Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Upgrading to a 16-inch MacBook Pro

All I really wanted was an updated version of my 2012 Retina MacBook Pro that was faster and had a larger display (preferably matte).

It’s definitely faster. Here’s how long it takes to build SpamSieve on my different Macs:

MacProcessorBuild Time
MacBook Pro (Retina, 2012)2.6 GHz 4-Core i7144s
MacBook Air (11-inch, 2015)1.6 GHz 2-Core i5160s
iMac (27-inch, 2017)4.2 GHz 4-Core i768s
MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)2.3 GHz 8-Core i964s*

The * is because macOS 10.15.3 included a change that increased the time to 67s.

And the display is larger. It’s not, alas, anywhere close to the old 17-inch models, but it is a definite improvement over the 15.4-inch displays, without making the computer any bigger. The new display also has much better color and brightness. Putting the two Macs side-by-side, the difference is striking. (The other surprising thing is that the color of the case is much darker, even though it was described as “silver.”) Unlike the 2012 display, there doesn’t seem to be any image retention. There is, alas, a similar amount of glare.

USB-C charging is a wash. It’s sometimes nice to be able to charge from either side, and I like being able to travel with a compact power adapter. On the other hand, plugging in the USB-C connector is much less pleasant, and I miss the protection of MagSafe.

Most of the rest of the changes are drawbacks for me:


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Yes, me too. But I am with the Late 2016 Model. I liked the round corner front of the Pismo (1999 or so) and the first silver backlight Keyboards of the later Models. I never get used to the black Keyboards. So I use an Apple Magic external Keyboard and a Mice.

I recently got one of these for work. I agree with much of what you said, except the Touch ID - I haven't had any problems with it. Maybe delete the stored fingerprint(s) and try again?

As for the trackpad, it works well for me but I have pretty small hands and I've noticed with other users that makes a difference. They need people with bigger hands to test these trackpads I think.

Touch Bar - I hardly use it except for volume and occasionally an auto-complete of my email address. I'm considering Better Touch Tool - has anybody tried this? Seems like it might actually make it more useful.

Disappointing that you are having so much trouble with Touch ID. That's one of my favorite things about my 3 year old 15" MacBook Pro. I've never had a problem with it, and I use it many times a day. It still delights me when doing things like making payments. As Matthew suggested, perhaps you should try re-initializing your fingerprints.

We've had constant issues with Touch ID not working reliably with the one Mac in the house that has it. It's been night and day how unreliable it is, even compared to the first-gen Touch ID in the 5S and original SE. Deleting and re-adding fingerprints doesn't seem to fix it.

@michael are you willing to buy non-pro/less powerful laptops to avoid the Touch Bar?

Mike Oldham

I'm still rocking a work provided 2016 macbook pro. I still hate the touchbar. I really hate the escape "key". I'm glad they finally fixed that. My u button has started double pressing about 90% of the time so i get two uu's when I type. It sounds like the new version is actually better than the 2016 version. Considering the 2016 version is the worst mac I've ever used and fills me with rage that isn't hard to do.

It is disheartening because more and more I feel like Apple keeps making product decisions that makes me like their products less. As a lifelong Apple fanboy I'm realizing I'm not their target market. Every time they make another compromise in functionality to make it thinner/prettier/flashier/more expensive they make the product worse for me.

@Matthew I reset the Touch ID data several times, but it still doesn’t work well—even when using the same finger that continues to work with Touch ID iPhones. I have medium (glove size) hands. It must be even worse for people with large hands.

@Fred I could live with the processor in the new MacBook Air. I really like the larger display in the Pro, but knowing what I know now if I were doing it again I would probably get the Air because of the smaller trackpad and lack of Touch Bar.

Scott Granneman

Michael, I use BetterTouchTool with my 16" MBP and it helps a lot. If you look around, you’ll find collections of configurations you can import into BTT that do all sorts of cool things. I still don’t find the TouchBar that useful, but BTT makes it ok.

Hi Michael - I just bought a refurbished 2019 15.4" MacBook Pro, and I have a MacBook Pro at work bought Jan 2017 and the TouchID works fine for me, and I have large hands. Large being big enough that Apple doesn't sell a watchband that can close on my wrists... So I don't think the issue is on size, I think it's just another example of the current Apple software not being robust.

