Last updated: 2 weeks ago
Apple introduced the MacBook Pro in February 2006 as the professional portable Mac, replacing the PowerPC G4 and ushering in the Intel era. Each generation since has added innovations to the platform, but notably, Apple's eternal march to thinness made the fourth-generation sour. These computers have always been the go-to choice for developers as the most versatile Macs available.
● Aluminum Unibody Design
● 13 or 16-inch Retina display
● M1 Apple Silicon in late-2020 model
● Magic Keyboard
● USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connectivity
● TouchBar with Touch ID
● 500 nit P3 color gamut display
● T2 Security Chip
● Pro Mode(TBA)
The MacBook Pro exists today as a mainstay for developers, artists, and other professionals. Being able to perform complex tasks such as building apps on the go is crucial to many workflows.
Even though the Mac desktop line floundered over the past decade, the MacBook line has flourished as a coveted place for professionals to work. Even now, as we see more powerful desktops emerge, such as the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro, the MacBook Pro remains, offering a less pricey professional Apple computer.
Specifications and Pricing
|13-inch MacBook Pro||1.4GHz Intel Quad-Core i5|
|8GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||256GB||$1,299|
|13-inch MacBook Pro||2.0 GHz Intel Quad-Core i5|
|16GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||1TB||$1,999|
|13-inch MacBook Pro||2.3GHz Intel Quad-Core i7|
|32GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||4TB||$3,599|
|16-inch MacBook Pro||2.6GHz Intel 6-Core i7|
|16GB||AMD Radeon Pro 5300M||512GB||$2,399|
|16-inch MacBook Pro||2.4GHz Intel 8-Core i9|
|32GB||AMD Radeon Pro 5500M|
|16-inch MacBook Pro||2.3GHz Intel 8-Core i9|
|64GB||AMD Radeon Pro 5500M|
MacBook Pro Design and Features
The first-generation MacBook Pro used the PowerBook G4 design, but the second-generation model adapted a unique unibody design. While other manufacturers have attempted to copy the iconic look, they never get all the details. All modern models have a giant glass trackpad and Touch Bar, neither of which has been reliably copied by other companies.
13-inch MacBook Pro
The models with 10th-generation Intel processors include four Thunderbolt 3 ports and start at $1,799. These can be configured to be Core i5 or Core i7 Intel processors for up to 80% faster graphics performance.
16-inch MacBook Pro
These models were last updated in 2019 with ninth-generation Intel processors. They can be configured with either Core i7 or Core i9 Intel processors and powerful dedicated AMD graphics.
Apple's professional laptop has seen a few keyboard revisions through the years, but none will ever be remembered as infamously as the butterfly keyboard. Apple attempted to reduce the thickness of the MacBook line by changing the key mechanism to a much thinner butterfly switch.
The first version of the butterfly keyboard was released with the 12-inch MacBook, which compromised on chipset speed and cooling for an ultra-thin and lightweight design. This controversial move from scissor-switches haunted the company for years afterwards.
In late 2019, Apple debuted the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a new scissor-switch mechanism, dubbed the Magic Keyboard. The move back to scissor switches has proven to be the right move, with reliability returning to pre-butterfly switch failure rates.
As of the 13-inch MacBook Pro refresh in May 2020, every MacBook sold by Apple is using the new scissor-switch keyboard.
In 2008, Apple debuted a new trackpad that users could click anywhere on the surface. This was announced alongside the new unibody enclosure and has been a staple since.
The third-generation MacBook Pro had an updated trackpad, making the surface much larger. Apple called this the Force Touch trackpad and removed the clicking mechanism, replacing it with a motor that would approximate the feeling of a click by vibrating. The trackpad would not click or operate without power to the device since there were no moving parts.
While 3D Touch has been removed from the iPhone, the MacBook trackpad still uses the Force touch system. It is unknown if this will be deprecated, but because a right-click and force click are easily distinguished gestures, it likely won't. The latest version of macOS Big Sur still has Force Touch, although the feature is not as prominent as when it was first announced.
The controversial fourth-generation MacBook Pro did more to change the keyboard than the butterfly switch; it also introduced the Touch Bar. The new OLED strip replaced the function key row entirely, and that move was not received well by users. The Touch Bar brought Touch ID with it, as well as the T1/T2 coprocessor.
The Touch Bar shows interactable buttons based on what application is open on the screen and active. Text suggestions, emoji, photo tools, and video timelines would pop up depending on what a user was doing. A still-active trick also allows users to skip over YouTube ads using the video slider on the Touch Bar.
Piling onto the controversial keyboard and Touch Bar, the ports were moved to USB-C, which was considered user-hostile by the more critical Apple fan base.
USB-C ports replaced all of the existing ports on the previous models, meaning that if any legacy peripheral did not have a USB-C cable, it would need an adapter to be used.
All USB-C connections on MacBook Pro are Thunderbolt 3 ports. This connection standard is run by a separate chipset connected to the ports and drives things like 100W power delivery and 40GB/s data transfer speeds. The 13-inch model can be configured with two or four ports, depending on the processor speed selected. All 15-inch and 16-inch models have four ports.
A display standard used across all modern Apple devices, the term Retina Display refers to a screen that can display elements at 2x pixel density and allow users to view content with no noticeable pixels at proper viewing distances. This rating changes depending on the screen size and use case. The iPhone 4, released in 2010, was the first Apple Device with a Retina Display.
In 2012, Apple introduced the third-generation model, named MacBook Pro with Retina Display. This was the first to ship with a Retina Display.
