• March 2, 2021

MacBook Pro 2021: No Touch Bar, return of MagSafe, a mini-LED display, and more

The MacBook Pro has gained a renewed lease on life since Apple outfitted it with the superb M1 chip in 2020. It seems to have an exciting future ahead of it, and with plenty of interesting rumors doing the rounds, there is a lot of debate as to what the next version of Apple’s Pro laptops might contain.

There has been a recent flurry of information, with respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and prominent reporter Mark Gurman both shedding light on an all-new 14-inch version, as well as sharing updates to the current MacBook Pro 16. We have broken down their thoughts, as well as other rumors from the industry, to summarize what you can expect from the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Here is everything you need to know, from the price and design to battery life and more.

Price and release date

When Apple last redesigned its professional laptop range with the MacBook Pro 16 in 2019, it kept the price exactly the same as that of the previous MacBook Pro 15, despite introducing a raft of new features and an overhauled design. The company did the same thing when it outfitted the MacBook Pro 13 with the brand-new M1 chip, despite the massive uptick in performance this upgrade offered.

We expect the same will be true of the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models due out this year. Apple seems to be happy with its current MacBook Pro pricing structure, and we do not expect that to change any time soon. Ultimately, that could mean more bang for your buck.

So, when might you be able to get your hands on one of these new models? The likelihood is they will be out around the middle of 2021, with Kuo expecting them to be released in the third quarter of 2021 (July 1 to September 30). Gurman offers a similar timeline, saying they should make an appearance “around the middle of the year.”

A new, squared-off design

In recent years, Apple has started to revert many of its products back to the square-edge design last seen in the iPhone SE in 2016 — first the iPad Pro and then the iPhone 12 range. According to reports, the MacBook Pro will soon join them.

Kuo believes the MacBook Pro 2021’s design will feature squared-off sides on both the top and bottom sections, rather than the slightly curved back found on the current MacBook Pro models. This may only be a minor change, as the bottom half of the existing MacBook Pro could already be thought of as “squared-off.”

Aside from that, you may be wondering if the MacBook Pro 16’s thermal architecture will make the leap across to the MacBook Pro 14. Given the superb thermal efficiency of the M1 chip in the current MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air, though, this may be entirely unnecessary — the new MacBook Air, after all, does not even need a fan, such is its chip’s ability to keep cool under pressure.

The Magic Keyboard is almost certain to remain in place — no return to the ill-fated butterfly keyboard — but there is one longtime MacBook stalwart that may finally be ditched: The Touch Bar. Ever since debuting in 2016, this touch-sensitive strip has been divisive, and it seems Apple may have finally lost patience with it rather than trying to fix it. Kuo claims the next MacBook Pro will definitely go without the Touch Bar; Gurman initially had only said that Apple has been testing Touch Bar-free models, but has recently clarified that the Touch Bar is definitely on the way out. Both analysts seem to indicate there is not much future for Apple’s OLED bar. Given how little it lived up to its potential, that may not be a bad thing.

More port variety and the return of MagSafe

Ever since the 2016 redesign that ushered in the Touch Bar and the butterfly keyboard, Apple has stuck resolutely to USB-C in its laptops — to the exclusion of all other port options. That may soon change.

Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is going to loosen the USB-C stranglehold and allow a smidgen more port variety in the 2021 MacBook Pro. We do not know the exact port layout (although USB-C will still be present), but anything that lessens our dependence on adapters and dongles is a good thing. Kuo is touting an increase in the “types of I/O” available and, tantalizingly, suggests that “most users may not need to purchase additional dongles.” Specifically, he has added that he believes the HDMI port is going to make a comeback. Gurman believes that the SD card slot is making a return for the first time since it was removed in 2016, which will certainly please photographers and videographers who otherwise would need an adapter or the cloud to transfer their work to their Mac.

