After months of rumors Apple officially unveiled the MacBook Pro 2021, comprising a new 14-inch model and an overhauled 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 .
With new near-bezel-less screen design, the return of MagSafe and the SD card reader, an HDMI port, mini-LED display with ProMotion, and two new chips — the M1 Pro chip and M1 Max — there’s a lot to like about these new MacBook Pros. The display notch, however, is a polarizing addition. And the prices for these new Macs are rather high.
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But the standout thing about the whole next-gen MacBook Pro reveal was how Apple had basically backtracked on a lot of the decisions it previously made with the MacBook Pro. Gone is the USB-C only approach, and the Touch Bar has been consigned to the history book of hardly-useful but fancy tech features.
In other words, the new MacBook Pro is an apology letter to users who felt jilted by Apple's previous decisions.
As I reflected on the launch event and chewed over justifying nearly two grand on a MacBook Pro, I came to the conclusion that Cupertino’s computing folks basically Apple-fied a Windows laptop, say one of those in our best Windows laptops list, like the Dell XPS 13. And I’m totally OK with that.
For the past few years I’ve grumbled that Apple hasn’t really moved the needle with its products. Rather Cupertino has basically iterated, especially with the iPhone; the iPhone 13 still has a notch for example, and the standard iPad has a woefully dated design.
Apple used to properly embody its “Think Different” ethos. And if it was’t first, Apple’s products were generally better than rivals. But as Samsung phones got better on the hardware side and Windows laptops evolved both in design and software, Apple became less of an innovator and more an imitator.
Granted, last year's Apple M1 chip was a high watermark for impressive performance from non-Intel and AMD chips. But they were placed in machines with very dated designs.
With the new MacBook Pros that’s changed and the seemingly impressive M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are now housed in laptop chassis that look bang up to date for 2021. Thing is, we’ve seen such design flairs elsewhere.
Peering at Windows
The InfinityEdge display of the Dell XPS 13, going back numerous years, pioneered the near-bezel-less display. The Asus ZenBook S13 from 2019 has a webcam notch, albeit inverted. And there are numerous laptops with HDMI ports and an SD card reader. So Apple’s not really brought much new to the table here, though looking at the company’s marketing material, you’d think it had just come up with the idea of more ports on a laptop and a 120Hz display.
But even though Apple hasn’t gone hard on innovation with the design of the new MacBook Pros — and there’s a bigger argument of how innovative one can be with laptops — it’s created a brace of machines that would appear to have precious few caveats for people who simply want to get stuff done and not worry about carrying a load of dongles or extra cables.
Giving the new MacBook Pros features that are common in Windows laptops might look like backtracking, but in reality it immediately makes the machines appealing to people like me who primarily use Windows laptops.
You might ask why would I want to make such a swap? Well, in my experience macOS has been more stable and reliable than Windows machines. My current suite of Windows 10 devices — one everyday laptop, a Surface Pro, a gaming laptop and a desktop PC— have all encountered some issue with updates, clashes in patches, performance, or random crashes.
When I used a MacBook Air in the past, I had no such problems. Granted, macOS is tightly locked down, which is both and advantage and a curse; Mac gaming still has some way to go. But when it comes to getting stuff done at speed I've found macOS just works.
So the idea of macOS on machines that aren’t limited by a single type of port (OK it would be nice if USB-A was in the mix) tickles my fancy, even if there’s nothing hugely new about them on the surface. Under the hood that could be a whole other story, as the new M1 chips are promising some impressive performance, but that’s something to explore when Tom’s Guide gets to put the new MacBook Pros through the benchmark ringer.
So in short, I’m totally fine that Apple has kept its thinking in the box. After all, I'm not sure the computing world really needs many left-field devices like the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio. The only problem for me is I don’t think I’m going to find a spare $2,000 or so in change down the back of my sofa; maybe I’ll get lucky with Apple's Black Friday deals.