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Why I'm skipping the iPhone 13 for the MacBook Pro 2021

An iPhone 13 and a MacBook Pro
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Intel)

I'm skipping the iPhone 13, and that's probably a surprise to Apple, given that I'm in the iPhone upgrade program. And this isn't about buyer's remorse. I've used my upgrade opportunities each year since I've joined, and always found it fun to get a brand new iPhone, that's faster and better.

So, why am I looking right past the iPhone 13? Well, it's because of the next Apple event — just announced for October 18. Yes, the new MacBook Pro 2021 looks to be the first compelling must-buy MacBook for me in nine years.

And, no, just to be clear I'm not going to ask someone to use their Mac as their iPhone, or vice-versa. I'm saying that it's time to consider the MacBook Pro as the most exciting thing Apple's announcing this year — which almost appears guaranteed to have a spot on our best laptops list.

I don't need the iPhone 13 because the iPhone 12 Pro Max is still impressing me

My lust to get a new iPhone happens the same way every year. Apple's big September event rolls around, and they show off how much better the cameras are. And so I got the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max — which earned their spots on our best phones rankings — in back to back years, and felt happy. At this stage in my life as an iPhone user, its photography is the thing I always thought could get better. 

The lack of any really-new features is something that's helping me wait. Something on the level of the MagSafe charging from the iPhone 12 line (I love my MagSafe Battery Pack), like the rumored Touch ID, or always-on screen, but the big word about the new iPhones is that everything is simply better. So what if last year's "better" was good enough? A smaller notch? As Shania Twain sang, "That Don't Impress Me Much."

iPhone 13 and iPhone 12

(Image credit: Apple)

Yes, for me, everything else was great or good enough. The iPhone's performance for me had basically plateaued, to the point where I had only one real request for Apple. I have a bonkers-big iCloud Photo Library, with 140,661 photos and 3,648 videos at the time of writing. And as you might expect, that ginormous set of assets would lead to a long loading time when I tried to access my photo library from any app, such as Instagram or Discord. But with the iPhone 12 Pro Max (and possibly changes made in iOS 14), that ended.

But photography was the sort of feature where I always thought — especially with low light situations — that the iPhone could do better. And it still probably can. But I've started to realize that the iPhone 12 Pro Max's cameras are still wowing me, even a year later. Primarily, this happens when I walk across the Manhattan Bridge (a way to burn calories) on my way to see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater (where I consume plenty of tasty things and undo my work). On that walk, I love to find a hole in the fence and position the iPhone 12 Pro Max's sensors and take a photo in the Halide app, which provides RAW photos, which feature less of Apple's computational powers.

Here's a night-time example from my last walk:

That the iPhone 12 Pro Max can capture that much detail of the water rippling at night, and all of the colors and details in the far-background, impresses me. I'm sure Samsung's and Google's latest phones can do this just as well, if not better. But it's at a point where I'm still pleasantly surprised by what it can do.

And in daylight, it's even better:

But you know what hasn't truly grabbed me by the collar and impressed me? Apple's MacBooks from 2015 to ... 2020.

Waiting on a MacBook Pro I actually want

Using the same laptop for nine years creates both a testament to reliability and a need to upgrade. It's the exact opposite of how I have been an iPhone user for the last few years. But it's not a path I wish I didn't feel forced into. 

The last time I bought a MacBook Pro was a whole different moment in life as we know it: 2012. Nearly everything, it's safe to say, was different. And back then we didn't know about the words "butterfly-switch." The thinner key mechanisms introduced in 2015 with the 12-inch MacBook proved to be so controversial for their reliability that a class action lawsuit and a repair program emerged from the ashes of outrage.

Someone with their hand hovering over the touchpad of a 15-inch MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Future | Laptop Mag)

But before it got that bad, the butterfly-switch spread to all the other MacBooks. And while these laptops were more or less great otherwise, I turned my nose up, and waited. I have to use a butterfly-switch MacBook Pro for work, and is shallow keys are so displeasing for me to use that I only use it with external Bluetooth keyboards (even on work trips, I bring keyboards). 

It took four years for Apple to change course, when it released the 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019. With that came the Magic Keyboard and the butterfly-switch went extinct. But that machine seemed possibly too large for me. 

At this point, I had a strong case of Goldilocks-syndrome about the next MacBook I bought. I'd held out long enough to where Apple was finally giving us the keyboards that felt great and (apparently) don't have reliability issues. So I could stand to keep waiting. Yes, the 2020 MacBook Air and Pro released in the fall of that year are great; I test macOS betas and other applications on them when I need to. Those laptops feature speedy Apple Silicon M1 processors. But something in my head whispered "wait." These laptops were good, but they didn't change anything but the keyboard and the processors, and rumors abounded that Apple had more daring designs in its hands.

The MacBook Pro 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

The MacBook Pro I've been waiting for is expected this fall

This past January, the leaks came out that Apple was bringing MagSafe, HDMI and SD card reader ports back with the MacBook Pro 2021 and that it wouldn't be so damn dongle-reliant anymore. And it's going to get a flat-edge design to match the current iPhones and (most of the) iPads.

Most importantly, though, Apple's apparently going to remove the Touch Bar, the OLED display strip that my fingers keep activating by accident. I will always believe, and you can't shake my faith in this, that tapping a keyboard or anything near the keyboard, can happen without intent. It's why I turn "tap to click" off on every new device I test. 

Finally, after Apple spent the last nine years making great iPhones, it's restoring features to the MacBook Pro we haven't seen since 2015. If these leaks — which keep coming and seem mighty real — are true, then Apple's marrying its excellent new speedy Apple Silicon (the M1X chip is rumored) with all the features we loved in 2012 to 2015. 

Oh, and on top of that, there is also a rumor of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's amazing mini-LED display tech coming to the MacBook Pro as well. 

Why not both the iPhone 13 and MacBook Pro?

Throughout the process of this comparison that I've had in my head since the iPhone 13 was announced, I've thought "hey, why not just buy both?" 

The answer I give that voice, to shut it up, is simple. You can only stretch a budget so far. During the end of the pandemic, I finally paid off my credit card debt. Buying both a new phone (which I know I don't need, and may not see the difference in) isn't responsible when you're also buying a new MacBook Pro. 

The other reason I have is because I expect I will spec-out (or kit-out, as my UK-based colleagues say) that new MacBook Pro with a big, roomy SSD, with more RAM and the fastest CPU option Apple offers. Why? Because I made those modifications to my 2012 MacBook Pro, and that's helped it last so damn long. 

This is all to say, do not sleep on the 2021 MacBook Pro. Yes, phones are flashy and great, and we rely on them. But if the leaks are true, this is the MacBook Pro that will have been worth waiting for.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.