK’s communications market.

Ofcom has also proposed that BT be made to open up its dark fibre infrastructure to rival providers to service growing demands for data capacity among business leased-line customers.


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Fire services to keep Airwave Tetra radios until 2020

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has approved a four-year extension of its wide-area radio Firelink Project Agreement for fire and rescue services in England, Scotland and Wales.

Originally signed in 2006, Firelink is a private, secure digital terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network, designed and built by blue light networking supplier Airwave.

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The network, which went fully live in 2010 and covers all 57 fire and rescue services in Great Britain, was designed to enable the fire and rescue services to work more effectively and safely by using clearer voice communications and call group management during incidents, and to send data and status codes to and from vehicles in the field.

Additionally, in London, Scotland and Wales, Firelink is able to identify and deploy the closest available vehicle to an incident using an automated vehicle location system.

Its extension to the end of 2019, with an option to extend further still to 2020, was welcomed by Airwave, which in February 2015 was dropped from the government’s £1.2bn Emergency Services Network (ESN) procurement, amid talk that its Tetra system was too old, expensive and inflexible.

However, the government’s preferred option of using commercially available LTE broadband networks to deliver comms services to the emergency services has also been heavily criticised.

In 2014, Labour’s Jack Dromey, then shadow policing minister, said the government was rushing forwards with “unseemly haste” without properly considering exactly how a priority service on a commercial network might work, or affect service for the general public.

The Home Office, which is overseeing the ESN procurement, hopes to have the service up and running in 2016 or 2017 as Airwave’s contracts begin to expire.

Airwave chief operating officer John Lewis said the supplier had worked with every fire and rescue service in Great Britain to establish an in-depth understanding of each service’s unique needs and ways of working, and that the Tetra network had proved its worth many times.

“The network’s built-in resilience is frequently called on when our customers need it most,” he said. “For example, during the January 2014 floods when parts of the country experienced widespread power cuts, our customers could continue to communicate as the network remained operational – the only network to do so.”

He added: “Reaching 99% of Great Britain’s landmass and maintaining 99.97% availability over the past year means we are well placed to continue working with them to deliver the mission-critical service they need, both now and well into the future.”

DCLG had not commented on the contract extension at the time of writing.


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University of Surrey updates student timetables with cloud

The University of Surrey has integrated Advanced Learning’s cloud-based CMISGo solution into its information management system so it can deliver timetable updates to students via their mobile phones.

The solution ensures students’ timetables are up to date with last-minute changes  – particularly the large number made just before the academic year starts – and cuts down on the amount of paper used by the organisation.

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Supplied by technology firm Advanced Learning, the CMISGo application allows customised timetables to be delivered to the university’s 13,000 students.

Harri Ap Rees, deputy registrar and director of student administration at the university, says the university has had CMISgo since 2002, but updates to student timetables originally had to be sent via email.

“It was a very manual process,” he says. “It’s important to give the students the right options with timetabling before they arrive so they can make their plans.”

He adds that in the first few weeks after arrival, students can swap around their options, depending on what classes and subjects they want to attend. “We have a system that enables us to timetable, but all of the information they were getting came as hard copy.”

Sheffield Hallam University expands long-standing academic relationship with SAP with the launch of a study centreThe Janet academic network has begun offering a shared service to universities and academic institutes

To tackle the issue, the university integrated CMISGo into its current information management system, which produces and manages the course timetables for the institution’s 400+ courses.

It has resulted in eliminating more than 260,000 paper documents as course details can now be delivered to students’ mobile phones.

“Timetable packs could be up to 20 pages long in hard-copy format. They took an inordinate amount of time to produce without factoring in any changes to course schedules,” says Ap Rees.

The most important thing about this new timetable delivery is the level of personalisation the students receive.

One of the main reasons the implementation was needed was to ensure student’s had the information they needed to make informed choices about their courses and have instantaneous updates about timetable and room changes.

“The demand came from students and from us and our concern that competitors are already doing this.” explains Ap Rees.

The cloud-based solution now means that students can check their timetable anywhere at any time, something the modern student has come to expect as standard.

