The Alleged MacBook Pro Redesign

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Apple’s expected to launch new MacBook Pro models at WWDC after many were disappointed with their absence during their March event. Many have speculated these will come in all-new designs, not just the regular internal upgrades. This rumour had me interested when I first heard it sometime ago, partially because I was in the market for one myself, but mainly because I had a few questions to ask.

Who could this new MacBook Pro be for?

To understand this, obviously it’s important to know who the MacBook Pro is for right now. As the name suggests, the Pro is for professionals, mainly because it can be used professionally in most cases. In reality, it’s a mixed bag; any casual observation “in the wild”, so to speak, would indicate that it is popular among all types of users.

I think it is because the Pro offers convenience through its power. It has a heightened capability compared to the other MacBook lines. For example, it’s faster due to its faster processors, and it can handle many tasks at a time due to having 8-16 GB of RAM. (In comparison, the MacBook Air line didn’t have the 8 GB baseline until just very recently.)

That said, I think that all three of the MacBook lines are made to offer convenience, as opposed to sheer utility - each in their own ways. Therefore, the MacBook Pro’s viability as a choice among the other MacBook lines depends on what conveniences the customer is looking for.

The MacBook offers ultra-portability, personality (through its colours), and implementation of the latest hardware (e.g. the butterfly mechanism keyboard) in a single package as its convenience. The MacBook Air also offers portability, including affordability, as its convenience. And, as mentioned, the MacBook Pro sits on the side of utility in the MacBook spectrum, but in the overall Mac lineup, also offers portability, creating a workable compromise for most professional and prosumer users.

What could be redesigned? Should the Pro be redesigned?

Given that the Pro’s target market won’t change with a new redesign, Apple needs to be careful what aspects of the device they choose to improve, keep, or omit, especially since those users won’t have many alternative options to turn to if they dislike the Pro. (In a nutshell, there are two major factors to consider: the lack of a Mac that fulfils the exact roles of a MacBook Pro, and the willingness - or lack thereof - of OS X users to switch to Windows computers.)

Apple mentions a lot of the time in interviews and presentations about making tradeoffs, or compromises, when deciding how to improve their products. I’d say the vast majority of the time, Apple ends up making the right tradeoffs.

With any new redesign, I would imagine a proportionately larger number of tradeoffs being a given. My concern is that with a new MacBook Pro redesign, Apple won’t be afforded the opportunity this time to make as large a number of tradeoffs as they’d want, due mainly to the needs of its target market having to be met being in conflict with what Apple might want to do instead.

Look at the MacBook, for example. Many regard this as Apple’s ultimate compromise device at the time being, due to it being so small yet so feature-packed. You’d think that with the MacBook, something’s got to give, and in at least a couple of areas, that’s the case. For instance, there’s an unspoken obligation for the MacBook to maintain its size, with at least a near microscopic margin to grow if any features or improvements in the future should be added. This is the case for most of Apple’s devices, but it being a Mac so small in volume increases its potential to be problematic, in that future improvements could be severely limited by it.

So, what would a MacBook Pro equivalent of a MacBook redesign look like? One aspect of a redesigned Pro I’ve been thinking a lot about are its ports - the MacBook had almost every port taken away besides the two absolutely essential ones: one for charging and data-transfer (USB-C), and one for headphones. Will this bare minimum approach be applied to the MacBook Pro as well? What would that even look like? It all depends on what Apple thinks are the absolutely essential ports are for pro/prosumer users.

But that chips away at the convenience it offers - its power - in favour of Apple’s ‘progressive’ approach. Maybe it will push forward the rest of the industry as it did in years past (e.g. the omission of floppy and CD drives respectively, forcing its overall depopulation), particularly pushing peripheral manufacturers to adopt the USB-C standard. But we’re still dealing with “what if’s” here, so what if it doesn’t happen? Even with the risk Apple took with their more consumer-facing MacBook, USB-C is nowhere near as popular as they might hope.

