The new MacBook Pro: Why did Apple backtrack on everything?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited November 16
Apple's new models of MacBook Pro have detoured away from the trend of becoming lighter and more minimal, and toward being thicker, heavier, and packed with more connection options. Why did Apple change course?

The Touch Bar is no longer on the MacBook Pro.
The Touch Bar is no longer on the MacBook Pro.


The latest MacBook Pro models have reversed many of the decisions Apple made with the design and functionality of the 2016 version, much to the delight of its users.

Gone is the Touch Bar, replaced by a row of full-sized function keys and a dedicated Touch ID button on the right-hand side.





Apple's decision to pare down the ports to a selection of Thunderbolt connections has also been partially reversed, with the inclusion of a full-sized HDMI port and an updated version of MagSafe. There's even an SD card slot, saving users from needing to carry around a separate card reader.

The designers didn't stop there, either. The new design is slightly thicker and heavier than in previous iterations. Those are two designs strategies that, in days gone by, would be seen as the antithesis of all for which Apple stands.

The new ports on the MacBook Pro include HDMI and an SD card slot.
The new ports on the MacBook Pro include HDMI and an SD card slot.


But we're not dreaming. The new 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro have ushered in a new design language and a satisfying return to form for professional use.

So, why has Apple seemingly backtracked on pretty much everything?

Goodbye, Sir Jony

It's hard to ignore the impact Jony Ive had on Apple's return to fortune. Arguably, Steve Jobs couldn't have brought his company back from the brink of bankruptcy without Ive's influence.

He gave us the iPhone, iPad, and countless other industrial designs, all of which combine beauty with function and long-lasting durability.

But Ive didn't always get it right with the numerous design decisions needed to produce each and every Apple product.

Former Apple design chief Jony Ive (right) with CEO Tim Cook
Former Apple design chief Jony Ive (right) with CEO Tim Cook


There was a relentless desire to make laptops and smartphones as thin as possible. This resulted in ports and headphone jacks being removed, forcing more users into adopting dongles and carrying adapters around that they previously didn't need.

The pursuit of thinness also helped create some of the company's most undesirable headlines when it comes to the infamous butterfly keyboard.

Ive's influence on the 2016 MacBook Pro redesign will spark debate for many years to come, but the notebook still sold by the bucketload. It's just a shame that so many professional users felt short-changed with the minimal port selection and the aesthetic.

The new M1 Pro and M1 Max-powered MacBooks Pro have been almost universally regarded as the redesign those users and hobbyists have been hoping for.

Whether or not their timing matched that of Ive's departure from Apple is anyone's guess.

Apple has clearly been listening

The return of the SD card slot is likely to please plenty of mobile video editors and photographers, who no longer have to carry around an SD card reader in their bag.

MagSafe's triumphant return will also delight its army of fans, who have spent the past few years worrying about inadvertently knocking their USB-C-attached MacBook Pro from the table to the floor with a single tug of the cable by an errant foot or a rushing dog.

MagSafe has returned to the MacBook Pro port lineup.
MagSafe has returned to the MacBook Pro port lineup.


But, there's one addition to the new MacBook Pro which reveals just how closely Apple has been listening to its critics: the HDMI port.

There's nothing worse than sitting in an important meeting with your MacBook Pro and realizing that you can't connect it to the projector to present your report. A direct connection isn't likely in the vast majority of office spaces, who are used to hooking up video cables to notebook ports, and probably won't have accommodations in place for the Thunderbolt-only MacBook Pro lineup.

Dongle anxiety is something that has plagued MacBook owners since 2016. Therefore, the sudden reappearance of a full-sized HDMI port on the new version will spare many theoretical blushes.

The thing is, complaints like these rarely make headlines. A missing HDMI port will always be trumped in complaints by the outcry over a terrible keyboard or Touch Bar irritations. The fact Apple has reneged on this feature reveals that the company is looking beyond the headlines and is listening closer than perhaps any of us thought.

Somehow, the grumbles about HDMI ports made their way to key stakeholders at Apple Park -- maybe they'd had enough of the lack of useful ports themselves. This is great news for consumers and professionals: Apple is actually listening.

It's a great time to be a Mac user right now. Apple Silicon has already made a sizable dent in the universe, and Apple is acutely aware of the fact.

That's why it backtracked on practically everything with the new MacBook Pro. There's no room for anything to get in the way of users for what are barnstorming professional computers.

Where to buy

Apple's 2021 MacBook Pro line is discounted heavily exclusively for AppleInsider readers, with the latest deals at your fingertips in our Mac Price Guide.

In addition to savings on the systems themselves, you can also take advantage of deals on AppleCare and special financing incentives. At the time of this review, Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama is knocking $100 to $200 off 14-inch and 16-inch models in addition to $60 to $80 off AppleCare with this cost-saving activation link and promo code APINSIDER (step-by-step activation instructions can be found here).

