Apple Updates Touch Bar MacBook Pros 

Apple has updated all models of the Touch Bar MacBook Pro. Here’s a bit from the company’s press release:

Apple today updated MacBook Pro with faster performance and new pro features, making it the most advanced Mac notebook ever. The new MacBook Pro models with Touch Bar feature 8th-generation Intel Core processors, with 6-core on the 15-inch model for up to 70 percent faster performance and quad-core on the 13-inch model for up to two times faster performance — ideal for manipulating large data sets, performing complex simulations, creating multi-track audio projects or doing advanced image processing or film editing.

Already the most popular notebook for developers around the world, the new MacBook Pro can compile code faster and run multiple virtual machines and test environments easier than before. Additional updates include support for up to 32GB of memory, a True Tone display and an improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing. And with its powerful Radeon Pro graphics, large Force Touch trackpad, revolutionary Touch Bar and Touch ID, dynamic stereo speakers, quiet Apple-designed cooling system and Thunderbolt 3 for data transfer, charging and connecting up to two 5K displays or four external GPUs, it’s the ultimate pro notebook.

The Specs

That’s a lot of text, but here are the highlights, specs-wise:

  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar now features quad-core i5 and i7 processors.
  • The 15-inch model now features six-core Intel i7 and i9 CPUs and DDR4 memory.
  • The 15-inch model can be ordered with 32 GB of RAM and a 4 TB SSD.

This spec bump is the third in as many years. It seems that Apple is happy with a near-annual refresh of these machines, adopting whatever the newest is from Intel at the time.

That said, Apple did leave some options on the table. Intel offers a CPU with an integrated mobile Vega GPU that Apple is not using in these notebooks, instead opting for the Radeon Pro 555X and 560X as its top-end GPUs.

Even so, having a quad-core 13-inch MacBook Pro and a six-core 15-inch model to choose between makes both size options more appealing to different users. If I were still using a laptop-only setup, I’d be sorely tempted by the new 15-inch machine, but if I do upgrade from my 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro,1 it will be for a new 13-inch.

These new machines feature the same T2 ARM chip found in the iMac Pro, bringing “Hey Siri” support to Apple’s notebooks for the first time. It also manages storage encryption and provides boot process security.

The Display and Ports

The Touch Bar machines now come with True Tone displays that adjust to match the color temperature of the room, just like on the iPad Pro. This includes the OLED display that makes up the Touch Bar itself.

I am excited to see True Tone make it to the Mac, and I think it is a safe bet to assume it will spread to other notebooks, the iMac and iMac Pro in the coming months. I’m sure many professionals will leave it off, but I am looking forward to using it.

While the display is sporting new tech, the ports on the MacBook Pro are not. Touch Bar-equipped models still come with four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Apple did not include an SD card reader or anything else new in this revision.

We’re in Dongle Town for good.

The Keyboard

The keyboard has been re-worked, according to Apple, to be less noisy, but not necessarily to be more reliable. Here’s a bit from Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base.

Only Apple knows the true failure rates on these keyboards, but there is evidence that the 2017 versions is more robust than the original 2016 model. I hope that these new 2018 laptops continue on that curve.

However, I don’t think that I am alone in wishing that Apple would address these issues head-on. Until they do, any laptop release will come with questions about reliability and the Repair Extension Program.

What About the MacBook Pro Escape?

Brian Heater from TechCrunch writes:

Apple says it’s still committed to the version without the Touch Bar, but it’s going to have to sit out this round of updates, for the time being.

Gulp.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this fall, we’ll see some clarity brought to the mess that is the MacBook Air / MacBook / MacBook Pro without Touch Bar end of Apple’s lineup.

The Way Forward

I’m of two minds about today’s update to the MacBook Pro. On one hand, even if Apple is a little late to the Coffee Lake game, I am glad to see additional cores across the MacBook Pro line. I half-expected the additional cores to carry a premium price, but Apple has shipped them as the default SKUs, which is great.

However, I would have liked Apple to revisit some of the fundamental choices it made in the 2016 MacBook Pro. I know it would be unprecedented for Apple to add things back to the machine, but something as simple as an SD card slot would make the lives of professional users easier. I’m not really holding my breath on that, but I would love to be surprised.

More importantly, Apple needs to address the keyboard issues on these machines more directly. From its statement to The Verge, it seems that the 2018 keyboard won’t improve the failure rate. I appreciate the honesty on Apple’s part here, but would love to be able to order a MacBook Pro without the Repair Extension Program bookmarked in Safari.


  1. As of today, this machine is no longer sold as new by Apple. There are a handful of models on clearance, but they won’t last long, I bet.