The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is a sign of a fundamental shift at Apple: It includes a keyboard that makes this laptop slightly less stylish but more useful. It’s hard to believe this would have happened in the days when chief designer Jony Ive’s habit of putting form ahead of function still reigned supreme over all Apple’s products.
As Ive slowly exits the company, we’re already seeing products less willing to make compromises in functionality in order to get super-sleek looks.
16-inch MacBook Pro: Slightly thicker and much better
The latest MacBook Pro is just a bit thicker than its predecessor. On the surface, that might not seem like a dramatic statement. However, it’s a crucial reversal of a trend that lasted many years.
Back in 2012, Apple’s top-tier Mac laptop measured 0.95 inches thick. The next year the thickness dropped to 0.71 inches. That held for three generations, with the 2016 MacBook Pro coming in at just 0.61 inches.
And that’s the point where the wheels came off the bus, although it wasn’t obvious at the time. Apple touted its new Butterfly keyboard as a hallmark of that 2016 model. And while its slender design helped decrease the width of the MacBook Pro, simple grit could cause keys to stick. Repairs weren’t easy, and replacements were very expensive because the keyboard is glued to the battery and other components.
Despite complaints that eventually forced Apple to offer a Keyboard Service Program, the Butterfly design continued to appear in every new macOS laptop introduced.
Apple made that bad decision made over and over. Giving up on it would have forced Apple to make a slightly thicker product. And that was apparently anathema to Ive’s design team.
Thinner is not always better
For Apple products, Ive and Co. obviously held to a mantra that slimmer = better. Nearly any functionality could be sacrificed to that goal.
And not just for laptops. For years, Apple kept the iPhone so slim that battery life suffered. But the new iPhone 11 Pro Max measures just a bit thicker than last year’s model. Surely it’s no coincidence that the 2019 model brought a significant jump in battery life.
Still, the focus on slimness hobbled the MacBook Pro for years. Finally accepting that making its top-tier notebook a hair thicker wouldn’t be the end of the world, Apple made room in the 16-inch MacBook Pro for the Magic Keyboard. That’s the one from its pre-2016 laptops — the one that doesn’t force users to constantly worry that a speck of dust could ruin their computers.
Beginning of the post-Jony Ive Apple
While Ive remains listed as a member of Apple’s executive team, he’s apparently been losing some of his influence for quite a while. The call to increase the widths of the latest MacBook and iPhone was made long ago, and may have even spurred Ive’s decision to strike out on his own.
For decades, Ive did an amazing job at Apple. He shaped the look of the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, iMac and other incredibly influential products. And his designs became so successful that they spread widely to competitors’ products. But perhaps he stayed a bit too long.
Apple’s post-Ive design philosophy might be phrased as “slim is good but functionality is better,” as exemplified by the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Such a mantra will boost sales of Apple notebooks, phones and tablets for years to come.