On the Eve of Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ Event, Some Thoughts on the MacBook Pro Line, Present and Future

By all accounts, we’ll be seeing overhauled MacBook Pros during tomorrow’s event. These will be powered by the M1’s larger sibling. While its name is unknown, this system on a chip should propel the new MacBook Pro to new heights of performance.

After all, we’ve already seen what the M1 can do. The current MacBook Air, Mac mini and two-port MacBook Pro are amazing machines compared to their Intel predecessors. They’re fast, enjoy great battery life and are nearly (or always) silent.

But in a way, they were a bit boring. Picking between a post-2018 Intel MacBook Air and an M1-powered MacBook Air on the same table isn’t easy. The same goes for the MacBook Pro and Mac mini, as long as you don’t see its ports or notice its space gray coloring.1

The 24-inch M1 iMac was the first machine to break the mold of its predecessor, and when it was announced, Apple said it was the first Mac designed from the ground up around Apple silicon.

Chances are the MacBook Pros we’re going to see this week are the first notebooks cut from the same cloth. While they probably won’t come in a bunch of fun colors like the iMac, I would normally expect their design to be influenced by Apple silicon’s particular strengths. “Thinner and lighter” would be the rallying cry of such events normally, but this time, Apple has something to contend with — the 2016 class of MacBook Pros:

2016 MacBook Pro

It’s sometimes hard to judge where history will come down on a product when the products are still for sale, but with this line of notebooks, I think their fate is sealed already. The butterfly keyboard was a disaster. The Touch Bar is lackluster at best, and feels like abandonware already. USB-C is great, but it came at the metaphorical cost of MagSafe and the actual cost of a pile of dongles.

Apple has been working to correct some of these problems already, of course. The Butterfly keyboard is finally gone, and if the 16-inch Intel MacBook Pro is any example, Apple is willing to rework the basic design to accommodate a more powerful computer with better cooling.

…but there’s more work to do, and if you believe the rumors, the new line of MacBook Pros may be a real return to greatness with the return of MagSafe, HDMI and an SD card slot. Ethernet could even show up via a new power brick, like on the 24-inch iMacs. There have even been reports that the displays will run at a true, native 2x by default.

This could be the MacBook Pro that settles all family business, and I couldn’t be more excited for it — especially if there’s a 14-inch model. Even if half of this comes to pass, these MacBook Pros seem like they’re going to be a great upgrade.

Of course, we live in a broken world and there’s almost always a catch.

Or in this case… a notch. There’s an awful lot of last-minute smoke here, so if there is a display notch as part of this new notebook line, I wouldn’t be shocked. I would be a little surprised, though. With the iPad Pro/Air/mini design, Apple has shown how it can pull off thin bezels with an embedded camera. Apple will need a compelling case as to why such an unusual design element is needed.

That said, we’ve all gotten used to the notches on our iPhones; I’m hard pressed to tell that the one my new iPhone 13 Pro Max is smaller than before, honestly. Assuming Apple doesn’t go all OS X Public Beta on this and macOS can handle it gracefully, it may not be a big deal at all.

Public Beta

Either way, I am pumped to see what’s next for the Mac.

  1. One of the most cringe-worthy moments in recent Apple keynote history is when this color was announced. This is a direct quote about space gray coming to the Mac mini: “We know pros are gonna love that.”