Back in November 2019 the largest MacBook Pro gained a new design with a larger screen, but other than the outward redesign the 16in MacBook Pro kept the components of the 15in model. Those components date back to June 2019.
With more nearly two years having passed since those components used in the 16in MacBook Pro were introduced it's high time for the 16in MacBook Pro to get an update. What can we expect and when can we expect it?
In this article we'll look at the rumours about the 2021 16in MacBook's new Apple-made processor and graphics options, talk of a redesign - maybe even a titanium case - and reports that the MagSafe charger will be making a comeback, while the Touch Bar makes a departure.
16in MacBook Pro: Release date
We were almost certain that we would see a new Intel version of the 16in MacBook Pro in December 2020, which would have marked just over year since the model's introduction. However, when Apple made a new product announcement on 8 December it wasn't a new 16in MacBook Pro, it was the AirPods Max.
And yet there was evidence that a new 16in MacBook Pro model would launch in 2020: documentation in an update to Boot Camp in October 2020 referred to an unreleased 16in laptop. The documentation indicated that the update: "Fixes a stability issue that could occur during heavy CPU load on 16in MacBook Pro (2019 and 2020) and 13in MacBook Pro (2020)".
Hopefully we won't have to wait much longer. LeaksApplePro tweeted in November 2020 that Apple is working on a 12-core chip for the 16in MacBook Pro. LeaksApplePro then tweeted at the end of December 2020 that this 12-core Mac would launch in March 2021. What wasn't clear was whether this was the 16in MacBook Pro, the rumoured 14in MacBook Pro, or the iMac.
Next Mac March 12 cores— LeaksApplePro🎄 (@LeaksApplePro) December 31, 2020
In January 2021 a Bloomberg report indicated that the new MacBook Pro models will launch around the middle of the year - this could be at WWDC in June. As Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted:
New story: For new high-end 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, Apple indeed plans return of MagSafe, the end of the Touch Bar (finally), brighter screens, minor design changes, next-gen M-series chips and more. Launch around mid-2021. https://t.co/eL3r06oexW— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) January 15, 2021
One report even suggested that work had begun on this new Mac laptops at the end of February 2021, with Radiant Opto-Electronics supplying the mini-LED backlight units and Quanta Computer assembling the new Mac laptops. Read more here: New 14in MacBook Pro with mini-LED a step closer.
However, we could have a longer wait. The usually accurate analyst Ming-Chi Kuo thought that the 16in MacBook Pro may not arrive until much later in 2021. He originally believed that new 16in MacBook Pro models would arrive before the end of 2020, but due to coronavirus-related delays affecting a new screen technology Apple is using (more on that below), the launch wouldn't happen until 2021.
One reason Kuo notes for the delays are shortages in the mini-LED panels that Apple wants to use for the new MacBooks. But it's not only mini-LED panels that are facing delays. According to Asian newspaper the Nikkei, global component shortages mean Apple's MacBook Pro is delayed. Some components that should have been available before the summer are now not expected to be delivered untli the autumn.
This shortage of chips that is said to have led to difficulties getting the circuits mounted on the motherboard on the MacBook model, according to Nikkei.
As a result of these shortages Nikkei in March 2021 suggested the MacBook launch could be pushed back to autumn.
What seems certain is that there will be new MacBooks in 2021. Apple apparently has an "aggressive production schedule" for its MacBook Pro 2021, so the company certainly has something big planned. Read: New MacBook Pro in 2021.
Read our review of the 2019 16in MacBook Pro.
16in MacBook Pro: New features and specs
What can we expect from the 16in MacBook Pro update when it does arrive? The most obvious improvement will be the inclusion of Apple Silicon - either the M1X Chip, or perhaps an M2 Chip. We can expect a few more new features and changes as well.
New Apple processor
In May 2020 the 13in MacBook Pro gained 10th-generation Intel processors – and the smaller MBP was the first to ditch Intel for Apple's own processor line for Apple Silicon in November 2020. This is perhaps unsurprising as the first Apple Silicon chip, the M1, is relatively low-powered – appearing in Apple's new MacBook Air and mini as well.
But what of the 16in MacBook Pro? Will the more powerful MacBook Pro soon offer the new Apple Silicon processors based on the ARM-architecture?
When the 16in MacBook Pro arrives it seems likely that Apple will include its own Silicon ARM-based processors suitable for the 16in MacBook Pro. There will be a number of benefits to the switch from Intel, but creative pros are understandably concerned about whether Apple's chips will meet their demands. We run through how Apple Silicon compares to Intel in a separate article.
