Return of the Mac

2021 MacBook Pro Design Analysis

A "Courageous" Return to Form for the MacBook Pro

Apple puts together the best MacBook Pro's we've seen in 5 years by reinstating all the features it removed from the last gen, plus some killer new silicon to create a product with few compromises.

I could run you down the spec list... two new chips with 16/32 GPU cores, 120hz Pro-Motion Retina XDR Displays, but you might as well hear that from the horses mouth. Let's look at the design:

Humble Pie

The 2016 MacBook Pro left too much in the drawing room

Apple went too minimalist with the 2016 MacBook Pro, which was unfortunately best know for everything it lacked in the name of slimness. The 2016 redesign traded an assortment of ports including HDMI, SD card reader, and the beloved MagSafe charger for 4 USB-C ports. The low profile butterfly switch keyboard was about as sturdy as its namesake and could be undermined by grains of dust. Apple made iterative changes to the keyboard over the generation, setting up a replacement program, and even reverting to a scissor mechanism, but the damage was done.

The new 14" and 16" MacBook Pros harken the triumphant return of the HDMI port, the SD card reader, and our favorite MagSafe charger! It doesn't get closer to an apology than this. The MagSafe connector looks almost identical to the one last seen in 2015. This feels like a win for creatives (including myself) who, in spite of Apple's promises, chose to keep their better equipped old hardware instead of embracing dongles.

I myself am still rocking a 15" MBP from 2012.

The ports are all back, why did they ever leave?
Now this does put a smile on my face

Edge Control

Apple has been trending sharp in almost all it's products from the latest square edged iPhones and iPads to the sharp and geometric lines of the revamped iMac and Pro Display XDR.

The MBPs wide corner radii create a much softer profile

I was expecting 2 iPad pros connected by a hinge, but this is more interesting.

The radiused edges will wear much better

As if in acknowledgment of its greater roots, the form language of the new MBPs is surprisingly soft. It brings to mind the PowerBooks of the early 2000s. When compared directly the resemblance is hard to ignore. I wonder if this is an effort to create mental separation from the current model; subconsciously reconnecting with the trust and reliability customers associate with earlier models. A subtle nostalgia play.

The new MBP has an almost identical profile to the old PowerBook G4

Another notable choice is the feet, which protrude more with a flat bottom. Most MacBooks, including the Pros have used small convex rubber bumps, but these have dedicated aluminum extrusions topped with rubberized discs. This could be for two reasons. 1. It provides better cooling by adding clearance from your tabletop. 2. It saves precious internal space for other components like batteries.

Codename: Bigfoot

Gone is the promising, but underutilized Touch Bar. We now get a row of beautiful, full-sized dedicated function keys. Notice how the area behind the keys is anodized black, to create a stronger graphic separation that unifies the keyboard within the chassis. A nice touch that separates this model from all that came before.

The Elephant in the Room

The display notch is a predictable compromise

What happens when you want smaller bezels, but need a space for webcams? If you're Apple, you use a notch. Yes the new MacBooks feature our least favorite iPhone feature, the camera notch. Smartly, it looks like Apple is using the extra real estate to house the menu bar, effectively keeping your working space rectangular. I'm curious to see how the cursor interacts with this notch? It's definitely a compromise, but I would argue an acceptable one for more screen. Feel free to disagree in the chat. Oh wait...

Beyond that the Pro-Motion XDR display looks unbelievable and yet these machine still boast up to 21hrs of battery life. I need to see it to believe it.

Thanks for reading,


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