Laptops Remain Workhorses Of Personal Computing; Will The Next MacBook Pro Measure Up? – The ‘Book Mystique

Conventional wisdom advises that with Apple all but certain to launch new MacBooks later this month, this is not a good time to pop for a new Apple notebook. I don’t entirely disagree. While it indubitably makes good sense to wait and see what Apple unveils in a week or two, there is a case to be made for taking advantage of any remaindered clearance deals on current new MacBooks if they are adequate for the tasking you will be putting them to.

Also, current notebooks may also have features that are likely to be dropped from the new offerings. I’m thinking particularly of the MagSafe power connector that will be a probable casualty of the transition to USB-C, as is already the case with the 12-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Being sort of in the hunt for a laptop upgrade myself, I will be especially interested to see what sort of keyboard Apple ships in new, rumored to be slimmer, MacBook Pros, and whether the MacBook Air gets to live on with some significant upgrading.

If Apple chooses to put the so-called “butterfly” key switch keyboards from the 12 inch MacBook in the new MacBook Pro, at least without some major reengineering to make it suitable for longform typing, that will rule out the new models for me, probably convincing me to go with a remaindered or Apple certified refurbished current generation MacBook Pro or to buy another MacBook Air, or even just stick with what I’ve got for another year or two.

A professional grade laptop needs a professional grade keyboard. HP has demonstrated with the 13.3-inch Spectre that top-tier keyboard action and feel are possible in ultrathin notebook. The Spectre is actually even thinner than the 12-inch MacBook (0.41″ vs the Apple machine’s 0.52″). The poor excuse for a keyboard in the 12–inch MacBook amounts to one of Apple’s all-time worst engineering failures.

However, for some reason, input devices have never been among Apple’s best efforts. I’ve never used an Apple mouse I really liked, and Apple laptop keyboards have largely been indifferent over the years — usually not great but not awful with a few exceptions. In my estimation the best were the excellent keyboards in the 1998 WallStreet, 1999 Lombard, and 2000 Pismo G3 PowerBooks, and the 1997 PowerBook 1400. The ‘chiclet’  ‘boards in the current MacBook Pro and MacBook Air merit honorable mention. The one in the 12-inch MacBook does not.

Speaking of the MacBook Air, I’ve been so happy with my mid-2013 Air that an updated version with a faster Skylake CPU, a USB-C port (but please leave the MagSafe),and perhaps Touch ID, would be quite appealing.

The MacBook Pro, which hasn’t had a complete do-over since 2012 is overdue for a major redesign, and if the rumor mills are halfway accurate it’s going to get one with a new ultrathin form factor along the lines of the 12-inch MacBook. The CPU will likely be Intel’s Skylake rather than the latest Kaby Lake Core iteration that’s now shipping in some Windows PCs, and a discrete graphics processor unit available at least on higher-end models.

Scuttlebutt also suggests that all heritage I/O and video ports and the MagSafe port, alas, plus the SD Card slot will be gone — replaced by four USB-C ports, which may or may not be considered progress, depending on how you look at it. The standard 3.5-inch headphone jack is said to have survived this cut.

Widely rumored is a completely new feature in the form of a touch-sensitive OLED strip positioned above the keyboard to replace the traditional laptop function keys. It sounds a bit gimmicky, but may actually turn out to be a brilliant innovation, so I’ll reserve judgment until I have a better idea of what it is and can do. I like and use function keys extensively, so my verdict will be partly based on how well those tasks are executed by the touch strip.

Other rumored tweaks include Touch ID in the power button for logging onto the system and to support Apple Pay for purchases made online.

Whatever is unveiled, it will provide us with more insight into the direction Apple is headed with its laptop roadmap for the next few years. Laptops have a future. What else? Apparently not tablets, although they will have their place. I love my iPad, but I still need a MacBook, and simply can’t see large screen phones being able to replace laptops as the workhorses of personal computing.

That’s one reason the comfortable keyboard issue is, well, key. A workhorse computer needs a workhorse keyboard.


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