Apple has big plans for the MacBook Pro in 2021 with a redesign expected to turn the 13in model into a 14in MacBook Pro. There are many more new features coming to the range, including Apple's M1 chip (which has already made an appearance in the entry-level models) and new screen technology.
There are also reports that we could see the return of MagSafe and the disappearance of the Touch Bar. In fact, it looks like Apple will correct old mistakes with the new MacBook Pro models.
In this article we will look at the rumoured 14in MacBook Pro said to be in the works at Apple, discussing when the new MacBook Pro is coming out, and all the rumours about the specs and features of Apple's 2021 MacBook Pro.
We also have a separate article covering rumours about the new 16in MacBook Pro.
14in MacBook Pro release date
The 14in MacBook Pro has been rumoured for some time. At one point TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo had even suggested that the 14in MacBook Pro would be here by the end of 2020, but he later changed his forecast - suggesting that Apple's plans had been pushed back to 2021 because it wanted to use mini-LED displays in the new models and there were problems with supply due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
As it turns out, problems with supply have become a bit of a theme. We were hopeful that the new MacBook Pro would appear around the time of WWDC 2021 in June, but that is now looking doubtful.
Reports from Asian newspaper Nikkei indicate that Apple is one of many manufacturers being affected by global component shortages and as a result we could be waiting a while for the new MacBook Pro.
In March a Nikkei report indicated that the MacBook launch had been pushed back to autumn 2021 due to global chip and component shortage, and then a further report in April made a similar claim that the shortage of chips has led to difficulties getting the circuits mounted on the motherboard on the MacBook model.
Frequently accurate analyst Ming Chi Kuo shares the view that we won't see the new 14in MacBook Pro until autumn 2021. In a February note to investors Kuo repeated his prediction that the launch won't happen until the third quarter of 2021.
Both analyst Ming Chi Kuo and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman have indicated that we can expect an extensive redesign for the 13in MacBook Pro.
As per a January 2021 report, we can expect significant design changes including: a flat-edged iPhone 12-like design; no Touch Bar; the return of MagSafe charging; and more ports - including a SD slot.
Kuo adds that the 14in laptop will use a similar heat pipe system to the 16in MacBook Pro, which should increase the thermal headroom and enable better performance.
And if a Apple patent is to be believed, a future MacBook Pro could go retro with a titanium case.
When the 16in MacBook Pro launched in November 2019 (16in MacBook Pro review) it benefited from a bigger screen made possible by reduced bezels (you can see the difference in the image above: the old model is on the left). Following the arrival of that model there have been rumours that Apple might replace the current 13in MacBook Pro with a model with a bigger screen.
This doesn't mean that the dimensions of the current 13in model will change - the thinking is that Apple could produce a 14in MacBook Pro by reducing the bezels around the display. It's worth noting that the 13in MacBook Pro actually measures 13.3in.
However, it's possible the 14in MacBook Pro may never transpire. Apple's Phil Schiller, when asked about the likelihood of a larger display for the 13in MacBook Pro back in November 2019, told YouTube personality Jonathan Morrison: "I wouldn't draw any extrapolation from [the 16in MacBook Pro] to anything else."
Despite what Schiller said, we do think it's possible that the 13in MacBook Pro will gain a bigger display like the 16in MacBook did, but there could be even more in store for the new display. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that Apple will add a Mini-LED display to the MacBook Pro (and various other products it makes, including the iPad Pro).
Kuo suggested back in March 2020 that Apple will replace its 13in MacBook Pro with a 14.1in model with mini-LCD display.
However, that new display technology has been delayed and is not expected to be available until 2021. Kuo had previously suggested that a 16in model with mini LED could launch in the fourth quarter of 2020, but he later noted that Coronavirus related delays might mean that the change to mini-LCD displays might slip back to 2021.
Amidst the rumours that the new MacBook Pro will feature a mini LED display comes one from DigiTimes (in March 2021) that indicates that Apple will use an OLED display for the MacBook Pro later this year. The Digitimes' report indicates that Apple is looking at mini-LED, micro-LED and OLED technologies to be used for the MacBook and iPad lineups.
Another thing we'd love to see on the MacBook Pro is a such screen. We discuss why it is time for Apple to change its mind and start offering Macs with touch screens here: Why Apple needs a touch screen Mac. One key reason why we need touch on the Mac: the fact that the Apple Silicon transition should make it possible to use iOS apps on the Mac and iOS means touch...
New Features & Spec
Whether there is a design overhaul or not it is likely that there will be changes on the inside in terms of processor and potentially storage options. Below we will look at the specs we expect to see inside the new MacBook Pro models.
There were some design changes in the inside of the 16in MacBook Pro that could translate to the new 13in models. There were changes to the internal thermal management - larger heat sink and changes to the fan design, rearranged logic board for better heat dispersal. Probably necessary in part to accommodate the larger 100W battery and the extra 12W power.
To recap, right now you'll find the following:
13in MacBook Pro
- Apple M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU. 256GB - £1,299/$1,299, 512GB - £1,499,$1,499
- 2.0GHz Quad-Core i5 10th-generation (TB 3.8GHz), Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM, four Thunderbolt ports. 512GB - £1,799/$1,799, 1TB Storage - £1,999/$1,999
16in MacBook Pro
- 2.6GHz Six-core i7 9th-generation (TB 4.8GHz), AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, four Thunderbolt ports: 512GB, £2,399
- 2.3GHz Eight-core i9 9th-generation (TB 4.5GHz), AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, four Thunderbolt ports: 1TB, £2,799
In November 2020 Apple updated the two entry level 13in MacBook Pro models, making them some of the first Macs to adopt Apple's M1 chips.