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 162
    why did fiat backtrack with the 500, why did Mini backtrack, why did Nokia relaunched the 3210... and so on and so forth. if you use the new MBP you'll understand: it's all about giving the users what they were asking for, as well as a feeling of comfort with something they missed (not only the ports - but the aptic as well) when you touch something "retro", you get back memories, emotions. design is not only "backtracking" it's reviving memories too. Personally, totally impressed by how fantastic the device is, feels and even more WORKS! a beast! 
    killroywatto_cobradocno42
  • Reply 2 of 162
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,788member
    Yeah, as great as a designer as he is, Jony started to sacrifice too much utility and durability at the altar of form.  (Much like Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings and houses looked great and innovative but were prone to structural and water damage.)  Jony's departure was timely.  He was probably getting bored too as there is only so much designing one can do on thin rectangular bricks.
    williamlondonkillroyelijahgwatto_cobramazda 3sbaconstangirelandtechconc
  • Reply 3 of 162
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 2,055member
    By adding MagSafe,HDMI, and the card reader back Apple insured success because many like I have held out upgrading.   

    Of course this also leaves open the question if Apple will ever go to touch screens now that they dropped POS TouchBar (touchID is great).
    williamlondonkillroyelijahgnarwhal
  • Reply 4 of 162
    Apple is returning the proper role of computer. Personal computer debuted as a device that every one can create things on it without being a computer scientist to understand how to use it. This is the dawn of information age and culture. There are four waves of information culture. We are in the third wave. The first wave is digitizing information on personal computer. Personal computer allows the whole world bring their culture on the computer. Apple made laptops so people can carry computer around. Apple tried to reduce its size and weight to make it more portable. The second wave is sharing information. It consists of two stages. In the first stage, internet was invented. People using computer to exchange information through email and accessing web sites counting information. In the second stage, Steve Jobs invented iPhone as a smartphone and telecommunications industry changed their network to allow digital information to be transmitted together with voice. The iPhone revolutionized information sharing. It becomes possible for everyone to be connected to the whole world at anytime in the day. This is the time Apple forgot the mission of personal computer: to create digital information. It is still concentrated on minimizing laptops. Luckily Apple regained its mission in the Apple Silicon and MacBook Pro 14 and 16.
    williamlondonGeorgeBMacAlex_V
  • Reply 5 of 162
    [...] the mission of personal computer: to create digital information.
    Sez who?   
    watto_cobratundraboybeowulfschmidtdocno42
  • Reply 6 of 162
    M68000M68000 Posts: 379member
    Just saw one of these come into my office the other day for setup.   Yes,  it’s great to have the SD card back.  Most people into photography\videography like myself are happy to have it back.   The hdmi is handy too.   I prefer the wedge shape and lighter weight of the Air, which is my laptop of choice.  But,  good to see the pro model gets these ports.  I do have to complain about the notch.  May be to early to be sure,  but my reaction to looking at it the first time is that it’s an abomination.  Who cares about a tiny bit of extra screen space it gives?   Yes, tricks can be used to hide it, like dark mode.  But why should users have to hide something that should not even be there?  The notch is one thing that I doubt will be copied by the windows laptops.  So,  the rumor is Apple is going to ruin the Air laptops with this too?  May be time to get the current Air while I still can.
    williamlondondewme
  • Reply 7 of 162
    It’s all a matter of preferences, and mostly the new MBPs give more options. I never use HDMI (airplay, or Zoom screen share) but happy to see the Touch Bar go. My biggest regret so far is the MagSafe connector: they should not have made it a power connector only but a full Thunderbolt / usbc so that we can still rely on a single cable for power + screen. We can still use the other ports for that but this makes the MagSafe useless. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 162
    "Its a great time to be a Mac user right now" is damn right! Interesting how Ive's departure combined with Apple being a LoveFrom client gives both sides plausible deniablity. No one person in or out of Apple can be a target for any single design decision now.
    watto_cobraAlex_V
  • Reply 9 of 162
    dk49dk49 Posts: 185member
    feketesas said:
    why did fiat backtrack with the 500, why did Mini backtrack, why did Nokia relaunched the 3210... and so on and so forth. if you use the new MBP you'll understand: it's all about giving the users what they were asking for, as well as a feeling of comfort with something they missed (not only the ports - but the aptic as well) when you touch something "retro", you get back memories, emotions. design is not only "backtracking" it's reviving memories too. Personally, totally impressed by how fantastic the device is, feels and even more WORKS! a beast! 
    "it's all about giving the users what they were asking for" - not really. It's also about Jony Ive's departure from Apple.
    williamlondonelijahg
  • Reply 10 of 162
    While i agree on the fact that new design is more pro and less design oriented, i would like to stress the fact that the discussion about ports is fake and the position that the 2016 mac book pro had less ports is a myth. I had a Mac Book Pro 2011; had it more ports ? Well, actually not. It just had two usb ports. Yes, it had an Ethernet port, of absolutely no use unless you had a cabled network. I hadn’t. Yes, it had a Firewire port; it was legacy already, never used it. It had a displayport connection, very useful to people using an external screen. Not me. Well, but at least you could connect it with a single cable to a dock, so you could charge it, connect to studio HD and audio interface ? No way. While some Windows computer had some expensive docking option, no Mac had one. Si, essentially, just two usb port. Yes, i used the display port a couple of times, in three years. So yes, the Mac Book Pro 2019 that i owns today have 4 physical ports, but being them multipurpose, i can use them in a lot of different situations. The new Mac Pro, if you are on batteries (or use a Usb C or Thunderbolt screen) have exactly one port less of my 2019 Mac Book Pro. Happily, it has three Thunderbolt controllers, so more bandwidth for more docks and dongles. Essentially, stop believing the trolls that online press helped diffuse, and look ti real life use cases. Some gains, a lot not.
    mcdavedewmechiamattinozwatto_cobraAlex_V
  • Reply 11 of 162
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,823member
    k2kw said:
    By adding MagSafe,HDMI, and the card reader back Apple insured success because many like I have held out upgrading.   

