2021 MacBook Pro proves Apple got its groove back

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The HDMI port, MagSafe charger and SD card reader in the new 2021 MacBook Pro models prove Apple design is back on track.
The HDMI port, MagSafe charger and SD card reader in the new 2021 MacBook Pro models prove Apple design is back on track.
Photo: Apple

In 2016, Apple proudly unveiled a new MacBook Pro that rejected the HDMI port, the MagSafe charger and the SD card reader of the past. Fast forward to 2021, and the company just released new MacBook Pro models with an HDMI port, MagSafe and SD card reader.

Why the reversal? Apple’s head of design Jony Ive left in 2019 after decades with the company. His tendency to push form over function led Cupertino down the wrong path in many ways. And Apple is just now undoing mistakes Ive was responsible for. Like taking out ports that most buyers wanted.

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Apple design lost touch with users

To be fair, Ive is undoubtedly brilliant. He helped design amazing products that made Apple what it is today, from the original iMac to the iPhone.

But his work during his last decade in Cupertino showed a tendency to prefer slim and sleek designs at the expense of features. Nothing makes this clearer than the aforementioned 2016 MacBook Pro, which replaced traditional (and popular) ports with USB-C.

The change helped Apple shrink the thickness of the laptop and its successors, part of a trend that surely pleased Ive. But USB-C requires MacBook users to depend on adapters for accessories they used to be able to plug directly into their notebooks. It wasn’t a popular change.

And now the buyers have spoken. The recently announced 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models have all the ports people wanted back in 2016. And slipping shipping dates indicate a lot of pent-up demand for these pro notebooks.

Jony Ive traded functionality for form

The design of any product is a trade-off between form and functionality. Apple always put a greater emphasis on form than most of its rivals. And that’s one of the reasons the company found so much success. Ive was an important part of that.

But there must be limits. Function is important, too. But the design team led by Ive seemed determined to slim down the MacBook at any cost… including making the notebooks harder to use.

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, until the 2016 MacBook Pro came in at just 0.61 inches. That decrease required cutting those ports mentioned before.

Then came a policy change. The 16-inch MacBook Pro released at the end of 2019 measured 0.64 inches thick, an increase brought about by replacing the problematic Butterfly keyboard with the reliable Magic Keyboard. And now the 2021 version beefs up to 0.66 inches thick, another increase that makes room for those ports so many people want.

It’s hard to believe the reversal would have happened with Jony “slim = good” Ive still in charge of Apple design. And he reportedly started checking out long ago. He’d been less and less involved in Apple design for years before the departure, so don’t mistakenly think he was running everything until he abruptly left in 2019.

2021 MacBook Pro: Function and form in balance

No one wants or expects Apple to make huge MacBooks with every possible port. And putting a bit more emphasis on functionality in its macOS notebooks doesn’t mean the company lost its commitment to form. (Or its collective mind.)

Slim designs surely will remain a hallmark of MacBooks going forward. But clearly, getting that sleekness will no longer come at the expense of basic features. And that bodes well for the MacBooks of the future. Because Apple got its groove back.