,

Apple Refreshes the MacBook Pro and Does Away With the MacBook Air

Apple introduced the redesigned MacBook Pro this morning at a press event, and if you want good news, here it is — the new 13″ and 15″ Pro laptops are so thin and light, they made a separate Air line of laptops unnecessary. Of course, the new MacBook Pros aren’t just thinner and lighter. They’re also getting more powerful and, as rumored, have replaced the row of function keys with a touch display strip with contextual controls.

The Touch Bar is a Retina display touch strip running along the top of the keyboard, replacing the row of function keys. It’ll still serve the same purpose as today’s function keys — keyboard shortcuts for commands — but it’s far more useful. The Touch Bar will display commands specific to what you have on-screen, and it’ll change automatically as you move from app to app or even task to task. It’s the same kind of contextual control idea we just saw in the Microsoft Surface Dial, but isn’t a separate device.

It’s also deeply integrated with Apple’s own programs — it’ll display music controls with iTunes, tabs in Safari, and a timeline with Final Cut Pro. In Final Cut Pro, the bar will change from the video timeline to more granular editing controls once you’ve picked a selection to edit. Now, that’s all great, but the real story is that in Messages, the Touch Bar will become an emoji bar, even suggesting emoji in place of words typed. That’s the kind of innovation we expect from Apple.

You’re not stuck with whatever Apple puts on there, either. The Touch Bar is fully customizable using a separate menu, which allows you to drag down commands to the bottom of the screen to throw and pin them to the bar. If you still have use of function keys, you can even make the Touch Bar into a row of touch function keys, complete with the escape key, so Apple isn’t ripping the band-aid off.

On the right end of the Touch Bar, Apple has added a Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Inside the MacBook Pro, there’s a new T1 chip for secure transfers, meaning that this Touch ID scanner can be used to make purchases like on the iPhone. If you have multiple user accounts on one MacBook Pro, it’s also possible to switch between user accounts instantly with one scan — as soon as the second user presses their finger on the scanner, the MacBook Pro shifts right over to wherever that user was when they last used the computer. Apple’s Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi demonstrated that on stage, and it looked very fast and easy.

As usual, a lot of attention has been paid to the build. The new MacBook Pro frame is made of aluminum on all sides and has gotten thinner and lighter. The 13″ MacBook Pro is 14.9 mm thick and weighs three pounds, while the 15″ model is 15.5 mm thick and weighs four pounds. But, it looks like fun colors will be limited to the 12″ MacBook — the MacBook Pro will only come in silver and space grey.

On the keyboard, Apple has added their second generation butterfly switches, which should have more key travel — we’re looking forward to using them, because the first generation of switches wasn’t exactly our favorite. But, much more noticeable is the trackpad — it’s huge! The Force Touch trackpad is twice as large as the trackpad on the previous MacBook Pro, and looks like it takes up nearly half the palmrest area of the laptop. Apple says this is to make touch gestures a little easier to use.

In terms of specs, we’re not seeing any surprises. The Retina display is 67 percent brighter and has 67 percent more contrast performance, thanks to an updated Retina display construction and brighter LED panels. Inside, we’re looking at a 6th generation quad-core Intel Core i7 processor on the 15″ model and your choice of a dual-core i5 or i7 processor on the 13″. There’s great news on the GPU front, too — the 15″ model uses a discrete AMD Radeon GPU from their new Polaris line of processors. The 13″ model sticks with Intel integrated graphics. The 13″ model can be configured with between 256 GB and 1 TB of SSD storage and between 8 GB and 16 GB of RAM, while the 15″ model can be configured with between 512 GB and 2 TB of SSD storage and 16 GB of RAM. Apple has also added improved dual side-firing speakers. Both models should get up to 10 hours of battery life.

This being Apple, some contentious changes have been made, and as usual, they involve ports. While the 3.5 mm audio port is still here, there are now only four USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports (any of them can be used as a charging port, but only one at a time for safety). That’s awesome because Thunderbolt 3 is capable of up to 40 GB/s bandwidth speeds, but not awesome because there’s still a lack of USB Type-C peripherals on the market. The bad news is that the MacBook Pro lacks HDMI, DisplayPort, MagSafe, an SD card reader, and regular USB Type-A connectors, so you’re going to need to buy some new cables, docks, hubs, and adapters.

But, it won’t always be this way. When USB Type-C was first introduced, it was celebrated for being multi-purpose — it can be used as a charging cable, an audio/video cable, and a data transfer cable simultaneously. Making cables that can do that safely and reliably is very difficult, which is why we haven’t seen as much USB Type-C support yet. That’ll change soon — at the event, Apple briefly showed off a display they worked on with LG, which has USB Type-C ports. With that display, you can use a single Type-C cable to transmit audio/video data and charge the MacBook Pro at the same time.

apple-macbookpro-6

Oh, and this being Apple, cash out for these guys. The 13″ MacBook Pro starts at $1,800, while the 15″ model starts at $2,400. And, as we mentioned up top, the MacBook Air will be put to rest. In its place, Apple is selling another version of the 13″ MacBook Pro that lacks the Touch Bar and only has two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. It’ll also have a slower version of the dual-core Intel Core i5 processor in the more expensive 13″ model. That model will start at $1,500. All three can be ordered now. The cheaper 13″ model ships immediately, while the MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar will ship in one to three weeks.