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.

Protocol | Fintech

Crypto wallet maker Ledger gears up for battle with Dorsey’s Block

CEO Pascal Gauthier wishes Block’s CEO were still distracted with Twitter, but he’s still gunning for the big opportunity in securely stashing customers’ coins.

Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier talked about Ledger’s strategy in an interview with Protocol.

Photo: Ledger

Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier reacted with an odd mix of excitement and fear to news that Jack Dorsey was leaving Twitter to focus full-time on Square.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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Suneet Dua, PwC
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Protocol | Fintech

A legal brawl failed to uncover bitcoin’s fabled creator

Is Craig Wright Satoshi Nakamoto? A trial didn’t lead to an answer.

Craig Wright has claimed to be the creator of bitcoin.

Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for CoinGeek

A legal battle was supposed to answer the biggest question in crypto: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Well, that didn’t exactly happen. The identity of bitcoin’s fabled creator remains a mystery, despite high hopes that an unusual civil suit would lead to Nakamoto’s unmasking.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Snap CTO Bobby Murphy on embracing Apple’s AR glasses

Snap is building its own AR Spectacles, but the company also wants to embrace third-party devices.

Bobby Murphy wants Snap’s AR lenses to run everywhere — even on hardware made by competitors.

Photo: Getty Images for Snap Inc

Snap is all in on AR: The Snapchat maker has been building its own AR glasses, and is currently testing an early version with a small group of creators. Snap has also signed up 250,000 creators to build mobile-centric AR experiences through its Lens Studio platform, whose lenses have collectively been viewed over 3.5 trillion times.

Snap celebrated those milestones at its Lens Fest Tuesday, which the company also used to release a number of updates for both mobile and headworn AR. Snap CTO Bobby Murphy recently put that work in context in an interview with Protocol, in which he talked about the company’s progress in building AR Spectacles, why it isn’t focused on non-AR wearables anymore and why it ultimately also wants to build apps and experiences for AR devices made by its competitors.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Discord launches paid channel memberships

The company’s new subscription tiers effectively broaden the creator economy to include people managing communities.

Select Discord server creators can start charging membership fees as part of a new pilot program.

Image: Discord

Creating and managing successful communities can be a lot of work. Now, Discord wants to make sure that the people doing this on its platform can also reap some rewards: The company launched a pilot program for premium memberships Tuesday that allows community creators to put parts or all of their servers behind a paywall.

“We want to make sure that running communities on Discord is more sustainable,” said Discord Engineering Director Sumeet Vaidya in an interview with Protocol.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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