Archive for November 14, 2019

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The 16-inch MacBook Pro

Apple (tweet, Hacker News):

The new Magic Keyboard features a refined scissor mechanism with 1 mm travel for a responsive, comfortable, and quiet typing experience. The Touch Bar puts powerful shortcuts front and center, and Touch ID provides fast authentication. A dedicated Escape key allows quick switching between modes and views. And the inverted-T arrow keys enable fluid navigation whether you’re flying through lines of code, navigating spreadsheets, or gaming.


16‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit display with IPS technology; 3072‑by‑1920 native resolution at 226 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors


Configurable to 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB SSD


Configurable to 32GB or 64GB of memory


Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports


720p FaceTime HD camera


High‑fidelity six‑speaker system with force‑cancelling woofers


Studio‑quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming

It sounds like the keyboard is truly fixed, which was the most important thing, but also table stakes. I’m surprised but pleased that there’s a new (old) arrow key arrangement.

The second most important thing, but less talked about, is the improved thermals. Assuming they got it right—and they seem to have on the other recently revised Macs—this is a huge deal.

The separate Esc key and Touch ID are good, as is the increased distance between the Touch Bar and keyboard, but I would still prefer an option to have no Touch Bar at all. I use F-keys all the time and also find that physical keys work better for adjusting the brightness and volume. Perhaps I would feel differently if there were haptics or if the software had advanced, but there’s still no public way to add global Touch Bar items. The potential seems unrealized. The Touch Bar itself is smaller and shows different items with different spacing and alignment.

The larger display is welcome, but we’re talking 0.6 inches here. I had the 17-inch before and would like to see something like that again. The 16-inch still can’t natively do 1680x1050 at Retina, the (optional) resolution of the old 15-inch MacBook Pro. And the display is still glossy-only; I prefer matte.

The higher RAM and SSD ceilings are great, but I would rather the Mac be a little larger so they could be upgradable. The MacBook Pro’s processor, display, and other main components should last for a very long time. My 2012 MacBook Pro still has decent performance. But RAM and storage needs will keep increasing. It doesn’t make sense to pay up-front for capacity that you don’t need today, plus Apple’s markup, for components that are rapidly getting cheaper. Microsoft, at least, is moving in that direction with a replaceable SSD.

The level pricing of the base configurations is much better than I expected, though it’s too bad they couldn’t get it back to the pre–Touch Bar starting price. Where it can get crazy is with the RAM and SSD upgrades ($800 for 64 GB of RAM, $2,400 for 8 TB SSD). My iMac has 40 GB of RAM and regularly uses 12 GB of swap, without doing anything particularly intensive. So moving from 4 to 6/8 cores and with the idea of keeping the Mac for a long time, 32 GB seems iffy.

Everyone talks about the (still absent) SD Card slot in relation to photography, but I liked having it for secondary storage and Time Machine. The cards are cheap and tiny and, unlike USB-C drives/sticks, can easily remain connected when you put the Mac in a case.

If I were using it as a primary Mac, I’d still want more ports. And, in any case, at least one USB-A would be nice to avoid having to carry a dongle. Apple remains committed to USB-C, which seems to have barely made progress since 2016.

Charging still takes up one of the four ports. Safety aside, USB-C is still much less pleasant to plug and unplug than MagSafe.

Most of the improvement in battery capacity is relative to the 2016–2018 models, rather than 2015, but it’s good to see it move in the right direction, even if it makes the Mac slightly larger and heavier.

I’d still prefer a smaller trackpad to avoid accidental input. And it looks like the edges and indentation in front of the trackpad remain sharp, as if you aren’t supposed to put your hands near there.

Will I get one? If this MacBook Pro had been released in 2016, I would have upgraded my original Retina MacBook Pro to a loaded configuration (well, not 8 TB) and used it as my main Mac. Since I didn’t like the 2016 MacBook Pros, I instead switched to an iMac. Now, using the 16-inch MacBook Pro my main Mac would be a regression given the external display situation and the fact that it requires Catalina.

