With new Apple Silicon Macs expected before the end of 2020, it's time to say Intel that long. While the first of the new-era MacBook Pro is likely to be a relatively minor update that swaps out the processor and little else, rumors have been rumored that Apple has something much more interesting in the works.
According to industry whispers, Apple is planning to release a 14-inch MacBook Pro that will completely redesign the company's smallest Pro laptop. Much like how the MacBook Pro 16 replaced the MacBook Pro 15, downsizing its bezels, and introducing a plethora of welcome new features, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is expected to do the same for the MacBook Pro 13. Here is everything we hope to see in this exciting update.
Price and release date
Throughout the summer, rumors pointed to a 14-inch MacBook Pro release date in late 2020 or early 2021. As the year progressed, those expectations shifted to the latter of the two options. For one thing, we know that Apple likes to play it safe and only release new technologies when the time is right. With a shift as significant as the transition to its own processors, there's a good chance Apple will take it step-by-step and roll out the new processors first before radically overhauling any of its most popular Macs.
Analysts and leaks are also signaling a release date of 2021. For example, respected industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple's first Mac on its own platform could be a 13-inch MacBook Air or a 13-inch MacBook Pro. If Apple actually launched an Apple Silicon MacBook Pro 13 in late 2020, it would certainly give the device some time to breathe before the 13-inch model is completely phased out. Leaker L0vetodream – which was perfectly accurate in the past – has also snuck in, expecting the 14-inch MacBook Pro to hit the market in 2021.
The price remains largely unknown. When Apple launched the MacBook Pro 16 with its numerous design changes and new functions, it managed to keep the price at the same level as the MacBook Pro 15. We hope the MacBook Pro 14 keeps the same starting price of $ 1,299 as the MacBook Pro 13. However, don't be surprised if the price goes up – as we detail below, the mini-LED display that the MacBook Pro 14 is expected to be very expensive indeed.
A brand new screen size
The most obvious change we're expecting is the new display size. However, this does not affect the space required by the device. By making the frames smaller, Apple can give the laptop a bigger screen in the same case. Don't expect the bezels to be as small as some of the other best laptops, but they would be an improvement on the current design. The change would also bring the MacBook Pro range closer together: instead of having two variants with significantly different designs, the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models would look much more similar.
What else could we see related to the ad? Well, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is also said to come with a new mini-LED screen, a display technology that can compete with OLED screens on other laptops, but which doesn't have the burn-in issues that OLED displays can suffer from from. This technology contains far more LEDs than conventional displays – estimated to be up to 10,000 – for brilliant brightness and extraordinary colors. However, it is expected to be very expensive. So prepare for a possible sticker shock.
Apple Silicon: The engine room of the MacBook Pro 14
Here's something worth betting on: The MacBook Pro 14 comes with an Apple Silicon processor. How can we be so sure? After all, Apple said at its global developer conference that Macs with Intel chips were still in the pipeline.
Think of it this way: If you're Apple and you're completely redesigning one of your most popular Macs with a completely new design and feature set, would you really run it on a processor that you're publicly moving away from? That would be a nod to the past, and from Apple's point of view, the MacBook Pro 14 is all about the future.
So what can we expect from Apple's own ARM-based processors? The company's goal is to combine exceptional performance with radically low power consumption – something ARM-based chips such as the Apple Silicon series are already known for. According to Bloomberg, Apple wasn't bluffing. Reporters claim that the first Apple silicon processors will have eight high-performance cores and at least four energy-efficient cores. The company is working on 12-core versions for the future. This would be a huge step forward over the current Intel offerings on Apple's Macs. The entry-level MacBook Air, for example, has a dual-core chip.
As for performance, we've already got some insights thanks to leaked benchmarks. For example, early benchmarks shortly after WWDC in June 2020 showed that Apple silicon chips outperform Microsoft's own ARM-based processors. Even more impressive was that Apple's processors ran in an emulated environment, on software that was not optimized for Apple Silicon, and on a beta version of the MacOS operating system. In other words, it outperformed Microsoft's efforts, despite numerous hurdles to overcome. When we finally see Apple Silicon running natively, it will be something different in terms of performance.
