First Apple killed off the headphone jack, and now it looks like the company has set its sights on another long-running hardware legacy: function keys. Today, Apple officially unveiled the new Macbook Pro, which has done away with the old function keys in favor of the new “Touch Bar,” a long, skinny touchscreen that adapts to whatever software you are using.
During Apple’s press event today, Chief Executive Tim Cook looked back on the history of Apple’s portable computers going all the way back to the original Apple Macintosh PowerBook 170, which was released almost exactly 25 years ago. Since then, Cook said, Apple has continued to develop new innovations for its laptops, and he claims that the new touch bar will revolutionize the Macbook Pro.
All of the old roles filled by the function keys have been moved to the touch bar, but the new interface can do a lot more besides adjust your screen brightness or turn up your volume. The icons on the touch bar change depending on what software you are currently using, from offering shortcuts for frequently used websites in Safari to providing editing tools in programs like Adobe Photoshop or Final Cut. The touch bar also supports TouchID, allowing users to unlock the device with their fingerprint, and the Macbook Pro will automatically switch users based on who activated it.
Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, demonstrated several other touch bar features, including the ability to pick suggested “quicktype” words when writing a message or swap out a word like “pumpkin” for a pumpkin emoji. According to Apple, it will be offering tools for developers to create their own touch bar integrations for their programs.
“Lots of people have been waiting for a MacBook Pro upgrade, and I think this will now make them that much more excited than a simple speed and power boost would have done,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research. “The new Touch Bar is really interesting and makes for a nice increase in functionality.”
Dawson said that although iPhones are obviously much more important to Apple, since they generate two-thirds of its revenues, “the Mac is still a very useful revenue contributor and symbolically enormously important for Apple still, so they needed to get this right.”
The touch bar is not the only major update coming to the new Macbook Pro. Both the 13-inch and 15-inch laptops have received a respectable reduction in size and volume, and both versions are now half a pound lighter. The Macbook Pro also has a number of major hardware upgrades, including a new Radeon Pro graphics card that uses AMD’s new Polaris architecture, which Apple says is more than two times faster than the previous model.
The new Macbook Pro also includes a more responsive keyboard, a brighter Retina display, a much larger trackpad and louder speakers with double the dynamic range of the speakers on the previous Macbook Pro.
The new 13-inch and 15-inch Macbook Pro with the touch bar will start at $1,799 and $2,399, respectively, but Apple will also be offering a cheaper $1,499. The non-touch bar version begins shipping today, while the more expensive touch bar versions will ship within two to three weeks.
Other Apple news
Aside from the big reveal of the Macbook Pro and the new touchbar, Apple also made a few smaller announcements, most notably with the launch of a new Apple TV app, which the company has simply named “TV.” Cook said that Apple wanted to create a unified television watching experience across all of its platforms, and he believes that the new TV app does just that.
The TV app ties together a wide range of other video watching apps under one umbrella, giving users a single browser for the shows and movies they watch across multiple platforms such as HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix and so on. During the announcement, Apple put a great deal of focus on the app’s integration with Siri in particular, which can now automatically choose the video app you need when you say something like “play Game of Thrones.”
“With the new TV app, there’s no reason to watch TV anywhere else,” Cook said.
You can re-watch the full Apple press event here.
Images courtesy of Apple