Computer

MacBook Pro 2020: Everything you need to know about Apple’s next laptops

With the MacBook Pro 16-inch receiving rave reviews, Apple-made Arm processors on the horizon, and even a dual-screen MacBook apparently in the works, these are exciting times for fans of Apple’s laptops.

That’s doubly so with the MacBook Pro, where a lot of Apple’s high-end development takes place. And with the new decade upon us, there’s plenty to look forward to this year — so what exactly should you expect from the MacBook Pro in 2020?

Price and release date

At this stage, exact release dates are a matter of speculation, but some clues have started to become clear as to when the next MacBook Pro could launch. We were expecting an Apple event on March 31 where Apple was to launch a new MacBook Pro 13, but the coronavirus outbreak stopped that.

According to industry analyst Jon Prosser, we’ll still get the products that were due to launch at this event, via press releases instead of at a glitzy show. Prosser was proved at least partially correct when Apple did just that for the new MacBook Air and iPad Pro. When will the next MacBook Pro update come?

Well, most sources say there are actually two updates in the works. The first is a smaller update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which could be scheduled for this spring. Prosser says the refresh could come in April 2020, though he recently restated that it could come in May. Prosser has also claimed the larger 14-inch MacBook Pro update could replace the 13-inch model at WWDC in early June.

The other school of thought comes from well-regarded Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has also predicted that Apple will launch a 14.1-inch MacBook Pro this year. Interestingly, Kuo — who is known for the accuracy of his predictions — says it’ll launch alongside a refreshed MacBook Pro 16.

Seeing as that 16-inch model launched in late 2019, we don’t expect it to be updated until late 2020, which leaves us with the possibility that Apple will launch two MacBook Pro models this year: a 13-inch version in the first half, and a 14.1-inch edition later on. Apple did something similar last year when it launched a MacBook Pro 15 in the summer, then the MacBook Pro 16 in the winter. The MacBook Air was upgraded in mid-March 2020 with much more capable processors, and it now effectively competes with the entry-level MacBook Pro 13, adding to the growing feeling that the MacBook Pro will also be updated any day now.

And what about the price? Well, this is even more elusive than the release date, with no firm data coming from any sources. However, once again we can use a little lateral thinking to make a decent guess at what the MacBook Pro 2020 might cost.

The main clue comes in the form of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which kept the exact same price tag of the MacBook Pro 15, despite offering a new form factor and features. So, if a duo of new MacBook Pro models are coming this year, we’d expect them both to follow the example set by the MacBook Pro 16 and keep its current starting price of $ 1,299, with and a handful of size and spec variations going up through the pricing gears.

A small bump to the 13-inch MacBook Pro

As stated earlier, Apple could launch a small update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro this spring. If it follows the lead of the MacBook Air update, there are a few key areas that could get updated.

The first is the Magic Keyboard. Now that Apple has introduced it to the MacBook Air and the 16-inch MacBook Pro, it’s only a matter of time before the 13-inch Pro gets the same treatment. Along with reliable switches and more travel, the Magic Keyboard brings back the inverted “T”-shaped arrow keys and the physical Escape key.

You can also expect refreshed processors from Intel, bumping it from 8th-generation to 10th-generation Ice Lake. Apple could also increase the starting storage, which is currently a measly 128GB. The MacBook Air now starts at 256GB, so we’d expect an updated MacBook Pro to do the same.

The MacBook Pro 14-inch

When Apple launched the MacBook Pro 16-inch in December 2019, it chose to bring its new features to this model only. That meant the smaller MacBook Pro 13 stayed the same — the same thick bezels, the same butterfly keyboard, the same everything.

That always felt like a temporary situation, especially when the positive reviews started pouring in for the vastly improved keyboard, better thermal architecture and more modern look and feel. We find it hard to believe Apple would want to restrict these features to the 16-inch model only; a revamped MacBook Pro 13 — complete with better keyboard and thinner bezels (allowing for a larger display) — is surely on the way.

There are clues in recent EEC filings that indicate that the leaked device is part of the same family as the MacBook Pro, with the A2289 model number being prime among them. The MacBook Pro 16 has a model number of A2141, and is the first MacBook Pro to use a model number starting “A2” (previously, all recent MacBook Pros started “A1”). While various iPads also use model numbers starting A2, the emphasis on “portable computer brand” in the EEC filing implies this device is a relative of the MacBook Pro 16.

We think it’s highly unlikely this is a spec bump for the MacBook Pro 16, as it seems nonsensical to update that so soon after releasing it. The MacBook Pro 13-inch, however, hasn’t been touched since July 2019, making it the much more likely subject of the EEC filing. That means we can expect the 14-inch MacBook Pro to have a similar spec sheet to the 16-incher: A Magic Keyboard with improved travel; slimline screen bezels; the Touch Bar with a physical Esc key and Touch ID button; and a new cooling system to extract more performance from the internal components.

There’s also a possibility that both the MacBook Pro 14 and the updated MacBook Pro 16 will get a small but welcome upgrade to their keyboards. AppleInsider reported that Apple’s MacBook keyboards could get backlighting powered by a form of True Tone. This would let the backlighting white balance to be dynamically adjusted based on the ambient light around you, helping make it a little more comfortable on your eyes in certain conditions.