The decision to move to mobile timetables was widely backed by the student union, which is pushing for text alerts and online room booking as a next step.

“In terms of the future there is a facility to text-message,” says Ap Rees.

Currently the university uses Tribal’s SITS student record system, which does offer a timetabling solution but not one suited to the university’s needs.

It plans to keep an eye on this in the future, as having one solution to address both timetabling and student records would be more efficient in the long term. Currently the transfer of data from SITS to the timetabling system is still a manual process.

The university’s digital transformation over the last few years has been huge.

“Over five years now we’ve got online registration, students can choose their modules online, there are lots of forms students can submit if they want to withdraw or change modules, if they want to suspend their studies,” Aps Rees explains.

“There’s already quite a lot that is online and we have a strategy that we’re trying to move more and more self-service for students and academics online.”

By making more of these processes paperless, the university hopes to reduce the number of its administrators. “Then we can focus our resources in academic staff to give more support to students,” says Aps Rees.


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Vodafone reveals six mobile services to help developing world farmers

A report from Vodafone has showed that small-scale farmers in emerging markets could benefit to the tune of billions of dollars if they had better access to mobile connectivity.

In its report, Connected Farming in India, which was produced by Accenture Strategy, Vodafone revealed that 70 million Indian farmers could be taking in $9bn between them by the year 2020 if more attention was paid to mobile services.

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India is one of the largest food producers in the world, with around 200 million people thought to work in the agricultural sector. It is also a country predominantly of smallholdings, with around 62% of farmers owning less than a hectare of land, which can significantly increase their risk from crop failure, pests, volatile market pricing and so on.

The mobile network operator’s charitable arm, the Vodafone Foundation, said that two-thirds of Indian farmers – who make on average less than $4 per day – could enhance their earnings potential by $128 per annum, a not insignificant amount for some of the world’s poorest workers.

The report identified six mobile services that could be instrumental in boosting farming incomes in the developing world – not just in India:

Agricultural information services, such as weather forecasting, and apps giving advice on when to harvest and crop husbandry techniques to enhance yields, could increase incomes by an estimated $89 a year.Mobile receipt services to allow transparency in commodity supply chains, would boost incomes by improving efficiency and giving farmers a means to fight fraud.Mobile wallet services for payments and loans – such as Vodafone’s M-Pesa service, which is already available in India – could give farmers access to micro-finance and easy and transparent electronic payment systems, which may enhance incomes by nearly $700 in some cases.Field auditing could enable auditors monitoring quality, sustainable practice and certification compliance to eliminate paper records and adopt electronic reporting, again enhancing efficiency.Local supply chain services would allow smaller producers to transact fairly with local co-operatives.Smartphone-enabled services would provide better functionality and richer sources of information than is currently possible using basic feature phone SMS and voice services. Here the emphasis would need to be on advanced and affordable smartphones and the network to back them up.

Vodafone also announced that its existing Farmers’ Club – a social business model that began in Turkey six years ago and already offers a range of mobile services to farmers in developing countries – will start up in Ghana, India, Kenya and Tanzania.

Services available through the club will vary from country to country, but will include some of the information services detailed in the Connected Farming report, such as virtual marketplaces and mobile money financial services products.

Vodafone said it was also taking a variant of the club into New Zealand, to see how its extensive existing mobile network could help drive productivity and innovation in a developed agricultural sector.

Vodafone Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific group regional chief executive Serpil Timuray said: “One-third of humanity relies on food grown by 500 million smallholder farmers with less than two hectares of land. 

“Mobile has a critically important role to play in increasing agricultural resilience and enhancing quality of life for some of the poorest people on earth.

“Our experience in Turkey has demonstrated how mobile services can transform farmers’ ability to increase crop yields, improve efficiency and grow farm gate incomes,” she said.


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EE and O2 go head-to-head to provide ESN mobile network

The Home Office has invited mobile network operators EE and O2 to submit their final resilient mobile networking services bids for the new Emergency Services Network (ESN).

The two mobile network operators (MNOs) are among eight organisations, which were selected earlier this year, invited to submit their best and final offers for contracts to run the ESN.

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EE and O2 are bidding on Lot 3 of the ESN contract to supply a resilient mobile services network for the police, fire and ambulance services using commercially available services.

