After a many months of anticipation, it seems that the new MacBook Pros are finally upon us. That is, if you believe the rumors.
There has been a
, with respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and prominent reporter Mark Gurman both shedding light on an all-new 14-inch version, as well as sharing updates to the current MacBook Pro 16.
More than that, we now have a date when these two laptops will be announced: October 18. From a new M1X chip to a completely redesigned chassis, there’s a lot of anticipation riding on these new MacBook Pros.
On October 12, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, revealed in a tweet that the show would be streaming live on Monday, October 18 at 10 a.m. PDT from Apple Park.
Although having an event on a Monday is unusual for Apple, having an October Apple event tallies with much of what we had heard before. In mid-September, Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman stated that the M1X MacBook Pro would launch “in the next several weeks,” which lined up with an October reveal. He has also added that “these new MacBooks were supposed to launch earlier, but complications around the new mini-LED display have held up production.”
The idea of a delay was backed up by an earlier report from Nikkei Asia published in March, which claimed that Apple had pushed back the production of two MacBook Pro models from May or June until later in the year. Again, that fits in nicely with the October date, which in any case is a traditional time for Apple to reveal new laptops to the world.
There were initial claims that Apple would unveil revamped MacBook Pro models (both 14-inch and 16-inch) back at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 7. In late May and early June, reports from leaker Jon Prosser and industry analysts Wedbush stated Apple was planning to launch the new MacBook Pro models at WWDC. However, those proved incorrect, and we were left with no MacBook Pros at WWDC.
A new, squared-off design, no Touch Bar
In recent years, Apple has started to revert many of its products back to the square-edge design last seen in the iPhone SE in 2016 — first the iPad Pro and then the iPhone 12 range. According to reports, the MacBook Pro will soon join them.
Kuo believes the MacBook Pro 2021’s design will feature squared-off sides on both the top and bottom sections, rather than the slightly curved back found on the current MacBook Pro models. This may only be a minor change, as the bottom half of the existing MacBook Pro could already be thought of as “squared-off.” Mark Gurman agrees that any design changes will be minor, but he nonetheless believes that there will be some outward changes compared to the current models.
Aside from that, you may be wondering if the MacBook Pro 16’s thermal architecture will make the leap across to the MacBook Pro 14. Given the superb thermal efficiency of the M1 chip in the current MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air, you might think this is unnecessary — the MacBook Air, after all, does not even need a fan, such is its chip’s ability to keep cool under pressure. That said, the current MacBook Pro 16 comes with discrete, powerful graphics cards that need more vigorous cooling. If Apple is going to match that power with its own system-on-a-chip with a beefy built-in GPU, it might need an equally brutish cooling system to keep everything under control. With that in mind, we would not rule out the thermal system being retained in the MacBook Pro 16.
The Magic Keyboard is almost certain to remain in place — no return to the ill-fated butterfly keyboard — but there is one longtime MacBook stalwart that may finally be ditched: The Touch Bar. Ever since debuting in 2016, this touch-sensitive strip has been divisive, and it seems Apple may have finally lost patience with it rather than trying to fix it. Kuo claims the next MacBook Pro will definitely go without the Touch Bar; Gurman initially had only said that Apple has been testing Touch Bar-free models, but has recently clarified that the Touch Bar is definitely on the way out. Both analysts seem to indicate there is not much future for Apple’s OLED bar. Given how little it lived up to its potential, that may not be a bad thing.
More port variety and the return of MagSafe
Ever since the 2016 redesign that ushered in the Touch Bar and the butterfly keyboard, Apple has stuck resolutely to USB-C in its laptops — to the exclusion of all other port options. That may soon change.
Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is going to loosen the USB-C stranglehold and allow a smidgen more port variety in the 2021 MacBook Pro. Kuo is touting an increase in the “types of I/O” available and, tantalizingly, suggests that “most users may not need to purchase additional dongles.” Specifically, he believes the HDMI port is going to make a comeback. Gurman believes that the SD card slot is making a return for the first time since it was removed in 2016, which will certainly please photographers and videographers who otherwise would need an adapter or the cloud to transfer their work to their Mac.