The other two 13in MacBook Pro models in the range remained untouched since their update in May 2020 when they gained 10th generation Intel processors and more RAM.
It's a safe bet to assume that the two remaining 13in MacBook Pro models (and the 16in MacBook Pro) will be adopting the M1 - or a newer, more powerful version of the M1 - in 2021. Read more about Apple's processor plans here. You may also like to read: How good is Apple's M1 chip really?
The M1 MacBook Pro models that launched in November 2020 offer 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. Apple claims that the GPU in this model is "up to 5x faster" than its predecessor.
The current 2.0GHz MacBook Pro offers Intel Iris Plus Graphics, which are integrated with the Intel processor. Tests are showing that the Intel-powered MacBook Pro with its internal Iris graphics card had little chance against the M1 MacBook Pro.
In a developer document Apple said: "The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimized for high performance graphics tasks".
The 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro on sale now offers 16GB RAM as standard. The M1 MacBook Pro offers 8GB RAM.
Apple claims that its Unified Memory Architecture (UMA) means that it's not necessary to have as much RAM because all the RAM can be accessed quickly as it is all in the same location as the GPU and CPU, and can be attributed where it is needed. This may mean that the new 14in MacBook Pro ships with 8GB RAM as standard.
Speakers & Microphone
The 16in MacBook Pro has improved speakers with deeper bass and a noise-cancelling microphone. Will the 14in models gain the same update at some point?
Possibly we may see an improvement, although not on the same level. The improvements in the 16in may not be possible in the limited space of the smaller model: there are three speakers on each side of the 16in MacBook Pro (two of which are woofers). The smaller model may simply be unable to accommodate this: even if the screen is 14in the size of the Mac is unlikely to change significantly.
As for the microphone, the 13in model probably doesn't need the three-mic 'studio' array required by professional creative users.
The 16in MacBook Pro has a 100W battery (which is the biggest battery allowed in laptops before they would be banned from planes). This bigger battery means the 16in model now offers 11 hours of use.
The 13in MacBook models with Intel processors currently offer 10 hours use.
It's possible that Apple Silicon will make it possible for Apple to achieve more battery life from the smaller models: The 2020 M1 MacBook Pro offers 20 hours battery life - so it looks promising.
No Touch Bar
As we mentioned above, according to a January 2021 investor note from Ming Chi Kuo the OLED touch bar will be removed from the new MacBook Pro and the physical function buttons will be restored.
Alternatively, the new model could include an updated Touch Bar. Read: Apple Patents Force Touch for MacBook Pro Touch Bar.
For more ways in which Apple is learning from its mistakes read: Four times Apple learned from its mistakes.
No Track Pad
This is a bit less likely than the above, but it is something that Apple has been investigating - and has filed a patent relating to.
US patent 10,942,571 describes a "laptop computing device with discrete haptic regions". It's assumed that if this patent was applied the trackpad below the keyboard would be omitted, and the entire area below the keyboard would become a touch surface. A Taptic Engine provides haptic feedback, such as the click feeling during an action. Read more here: Apple patents MacBook with no trackpad.
Yes really... Apple has been granted a keyboard free MacBook patent that would allow a user to configure the area where the keyboard is usually situated to meet their specific requirements.
This could make it easy to switch between different language keyboards, and those who require a numerical keyboard could switch to that. If you are assuming that this would be uncomfortable to use and strange to type on we are with you, but it seems that haptic outputs could give you the impression that you are typing on a physical keyboard.
The patent, titled: "Configurable force-sensitive input structure for electronic devices", seems to be designed to avoid the problem with mechanical keyboards, such as Apple experienced with the problematic butterfly mechanism keyboards that suffered costly faults when dust and debris became trapped under the keys.
It does sound a bit like a plan to replace the keyboard with a Touch Bar and given rumours that Apple is set on removing the Touch Bar from future MacBook Pro models it really does sound unlikely that Apple would apply this patent in the real world, but who knows!
The return of MagSafe is also predicted for the new MacBook Pro. Both Kuo and the Bloomberg report in January 2021 (mentioned earlier) state that Apple will be restoring the MagSafe charging connector, which was popular with people who didn't want their Mac to crash to the ground when they tripped over the power cable. Find out more about MagSafe here: What is MagSafe.
Another January 2021 Bloomberg report included a snippet that indicates that the new MacBook Pro will offer an SD slot.
Face ID and Webcam
We'd love to see a better FaceTime camera on the MacBook. The MacBook Pro still offers a 720p camera. As a comparison the FaceTime camera (aka Selfie camera) on the iPhone 11 range offers 1080p HD video recording and a 12MP camera. Apple really needs to up its game with this camera, something that has become very apparent in this age of video conferencing.
The iPhone 11 camera is TrueDepth, so it also offers Face ID - something we'd like to see appear on the MacBook range. It looks like we might indeed get Face ID on the Mac - the Big Sur beta contains code that hints that the TrueDepth camera is coming to the Mac.
Another thing that the M1 MacBook Pro offers 802.11ax WiFi 6 so it's a good bet that the same technology will appear in the new model.
For more information about what Apple will launch in 2021 read: New Apple products guide to what's coming out in 2021