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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple updates MacBook Pro processors and keyboard, extends Keyboard Service Program

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Continuing its renewed commitment to update pro Mac laptops on a regular basis, Apple on Tuesday announced an update to its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro Touch Bar models ten months after the previous announcement. These updates don’t bring any changes to the exterior of the MacBook Pro—it’s the same base design introduced in late 2016—but they do bring 9th-generation Intel processors with up to eight cores to the MacBook Pro for the first time. There’s also been yet another tweak to the controversial butterfly keyboard Apple first introduced in 2015.

Processor updates

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the model most affected by these updates. It gains 14nm “Coffee Lake Refresh” 9th-generation Intel processors with six and eight cores. This is the first time Apple’s had an eight-core MacBook Pro. Here are the specs:

  • $2399: 2.6 GHz 6-core i7 (4.5 GHz Turbo Boost)
  • $2799: 2.3 GHz 8-core i9 (4.8 GHz Turbo Boost)
  • Configure-to-order option: 2.4 GHz 8-core i9 (5 GHz Turbo Boost)

Apple says that the fastest model is up to 40 percent faster than the previous-generation six-core laptop, and that users looking to upgrade from the previous generation of quad-core-equipped MacBook Pros could see up to double the performance of those models.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is getting less of an update. It’s still using 8th-generation Intel quad core processors, but slightly faster ones with improved Turbo Boost speeds to help in tasks that primarily use a single processor core.

Keyboard update

The controversial keyboard.

Apple says these new models also feature a fourth version of the butterfly keyboard design, in response to customer complaints that the keyboard would end up in a sad state where key presses were ignored or doubled1. While Apple is quick to say that the vast majority of MacBook Pro customers haven’t experienced any keyboard issues, the company still keeps tweaking this design. It claims that the change made in these new MacBook Pro models will substantially reduce the incidence of ignored or doubled characters.

Beyond that, Apple is also seeking to reassure its customers that they shouldn’t avoid buying a Mac laptop out of fear of having keyboard problems. As was reported last month, Apple is working to shorten the time it takes to repair keyboards in Apple Store. And today it’s extending its Keyboard Service Program to cover all laptops with butterfly keyboards, including not just these new MacBook Pros, but also all of its laptops released in 2018, including the new MacBook Air. That program is separate from the standard Apple warranty and covers keyboard repairs for four years after the first retail sale of the laptop.

What’s next?

It’s telling that Apple has chosen to make this announcement in advance of its developer conference, which will take place two weeks from now in San Jose, California. MacBook Pros are popular with Apple developers and there’s always speculation that new ones will be announced during the event’s keynote, though that rarely happens. This announcement reduces the expectations for that announcement, at least somewhat.

It also calls into question the validity of a report earlier this year that a new 16-inch MacBook Pro design was on the way, at least this summer. There was a lot of speculation that the new MacBook Pro would replace the current 15-inch model, but that model just received an update. It doesn’t mean a new-style MacBook Pro couldn’t be in the offing next month or later this year, but it definitely makes that report a bit more of a head-scratcher.

Where Apple’s laptop keyboard designs go from here is also a question. By extending its repair program and seeking to improve the turnaround of keyboard repairs in Apple Stores, the company is seeking to reassure customers that they won’t get stuck with a laptop with a bad keyboard. But the company also keeps tweaking the design in order to try and make it more reliable—an admirable attempt, but the sheer number of tweaks also send the message that Apple hasn’t really had a handle on the fundamental weaknesses of the design. Whether this new tweak is the one that finally solves the problem, or if it won’t be truly solved until this design is discontinued and fades into memory, remains to be seen.

But as the owner of two 2018 MacBook Airs, I’m happy that the keyboard service program has been extended to that model as well. We haven’t had any problems with either keyboard yet, but this program extension provides a little reassurance that it’s not going to be an issue if we do.

  1. The Verge says that Apple told them the keyswitches are made of a “new material”

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