The increase in port variety means an apparent return for a much-loved MacBook feature that was first ditched with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015: MagSafe. This handy tech magnetically attaches the charging cable to your Mac, meaning it quickly snaps loose if the cable gets yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from falling to the ground and getting smashed. According to industry rumors, Apple is going to reintroduce MagSafe in the 2021 MacBook Pro and have it work using a pill-shaped port, much like its old incarnation. Given how popular MagSafe was — and how much we have missed it since it was ditched — this is a welcome change of heart from Apple. There are still plenty of advantages offered by USB-C, though, so here’s hoping Apple manages to find a middle path between the two techs.

The return of MagSafe ports also means a return to a proprietary charging tech. From 2016 to the present, the MacBook Pro has charged over the common USB-C port. Although you might be worrying about whether your old USB-C charger will work with the new MagSafe-equipped MacBooks, don’t. Provided the new MacBook Pro comes with USB-C ports, you will be able to charge it up using that slot, even if it also has MagSafe.

Processor and battery life

Apple made a real splash when it released the first version of its own Apple Silicon processors, the M1, in the latest round of Macs. In our testing, they proved to be blazing fast, with the Mac Mini offering the best performance of the lot.

There is good news on that front, as the 2021 MacBook Pro models are expected to have the next generation of this chip (perhaps called the M2 or M1X). We already know from previous reporting that Apple is working on processors with upwards of 32 cores, although that chip in particular is almost certainly reserved for the Mac Pro. That said, expect the 2021 MacBook Pro models to come with more cores and more performance — the M1 was just the beginning.

A report from Bloomberg has claimed the next generation of Apple Silicon chips could feature 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. They are supposedly due out this year, meaning they could debut in the next MacBook Pro. If those chips do not quite meet the deadline, Apple might launch chips with eight or 12 high-performance cores instead. Either outcome would be an increase over the M1 and its four high-performance and four high-efficiency cores.

The processor also means good things for battery life. When we reviewed the M1 MacBook Pro, we got 21 hours of battery life in our video playback test and 16 hours during light web browsing. That is around three times the battery life of the 2020 Intel MacBook Pro. You can expect similar feats from the 2021 MacBook Pro thanks to the incredibly efficient ARM-based chip it will be using.

A brighter, higher-contrast display

Among all the MacBook Pro rumors, those concerning its display have remained some of the most interesting. Kuo has maintained for some time that Apple is working on outfitting its pro laptop with a mini-LED display. This tech crams thousands of small-scale LEDs into the screen, offering superb contrast and dynamic range without the burn-in issues that OLED displays can suffer from.

The latest reports on Apple’s MacBook Pro plans leave this mini-LED possibility open, seemingly without confirming either way whether Apple will use it. Gurman, for example, says the 2021 MacBook Pro models will have “brighter, higher-contrast panels.” This fits with what we expect from mini-LED displays without referring to them by name, so it remains to be seen what Apple will do.

What is more certain is that Apple will slim down the bezels on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, allowing for a larger 14-inch panel to fit in the same-sized chassis. This is the same approach the company took when it replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with a 16-inch model without increasing its footprint. This change will result in a more modern-looking laptop and more screen space for your work.

MacBook Pro 2021: Our wish list

Despite the extensive rumors over what might be included in the 2021 MacBook Pro, there are still a few other features that we would love to see make an appearance. These are not guaranteed but would certainly have a hugely positive impact should Apple give them the green light.

Aside from more port variety, we would like to see more ports, period. It is still possible to buy a MacBook Pro with only two ports — in fact, the four-port MacBook Pro models are limited to Intel processors, and if you want the much better M1 chips, you must accept half the number of USB-C slots. When you are paying $1,299 or more for a laptop, that is not good enough.

The second feature we would love to see is Face ID. This secure tech already works wonders on the iPhone and iPad, and it would be a welcome addition to the Mac. Imagine sitting down in front of your laptop and it automatically unlocks without you having to do anything — that is what Face ID could offer, and we know Apple is at least considering it.

However, the industry has been noticeably quiet on this of late, and neither Kuo nor Gurman mention it in their latest reports, so we think it is sadly unlikely to be a feature in the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Whether that is due to delays caused by COVID-19 or Apple’s unwillingness to add it to the Mac, we cannot say.

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