Display technology has advanced since then, now allowing high-resolution displays to render at 500 nits within the P3 color gamut. True Tone will adjust the white balance of the screen to match the color temperature of the room you're in.
Apple continues to unify its design across platforms with full-height sidebars, rounded-rectangle app icons, and control center for Mac.
Safari is updated to have better performance and battery efficiency, and it automatically tracks threats or translates pages. Messages now works similarly to the iOS version with stickers and message effects.
Big Sur also contains many under-the-hood changes to support the new Apple Silicon Macs running the M1 chip.
Mac Catalyst lets developers bring iPad apps to the Mac using tools that make the transfer easy. New tools in macOS Big Sur make it even easier for developers to move their apps across platforms. M1-equipped Macs can run iPhone and iPad apps natively, and unless their developers opt out, iPad apps are available to install from the Mac App Store on M1 Macs.
MacBook Pro history
Apple's professional laptop has seen many changes over the years, and its biggest one arrived in late 2020. The fifth-generation MacBook Pro launched in November 2020, running Apple Silicon.
There will likely be a redesigned 14-inch MacBook Pro model with a Magic Keyboard and Touch Bar coming in 2021 or later.
With Apple controlling the entire hardware and software stack in the Mac line for the first time, it means big performance gains and improved battery life. Apple says the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 chip is up to 2.8x faster with up to 5x faster graphics compared to its early-2020 Intel predecessor.
Security is also much-improved due to the nature of having new custom system architecture on the market — no malware or adware will have been made for the product yet.
The fourth-generation MacBook Pro released in October 2016, updating both the 15-inch and 13-inch models. The MacBook Pro hadn't been updated in years, and it was making pro users uneasy to see all of the attention iPad and iPhone had been getting. The updates didn't do much to quell those thoughts, considering that many felt like the changes didn't catch up to iOS.
The ultra-thin MacBook Pro needed the smallest ports available, so it came with USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. They were versatile but new to users who would need adapters or all new equipment to use the port. There was no more MagSafe, but all ports could power the laptop without the need of a proprietary cable.
However, all eyes were on the keyboard section of the new generation. Thinner keys with less space between them, a touch screen panel instead of a function row called the Touch Bar, and a giant trackpad encompassing the entire bottom of the laptop case all made this design futuristic and new. Apple also added its Touch ID technology in a button next to the Touch Bar that acted as the sleep/wake switch.
Through the years, the ports change mattered less as more users got equipment to match, but the keyboard didn't live up to Apple's hopes. April of 2018 saw a report that said the butterfly keyboard was failing up to twice as frequently as the previous generations.
Class-action lawsuits were filed, Apple updated the keyboard with membrane material to prevent foreign object ingress, and a final update to the keyboard in May 2019 changed out materials for stronger ones. Apple also announced a keyboard service program for all the affected MacBooks. These changes have seemed to reduce the need for repair of "sticky keys," but they still weren't good enough for users expecting their devices to just work.
The first revision to the fourth-generation MacBook Pro came in November 2019, and along with it a newly dubbed "Magic Keyboard." Apple brought back the scissor mechanisms, and even the physical escape key, to finally and hopefully bring the years of keyboard issues to rest.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro also featured new spec updates to bring it in line with the iMac Pro, and even increased the battery to the maximum allowed for plane travel, 100W.
In May 2020, Apple released the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with a new Magic Keyboard, faster processors, and more storage.
WWDC 2012 was more than just the usual software announcements as Apple announced the third-generation MacBook Pro as well. It was the first to have a Retina Display, Core i7 processors, USB 3.0, a second Thunderbolt port, and HDMI. To further accommodate the thinning of the laptop, MagSafe 2 was introduced, which had a thinner connector and port. FireWire 800 and Ethernet were dropped to allow for the new ports, but could still be connected via thunderbolt adapters.
This laptop also lost a lot of moving parts; the disk drive was gone and the HDD was switched to SDD. The design further removed user upgradeability by soldering in the memory and gluing in the battery.
This generation saw more significant user-facing updates than the standard memory or screen changes. In 2013, the laptops gained Thunderbolt 2, Iris graphics, 802.11ac WiFi, and the higher-end 15-inch model got additional Nvidia graphics. 4K support was added via the HDMI as well.
The 2015 update, the last before the current generation, had all of the usual speed updates, but some hardware changes too. The Force Touch trackpad was added, allowing contextual menus to be opened with a hard press.
Apple announced the second-generation MacBook Pro during a press event in October 2008. A new design, dumping the old PowerBook chassis, sported a unibody aluminum enclosure with tapered edges, like the MacBook Air. The optical drive and ports were rearranged for the new body style, ports on the left, and optical drive on the right. Ports were changed and FireWire 400 was dropped, but the FireWire 800 port remained. The DVI port was changed to a Mini DisplayPort.
This generation allowed users to change their battery out, useful for travel or switching in a spare battery. The battery only lasted about five hours on one charge.
Along with its new sleek aluminum case, a glass surface trackpad was added too. This new trackpad could be clicked anywhere, even with its larger surface area. Later updates to the line would add inertial scrolling, similar to what iOS offered.
Among the first Intel Macs, the first-generation MacBook Pro was announced in January 2006 and had a 15-inch screen. The larger 17-inch screen laptop was launched later that year in April. These were the first MacBooks to have webcams and introduced the MagSafe connector.
The move from PowerPC to Intel was much faster than anyone, even Apple, anticipated. For whatever reason though, it went without too many hitches. At launch, and subsequent updates to the line, it proved to be up to three times as fast as the PowerBook G4 it replaced.