Tech

Apple should've made physical changes to the MacBook Air and Pro

The new laptops sport Apple's new M1 processor, but the hardware is otherwise largely unchanged.

Apple's new MacBook Air with an M1 chip.
Apple

Apple just took the wraps off its first Mac computers that ditch Intel processors for its own chip, called the M1. The MacBook Air, Pro, and Mac Mini all got upgrades to the new CPU that Apple says is two times more powerful than the most powerful Intel CPU, while consuming a quarter of the power. But what Apple didn't do with the new computers was make any notable changes to their exteriors... and that's a missed opportunity.

Underwhelming designs — The new MacBook Air, for instance, has the same 13.3-inch display as the prior generation, complete with thick bezels, and just two Thunderbolt USB-C ports. It does drop the fan, however, making it the first fanless MacBook since the 12-inch MacBook (which turned out to be an underpowered disaster). But Apple could have done something else to make it a more appealing upgrade, like making the body smaller or increased the size of the display while slimming the bezel. On the outside, it's the same computer that was already in need of a tune-up.

Pro-gressively worse — With the new MacBook Pro, things are actually kind of worse in terms of I/O and memory options. The maximum RAM option available is now 16GB, down from 32GB, and there are only two Thunderbolt USB 4 ports, down from four on some models. The former is forgivable if Apple's M1 chip is as powerful as Apple says, but if you've ever used a MacBook with just two input ports you'll know it's a pain.

Interestingly, the M1-based MacBook Air and Pro now both share the same baseline CPU and RAM configurations, meaning they're largely the same computers save for minor differences. The Pro has two hours better battery life, the Touch Bar (no thanks), a 100 nits brighter screen, and better microphones. The Air is thinner and lighter, however, making the comparison something of a draw. If you upgrade to the $1,249 MacBook Air you get the same 8-core GPU as the $1,300 MacBook Pro. That makes the differences less stark than they used to be, which in turn makes the Pro look underpowered.

These all look very familiar.Apple

Cop out — Both the existing Intel-based MacBook Pro and Mac Mini's will remain on sale for now, though at higher specs and price points than the new M1 variants. That's something of a cop out for Apple, admitting that some people won't be pleased with the new models just yet.

While the speeds Apple is touting with the M1 chip are impressive, if you're already happy with the Intel-based Mac you currently own, it's probably worth waiting until Apple rolls out a more comprehensive line-up. Ditto if you're holding out for the M1 to show up in a 16-inch MacBook Pro.

It often takes Apple a generation or two for it to perfect new product offerings anyway. Or multiple generations in the case of the butterfly keyboard, which survived for five years longer than it should have. In time these new computers will no doubt be better than their Intel-powered siblings as Apple can better integrate hardware and software just like it does on iOS devices. Perhaps the next generation of laptops will get an exterior overhaul. But don't go holding out hope for an SD card slot... we suspect that one's gone for good.