New MacBooks are coming later this month, but are they too little too late?

how will apples new macbooks stay competitive macbook lifestyle 16x9
It’s coming. Later this month we will see an update to the MacBook lineup, including the oft-neglected MacBook Pro. It might not be a big splashy event like the iPhone announcement last month, but at least it’ll be something, right?

The MacBook Pro has been neglected for nearly two years, lost in the wild while its competitors ride roughshod over its once proud domain. Budget competitors are building premium machines with quality that rivals Apple’s best, performance is skyrocketing, and prices are plummeting. The MacBook Pro returns, this month, to a changed and nearly unrecognizable market.

How can it possibly stay competitive?

Enemies at the gates

What’s so different about this year, this product cycle? Well, if you look at the laptop market when the last MacBook Pro debuted, in May 2015, you can see the beginnings of a trend toward uniformly premium build quality.

The MacBook Pro has been missing for nearly two years, lost in the wild while its competitors ride roughshod over its once proud domain.

Apple adherents have found it difficult to sneer at the latest products released by competitors. They no longer feature cheap plastic construction, creaky hinges, and faded plastic screens. In fact, the latest Windows laptops are thinner and lighter than similar Apple hardware.

Dell, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo have polished their steel, and brought high-end metal-and-glass laptops to eager consumers. Meanwhile, out on the fringes of the laptop market, innovative, if niche, offerings like the Microsoft Surface Book and Lenovo Yoga Book claim a growing slice of market share.

Year over year, Apple’s MacBook sales have trended upward, but this past year sales hit their lowest point since 2013. The announcement later this month comes at a crucial time, and it will determine just how much of that market share the MacBook can claw back from its competitors.

Faster, better, stronger

Performance is going to be the name of the game for the latest MacBooks. They’ve lagged so far behind that Apple’s prices have become, frankly, absurd. What a customer can get for $1,800 from Apple pales in comparison to what that same customer can get from Dell, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, or Microsoft for a couple hundred bucks less.

Sure there’s always been an “Apple Tax,” but the distance between what you get from Apple and what you could get elsewhere has always been just small enough to justify the extra cost. Until now, the hardware has never been generations behind the competition.

Tim Cook

Step one to remaining competitive is to crank up that performance with, at a bare minimum, 6th-generation Skylake processors across the board, and maybe even a couple 7th-generation Kaby Lake processors for the dual-core MacBook offerings – the quad-cores are still just on the horizon. RAM will likely get a bump, and so will storage space, but it’s the CPU and GPU that are in dire need of some attention.

If this kind of gap between hardware updates is what we can expect in the future, Apple really needs to push the envelope to keep supporters happy a few years down the line.

Stepping up the hardware is one way to stay relevant as competitors close ranks and storm the gates, but there’s another way to do it – and it’s not without risk.

Touching up the MacBook Pro

The latest leaks paint a pretty clear picture of what we can expect from the latest MacBook Pro; thinner chassis, USB-C taking over for USB-A, no more MagSafe, and of course the OLED touch bar.

We still don’t know very much about the touch bar, but it represents an unprecedented opportunity for the MacBook lineup. You only have to look at the iPhone to see why. Like a bespoke tuxedo, iOS software is custom-tailored to the iPhone hardware at every level – encryption, user interface, haptics – because they’re designed to complement each other.

Apple might still be the king of the premium laptop market, but competitors have closed the gap.

Apps on the app store aren’t designed for every smartphone, they’re designed for the iPhone, and that’s the way Apple likes it. So it comes as little surprise they’d want to bring a small slice of that integration to the MacBook lineup.

Apple hasn’t been able to bring that kind of hardware/software fusion to its MacBooks in part because it’s almost impossible to integrate so intimately on an open platform like a desktop operating system. That’s where the touch bar comes in.

By building a unique hardware component that is only present on the MacBook, Apple can achieve some small degree of that custom-tailored feel on its flagship laptops, and it’s an interesting prospect. We can expect to see deep integration in MacOS Sierra, support for OS-level applications like Siri, and probably even iTunes or Apple Music. But the real opportunity will be in third-party integration.

MacBook 13″ with OLED display concept. (Photos: Martin Hajek)

If third party developers can get in on the action, that little OLED touch bar could end up being a lot more than a curious footnote for the MacBook lineup. It could be the driving force behind app developers clamoring to get in on the Mac App Store.

Return of the king

Apple has never been one for gimmicks when it comes to the MacBook lineup. Progress has been historically incremental and steady. Over several years and iterations plastic gave way to aluminum, an integrated hinge streamlined the design further, and the trackpad became a smooth pane of finely textured glass.

None of these were sweeping, over-night changes. They were rolled out like clockwork. About every year the MacBook lineup received some new feature, a minor change that built on a legacy of quiet innovation.

Planning major hardware changes to a product that hasn’t seen any serious updates in over a year is a calculated risk, and it speaks to the current state of the laptop market. Worldwide, personal computer sales are down as we rely more and more on our increasingly capable mobile devices. Competition is fierce for every laptop manufacturer, and Apple knows it.

So can the new MacBooks coming later this month keep Apple competitive? In all honesty, yes. Apple still has serious brand capital and loyalty. Pair those factors with a major hardware update, along with a shiny new thing that nobody else has, and it’s safe to say Apple’s competitors are in for one hell of a fight this holiday season.


New ‘Battlefield V’ patch gives Nvidia’s ray tracing support a chance to shine

‘Battlefield V’ is the first game to use Nvidia’s ray tracing support, now available with the RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti graphics cards. The feature can, in an ideal scenario, make the game look better, but the performance hit may not be…
Product Review

How does the sleek MateBook X Pro hold up to the modern day competition?

Huawei impressed us with the MateBook X, a solid competitor to the 12-inch MacBook that beat Apple at its own game. Now, Huawei is taking a shot at premium 14-inchers with the MateBook X Pro, but it’s not without oddities – like a…
Product Review

It's not the sharpest tool, but the Surface Go does it all for $400

Microsoft has launched the $400 Surface Go to take on both the iPad and Chromebooks, all without compromising its core focus on productivity. Does it work as both a tablet and a PC?

Changing file associations in Windows 10 is quick and easy with these steps

Learning how to change file associations can make editing certain file types much quicker than manually selecting your preferred application every time you open them. Just follow these short steps and you'll be on your way in no time.

Intel's dedicated GPU is not far off -- here's what we know

Did you hear? Intel is working on a dedicated graphics card. It's called Arctic Sound and though we don't know a lot about it, we know that Intel has some ex-AMD Radeon graphics engineers developing it.

Edit, sign, append, and save with six of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.

Capture screenshots with print screen and a few alternative methods

Capturing a screenshot of your desktop is easier than you might think, and it's the kind of thing you'll probably need to know. Here's how to perform the important function in just a few, easy steps.

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX331UA -- will get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.

Vanquish lag for good with the best routers for gaming

Finding the best routers for gaming is no easy task. With so many out there, how do you know which to pick? We've looked at the many options available and put together a list of our lag-free favorites.

Stop your PC's vow of silence with these tips on how to fix audio problems

Sound problems got you down? Don't worry, with a few tweaks and tricks we'll get your sound card functioning as it should, and you listening to your favorite tunes and in-game audio in no time.

These Raspberry Pi 3 bundles will cover everyone, from coders to gamers

The Raspberry Pi 3 is a low-budget computing platform capable of doing just about anything. We rounded up a handful of the best Raspberry Pi 3 bundles to get you started on a variety of DIY projects.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!