Will Apple Discontinue the Aging 13-inch MacBook Pro?

New MacBook Pro Keyboard and Ports Credit: Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash
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The past 18 months have seen some pretty significant changes to Apple’s MacBook lineup, but it’s also safe to say that the company isn’t through with things yet. Bigger changes are likely afoot as we move into the second generation of Apple Silicon this year.

In fact, until last fall’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, most of the changes have been under the hood. Apple’s M1 chip has changed the game in many important ways, but the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro that introduced that chip to the world look deceptively similar to the Intel versions that came before.

Despite rumours of more sweeping design changes, there was likely a method to Apple’s madness in preserving the same form factor for its initial run of M1-powered Macs. Not only did this allow Apple’s engineers to focus all their energy on performance, but it also made for a much more direct comparison.

After all, if the only difference between an early 2020 MacBook and a late 2020 MacBook is the Apple Silicon inside, then there can be nothing else credited for the massive performance increase that the M1 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro gained over their Intel predecessors.

Once the stage was set for that, then Apple was free to transition to a newer design with its more powerful MacBook Pro lineup, featuring the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. While the new machines are still very clearly MacBooks, the refined edges, the notched display, and the reemergence of discrete ports clearly point to the future of Apple’s portable computer family.

However, it’s a change that’s left the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro as the seemingly red-headed stepchild of the MacBook family. The MacBook Air has a clear place in the lineup, regardless of what Apple chooses to call it, and that family is also expected to go in a whole new direction this year, getting a new design with fun new colour options, an improved display, and more.

This would leave Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro even further out in the cold, and while some have speculated that Apple may simply put that one out to pasture, there’s likely still room for an entry-level M1/M2-only MacBook Pro that sits somewhere below the more powerful (and expensive) M1/M2 Pro-equipped models.

To be fair, Apple’s lowest-tier 13-inch MacBook Pro has always been an odd duck in the lineup. No matter what you may think of the Touch Bar, it’s clear that Apple saw it as a premium MacBook feature when it debuted in 2016. It was reserved for the higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro configurations, conspicuously omitted from the 13-inch MacBook Pro until suddenly showing up in a 2019 refresh alongside a new MacBook Air with a True Tone display.

It’s probably even more telling that for the past few years, this lower-end MacBook Pro seemed to get refreshed alongside the MacBook Air, rather than its more expensive MacBook Pro siblings. It’s been like the weird step-brother in the family all along, and many folks have been expecting it to ride off into the sunset for years.

An Entry-Level 14-inch MacBook Pro

It may not be time to count the lowest-end MacBook Pro out just yet, however, as a new rumour suggests that Apple will indeed keep one in the family. A new rumour suggests that it’s slated to adopt the design of the 14-inch MacBook Pro, while featuring specs that are a direct upgrade from the current 13-inch model.

Naturally, this means Apple’s M2 chip, rather than an M2 Pro or M2 Max, which will still be reserved for the more premium models. While the designations of Apple Silicon makes this more obvious, it’s really in line with where this MacBook Pro was positioned in the Intel days as well.

For example, the last Intel version of the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro only featured a 1.4 GHz 8th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU in the standard configuration, which could only be upgraded to a 1.7 GHz Core i7. It also only came with two Thunderbolt ports, 128 GB of SSD storage, and 8 GB of memory — a stark contrast from the next model up, which started with a 2.4 GHz quad-core Core i5 CPU.

Even after Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro lineup in early 2020, adding 10th-gen Intel CPUs to the more premium models, the entry-level MacBook Pro remained saddled with a two-year-old 8th-gen CPU. In fact, the only real upgrade for that model was the improved keyboard.

So, it wouldn’t be at all surprising for Apple to move ahead with a more affordable M2-powered MacBook Pro, and if it adopts some of the other important enhancements from the current 14-inch MacBook Pro, it would be a much more significant upgrade from the MacBook Air than it has been in recent years.

Last year, the M1-powered MacBook Pro actually offered very little to recommend it over the MacBook Air. To be clear, there were some differences, such as the Touch Bar, improved microphones, and better battery life, but when it came to performance, the only real advantage was that the Pro model included a fan, allowing it to handle heavier workloads for longer periods of time.

This time around, however, adopting improvements from the premium 14-inch MacBook Pro could help set the entry-level model apart. Features like a mini-LED display may be too much to hope for, it certainly seems likely that Apple would bring the new keyboard design — sans Touch Bar — and of course the more generous collection of ports, and hopefully even the better FaceTime camera.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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