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.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

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FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
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Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

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Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

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Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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