Apple found the best way to get even the least savvy consumer on board with its new homegrown M1 Pro and M1 Max processor: throw a slew of long-requested features into the redesigned MacBook Pros that many fans had given up on as the company stressed more streamlined Macs year after year.
A larger display? Check. A 1080p webcam? Check. The addition of an HDMI port? Check. An SD card slot? Check. Heck, Apple even brought back the beloved MagSafe power connector and removed the heavily criticized Touch Bar.
In essence, Apple came out with two MacBook Pros that longtime fans and even casual consumers can’t ignore.
Perhaps not coincidentally, it took the introduction of the second generation of Apple’s M1 processor line to usher in this series of highly coveted changes. By linking these features to its own silicon, Apple is essentially buying the goodwill of its fanbase and customers. That will go a long way to turning its efforts to build a custom chip from an industry anomaly to an injection of excitement, something laptops have rarely stirred in recent years.
“The advent of Apple Silicon has been a shot in the arm for the MacBook lineup,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight. “Today’s announcement underlines Apple’s determination to accelerate the growth of its laptop business.”
The move also marks a reversal of a trend toward minimalism. Over the last few years, Apple has stripped away ports and focused on USB-C. The stripped-down Macs irked many users, who missed the variety of connections earlier models supported. Even if Apple isn’t admitting to any missteps, these new MacBook Pros feel like a bit of a make-good on its previous approach.
Wish list fulfilled
Apple made the point that its M1 Pro and Max processors are capable of handling more input, even if the company could’ve added many of those features in previous generations of the MacBook Pro.
Still, it didn’t just add old ports back. Apple introduced a new version of its MagSafe with a sleeker power connector that offers faster charging. MagSafe last appeared in the 2017 MacBook Air.
The SD Card slot will be a godsend to photographers looking to quickly offload hundreds of photos from their cameras. The HDMI port, meanwhile, gives you another option to connect a monitor, on top of multiple USB-C Thunderbolt ports.
Apple also threw a bone to everyone who’s been stuck on Zoom conference calls by adding an improved 1080p webcam, a welcome upgrade over the 720p camera that’s been standard for years.
The display also got a big upgrade, following the path of its iPhone and iPads with smaller bezel and even an iPhone-like notch at the top for the webcam (which may or may not become its own controversy). The Liquid Retina XDR display boasts higher resolution and “ProMotion” technology for faster refresh rates inline with the iPhone 13 Pro.
Perhaps the biggest addition is the removal of a feature — the Touch Bar — that provoked critics who questioned its utility even as Apple stuck to the feature since it debuted in the 2016 MacBook Pro lineup.
A new leaf
The introduction of the M1 Pro and Max processors coupled with the dramatic redesign offered Apple a chance to start fresh with a different approach to the MacBook Pro. It needed a change. Apple’s penchant for removing buttons and ports in the name of sleek design seemed to finally hit against reality when people began complaining about how many converter cords and dongles they need to carry in order for all their peripherals to work.
Beyond the TouchBar and the removal of ports, Apple dealt with the derided “butterfly” keyboards, which weren’t as reliable as the company’s earlier designs.
It was a far cry from when Apple revolutionized the laptop business with the MacBook Air in 2010. Its slim and tapered aluminum shell design, combined with good-enough horsepower for everyday tasks, was so well received that Intel began a marketing program called “Ultrabooks” to get other companies to compete.
Apple built on that success with the MacBook Pro, introducing slim-design versions of all its laptops, primarily by removing optical DVD drives while expanding battery capacity.
Apple’s laptops were so well regarded that they began receiving awards as the best laptops in the industry. Many of the reviews at the time cited battery life, graphics and screen quality.
“The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is still a story of compromise, but it’s also Apple’s closest thing to a sweet-spot power laptop,” CNET reviewer Scott Stein wrote in his assessment back in 2013.
Whether these new MacBook Pros follow in the footsteps of that original MacBook Air remains to be seen. They aren’t cheap, with the 14-inch version starting at $1,999 and the 16-inch version starting at $2,499. Then again, neither was the original MacBook Air.
But by addressing what consumers actually want, Apple is moving in the right direction.