Apple introduced a new M1 MacBook Pro in November of 2020, but the new model didn’t include any design changes. That’s going to change in 2021, with rumors suggesting Apple has a major MacBook Pro design refresh in the works.
The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models that are coming in 2021 will feature the most significant design overhaul to the MacBook Pro line that we’ve seen since 2016, and the updated machines will also address complaints that users have had with the MacBook Pro for years by bringing back older features that include MagSafe, more ports, and physical function keys.
Apple has both updated 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in the works. The 14-inch model will replace the current 13.3-inch model, while the 16-inch model will replace the existing 16-inch version that’s available.
For the revamped 14-inch model, it’s likely that the overall casing size will remain similar to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, with the increase in display size coming largely from a reduction in the top and side bezels of the machine.
The current 13-inch MacBook Pro
There may be a slight increase in physical size, however. When Apple transitioned from the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro to the 16.1-inch MacBook Pro, the physical sizing went from 13.75 x 9.48 inches to 14.09 x 9.68 inches, and we could see something similar with the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro
Both of the new models that are coming are expected to feature some notable design changes. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the new MacBook Pro models will feature a flat-edged design that’s “similar to the iPhone 12,” with no curved edges like current models.
Gurman has corroborated Kuo’s report, but his information suggests that the flat-edged design may not be too much of a deviation from the current design. He says that the upgraded models will “look similar” to current models, but will feature “minor design changes,” so we’ll need to wait to see just how significant these changes to the overall design turn out to be.
The updated MacBook Pro models will use the same heat pipe design used by the current 16-inch MacBook Pro model. Apple revamped the thermal system of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, increasing the size of the heat pipe, adding thermal pads, and increasing the size of the heat sink by 35 percent.
This new thermal system will allow for increased computing power thanks to improved airflow and heat management, which bodes well for the performance of the Apple silicon chips that are expected to be included.
Even if the chassis updates are more minor in scale than Kuo has made them out to be, there are other tweaks in the works that will make the 2021 refresh a major update. Kuo believes Apple is going to add additional ports to the MacBook Pro models, though he has not specified which ports these might be.
Apple in 2016 rolled out a new MacBook Pro design that did away with all ports except for USB-C ports and the 3.5mm headphone jack, but prior models from 2012 to 2015 included a MagSafe connector, Thunderbolt ports, USB-A ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
With the 2021 machines, we could see the return of some of these long-discontinued ports. It’s likely that most ports will continue to be USB-C as Apple has been transitioning to USB-C for years now, but there could be additions like an SD card slot or an HDMI port.
Given Apple’s emphasis on USB-C and the slim design of the MacBook Pro lineup, it’s not likely we’re going to see the return of USB-A, but Kuo has said that the new machines will have enough ports so most users “may not need to purchase additional dongles.”
Gurman’s report mentions the inclusion of USB-C ports, but it does not mention other types of I/O.
Along with additional ports, the new machines are expected to bring MagSafe back to the Mac lineup. MagSafe connectors were used for MacBook Pro models from 2006 to 2016, when Apple replaced the MagSafe connector with a USB-C port, but now it looks like we’re returning to a MagSafe design.
Both Kuo and Gurman expect the new MacBook Pro models to be equipped with MagSafe for charging purposes, with the MagSafe charging port to be distinct from the other included USB-C ports.
MagSafe in the new MacBook Pro models is expected to be similar to the MagSafe 2 connectors and ports used prior to 2016, which allowed for a quick-release magnetic connection that prevented damage to the computer and the cable when the cord was yanked.
The MagSafe charging functionality is expected to allow for faster charging speeds than are available with USB-C, and given that Apple is swapping over to a new charging technology, we can expect the forthcoming MacBook Pro models to ship with a MagSafe charging cable and accompanying power adapter.
No Touch Bar
Apple introduced a Touch Bar in the 2016 Macs, providing a small OLED display where physical function keys used to be located. Apple had grand plans for the Touch Bar and envisioned it being an adaptable mini-display that offered customizable controls and different functions on a per-app basis, but the Touch Bar never seemed to catch on with consumers.
Kuo says that the Touch Bar will be removed in the 2021 MacBook Pro models and will be replaced with physical function keys. Gurman has confirmed that Apple has tested versions of the MacBook Pro that do not have a Touch Bar.
Gurman believes the new MacBook Pro models will feature display improvements in the form of “brighter, higher-contrast panels,” and in past rumors, Kuo has suggested the updated machines will be the first Macs with mini-LED displays, marking a significant improvement in display quality.
Given that Kuo made no mention of mini-LED technology in his most recent report, it’s possible that mini-LED functionality has been delayed until a later date.
If Apple does transition to mini-LED for the 2021 MacBook Pro models, the displays could use somewhere around 10,000 LEDs, each one under 200 microns in size. Mini-LED technology will allow for a thinner and lighter design, while offering many OLED-like benefits such as improved wide color gamut, high contrast and dynamic range, and truer blacks.
The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro already has an M1 chip, and in 2021, all new MacBook Pro models will gain Apple silicon chips. Apple is not expected to release MacBook Pro models with Intel chips, phasing Intel chips out of the notebook line entirely.
Apple is working on higher-end Apple silicon chips that have as many as 16 power cores and four efficiency cores, which would annihilate any Intel CPU in terms of performance. There’s also new GPU technology in the works, with Apple designing 16 and 32-core GPU options, some of which could be used in the new MacBook Pro models.
The new MacBook Pro models are expected to launch in the third quarter of 2021.