Apple’s announcement of new MacBook Pro models this week was notable for no mention of updates and changes to other models. But the MacBook Pro demo had enough interesting details to consider an upgrade.
At a media event this week, Apple reminded everyone that it still thinks different, even when doing so can make many of us scratch our heads.
For instance, Apple announced new MacBook Pro models, but no other updated Mac products. I don’t believe Apple needs to fulfill every rumor or pundit’s wishlist, but there was no mention of a new iMac (last updated October 2015), Mac mini (October 2014) or Mac Pro (June 2013). Those desktop updates are possibly waiting for a new generation of Intel chips, but with Apple’s secrecy we don’t know for sure.
The omissions seemed more noticeable given that Microsoft grabbed a lot of attention the day before with the announcement of its Surface Studio, the company’s first self-branded desktop computer.
Still, there are a lot of interesting details on the new MacBook Pro that has me considering it’s time to upgrade my 6-year-old workhorse laptop.
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The signature new feature of the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro is the new Touch Bar, a narrow touch-sensitive screen that replaces the function keys at the top of the keyboard. The bar is contextual, showing the usual system controls (which Apple is calling Control Strip), but changing, depending on which app is frontmost.
When viewing the Photos app, for example, you can swipe to navigate while the images are being viewed fullscreen, or you can manipulate such editing tools as making an image brighter or darker.
The Touch Bar also includes a Touch ID sensor, which brings fingerprint-verification to the Mac for the first time. Sign in with a finger press or make Apple Pay purchases on websites that support it. One nice touch: If you share the Mac among several people, Touch ID will automatically switch to the associated user account.
As expected following the introduction of the 12-inch MacBook last year, this lineup of MacBook Pro machines has switched to USB-C. Here, it’s four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which use the USB-C form factor. Each one can charge the MacBook Pro and simultaneously transmit data between external storage and video devices. But that also means you’ll need dongles or dock adapters to connect any USB, Thunderbolt 2, Ethernet or HDMI cables. The SD card slot is also gone, as is the wonderful MagSafe charging interface.
Aside from that initial cost, I think the benefits of settling on one standard port for everything will bear out over time. The thing that perplexes me the most, though, is that any flavor of MacBook Pro maxes out at 16 GB of RAM, with no option to upgrade more. For machines touted for their video-editing prowess, 16 GB no longer seems like a “pro” amount. But since it’s all soldered to the motherboard inside the new thinnest (0.59 inch) and lightest (4 pounds for the 15-inch, 3 pounds for the 13-inch) designs, the memory can’t be upgraded.
Pricing starts at $1,799 for the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar, or $1,999 for a step up in specs. The 15-inch model starts at $2,399, or $2,799 as a step up. Apple is also offering new models that omit the Touch Bar and have just two Thunderbolt ports and reduced specs for $1,299 (13-inch) and $1,999 (15-inch). The MacBook Air remains Apple’s entry-level laptop, starting at $999, but hasn’t been updated.
The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is available for order now, and will begin shipping in two or three weeks. The models without the Touch Bar are available now.
Apple TV:The only other product to get attention during the event, aside from a recap of the iPhone 7, was the Apple TV. Apple is introducing a new app called TV, available in December, to make it easier to find what’s on and improve a viewing experience that’s currently fragmented among lots of different apps.
The TV app looks like another iteration of an app store or iTunes store, with the addition of suggestions based on your viewing habits and the ability to pick up where you left off on programs. It also provides a visual experience for some of what Siri is already doing; I find I rarely engage Siri in conversation, such as “What’s a popular TV show?” because by that point I have a good idea of what I want to watch.
Also demonstrated was a Twitter app for Apple TV, which is confounding. You can watch a sporting event, for example, and view related tweets alongside it.
However, it makes the fundamental failed assumption that people watch television alone. I’m watching a Seahawks game with a few friends; does everyone else in the room want to view a Twitter stream? No, folks will just look at their own phones briefly and go back to the game.
Plus, we’re talking about Twitter. Will it filter the content so that kids aren’t exposed to some raging sports jerk filling a hashtag with abuse and taunts? Based on the company’s inactivity on this front in the past, I doubt it.