Halfway through Apple’s transition from Intel processors to its own in-house Apple Silicon, the company finally delivered on its most highly-anticipated Macs to date. That’s not an exaggeration–the MacBook Pro is the flagship Mac for creatives and professional users.
Previously, we’ve seen a new MacBook Air, a Mac mini, and a 13-inch MacBook Pro–all with the M1 processor–but those devices were basically Apple Silicon retrofits. That’s not to say they aren’t great devices. The M1 MacBook Air might be the best overall laptop the company has ever made in terms of power, performance, and value–as long as you don’t mind that it looks exactly like the device it replaces.
Only the 2021 iMac is an entirely new Mac, built from the ground up with the company’s custom silicon in mind. That is, until now. The 2021 MacBook Pros are entirely new, and entirely pro.
Ironically, however, the best thing about the MacBook Pro isn’t new at all. You might even say that the best thing about the newest MacBook Pro is a return to what made it such a great laptop to begin with. That’s because, in almost every way, the 2021 version of the MacBook Pro has more in common with the 2015 version than anything that has come in the last six years.
Sure, the new one has a MiniLED display capable of HDR video, and a 120Hz refresh rate that can scale up or down based on what you’re doing in order to save battery. Speaking of battery, Apple says these two models get more than 70 percent longer battery life. They also have what Apple calls the “best audio system” ever in a laptop.
Oh, and they come with either the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which Apple says are way faster than whatever Mac you’re using right now. They’re also a lot faster than pretty much any PC you can buy. All of that is great, and makes the 2021 MacBook Pro an incredible laptop.
But, back to the 2015 version for a second. That model was often considered the best laptop Apple ever made. It was well built, had a Retina display, a great keyboard, and all the ports a professional might actually need. Apple’s laptop design mostly went downhill from there with “innovations” like the butterfly keyboard, the Touch Bar, and making the laptop thinner by removing all the ports.
Those ports, however, are the important piece of the story, and during Monday’s announcement, Apple admitted as much with just five words.
Shruti Haldea, Apple’s Mac product line manager, finished describing the way users would be able to connect peripherals and devices to their MacBook Pro, she explained they’d be able to do it, “all without a single adapter.”
That’s actually a big deal. For the past five years, most Mac users have lived in a world of dongles, adapters, and hubs in order to connect all of the things they need to get their work done. Now, Apple appears to have come to the realization that people would rather just plug things directly into their laptop, without needing to carry a bag full of adapters.
“Having a wide range of ports can make life a lot easier for pros,” Haldea said during the event. And, she’s right. It does. It’s one of the things that makes a MacBook Pro a “pro” laptop.
Apple, of course, says it as though it just discovered this important new truth that no one had ever talked about before. Except, the lack of ports has been the single biggest complaint about the company’s laptops for years.
Until now, you had your choice of two, or four USB-C ports, and a headphone jack. Sure, USB-C is a versatile port that allows you to connect almost anything you might need, the last thing I want to do when I show up for a meeting and need to connect to a projector is to figure out if I have the right adapter. It would be so much easier to simply connect an HDMI cable.
For a lot of my career, I’ve been a professional photographer. Taking, and then downloading, thousands of images from an SD card is a pretty common thing. Having to connect a card reader, or an adapter, is pretty inelegant, especially when MacBook Pros had these exact ports for years. I literally carry a small bag full of cables and adapters, just so I’m able to use my laptop to get work done.
If you’re making your customers work that hard, your device isn’t pro. The fact that Apple has relented is a sign of something bigger happening. It’s not so much that it’s great that the MacBook Pros now have SD card readers, HDMI, Thunderbolt 4, and MagSafe, but that Apple recognized that eliminating all functionality in the name of slim laptops isn’t the best way to meet the needs of its pro customers.
That’s why I think those five words are the biggest deal about the MacBook Pro. Apple has changed the way it thinks about its laptops in a pretty significant way. Instead of trying to make the thinnest, sleekest design-focused devices it can, its Pro laptops are suddenly “pro” again. Sure, ports don’t alone make a laptop better, but they definitely make it easier to use in everyday situations, and that’s the point.
Sometimes your customers ask you for things that make you cringe because getting rid of ports means you can make the laptop thinner or because you think it looks better to get rid of all those excess cutouts. But the real goal should be to make it better for the people who give you money.