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Comment: Can the 2021 MacBook Pro reports be right?

We’ve had a couple of reports today, each from solid sources, suggesting that we’ll see significant changes when the 2021 MacBook Pro models appear.

The two reports agree on most things, though there are some differences between them. Notably, Ming-Chi Kuo indicates that removal of the Touch Bar is a done deal, while Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman thinks it is merely being considered at this stage …

Let’s summarise what the reports say.

2021 MacBook Pro design

First, form factor. Both indicate a new design, but Kuo sees it as a pretty significant change, while Gurman describes the aesthetic changes as ‘minor.’

Kuo: “In terms of chassis design, the new model’s top and bottom cover cancels the existing curved design, and adopts a flat right-angle design similar to the iPhone 12.”

Gurman: “The new Macs will look similar to the current versions, albeit with minor design changes.”

It’s entirely possible that this is just a matter of subjective interpretation. Kuo seems to have the better source here, getting into more specifics, while Gurman’s source may either have less information or simply summarised the changes in their own words as minor.

Either way, this is entirely credible to me. It makes perfect sense for Apple to align the MacBook design to that of the the iPhone 12 and iPad Pro, with right-angled edges. But existing models already have flat sides and an almost-flat lid, so this would mostly impact the underside. It would be reasonable to describe that as a relatively minor change.

What’s disappointing is no mention of bezel size. I’d hope and expect that bezels will shrink significantly. However, lack of information about this in these reports doesn’t mean it won’t happen: Apple does a lot of compartmentalization of information, so it’s perfectly possible – and indeed likely – that sources would only have part of the story.

In summary, then, new design with squarer look – yes.

Touch Bar removal

This would be more surprising, given that the Touch Bar was really the headline design change from the older models to the current ones – and Apple really made a pretty big deal of it.

But while Apple is often reluctant to admit that it messed-up, and to do U-turns, it’s not unknown – as demonstrated by the abandonment of the ultra-slim key travel (and ultra-unreliable) butterfly keyboard.

Whether the Touch Bar was a mis-step is a matter of opinion. Some love it, some hate it, but personally – and I suspect I may be in the majority here – I’m pretty indifferent to it. I kind of like the sliding volume and brightness controls, but that’s been the only benefit in my experience. More importantly, my Mac spends most of its life in clamshell mode, with me using the Magic Keyboard and Trackpad, so the Touch Bar is mostly not accessible to me anyway.

It doesn’t really matter whether the balance of opinion is against it, or merely neutral. Either way, it makes no sense to keep an expensive feature many don’t care about, some hate and relatively few seem to love. So yes, it’s absolutely plausible to me that this will go.

MagSafe back

Both Kuo and Gurman were clear that this means the return of the physical magnetic port, not some more powerful version of the MagSafe wireless charging seen in the iPhone 12. Insert Mayo joke here:

This immediately raises the question of why Apple would do it. Yes, it was a much-loved feature of MacBooks of old, but USB-C charging introduced three significant benefits – though one of them is much less significant now.

First, we can charge or power the machine from either side, which is a pretty big deal when it comes to cable management, as well as convenience when using power outlets in coffee shops and so on (when, you know, we can visit those again).

Second, we can use a wide variety of third-party chargers without any concerns about compatibility. If they support Power Delivery and have enough power, it’s safe to use.

Third, we can also use portable power banks. Ones small enough to carry around can easily double the battery-life of a MacBook, and that’s been a huge benefit. However, the battery-life of M1 Macs means this is a much less important benefit.

It also creates branding messiness, MagSafe referring to two entirely different systems. I mean, that’s the case today when it comes to older Macs, but it would become an issue for current ones too. I would say that degree of untidiness seems un-Apple-like, until I remember that the company launched something it was happy to brand the iPhone 12 Pro Max …

However, the report claims that the new port will allow faster charging, which would definitely be a win, and with a choice of MagSafe and USB-C power delivery, people would be able to choose the most convenient power/charging port for their needs.

All in all, then, I’m putting this into the ‘somewhat surprising but plausible for faster charging’ category.

More ports

Personally, I’ve adapted to an all USB-C world. I absolutely love the single-cable connection between my MacBook Pro and monitor that carries power, video and data. For everything else, I mostly just swapped some cables, and in the case of a couple of hard-wired devices I just use a USB-A to USB-C adapter. For me, the fuss about ports is ancient history at this point.

But there are those who still bemoan the change, or claim they won’t upgrade their classic machines for this reason.

All the same, I would be exceedingly surprised if Apple did any major back-tracking here. I’m not expecting to see the return of USB-A ports. Some would like HDMI, but given that only a small minority of owners will use this, and it can be achieved with a single adapter, does it really make sense to add the cost and messiness of an extra port?

My view? I’m skeptical. I can 100% believe Apple might add an SD card slot (and personally I hope it does), but I find it hard to believe we’ll see more than that.

Wrap-up on the 2021 MacBook Pro reports

In summary, then, I believe the design changes; on balance, I also believe that the Touch Bar will be removed; I can be persuaded to believe in MagSafe as a faster-charging option; on ports, I can believe an SD card slot, but not more than that.

What’s your own take? Please let us know in the comments.

Image (made by combining a MacBook and iPad Pro): 9to5Mac reader Adam Ottke

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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