Apple's New MacBook Pros Leave Analysts Wanting More

NEWS ANALYSIS—Yes, the new machines are lighter, thinner and faster, say analysts, but game-changing innovations were left out.

Apple, MacBook Pro, laptops, computers, MacBook Pro 13, MacBook Pro 15

Apple executives sure were excited when they unveiled the company's all-new thinner, faster and lighter MacBook Pro models on Oct. 27, but a sampling of IT analysts told eWEEK that the innovations they had hoped to see in the devices were not part of the company's splashy presentation.

The latest MacBooks arrive in three versions—a 15-inch model (pictured) with a sixth-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core 2.6 GHz processor, 16GB of 2,133MHz memory and up to 2TB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage; a 13-inch model with a choice of sixth-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 dual-core processors and 8GB of 2,133MHz memory; and a second lower-priced 13-inch model that comes with a standard row of function keys instead of a new Touch Bar that's found in the other two laptops. The all-new Touch Bar replaces the top row of clickable function keys with a touch-screen keyboard strip that enables deep customization options with a variety of applications.

The Touch Bar is certainly an interesting new feature, Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, told eWEEK, but "I feel like Apple was conservative" with the overall improvements in the new devices. "They could have really shaken it up, and they didn't. It's an improvement, but they didn't change the game."

What he would have liked to see are innovations such as wireless displays that connect using WiGig, which could allow users to walk into a room, set down their MacBooks and have them connect to a compatible monitor instantly without having to plug anything in, said Moorhead. "That would be super sexy and useful."

While the Touch Bar is intriguing, it will only be useful if ISVs invest in it and build its capabilities into their applications, he said. "I think Apple could have enabled a lot of the functionality with a touch display, but that wasn't going to happen. I'm very excited to see Apple adopt Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, and I'd like to see them do some differentiated add-on like storage, graphics and even a dock in the future."

The 15-inch model can be configured with Radeon Pro 450 graphics with up to 4GB of video memory, while the 13-inch models are equipped with Intel Iris 550 graphics chips.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399, while the MacBook Pro 13-inch model starts at $1,799 with the Touch Bar, or at $1,499 for the standard model without the Touch Bar. The basic MacBook Pro 13 is available immediately, while the other two models will ship in two to three weeks, according to Apple.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said: "All-in-all, I found the MacBook announcement disappointing. [It was] a meal consisting of nothing but nothing burgers."

Overall, "I'm not happy with the whole direction" of the new MacBooks, he said. "The Touch Bar looks like a gimmick. A touch-screen does make a PC more useful. The pricing suggests that Apple is retreating into generating profit from its loyal Mac base, but is not seeking to expand that base."

The new MacBooks are "attractive [computers] at a premium price. That's sort of where Apple has been in [computers] for a while, but there's less innovation in both the devices and the operating system than there once was. For a long time, Apple drove innovation in [computers], but that is no longer true."

The biggest problem is that "there's nothing about these new Macbooks that will make Windows users switch," he said.

Jeff Orr, an analyst with ABI Research, agreed. "What I don't see is a significant change in the size or type of audience that the new MacBook Pro models appeal to" in the marketplace. "The changes made in the next generation of MacBook Pro will likely maintain the existing potential audience, but it doesn't drastically change the use cases or reasons to switch from a Windows-based machine to a macOS one. The outcome is what I'd call 'meet comp,' or able to meet the needs of the marketplace while remaining competitive with other PC OEMs."

Orr described the new Touch Bar as "somewhere between useful for productivity and a gimmick" that will depend on "how well applications utilize the new capabilities and, perhaps most importantly, how quickly users adopt the use of the Touch Bar."

Overall, "the concept of replacing function keys with specific labeled shortcuts and functions seems like an obvious gain in productivity for MacBook Pro users," he said, "but the proof will be in how adaptable and customizable the Touch Bar experience becomes for power users."