Computing

MacBook Pro 2020: Everything you need to know about Apple’s next laptops

With the MacBook Pro 16-inch receiving rave reviews, Apple-made ARM processors on the horizon, and even a dual-screen MacBook apparently in the works, these are interesting times for fans of Apple’s laptops.

That’s doubly so with the MacBook Pro, where a lot of Apple’s high-end development takes place. And with the new decade upon us, there’s plenty to look forward to this year — so what exactly should you expect from the MacBook Pro in 2020?

Price and release date

At this stage, exact release dates are a matter of speculation, but there are plenty of hints from previous years that we can use to take a reasonable stab at when the MacBook Pro 2020 may be released.

Generally speaking, Apple launches larger MacBook Pro laptop updates at events in either June or October, or more minor updates via press release in either May or July. While there’s no way we can guarantee it’ll be the same in 2020, it does suggest that the earliest we may get a new MacBook Pro in 2020 would be around May.

We got another clue in the form of a leaked regulatory filing for an upcoming MacBook Pro. Filed with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), the document concerns a device with model number A2289, made by “portable personal computer brand Apple” and running “software version macOS 10.15.” That’s the current software, otherwise known as Catalina.

The fact that the report was filed with the Eurasian Economic Commission lends credence to the idea that a release date is coming sooner rather than later. Similar filings revealed the existence of new iPads in July 2019, and they were released less than two months later in September 2019; it’s the same story with the MacBook Air and Pro — revealed in June 2019, updated in July.

This would suggest an earlier release date than usual, but then it’s possible this is an unusual MacBook Pro – a 13-inch variant of the MacBook Pro 16. More on that later.

And what about the price? Well, this is even more elusive than the release date, with no firm data coming from any sources. However, once again we can use a little lateral thinking to make a decent guess at what the MacBook Pro 2020 might cost.

The main clue comes in the form of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which kept the exact same price tag of the MacBook Pro 15, despite offering a new form factor and features. So, if a downsized MacBook Pro 16 is just around the corner, we’d expect it to follow the example set by its larger sibling and keep its current starting price of $1,299, with and a handful of size and spec variations going up through the pricing gears.

The MacBook Pro 16 — but smaller

When Apple launched the MacBook Pro 16-inch in December 2019, it chose to bring its new features to this model only. That meant the smaller MacBook Pro 13 stayed the same — the same thick bezels, the same butterfly keyboard, the same everything.

That always felt like a temporary situation, especially when the positive reviews started pouring in for the vastly improved keyboard, better thermal architecture and more modern look and feel. We find it hard to believe Apple would want to restrict these features to the 16-inch model only; a revamped MacBook Pro 13 is surely on the way.

Going back to those EEC filings, there are clues that indicate that the leaked device is part of the same family as the MacBook Pro, with the A2289 model number being prime among them. The MacBook Pro 16 has a model number of A2141, and is the first MacBook Pro to use a model number starting “A2” (previously, all recent MacBook Pros started “A1”). While various iPads also use model numbers starting A2, the emphasis on “portable computer brand” in the EEC filing implies this device is a relative of the MacBook Pro 16-inch.

We think it’s highly unlikely this is a spec bump for the MacBook Pro 16, as it seems nonsensical to update that so soon after releasing it. The MacBook Pro 13-inch, however, hasn’t been touched since July 2019, making it the much more likely subject of the EEC filing.

That means we can expect a similar spec sheet to the MacBook Pro 16: a Magic Keyboard with improved travel; slimline screen bezels; the Touch Bar with a physical Esc key and Touch ID button; and a new cooling system to extract more performance from the internal components.

An ARM processor looks possible

Rumors of Apple switching its processors from Intel to ARM have been floating around for a long time, but it looks like 2020 could be the year this finally becomes reality. A number of factors, including the excellent performance of Apple’s ARM-based iOS chips, numerous frustrating delays to Intel’s Mac processors, Apple’s latest software projects, and reports from reliable sources all suggest ARM processors are coming to the MacBook Pro sooner rather than later.