For my auxiliary/travel Mac, it would be a big improvement but overkill. What I’m looking for there doesn’t exist in Apple’s lineup. I’d prefer something cheaper with less power, fewer premium features, and a larger screen. As long as my 2012 MacBook Pro continues to run the latest macOS versions, I may as well wait and see what happens with the 13-inch Pro and MacBook Air and see whether the keyboard ends up being as reliable as we hope.

John Gruber (tweet):

There’s also more space between keys — about 0.5mm. This difference is much more noticeable by feel than by sight. Making it easier to feel the gaps between keys really does make a difference. Like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, all 16-inch models come with the Touch Bar. But even there, there’s a slight improvement: it’s been nudged further above the top row of keys, to help avoid accidental touches. No haptic feedback or any other functional changes to the Touch Bar, though.


And they didn’t throw away the good parts of the butterfly keyboard — including excellent backlighting and especially the increased stability, where keys go down flat even when pressed off-center. The keys on this keyboard don’t wobble like the keys on pre-2016 MacBook Pro keyboards do.

Typing is very quiet on the new keyboard, and the sound it does make is satisfying. Less click-ity, more chunk-ity.


Lastly, Apple seems very confident that this new keyboard design is durable and reliable. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is not covered by Apple’s keyboard service program, because they apparently don’t need to be.

Marcin Krzyzanowski:

MBP’15 2018 wasn’t included in the program since day one too. MBP’15 2018 is not included in Anti-Reflective Display Coating replacement program, but definitely suffer from the very same disease.

I mean: It means nothing

Marco Arment (tweet):

Two years ago, I wrote a wishlist to fix the MacBook Pro, and the 16-inch doesn’t actually deliver most of it. But time and technological progress are slowly getting Apple off the hook[…]

I mostly disagree about the latter. I love his graphs of the key spacing and travel.

Dr. Drang:

But I have opinions about chart style, and I think a handful of small improvements could be made. Most of these could not be made within the charting software Marco was using (Numbers, I think); the charts would have to be imported into a drawing package and manipulated there. But the small extra effort would be worth it.

Marco Arment:

And I didn’t get everything I wanted. But many of my wishlist items fall outside of what Apple is likely to ever do, and all of them are much less important than making the computer’s primary input device functional, acceptable, and reliable. Now we have the luxury of being able to complain about less-urgent wishes.

The biggest change is that I finally don’t feel like it’s constantly fighting me. Its design doesn’t feel spiteful. It’s a computer that doesn’t seem to hate being a computer. I’m not afraid to use it in the world, and I’m not avoiding using it because it’s unpleasant. The butterfly keyboard was the opposite, it never got better, I never got used to it, and good riddance to it.

Following in the footsteps of the fantastic iMac Pro, updated Mac Mini, and upcoming Mac Pro, the release of the 16-inch MacBook Pro ends a painful chapter of neglect and hubristic design of the Mac. Apple has finally turned the ship around.

Jason Snell:

Apple doesn’t like to admit that it’s wrong, but will be the first to let you know when it’s made an improvement. In this case, the Apple representatives I talked to admitted that while many people liked the butterfly keyboard, “some didn’t.” (That feels like a bit of an understatement.) Regardless, Apple spent time reconsidering what users wanted out of their keyboards, including doing a lot of internal research—and the result is that this new MacBook Pro has a keyboard based on the other 2015 Apple keyboard design, in the hope that this keyboard will be more broadly appealing to laptop users.


Pixel density has increased from 220 pixels per inch to 226 ppi, so this is a higher resolution screen, not just a bigger one. Still, Apple has set this laptop to default to a scaled size that’s the retina equivalent of 1792 by 1120.


The 16-inch display can also alter its refresh rate, which is especially helpful for video editors. You can choose from 47.95, 48, 50, 59.94, and 60 Hertz refresh rates.

Phil Schiller (MacRumors):

As you know, a number of years ago we started a new keyboard technology with this butterfly keyboard and began it with MacBook. It had some things it did really well, like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more firm and flat under your finger -- some people really like that, but other people weren’t really happy with that. We got sort of a mixed reaction. We had some quality issues we had to work on.

But a few years back, we decided that while we were advancing the butterfly keyboard, we would also -- specifically for our pro customer -- go back and really talk to many pro customers about what they most want in a keyboard and did a bunch of research.


Will this keyboard find its way to other MacBooks? There are folks who don’t need the power of the MacBook Pro, but may appreciate the tactile experience.