The suppliers invited to bid on Lot 1, for a delivery partner, are Atkins, KBR, Lockheed Martin and Mott MacDonald. HP and Motorola are bidding on Lot 2, for user services.

Lot 4 of the procurement, which addressed mobile access in remote rural areas, was scrapped in January 2015 in light of commitments made by the bidding MNOs.

Mike Penning, minister for policing, said the goal was still to sign contracts later this year. The new network is set to go live in 2017, as the existing terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) private radio network contracts, all held by Airwave, begin to expire.

“Making sure our emergency services have the best tools to help them do their job is paramount. As well as offering the emergency services much more capacity, flexibility and functionality than the old system, the network will also save the taxpayer around £1bn over the next 15 years,” said Penning.

Incumbent operator Airwave has – teething problems notwithstanding – been running the current Tetra system for a number of years, and was controversially dropped from the procurement process earlier this year.

The government is keen to enable blue light services to use broadband data services, as many of them increasingly rely on smartphone handsets. To accommodate and facilitate this, the plan is to enhance the commercial mobile network with extra coverage, resilience and security, with priority access for emergency services traffic.

The government claimed that as there was no dedicated spectrum available to give to the emergency services, it was impossible to procure a private network, not to mention too expensive, and has insisted coverage will “at least match what is currently provided”.

Nevertheless, some services have already announced plans to stick with what they know for the time being.

Earlier in May, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) wrangled an extension to the Firelink programme – used by all 57 fire and rescue services in England, Scotland and Wales – which means they will continue to use Airwave Tetra radios until the end of 2019, with an option to extend to 2020.


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TalkTalk not buying Tesco Mobile

TalkTalk has ruled itself out of the running to acquire mobile virtual network operator Tesco Mobile, after reports linked the two.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme on 14 May, CEO Dido Harding said she was focused on the integration of TV and video-on-demand service BlinkBox, which Tesco sold to TalkTalk at the start of 2015, and would not be acquiring its mobile business as well.

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Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis is thought to be keen to sell off non-core units as he struggles to clear debts of £22bn. Tesco’s cut-price mobile phone service, which runs over the O2 network, is a prime contender for being sold.

It has also recently sold off a music streaming service and is touting its big data analytics unit, Dunhumby, as well.

TalkTalk unveiled strong full-year results, with revenues up by 4.1% to £1.8bn across the whole year and 6% in the final quarter. Full-year earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation rose by 15% to £245m.

The firm saw strong growth in data revenues, which helped drive growth at TalkTalk Business. On the consumer side, more customers committed to quad-play bundled packages of landline, broadband, TV and mobile.

TalkTalk said it had gained more than a million new broadband, fibre and mobile customers in the past 12 months, and claimed that its TalkTalk TV platform was now the third largest pay-TV service in the UK with 1.4 million customers. It also announced that it would be adding Game of Thrones to the service in June.

At TalkTalk Business, a number of new contracts to supply Ethernet and Ethernet First Mile connections added more than 9,000 new lines and took its total base to 26,000, up by over 50% on the previous year.

A new bargain bucket business broadband service for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and small office/home office customers, priced at £4 a month and representing a £535 saving on the equivalent BT service, also began to draw in more customers.

TalkTalk Business managing director Charles Bligh said he remained committed to providing customers with innovative and value-for-money products.

“Companies need scalability and speed to deliver on new ways of working and make the most of the opportunities available. With the demand for data increasing every month, from the largest corporate to the newest sole operator, we are well-placed to build on this year’s growth,” said Bligh.

Separately, TalkTalk announced the acquisition of tIPcall, a next-generation session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking service, to build out its wholesale SIP trunking portfolio and offer converged voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services to more customers.


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Wi-Fi Global Congress: Hotspot 2.0 standard addresses wireless security holes

At Wi-Fi Global Congress in London, supplier Ruckus Wireless unveiled what it claimsis the first Wi-Fi Alliance Passpoint-certified wireless local area network (WLAN) system for the second release of Hotspot 2.0, offering network owners a number of enhanced network security features.

