Apple introduced a new M1 MacBook Pro in November of 2020, but the new model didn't include any design changes. That's going to change in 2021, with rumors suggesting Apple has a major MacBook Pro design refresh in the works.
The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models that are coming in 2021 will feature the most significant design overhaul to the MacBook Pro line that we've seen since 2016, and the updated machines will also address complaints that users have had with the MacBook Pro for years by bringing back older features that include MagSafe, more ports, and physical function keys.
Apple has both updated 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in the works. The 14-inch model will replace the current 13.3-inch model, while the 16-inch model will replace the existing 16-inch version that's available.
For the revamped 14-inch model, it's likely that the overall casing size will remain similar to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, with the increase in display size coming largely from a reduction in the top and side bezels of the machine.
There may be a slight increase in physical size, however. When Apple transitioned from the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro to the 16.1-inch MacBook Pro, the physical sizing went from 13.75 x 9.48 inches to 14.09 x 9.68 inches, and we could see something similar with the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Both of the new models that are coming are expected to feature some notable design changes. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the new MacBook Pro models will feature a flat-edged design that's "similar to the iPhone 12," with no curved edges like current models.
Gurman has corroborated Kuo's report, but his information suggests that the flat-edged design may not be too much of a deviation from the current design. He says that the upgraded models will "look similar" to current models, but will feature "minor design changes," so we'll need to wait to see just how significant these changes to the overall design turn out to be.
The updated MacBook Pro models will use the same heat pipe design used by the current 16-inch MacBook Pro model. Apple revamped the thermal system of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, increasing the size of the heat pipe, adding thermal pads, and increasing the size of the heat sink by 35 percent.
This new thermal system will allow for increased computing power thanks to improved airflow and heat management, which bodes well for the performance of the Apple silicon chips that are expected to be included.
Even if the chassis updates are more minor in scale than Kuo has made them out to be, there are other tweaks in the works that will make the 2021 refresh a major update. Kuo believes Apple is going to add additional ports to the MacBook Pro models, though he has not specified which ports these might be.
Apple in 2016 rolled out a new MacBook Pro design that did away with all ports except for USB-C ports and the 3.5mm headphone jack, but 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.
The next-generation MacBook Pro models are expected to feature an SD card reader as one of the ports that will be added, providing an easier way for people to transfer photos captured with cameras, drones, and other similar devices.
Given Apple's emphasis on USB-C and the slim design of the MacBook Pro lineup, it's not likely we're going to see the return of USB-A, but Kuo has said that the new machines will have enough ports so most users "may not need to purchase additional dongles."
Along with additional ports, the new machines are expected to bring MagSafe back to the Mac lineup. MagSafe connectors were used for MacBook Pro models from 2006 to 2016, when Apple replaced the MagSafe connector with a USB-C port, but now it looks like we're returning to a MagSafe design.
Both Kuo and Gurman expect the new MacBook Pro models to be equipped with MagSafe for charging purposes, with the MagSafe charging port to be distinct from the other included USB-C ports.
MagSafe in the new MacBook Pro models is expected to be similar to the MagSafe 2 connectors and ports used prior to 2016, which allowed for a quick-release magnetic connection that prevented damage to the computer and the cable when the cord was yanked.
The MagSafe charging functionality is expected to allow for faster charging speeds than are available with USB-C, and given that Apple is swapping over to a new charging technology, we can expect the forthcoming MacBook Pro models to ship with a MagSafe charging cable and accompanying power adapter.
No Touch Bar
Apple introduced a Touch Bar in the 2016 Macs, providing a small OLED display where physical function keys used to be located. Apple had grand plans for the Touch Bar and envisioned it being an adaptable mini-display that offered customizable controls and different functions on a per-app basis, but the Touch Bar never seemed to catch on with consumers.
Kuo says that the Touch Bar will be removed in the 2021 MacBook Pro models and will be replaced with physical function keys. Gurman has confirmed that Apple has tested versions of the MacBook Pro that do not have a Touch Bar.
Gurman believes the new MacBook Pro models will feature display improvements in the form of "brighter, higher-contrast panels," and in past rumors, Kuo has suggested the updated machines will be the first Macs with mini-LED displays, marking a significant improvement in display quality.
Given that Kuo made no mention of mini-LED technology in his most recent report, it is possible that the feature has been delayed until a later date. In spite of this, a recent report from DigiTimes has suggested that the new MacBook Pro models will indeed feature mini-LED displays, and it is a technology introduced in the 2021 iPad Pro models.
If Apple does transition to mini-LED for the 2021 MacBook Pro models, the displays could use somewhere around 10,000 LEDs, each one under 200 microns in size. Mini-LED technology will allow for a thinner and lighter design, while offering many OLED-like benefits such as improved wide color gamut, high contrast and dynamic range, and truer blacks.
MacRumors in June discovered evidence of the new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in a Chinese regulatory database. Apple supplier Sunwoda Electronic shared filings for two batteries that appear to be appropriate for use in future MacBook Pro models.
The first, designed for a 16-inch machine, features an identifier of A2527 and is rate at 8,693 mAh/11.45V, which is similar to the 8,790 mAh/11.36V battery in the current 16-inch MacBook Pro. This suggests no raw battery life gains for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but the Apple silicon chip is likely to introduce improvements.
The second, designed for what's likely a 14-inch MacBook Pro, features a model identifier of A2519. The battery is rated for 6,068 mAh at 11.47V, which is a bit higher than the 5,103 mAh battery in the current 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the chassis for the 14-inch machine will likely leave room for a larger battery.
The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro already has an M1 chip, and in 2021, all new MacBook Pro models will gain Apple silicon chips. Apple is not expected to release MacBook Pro models with Intel chips, phasing Intel chips out of the notebook line entirely.
The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models will have upgraded Apple silicon chips with a 10-core CPU that features eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient cores, along with 16-core or 32-core GPU options.
The next-generation Apple silicon chip destined for new MacBook Pro models will support up to 64GB of RAM, up from the current 16GB supported by the M1 chip. The new chip will also enable additional Thunderbolt ports.
Schematics that hackers stole from Apple supplier Quanta Computer confirm Apple's plans to add additional ports to the MacBook Pro and reintroduce MagSafe.
The plans display the logic board of the MacBook Pro. On the right side of the machine, there's an HDMI port accompanied by a USB-C/Thunderbolt port and followed by an SD Card reader. The left side features two additional USB-C/Thunderbolt ports and a MagSafe charging slot, for a total of three USB-C/Thunderbolt ports instead of four as we have today.
The codename for the Mac is "J316," which suggests that the logic board that we've seen is for the 16-inch MacBook Pro. There's also a "J314" model that likely correlates to the 14-inch MacBook Pro that Apple is also rumored to be working on. Both machines are expected to feature the new ports, MagSafe charging option, and upgraded Apple silicon chips.
The new MacBook Pro models are expected to enter production in the second half of 2021 and launch in the third quarter, with shipments on track to begin in the third quarter. The launch of new MacBook Pro models is expected to result in record Mac shipments for 2021.
Leaker Jon Prosser claimed that we would see the new MacBook Pro models unveiled at WWDC, but this prediction was never backed up by a more reliable source and turned out to be inaccurate. We're now expecting MacBook Pro models sometime in the fall.
DigiTimes has suggested that a shortage of mini-LED components delayed production of the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. Apple originally planned to start production in the second quarter of 2021, but it has been pushed into the third quarter. DigiTimes in May also said that the mini-LED MacBook Pro models could be delayed until 2022, but it's not likely that this is accurate as all other information points to a 2021 launch.