Disclaimer: These are thoughts about a line of products I have not yet used. While they are still opinions, please keep in mind that this is NOT a review.
It's perhaps been to long since the last entry in the series, so it's time to wrap this up.
So just recently at WWDC Apple just updated the Macbook Pros to come with the latest Kaby Lake Processors from Intel. If you happen to have bought the new Macbook Pro recently, no need to fret; the Kaby Lake update isn't really dramatic. It does add some niceties such as a higher clockspeed and better support for next-generation video technology, but apart from those two items it's pretty much a better Skylake.
I also think it's at least worth commending Apple for being more aggressive with the update cadence of their Mac lineup. While it may be a bummer for early adopters that their shiny new Macbook Pro is now "old" nine months after launch, this is much, much better than last time when Apple laptops could go years without an update. I very much prefer that Apple closely follow Intel's release schedule than go dark for a couple of years at a time.
The Macbook Escape
With that out of the way, I want to take some time to talk about what I think is the most peculiar model of the Macbook Pro lineup, the 13-inch Macbook Pro without Touch Bar. Now that's a mouthful for a name, but luckily the geekosphere has already come up with a better name for this little machine: the Macbook Escape.
What makes the Macbook Escape so interesting is that it's pretty much a new laptop category for Apple. While the Touch Bar models can be argued to have replaced their older 13-inch and 15-inch versions, the Macbook Escape doesn't really replace anything. Or does it?
You see, the most likely explanation for the Macbook Escape's existence is that it is supposed to be a replacement for the aging Macbook Air. Fans have been clamoring for a "Retina Macbook Air" for a long time now, and I think the Macbook Escape is the closest thing we'll ever get to that. With its lower power CPU, reduction of USB-C ports (from four to two) and the lack of the Touch Bar, the Macbook Escape is a noticeably segmented from its more expensive siblings.
Despite being less feature-packed, there are a few reasons to consider the Macbook Escape over the Touch Bar models. The most obvious one is the continued existence of the function keys on the Macbook Escape. It seems really clear that Apple is going to continue to invest in the Touch Bar no matter what users think, and it's possible that function keys on laptops may not be long for this world. But if you're determined to fight the Touch Bar tide till your last breath, the Macbook Escape will be a good holdover.
Another thing to consider is battery life. As mentioned earlier, the Macbook Escape comes with a lower-power CPU than its Touch Bar sibling, and that comes with a few ramifications depending on your workload. Both CPUs have a similar boost clock, which means if you are performing work that uses the CPU in big bursts such as compiling code, file exports or compression, there will very likely be little differences between the two models. If, however, your workload is constant and sustained over long periods of time such as graphics, gaming, video encoding or certain scientific simulations, CPUs can't stay on the boost clock for very long and will have to operate at a lower clockspeed in order to prevent overheating. Low-power CPUs such as the ones found on the Macbook Escape tend to throttle their clockspeeds harder, which means noticeably reduced performance as the workload keeps going and going. If constant high performance is what's required, the Macbook Escape may not make the grade. With that said, being able to operate at a lower clockspeed during light workloads can be a boon to low-power CPUs, improving battery life.
Okay, so the Macbook Escape is an interesting laptop and all, but there remains an elephant in the room: If the Macbook Escape is the de facto replacement for the Macbook Air, then why the hell is Apple still selling the Macbook Air (with recent CPU speed bumps!) to this day?!
What I find most frustrating about the Skylake Macbook Pro refresh is the sudden and dramatic increase in the average price of these new models. The move to a new design, a better display and the Touch Bar have all made an already expensive notebook line even more expensive.
Now to be fair this isn't completely unexpected nor unprecedented. When the Macbook Pro first went retina in 2012, it also came with a similar price increase before eventually lowering in price to more reasonable levels. But this time the price adjustment hurts more for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that, Macbook Escape aside, this is the highest price that a Macbook Pro has ever sold for. At $1799, the new price floor makes this Macbook Pro a hard sell for Mac users, especially in countries like mine where the local currency has weakened against the dollar. The second reason is that the "old" models have not been updated even though Apple continues to sell them. Back in 2012, the old non-retina Macbook Pros got CPU refreshes along with the shiny new retina ones. Even though these models were on their way out, Apple still had the courtesy to give them one last refresh before they were sunset. Even if you didn't choose to buy the retina Macbook Pro back in 2012, $1199 still got you a better Mac notebook than the year prior. That is still not the case in 2017. $1299 for the "old" retina Macbook Pro buys you the exact same notebook as someone who bought it in 2015. I think updating the old models to Skylake or Kaby Lake could have made this latest refresh less of a bitter pill to swallow for those looking at the low-end of the Macbook Pro price range.
I think Apple is at least aware of the problematic pricing right now, and probably made the Macbook Escape as a response to the issue. At $1499 and 256 GB storage, the Macbook Escape was not too shabby as a brand new no-frills Macbook Pro compared to the Touch Bar models with bleeding-edge tech. Still, $1499 ain't no $1299, which was why during WWDC Apple added a 128 GB Macbook Escape that retails for $1299, at long last reaching price parity with the old retina model.
I actually want to talk a bit about this 128 GB model, because there is a positive and negative way to look at this $1299 computer. The positive outlook is that the Macbook Escape is finally a proper replacement for the old retina model, unless you really prefer those legacy ports. Aside from both notebooks having 128 GB of storage, the Escape is better in nearly every way: better display, better speakers, newer ports and faster processors (especially graphics), with the only controversies being the keyboard and the loss of MagSafe.
As for the negative outlook? Well, it still comes with 128 GB of storage! I can only shake my head in disbelief that, as we enter the sixth year of the Retina Macbook Pro, that we are still stuck with 128 GB of storage as the baseline. And you thought Apple took too long to kill the 16 GB iPhone! What's crazy is that the last 5 years saw a drastic drop in the price of SSD storage, so it's disappointing to see that the notebook redesign has effectively swallowed all of the SSD cost savings that Apple could have used to bump the storage at the low end.
I do hope that this awkward pricing situation will improve in time, just like with the old model in the years after 2012. For now, I'm at least glad that the Macbook Pro is finally back in sub-$1300 territory.
So there you have it! A new generation of Macbook Pros with big changes and big ramifications for the future. Skylake and Kaby Lake have pulled these notebooks to the present, while USB-C is a glimpse of the future today. The new keyboard is going to remain a hot topic for years to come, while the pricing structure hopefully won't be for long.
It's good to see Apple re-commit to the Mac in the form of more frequent updates, and I am at least a little more optimistic about looking Apple's way again when it's time to replace my current Macbook Pro.