    Of course this also leaves open the question if Apple will ever go to touch screens now that they dropped POS TouchBar (touchID is great).
    I don't get the attraction of having a touch-screen Mac.  While I've been waiting to buy one of the new MacBooks, I've been using a MS Surface borrowed from my company which converted from a keyboard to a touchscreen and frankly, the touchscreen abilities on Windows is just downright horrible.  MacOS (in addition to Windows) is horrible to use with a touch interface.  That's what iOS and iPadOS is for.  

    I'd much rather Apple continue perfecting MacOS, then to throw resources to hack in a touch interface.  
    williamlondonjas99chiarobabawatto_cobraqwerty52roundaboutnowAlex_V
  • Reply 12 of 162
    k2kw said:
    By adding MagSafe,HDMI, and the card reader back Apple insured success because many like I have held out upgrading.   

    Of course this also leaves open the question if Apple will ever go to touch screens now that they dropped POS TouchBar (touchID is great).
    Touch screen does not make creating information or browsing information more efficient. That is a task that should be left with iPads. I saw a video that said iPad is a very good accessory to the new MacBook Pros. 
    williamlondonjas99watto_cobraqwerty52Alex_V
  • Reply 13 of 162
    BigBWSRBigBWSR Posts: 4unconfirmed, member
    I wonder if it’s really just that with the new M1 Soc they have more thermal budget and physical space to work with so they saw an opportunity to add the ports back in.
    edited November 14 jas99chasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 162
    I don’t get the whole DongleLife rebellion. I’m thrilled by every measure the new options, but I’ve never cared about carrying a dongle, especially since there are so many multipurpose options available. Though the return of MagSafe is a great relief.

    As for touch screen: if it were an option I didn’t have to select, fine - offer it. I personally can’t stand touchscreen laptops—fingerprints. And with the new nanotexture screens, it would be a disaster, screen cleaning those is already a nightmare for care.

    I’m happy to see no one gripping about cost. I used my 2012 MBP Retina until my iPad took over 90% it’s functions. The 2012 beast still works, but just not fast enough for the graphics I do. My point is, the ROI on the MBP has been amazing. I expect that these new ones will also see a great lifespan. Not only that, but I suspect that  will update the SOC M chips far more often than they did with Intel.

    These are good times to be a MBP user.
    edited November 14 williamlondonchasmwatto_cobraqwerty52Alex_V
  • Reply 15 of 162
    I’m sure many will disagree but frankly I hate the new MacBooks. 
    I haven’t missed HDMI, or SD cards at all, in fact the addition on them takes away from practicability as everything I use is usb c/thunderbolt due to how convenient it is. I’ll now need an adaptors because of the removal of the forth thunderbolt port, which is bloody annoying. For those wondering my usb c/thunderbolt setup daisychained whilst travelling or working from home looks like; power and/or external monitor, external ssd, 10g Ethernet, iPhone charging, iPad tethering/external screen, Jabra dongle for audio or usb c headphones if in a high RF interference area plus charge  - I could use Bluetooth but loose functionality, charge mouse, usb c to displayport (this daisychains unlike hdmi) for external video, GoPro connection, osmo gimbal charge,  Logitech external webcam, so I’m short everything is usb c / thunderbolt which daisychains - with enough power, removing a port and making the device thicker doesn’t help with my mobility and yes I could remove the sdxc card from the GoPro get an sd adaptor and use that and yes I could get a hdmi cable and change the routing so my monitors don’t pass through my external drive but for what? This is a step backwards to legacy ports for people stuck in the past and not wanting to change in my opinion but aware the masses disagree and I’m likely proven wrong.
    Hard to say about the notch until I use one but I like having the screen space and not needing to use it than not have it in the first place. People would likely say the same with ports but this has impacted on the size and thunderbolt ports so becomes an issue for me. 
    TouchBar I’ll miss but didn’t use it overly heavily so can understand it’s removal but it was great for improving my workflows. 