Hotspot 2.0, also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard. It was developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to allow devices to automatically join a wireless subscriber service on entering a Hotspot 2.0 area, which gives users better bandwidth and services-on-demand and alleviates traffic congestion.

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Release 2 of the standard streamlines and secures client provisioning and fundamentally changes how user credentials are loaded onto a Wi-Fi-enabled device using WPA2 encryption, while assuring users they are connected to a secure network.

Ruckus said that despite the popularity of Wi-Fi, publicly available networks and hotspots could still “be frustrating and subject to security concerns” due to a lack of encryption and the inability for a client device to validate it.

The new technology will give users the ability to sign up to connect to a Wi-Fi service simply and securely, using standards-based methodology for automatic loading of credentials – including social media log-ons – and mobile configuration parameters onto their devices.

Up to now, there had been no standard methodology to perform those functions and no format to manage Hotspot 2.0 credentials on a mobile device.

In theory, this will offer a higher level of Wi-Fi security for both public access and enterprise networks. Meanwhile, operators gain the ability to control service policy preferences to optimise the overall experience.

“Hotspot 2.0 effectively democratises public Wi-Fi access on a global scale, fundamentally changing how Wi-Fi services will be used and offered going forward,” explained Dan Rabinovitsj, chief operating officer at Ruckus Wireless.

“Several strong growth factors are feeding the rapid acceleration of the Wi-Fi market, and Hotspot 2.0 is clearly one of them,” added Richard Webb, research director for mobile backhaul and small cells at Infonetics Research, now part of IHS.

“By simplifying and securing the client connection experience, while providing seamless roaming between disparate Wi-Fi networks, we expect Hotspot 2.0 will have a profoundly positive impact that will drive a new stage of Wi-Fi deployments,” said Webb.

Ruckus has modified a number of its ZoneFlex indoor and outdoor access points, including the 7372, T300 Series and R700 devices, as well as its SmartCell Gateway 200, to achieve certification on Release 2.


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Premier Inn integrates Apple Watch with its customer app

The latest company to join the Apple Watch app bandwagon is Premier Inn, whose customers can use an Apple Watch to control the heating, lighting and entertainment systems in the chain’s showcase hotels.

The Whitbread-owned hotel chain launched a range of hotels last year known as Hub by Premier Inn. Hub hotels are based in city centres and provide digital services.

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The one in Covent Garden, London, now enables guests to control settings in their room via an Apple Watch. The service is also available via Google Pay for Android users.

The app was designed and developed by mobile banking software company Monitise in its Monitise Create innovation unit. The supplier is best known for its mobile financial services apps, but a recent strategic review has seen the company focus on growth.

Monitise is expanding beyond its financial services bedrock. In January 2015, Monitise put itself in the shop window, announcing that it could benefit from being part of another business.

But in March the company decided to continue operating as an independent company rather than seeking to be taken over. The company’s chairman Peter Ayliffe said he was confident that the business is at a point in its development where the prospects for delivering long-term value are excellent. 

“The feedback from third parties re-affirms that we have a uniquely strong technology platform, a talented and highly respected management team, and a deep well of support among staff, partners and clients for what we are seeking to achieve,” he said.

Companies are hurrying to develop applications for the Apple Watch following the extensive publicity enjoyed by the launch of the wearable device.

Being first to market allows organisations to capitalise on first-mover advantage and show they are ahead of the pack, sending a clear signal to the market and customers that the company is an innovator. Among those that have already launched apps for the Apple Watch are Ocado and Booking.com.


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Apple MacBook (2015) review: Slimmer and lighter than Air

The slimmest, lightest Apple laptop currently available High-quality Retina display Fanless design runs cool and quiet Sturdy, yet elegant constructionSingle USB-C interface for connectivity and charging Modest performance and battery life Expensive

It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that the slimmest and lightest laptop that Apple has ever produced has been almost completely overshadowed by the launch of the endlessly hyped Apple Watch. However, Apple’s Mac computers — and particularly its MacBook laptops — have sold consistently well in recent years, regularly posting double-digit increases in sales at a time when the wider PC market seems to be in steady decline.

