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The MacBook Pro has gained a renewed lease on life since Apple outfitted it with the superb M1 chip in 2020. It seems to have an exciting future ahead of it, and with plenty of interesting rumors doing the rounds, there is a lot of debate as to what the next version of Apple’s Pro laptops might contain.
There has been a recent flurry of information, with respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and prominent reporter Mark Gurman both shedding light on an all-new 14-inch version, as well as sharing updates to the current MacBook Pro 16. We have broken down their thoughts, as well as other rumors from the industry, to summarize what you can expect from the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Here is everything you need to know, from the price and design to battery life and more.
Price and release date
When Apple last redesigned its professional laptop range with the MacBook Pro 16 in 2019, it kept the price exactly the same as that of the previous MacBook Pro 15, despite introducing a raft of new features and an overhauled design. The company did the same thing when it outfitted the MacBook Pro 13 with the brand-new M1 chip, despite the massive uptick in performance that the upgrade offered.
We expect the same will be true of the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models due out this year. Apple seems to be happy with its current MacBook Pro pricing structure, and we do not expect that to change any time soon. Ultimately, that could mean more bang for your buck.
So, when might you be able to get your hands on one of these new models? One school of thought is that Apple will wait until the fall to push anything out there. That belief is based in part on a report from Nikkei Asia, which claimed that Apple had pushed back the production of two MacBook Pro models from May or June until later in the year. If true, this would delay the release date, perhaps to the more traditional October or November window that usually sees major MacBook launches.
However, there are growing claims that Apple will actually unveil revamped MacBook Pro models (both 14-inch and 16-inch) at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 7. Ming-Chi Kuo expects the devices to be released in the third quarter of 2021 (July 1 to September 30). Mark Gurman has offered a similar timeline, saying they should make an appearance “around the middle of the year.” Those claims were followed in late May and early June by reports from leaker Jon Prosser and industry analysts Wedbush, respectively, who both stated Apple is planning to launch the new MacBook Pro models at WWDC.
A new, squared-off design
In recent years, Apple has started to revert many of its products back to the square-edge design last seen in the iPhone SE in 2016 — first the iPad Pro and then the iPhone 12 range. According to reports, the MacBook Pro will soon join them.
Kuo believes the MacBook Pro 2021’s design will feature squared-off sides on both the top and bottom sections, rather than the slightly curved back found on the current MacBook Pro models. This may only be a minor change, as the bottom half of the existing MacBook Pro could already be thought of as “squared-off.” Mark Gurman agrees that any design changes will be minor, but he nonetheless believes that there will be some outward changes compared to the current models.
Aside from that, you may be wondering if the MacBook Pro 16’s thermal architecture will make the leap across to the MacBook Pro 14. Given the superb thermal efficiency of the M1 chip in the current MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air, you might think this is unnecessary — the new MacBook Air, after all, does not even need a fan, such is its chip’s ability to keep cool under pressure. That said, the current MacBook Pro 16 comes with discrete, powerful graphics cards that need more vigorous cooling. If Apple is going to match that power with its own system-on-a-chip with a beefy built-in GPU, it might need an equally brutish cooling system to keep everything under control. With that in mind, we would not rule out the thermal system being retained in the MacBook Pro 16.
The Magic Keyboard is almost certain to remain in place — no return to the ill-fated butterfly keyboard — but there is one longtime MacBook stalwart that may finally be ditched: The Touch Bar. Ever since debuting in 2016, this touch-sensitive strip has been divisive, and it seems Apple may have finally lost patience with it rather than trying to fix it. Kuo claims the next MacBook Pro will definitely go without the Touch Bar; Gurman initially had only said that Apple has been testing Touch Bar-free models, but has recently clarified that the Touch Bar is definitely on the way out. Both analysts seem to indicate there is not much future for Apple’s OLED bar. Given how little it lived up to its potential, that may not be a bad thing.
More port variety and the return of MagSafe
Ever since the 2016 redesign that ushered in the Touch Bar and the butterfly keyboard, Apple has stuck resolutely to USB-C in its laptops — to the exclusion of all other port options. That may soon change.
Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is going to loosen the USB-C stranglehold and allow a smidgen more port variety in the 2021 MacBook Pro. Kuo is touting an increase in the “types of I/O” available and, tantalizingly, suggests that “most users may not need to purchase additional dongles.” Specifically, he believes the HDMI port is going to make a comeback. Gurman believes that the SD card slot is making a return for the first time since it was removed in 2016, which will certainly please photographers and videographers who otherwise would need an adapter or the cloud to transfer their work to their Mac.
The increase in port variety means an apparent return for a much-loved MacBook feature that was first ditched with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015: MagSafe. This handy tech magnetically attaches the charging cable to your Mac, meaning it quickly snaps loose if the cable gets yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from falling to the ground and getting smashed. According to industry rumors, Apple is going to reintroduce MagSafe in the 2021 MacBook Pro and have it work using a pill-shaped port, much like its old incarnation. Given how popular MagSafe was — and how much we have missed it since it was ditched — this is a welcome change of heart from Apple.
