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What You Need to Know About Apple’s New MacBooks

At its Special Event on 27th October 2016, Apple announced their new line of MacBook Pros. 

This is the first major update in four years and there’s been some big changes. In this article, I’ll tell you what you need to know about the new MacBook Pro line and help you decide whether or not you need to upgrade.

Three New Models

There are now three models of MacBook Pro: the 13-inch, 13-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID, and the 15-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID.

three new models
The three new MacBook Pro models.

The entry level 13-inch looks more like a slightly-souped up replacement for the MacBook Air which remains in the lineup but hasn’t been updated. It’s got a 2.0GHz dual-core i5, a 256GB SSD, 8 GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports. Prices start at $1,499.

The 13-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID is the first real replacement for the current MacBook Pro line. The base model has a 2.9GHz dual-core i5, a 256GB SSD, 8GB of faster RAM than the entry level 13-inch, four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, the new Touch Bar and Touch ID. Prices start from $1,799.

The 15-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID is Apple’s new top end MacBook. The base model has a 2.6GHz quad-core i7, a 256GB SSD, 16GB of RAM, Radeon Pro Graphics with 2GB of memory, four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, the Touch Bar and Touch ID. Prices start from $2,399 and go up to $4,299 for a fully specced out model.

A New Design

Apple has basically put the power of a MacBook Pro into a frame that’s the size of a MacBook Air.

The most striking thing about the latest MacBook Pro line is the new design. Both the 13-inch and 15-inch models are significantly smaller than the previous generation. They’re also available in two colours: Silver and Space Grey.

new design
The new design is gorgeous.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is just 14.9mm thick, 17% thinner than the previous model. The 15-inch is 15.5 mm thick, about 14% thinner than the older one. They both weigh half a pound, around 240 grammes, less than the computer they’re replacing. 

Apple has basically put the power of a MacBook Pro into a frame that’s the size of a MacBook Air.

Better Hardware

All the internal components have had a big update. The CPUs are all from Intel’s Skylake line which was released late last year. 

The SSDs, RAM, graphics and other internal parts have all been upgraded. Everything should be a little faster than the current models, from transferring files to booting up. Even the entry level 13-inch can drive a 5K display.

The built-in screen is also had a massive upgrade. The Retina resolution remains the same but the screen is 67 percent brighter, displays 67 percent more contrast and supports a wider colour gamut. 

For photographers and designers, the screen improvements are a big deal.

The Force Touch trackpad and keyboard have been updated as well. The new trackpads are a lot larger; half as big again on the 13-inch, and twice the size on the 15-inch. The keyboard is the second generation of the butterfly mechanism found in last years 12-inch MacBook. 

General Use Ports

The biggest and most controversial change has been that the seven ports on the previous generation of MacBook Pros have been replaced by four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports (and only two ports on the entry level model). 

The MagSafe, SD Card slot, HDMI port and regular USB ports have all been removed.

Instead, there are four Thunderbolt 3 ports that can each serve any of the purposes of the ports they replace—as long as you have the correct cables.

ports
The four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pros.

Now, the one port can power the Mac, connect it to an external storage device, drive a Thunderbolt display, and charge an iPhone. It’s a move away from single-use ports to more adaptable, general use ports. If you don’t use an SD Card slot or a HDMI port, they’re not taking up space on the Mac.

As with many of the big moves Apple makes, this one is happening earlier than some customers would like. Everything is moving towards general ports but it’s not there yet. Apple doing so on their MacBook Pros is likely to be the catalyst for other manufacturers moving to general use ports. 

There’s some big advantages to it. 

Unfortunately, early adopters will have to deal with the transition period. For the time being, if you want to connect your MacBook to any old USB devices, you’ll need to use specific dongles. These can add back in SD Card slots, HDMI ports, and so on, at the cost of having an ugly plastic cable attached to the Mac.

The TouchBar

The TouchBar is the flagship new feature of the latest MacBook Pros. Instead of a row of function keys, there’s now a touch screen that displays app specific shortcuts. One of the examples Apple gave was that if you’re in Messages, it will show different emoji. 

touchbar
The TouchBar replaces the function keys.

The most obvious use, however, is in professional applications. For people who use Adobe’s Creative Cloud and other similar apps, having a customisable—and easy to use—shortcut bar could improve their workflow. 

How useful it actually is remains to be seen. It’s a totally unproven input method. 

The early signs, though, look promising. It’s not a must-have feature, but it’s certainly more interesting than a row of dumb buttons.

Touch ID

Touch ID revolutionised the iPhone. It’s made having a securely locked phone simple. Now Apple has brought the same level of security to the Mac. 

Touch ID will make it easier to use secure passwords. When apps like 1Password integrate it, all your passwords, whether they’re for Facebook or your webserver, can be ridiculously long strings that are protected by your fingerprints.

Deciding if the New MacBook is for You

The new MacBook Pro is, in some respects, a hard sell. 

While it’s undoubtedly going to be Apple’s best MacBook yet, computers have reached the point of incremental gains. Unless you’re doing serious photo or video editing, you’re not going to see much of a difference day-to-day between the latest Pro and the same model of the previous. They’ll both happily have dozens of tabs open, run multiple apps at the same time, play HD YouTube videos, and so on. 

If you bought your Mac in the last four years or so, the odds are that once you move everything across, it’ll feel the exact same. The screen will look a bit better, it’ll start up a few seconds faster, but it’s not going to blow your mind.

The new MacBook Pro is, in some respects, a hard sell. 

The other problem is that, with the new MacBook Pros, you’re sacrificing a lot. USB-C is the future… but it’s not quite the present. 

In a few years, when other manufacturers have followed suit and added USB-C ports to their computers, there will be a much wider selection of peripherals. As things stand now, most external hard drives, data cables, mice, and anything else that plugs into your computer, use older USB standards. 

It’s going to be inconvenient for at least the next year or two.

At some point, however, you will need to make the leap. The new hardware is stunning, the TouchBar seems promising, the extra large Trackpad will probably be a dream to use, and they are the most powerful MacBooks yet.

If your Mac has packed it in, or you can justify the cost for the extra power or prettier screen, then it’s worth upgrading. But until you need to upgrade, you’ll get by fine on your current Mac.