On the 25th anniversary of the first PowerBook, Apple has announced three new MacBook Pro models. The long-awaited new flagship 13in and 15in MacBook Pros bring performance boosts compared to the previous generation, revamped ergonomics, and a new ‘Touch Bar’, aimed at making the machines more versatile for creative professionals.
It’s no surprise that the two new flagship MacBook Pro models are slimmer and lighter than their predecessors, but the ergonomic changes are more fundamental than that. Their new ‘force touch’ trackpads are twice as large as the previous-generation, and the keyboards have been redesigned, with a slimmer butterfly switch design, that Apple claims will offer superior tactile feel to the similar switches in the 12in MacBook.
The big news, however, is the addition of a ‘Touch Bar’. Much anticipated (and leaked), this is a touch-sensitive display strip, that effectively replaces the traditional function keys which have been a feature of consumer computing for more than 40 years. The Touch Bar is fully customizable, and its default functions change depending on the application. Obvious uses including scrubbing through a video timeline in Final Cut Pro, and quick text formatting and email flagging in Apple’s Mail app.
During a demo at the launch event, a representative from Adobe demonstrated how the Touch Bar can be used in Photoshop to quickly switch between layers, blending modes and select brushes without needing to access any of the usual on-screen pallets – effectively allowing true ‘full-screen’ image editing. Adobe is expecting to add full support for the Touch Bar before the end of 2016.
Another big change is how the new MacBook Pro models manage peripherals. Gone is the built-in SD reader, MagSafe connector, and any traditional USB or HDMI ports. Instead, the new computers offer four Thunderbolt 3 ports, all of which can serve as power, USB 3, HDMI, display, or ThunderBolt connectors.
In terms of performance, Apple claims that the new MacBook Pro’s displays are 67% brighter, offer a 67% greater contrast ratio and 25% greater color gamut than the previous generation, and the 15in version offers 130% greater 3D graphics performance. Video editing on the 15in model should be 57% faster than the previous generation, thanks to a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, faster 2133Mhz memory and up to 4GB of video Ram. Built-in storage has been boosted too, up to 3TB with a maximum rated data transfer rate of 3.1 gigabytes per second.
We’re intrigued by the possibilities of the new Touch Bar, and after watching Adobe’s demonstration of its integration into Photoshop, we can see it becoming popular with photographers. Likewise video editing. The ability to run a video at full-screen, without any on-screen clutter but still have access to key navigation and editing tools from the Touch Bar is pretty neat. Business users will appreciate Touch Bar integration with MS Office, and an integrated iOS-style Touch ID fingerprint scanner for quick unlocking and user-switching.
Every time Apple adds or removes an I/O port, certain Internet commenters get up in arms, but with the exception of the lack of SD slot, the move to an all-Thunderbolt I/O interface makes sense. We suspect that for serious users, the sheer versatility of the four USB-C style ports should outweigh the inconvenience of switching away from traditional USB, HDMI and display connectors in the long run.
Less clear-cut is the matter of how Apple intends to evolve its desktop and mobile operating systems. With iOS getting more powerful (just anecdotally, the iPad Pro has effectively replaced laptops for several of us here at DPReview), and Mac OS getting progressively more iOS-like, we’re curious to see what happens next. The addition of the Touch Bar to the new MacBooks brings OS integration a little closer, but will Apple continue to expect developers like Adobe to create separate versions of its applications for both iOS and Mac OS – even as the user bases overlap?
What do you think? With Microsoft’s new hybrid device, the Surface Studio snapping at their heels, is Apple still providing creative professionals with the high-end computers that they need? Let us know in the comments.