Apple Leaks Reveal Radical New MacBook Proby Ewan Spence
May 25 Update below; this post was first published on May 23.
The process for Apple to switch its MacOS hardware away from Intel to ARM processors is expected to be accelerated during WWDC later this month with new tools and a roadmap for developers. Getting developers to switch over is key, but there is a bigger question in regards next year’s ARM-powered MacBook and MacBook Pro machines.
How will you get consumers to buy the radical ARM-powered laptops? For that you need to look at the latest leaks and think about why people buy new laptops.
What will be welcome is Intel’s Iris GPU included in the more expensive machines; “this 13-inch model is more than capable of professional creative work to a degree.”
But the biggest impact on the latest MacBook Pro for Sin is simple. It’s not an iPad Pro. Apple’s tablet has been pushing itself as ‘a personal computer’ for the last few years, while the MacBook offering has marked time.
While the upcoming ARM-powered MacBooks will not be visibly similar to a keyboard-toting iPad Pro, Apple will be bringing the chipsets into line with the Axx range of processors, increasing the portability of code between the two platforms, and can use that ‘inside baseball’ change alongside consumer facing changes to revitalise the MacBook platform in 2021.
The MacBook design has been preserved in amber for nearly a decade. While the laptops have all become thinner and lighter (just like every other laptop family out there), the lack of change in terms of design and features is clear. If you had to suggest a hashtag for the MacBook family, it would be #stable.
The only visible change has been to remove the physical function keys and replace them with the Touch Bar. Launched in 2016 it promised much, including a second display on your laptop and the first touch sensitive display available under MacOS. But the promise was never delivered on, either by third-party developers or Apple itself, and it is regarded as a gimmick by many.
The recent updates to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have seen lukewarm response to the hardware and features… except for the keyboard. Replacing the embarrassing and flawed butterfly keyboard with a scissor-switched ‘Magic’ keyboard drew a huge amount of praise and goodwill towards the 2020 laptops. But that’s a card Apple can only play once, and now it has been burned.
One of the curious challenges of selling an ARM-powered MacBook is that you cannot rely on ‘it’s using an ARM processor’ to sell it outside of the heavily engaged geekerati. Apple’s goal with a move to ARM is to make the transition as invisible as possible. If it runs on MacBook X apps should run on MacBook Y. The UI on X should be the same as the UI on Y. The capability to talk to cloud based services on X should match that of Y.
ARM alone cannot sell the machine to the masses. Gee-whizz sells to the masses. And the recent leaks around Tim Cook’s laptop R&D suggest that Apple has a lot of gee-whizz it could pack into a 2021 MacBook.
For many, a move to a 14-inch screen in the MacBook Pro felt like a no-brainer. The screen and bezel design was looking tired and out of place in a premium laptop. And late 2019 saw the larger MacBook Pro make the jump from 15 inches to 16 inches. Surely Apple would bestow the same upgrade to the far more popular smaller MacBook Pro?
As your omniscient narrator would say… Apple did not bestow the same upgrade to the far more popular smaller MacBook Pro.
Then there’s the mini-LED technology for the screen. It builds on LCD technology but with much smaller backlighting elements that offers finer control over lighting levels. In essence that means a screen with the vibrancy, color, and deeper blacks of an OLED screen without the issues around OLED. Developer controls for mini-LED screens have also shown up, suggesting that Apple is actively working on this technology.
This week saw a raft of patents published that focus on Apple’s laptops. These covered ares such as touch sensitive keys that would allow them keyboard itself to pic up swipes and gestures; a touchpad that would take up the entire width of the MacBook with a re-definable active area; and the addition of Qi charging plates into the chassis for your iPhone or AirPods to pick up power.
A look back over the last few months reveals a bundle of updates and improvements for the MacBook. such as a larger screen in a smaller footprint; a new screen technology that bringing together the benefits of two older technologies; and changes to the primary input mechanism to improve the experience.
The switch from Intel to ARM is a radical step for developers and the geekerati. The general public will see radical changes in more tangible fields. Apple has a chance to radically redefine its laptop range for all and throw it forward into the next decade.
Will Apple have the courage to follow that path?