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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

A few quick thoughts about Thursday’s Mac event in Cupertino

Hello from the South Bay, where I just attended perhaps the last Apple media event in the Town Hall conference center at Infinite Loop. Here are some quick initial thoughts:

New MacBook Pros are quintessentially Apple

The new MacBook Pros, the first major revision of Apple’s flagship Mac since the unveiling of the Retina MacBook Pro in 2012, possess all the things you’d expect from a new Apple product. They’re thinner and lighter, more powerful, integrate Apple-originated technology, and question basic assumptions about the product category they reside in.

With the Touch Bar, Apple’s questioning the existence of the function row at the top of our keyboards. Over the years Apple has de-emphasized the size of those keys and remapped them to system functions, and now it’s doing away with keys altogether. A programmable multi-touch display can provide virtual keys and sliding interface elements based on context. Having a custom button properly labeled sure beats “Press F10.”

I got to play with a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for a little while this afternoon and I came away impressed. I’ll have more on this later today, but I think there’s a lot of potential here. I also suspect that this is the beginning of the story, and that in the next year everyone (including Apple) will learn a lot about what sort of interactions work well on the Touch Bar, and which ones just don’t.

The other other MacBook Pro

I don’t quite get the existence of the low-end, non-Touch-Bar-having 13-inch MacBook Pro. On stage, Phil Schiller argued that it was essentially a Retina replacement for the 13-inch MacBook Air, and I can see that. But it’s $500 more and is it really a MacBook Pro? Does the MacBook Pro line need to have this extra product attached at the bottom of it, lacking the most interesting feature of the rest of the line?

Then again, it’s not really a MacBook either, because it’s heavier and has two Thunderbolt 3 ports rather than the one USB-C port on the MacBook. It’s a tweener product and Apple has apparently decided that it doesn’t want to introduce another new name to its laptop line, so MacBook Pro it is. But it’s weird. Not necessarily bad—it really does fill a niche that’s between the full-on MacBook Pro and the MacBook—but weird nonetheless.

All the new ports, and one old one

Once the MacBook came out with a USB-C port, it was clear that we were entering a port transition on the Mac. Intel’s announcement of Thunderbolt 3, which is plug compatible with USB-C, made it even clearer. And here we are. Rather than taking half measures, Apple has completely embraced Thunderbolt 3 on these new Macs.

I think I approve. We’ll grouse about adapters for a little while, but mixing and matching ports is no good. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 adoption will happen faster than you’d think. Four ports on the high-end MacBook Pros means there’s lots of room for expansion, and those connections are fast enough to do some pretty amazing things with external displays and RAID arrays.

Oh, and the headphone jack survives. I used to take that as a given, but these days you can’t make assumptions.

Apple TV and the TV app

Apple’s new TV app is a step in the right direction for Apple TV, in terms of unifying content a bit better than the box currently does. If the future of TV is apps, the problem is that apps tend to be islands unto themselves. Users don’t want to search different apps to find the stuff they can watch—they just want to watch it. The TV app makes that possible, though app developers will need to modify their apps to work with this new approach.

And that’s all, folks

As for the Mac Pro, iMac, and Mac mini? Bupkis. Seems like we’ll get more new Macs in the spring, and I’d expect the rest of the line to be refreshed then. This was never going to be a great time for a Mac Pro update, given the current state of Intel’s processor road map. I’m a little surprised that there was no iMac refresh this year, since I’ve always assumed those computers sell well during the holidays and so it’s nice to be fresh.

I also wonder, having seen the Touch Bar, if a Magic Touch Bar accessory (attached to a Magic Keyboard) can be far away. But again, that’s probably spring at the earliest.

Check back later today for a whole lot more about the Apple event.

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