Buyer's Guide: Don't Buy a MacBook Pro Now
New MacBook Pro models are expected to arrive later this year with some of the biggest improvements to the product line to date, including some surprising changes, so now is not the best time to buy a new MacBook Pro.
With major upgrades expected to key features such as the chipset, display, Touch Bar, charging, ports, and design, customers eyeing a new MacBook Pro may be better off waiting for updated models to arrive later this year.
Most of the reliable rumors surrounding the new MacBook Pros are sourced from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who have established reputations for providing accurate insights into Apple's plans. Based on their reports, the 2021 MacBook Pro lineup is currently expected to feature:
- New 14-inch model in place of current 13.3-inch model, facilitated by reduced bezels.
- New, flatter design, said to be "similar to the iPhone 12."
- More powerful next-generation Apple Silicon chips with up to 16 power cores and four efficiency cores instead of Intel processors.
- Potentially a custom Apple Silicon GPU with 16 or 32-cores.
- Updated thermal design for the 14-inch model, currently used by the existing 16-inch MacBook Pro, with a larger heat pipe, added thermal pads, and a 35 percent larger heat sink.
- "Brighter, higher-contrast" display panels, with the possibility of a mini-LED option.
- Additional ports to reduce need for dongles, including an SD card reader and an HDMI port.
- MagSafe connector with faster charging speeds.
- No Touch Bar, with physical function key row instead.
The 2021 MacBook Pros are expected to come in 14 and 16-inch sizes, with the new 14-inch model replacing the current 13.3-inch model. It is likely that the 14-inch MacBook Pro will retain a very similar footprint to the 13.3-inch model by reducing the bezels around the screen.
Both models are expected to receive a flat-edged design that is "similar to the iPhone 12." While it is possible that the overall look may still be quite similar to current models as Gurman suggests, Kuo says that Apple will eliminate the slight curvature on the top and the bottom, resulting in a slimmer, flatter appearance.
Following the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, which gained an M1 chip in November last year, all 2021 MacBook Pro models are expected to sport Apple Silicon chips, with Intel processors being phased out entirely, to deliver significantly better performance and power efficiency.
The higher-end MacBook Pro models are highly likely to feature Apple Silicon chips that are more powerful than the M1, and Apple is believed to be developing options with as many as 16 power cores and four efficiency cores. Apple is also working on custom GPU technology with 16 and 32-core options, which may be used in the new MacBook Pros.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro is believed to adopt the improved thermals of the current 16-inch MacBook Pro model, with a larger heat pipe, added thermal pads, and a 35 percent larger heat sink. This would likely increase the machine's performance potential and allow it to run at cooler temperatures.
The MacBook Pro is expected to receive a "brighter, higher-contrast" display panel. In addition, there have been multiple suggestions that the updated machines will be the first Macs to feature mini-LED displays, marking a significant improvement in display quality, with an improved wide color gamut, higher contrast and dynamic range, and truer blacks.
Apple is also expected to backtrack on several of its controversial design decisions that were first made with the 2016 MacBook Pro. For example, the 2021 models will reportedly gain more ports to reduce the need for dongles. Prior models from 2012 to 2015 included a MagSafe connector, Thunderbolt ports, USB-A ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, before being reduced to just four USB-C ports and a headphone jack in 2016.
Likely in addition to its current selection of USB-C ports, Gurman has said that the SD card reader will be among the restored features. Kuo has since supported this, saying that the SD card reader will be returning, alongside an HDMI port.
MagSafe charging is also expected to return to the MacBook Pro this year. MagSafe connectors were used for MacBook Pro models from 2006, allowing users to easily connect and disconnect the power cable with magnets, before eliminating the feature for USB-C charging alone in 2016.
Both Kuo and Gurman expect the new MacBook Pro models to be equipped with a MagSafe connector for charging, which is also expected to achieve faster charging speeds than via USB-C.
Finally, Apple is looking to remove the Touch Bar and restore the physical function key row. Apple introduced the Touch Bar on the 2016 MacBook Pros, providing a small OLED touchscreen strip along the top of the keyboard to offer customizable controls and different functions on a per-app basis, but the Touch Bar never seemed to catch on with consumers.
Gurman has confirmed that Apple has tested versions of the MacBook Pro that do not have a Touch Bar, and Kuo has gone one step further, saying that the Touch Bar will be removed entirely on the 2021 MacBook Pro models, to be replaced by physical function keys.
What About the M1 MacBook Pro or Air?
In November last year, Apple revealed a 13-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Apple Silicon chip, so some customers may feel compelled to buy this fairly new MacBook Pro now. However, it is important to note that this model is the lower-end MacBook Pro, indicated by the fact that it has only two Thunderbolt ports. Apple still offers high-end four-port MacBook Pros with Intel processors, and it is these more powerful machines that are expected to be updated this year.
The M1 MacBook Air is very similar to the M1 MacBook Pro in both features and performance so should be considered if you are looking to buy a machine right now.
Multiple sources have placed the new MacBook Pro's launch timeframe in the second half of 2021, with Kuo zoning in on the third quarter of 2021. This means that we could see the updated MacBook Pros arrive as soon as July.
MacBook Pro customers can therefore expect to have to wait just five to seven months for the new models. Considering the scale of the update, which looks to drastically affect almost every aspect of the MacBook Pro, it certainly seems to be worth the wait.