The increase in port variety means an apparent return for a much-loved MacBook feature that was first ditched with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015: MagSafe. This handy tech magnetically attaches the charging cable to your Mac, meaning it quickly snaps loose if the cable gets yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from falling to the ground and getting smashed. According to industry rumors, Apple is going to reintroduce MagSafe in the 2021 MacBook Pro and have it work using a pill-shaped port, much like its old incarnation. Given how popular MagSafe was — and how much we have missed it since it was ditched — this is a welcome change of heart from Apple.
Interestingly, in April, a huge leak revealed exactly what Apple is planning for the ports — and it turns out Kuo and Gurman were right. According to 9to5Mac, hacking group REvil apparently managed to steal technical specifications from Apple supplier Quanta, and among the documents — which are now being used to blackmail Quanta — is a drawing showing the port arrangement on an upcoming MacBook Pro model. It depicts an HDMI port, USB-C slot, and SD card reader all on the same side of the device. Also among the documents was a list of ports and connectors that included MagSafe alongside HDMI and the SD card slot. The MacBooks in these files use the code names J314 and J316, which according to Gurman refer to the upcoming 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models.
M1X processor and battery life
Apple made a real splash when it released the first version of its own Apple Silicon processors, the M1, in the latest round of Macs. In our testing, they proved to be blazing-fast, with the 24-inch iMac offering the best performance of the lot.
There is good news on that front, as the 2021 MacBook Pro models are expected to have the next generation of this chip. Both Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman and Twitter leaker Dylandkt have claimed the upcoming MacBook Pro’s chip will be dubbed the Apple M1X, not the M2. The former is apparently an “extension” of the current M1 with more cores and Thunderbolt 3 channels, while the latter is expected to be an entirely new generation of chip that will launch in 2022.
We already know from previous reporting that Apple is working on processors with upwards of 32 CPU cores, although that chip in particular is almost certainly reserved for the Mac Pro. Nonetheless, expect the 2021 MacBook Pro models to come with more cores and more performance — the M1 was just the beginning.
A report from Bloomberg in December 2020 claimed the next generation of Apple Silicon chips could feature 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. If those chips do not quite meet the deadline, chips with 12 or eight high-performance cores could be used instead, according to Gurman. It now looks like the latter option is what we will see in the next MacBook Pro models, as a new report from Gurman issued in May 2021 asserted that the next-generation Apple Silicon chips coming to the MacBook Pro would feature eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, for a total of 10. These chips will be offered in 16 or 32 graphics core variants.
Unlike the current MacBook line-up — where every Mac uses the same M1 chip — we might see a split here, with the MacBook Pro 16 getting the more powerful chip with 32 graphics cores. That would certainly match the positioning of its current incarnation, which offers high-end Intel Core i9 processors and discrete graphics cards that are unavailable in any other MacBook. On the other hand, Apple might decide that its current strategy of offering the same chip across various Mac models is the right one, and make this new chip available in both the MacBook Pro 14 and the MacBook Pro 16.
As for the future, Nikkei Asia reports the 2022 iPad Pro could come with a 3-nanometer chip, which would be an improvement over the M1 the current iPad Pro uses. Seeing as the Mac also uses the M1, this could mean future MacBooks will move to 3-nanometer chips as well, possibly in 2022 or 2023. However, Nikkei Asia predicts the iPad Pro will be the first Apple device to use a 3-nanometer chip, meaning the Mac might have to wait until after 2022. Either way, keep an eye out for more news on this front.
The processor also means good things for battery life. When we reviewed the M1 MacBook Pro, we got 21 hours of battery life in our video playback test and 16 hours during light web browsing. That is around three times the battery life of the 2020 Intel MacBook Pro. You can expect similar feats from the 2021 MacBook Pro thanks to the incredibly efficient ARM-based chip it will be using. In fact, the MacBook Pro 16 might even exceed that, given its larger chassis might permit space for a correspondingly larger battery.