Apple’s new MacBook is certainly a significant release, providing a major redesign for a long-neglected member of the Mac lineup. It’s a wonderful piece of design, but it also turns Apple’s existing laptop range on its head. It relegates the former flagship MacBook Air to the role of entry-level laptop, and establishes a new category of premium ultraportable devices that Apple, with typical modesty, describes as “the future of the notebook”.

The 12-inch MacBook measures just 3.5-13.1mm (0.14-0.52in.) thick and weighs 0.92kg (2.03lbs). Image: Apple

Prices for the new MacBook start at £1,049 (inc VAT; £874.17 ex. VAT), which buys you a dual-core 1.1GHz-2.4GHz Intel Core M-5Y31 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage. For £1,299 (inc. VAT; £1,082.50 ex. VAT) you can step up to 1.2GHz-2.6GHz Core M-5Y51 and 512GB storage, while £1,419 (inc. VAT, £1,182.50 ex. VAT) secures a further speed bump up to the 1.3GHz-2.9GHz Core M-5Y71. The new MacBook is only available with a 12-inch Retina display with a native resolution of 2,304 by 1,440 pixels, and there’s no option to upgrade the memory beyond 8GB.

That’s expensive, but still in the same price range as ultraportable rivals such as Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro (which, incidentally, beat Apple to the punch with a slimline Core M laptop by several months). But, as always with Apple, those numbers only tell half the story, and you need to spend some hands-on time with the new MacBook in order to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses.

The extent of the redesign that new MacBook has received is illustrated by the fact that this 12-inch laptop manages to be both slimmer and lighter than the 11-inch version of the aging MacBook Air that’s still on sale. The 12-inch MacBook measures just 3.5-13.1mm (0.14-0.52in.) thick and weighs 0.92kg (2.03lbs), compared to 3-17mm (0.11-0.68in.) and 1.08kg (2.38lbs) for the 11-inch MacBook Air. The MacBook Air also has a chunky metal border around the screen, which results in a total width of 300mm (11.8in.) for the screen panel, whereas the edge-to-edge glass panel of the new MacBook reduces the width of the laptop by almost 20mm to just 280.5mm (11.04in.).

The build quality, of course, is immaculate. The aluminium chassis of the MacBook looks smart and elegant, but feels very sturdy and provides good support for both the screen and the keyboard panels. There are no internal cooling fans either, so the MacBook is virtually silent when running.

new-macbook-keyboard.jpgThe ultra-thin keyboard uses a new ‘butterfly’ key hinge mechanism, while the trackpad is a ‘taptic’ Force Touch unit. Image: Apple

The pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad has already made an appearance on the recently updated MacBook Pro, but the new MacBook also benefits from a redesigned keyboard that uses a ‘butterfly’ hinge mechanism under each key to reduce the thickness of the keyboard while still providing a firm response that feels comfortable when typing quickly. And, taking a leaf out of the iPhone’s book, the MacBook is now available in three different colours: traditional silver; a darker ‘space grey’; and a gold model that might be a little too ostentatious for business users seeking an air of cool professionalism.

new-macbook-colours.jpgThe new MacBook comes in Apple’s now-familiar colour choices: Silver, Space Grey and Gold. Image: Apple

Another key difference that sets the MacBook apart from the MacBook Air is the new Retina display. The 12-inch display boasts a resolution of 2,304 by 1,440 pixels (226 pixels per inch, or ppi), compared to just 1,366 by 768 (142ppi) for the 11-inch MacBook Air, and 1,440 by 900 (131ppi) for the 13-inch model. In fact, it’s only 250 pixels short of the 27-inch display on my office iMac.

The Retina update is long overdue, but the image quality is undeniably impressive, with bold colours, strong contrast and excellent all-round viewing angles. There are Windows rivals that can beat its resolution, of course (including the 3,200-by-1,800 [282ppi] display on the 13-inch Yoga 3 Pro), but the Mac operating system handles these ultra-high resolutions more effectively than Windows. The Display control panel within OS X provides a number of ‘looks like’ options that scale text and graphics in order to enhance visibility. By default, the MacBook display ‘looks like’ 1280 by 800, which is quite easy on the eye, but you can increase or decrease this simulated resolution to suit whatever applications you use in your work. Some people may still prefer to work on a slightly larger screen, but if lightweight portability is your priority then the new MacBook is hard to beat.

