The long wait for a MacBook Pro refresh appears to be nearing an end, if the latest rumors are correct.
The new MacBook Pros expected to launch this fall will feature a Touch ID power button and a touch-sensitive OLED strip that will replace the physical function keys on the keyboard, both 9to5 Mac and Bloomberg reported this week.
The strip reportedly will bring up functions appropriate to the application that’s in use. For example, it may display media playback controls when a user opens iTunes. It also might display editing commands, such as cut and paste, when a word processing program is running.
The strip may allow Apple to add new buttons through software updates rather than hardware refreshes.
“If you’re a new user or a younger or more flexible and adaptable person, you’d think [the strip’s] great,” said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.
“Media playback controls when iTunes is open… editing commands during word processing… I can see kids catching fire with this,” she told TechNewsWorld.
However, “there’s still that not-so-silent contingent of traditionalists out there who want to remain with the status quo,” DiDio cautioned.
Still, “you have to constantly reinvent yourself as a vendor,” she said.
The new MacBook Pros will be slightly thinner than current models, and have a smaller footprint, according to Bloomberg’s report.
The thinner form factor is generating interest, DiDio said. “You might see some people bringing the new MacBook Pros with them on the road.”
The possibility that Apple will bring Touch ID fingerprint technology to the MacBook Pro line also would be well received, she suggested.
The new MacBook Pros will use one of AMD’s “Polaris graphics cards, which are more than 20 percent thinner than predecessors, and will include USB C ports, according to Bloomberg.
That is significant, DiDio said, and “it’s good for AMD.”
Time Is Right
Apple last refreshed the MacBook Pro in December 2013.
“I think the MacBook lineup in general is due for a major refresh,” remarked Linn Huang, a research director at IDC.
“That’s not to say that the products are bad in any way, shape or form,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Apple’s still a leader in design and, of course, [OS X] keeps their lineup insulated from the rest of the PC market,” Huang noted. “However, Apple cannot afford to have their lineup get stale, given that the other PC OEMs are rapidly closing the gap, if not outright exceeding Apple in design leadership.”
Dell and HP both have launched “fantastically designed ultra-slim notebooks in the last couple of years,” he pointed out, “and, of course, there’s much exciting innovation occurring between the lines as tablets and PC form factors emerge.”
One idea that has gained some traction is that Apple is refreshing the MacBook Pro line to offset falling iPad sales.
“I’m not sure that’s Apple’s intention, given that the two categories exist in different stratospheres,” Huang said.
“The new iPad Pro line is Apple’s intended shot at reinvigorating iPad refreshes,” he remarked. “I just think the MacBook look and feel hasn’t evolved much as of late, and is due for a major update.”
Apple’s Overall Strategy
The MacBook Pro refresh — assuming the reports are accurate — would suggest “we’re into the Tim Cook years, driven by pragmatic business decisions rather than the flash and genius that we came to know from Steve Jobs,” suggested ITIC’s DiDio. “Even Steve Jobs couldn’t be Steve Jobs every quarter and come out with the next big thing.”
Apple “had a run of eight quarters of consecutive strong year-over-year growth of its MacBook lineup starting in Q4 2013,” Huang pointed out. “After an underwhelming Q4 2015 holiday and what will now be two disastrous quarters to open 2016, perhaps Apple feels the pressure to make that update now.”