    williamlondonjas99chasmchasmchiaaustinc
  • Reply 16 of 162
    I was shocked to see the new MacBook Pro. It really looks fat. Heavy. 
    williamlondonM68000jas99dk49austincdoggone
  • Reply 17 of 162
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,723member
    I have the original M1 MBA with two USB4 ports and a headphone jack. This is perfect for 70% of laptop users (my gut feeling). My sister-in-law got an M1 iMac to replace her really old one. She doesn’t require any extra ports just a USB port to run her embroidery machine. I’d say 90% of the people visiting AI don’t fit this use case which is why too many of you are b*** and moaning. I don’t really need the power of the latest MBPs but managing large Mac systems is what I used to do so it’s tough to not want the highest powered Mac. 

    As for going backwards, that’s a matter of opinion. Because hit-rod Intel is no longer under the hood, Apple can bring back all kinds of ports because there’s room again. Intel Mac laptops needed every cubic centimeter for batteries and fans not to mention large RAM sticks and HDD/SSDs. Apple is now free to expand features, including ports, because of everything they got rid of. 

    Come on AI readers, the glass is overflowing not half empty!
    JWSCwatto_cobraqwerty52PShimiAlex_Vdocno42urahara
  • Reply 18 of 162
    M68000M68000 Posts: 379member
    I was shocked to see the new MacBook Pro. It really looks fat. Heavy. 
    It is.  For anybody who likes to travel, the 14 inch seems better and the 16 inch looks to be one pound heavier in weight.  I’d do the 14 inch if I was considering one.
  • Reply 19 of 162
    rob53 said:
    I have the original M1 MBA with two USB4 ports and a headphone jack. This is perfect for 70% of laptop users (my gut feeling). My sister-in-law got an M1 iMac to replace her really old one. She doesn’t require any extra ports just a USB port to run her embroidery machine. I’d say 90% of the people visiting AI don’t fit this use case which is why too many of you are b*** and moaning. I don’t really need the power of the latest MBPs but managing large Mac systems is what I used to do so it’s tough to not want the highest powered Mac. 

    As for going backwards, that’s a matter of opinion. Because hit-rod Intel is no longer under the hood, Apple can bring back all kinds of ports because there’s room again. Intel Mac laptops needed every cubic centimeter for batteries and fans not to mention large RAM sticks and HDD/SSDs. Apple is now free to expand features, including ports, because of everything they got rid of. 

    Come on AI readers, the glass is overflowing not half empty!
    You don't know Apple is trying to attract Windows users and prevent Mac users from switching. I have seen Windows user use HDMI port to connect to HDTV. Without HDMI, these people will never consider using a Mac. 
    Alex_Vireland
  • Reply 20 of 162
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 1,133member
    Maurizio said:
    While i agree on the fact that new design is more pro and less design oriented, i would like to stress the fact that the discussion about ports is fake and the position that the 2016 mac book pro had less ports is a myth. I had a Mac Book Pro 2011; had it more ports ? Well, actually not. It just had two usb ports. Yes, it had an Ethernet port, of absolutely no use unless you had a cabled network. I hadn’t. Yes, it had a Firewire port; it was legacy already, never used it. It had a displayport connection, very useful to people using an external screen. Not me. Well, but at least you could connect it with a single cable to a dock, so you could charge it, connect to studio HD and audio interface ? No way. While some Windows computer had some expensive docking option, no Mac had one. Si, essentially, just two usb port. Yes, i used the display port a couple of times, in three years. So yes, the Mac Book Pro 2019 that i owns today have 4 physical ports, but being them multipurpose, i can use them in a lot of different situations. The new Mac Pro, if you are on batteries (or use a Usb C or Thunderbolt screen) have exactly one port less of my 2019 Mac Book Pro. Happily, it has three Thunderbolt controllers, so more bandwidth for more docks and dongles. Essentially, stop believing the trolls that online press helped diffuse, and look ti real life use cases. Some gains, a lot not.
    Come to think about it, though, this is trying to be a “win-win”: yes some legacy ports for convenience but that’s about it.  We won’t going back to Type-A & multiple video ports just for the sake of it.  It’s still a primarily a Thunderbolt notebook, and should stay that way.

    Yes, people over-exaggerated port situations on older models, a lot of laptops back then comes with four USB port.
    williamlondonchiawatto_cobra
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