The summer is a time for rejuvenation, don’t you think? A time to reflect on what’s important and what can be let go. That applies also to Apple’s laptop line, which on Tuesday got a midsummer refresh. It involves shuffles and spec bumps big and small, but mostly: If you need a MacBook Pro, hope you like the Touch Bar.
The Touch Bar, first introduced in 2016, had already subsumed most of the MacBook Pro line. But until now, the entry-level, 13-inch MBP retained physical function keys. Its status as a holdout earned it an unofficial nickname: MacBook Escape, after the key that the Touch Bar had banished. No longer! Apple has now outfitted its least expensive MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar and Touch ID, meaning MBP buyers henceforth must resign themselves to a thin OLED strip at the top row of their keyboards. That, or get shopping in the refurb aisle.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; it didn’t make sense for Apple to have such a glaring feature imbalance in its MBP line. But it might come as a disappointment, especially for those who have dismissed the Touch Bar as nothing but a gimmick. In practice, it’s at least unlikely to make your daily MacBook Pro experience actively worse. And having ready access to Touch ID on your keyboard is a genuine boon.
Meanwhile, while Apple says it has fixed its butterfly-switch keyboard woes, there’s a possibility that the company will revert to a more reliable scissor-switch version in the not so distant future; it might make sense to see how that plays out before committing to this generation of laptops. Apple will reportedly include these latest MacBooks in its free keyboard repair program, which on the one hand is great, but on the other doesn’t inspire much confidence that they won’t continue to get jammed up.
The new base level MacBook Pro features less immediately obvious changes as well. It gets an overdue spec bump to Intel’s latest 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 chip, along with a True Tone display, which dials the color temperature up or down automatically depending on the ambient light. It starts at $1,300, or $1,200 for college students.
For those who can’t be bothered with a Touch Bar: Apple’s MacBook Air persists. In a wee spec bump, it also gets a True Tone display, and a $100 price cut. The Air now starts at $1,100, or $1,000 for college students.
As part of the reshuffling, Apple has also laid the 12-inch MacBook to rest. First introduced in 2015, the MacBook was ultralight, had a single USB-C port, and came in a flashy rose gold colorway. It was innovative and gorgeous, as far as laptops go, but it was never quite clear who it was for. When Apple finally recommitted to the MacBook Air last year, the MacBook became not just aimless but also largely redundant. If you find yourself feeling the loss deeply, Apple’s refurbished section is once again here in your time of need.
If there’s any major takeaway from these relatively minor announcements, it’s that Apple’s computer lineup finally makes some sort of sense. MacBook Pro means more power and a Touch Bar. Thin and light means MacBook Air. Simple enough! The permutations and chaff have fallen away. Focus and clarity and tying up lose ends. What else is summer for?