I can’t say today. We are continuing both keyboard designs.

Hopefully, he doesn’t mean that a working keyboard is a Pro feature. They had better be fixing the rest of the notebook lineup for early 2020.

See also:

Myke Hurley:

Apple are saying that the new MacBook Pro has microphones that can be used ‘for creating superclean podcasts or music recordings on the go’

So we put that to the test[…]

Benjamin Mayo:

I railed on Apple’s SSD pricing before so here’s some (earned) praise.

As recently as this July, it would cost $2800 to get 4 TB SSD in a MacBook Pro. Now it’s $2400 for 8 TB.

Marco Arment:

My Overcast build script (timed xcodebuild after clean) averaged:

~40 seconds on the 16” MBP (8-core 2.4 GHz i9)
~38 seconds on the iMac Pro (10-core)


I haven’t disabled Turbo Boost on mine yet, but running the highest CPU offered during setup (lots of Dropbox, search indexing, Xcode decompression, build scripts, etc.), I did hear the fans spin up occasionally and it got warm sometimes.

Kaya Thomas:

The 16" MacBook Pro is much faster for fresh builds and incremental builds in Xcode. Some stats below for the @Calm app:

MBP 15":
216 seconds for a fresh build
7 seconds for an incremental build

MBP 16":
135 seconds for a fresh build
2 seconds for an incremental build

One thing that was extremely noticeable is how QUIET the 16" MacBook Pro is. While running Xcode usually my computer sounds like its running a full marathon 😭 but I barely heard a peep from the new one!! Even if the fans started up they didn’t stay on for long at all.

Marco Arment:

Some 16” MBP Overcast-build testing with Turbo Boost disabled (with Turbo Boost Switcher Pro), which is great if you’re willing to give up a good chunk of peak performance in exchange for much less heat, noise, and battery drain[…]

Frank A. Krueger:

I wonder if a 110 Wh battery is really that more dangerous than a 99.5 Wh? My guess is they have absolutely no evidence either way.

Zach Holman:

The new MacBook Pro is a monster- 64GB of RAM! First time with 8TB of SSD in a laptop! And... <checks notes> still the same 720p FaceTime camera. What is this, 2005? Does no one at Apple ever work remotely?

if only Apple had another product line with stupid absurd camera technology that shoots fucking lasers into your face to identify it and take crazy good quality photos and video so they could put it into a laptop too

Martin Gordon:

It’s worth noting that while the 16” is larger than the Touch Bar MBP, it is also slightly smaller/lighter than the beloved 2015 MBP. For those of us who were still holding on to our 2015s, any existing sleeves/backpacks/etc should still work with the 16”.

Mark Gurman:

Also notable that this 16-inch MBP is running the same Intel parts as the previous update 6 months ago and WiFi 5 versus WiFi 6 on the new iPhones. Very easy to believe this will be updated again within 6-9 months alongside the 13-inch and the Air getting the new keyboards.

Nick Heer:

Apple has not announced new models of the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro, both of which still ship today with an unreliable keyboard, so this absolutely is just a first step. There’s also an open class action suit in California concerning the keyboards in Apple’s laptops from 2015 through this year, and that highlights the “finally” aspect of this improved keyboard. Having a reliable input system is basically the ground floor in computer hardware, and it’s absurd that this design was able to ship at all, let alone across three product lines for four years.

Quinn Nelson:

I’m proud of Apple in 2019. They’ve fixed laptop thermal throttling, they’ve made their phones and laptops thicker and heavier for the sake of improved battery, they’ve given us a laptop keyboard that doesn’t suck, etc. They’ve listened. For the first time in a longgg time.


Update (2019-11-18): Upgrade (via Jason Snell):

Dongletown is proud of its local sports team, the Butterflies! Most other teams consider them a key rival, even though the Butterflies don’t travel very far. This shirt is guaranteed to command attention. We’re happy to provide several color and style options, so you can control your wardrobe--or if you prefer to shift strategies, buy them all and run up your tab! We’re not sure if this style will ever return, so buy one now and wear it upside-down for that “inverted tee” feeling.