I didn't buy a 16" MacBook Pro because no Mojave on it :-(. I upgraded from my non-retina 2012 MacBook Pro to get 32GB memory to deal with WFH better than 16GB.

Are those build times with parallelizarion enabled?

Surprised a little to see it 4 core i7 so competitive, despite it being desktop class

That's *very helpful information*. The TouchID and keyboard issues surprised and disappointed me. Hopefully the TouchID issue is a unit defect. (I haven't been reading reports on that Mac).

On my 15" 2019-06 MacBook Pro , the trackpad is also quite finicky. I fiddled with some settings in c. March, and it seems be a little less finicky now.

I was considering selling this Mac for a new one with a better keyboard. I take good care of it, but occasionally the ingress issue flares up. And the paint on 9 of the keys has worn out! But I'll hold off.

(My 2017 MBP, which has already had a keyboard replacement , and which I only tend to use via ScreenSharing has severe keyboard issues -- despite lack of use! I guess there's the silver lining with your 16" Mac. Don't need to worry about that)

@Liam Yeah, I wish it ran Mojave.

@Chris Yes, parallelization is enabled.

@Luc How did you improve the trackpad?

@michael Can you provide some details about what is involved in building SpamSieve?

I ask because those build times sound bad to me, unless lines of code is in the 6 digits.

I run my builds with optimizations for speed (-Os), no link time optimizations (the default, but enabled via -flto=thin and pretty slow), and time stamping disabled for code signing (--timestamp=none), the latter can delay builds and I have several targets that need to be signed.

A clean build of TextMate (~80,000 lines of code) takes 43 seconds on my Mac mini (2018).

One difference though is that I use ninja instead of xcodebuild: I did notice improved build times when I moved away from xcodebuild, but that was more than 10 years ago, though I wonder if this has gotten worse, rather than better, since then?

John Buckley

I have very similar issues with the trackpad on a 2018 15.4 MBP. It actually seems to have become worse recently - at least I don't remember being bothered by palm rejection issues when I first owned it (from new). It's really frustrating to regularly have buttons pressed etc by "accident".

The Touchbar is utterly useless. I touch type. My escape key is mapped to CapsLock on all my keyboards, which works well for me. The Touchbar looks nice in marketing images though... form over function.

Battery life has never been stellar. When running Xcode and FCP I only seem to get 3-4 hours of heavy work out of it.

Fortunately the keyboard and TouchID have been reliable so far.

Not Apple's greatest effort.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

For better or worse, still rocking a late-2013 rMBP as my sole computer. It’s getting long in the tooth — battery needs servicing, various minor issues, and most of all, 16 GB RAM just isn’t enough for my needs.

The butterfly keyboard is part of why I haven’t upgraded (when usually I would upgrade every three to four years, it’s been six), but other concerns remain. For a laptop that’s actually pricier than my current one, it sure seems like it’s about as good at best, and worse in several ways.

The 16 almost won me over, but I think I’ll just wait another CPU generation. Maybe Apple will go straight to Tiger Lake-H. That’d be nice.

Big trackpad also worries me. I recently got a Magic Trackpad, and it’s fine, but it does seem to pick up more misfirings than my internal.

This is the first I hear about Touch ID issues. They seem plausible; the sensor is way smaller than the home button, I guess? That’s a bummer.

That… summarize it for me: it feels like the MacBook Pro used to be such a stellar all-rounder, and now many things about it are… a bummer.

I’m considering Better Touch Tool - has anybody tried this?

I don’t have a Touch Bar yet, but I hear good things about BT as well as this one:

@Allan This counts everything except making the .dmg, tests, and lex/yacc. So, in addition to compiling with xcodebuild, it’s generating the PDF and HTML versions of the manual (using ReST/LaTeX, which don’t parallelize well), compiling xibs for each localization, code signing (timestamp not disabled), verifying the code signature, checking spctl, various other lint scripts. The code is all Objective-C, under 6 digits, spread across 4 frameworks and several executables.

@Michael - I wonder if you got a bad TouchID sensor. That's a shame. I used to use a windows laptop with a fingerprint reader that you'd swipe your finger across. I always had to try it a few times and it almost never worked, so I'd end up putting in my password anyway. That being said, I'm pretty fast at typing my passwords and reaching up to the Touch ID might not be saving me that much time since my fingers are already in place on the keyboard. Maybe I should try to train it to recognize the pinky of my right hand.