A brighter, higher-contrast display
Among all the MacBook Pro rumors, those concerning its display have remained some of the most interesting. Kuo has maintained for some time that Apple is working on outfitting its pro laptop with a mini-LED display. This tech crams thousands of small-scale LEDs into the screen, offering superb contrast and dynamic range without the burn-in issues that OLED displays can suffer from.
Other reports previously left this mini-LED possibility open, seemingly without confirming whether Apple will use it, but some clarity has recently emerged. Gurman, for example, at first hedged his bets, saying the 2021 MacBook Pro models will have “brighter, higher-contrast panels.” In a July newsletter, though, he explicitly said the MacBook Pro would get a mini-LED screen and that “complications” surrounding it had pushed back the device’s launch date. Now that Apple has brought out its first mini-LED display in the iPad Pro, where it was dubbed the Liquid Retina XDR display, we feel like it is only a matter of time until Apple transfers this across to its MacBook line.
Elsewhere, it is highly likely that Apple will slim down the bezels on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, allowing for a larger 14-inch panel to fit in the same-sized chassis. This is the same approach the company took when it replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with a 16-inch model without increasing its footprint. This change will result in a more modern-looking laptop and more screen space for your work.
Twitter leaker @dylandkt later claimed that it the bottom bezel would be so small that the logo would be removed.
A 1080p webcam
Nestled within those thinner bezels is likely to be an improved webcam. When Apple launched the 24-inch iMac, it finally boosted the webcam from a measly 720p to a much more 2021-appropriate 1080p. It always felt likely that the rest of the Mac lineup would follow suit, and leaker Dylandkt on Twitter has now suggested that will be exactly the case.
The leaker claims the upcoming MacBook Pro will get an updated 1080p webcam, with all other Macs getting a similar treatment. That means the M2 MacBook Air should eventually see changes here, too.
When Apple last redesigned its professional laptop range with the MacBook Pro 16 in 2019, it kept the price exactly the same as that of the previous MacBook Pro 15 despite introducing a raft of new features and an overhauled design. The company did the same thing when it outfitted the MacBook Pro 13 with the brand-new M1 chip despite the massive uptick in performance that the upgrade offered.
We expect the same will be true of the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models due out this year. Apple seems to be happy with its current MacBook Pro pricing structure, and we do not expect that to change any time soon. Ultimately, that could mean more bang for your buck.
One report, however, has suggested that the price difference between the 14-inch model and 16-inch model will be reduced, claiming that they will have a more similar starting price.
The $700 difference between the Intel-powered MacBook Pro 13-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch comes primarily from the discrete GPU and more powerful processor. If both models will use the M1X, as has been suggested, it makes more sense for the two MacBook Pros to be closer in cost.
MacBook Pro 2021: Our wish list
Despite the extensive rumors over what might be included in the 2021 MacBook Pro, there are still a few other features that we would love to see make an appearance. These are not guaranteed but would certainly have a hugely positive impact should Apple give them the green light.
Aside from more port variety, we would like to see more ports, period. It is still possible to buy a MacBook Pro with only two ports — in fact, the four-port MacBook Pro models are limited to Intel processors, and if you want the much better M1 chips, you must accept half the number of USB-C slots. When you are paying $1,299 or more for a laptop, that is not good enough. Apple only included two ports on the entry-level version of its new 24-inch iMac, though, so we are not getting our hopes up here.
The second feature we would love to see is Face ID. This secure tech already works wonders on the iPhone and iPad, and it would be a welcome addition to the Mac. Imagine sitting down in front of your laptop and it automatically unlocks without you having to do anything — that is what Face ID could offer, and we know Apple is at least considering it.
However, the industry has been noticeably quiet on this of late, and neither Kuo nor Gurman mention it in their latest reports, so we think it is sadly unlikely to be a feature in the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Whether that is due to delays caused by COVID-19 or Apple’s unwillingness to add it to the Mac, we cannot say.