MacBook Pro 2016: Will Apple wow disgruntled fans?

Macbook Pro render by Martin Hajek

The irony is surely not lost on Apple CEO Tim Cook. Recent analysts’ reports on the PC market have been mostly about declining sales and a gloomy outlook for computer manufacturers. But there was also a lone hero who bucked the trend and outpaced the rest of the industry – Apple.

Fast forward to Q2 2016, and reports from IDC and Gartner show a role reversal of sorts – while the likes of HP, Dell and Asus posted a growth of 4-5 per cent in PC sales, Apple actually saw an eyebrow-raising dip of 8.3 per cent. This also contrasts starkly with the 7.1 per cent jump the company enjoyed in Q2 2015.

So what’s going on? Well, it looks like Apple fans and potential buyers are waiting on the company to release new models of the flagship MacBook Pro line-up. Mind you, they have been waiting for a long time – the last MacBook Pro refresh was over a year back. And the design has not changed for over four years! As Product-Reviews.net puts it, MBP is “crying out” for an upgrade. The site adds, “There has been a lot of anger of late because people are starting to get upset paying a premium for hardware that is pretty much two years out of date, and so Apple really do need to offer their loyal fans a MacBook Pro with the latest tech.”

But there is glimmer of hope. On September 7, Apple may wow fans and silence by showing off a swanky, new MacBook Pro with a bunch of never-seen-before features. But then again, Apple may not want to shift some of the limelight away from its cash cow – the iPhone 7 – which is also expected to launch on the same date. Which means, the new MBP might get its separate launch event a month or two later. Or perhaps it will be launched via a simple announcement, the way the 12-inch MacBook refresh was earlier this year. Though if Apple does go down the press-release-launch path, you can be sure the new MBP is just an incremental update and there isn’t much to tom-tom about it!

In fact, one big disappointment fans will anyway experience is that the next MBP will not come with Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors. Apparently, they won’t be ready in time and in enough quantities for the MBP – unless Apple pushes the launch to March-April 2017, and risks further antagonising impatient fans. But you will get the second-best option, in the form of Skylake processors, which will still bring a noticeable bump in overall performance and battery life.

However, the processor may not matter much if Apple delivers on even a fraction of the rumours floating around. For example, an OLED touch strip that will replace the row taken up by the function keys. And this is more than a gimmick – the strip will bring contextual information from the app you are currently using. For example, keys to control your music when you run iTunes, or a progress bar that tracks your downloads. Or even a quick way to silence notifications.

The new MBP will also be slimmer – it currently does look like a fat cousin of the svelte MacBook. That weight loss will be achieved by junking USB and other ports in favour of the much-smaller USB-C ones – the MacBook already has one, and the Pro might sport two on each side. Another controversial upgrade might be the keyboard – the same “butterfly keys” currently found on the MacBook, which have polarised opinion with users complaining about the lack of adequate key travel.

Apple may also bake in support for an Apple Pencil-style stylus – no, the screen won’t be touch-sensitive like an iPad. Rather, the trackpad might get bigger and become stylus-friendly. Meanwhile, the power button might incorporate Touch ID, similar to the one found in the Home button of the iPhone 6. So you will be able to log in, or authenticate Apple Pay payments, simply by tapping the power button. There are other wilder rumours – the MBP might become a hybrid like Microsoft’s Surface models, sporting a detachable keyboard and touchscreen. But we don’t see that happening – it will only eat into iPad Pro sales.

So will the new MBP be worth the wait? Well, the best way to answer that will be to look at sales reports for the quarter following its launch. Data does tend to speak loud and clear.