As 2019 draws to a close and I start to get excited about spending money I don’t have on Apple products I don’t need in 2020, now is a good time to look back at the past year in the world of the Mac. Did Apple do right by its loyal computer fans, or were we treated to another year of disappointment and heartache (one day Tim Cook will reply to my emails…)?
When taken together, the changes Apple made in 2019 point towards a year of fixing things. Whether that meant showing it still cared about pro users or putting right wrongs of the past, 2019 was a good year for the Mac because Apple actually listened.
Let’s dig into the details and see what exactly went right — and wrong — for the Mac in 2019.
MacBook Pro 16: The laptop we always wanted
Photos by Riley Young
Ever since the 2016 redesign, buying a MacBook Pro has always felt like something of a compromise. Yes, you got first-class build quality, but you also got the failure-prone butterfly keyboard. Yes, you got powerful i9 processors, but they could easily get thermally throttled. Even worse, Apple seemed determined to merely tweak and adjust the MacBook Pro rather than tackle these problems head-on.
That all changed in 2019 with the release of the MacBook Pro 16. As we said in our review, there was nothing revolutionary or innovative about this MacBook, but that’s not what we wanted. We wanted a proper, comfortable keyboard — and we got it. We wanted better thermal performance so our components didn’t get throttled — and we got it. And we wanted a more modern design with thinner bezels — and we got that too.
If that had been that, we could have gone home happy. But Apple gave us even more: the best speakers you’ll find on any laptop, period; vastly improved performance in pro apps; and a larger battery that, while not anywhere near the best in the industry, still gives you plenty of juice when you stack the device with high-end components. Apple even added in a physical Esc key as the cherry on the cake.
Given the rough few years the MacBook Pro has gone through, the MacBook Pro 16 was a huge relief, and by far the best MacBook Apple has released in years. Apple listened to its customers, and we think most of them will be very pleased with the outcome.
The Mac Pro lives (again)
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
There’s an old adage that no one hates Apple as much as Apple fans, and that’s doubly true for pro-level Mac users. For years, Mac forums and comment sections have been filled with people complaining that Apple has been “dumbing down” or has forgotten its pro users. Well, the new Mac Pro proves that’s no longer the case.
Apple’s high-end desktop Mac is back with a vengeance after the middling, aging “trashcan” Mac Pro of 2013. This year’s model is everything a pro-level Mac should be — and more, in fact, because it’s actually surprisingly good value if you consider what it offers.
In a perverse kind of way, what’s most exciting about the Mac Pro is its eye-watering cost. Arm it to the gills with high-end components and you’ll be spending over $50,000. But that’s okay! Making that kind of maxed-out beast of a machine available shows Apple understands pro-level workloads. If you’re Steven Spielberg or Calvin Harris, you want the most powerful components available to do your demanding work, and you know that price is no barrier. The fact that Apple is cramming these components into a Mac for the first time in years shows it still wants to please its professional users.
Throw in a few unique factors you won’t find on any other computer — such as the custom MPX Modules and the tight integration with professional Mac apps — and you have a computer that was designed to address users’ concerns. Once again, we see Apple listening to its customers and doing what they know they want, rather than what Apple thinks they want. If this signifies a new direction for the company, then that can only be a good thing.
MacBook Air: small but meaningful changes
Riley Young/Digital Trends
At first glance, 2019 looks like a somewhat average year for the MacBook Air. Sure, it got a nice little addition in the form of a True Tone display, which adjusts the color temperature according to your surroundings, but that wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. But look a little closer and there was something else that actually made 2019 a pretty good year for Apple’s thinnest and lightest laptop.
That came in the form of a price cut. Savor it well, because Apple rarely cuts the price of any of its devices. But cut the price it did, shaving $100 off the price of both MacBook Air models in July 2019. That brought the price of the entry-level model down to $1,099, making it Apple’s cheapest laptop by a solid $200.
That makes it a tantalizing prospect once more. Before the price cut, the entry-level MacBook Pro was only $100 more but came with a quad-core processor (to the Air’s dual-core chip) and the Touch Bar, giving you a noticeable performance jump for only a modest price increase. But with the gap now widened to $200, Apple’s pitch on the entry-level MacBook Air is much more persuasive.
While we wouldn’t go so far as to say 2019 was a brilliant year for the MacBook Air (the redesign in 2018 was far more significant), the price cut undoubtedly helped make it a positive year for fans of the device.
The 12-inch MacBook dies (and we’re glad)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Things weren’t so great for the 12-inch MacBook in 2019, though, which got killed off completely. It seems like the cheaper price of the redesigned MacBook Air meant the 12-inch MacBook simply wasn’t viable anymore. With the new MacBook Air being plenty thin and light and a good deal more powerful than the 12-inch MacBook, there was nowhere else for Apple to turn.
Still, that’s no bad thing in our eyes. Apple is known for keeping its laptop lineups focused and concise (especially compared to a company like Dell), but in recent years its MacBook line had become bloated and confusing.
First there was the 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Despite being Apple’s smallest MacBook, it was actually mid-range in terms of price, making the Air the entry-level device (exacerbated by the Air’s lack of updates in recent years). Then when Apple updated the Air in 2018, the two devices suddenly switched places, with the aging 12-inch MacBook looking like the outdated model.
It seems that in 2019, Apple had had enough of the confusion, and yanked the 12-inch MacBook off the shelves. While we’re not back to the heady days of Steve Jobs’ famous “product quadrant,” the Mac lineup is now much simpler and easier to navigate, which can only be a good thing.
2020 could be a revolution
Overall, then, 2019 has been a very good year from the Mac, especially on the high-end, professional side of things. The changes Apple has brought about — both large and small — have been positive, and show a company willing to listen to its customers’ concerns and give them the products they want.
The only notable exception, really, is the iMac. While we love its classic all-in-one design, its large bezels and non-adjustable stand are starting to look a bit dated in 2019 (although it did get a good performance bump in March to bring it up to speed). The iMac Pro, meanwhile, didn’t get updated at all in 2019 and is easily outclassed by the new Mac Pro (although it is cheaper).
Yet, it could be that 2019 was the calm before the storm. With Apple widely rumored to be adding ARM chips to its Macs as soon as 2020, it may be that this year was all about resetting the Mac lineup and getting the company’s ducks in a row before the huge ARM shakeup next year. Whether or not that comes to fruition is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly a possibility.
But on balance, 2019 can only be seen as a great year for the Mac. It was a return to form for one of the most popular and well-loved computers on the market, and bodes well for the future for Mac fans.