Jason Snell:

Apple is clearly guided, at least in part, by a design philosophy that considers size and weight to be the enemy of good. I like to call this Jobs’s Law, though it could just as easily be called the Ive Doctrine: Always strive for the next version of your product to be thinner and lighter than the current one.


I’m not going to argue that Apple has made a massive course correction when it comes to creating products—it’s not that dramatic. But what has happened, somewhere, is that Apple has reordered its priority list.

Kaya Thomas:

The 64 GB of RAM, meanwhile, is a dream for development. I had a MacBook Pro with just 16 GB of RAM, and it couldn’t handle running certain simulators in Xcode while simultaneously running other apps, and even after upgrading to 32 GB there were still performance lags. The new MacBook Pro can handle running Xcode and the simulators without overheating or getting any “running out of application memory” warnings.

Curtis Herbert:

OMG, these fans for the i9 2019 MBP are no joke. But, build times were literally cut in half. 🥳

Colin Cornaby:

A moderately spec'd 2019 Macbook Pro really puts the base Mac Pro in a tough spot. The base Mac Pro wins in a few places, but costs twice as much. The Mac Pro makes a lot more sense if you're going to be doing a lot of upgrades. Otherwise the Macbook Pro is a great deal.

Chaim Gartenberg (Slashdot):

And iFixit’s teardown of the new laptop confirms that promise, with Apple using scissor switches that appear to be virtually identical the ones it uses in its Magic Keyboards, first introduced in 2015.

Paul Haddad:

Apple’s trade in value on a high-end Macbook 2015. I mean, I can’t even disagree that much it is the worst Mac I’ve ever bought.

Quinn Nelson:

Also, the TouchID sensor is matte now instead of glossy so it matches all the other keys and doesn’t ever look gross and smeared.

Ben Thompson:

Or, to put it another way, the power — and downside — of monopoly. No, Apple does not have a monopoly in computers — how amazing would that be! — but the company does have a monopoly on macOS. It sells the only hardware that runs macOS, which is why millions of customers kept buying computers that, particularly in the last couple of years, were widely reported to be at risk of significant problems.

To be clear, Apple didn’t commit some sort of crime here. At the same time, it is hard to imagine the butterfly keyboard persisting for four-and-a-half years and counting if the company faced any sort of competition. Integration can produce a superior user experience, but once an integrated product faces no more competition it can result in something that is downright user-hostile.


This article is not a legal argument: in particular, I have used the term “monopoly” very loosely. What makes Apple so brilliant from a business perspective is that it has managed to, via hardware and software integration, earn monopoly profits in a way that would not normally be classified as a monopoly.

Joe Cieplinski:

It’s not a bad keyboard, by any stretch of the imagination. And it certainly tramples the old keyboard on the 2015 and prior models. But the extra travel makes me feel like I’m working harder than I should have to when I type. And the extra space between the keys looks and feels cheaper and older to me.

Angus MacGyger:

Following @drdrang here is a scatter chart of @marcoarment data inspired by @jsnell interview. I got the raw data with and plotted with matplotlib in Python.

Update (2019-11-20): Casey Johnston:

@gruber asked me if i thought macbook keyboards would have been fixed sooner if i’d written my keyboard story for a bigger, more significant outlet. i don’t think it could have ever happened that way because no publication would have risked stepping out on apple like that :)

big credit to @leahfinnegan and @outline for commissioning and running it when apple has so many people gaslighting themselves so badly every day

the bad keyboards had been in the world two and a half calendar years!! i wasn’t the first or last person to use them; worth asking why no one else called it out

See also: The Talk Show.

Marco Arment:

I can tell you exactly why “nobody” was talking about them, because we talked about them all the time.

The audience HATED it.

Many Apple-media fans hate when we harp on Apple about long-standing problems, even if they’re still major problems. They say we’re “too negative”.


Make sure the proper wattage adapter for your portable computer is used. Select the appropriate power adapter for your Apple portable computer. You can use a higher wattage power adapter, but you cannot use one with less wattage without potential operating issues.

Update (2019-11-25): Dieter Bohn:

The trackpad is still almost comically big, but Apple does better than anybody at palm rejection.


My favorite part of the 16-inch MacBook Pro isn’t the keyboard or the improved thermals. (More on that below.) To be blunt, those are both things Apple shouldn’t have messed up in the first place, so I don’t want to give it too much credit for just hitting par.

