MacBook Pros are becoming worthy of their “Pro” moniker again. Apple just refreshed its line of professional laptops, a move that had been recently rumored. The new MacBook Pros, which go on sale today, get a bump in processor speeds, RAM, and internal storage. They also allow you summon Siri at all times by using just your voice.
The announcement shows how Apple is leaning heavily into its marketing around creative professionals, just as its education announcement a few months ago leaned heavily into the creative aspects of education devices. And that makes a lot of sense for Apple. At the same time, though, these updates aren’t addressing all of the issues that users have had with recent generations of MacBook Pro, nor do the updates apply to the entirety of the Mac laptop line.
For example, the new MacBook Pros also have new keyboards. But the keyboards haven’t been completely redesigned, which is notable considering the reams of grief caused by the previous design. This also means there could potentially still be issues with Apple’s ultra-thin, butterfly-switch keyboards, even on the new machines.
The updates are coming to two laptop models: the $2,399 15-inch MacBook Pro and the $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro. The 15-inch model now has a six-core processor. It’s been upgraded to an 8th generation, Intel Coffee Lake CPU (core i7 and, for the first time in this laptop, a Core i9), with 2.9 gigahertz and with Turbo Boost up to 4.8 gigahertz. It ships with Radeon Pro discrete graphics, and can be configured with up to 32 gigabytes of DDR4 memory and up to 4 terabytes of solid-state storage, double the amount in the previous model.
Thanks to a T2 chip, which showed up previously in the iMac Pro, you can now summon Siri by simply shouting at your machine. Previous MacBook Pros required you to click a button, but now Siri is hands-free. The display isn’t getting any kind of resolution bump (or a touchscreen), but it does now have Apple’s alternating display temperature function, called True Tone, which means additional sensors have been built into the laptop. It has the same Touch Bar and Touch ID capabilities as previous models.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is getting similar updates, just with less power and graphics capabilities. It will ship with a quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 Coffee Lake up to 2.7 gigahertz and with Turbo Boost up to 4.5 gigahertz. It has Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics, up to 2 terabytes of SSD storage, and the same T2 chip, Siri support, and Touch Bar and Touch ID features as its larger counterpart. Battery life is expected to be around the same on both models as it was on previous models.
Last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar won’t get an update, though it’s still on the retail shelf. And neither the 12-inch MacBooks, nor the Mac Mini, are getting refreshed (although a new analyst’s report points to an upcoming Mac Mini). Apple will retire the third-generation 15-inch MacBook Pro, which was first released in 2012 (and didn’t have a Touch Bar). It will be sold as long as there’s inventory, but will eventually drop off of Apple’s website.
Just Your Type
The keyboards on the new MacBook Pros are likely to draw interest, considering that Apple just announced a repair and replacement program for the keyboards on its newer MacBook and MacBook Pros. The Outline’s Casey Johnson was among the first to report the issue of sticky keys, which Apple attributed to dust under the keyboards, and a few class-action lawsuits were filed over the allegedly defective equipment. The movement gained steam—a Change.org petition calling for a recall of every MacBook Pro since late 2016 currently has more than 30,000 signatures—and it was even called one of the “biggest design screwups in Apple history” by influential Apple blogger John Gruber.
The new MacBook Pros have noticeably quieter keyboards. I was able to type a few sentences on one, and it was remarkable how quiet it was compared to the keyboard on the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro, which I’m typing on now. Apple has also described the new keyboard as having a slightly different key feel. The keys still have the same butterfly mechanism underneath as the previous generation of MacBook Pros, which means they’re still potentially prone to having sticky keys. Apple has determined that it’s a small percentage of users who are impacted, but when you sell a high volume of products, even a small percentage can be a lot of people.
At a small press briefing in New York City yesterday, a dozen different professionals and students, all hand-picked by Apple, were on hand to vouch for the new products. They’d all received the new 15-inch MacBook Pro a couple weeks ago. The roster included music producer Oak Felder, molecular biology researcher Janet Iwasa, app founder and developer Leah Culver, photographer Lucas Gilman, video director Carlos Perez (who directed “Despacito”), and mixed media artist and sculptor Aaron Axelrod, among others. Two students, whom Apple plucked from its annual software conference last month, showed off apps focused on accessibility and mental health awareness.
While most of their testimonials weren’t heavy on tech specs, there were some common threads. Many of the creative types said that they found the 4TB drive to be immensely convenient because they didn’t have to carry around external hard drives. Some said media transfer speeds were faster, too, although it wasn’t clear in all cases whether that’s because of Thunderbolt 3 or because of the 4-terabyte solid-state drives. And some of the app makers said they thought that coding, or running app simulators, was faster on the new machine.
Few, if any, shared any drawbacks they’d experienced with the new MacBook Pros (they also haven’t had the machines for very long, and representatives from Apple were hovering). But there have been plenty of complaints from the Apple community about MacBook Pros in recent years, not just around its keyboard but its lack of support for features that many would consider to be “pro” grade. Apple’s Retina displays, while extremely nice-looking, are still sub-4K. They still don’t display the full colors of Adobe’s color space, which visual pros care about when they’re using apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Premiere.
But, from a power perspective at least, if a 4-terabyte, six-core MacBook Pro does in fact mean people can step away from their desktop workstations and produce heavy multimedia projects in the field, that is a marked improvement. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is estimated to be a whopping 70 percent faster than the previous model, all features and specs combined.
While the broader PC market continues its multi-year decline, with research firm Gartner predicting it will dip another 1.2 percent in 2018, Mac shipments have either remained relatively steady or seen some promising jumps year-over-year. In fact, two of the bright spots in the PC market have been shipments of either Chromebooks or Macs (with Chromebooks even overtaking Macs in shipments during one quarter in 2016).
Apple likely wishes that students the world over would buy $2,000 laptops and do their homework on high-end machines—it’s offering a Back to School promotion as part of today’s laptop announcements—but the reality is that Chromebooks offer personal computing and simple device management at a price that makes a lot of sense for schools. Apple’s sweet spot with the MacBook Pro is creative professionals with disposable income, and it needs to keep those customers happy in order to maintain the success of the MacBook Pro line. It also needs to fix those keyboards.
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