The demise of MagSafe charging. An inelegant Touch Bar. Limited selection of ports. The laundry list of complaints about Apple’s laptops has steadily grown over the past five years. Now, Apple is finally walking back those changes.
On Monday, the Cupertino, Calif., company unveiled a pair of new MacBook Pro laptops, powered by its latest homegrown processors and free of the many limitations that plagued earlier models. It also showed off a set of updated AirPods and colorful HomePod mini smart speakers. Riding high from record Mac sales last year, Apple made sure to make its new MacBooks the star of its virtual event Monday.
Still, computers that run Apple’s MacOS software account for only a fraction of the overall PC landscape — just over 7 percent as of the end of the second quarter, according to market research firm IDC. Its market share has slipped from 8 percent in the first quarter and 7.6 percent a year earlier, IDC data showed. The changes on display Monday seem to be geared more toward appeasing existing users than claiming new ones.
So what do the changes Apple has embraced actually mean for you? Here are the biggest takeaways from Apple’s announcement.
Apple’s chips make these MacBooks more powerful than usual
Apple highlighted two new chipsets — the M1 Pro and M1 Max —designed to offer the kind of horsepower you can’t squeeze out of current models.
If you spend your days toiling in Photoshop, Lightroom or other creative apps, Apple has you in its sights. Apple said the new MacBooks using the M1 Pro are up to 70 percent faster than last year’s M1 models and can be equipped with up to 32GB of RAM. Meanwhile, the M1 Max offers the same level of CPU power as the Pro but can support up to 64GB of RAM and dials up its graphical performance for more-complicated tasks.
RAM (random-access memory), by the way, is crucial to the way your computer works. Think of it as your computer’s working memory: The more your computer has, the more things it can keep track of and work with in different apps. By comparison, Apple’s 2020 MacBooks Pros could handle only 16GB of RAM, which is perfectly fine in most cases but not always enough for demanding work.
If this all sounds too technical, we get it — computer chips usually are. But here’s what it boils down to: If you spend most of your time on your laptop in a Web browser, the existing M1 MacBook Pro is more than enough. But if your work requires some serious oomph — such as graphics work or video editing, the M1 Pro and M1 Max machines may be a better fit for you.
Apple said the starting price for its 14-inch model is $1,999, while the 16-inch model starts at $2,499.
Undoing the changes people hated
One of the best things about Apple’s new MacBooks is how un-MacBook they feel, at least compared with the models released in the past few years.
Take the confusing, not-all-that-helpful Touch Bar, for instance. Apple has insisted on squeezing it onto its laptops since 2016, but now you can find it where it was always meant to be: nowhere. (Instead, the new MacBook Pros have physical buttons to control volume, screen brightness and other things.)
The company’s Monday announcement also included the return of MagSafe chargers, which connect to these new computers with magnets and easily detach when yanked. (For anyone who has ever tripped over a cable and saw their computer clatter to the floor, this might be some welcome news.) The new machines have ports aplenty: There’s HDMI for external displays and an SD card reader in addition to three USB-C “Thunderbolt 4” ports for external accessories. (Some versions of last year’s MacBook Pro came with two USB-C ports and nothing else.) You’ll probably still need to carry a dongle with you everywhere, but some people – such as photographers – may be able to go without, just like the old days.
Better (and in some cases, bigger) screens
Apple’s biggest new MacBook Pro comes with a 16.2-inch screen, same as we’ve seen for the past two years. But the smaller MacBook Pro had its screen bumped up to 14.2 inches, which should let you see at least a little more of the action on screen than before. Size wasn’t the only change Apple made here, though. These displays also “refresh” or update faster, Apple claims, so things that happen on screen — scrolling websites, characters running around in games — should look noticeably smoother, too.
But there is one catch here: Both of these screens have notches cut into them to let a 1080p webcam peer at you. That might not be a big deal for everyone, especially if it makes Zoom calls look better, but still — if smartphones can ditch notches, why didn’t Apple do it here?
HomePod minis and an AirPod update
If you’re looking for a HomePod mini smart speaker to match your interior decor, you’re in luck, as long as your decor is blue, orange or yellow. The speakers, along with the traditional black and white options, will go on sale this November for $99.
Apple also unveiled its third-generation AirPods. The tips are still hard plastic, but the stems are shorter and Apple claims the batteries last longer — six hours on each charge and five full charges if you’ve got the case with you. Runners and other sweaty people may be glad to hear that AirPods are now water resistant.
A bewildering new Apple Music subscription
This brings us to perhaps the strangest part of Apple’s announcement. The company unveiled a new $4.99-a-month “Apple Music Voice” plan to complement its existing Apple Music subscriptions. The pitch: Control your music selections using voice only.
The details are hazy, but anyone familiar with Siri’s constant mistakes and misfires may be shuddering.
For now, we’ll stick to good old thumbs-on-screen music selection — at least until we understand exactly what value (if any) the voice plan offers.