An all-powerful, eye-burning Mini-LED display

MacOS Catalina Hands-on | Macbook Pro
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Over time, the MacBook Pro has built up a reputation for its stellar display, which boasts exceptional brightness, a wide color gamut, and low color error rates. Yet recent rumors suggest that those screens are set to get even better.

According to reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is working on a Mini-LED display that will dramatically ramp up the quality, and we are already seeing this technology proliferate in high-end monitors launching in 2020. Apple’s Pro Display XDR — its highest quality, most luxurious monitor so far — contains 576 LEDs; a Mini-LED MacBook Pro could boast up to 10,000 LEDs.

Kuo reckons this tech will launch in the 14.1-inch MacBook Pro and a refreshed MacBook Pro 16, as well as a 27-inch ‌iMac Pro‌, a 12.9-inch ‌iPad Pro‌, a 10.2-inch ‌iPad‌, and a 7.9-inch ‌iPad‌ mini, and this belief was recently backed up by a report from Taiwanese publication DigiTimes. Packing in so many LEDs into a MacBook Pro display will result in exceptional HDR performance, wide color and high contrast, while also avoiding the burn-in problems that OLED panels can experience. All in all, that should help take Apple’s MacBook Pro displays to another level entirely.

There are a few caveats. For one thing, Kuo understandably expects such advanced tech to cost an arm and a leg, so it won’t make it to every Apple device. As well as that, Kuo predicts a launch date of late 2020 to somewhere around the middle of 2021, meaning we may have to wait a little longer for this super display.

Apple might switch to AMD — or even ARM

It’s no secret that Apple has become frustrated with Intel, as the chip manufacturer has often struggled to meet deadlines, resulting in MacBooks launching without the latest and greatest processors inside them. It seems that Apple has just about run out of patience, and could well be looking elsewhere for its MacBook Pro processors. The question is which alternative it’ll settle on.

Though sticking with Intel is most likely, the leading replacement candidate is AMD. In February 2020, MacOS beta code was unearthed that made reference to numerous AMD processors and graphics chips, including “Renoir,” which is a code name for AMD’s Ryzen 4000-series processors. The U series chips offer up to eight cores and 16 threads while using a tiny 25 watts of power. While it’s possible Apple was just testing them out and has no intentions of using them in future Macs, Renoir’s power-to-performance ratio seems absolutely perfect for a top-end machine like the MacBook Pro.

Apple demands very power-efficient parts for the MacBook Pro to enable it to be almost silent during most operations, and these chips would be easily efficient enough for Apple’s taste. Bringing these eight-core U-series processors to the 13-inch MacBook Pro could revolutionize what creative professionals could do with a smaller laptop.

What about Arm? Rumors of Apple switching its processors from Intel to Arm have been floating around for years, but it looks like late 2020 or early 2021 could be the time this finally becomes reality according to a report from Ming-Chi Kuo. Both Bloomberg and Axios have reported that Apple is well underway with the switch, codenamed Kalamata, and Apple has proved that its own Arm-based chips are capable due to their superb performance in devices like the iPad Pro.

There’s another reason Apple may switch to Arm, and interestingly enough it comes not from the world of hardware, but of software. The clue here is Project Catalyst, Apple’s ongoing effort to make iOS apps work on the Mac. The project has started out with iPad apps making the leap first, and supposedly will expand to include iPhone apps in 2020. The eventual goal is to allow any app work on any Apple platform. Apple could be hoping to facilitate this by outfitting all of its devices with Arm chips. This would make life massively easier for app developers, who could work on apps knowing they’d be running on the same architecture regardless of the device.

While Apple’s Arm-based A-series chips have show impressive performance, it’s unknown how well they would stack up against the high-end Intel or AMD chips worthy of the MacBook Pro. Former Apple senior executive Jean-Louis Gassée has raised an interesting point: Ampere Computing already sells high-powered Arm chips that can compete with Intel Xeon processors, thus potentially paving the way for even the Mac Pro to switch to Apple-made chips.

Still, we expect that Apple will probably debut Arm chips in the MacBook Air (potentially at WWDC), which is a safer bet given in the MacBook Air performance is less important, then perhaps transition the MacBook Pro to Arm at a later date.

MacBook Pro 2020: Our wishlist

Apple MacBook 13-inch Touch Pad
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are a few other things that we’d love to see on the 2020 MacBook Pro. While not all of these have been rumored, we wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them in the next iteration of the device.

Top of our list has to be Face ID. While the iPhone has had Face ID (and Windows has had Windows Hello) for a while now, Apple’s MacBooks have been bereft of this tech for far too long. Face ID on a MacBook would be more secure than Touch ID and even more convenient — all you’d have to do would be to sit down at your desk and look and your screen, then boom — you’re logged in. No reaching for a Touch ID button, just a seamless experience of the kind Apple is well known for. Interestingly, Apple seems to be at least considering bringing Face ID to Macs, according to a recently unearthed patent. Whether the company will actually implement it, however, is unknown.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t talk about the ports. Apple thankfully seems to have left behind the days of the single USB-C port now that it’s killed the 12-inch MacBook, but it’s still possible to buy a brand-new MacBook Pro with just two USB-C ports. That’s appropriate for the MacBook Air, but for a device aimed at professional users with a plethora of accessories, monitors, and devices to connect up, that’s just not enough. We’re all for the super-speed benefits of Thunderbolt 3, but we need enough ports to be able to get our work done without drowning in dongles.

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