Interestingly, in April, a huge leak revealed exactly what Apple is planning for the ports — and it turns out Kuo and Gurman were right. According to 9to5Mac, hacking group REvil apparently managed to steal technical specifications from Apple supplier Quanta, and among the documents — which are now being used to blackmail Quanta — is a drawing showing the port arrangement on an upcoming MacBook Pro model. It depicts an HDMI port, USB-C slot, and SD card reader all on the same side of the device. Also among the documents was a list of ports and connectors that included MagSafe alongside HDMI and the SD card slot. The MacBooks in these files use the code names J314 and J316, which according to Gurman refer to the upcoming 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models.
Processor and battery life
Apple made a real splash when it released the first version of its own Apple Silicon processors, the M1, in the latest round of Macs. In our testing, they proved to be blazing fast, with the 24-inch iMac offering the best performance of the lot.
There is good news on that front, as the 2021 MacBook Pro models are expected to have the next generation of this chip (perhaps called the M2 or M1X). We already know from previous reporting that Apple is working on processors with upwards of 32 CPU cores, although that chip in particular is almost certainly reserved for the Mac Pro. Nonetheless, expect the 2021 MacBook Pro models to come with more cores and more performance — the M1 was just the beginning.
A report from Bloomberg in December 2020 claimed the next generation of Apple Silicon chips could feature 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. If those chips do not quite meet the deadline, chips with 12 or eight high-performance cores could be used instead, according to Gurman. It now looks like the latter option is what we will see in the next MacBook Pro models, as a new report from Gurman issued in May 2021 asserted that the next-generation Apple Silicon chips coming to the MacBook Pro would feature eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, for a total of 10. These chips will be offered in 16 or 32 graphics core variants.
Unlike the current MacBook line-p — where every Mac uses the same M1 chip — we might see a split here, with the MacBook Pro 16 getting the more powerful chip with 32 graphics cores. That would certainly match the positioning of its current incarnation, which offers high-end Intel Core i9 processors and discrete graphics cards that are unavailable in any other MacBook. On the other hand, Apple might decide that its current strategy of offering the same chip across various Mac models is the right one, and make this new chip available in both the MacBook Pro 14 and the MacBook Pro 16.
The processor also means good things for battery life. When we reviewed the M1 MacBook Pro, we got 21 hours of battery life in our video playback test and 16 hours during light web browsing. That is around three times the battery life of the 2020 Intel MacBook Pro. You can expect similar feats from the 2021 MacBook Pro thanks to the incredibly efficient ARM-based chip it will be using. In fact, the MacBook Pro 16 might even exceed that, given its larger chassis might permit space for a correspondingly larger battery.
A brighter, higher-contrast display
Among all the MacBook Pro rumors, those concerning its display have remained some of the most interesting. Kuo has maintained for some time that Apple is working on outfitting its pro laptop with a mini-LED display. This tech crams thousands of small-scale LEDs into the screen, offering superb contrast and dynamic range without the burn-in issues that OLED displays can suffer from.
The latest reports on Apple’s MacBook Pro plans leave this mini-LED possibility open, seemingly without confirming whether Apple will use it. Gurman, for example, says the 2021 MacBook Pro models will have “brighter, higher-contrast panels.” This fits with what we expect from mini-LED displays without referring to them by name, so it remains to be seen what Apple will do. Now that Apple has brought out its first mini-LED display in the iPad Pro, where it was dubbed the Liquid Retina XDR display, we feel like it is only a matter of time until Apple transfers this across to its MacBook line.
What is more certain is that Apple will slim down the bezels on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, allowing for a larger 14-inch panel to fit in the same-sized chassis. This is the same approach the company took when it replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with a 16-inch model without increasing its footprint. This change will result in a more modern-looking laptop and more screen space for your work.
MacBook Pro 2021: Our wish list
Despite the extensive rumors over what might be included in the 2021 MacBook Pro, there are still a few other features that we would love to see make an appearance. These are not guaranteed but would certainly have a hugely positive impact should Apple give them the green light.
Aside from more port variety, we would like to see more ports, period. It is still possible to buy a MacBook Pro with only two ports — in fact, the four-port MacBook Pro models are limited to Intel processors, and if you want the much better M1 chips, you must accept half the number of USB-C slots. When you are paying $1,299 or more for a laptop, that is not good enough. Apple only included two ports on the entry-level version of its new 24-inch iMac, though, so we are not getting our hopes up here.
The second feature we would love to see is Face ID. This secure tech already works wonders on the iPhone and iPad, and it would be a welcome addition to the Mac. Imagine sitting down in front of your laptop and it automatically unlocks without you having to do anything — that is what Face ID could offer, and we know Apple is at least considering it.
However, the industry has been noticeably quiet on this of late, and neither Kuo nor Gurman mention it in their latest reports, so we think it is sadly unlikely to be a feature in the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Whether that is due to delays caused by COVID-19 or Apple’s unwillingness to add it to the Mac, we cannot say.