Better battery life
For a few years now, the battery life in Apple's MacBook Pro models has been okay. This is another area where we want serious improvements as the MacBook Pro 13 is struggling to keep up with its competitors in this department. The 2016 model reduced the battery capacity from 74.9 watt hours to 49.2 watt hours. Although this was increased to 58 watt-hours in 2018, it still lags far behind alternatives like the 13-inch Surface Book 2, which lasted a whopping 17 hours in our video playback test.
Fortunately, Apple eliminated this worrying trend with the MacBook Pro 16. This device has a slightly thicker case compared to its thermal architecture, but the increased dimensions also allow for a much larger battery. It's the largest ever in a MacBook, and it hits the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maximum of 100 watt-hours for taking laptops on airplanes.
We expect more good news to come thanks to Apple Silicon. As mentioned earlier, ARM-based chips are known for their excellent efficiency. This extends battery life beyond what its competitors can achieve. Since the processor uses less power than before and still performs well, Apple may not need to increase the battery capacity of its smallest MacBook Pro at all. This would potentially leave more space in the device for other components without affecting battery life.
A superior keyboard
It's no secret that Apple's butterfly keyboard was unpopular. Numerous reports of their high failure rate have followed them over the years. The company has been trying to fix its problems with every new MacBook Pro since 2016. In the end, however, it had to be replaced by a newly developed “Magic Keyboard” in the MacBook Pro 16. This keyboard feels more conventional, with 1mm of travel, more space between each key, an inverted T-shaped set of arrow keys, and even a physical escape key.
We're almost certain that this keyboard will be available for the MacBook Pro 14. The reception of the new set of buttons was almost entirely positive. Our review hailed it as "the best Mac keyboard ever released" and a step above the excellent keyboard on the 2015 MacBook Pro. Apple seemed to take this to heart and redesigned the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13 with the same keyboard. So we would be surprised if the MacBook Pro 14 didn't catch up.
There is only one small caveat: Apple has publicly stated that it is still working on the butterfly keyboard. There's a lot of talk about the company being resurrecting the previously abandoned 12-inch MacBook that likely comes with the butterfly keyboard to keep it ridiculously thin and light.
A brand new cooling system
The MacBook Pro 16 was slightly thicker than its 15-inch predecessor – just 0.03 inches thicker, to be precise – but that increase allowed for an extremely important change: an entirely new thermal architecture.
In our test, we found the results to be amazing. Using the same processor as the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 16-inch version managed to render a 4K clip in Premiere Pro in half the time of its predecessor. This is a dramatic example of what the new thermal system is capable of, and suggests that the throttling problems of the past could be well behind the MacBook Pro.
Bringing this cooling system to the MacBook Pro 14 would have obvious benefits. Not only does this allow for better processor performance by keeping the device's chip cool under pressure, it also helps to reduce the impact on battery life. Anything that can last several hours in a portable laptop is encouraging in our book.
Of course, the 14-inch version may not require a cooling system overhaul on the scale of the MacBook Pro 16 if Apple Silicon is as efficient as Apple promises. That said, we'd expect some sort of update to the cooling system – Apple likes to innovate whenever possible for every device in a lineup – and we certainly have no complaints about that.
What else do we want to see?
Laptops aren't usually known for their speakers, but the MacBook Pro 16 is a notable exception. Our review found it to have "by far the best speakers you can find on a laptop". We'd love it if Apple outfitted the MacBook Pro 14 with the same incredible audio setup.
Elsewhere, we're disappointed that even years after its death, Apple hasn't released a USB-C version of MagSafe. Clever charging technology has prevented countless laptops from being thrown on the floor as they are plugged in, and their absence is painfully overlooked. We know it is possible – Griffin Technology has a USB-C equivalent called itApple has patented a similar idea since 2016. We'd love to see Apple adapt MagSafe for the USB-C MacBook Pro 14.
On the subject of USB-C, we would be happy to have more ports. Right now, the two cheapest MacBook Pro 13 models only have two Thunderbolt 3 ports each, and you'll have to spend more than $ 1,799 if you want four. Since the purpose of a laptop is to be a mobile workstation that can connect to whatever device you need anywhere you work, two ports are just not enough these days. If Apple were to equip the entry-level MacBook Pro 14 with four USB-C ports, it would be a step in the right direction.
Other additions to our wish list include facial recognition, an improved touch bar and a few more color options. Given the major overhaul of the 14-inch MacBook Pro, we see a good chance that at least some of them will come our way when the device hits the shelves.