The new Macbook Pro 13: Product over Performance?

They have finally ditched the error-prone butterfly keyboard, but other than that, why has Apple made so few changes to their compact pro level device? Well, there may be more to this than meets the eye.

It looks good, just like the old Macbook 13… oh wait. Credit: Apple

Apple announced today the latest version of its Macbook Pro 13-inch notebook, following weeks of rampant speculation. Would it do away with the hefty bezels? Would it feature a 14-inch screen? New design? Could we even get an ARM infrastructure?

Well as it turns out, the latest iteration of the small but mighty Mac was more or less a simple refresh, much like the 13-inch Air released earlier this year. Gone is the shallow touch and temperamental butterfly keyboard in favour of a more traditional scissor switch (dubbed “magic” because it actually works). Internally, the base storage is doubled to 256gb (no complaints here) and the processor is bumped up to the current Intel Ice Lake 10th generation. Kind of.

You see, you can get the 10th gen CPU with its improved Iris graphics, along with 4 Thunderbolt ports and updated DDR4 RAM, if you cough up a minimum of $1799.99/£1799.99/ A$2999.99 for the model that supports these features. If you are a mere mortal and want the entry-level model at $1299.99/£1299.99/A$1999.99 however, you will be lumbered with the now 2 year old 8th gen processors, as well as 2 less Thunderbolt ports and DDR3 RAM. Nice one Apple.

The Magic Keyboard is in, but unless you want to spend a lot more, that may be the only upgrade for you. Credit: Apple

It’s not the first time Apple have done something like this. Back in 2015 the Macbook Pro was launched with 2-year old processors, but the notebook market was very different then from what it is today. In 2015 Apple was the one stop shop for powerful, thin and stylish notebooks, and whilst they did get heat at the time, anything Apple was still going to be a fast, well-optimised experience even with out-of-date components. Don’t like it? Well go and get a brick of a Thinkpad from Lenovo, and that doesn’t even come with Garage Band.

Nowadays though, Apple isn’t the only player in town. The Dell XPS line up has arguably been the best powerful, thin and light experience for a couple of years now, with HP and Lenovo producing some great compact and 2-in-1 devices from the budget space right up to high-end, high-spec machines. Not only that, but the eternal benefit of Windows laptops is the sheer quantity of choice. Don’t like the XPS carbon fibre design? What about a Lenovo sleek aluminium body? Not a fan of the HP Envy’s screen ratio? The Microsoft Surface 3 has a fantastic 3:2 touchscreen. Yes you have to run Windows like the rabble do, but even Microsoft’s software has come a long way since then as well.

This is isn’t even taking into account raw power. Mac OS is well optimised and a snappy experience, but even in these great apps processing speed is bound by the components. Macs have always had some temperature considerations with their thin chassis, and it’s no secret that Mac CPUs can be restricted by their thermal limitations. The fact is, if video editing and/or other heavy duty tasks are required, it’s inevitable that somewhere a Windows laptop will be able to do it faster. This is only becoming a more common occurrence as AMD Ryzen’s 4000 series CPUs are dominating test benches left right and centre, with almost desktop level H and HS series chips which can be found in laptops as small as the 14 inch Asus G14.

14 inch, 1.6kg, a crazy powerful CPU and an RTX graphics card? The G14 may be the Pro that Apple didn’t give us. Credit: Asus

So given then that the notebook market is the most competitive it’s ever been, we have to ask what exactly was behind Apple’s decision here? They must have known that there would be some reaction to releasing a model of a device labelled “Pro” with out-of-date parts? Perhaps, but like with a lot of Apple’s seemingly bizarre product choices, we believe that there are some shenanigans involved.

When Apple released its $700 wheels for its Mac Pro desktop, the world (rightly) scoffed at the idea that anyone in their right mind would pay that much for desktop wheels. Although a high spec Mac Pro may cost as much as a car, you can’t actually drive it, so why does it need the wheels anyway? It’s not as though people move their desktops much. Maybe Apple did sell a few, but that was never really the point.

The point is, it gets people, the media and most importantly the internet talking. All of a sudden a product which, let’s be honest, only a handful of people will actually buy in earnest, is attracting the attention of millions who may otherwise be entirely uninterested. Let’s all laugh about these $700 wheels! I mean, you could buy an Ipad and an Iphone SE for that money! Oh the Iphone SE actually looks quite good, let me just take a look at this review video… I don’t really need a new phone but it looks so good in red… and the price is quite reasonable really -compared to the wheels.

Whether they make sense or not, Apple have a way of making us talk about their products. Credit: Apple

So though not quite as deliberate or as bewildering, the Macbook Not-so-Pro 13 with its 8th generation processor has a similar effect within Apple’s own notebook lineup. Many are talking about the 8th gen version, and comparing it to other devices that make much more sense. Why would I buy the 8th gen version, if it’s out of date? I would be much better off splashing out 40% more on the 10th gen, it has more ports, better RAM… I would be a fool not to! Can’t afford it? Well there is a shiny Macbook Air with 10th gen processors that has also just been refreshed, and it’s actually not a bad deal at that price. Need the power? Well Apple do give the option of an entry-level model – old processors or not, it’s undeniably there.

The 8th gen Macbook Pro 13 may not be the product that Apple is really pushing here. Yes it is possible that the older processor is a stock issue, or maybe there is a change coming in the not too distant future and this is a stop-gap product. But either way, by introducing this model, which some people may actually buy, Apple is also creating a bit of differentiation in their product line. You want the real Macbook Pro? Well that’s going to be $1799.99, going right the way up to nearly $4000 for the balls-to-the-wall version with an i7, 32gb of RAM and 4tb of SSD storage.

All being said, the improvements made to the 10th gen version are welcome, and though it is more expensive than its closest competitors, the price hike is likely not enough to deter consumers who want the latest Pro device. It’s a shame though. With the reduction in starting price and general improvements to the Macbook Air, as well as crowd-pleasing changes to the Macbook Pro 16, we were hoping for something a little more impressive for the 13-inch variant. If you were waiting for something really special, you may have to hold out until 2021 for the ARM-based devices rumoured to be in Apple’s development labs as we speak.

Would you still be tempted to get the 8th gen model? Or does the idea of spending big bucks on last-gen tech make it a 10th gen Pro or nothing decision? Let us know in the comments below.

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