Yesterday’s Apple “Hello Again” Event was highly anticipated for many reasons, most of all because of the tantalizing prospect of a new design for the MacBook Pro. The flagship laptop was indeed the star of the show, but there were some things that were either introduced or not mentioned that also deserve attention. In this deep dive into Thursday’s event, I’ll take a look at the importance of what was said as well as the impact of what was left unsaid.
Three models of the new MacBook Pro were introduced; two (13-inch from $1,799 and 15-inch from $2,399) are outfitted with the slick new Touch Bar user interface device that sits where the function key row used to reside on the keyboard. The other 13-inch model has traditional function keys and a lower price tag starting at $1,499.
The Touch Bar, Touch ID, and a much larger trackpad make for a more multi-touch friendly laptop than we’ve ever seen before. During yesterday’s demonstrations, it was fascinating to watch Adobe presenter Bradee Evans use one hand on the trackpad and one on the Touch Bar to fine-tune adjustments to an image with Photoshop. I find myself hoping that the next-generation Apple Magic Keyboard comes with the Touch Bar built in, as it really seems to provide a way to take formerly trackpad- or mouse-intensive actions that required removing a hand from the keyboard, and putting them right at your fingertips.
Touch ID on the MacBook Pro may even become more popular than it is on the iPhone and iPad. Being able to unlock a Mac with the tap of a finger seems magical (except to those of us who use an Apple Watch for unlocking), and a demonstration of how Touch ID can be used for fast user switching on shared MacBook Pros with a tap.
The new MacBook Pros are all equipped with Intel’s 6th-generation Core i7 “Skylake” quad core processors as expected, providing a nice speed bump. Apple has added AMD Radeon Pro Polaris GPUs to the devices, providing up to 130% faster 3D graphics and 60% faster gaming.
But to my estimation, the most significant change on the new MacBook Pro models is the removal of all of the old ports and replacement with four (or two on the non-Touch Bar models) Thunderbolt 3 ports. This change has brought a lot of criticism from people who wrongly say that they won’t be able to use their old peripherals. You will — but you will need to buy inexpensive adapters to do so. (For more on Thunderbolt 3, check out this Rocket Yard article.)
Apple really pointed out just how versatile the 15-inch MacBook Pro could be by showing the device driving not one, but TWO 27-inch 5K displays, connecting to a pair of Thunderbolt 3 RAID arrays, and driving some speakers — yes, there’s a real-live 3.5mm headphone jack — at the same time (see image above)
Although none of the Apple presenters came right out and said so during the presentation, it appears that the MacBook Air will be leaving the Apple laptop lineup as soon as current stocks are sold out.
Why? Apple pointed out the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a much more powerful machine, and it’s actually thinner than the 13-inch MacBook Air. Apple Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller made a point of pointing out just how much smaller it was, and it appears that the 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar is the replacement for the same-sized MacBook Air. The 11-inch MacBook Air no longer exists.
You might be asking “But what about the low end of the market? Is Apple abandoning it?” Remember, there’s still the 12-inch Retina MacBook, which has a display that puts any of the MacBook Air models to shame. It’s available for as little as $1,299, and that’s with double the flash storage (256GB) and RAM (8GB) that the old entry-level MacBook had.
But it’s still my opinion — and that and five bucks will buy you a grande latte at Starbucks — that Apple is looking at the iPad Pro models as replacements at the low end of the “laptop” market. A 9.7-inch Wi-Fi-only iPad Pro with 128GB of storage can be had for $699, with the corresponding Smart Keyboard adding $149 to the price tag. At $850, that’s quite a nice little “laptop”.
LG UltraFine 5K and 4K Displays
Earlier I mentioned the MacBook Pro driving a pair of 27-inch 5K monitors, and although they’re being sold by Apple, they are actually built by LG. The LG UltraFine 5K 27-inch and 4K 21.5-inch displays connect via USB-C (MacBook) or Thunderbolt 3 (MacBook Pro) with the ability to not only charge the notebook, but three other USB-C devices.
