Apple’s new MacBooks are the future — and the past

After years of reinventing the wheel, Apple's back to just building really good ones.

new macbook

Apple brought back the ports.

Photo: Apple

The 2015 Pro was, by most accounts, one of the best laptops Apple ever made. It was fast and functional, and it had a great screen, a MagSafe charger, plenty of ports, a great keyboard and solid battery life. If you walked around practically any office in Silicon Valley, you'd see Pros everywhere.

Many of those users have been holding on to their increasingly old and dusty 2015 Pros, too, because right about when that computer came out was when Apple seemed to lose its way in the laptop market. It released the 12-inch MacBook, an incredibly thin and light computer that made a bunch of changes — a new keyboard and trackpad design chief among them — that eventually made their way around the rest of the MacBook lineup. Then came the Touch Bar, Apple's attempt to build an entirely new user interface into a laptop.

But on Monday, Apple gave users something neither altogether new nor altogether different: a new MacBook Pro in the spirit of that 2015 model. The new Pro comes with either a 14- or 16-inch screen. It's fast and functional, has a great screen, a MagSafe charger, plenty of ports, a great keyboard and solid battery life. Executives praised an all-new design, but the new MacBook Pro even looks quite a bit like the old model. Except for the notch in the display, where Apple put a better webcam, which is one of the few distinctly 2021-era choices the company made.

Most of Apple's launch video was dedicated to the chip inside the new laptops: the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which at least by Apple's measurements, practically lap the field of other laptop processors. A day after Intel's Pat Gelsinger announced his intentions to win back Apple's business by building "a better chip than they can build themselves," Apple made plain exactly how difficult that's going to be. In addition to the chips, Apple touted the new webcam, the ditching of the Touch Bar and the Pro's apparently excellent new battery life.

The whole thing felt like the kind of love letter to power users that Apple only offers once every few years or so. (The most recent instance came when Apple ditched the trash can Mac Pro for a better-looking machine that could actually fit on racks again.) It also made clear that Apple increasingly sees whiz-bang innovation as beside the point on devices like these.

The pandemic has brought new life to the PC market, with millions of people needing a way to work from the couch, the bedroom or the garage. Tim Cook said that the past year has been the Mac's "best year ever." While Microsoft continues to try to build multi-hyphenate devices out of its Surface lineup — Chief Product Officer Panos Panay often refers to supporting "the five senses of input," including touch, voice, keyboard, mouse and pen — Apple is content to let the iPad be its shapeshifter. The Mac line, if anything, is going back to basics: They're meant to be central hubs for other devices to connect to and borrow from. They are devices for pros to work on, and those pros don't want wacky new ideas about input or new keyboard designs. They want computers that work.

Thanks to the M1 chip, Apple also doesn't need to build devices that do everything. The M1 is a unifying factor, one that could over time break down many of the barriers between iPad and Mac. Already, Craig Federighi said, there are 10,000 universal apps that run on both operating systems. Going forward, users might choose their device based on personal preference and work style instead of feature list. Those who like touch and portability will choose iPads; those who want power will choose Macs. (Even in the MacBook line, the Air is the portable one and the Pro the powerful one, and that line is much clearer than before.) And if you want it all? Apple's happy to sell you two devices that work together.

The new devices were heavily leaked, and going into Monday's event there was more anticipation around the tech industry than typical for a laptop refresh. After Apple finished announcing the new devices, the response seemed to be nearly unanimous: finally. After years of trying things, Apple had gone back to giving the people what they want.

Except for the notch. The people aren't sure if they wanted that yet.

Policy

Google is wooing a coalition of civil rights allies. It’s working.

The tech giant is adept at winning friends even when it’s not trying to immediately influence people.

A map display of Washington lines the floor next to the elevators at the Google office in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Google has faced intensifying pressure from policymakers in recent years, it’s founded trade associations, hired a roster of former top government officials and sometimes spent more than $20 million annually on federal lobbying.

But the company has also become famous in Washington for nurturing less clearly mercenary ties. It has long funded the work of laissez-faire economists who now defend it against antitrust charges, for instance. It’s making inroads with traditional business associations that once pummeled it on policy, and also supports think tanks and advocacy groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.

Workplace

Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Entertainment

Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Workplace

This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories
Bulletins