When Apple's SVP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, talked about the new MacBook upgrade, introduced on April 19th, he also gave us a pretty clear indication of what the next generation of MacBook Pros will be like.
2015 MacBook Pro. Image credit: Apple
In Apple's press release for the 2016 MacBook, Mr. Schiller said:
MacBook is the thinnest and lightest Mac we have ever made and it’s our vision for the future of the notebook.
Let's look at what that statement means, with a broad brush. Recall that Apple's last MacBook Pro 15-inch update was in May of 2015 with "Haswell" CPUs.
1. Skylake processors. With a 14 nanometer fabrication process, these CPUs will be about 10 percent faster and consume less power. As for the GPU, HD 530 graphics will be about 20 to 40 percent faster. Lower power translates to, likely, 12 hour battery life when combined with "terraced" (conformal) batteries.
2. Terraced batteries and MacBook look and feel. The 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros will be, I propose, indistinguishable from the current MacBook design. With traditional ports gone (see below), they'll have that MacBook thinness somewhere around a half-inch (12 mm). The MacBook technology of terraced batteries will allow that. You won't be able to tell the new Pros apart from a 2016 MacBook without some some sense of scale. And maybe the fact that the Pro version will have two USB-C ports.
This is a guess, but I suspect we'll see a weight just under 4 pounds (1.8 kg) for the 15-inch and well under 3 pounds (1.36 kg) for the 13-inch.
3. Two x USB-C Ports and Thunderbolt 3. Why Thunderbolt 3? Intel's integration of Thunderbolt 3 co-resident with USB 3 on the motherboard and connected via the USB-C plug solves the problem of wide acceptance of USB 3 and declining viability of Thunderbolt as stand-alone technology. Thunderbolt 3, at 40 Gbps, is backwards compatible with all TB 2 and TB 1 devices and gives legacy Thunderbolt-centric customers a sensible path forward without feeling like they have to chose one or the other technology.
Why two USB-C ports? First, redundancy. If one fails, the professional doesn't skip a beat in mission critical work. Secondly, it allows the easy connection of an external display while simultaneously charging without a dock. This is a guess, but my instincts kick in here. (And I presume that if power is connected to both, only one port will charge the battery.)
4. Finish. The traditional aluminum look will give way to MacBook colors of Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and ... Black! I can't see Rose Gold MacBook Pro unless it's for foreign markets. Some might favor Rose Gold for an entry level MacBook, but I'll go out on a limb and suggest that it won't go over well with American business people and technical professionals.
MacBook's butterfly keyboard: loved and despised equally. Image credit: Apple
5. Virtual Keyboard. If all the above were all we got, it would be a pleasant speed bump for MacBook Pro users. However, questions have come up about the staleness of the classic MacBook/Air/Pro design.
One way to take a giant leap forward would be to introduce a touch sensitive keyboard surface with feedback. Apple has a patent on this. If Apple elects not to use the new butterfly mechanism (used in the MacBooks) in the Pro line, such a keyboard, described in this International Business Times article, could get us drooling again about the high-end MacBook models. However. it may be a long shot for 2016.
These new, faster MacBook Pros, thin and mostly free of thickness-consuming ports, and perhaps in cool colors will leverage off the emerging maturity of the USB-C port (and new peripherals) and all the new technologies spearheaded by the 2015 and 2016 Retina 12-inch MacBooks. I suspect these new Pros will fly off the shelves.
I want one already.