But the image quality is the big thing with the LG UltraFine displays; each uses an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, features a P3 wide color gamut, and incredible brightness. The display also has built-in stereo speakers, a camera, and a microphone, providing all the features of the old Apple Thunderbolt Display with much better specifications at a much lower price.
I think it was smart of Apple to leave the standalone monitor design and manufacturing to a third party; monitors are traditionally a low-margin accessory, and Apple enjoys much higher profit margins on most of its product lines.
Of course, the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pros is software-driven, so unless apps are updated to take advantage of its flexibility, it’s essentially a glorified function key row. Fortunately Apple and several well-known software developers have already announced upcoming updates that will power the Touch Bar.
Apple has revised Final Cut Pro X, including a way to switch between between editing tools with a tap, adjust audio levels by dragging a finger, and activating other trimming or playback tools with a touch. Final Cut Pro X can even display a color-coded overview of an entire video timeline for navigation to a particular point in a project with a tap.
Likewise, both Motion and Compressor have also been updated to provide tasks like setting up batches or adding markers using the Touch Bar.
You don’t need to be a creative professional to take advantage of the Touch Bar, as Apple has posted new versions of iMovie, Pages, Garage Band, Keynote, Numbers and Xcode with Touch Bar compatibility.
Outside of Apple, Adobe is planning to revise its lineup of creative pro tools to take advantage of the new Touch Bar. As you can see in the image above, Adobe’s presentation of the upcoming update to Photoshop demonstrated how both the Touch Bar and trackpad can be used in tandem for a true multi-touch experience. Microsoft expects updates to Microsoft Office and Skype to appear later this year, and other companies like Algoriddim (day Pro) and Pixelmator have also announced upcoming updates.
What About The iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro?
Apple’s desktop line was completely ignored during yesterday’s event, which begs the question — is the company planning on dropping desktop machines?
Many pundits think that Apple’s focus on creative pro apps during the event was an indication that the company is trying to influence those who work with those apps to move away from desktop Macs like the iMac, Mac Pro, and Mac mini. I’m hopeful that we’ll see an early 2017 event at which those computers receive updates…but if Apple is truly moving away from the desktop lines, that may be a false hope.
Believe it or not, the MacBook Pro line maxes out at 16GB of RAM. For many creatives, that’s simply not enough RAM to get the job done. The late 2015 iMac can be bumped to 32GB of RAM, or even to 64GB with upgrades from MacSales.com.
Ignoring the Mac Pro yet again is somewhat of a slap to the face of the creative market, and one that’s just completely mind-boggling. The Mac Pro hasn’t been updated at all since being introduced in 2013.
Perhaps Apple is looking toward third-party Thunderbolt 3 PCIe expansion chassis as being the thing that will bring creative pros to the MacBook Pro. These could allow the MacBook Pro to be externally connected to more powerful graphics cards,
The timing of Apple’s seeming dismissal of the desktop could not have come at a worse time, one day after Microsoft showed off the 28-inch Surface Studio. That machine is specifically targeted at the creative pro market, and its ability to be used as a large tablet as well as a desktop computer is compelling. Microsoft even came out with a new interface device called the Surface Dial that can be placed on the screen and used in a number of ways to fine-tune adjustments.
How Close Were Our Predictions?
Back on October 19, I wrote an article with my predictions for the event. How far off was I? Let’s take a look.
- Intel Kaby Lake processors: Nope, but I did mention the Skylake architecture CPUs as being more likely.
- RAM up to 32GB: Wrong again.
- SSD storage starting at 256GB: correct
- SSD storage maxing out at 2TB: correct
- All Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type C) ports: correct
- Removal of 3.5mm headphone jack: wrong
- Touch Bar / Touch ID: correct
- 11-inch MacBook Air disappears: correct
- All other MacBook Air speculation: wrong, as the line is going away
- 5K Thunderbolt 3 Monitor: right on the money, including LG as the manufacturer
- iMac not being updated: correct
- Mac mini not being updated: correct
- Mac Pro not being updated: correct
So my speculations weren’t all in vain!
What do you think about the new MacBook Pro and all of the announcements? Do you think Apple needs to focus more attention on the desktop line? Leave your comments below.