For instance, both Bloomberg and Axios have reported that Apple is well underway with the switch, codenamed Kalamata. Right now, Apple is reliant on Intel providing it with the processors that power its MacBooks; numerous times in recent years Intel has been late in delivering these, meaning MacBooks have gone to market without the latest and greatest chips inside them. With the frustration this entails on the one hand, and the superb performance of Apple’s own mobile processors on the other, it seems Apple has run out of patience.

However, there’s another reason, and interestingly enough it comes not from the world of hardware, but of software. The clue here is Project Catalyst, Apple’s ongoing effort to make iOS apps work on the Mac. The project has started out with iPad apps making the leap first, and supposedly will expand to include iPhone apps in 2020. The eventual goal is to allow any app work on any Apple platform.

According to the reports, Apple hopes to facilitate this by outfitting all of its devices — including the MacBook Pro — with ARM chips. For one thing, this would make life massively easier for app developers, who could work on apps knowing they’d be running on the same architecture regardless of the device.

Adding ARM processors to the MacBook Pro also gives us a potential hint about its release date. Given the massive boost this would give to app developers, it makes sense that Apple would want to show it off at Apple’s developer-focused event, WWDC, which takes place every year in June. We’ve therefore got our eye on a June 2020 release date for the MacBook Pro; while that’s much later than the EEC filing would suggest, that document may refer to a different device to the ARM MacBook Pro. It’s always possible Apple will limit its initial roll-out of ARM processors to entry-level devices such as the MacBook Air or a relaunched MacBook.

An all-powerful, eye-burning Mini-LED display

MacOS Catalina Hands-on | Macbook Pro
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Over time, the MacBook Pro has built up a reputation for its stellar display, which boasts exceptional brightness, a wide color gamut, and low color error rates. Yet recent rumors suggest that those screens are set to get even better.

According to reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is working on a Mini-LED display that will dramatically ramp up the quality. We are already seeing this technology proliferate in high-end monitors launching in 2020. For example, Apple’s Pro Display XDR — its highest quality, most luxurious monitor so far — contains 576 LEDs; a Mini-LED MacBook Pro could boast up to 10,000 LEDs.

Packing in so many LEDs into a 13- or 16-inch MacBook Pro display will result in exceptional HDR performance, wide color and high contrast, while also avoiding the burn-in problems that OLED panels can experience. All in all, that should help take Apple’s MacBook Pro displays to another level entirely.

There are a few caveats. For one thing, Kuo understandably expects such advanced tech to cost an arm and a leg, so it’ll likely only make an appearance in Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro (as well as its iPad Pro, potentially). As well as that, Kuo predicts a launch date of late 2020 to somewhere around the middle of 2021, meaning we may have to wait a little longer for this super display.

MacBook Pro 2020: Our wishlist

Apple MacBook 13-inch Touch Pad
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are a few other things that we’d love to see on the 2020 MacBook Pro. While not all of these have been rumored, we wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them in the next iteration of the device.

Top of our list has to be Face ID. While the iPhone has had Face ID (and Windows has had Windows Hello) for a while now, Apple’s MacBooks have been bereft of this tech for far too long. Face ID on a MacBook would be more secure than Touch ID and even more convenient — all you’d have to do would be to sit down at your desk and look and your screen, then boom — you’re logged in. No reaching for a Touch ID button, just a seamless experience of the kind Apple is well known for.

At CES 2020, AMD unveiled its Ryzen 4 processors. These boast up to eight cores and 16 threads at an exceptionally low power draw — just 15 watts. Apple demands very power-efficient parts for the MacBook Pro to enable it to be almost silent during most operations, and these chips would be easily efficient enough for Apple’s taste. Bringing these eight-core U-series processors to the 13-inch MacBook Pro could revolutionize what creative professionals could do with a smaller laptop.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the ports. Apple thankfully seems to have left behind the days of the single USB-C port now that it’s killed the 12-inch MacBook, but it’s still possible to buy a brand-new MacBook Pro with just two USB-C ports. That’s appropriate for the MacBook Air, but for a device aimed at professional users with a plethora of accessories, monitors and devices to connect up, that’s just not enough. We’re all for the super-speed benefits of Thunderbolt 3, but we need enough ports to be able to get our work done without drowning in dongles.

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