@Sören - According to some reports, the next CPU generation for MacBooks might be Apple-designed ARM chips. Thanks for the advice on MTMR and BTT.

@Matthew Maybe. I don’t actually care that much about Touch ID on a Mac (vs. a phone) so it’s not worth it to me to go through the hassle of wiping/shipping the computer to Apple to look at the sensor (and maybe not fix it or break something else).

Hi Michael, I've had my new 16-inch MBP for about two weeks and I have not had the same experiences as you. I wrote a response to your post but I'm unsure if your blog supports webmention so I thought I'd link to it.

It stinks that your Touch ID is that unreliable. Have you considered returning it to see if you got a lemon in that regard?

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

We need bigger voice into the sort of problems that these new MacBook has had for the past nearly 5 years. The larger Trackpad, false positive on touching it, Touch Bar, and Keyboard ergonomics , which is still poor on new version Magic Keyboard as you described, are all problems that we have had since MBP 2016. These issues only got side tracked because of the Keyboard reliability problem.

I am on my 2015 MacBook Pro, which is the last model on the 2012 Generation. And I am in the same bloat. All I wanted was a processor upgrade. Nothing more. And yet every year I tried a newer MacBook Pro and the user experience has been such a regression I felt I could live with the slightly slower CPU performance.

That is why I am not excited about any of the new ARM Mac development. None of the basic are even right. And it seems no one at Apple cares about it.

@Colin Thanks for the response. The blog supports trackback, but I’m not sure WordPress has webmention built-in. Responding to your comments: I don’t think it’s terrible, but I’m less satisfied with it than any prior Mac I’ve owned (more than a dozen). I’m glad that you apparently aren’t having any trackpad problems. The power cables have been like that out of the box for years; it’s well documented. The sharp part is inside the “latch”; Jeff Johnson tweeted in response that he’s been complaining about this for years, too. My opinion of the Touch Bar has changed because actually using it was worse (and less reliable) than I expected, and Apple didn’t make any changes to further realize its potential.

@Michael Wow, "less satisfied with it than any prior Mac I've owned" is such a different experience than I've had. I feel for you. It was how I felt when I got the first MBP with the unreliable keyboards and Touch Bar in 2017. I sold it very quickly and went back to the 2013 MBP.

I see what you're pointing at with the sharp edges now.

I hope you're able to grow to appreciate this laptop but perhaps within about 12-18 months there will be entirely new hardware to try out.

This is depressing. It's starting to look like my next Mac will be a Mini, since I do 90% of my computing in my office. I need the flexibility that it offers (USB-A to plug in a hub without worrying if it will work or not, and HDMI for my secondary monitor). Hopefully this 2014 MBP can hang on for a few more years for the other 10% of the time I need to do computer stuff away from my desk. So far it's fine but I should probably get the battery replaced soon, it's only at about 50% capacity and I don't want it to explode like the battery in my 2009 MBP suddenly did one day.

It's not looking like a good future ahead for us "traditional" Mac users. If the new ARM Macs can't run regular x86 Windows and Linux VMs, I'm screwed. There are several apps that I depend on that only run in Windows, and Linux is nice as a backup for command line stuff if Homebrew doesn't work (compiling OSS projects from Github and such). Guess I'll have to max out whatever Mini I buy and hope it can last 6-8 years. I feel like this is giving me some anxiety -- should I buy one soon? Maybe this is the last gen which will use Intel processors? I hope Apple answers these questions at WWDC. I'd like to wait at least another year before upgrading, but not if it means my only option will be an ARM Mac.

My experience with TouchID is exactly the same. I've reregistered my finger multiple times, but it just stops working after the day..

Tony Collins

Hi - I'm late to the party, but I really thought it was me! I keep having trouble with Touch ID - if I use one finger regularly, other fingers stop being recognised. And palm rejection failures are driving me crazy.

But I had a much worse problem. Me and my partner both bought identical 16" MacBooks a few months ago. When they arrived, they kept rebooting if we left them alone. We would get up in the morning and find they'd both restarted "because of a problem", always one of a few specific problems. Both computers did it several times during the day if left alone.

