Apple's MacBook Pro range hasn't been updated for some time: the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina was refreshed in March 2015 and the 15-inch in May. New MacBook Pros are clearly imminent, especially considering Apple's market share in the computing space fell 13.4% in Q3 2016 compared to the year prior.
The biggest change is likely to be in the Pros' processors, and while there are rumors of detachable touchscreens we'd take them with a hefty pinch of salt. Instead, a Touch ID-capable OLED display called the Magic Toolbar is surmised to take the place of the MacBook Pro's function keys in its 2016 revision.
A 'Magic Toolbar' was further evidenced by a set of product photos leaked by Apple's itself ahead of an official announcement and, in turn, discovered by MacRumors. And, like the iPhone 7 before it, some are even suggesting the death of the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Let's sift through the river of rumors to find nuggets of knowledge: what can we really expect from the 2016 MacBook Pro refresh?
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next generation of Apple's professional notebook
- When is it out? Reveal on October 27 with a launch shortly after
- What will it cost? Likely starting at £899 ($1,099, about AUS$1,670)
MacBook Pro 2016 release date
We originally expected to see the new MacBook Pro 2016 at Apple's annual developer event, WWDC, this June. However, as reports had previously suggested, this year's conference focused primarily on introducing new software updates rather than hardware. New MacBook Pros took a backseat to macOS Sierra and iOS 10.
More recently, Apple's iPhone 7 event took place on September 7, the next candidate for a pair of new MacBooks to be announced. While there were no computers in sight at the iPhone event, shortly thereafter Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested we "stay tuned" for Mac developments.
Since then, following the launch of macOS Sierra, we've caught word that Apple released macOS Sierra 10.12.1, which itself hinted at integration with the new OLED 'Magic Toolbar'.
Up to this point, everything we’ve heard indicates that the new hardware, which will come in three different flavors, features hinges produced using a mechanism called 'metal injection molding' inspired by the Surface Book. The hinges, which purportedly began shipment back in June, were allegedly being manufactured by Jarllytec, a major Taiwanese manufacturer who also crafts hinges for Microsoft's convertible tablet.
Reports suggest that the new, slimmer MacBook Pro will be unveiled on October 27, the same day Apple is slated to host a press keynote. The machine is expected to boast a quadruplet of USB-C ports, two on each side, perhaps complemented by additional color variations akin to the 12-inch MacBook.
MacBook Pro 2016 price
The current MacBook Pro range starts at £899 ($1,099) for the 13-inch non-Retina model, rising to £999 ($1,119) for the entry-level 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and topping out at £1,999 ($2,099) for the 2.5GHz 15-inch Retina.
The 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro, tucked away apologetically at the foot of Apple's product page, surely can't be long for this world; come the updates we'd expect it to vanish in favour of a Retina 13-inch model instead.
Apple tends to keep its pricing similar between generations, so an £899 entry-level Pro with Retina display is likely to be the baby of the range.
MacBook Pro 2016: What's so special about Skylake?
The MacBook Pro is trailing PC rivals in the processor stakes: Dell and HP are moving on to the seventh-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors this fall, while Apple is still clinging to the fifth-generation Broadwell chips.
This year's MacBook Pro, however, is believed to meet in the middle, at long last making the move to sixth-generation Skylake chips. Rest assured, we’re bound to see massive speed improvements across the board in addition to impressive battery lives, even if the specs don’t quite stack up against Kaby Lake.
Skylake has some tricks up its silicon sleeve that Broadwell lacks, including support for WiGig and WiDi short-range, high speed data transfer as well as wireless charging. We may not see that flip of the switch in this year's notebooks, but it's possible nonetheless for Apple to tap into this functionality later on.
One thing Skylake can't do, however, is output 5K resolutions over a single cable stream. That's why, in June, sources told Buzzfeed’s John Paczkowski that Apple is working on a 5K external display complete with its own integrated graphics chip (powered by AMD’s Polaris architecture, according to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman) to handle the stream.
MacBook Pro 2016: Hello USB-C, goodbye headphone jack
Faster is a given, better battery is almost certain. What about design changes? The current MacBook Pro is fairly porky compared to Apple's other notebooks, especially the minimalist USB-C MacBook.
That's partly because it's an older design and partly because the current MacBook Pro boasts lots of ports: twin Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3, an HDMI socket and an SDXC card slot.
Apple isn't sentimental about removing supposedly must-have features it deems redundant - the MacBook Pro lost its SuperDrive years ago - so could those ports be for the bullet too in favor of one or two USB-C ports? Reports seem to point to that.
Not only is the MacBook Pro 2016 expected to feature USB Type-C ports, but on top of that, they'll be USB 3.1 Gen 2, making them even faster than the first-gen port of the 12-inch MacBook. However, like with the iPhone 7 before it, the headphone jack might get the bullet on the MacBook Pro as well.
With Intel's integration of Thunderbolt 3 in USB-C connections, USB, Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, PCI Express and power can be delivered over a single cable. If the Lenovo Moto Z is anything to go by, so too can digital audio.
What's more, USB-C has the bandwidth for daisy-chaining even the most demanding devices, and of course Apple is always happy to sell reassuringly expensive adapters when it bins a previously popular port. If the 2016 MacBook Pro doesn't have at least one USB-C port we'll eat an iPad – although it'll be interesting to see how much Apple prizes thinness over existing connectivity.
MacBook Pro 2016: Touch ID and next-gen SSDs?
The Pros are all about performance, so will they get next-generation SSDs? It's a nice thought, but while Intel's blazingly quick Optane SSDs are destined for Macs, they aren't likely to appear in any this side of 2017. Fortunately, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo does predict that we'll see the option of a 2TB SSD configuration in the MacBook Pro 2016, which is just as welcome a change as any.
Another persistent rumour is TouchID fingerprint recognition, which was effectively confirmed in the aforementioned product images after a leak back in August suggested that a fall MacBook rollout would incorporate a power button featuring TouchID tech.
MacBook Pro 2016: A stylus without a touchscreen
In a July patent approval, Apple suggested it was interested in extending Apple Pencil support beyond the limits of the iPad Pro's touchscreen display and onto its Magic Trackpad. The speculation doesn't stop there, of course, as this idea could easily translate to the onboard MacBook trackpads as well.
Don't be surprised if, come Autumn, we see a revamped Apple Pencil revealed alongside a new set of MacBook Pros.
MacBook Pro 2016: Detachable keyboard and screen?
One of the most interesting MacBook Pro rumors is that it's getting a touchscreen and perhaps a detachable keyboard too. We’re inclined to disagree, for several reasons. More likely to come to fruition, in some capacity, is a touchscreen keyboard in Apple’s next MacBook Pro.
While a patent filed by Apple back in April suggested an iPad-like interface in favor of a the physical keyboards we've all grown accustomed to, the leaked photographs we've seen more recently show something a little different; that is, a MacBook-inspired butterfly keyboard featuring a touchscreen OLED display to replace the function keys.
The OLED media bar, which according to trademark filings is being called 'Magic Toolbar', is all but confirmed at this point, with one Reddit user at Tsinghua University claiming to have seen it in action. Ultimately, it’s suspected to lead into fully dynamic, shape-shifting keyboards down the line, but more than likely in the 2018 12-inch MacBook.
A touchscreen, even a tiny one ousting a single row of keys, could make for an enticing compromise for those in pursuit of the classic MacBook Pro experience as well as for fans of the ever-flourishing 2-in-1 laptop.
- Now, what about the its inevitable rival, the Surface Book 2?
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article