On Rumors Of The 2021 Macs


This is a very special time for Apple’s product lineup.

They are, so far, following their playbook on how to complete a processor transition. Part One of their transition to Apple Silicon is over: they have announced their first computers without Intel chips, starting with the most popular products1, with the same design as their Intel counterparts.

According to the rumors, 2021 will bring Phase Two: Bring Apple Silicon to more products in the lineup, introducing brand-new designs that were previously not possible2.

MacBook Pro

From MingChi Kuo:

The new chassis design is said to feature squared-off sides in both the top and bottom halves of the machine […] along with more built-in IO ports that mean most users will not need to purchase additional dongles

The MacBook Pro has, since 2008, featured flat sides that taper above and below, a trick to appear slimmer than it really is. In terms of iOS device shapes, this is most similar to the original iPad. Apple Silicon could allow them to make a notebook as thin as it ever has to be.

The line about ports sure is bizarrely phrased.

From Bloomberg:

The new laptops are planned to come in two screen sizes, a 14-inch model […] and a 16-inch version
Apple is also planning to step up the displays in its new MacBook Pros with brighter, higher-contrast panels A major change to the new computers will be how they charge. […] the company is now bringing back MagSafe In developing its next set of Mac laptops, Apple has also tested versions that remove the Touch Bar from its laptop keyboards.

Improvements to displays are always welcome. They are already the very best in the industry, pushing the limits of what you can get out of an LED panel. MacBook Pros sold today already have the P3 wide color gamut. Could technology from the Pro Display XDR trickle down to a prosumer notebook? Perhaps the 10-bit color depth. Considering the graphical prowess of the M1, and assuming whatever processor coming to these MacBook Pros is even more powerful, there would be plenty of headroom for a higher screen refresh rate—if not 120 Hz, perhaps 90 Hz.

As convenient as MagSafe is for notebook computers, I would be disappointed if Apple diverged from yet another industry charging standard, especially a standard they have been using since 2016. People like having the same cable charge all their things. People like how the ports on both sides of their MacBook Pro means they can plug it in from the left or right depending on where they are. I think it would be a net functional loss.

I missed the Touch Bar train with my 2015 MacBook Pro. I will be a little disappointed if it is true that Apple would rather remove it than double down on improving it. Its biggest problems amongst reviewers include the removal of the Escape key, which has been fixed; the display is not always-on, which could be fixed if it adopted the same technology used in the Apple Watch; and the software doesn’t take advantage of its full potential, which they obviously have the power to change. Understandably, third-party support is lacking, but that should not be a death wish—imagine if they redesigned the Touch Bar does to mirror Control Center. Every switch or slider in Control Center is a button on the Touch Bar, and it’s always on.

At least if the Touch Bar is gone I won’t feel like I’m missing out when I buy a desktop Mac.

MacBook Air

Basically a footnote in the same Bloomberg article:

Apple is also planning a redesigned MacBook Air, but that is not expected to be released until long after the next MacBook Pros.

The MacBook Air, being their best-selling Mac, is the most important to take slow steps forward on. Give it Apple silicon, but in the same case, so as not to spook the general public. Let the other Macs get flashy new designs first. Don’t do anything drastic (…again).

Mac Pro

Also from Bloomberg:

Apple is also working on a pair of new Mac Pro desktop computers, its priciest Mac machines that don’t come with a screen included, the people said. One version is a direct update to the current Mac Pro and will continue to use the same design as the version launched in 2019. Apple has discussed continuing to use Intel processors for that model rather than moving to its own chips.
The second version, however, will use Apple’s own processors and be less than half the size of the current Mac Pro.

I thought, after the iMac updated in August, Apple would be done introducing new Intel Macs—their announcement of the chip transition in the summer would have been the end of Intel, except for one more Mac left in the production pipeline two months out. But of all Macs, the Mac Pro would certainly be the most likely to receive one last Intel update. Intel’s Xeons update behind all their i3, i5, i7 and i9 lineup. Second, the Mac Pro’s audience of industry professionals bought into the Mac Pro as a long-term modular platform with independently upgradable parts, so Apple should provide for them at least one parts upgrade.

More intriguing than that is the prospect of the Mac Pro getting an Apple Silicon update. They may have finally made the right chip architecture to make the miniature desktop Pro Mac they’ve tried and failed miserably at not once but twice. Of course the Apple silicon version of the Mac Pro would be half the size—not out of novelty, not as a special one-off—when you take out the giant array of fans, because it doesn’t need as much cooling; take out the MPX modules, because Apple silicon doesn’t support AMD graphics cards; and take out the memory slots, because all the memory is built into the chip itself; that case will be awfully empty. You don’t need to engineer it to be small, it becomes a smaller machine of its own volition. Fingers crossed this simplified production with fewer parts will lower the cost within grasp of a prosumer like myself.

iMac

Continued from above:

The new models will slim down the thick black borders around the screen and do away with the sizable metal chin area in favor of a design similar to Apple’s Pro Display XDR monitor. These iMacs will have a flat back, moving away from the curved rear of the current iMac.

The design from 2012 was only a redesign to the back half—the face of the iMac has been identical since 2009 and similar since 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller bezels mean the Apple logo is absent from the face of the iMac. If true, it would be the first iMac (nay, the first all-in-one desktop Macintosh) without it.

Amateur Display XDR

As part of its revived Mac desktop efforts, Apple has started early development of a lower-priced external monitor to sell alongside the Pro Display XDR.
The cheaper monitor would feature a screen geared more for consumer than professional use and wouldn’t have the brightness and contrast ratio of the top-tier offering.

All they have to do to make people like me happy is take the same exact same display panel that goes in the Retina 5K iMac and put it in a smaller case without the computer inside it. They could even sell it for the exact same price as a Retina 5K iMac and it would still be a good value (…but don’t get any ideas). Sign me up.

Footnotes

  1. And the Mac Mini.
  2. As a prospective Mac buyer sometime this year or next, I have been following these rumors with very close attention.