It’s the speakers. They’re the best I’ve ever heard on a laptop.


It’s the no-drama MacBook Pro. And thank god for that because for people who want a big-screen, big-power Mac laptop, it’s also the only option around.

Nilay Patel:

It’s a very good laptop with incredible speakers, but mostly it just feels like Apple reset things, instead of pushing anything too far forward.

Kyle Howells:

I tried the 16" MacBook Pro in an Apple Store and, after hearing everyone rave about the keyboard, I’m incredibly disappointed in it. The keys are still far too immobile and the gaps are tiny between the keys. Typing on it is so error prone and feels so bad compared to the 2015’s

Tyler Stalman:

Exporting 10 min YouTube video

Late 2019 16” MBP - 5m 4s
Early 2018 15” MBP - 12m 29s

Joanna Stern:

Sometimes you can’t just take Apple’s word for it and you have to find yourself an anecohic chamber to test the new MacBook Pro’s keyboard to make sure it’s really quieter.

See also: Exponent.

Update (2019-12-16): Dave Verwer:

It’s noticeably faster in day to day use and feels like a great upgrade in real-world capability. That said, the fans spin up a lot. Way more than they did on my 2015. They’re also distractingly loud.


The keyboard feel is fine, I guess. It’s nowhere near as nice as the 2015 MacBook Pro keyboard, or the external Magic Keyboard but my typing is quick and accurate on it. It’s fine.


The Touch Bar, at least set to the app-contextual “App Controls” commands, constantly needs these affirmations, landing you in the odd situation of diverting your attention from a ~1120 points high screen to one that is 30 points high, and from a tactile lattice of keys that we all know to operate from muscle memory built up over decades to a shallow strip with no feedback except visual. Since effective commanding is often about being able to do things blindfolded, this gets in the way.

The Touch Bar does open a few doors – it can display colors (and therefore also emoji), it can offer fine motor control without affecting the mouse cursor or requiring precision in two axes. If you can fit your workflow into scrubbing or sliding or panning, you can operate it without needing to look, allowing a new kind of gesture not offered by the trackpad with both precision and agility, and at least local efficiency gains.


It still carries all the previous problems of a budding universal connector, though; it connects directly to almost nothing, even for the many people who have made the deliberate transition.


In a sentence, it is both perfect and stupid, rolled into one. It is not the computer I wished for, but it has things in it that I wished for, and it is enough to get me through the next few years and feel like charting that course wasn’t a fool’s errand — money given to a company that’s still willing to listen to its customers, even if it could work on its humility and attitude.

John Banovich:

Comparing it to my old 2014 MacBook Pro, with only 16GB RAM, older video with only 2GB and a 1TB SSD, I expected this 16” to be much faster.

Taking a 6K full-frame 16-bit HFR clip captured in X-OCN on Sony’s new Venice, I compared performance time between the two working in both Adobe Premiere Pro and Black Magic DaVinci Resolve, using simple edits, color correction, renders and exports. Overall, the MacBook Pro 16” offered only an 8 – 12% performance and speed improvement.

But what really shocked me was the battery life. Full charged (100%) I quickly approached 5% in less than 3 hours.

Peter Steinberger:

Experience with the LG 5K Monitor + 16-inch MacBook

- Monitor no longer delivers enough power, battery is down to 25% after playing some StarCraft
- After sleep mode, screen no longer wakes up. Fix: unplug/replug usb-c cable

So glad I bought a screen that is co-built by Apple.


Update (2020-02-24): Mike:

Have 3 new 16” MacBook pros in the office, none of which are older than ~1.5 months. One of those is 2 weeks old and.... has a sticky key already.

Update (2020-07-29): Steve Streza:

Both my personal and work 16” MacBook Pros are having some keyboard issues now. All are in very specific places on the key (often corners), but they’re the places I press frequently.

Update (2020-11-07): Steve Streza:

I can’t believe Apple hasn’t fixed the 16 inch MacBook Pro crackling audio bug after nearly a year. I’ve gone through four of these laptops this year and they’ve all had the problem, the 48kHz fix does nothing, and it happens basically daily.