The good news is that Apple does indeed appear to be working on impressive next generation M1 Chips. We have a separate article that discusses what we know about the M1X Chip and what could be coming in the M2, but read on to find out what that could mean for the new MacBook Pro.
According to a Bloomberg report in December 2020, "For its next-generation chip targeting MacBook Pro and iMac models, Apple is working on designs with as many as 16 power cores and four efficiency cores."
As we mentioned above, LeaksApplePro has tweeted that he believes a 12-core chip is destined for the 16in MacBook Pro.
Apple M1X:— LeaksApplePro🎄 (@LeaksApplePro) November 22, 2020
- 8 performance cores.
- 4 high efficiency cores.
- Coming first on a MacBook Pro
16” unveiling as a press release.
- According to a source who used a prototype, “if you think M1 is fast, you haven't seen M1X”.
-Name isn't final though. pic.twitter.com/tpBhXpDCad
It Apple brings Apple Silicon to the MacBook Pro we can expect to see Apple's own graphics solution. Currently the 16in MacBook Pro offers the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB or the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB and the AMD Radeon Pro 5600M with 8GB. Many will be concerned that the new Silicon 16in MacBook Pro will lack discrete graphics.
Hopefully there is no need for concern. Reports suggest that Apple is working on a 16-core graphics solution for the M1X. We could even see a 32-core graphics option, and by 2022 we could see 64 and 128 dedicated cores in Apple's highest-end machines, according to Bloomberg's sources.
When it announced the plans to move to ARM-based processors, Apple also sought to put minds at rest regarding graphics: in a developer document it said "Don't assume a discrete GPU means better performance," and "The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimised for high performance graphics tasks."
There is hopefully no reason for concern. Reports suggest Apple's Silicon graphics processors will ever be able to match the solutions from AMD. Read this for more information about Apple's graphics plans: Details of Apple's Silicon graphics.
As we discuss in our Apple vs Intel article, Apple is setting expectations high - claiming that we can expect "higher performance GPUs" inside the new Apple Silicon Macs. It is entirely possible that Apple will be able to achieve its promise: Apple uses Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR) rather than the Immediate Mode Rendering (IMR) as used by Intel, Nvidia and AMD GPUs and there are a number of benefits to this.
You might also like to read: Apple's plans for the Mac Pro.
RAM will also change if Apple moves to its own silicon in the new 16in MacBook Pro. We can probably expect to see 16GB as standard, but the way that RAM is allocated will be different, so it is less likely that the new MacBook Pro will have separate graphics memory.
As for whether a new Silicon MacBook Pro could be equipped with 64GB RAM, like the current model, we don't know. Rumours do suggest that the M1X will still max out at 16GB RAM though, which could be a disappointment for high-end users.
One reason why analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects that the new 16in MBP will not arrive until 2021 is that his sources' indicated that Apple is looking to adopt mini-LED screen panels for its Macs - these mini-LED screens have been suffering from COVID-related delays.
These new mini-LED panels offer a rich wide colour gamut as well as high contrast ratios, high dynamic range, and more. Mini-LED should also result in thinner, more power-efficient panels that don't suffer from burn-in (which is an issue with OLED).
According to Kuo, the mini LED screens being used for the MacBook Pro will have slightly flatter edges - like the iPad Pro and the iPhone 12 models.
Camera and Face ID
We'd love to see a better FaceTime camera on the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro still offers a shockingly poor 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.
We'd also like to see the TrueDepth camera appear on the MacBook range, enabling Face ID. 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.
The new model could include an updated Touch Bar. Read: Apple Patents Force Touch for MacBook Pro Touch Bar.
No Touch Bar
According to the January 2021 investor note from Ming Chi Kuo Apple is removing the Touch Bar from the new MacBook Pro. The physical function buttons will be restored. Read: MagSafe in and Touch Bar out for new iPhone-like MacBook Pro.
Kuo went on to reiterate this claim in an investor note in February 2021, so it looks like the Touch Bar's days are numbered.
As you can see from the above link, the return of MagSafe is also predicted for the new MacBook Pro. Both Kuo and a January 2021 Bloomberg report 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?
Kuo also suggests that we could see the return of other ports including the SD card slot and the HDMI port. Read more here: Apple will correct old mistakes with new MacBook Pro models.
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) as a Wi-Fi standard is still in its infancy, but it is starting to arrive - and it features on the new 13in MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models.
It seems a safe bet to expect that it will be available on the new 16in MacBook Pro.
For more information about what Apple's plans for the coming months, read our guide to the New Apple products coming in 2021.