This is MacBook Pro’s Mac Pro moment.
For years, users complained that the Mac Pro was neglected and unsuited to the needs of actual professionals. Then, in 2019, it was as if Apple said “OK, you wanted a pro machine, we’ll give you a real pro machine.” And thus the Mac Pro was born, an incredibly pricey and extremely powerful desktop PC that was overkill for everyone but the most demanding of users.
The MacBook Pro was never that neglected (remember, it took Apple seven years to upgrade the second-gen Mac Pro), but it was in a similar position. My 2011 MacBook Pro, which is still in use, is built like a tank, has every port under the sun, and its keyboard still works flawlessly. But in 2016, Apple redesigned the MacBook Pro, removing nearly all of its ports, making the keyboard thinner, and replacing the physical function keys with the Touch Bar.
The MacBook Pro got slimmer and fancier, but professional users only care about those things to a certain extent. They care far more about having a built-in SD card reader and a keyboard that doesn’t break.
Fast forward to 2022 and the new MacBook Pro, whose feature list is basically Apple saying sorry about all the things it screwed up over the years. The MagSafe power connector is back. The HDMI port is back. The SD card reader is back. Heck, even the function keys are back, replacing the beautiful-but-scarcely-used Touch Bar. In all my years of covering Apple products, I don’t remember Apple backpedaling on so many features in a single product launch.
In all my years of covering Apple products, I don’t remember Apple backpedaling on so many features in a single product launch.
It’s a good thing. I’m someone who works on my laptop for a living, and I live with it from the time I wake up until late afternoon (and sometimes longer). Not having to use dongles to connect the laptop to peripherals is a blessing, and having up to 64GB of RAM is a non-trivial advantage for me.
So all is well, no?
Well, it is. But Apple, once again, seems to have decided that the MacBook Pro will from now on be truly a laptop for professional users. And though that sounds sexy when you’re an enthusiast, the reality is that most users probably don’t need – and cannot afford – that kind of power.
Sure, it’s nice to dream about going all in with 64GB of RAM, 8TB of storage (eight terabytes!), and a processor with 32 graphical cores, but unless you’re actual a pro that needs this stuff, most of it will remain unused.
There’s also a very literal cost to having a pro-grade laptop. The new MacBook Pro devices are far more expensive than the previous generation. Last year, the 13-inch, M1 MacBook Pro started at $1,299. The new, 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, and that’s with just 16GB of RAM. Upgrading to 32GB is an additional $400, bringing you up to $2,399, which is a lot of dough to cough up for a laptop, even if you’re using it for work, like I do.
The peripherals for these new laptops also have “pro-grade” pricing. The two-meter USB-C to MagSafe 3 cable costs $49, and the 140W USB-C power adapter is $99. Ouch.
What remains is hope that Apple will always keep a middle-grade MacBook Pro in its lineup – something a bit beefier than the MacBook Air, but affordable enough that you don’t have to get a bank loan to finance it. Right now, this position is held by the old, 13-inch MacBook Pro that Apple kept in its lineup; hopefully it, too, will get an M1 Pro upgrade down the line.
Oh, wait. There is one exception to all this, and it is the notch. Frankly, I’m not sure what Apple was thinking here. People who work in design and architecture will probably hate it, as they’re used to seeing the whole screen, without a small part obscured by a tiny rectangle. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like the notch was necessary; it doesn’t host any advanced tech like Face ID, just an upgraded, 1080p FaceTime camera. It made those 3.5mm bezels possible, but again, that’s the old Apple way of thinking, and professional users don’t really care about such things.
On the flip side, Apple and app developers will adapt and find ways to make the notch less of an issue – it could, for example, be fully obscured by Apple’s ubiquitous menu bar – so maybe we forget about it with time, like we did on the iPhone.
Notch aside, Apple’s computer lineup is now very different than it was two years ago. With the Mac Pro and the new MacBook Pro (and, hopefully, an M1 Pro-based iMac down the line), the company now truly caters to the needs of professionals. Just make sure you’re not spending a ton of money for features you don’t really need.