Thoughts on the new MacBook Pro and Apple mobile computing (Updated)

Hardware changes, Apple embracing standards, their focus on creators and MacBook Air highly uncertain future
Published on October 28, 2016 in Posts
Read time: 5 min

In a changing world curious things happen. This week Microsoft aimed at creatives with a desktop computer and Apple just did with a laptop during its October 27th event.

In short, a new Watch Now app for tvOS and iOS and the new MacBook Pro were unveiled. Let’s talk about the hardware they shown.

Hardware changes

Intel processor refresh was much needed as well the ability to run a 4K display at 60 Hz on the 13-inch model. Ok, this one may be not high priority, but it’s just something I’ve been waiting for. Having a Retina external display is cool.

Touch Bar is one of the things I liked the most. It is predictive and responsive. I think it is deeply integrated with neural networks-powered Siri servers. It not just adapts to apps, it changes with every action you take and it is also customizable. I’m curious of testing it on my own at the Apple Store.

But most of the fuss is about the I/O side of the device, so much that people forgot to continue complaining about the touch Esc key. Replacing all ports with 4 general purpose fast Thunderbolt 3 ones can be unnerving now, but Apple push is welcome this time. They went standard by using the USB-C connector. Eventually no one will care as the industry moves towards that. USB-C is gaining popularity and its 3.1 iteration is going to be wildly adopted both on mobile and desktop. I bet many compatible monitors, storage, video and audio devices will hit the market in the coming months.

Wireless mouses with dongles will be replaced by Bluetooth ones and thumb drives, well… those are things of the past in the cloud era. For devices we already have, a USB-C-to-USB-A or Lightning-to-USB-C cable is all you need. I expect a dramatic increase of demand of those to low the prices in the near future. And as it is a Pro machine, the headphone jack is still there. I just hate the SD card reader is not.

The side effect is the loss of MagSafe. The magnetic connector has saved my computer a couple of times from falling down. So what’s up? Well, the answer is still in the USB-C, which supports simultaneous data transfer and device charging, up to 100W. You can actually feed the battery via an external peripheral, like a monitor, using the same cable you connected it to. This significantly reduces chances you need to plug it to a power socket. Of course the external device has to support that power output.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar also features (a second generation) Touch ID for password-less login, faster user switching and secure online payments via Apple Pay. They put a new dedicated T1 processor with built-in the Secure Enclave. I just wonder if besides login, it works also with in the shell and system prompts.

And there’s a new color option, it’s the well-known Space Gray (as a gold MacBook Pro wouldn’t look that Pro after all…).

Other little things

Below in a easy to read bullet list.

  • Hello Again event took place 25 years after the first-ever Apple laptop presentation and it was titled the same;
  • The new MacBook Pro was the only cool thing to talk about;
  • The MacBook Pro text is back again below the monitor;
  • As for MacBook last year, the Apple logo is no longer back-illuminated;
  • The startup chime sound is gone. I’m actually happy about this, so many times I forgot to mute the volume and left the sound wake up people when working at night;
  • Apple listened to user feedbacks and this second-gen keyboard with butterfly mechanism sports better key travel. Happy to hear that just because the 12” MacBook keys are just awkward;
  • The trackpad is twice as bigger, thanks to Force Touch;
  • Discrete graphics comes back standard on 15-inch model. It can drive two 5K or four 4K. The 13-inch model can drive one 5K or two 4K. All at 60Hz;
  • SSD are twice as fast and there’s a 2TB option. Unfortunately they’re now soldered It is not;
  • 10-hour battery also for 15-inch model;
  • No ARM-powered laptop or iPad-book was shown. They’re all Intel, yay!
  • Programmers are shifting out of Apple’s customer target. Some Terminal shortcuts on the Touch Bar are not enough to keep them from going;
  • The Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right side have capped speed (source). Could they have unable to build a fast enough bridge to connect the right side logic boar to the main one?;
  • They are still selling the old MacBook Pro version, 13” version only. If you want a 15” MacBook, the new one is the only option to go for. Because Apple thinks this is the new declination of a Pro computer.

Mobile choices

It’s clear Apple is moving towards a more wireless and portable computing experience as their MacBook Pro is for the first time thinner and smaller than a MacBook Air. It is also getting closer to the same all-day long battery life we all desire (despite shipping with a much smaller built-in battery). The cheaper Touch Bar-less 13-inch-only configuration is to tease those who are likely to buy an Air. The problem is outside the U.S., where the cheaper 13” MacBook Pro costs about 30% more than the old ultrabook, likely to be discontinued next year.

Although last year the iPad Pro was demoed alongside MacBooks, showing that it is for Apple an alternative productivity machine to its laptops, this fall saw no new announcements. I then expect a refresh of the iPad line on March. The same applies for iMacs.

Who is the new MacBook Pro for?

The most Pro laptop ever is for top professionals who need the a super-portable-yet-powerful workstation and can pay for it. The hardware changes are speaking clearly, from improved speakers to wide gamut display: with this week announcement, Apple wants to go back to its original target. The new MacBook Pro is not for programmers, it’s for media content creators, architects and designers.

USB-C accessories

If you find yourself googling for some cheaper alternative dongles and other handy USB-C accessories, check the ones below. In particular, Dell appears to have some goodies which are even better than what Apple offers.

Note: The Dell Thunderbolt Dock seems to have been discountinued due to some issues. Don’t buy it.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Correction, the SSD isn’t soldered.

Update 2: Added USB-C accessories.

Update 3: Added info about speed of Thunderbolt ports.

Update 4: Added info about the chime sound.



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