2016 MacBook Pro — More Goodies and a Higher Price

October 28th, 2016

Apple made a point of reminding us that the first Apple laptop arrived 25 years ago, but it was not the first portable Mac. Ignored by CEO Tim Cook in his presentation at Thursday’s media event, there was once something called the Macintosh Portable, released two years earlier; it was hardly portable. But if you’re referring to a device that is the direct ancestor of today’s notebook computers, choose the PowerBook 100 from 1991.

Clearly Apple intends the 2016 MacBook Pro to be revolutionary — and it is. But the cost of all this nifty engineering is high, and those who might have been able to eke out enough money for previous Apple notebooks might think twice. You have to make a major decision.

So let’s do the basic comparison: The 2015 MacBook Pro started at $1,499 for the 13.3-inch version, and $1,999 for the 15.4-inch version. That’s lower than it had been in the past, but still relatively expensive for a notebook computer, if only because you can buy a PC notebook for half that amount. Obviously, the configurations wouldn’t match, but some only care about pricing.

Compare that to the 2016. MacBook Pro, particularly the models with the Touch Bar. Now if you want to buy the smaller model without the Touch Bar, it’s still $1,499. But the basic configuration with Touch Bar and Touch ID starts at $1,799. The larger model starts at $2,399, and it isn’t available without those two hardware additions. If there’s any consolation, it appears the jump from a 256GB SSD to 1TB SSD is a “mere” $600.00. That’s higher than you’d pay for that SSD all by its lonesome from third-party dealers. But the truly expensive update is a 2TB SSD for $1,400. Ouch.

In making the MacBook Pro thinner than a MacBook Air, Apple clearly did some heavy-duty engineering. It appears every key element of the new design has changed. The keyboard descends from the one in the MacBook, with the hint at more traditional keyboard travel. The trackpad is larger, and there are four Thunderbolt 3 ports that come in USB-C dress. Any can be used for charging purposes, but the MagSafe charging scheme is history. Both models use sixth generation Intel processors, known as Skylake. There is a successor, Kaby Lake, but it is probably not yet available in quantities sufficient for Apple’s purposes. With Intel Iris graphics on the 13-inch model, and AMD Polaris graphics on the 15-inch version, there are huge performance increases.

Apple also boasts that the larger MacBook Pro can drive two external 5K displays. But they won’t come from Apple just yet, since a new LG display, supposedly designed with Apple’s assistance, was mentioned. If you’re hoping for an upgraded Thunderbolt display, it may happen, but it’s clearly not a priority.

Now weighing three and four pounds, a half pound lighter than before, is quite meaningful if you need to lug one of these babies across the airport in a case armed with other stuff, such as a backup drive and assorted connectivity gear.

Adding Touch ID is just to be expected. The real improvement — and it’s major — is the Touch Bar. It’s also a whole lot more sophisticated than I could have imagined based on the rumors. So much so that it creates an impressive new way to manage your workflow. It also destroys the argument for a convertible PC with a touchscreen. Considering all the things you can do with Touch Bar with your hands comfortably on the keyboard, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would have considered a different alternative for a PC.

Clearly the MacBook Pro separates the concept of notebooks considerably from the tablet, though both may roughly be in the same category.

As the rumors stated, the Touch Bar is context sensitive, not just changing from app to app but from function to function. It replaces menus, buttons and sliders in clever ways that depend on the imagination of the app developer. I had expected Adobe and Microsoft to take their sweet time to become Touch Bar aware, but it appears they are already working on updates that ought to be out before year’s end.

So many of the things you did by mousing around suddenly appear in the Touch Bar, at your beck and call. Apple demonstrated how the Finder and other system features are managed in Touch Bar, not to mention Mail, Safari, iWork and other Apple apps.

The Touch Bar versions of such apps as Final Cut Pro X, GarageBand, iMovie, and iWork are already out. A new version of Xcode will arm developers with the tools to support Touch Bar. The new MacBook Pros aren’t shipping for another two or three weeks, but still in plenty of time to catch fire during the holiday season.

If you can afford the price of admission.

But Apple executives are already saying that they do not design to a price, and I have little doubt the cost of engineering and building Touch Bar is high, and so paying $300-400 more may make perfect sense. Over the next few years, that price will no doubt come down as Apple perfects this flashy invention. Do you remember the debut of the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display?

What it does indicate is that there’s life left in what many felt to be a moribund product category. Apple has demonstrated a way to become more productive, and if you’re a graphic designer who charges for your labors by the hour, it may not take so long to make up for the price increase. After that, it’s gravy.