That said, could USB-C’s potential as a widespread standard over USB 2 and 3 in the future surpass the temporary inconvenience of dealing with USB-C for users at the moment? For the MacBook, maybe - we’re not seeing many of its users complaining. But being a recent product and due to a lack of metrics, we can’t really know. However I can say for a fact that it’s less likely the case for the MacBook Pro, simply because the Pro market looks for capability, capability it might soon be lacking in the meantime if USB 3 ports are taken away.

So far I’ve used ports as an example, but there are other aspects of the device to consider - its processor, the presence of a fan, its volume and thinness, its keyboard, etc. Should a MacBook-esque minimisation approach ensue, the point where the MacBook Pro stops being a workable compromise for professionals and prosumers might be surpassed.

However, there’s reason to believe such a radical approach won’t be taken. Maybe the MacBook is a red herring. It could be that its purpose is to be Apple’s main vessel for implementing their more progressive ideas onto a product (and learning from it), hence it being brought back last year after being retired late last decade. It could be the case that Apple knew users would vehemently dislike the designs of the existing Air or Pro lines if they were altered significantly.

But it begs the question: Should the Pro be redesigned to begin with? I mean, there isn’t much we haven’t looked at yet that I can think of to consider as a reason for a redesign, just the design being a catalyst for even further changes to the device.

I personally don’t want the MacBook Pro to be redesigned. It is so perfectly serviceable for what it’s meant to offer its users. But knowing Apple’s propensity for change and advancement, it most likely might - if not WWDC, then sometime within this or next year.

Whether or not it will be an ideal redesign for customers is unknown, because of how very little we know of it. But its worth thinking about what should be an ideal redesign - a compromise between Apple’s idealism and the Pro user base’s specific needs.

An ideal redesign

The new MacBook Pro should be thinner. There’s no question that if one thing should be changed with a total redesign, it is the device’s thinness. The Pro is a relatively thick device, so there’s a lot of room for improvement in that regard, but because it still needs to do a lot more processing than other MacBook lines, it should still be able to accommodate a fan, even with future updates. My guess is that they will take what they’ve learned from engineering the MacBook (e.g. contours in the casing to accommodate more space for the battery) and apply it to the Pro.

That said, the new MacBook Pro should also have a butterfly mechanism keyboard. I don’t see any reason against it if they were willing to offer it with the MacBook. In fact, the only reason why I think they didn’t include it with the latest Pro that launched alongside the MacBook last year is because of the imminent redesign.

The new MacBook Pro’s display should have a wider colour gamut, similar to the improvement made to the 9.7” iPad Pro screen. I think that Apple thinks this is the next frontier for display innovation, and they’re already ahead of the rest of the industry. Should the new Pro arrive at WWDC, the timing couldn’t be any more perfect. (True Tone sensors would also be a great addition.)

The new MacBook Pro should keep MagSafe. It was disheartening enough when they took away the battery and sleep/wake indicator. To take this hallmark innovation for Apple away from the Pro would be baffling, especially considering that would leave the Air as the only model with MagSafe. If anything, they should improve it - maybe introduce a MagSafe 3 with data-transfer capabilities. But that’s already wishful thinking.

The new MacBook Pro should come in the MacBook colours - that being Silver, Space Grey, Gold, and Rose Gold. The iPad Pro comes in those colours, so why not the MacBook Pro?

The new MacBook Pro should come with a feature that’s new to the Mac. A Touch ID sensor? An HD FaceTime camera (perhaps to go with multi-user FaceTime)? A super-thin bezel? A new professional app? Anything to further warrant the MacBook Pro redesign as opposed to the usual, non-cosmetic update.

 

I think it’s telling that even as Apple doubles down on making the iPad a viable computing platform, the MacBook Pro still gets as much attention as it gets. In fact, it’s less than a month now till WWDC and it’s the only rumour I’ve seen being talked about, apart from an Apple Music overhaul.

I think this year’s WWDC will be a surprising and delighting one, and the Mac will have a big role to play.