Apple has unveiled the first major update to its top-spec laptop, the Macbook Pro, for four years. This launch had extra significance for creative professionals following Microsoft's launch of the stunning Surface Studio just a day before. With no major updates to the Macbook Pro and Mac Pro for over three years, could Apple deliver enough to win back designers whose heads were turned towards the high-spec Windows machine?
The headline feature is the new Touch Bar, a retina multi-touch strip that runs along the top of the keyboard replacing the function keys. The Touch Bar places controls right at the user’s fingertips and cleverly adapts when using individual apps, as well as being fully customisable. The Touch Bar demonstration at the launch event focused on features for native apps such as Safari, using emojis in Messages, and image and video editing in Photos, but it will be interesting to see how third-party creative applications utilise the interface.
Another benefit of the Touch Bar is its inclusion of Touch ID for easy password-free login and the ability to use Apple Pay entirely on the Macbook.
Continuing the touch theme, Apple has added giant new Force Touch trackpads which are 46 per cent larger on the 13-inch MacBook Pro and twice as large on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. These are almost like mini integrated graphics tablets now, which makes the fact that they are not compatible with the Apple Pencil (or indeed any stylus) seem like a missed opportunity for the creative market.
While the 2016 Macbook Pros are smaller and lighter than the previous version (obviously – that is Apple's current modus operandi), they pack more power. Sixth-generation dual-core Core i5 with eDRAM, dual-core Core i7 with eDRAM and quad-core Core i7 Intel processors up the performance ante, but those playing for the unlikely inclusion of Nvidia GPUs will be disappointed – the 15-inch Pro features Radeon Pro discrete graphics delivering up to 2.3 times more performance than the previous generation; while the 13-inch comes with Intel Iris Graphics that are up to two times faster than before.
All models feature SSDs with sequential read speeds over 3GBps and no fewer than four Thunderbolt 3 ports which can be used for USB data transfer, charging and twice the video bandwidth in a single port. This allows for a multitude of connectivity options including multiple 5K displays. The in-built displays are improved too: the 15-inch is 67 per cent brighter and with the same contrast improvement, and displays 25 per cent more colours than the previous model.
The new base-model MacBook Pro, which does not feature the Touch Bar, starts with a 2.0GHz dual core Intel Core i5, Intel Iris Graphics 540, 8GB and a 256GB SSD at $1499/£1449.
The 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro starts with a 2.9GHz dual-core Core i5, Intel Iris Graphics 550, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD at $1799/£1749.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro starts with a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Radeon Pro 450 graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD at $2399/£2349.