We both went to Apple support and had terrible experiences - they kept ignoring the fact that the reboots only happened when we left the machines alone, and they asked to monitor us using the machines for a few minutes "to see if the problem recurs". They told us to install anti-malware software, they told us to reinstall our own software. We gave up and rejected the machines, getting a refund and ordering two brand new machines.


Now, for some reason the thing that stopped them was repeatedly resetting home directory permissions. I don't know why (maybe related to the hibernation file), and Apple never suggested it, but it's worked. It only worked after doing it several times. Why? Who knows.

But 4 specced up MacBooks being unable to be left, losing data if we forgot to save documents, several times a day? That's criminal, and Apple's unwillingness to take it seriously even more so.

On the whole I'm very unhappy with the machine - when you get an expensive brand new machine and you have to return it, then the new one doesn't work properly for weeks and the trackpad keeps picking up palm presses (a nightmare if you're using it to record and mix music like I do), your experience is ruined.

Thanks for the post and for the comments. Really interesting


Reading people's experiences with Macbooks from the last few years (basically, post 2015?) reminds me of all of the things that Mac users used to make fun of PCs -- including some of Apple's own commercials. Having to reboot your machine just to have it work properly, broken searching (in Mail, Spotlight, Messages), bad trackpads that don't work right, and various other hardware glitches. It's like once Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world's most valuable company, Apple has become more Microsoftian in their product development?

I cringe every time Tim Cook says Apple is the same after Steve Jobs died, that it's "in their DNA" or whatever. Clearly there has been a dividing line from about 2012 onwards. Steve wasn't perfect and Apple has always released questionable hardware (hockey puck mouse...) but at least there was a feeling that *somebody* was sweating the details. I guess the Watch and the Airpods are great based on reviews, but neither is a product that appeals to me. I care about the Mac for 30 years and it seems like Apple just doesn't anymore.

I'm currently really frustrated because Spotlight searching has become terrible under Catalina. Text search strings that used to find files instantaneously now take 5-20 seconds before results are shown. Booting up the machine used to take 30 seconds, now it takes 45 with the same apps and utilities. Catalina is garbage. I really hope somebody starts to sweat the details of the Mac again.


Now, for some reason the thing that stopped them was repeatedly resetting home directory permissions.

Resetting permissions sounds like voodoo to me that was probably a coincidence, to be frank.

My understanding is that this reboot issue can be worked around by disabling Power Nap and then resetting the SMC. See here, for example.

I cringe every time Tim Cook says Apple is the same after Steve Jobs died, that it’s “in their DNA” or whatever. Clearly there has been a dividing line from about 2012 onwards.

I think that’s too vague to answer either way.

But it does feel like Apple has had problems (or lack of prioritization) scaling their quality up to a much broader product line-up and higher customer count.

Yep, just saw that here, too.

Tony Collins

Hi - thanks for your replies. Yep I agree; you're probably right. It's irritating when something worked, but it might not have been the thing that you thought it was. Like having a stone by the sofa to ward off tiger attacks - the fact that there have been no tiger attacks surely proves that the stone works!

It's quite amazing for 4 brand new laptops to face this issue, isn't it.

Are issues like this just QA issues? Rushed software? Rushed installs trying to ramp up production? I know there have been issues like this before with BridgeOS, but that was a few years ago.

The thing is - and I bet other readers will understand this completely - I buy Apple products in spite of all the problems. I truly love using their stuff. I hated computers til I started buying Apple. When we had this issue with the 4 laptops, the last thing we wanted to do was give up and get a final refund. When I used to use other laptops, I didn't care - if it didn't work, it went back and I bought one from somewhere else. With Apple gear, it's awful to consider the possibility of not being able to own one because of poor quality.

@Michael I'm looking at the compact charger you link to, it says it is 61-watt. I have a 50-watt USB-C charger and the Macbook Pro doesn't seem to charge from it. The 61-watt charger is enough to charge it?

I am trying to find something on Apple's web site re: how many watts _should_ be used but I'm not coming up with anything.

@Colin Ideally, you would want a 96W charger to make sure it charges as fast as possible and can keep up with high load. I got the 61W one for travel, as it’s much smaller, and it works great for me in practice.

@Michael - Thank you.

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