But when it comes to other Macs sadly in need of updates, it’s just crickets, unless something shows up via a press release in the next week or two. The MacBook Air is pared down to one model, the 13-inch version, still $999, but it’s being sold unchanged. The 11-inch MacBook Air is destined for the closeout bins. As to the fate of the Mac mini and Mac Pro, well both are still for sale, older but at the same price. An update for the iMac may not arrive until early next year.

So, yes, Apple has made a huge commitment to the Mac platform. But whether potential buyers can get past the higher prices is an open question that may not be answered until the December quarter is in the rearview mirror.

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6 Responses to “2016 MacBook Pro — More Goodies and a Higher Price”

  1. DaveD says:

    Glad to see Apple devoted the time to present the new MacBook Pros. The Touch Bar, huge trackpad and more than one USB/Thunderbolt ports are very nice upgrades. While the new pricing is not an issue for me as I had paid a lot more for a new “pro” Mac notebook years ago and it is still providing excellent service today. A year after that purchase I picked up the basic 2012 11-inch MacBook Air at a good price. It was quite impressive how much I got done avoiding the heavy processing tasks and being able to easily carry around with having a small footprint. Very contented with the non-Retinal display, but had to manage the small solid state drive with only 64 gigabytes. By the time OS X Yosemite rolled along, having a total of eight gigabytes of memory would have been nice. When the 11-inch notebook did not get the memory bumped up to eight as its bigger brother got, I suspected that it may be on borrowed time. Unfortunately it was via the news from the many Mac sites after the Apple event. I had forgotten that the first MacBook Air size was a 13-inch one. The 11-inch one was added two years later.

    Looking ahead, will Apple drop the price of the 12-inch MacBook and add another USB port like it did for the MacBook Air? Will Apple show some love for the Mac Pro and mini? And the $64,000 question, will Apple bring back the 17-inch MacBook Pro (with an ultra, supersize trackpad and a gorgeous Touch Bar). The answer to the last question is “only in my dreams.”

  2. Shameer M. says:

    If you follow twitter, tech blogs, mac forums, response has been underwhelming to downright abandonment. Many die-hard Macs like yourself are threatening to leave the Apple ecosystem. Seems like what a lot of people really wanted was something akin to the Surface Book / Surface Studio.


  3. dfs says:

    Several particularly interesting features of the Touch Bar. a.) I don’t think this was explicitly said at the unveiling, but from what I read around the Web I gather this technology is going to be made available to third-party developers. b.) Could this technology be incorporated in peripheral keyboards to make it available for the entire Mac lineup? c.) There has also been talk of future keyboards where the individual keys can be made to function differently depending on what program is running. Touch Bar may be first partial implementation of a much more more comprehensive move to rethink the keyboard (although serious typists like me will probably want to stick to upmarket keyboards like Mathias and Das Keyboard ones where the keys have individual switches, but I admit this is a niche market).

  4. gene says:

    It was obvious from the presentation that developers can tap the Touch Bar API to adapt to their own needs. The newest Xcode provides that capability.

    The limitation with Apple or a third-party building Touch Bar into a keyboard is about the supporting components, consisting of the T1 processor, derived from the Apple Watch’s S2 system on a chip, which uses a subset of WatchOS to do its thing. Could that circuitry be provided in a wireless keyboard? I suppose. It’s certainly power efficient, since the MacBook Pro promises battery life similar to last year’s model.


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  6. Kaleberg says:

    I was pretty impressed with the new Macbook Pro package. As usual, there are complaints about the price and the fact that there are new processors coming out any day now that were not incorporated. I gather the 16GB limit flows from the need to move to DDR4 memory which has different power requirements. Odds are in another year or two Apple will upgrade to Kaby Lake processors and we’ll see laptops with more memory. The price complaints will never go away.

    Anyone listening to complaints about how Macs keep getting harder to repair has been anticipating the end of Magsafe. There are barely any moving parts inside. Everything is soldered or glued into place. Odds are a new Macbook Pro can take a drop surprisingly well. Why worry about not charging because the adapter unseated.

    I doubt we’ll be seeing Touch Bars on any standalone keyboard for a while. It’s basically an embedded Apple proprietary device, so Apple is probably going to keep it on tightly connected gear and not release it to the general public for a while, if ever. I’m expecting a fair number of standalone clones with and without a fingerprint reader, but there will probably be a lag time.

    As always, the proof will be in the sales and profit figures. Anyone can make a cheaper processor than a Mac, but not many seem able to make money doing so.

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