But, as always, there’s a trade-off between portability and performance. Even with a Turbo Boost option that can increase clock speed to 2.4GHz, the entry-level 1.1GHz Core M processor with its integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU delivers only modest performance. To be fair, its GeekBench 3 scores of 2489 for single-core performance and 4633 for multi-core are comparable to those of Lenovo’s similarly configured Yoga 3 Pro, but they’re slightly lower than the less expensive 1.6GHz Core i5-based 13-inch MacBook Air.

The new MacBook will still be perfectly adequate for routine web browsing, email and running Microsoft Office, but if you’re thinking about more demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing then you’ll need to look at the more powerful Core i5/i7-based MacBook Pro range.

The real strength of Intel’s new Broadwell processors is their power-efficiency, and we’ve seen impressive battery life from a number of Broadwell laptops recently. However, the slimline design of the new MacBook means that there’s only room inside it for a relatively modest 39.7Whr battery to power the high-resolution Retina display.

Apple claims nine hours of web browsing for the new MacBook, but we only got 6 hours and 40 minutes of streaming video from the BBC iPlayer during our tests. That’s respectable enough (and comparable to the battery performance of the Yoga 3 Pro), and you can probably squeeze another couple of hours out of it for more casual web browsing. However, the high-resolution Retina display clearly affects battery life, and there are plenty of laptop rivals that can match that performance. The MacBook Air may have a more modest display, but it can handle 10 hours of streaming video with no trouble at all and is still worth considering if battery life is your main priority.

new-macbook-side.jpgApart from the headphone jack, the only interface on the new MacBook is a USB-C port: you’ll have to buy optional adapters to get extra connectors. Image: Apple

new-macbook-dangle.jpg Image: Apple One other factor that allowed Apple to reduce the size of the MacBook so dramatically. Apple says that the new MacBook is designed for ‘a wireless world’ — which is one way of saying that it has virtually abandoned physical interfaces and cables for external connectivity. A single USB-C port on the rear left corner is used to charge the MacBook, the only other connector being a headphone socket on the opposite left-hand corner. There’s no video output, and the new MacBook has even abandoned Apple’s own high-speed Thunderbolt interface.

The assumption is that all other peripherals and network connectivity will be over wi-fi (802.11ac) or Bluetooth (4.0). This, of course, is nonsense — as we discovered as soon as we tried to install our test files off a USB memory stick. Fortunately, Apple does supply a number of USB-C adapters for those of us that still use cables to connect to monitors, hard drives and other peripherals. There’s a basic USB-C-to-USB adapter, which allows you to connect a single USB device to the MacBook. However, you can’t charge the MacBook while you have a USB device plugged in with that cable, so it makes more sense to opt for one of Apple’s Multiport adapters instead. There are two available: both include a USB-C port to charge the MacBook and a conventional USB 3.0 port for peripherals, and either HDMI or VGA for an external monitor. There’s no Ethernet adapter available from Apple, but third-party manufacturers such as Belkin have already announced plans to plug that particular gap.

Apple provided these adapters with our review unit, and they proved essential in order to perform routine tasks such as transferring files from a hard drive and charging an iPhone that was connected to the MacBook. Unfortunately, none are included with the MacBook, and Apple charges £15 (inc. VAT) for the basic USB adapter, and a thumping £65 (inc. VAT) for the Multiport units. Most users will need at least one of these accessories and it’s unforgivable that Apple doesn’t at least throw in the basic USB adapter free of charge.

The new MacBook’s lightweight, slimline design certainly has that special aura of elegant functionality that always overcomes objections to Apple’s high prices. And while the limited connectivity may deter business users who need to connect to wired office networks and other peripherals, we suspect that those issues are likely to fade in coming months as USB-C becomes more widely adopted.

However, the new MacBook’s portability does come at the cost of performance and battery life. If weight is your main concern when travelling with your laptop, then this MacBook is in a class of its own. But if you value battery life or raw power then you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

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