MacBook Pro 2021 16-inch — 5 upgrades we need to see

MacBook Pro concept
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple is expected to reveal the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 later this year, and it could be as early as this summer. That doesn't come as a huge surprise given that the rumors and leaks are picking up. Plus, the current MacBook Pro 16-inch is a little long in the tooth. 

The last MacBook Pro 16-inch was released in November 2019 and is currently saddled with ninth-generation Intel Core chips; Intel's latest processors are now up to 11th gen. So we're at least expecting a new slice of Apple Silicon, but there should be much more to this upgrade.

Based on the leaks and rumors, we could see a powerful new M2 chip (or M1X) that pushes the limits of laptop performance, as well as a fairly big redesign that introduces slimmer bezels as well as more ports. But the biggest upgrade could be a new mini-LED display, a technology just introduced on the iPad Pro 2021

Here's everything we want and expect to see in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 to make it worth the upgrade.

Apple M2 chip (or M1X)

M1 chip

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's M2 chip has reportedly gone into production, and it could be slated for the MacBook Pro 16-inch. 

According to another leak, the M2 chip is expected to come with 12 CPU cores, comprising eight high-performance cores and four efficiency cores. While we can't verify how legit that leak is, we should see the M2 deliver a big performance boost over the octa-core CPU in the M1

Graphics performance is also expected to see a big jump, with 16 GPU cores tipped for the M2, rather than the eight cores in the M1 chip found in the MacBook Pro M1.  

In a nutshell, we can predict — and want to see — higher CPU clock speeds and more GPU performance to better tackle tasks such as video rendering, CAD work and perhaps a little gaming on the side. The larger frame of the 16-inch MacBook Pro could see it offer better cooling to keep a more powerful slice of Apple Silicon running at high speeds for longer. 

New design: Slimmer bezels, more colors  

MacBook Pro 16-Inch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Now, we can’t deny that the latest MacBook Pro design makes for a good-looking laptop; the clean industrial design and expansive trackpad is hard to fault. However, it’s about time Apple refreshed or evolved the MacBook Pro’s aesthetic. 

Narrower display bezels are at the top of our wish list. While the MacBook Pro 16-inch hardly has huge black borders around its Retina display, it’s not exactly offering the near-bezel less screens seen from the likes of the Dell XPS 17

Trimming the bezels might force Apple to get creative with the webcam placement. While Apple is at it, we’d like to see that 720p cam swapped for at least the 1080p webcam found in the new iMac. 

New colors options would also be nice. Space Gray and Silver might be the long-established MacBook Pro shades. But after the burst of colors ushered in by the iMac 2021, a few other finishes for the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 would be welcome.   

Mini-LED display: Very bright, killer contrast

MacBook Pro concept

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There's been a good bit of chatter about the 2021 MacBook Pros getting either an OLED or mini-LED display. Given the iPad Pro 2021 has been given a mini-LED display, we’d expect that panel tech to come to the next MacBook Pro 16-inch. 

The current models offer 500 nits of brightness, which is impressive, but we’d like to see it go higher. 

The micro-LED display in the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers a peak brightness of 1,600 nits thanks to its array of more than 10,000 mini-LEDs tiny LEDs. It also offers pro-level extreme dynamic range (XDR), which promises better colors and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.

As the MacBook Pro 16-inch is a work-orientated machine expected to be used for hours, the model might use a mini-LED display but constrain the brightness. That would hep with battery life as well.

We would expect the next 16-inch MacBook Pro to get a take on the XDR tech, as the boosted colors and contrast would be a boon for processional photo and video editors. As it's less expensive than OLED, mini-LED would seem like the right display tech to give the next flagship MacBook Pro a serious screen upgrade without seeing its price soar. 

We might be reaching with this, but a higher refresh rate would also be desirable. The iPad Pro sports a 120Hz refresh rate on its mini-LED display, so we’d be rather keen to see the next wave of MacBook Pros do the same. It would help make for a smoother overall experience in macOS.  

Evolved keyboard: Deeper travel, no more Touch Bar

MacBook Pro 16-Inch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When Apple mercifully dropped the maligned Butterfly mechanism keyboard and went with the tried-and-tested scissor key mechanism found in its pre-2015 MacBooks, its Magic Keyboard received heaps of praise. But a lot of Windows laptops have excellent keyboards, notably the Dell XPS 15 and Surface Laptop 3

So we’d like to see Apple upgrade the Magic Keyboard a little. A 1.5mm rather than 1mm key travel could help make for a more tactile typing experience and potentially reduce the noise fast and heavy typing can produce. 

We’d also like to see Apple do something with the Touch Bar. The OLED strip in place of function buttons often gets criticism for not really being that useful. It's already been forecasted that Apple will ditch the Touch Bar in the next MacBook Pro line up. 

If Apple dooe keep the Touch Bar around, we'd like to see Apple flex its creative muscles and expand the Touch Bar into something more useful, say as a notification display for Slack messages. Or offer better integration with a wide range of software; it could even be used to work with iOS apps that now work on macOS. 

More ports: SD card, HDMI and MagSafe return 

MacBook Pro 16-Inch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Given the new iMac and iPad Pro come with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, thanks again to the excellent M1 chip, we’d expect the MacBook Pro 16-inch to have the same. 

The current version has Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, which is plenty for most. But Thunderbolt 4 would enable it to connect to more high-bandwidth peripherals, notably multiple 4K displays, which will be handy if one plans to use the MacBook Pro as the machine at the heart of a work setup. 

Apple is unlikely to step back from only offering USB-C connectivity and a 3.5mm headphone jack, but we’d love it if rumors of a SD card reader coming back to the MacBook Pro 2021 turn out to be true. The 'Pro' in MacBook Pro often refers to video and photo editors, many of who use cameras with SD cards. So simply being able to pop an SD card from a camera directly into the MacBook Pro without any extra cables or dongles would be immediately appealing. 

An HDMI port is also tipped to come to the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021. While a lot of modern monitors can connect vie Thunderbolt or DisplayPort-enabled USB-C ports, having a dedicated HDMI connection would make it trivially easy to connect to external displays old and new. 

We’d also like to see the next 16-inch MacBook Pro draw inspiration from the iMac 2021’s power cable and come with a port for an Ethernet connection. Taking that approach would let the MacBook Pro keep its minimal design yet still offer wired internet connectivity if a very steady connection is required. 

Speaking of changing cables, MagSafe is tipped to make a comeback with the next wave of MacBook Pros, and we're totally ready for its return. 

While charging over USB-C is handy, we can't deny that MagSafe in the MacBooks of yore was excellent. The magnet system neatly secured the cable in place, but if you were of a clumsy nature and tripped on the power cable it would detach from the MacBook rather than yank it to the floor. We can't imagine how many MacBooks have been saved from a premature death by MagSafe. Having it on the next MacBook Pro 16-inch would be a much appreciated upgrade (or retrograde). 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.