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 has added innovations to the platform, but notably, Apple's eternal march to thinness led to a fourth-generation model that soured on some customers. 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 13-inch model
● Magic Keyboard
● USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connectivity
● Touch Bar with Touch ID
● 500 nit P3 color gamut display
● T2 Security Chip
● Pro Mode (TBA)
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The MacBook Pro exists today as a mainstay for developers, artists, and other professionals. Being able to perform demanding tasks on the go is crucial to many workflows, and Apple's pro-level notebook caters to these use cases.
Even though the Mac desktop line floundered during the 2010s, the MacBook line 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.
MacBook Pro Design and Features
Since the second-generation model, Apple has given the MacBook Pro an aluminum unibody design. However, the finer details of the aluminum build have evolved through the years, including adding a Touch Bar, switching to Thunderbolt 3 ports, and becoming much lighter and thinner.
All modern versions of the notebook have a large glass trackpad, Magic Keyboard, and Touch Bar.
13-inch MacBook Pro
The Intel models include four Thunderbolt 3 ports and start at $1,799. These can be configured as Core i5 or Core i7 Intel processors for up to 80% faster graphics performance.
16-inch MacBook Pro
Apple last updated these models in 2019 with ninth-generation Intel processors. Users can 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 were as problematic 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 company launched the first version of the butterfly keyboard with the 12-inch MacBook. That now-retired notebook sacrificed processing power for an ultra-thin and lightweight design, including a keyboard mechanism that prioritized thinness over travel distance and reliability. The controversial butterfly-switch move led to numerous issues, including stuck, crooked, or unresponsive keys. The company eventually started a warranty program to service MacBooks with the problematic keys.
In late 2019, Apple debuted a 16-inch model with a new scissor-switch mechanism. Apple called it the Magic Keyboard, with keys resembling those on Apple's desktop keyboard of the same name. The move back to scissor switches has returned MacBook keyboards to pre-butterfly failure rates.
After Apple updated the 13-inch model with the new keys in May 2020, every Apple notebook now uses the updated scissor-switch mechanism.
In 2008, Apple debuted a new trackpad that users could click anywhere on the surface. Prior to that, trackpads had included left-click and right-click buttons underneath the touch-cursor portion.
The third-generation MacBook Pro included an updated trackpad with a larger surface and pressure-sensitive haptics. Called the Force Touch trackpad, it replaced the mechanical clicking hinge with a haptic motor that approximates a click through vibration. The trackpad doesn't click or operate without power since it has no moving parts.
3D Touch was an iPhone feature that popped up extra software options when applying pressure with a click. While Apple removed this from the iPhone, the MacBook trackpad still uses the Mac's equivalent Force touch system. The latest version of macOS Big Sur still has Force Touch, although the feature isn't as prominent as when it first launched.
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, leading to many user complaints. The Touch Bar brought Touch ID with it, as well as the T1/T2 coprocessor.
The Touch Bar shows shortcut buttons based on the Mac's open and active application. Text suggestions, emoji, photo tools, and video timelines pop up depending on what a user is doing. A still-active trick also allows users to skip over YouTube ads using the video slider on the Touch Bar.
In addition to the controversial keyboard and Touch Bar, Apple changed the notebook's ports in the 2016 refresh. They moved to USB-C, with which some vocal customers were none too pleased. With USB-C ports replaced all of the existing ports on the previous models, any legacy peripheral without a USB-C cable required an adapter.
All USB-C connections on Apple's pro notebook are Thunderbolt 3 ports. A separate chipset runs this connection standard, driving things like 100W power delivery and 40GB/s data transfer speeds. Apple offers 13-inch models with two or four ports, depending on the processor speed selected. All 15-inch and 16-inch models have four ports.
A standard used across all modern Apple devices, "Retina display" refers to a screen that you can view without noticeable pixels at typical 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. The iPad and MacBook Pro followed in 2012, with other devices catching up in the following years.
Display technology has advanced since then, now allowing high-resolution displays to render at 500 nits within the P3 color gamut. True Tone adjusts the screen's white balance to match the room's color temperature, and Apple also includes anti-reflective coatings to minimize glare. All of these technologies are present in the latest MacBook Pro models.
macOS is the standard operating system for all Mac computers. The latest version, released in 2020, is MacOS Big Sur. It brings an iOS-influenced system design with rounded corners and transparent toolbars.
Apple continues to unify its design across platforms with full-height sidebars, rounded-square 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. Apart from numerous apps whose developers have opted out, iPad and iPhone 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 one of the biggest arrived in late 2020. The fifth-generation MacBook Pro launched in November, running Apple Silicon. The machine abandons Intel processors in favor of Apple's ARM-based custom chip.
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 yet been spotted for the product.
There will likely be a redesigned 14-inch MacBook Pro model with a Magic Keyboard and Touch Bar coming in 2021 or later.
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 some pro users voiced their uneasiness about Apple's attention discrepancy between rapidly advancing mobile devices and the stagnating Mac. However, the machine's significant 2016 updates proved more controversial than widely embraced.
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 for a proprietary cable.
However, all eyes were on the new generation's keyboard, which had carried over from the 12-inch MacBook. Thinner keys with a butterfly mechanism and less space between them, a touch screen panel instead of a function row, and a giant trackpad 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 USB accessories 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 at up to twice the rate of 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 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. This 16-inch model also included new spec updates to bring it in line with the iMac Pro and increased the battery to the maximum allowed for plane travel, 100W.
In May 2020, Apple released a 13-inch update with a new Magic Keyboard, faster processors, and more storage.
At WWDC 2012, Apple announced a third-generation "MacBook Pro with Retina display." As its name implies, it was the first Apple notebook with a high-resolution screen. It also added Core i7 processors, USB 3.0, a second Thunderbolt port, and HDMI. To further accommodate the thinning of the laptop, Apple added MagSafe 2, which had a thinner connector and port. FireWire 800 and Ethernet were dropped to allow for the new ports, but users could still connect them via thunderbolt adapters.
This laptop also lost some moving parts. Apple dropped the disk drive and switched the hard drive to a solid-state drive. 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, included all of the usual speed updates, along with some hardware changes. That generation marked the Force Touch trackpad's debut, making for quieter and softer clicks and allowing for deep-press-triggered contextual menus.
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. Apple changed ports and dropped FireWire 400, but the FireWire 800 port remained. The update also changed the DVI port to a Mini DisplayPort.
This generation allowed users to change their battery out, useful for travel or switching in a spare. Given that the battery only lasted about five hours on one charge, buying an extra allowed the device to last closer to a full day.
Along with its new sleek aluminum case, Apple added a glass surface trackpad. Users could click the new trackpad anywhere, an upgrade over designated buttons below on the first-generation trackpad. Later updates to the line added inertial scrolling, similar to what iOS offered.
Among the first Intel Macs, the first-generation MacBook Pro arrived in January 2006 with a 15-inch screen. Apple launched a larger 17-inch variant in April. These were the first MacBooks with webcams. They also introduced the MagSafe connector.
The move from PowerPC to Intel was much faster than anyone, even Apple, had anticipated. The process went without too many hitches, and it proved to be up to three times as fast as the PowerBook G4 it replaced.
Specifications and Pricing
|13-inch MacBook Pro||8-core M1||8GB||8-core M1||256GB||$1,299|
|13-inch MacBook Pro||2.0 GHz Intel Quad-Core i5|
|16GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||512GB||$1,799|
|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|