The New MacBook is Missing the ‘Pro’ – And Here’s Why

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s been a while. This blog hasn’t seen an update since, if memory serves, the final days of 2015 when in a post reflecting on the year that was about to draw to a close, I promised (albeit loosely) that this blog would be updated with at least some degree of regularity. This has, of course, proved not to be the case. Conjuring up an original subject matter that has yet to be covered a billion times over and forming words on a page is not always a particularly welcome proposition, not least when your days are spent attempting to earn a worthwhile living, partly involving writing on more technical subject matters encompassing many hours of research and the design of products involving physically exhausting and mind-bending mathematics. But i digress.

It’s 27 October, a couple of hours following Apple’s unveiling of their new generation MacBook Pro notebook computer, marking the 25th anniversary of Apple’s notebook line since its inception with the PowerBook 170 in 1991. Based on the rumours and Apple’s own website, I like many others had anticipated the launch of several new products in the Mac lineup, a lineup that until today seemed as if it were on the brink of being abandoned altogether. This was however not the case, with a sizeable chunk of the presentation devoted to the Apple TV, a device which still leaves me feeling somewhat inspired owing mainly to its outdated support for video standards and integration with the iTunes store, which thanks to the rising popularity of on demand subscription services is becoming an increasingly outdated and costly way to consume content.

The main focus of APple’s presentation however was a Mac, though only a single model of the Mac lineup saw an introduction. Apple’s MacBook Pro line saw an updated design making the 13” and 15” models both physically smaller and up to 17% thinner than the previous generation, while ditching the Magsafe, display and USB ports in favour of 4 thunderbolt 3 ports, all of which support charging and to which you can connect a range of overpriced adapters to interface with your non thunderbolt devices. Surprisingly however the 3.5MM headphone jack did find its way into the new models, as did a larger trackpad, upgraded speakers and a new keyboard featuring a revised version of the butterfly mechanism first seen in APple’s 12” MacBook, a style over substance portable overshadowed by the insignificantly larger MacBook Air in almost every area aside from size, weight and battery life.

The selling point of Apple’s new MacBook Pro, besides some revised internals is a multitouch bar, the ‘Touch Bar’, positioned along the top of the keyboard, replacing the standard function keys dating back to the days of the IBM Mainframe terminals. The Touch Bar is essentially a retina display, showing controls specific to your current application and allowing multitouch input with up to 2 hands, supporting up to 10 inputs simultaneously. Apple’s extraordinarily lengthy demonstration of the Touch Bar demonstrated its usefulness not only as a replacement for the shortcut keys we all know and love, but also as a tool to ease your workflow during video and photo editing, and even as a DJ controller which I have to admit is pretty cool.

I’ve owned every generation of the Retina MacBook Pro over the last few years, all of which have included relatively minor yet welcome revisions to the internals while maintaining the same form factor. Were it not for recurring hardware issues with previous models, I wouldn’t be writing this on the outgoing 2015 era machine, a machine that has for over a year been performing flawlessly and is to this day as fast as the day I bought it. It handles any task I throw at it with ease, including the use of pro apps such as Logic and Final Cut, as well as day-to-day eMail, web browsing, social media and entertainment. It’s cool, quiet, super fast and unsurpassably reliable. So why would i even consider upgrading?

For a moment when the new line was introduced, I did consider upgrading. Sure, the lack of USB ports would become a constant annoyance, but faster flash storage, 6th generation intel chips, Radeon Pro GPUs and RAM memory speeds breaking the 2GHZ barrier are all valid reasons to switch. However, my current Mac is lacking only in the latter area, and the new MacBook Pro still ships with only 16GB of RAM, and it’s LPDDR3 at that which has since been superseded by the much faster LPDDR4 standard.

Out of curiosity, I configured a new MacBook Pro on APple’s build to order, speccing the top model 15” machine with a 2TB PCE-flash drive (+£1080) and for good measure the 2.9GHZ Core I7 chip (at a comparatively minor £180). I also threw in the Radeon 460 Pro GPU, a no-brainer at £90. That brought the grand total to £4049.00, almost double the price of my top of the line 2015 model which has installed every build to order option available at the time.

If I’m going to spend 4 grand on a laptop, it needs to meet several requirements. It must feature killer connectivity, including old fashioned USB ports. At the very least, supply me with a set of 4 USB adapters in the box, and throw in some display adapters too. But most of all, I want more memory. For professional applications, 16GB of RAM simply isn’t enough. If I’m splashing out the price of a couple of high spec PCs on a single notebook, I want to see a minimum of 32GB in there and 64 would be ideal.

I don’t care that it’s thinner or lighter than my current machine. Not once have I struggled to carry the 2.04KG 2015 MacBook pro from A to B, nor have I ever had reason to complain about its size. Its connectivity leaves much to be desired, its largely unadorned sides practically begging for a run of extra USB ports. But Apple’s latest and greatest model does little to improve on the connectivity aspect, offering fewer ports than its predecessor and none, besides the headphone jack, that are useful to me without external adapters.

I should make it clear that, despite the impression this post may give, I don’t actually dislike the new MacBook. Had I not closed the tab and instead proceeded with the order, my £4049 would’ve gotten me a machine that would no doubt have handled everything I could throw at it with ease, both now and long into the future. But it’s a high price to pay for a machine that, in practical terms, offers very little above the generation it replaces, not to mention packs some outdated technology. Had Apple added some more memory into the specification (included within the price), switched to the faster DDRLP4 standard, and perhaps made the price at least a little more reasonable, I’d be opening a fresh machine in 3 or 4 weeks time. As it is, I can’t help but be surprised at some of apple’s design decisions, and somewhat underwhelmed by what has perhaps been the most anticipated Mac launch in several years.

It’s not all bad news however. We didn’t see an update to the Mac Pro desktop, a professional machine that appears to have been entirely forgotten in Apple’s quest for thin and light portability. More did we see an updated iMac with PCE-based flash storage, or an update to the Mac Mini line which could use a quicker architecture and some quad core CPUs to boot.

That said, those potentially looking to buy a MacBook Air in the near future now have the option of a lower end MacBook Pro model, replacing the Touch Bar with a row of standard function keys but otherwise incorporating the same memory, flash storage and 6th generation intel chips. This new model replaces the long running baseline 13” MacBook Pro that Apple had been shipping unchanged for years, the last of their computers to feature an optical drive and the last notebook to include conventional mechanical storage. Thanks to the new MacBook Pro design it’s smaller than the 13” MacBook Air, weighing exactly the same but packing significantly more power. It joins the Mac notebook line along with the MacBook Air and the unaltered 12” MacBook, a model which has effectively been rendered obsolete, overshadowed entirely by its accompanying models.

And there you have it. An unintentionally lengthy ramble through the new Mac line. Until next time…

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