MacBook Pro 2020: Everything you need to know about Apple’s next laptops

Alex Blake

With the MacBook Pro 16-inch receiving rave reviews, Apple-made ARM processors on the horizon, and even a dual-screen MacBook apparently in the works, these are interesting times for fans of Apple’s laptops.

That’s doubly so with the MacBook Pro, where a lot of Apple’s high-end development takes place. And with the new decade upon us, there’s plenty to look forward to this year — so what exactly should you expect from the MacBook Pro in 2020?

Price and release date

At this stage, exact release dates are a matter of speculation, but some clues have started to become clear as to when the next MacBook Pro could launch. We were expecting an Apple event on March 31 where Apple was to launch a new MacBook Pro 13, but it seems the coronavirus outbreak has put paid to that. But, according to industry analyst Jon Prosser, we’ll still get the products that were due to launch at this event, just via press releases instead of at a glitzy show. Prosser was proved at least partially correct when Apple did just that for the new MacBook Air and iPad Pro.

This backs up an earlier clue that came in the form of a leaked regulatory filing for an upcoming MacBook Pro. Filed with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) in January, the document concerns a device with model number A2289, made by “portable personal computer brand Apple” and running “software version macOS 10.15.” That’s the current software, otherwise known as Catalina.

The fact that the report was filed with the Eurasian Economic Commission lends credence to the idea that a release date is coming sooner rather than later. Similar filings revealed the existence of new iPads in July 2019, and they were released less than two months later in September 2019; it’s the same story with the MacBook Air and Pro — revealed in June 2019, updated in July.

However, this isn’t an open-and-shut case — a further twist came from well-regarded Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has predicted that Apple will launch a 14.1-inch MacBook Pro this year. Interestingly, Kuo — who is known for the accuracy of his predictions — says it’ll launch alongside a refreshed MacBook Pro 16. Seeing as that model launched in late 2019, we don’t expect it to be updated until late 2020, which leaves us with the possibility that Apple will launch two MacBook Pro models this year: a 13-inch version in the first half, and a 14.1-inch edition later on. Apple did something similar last year when it launched a MacBook Pro 15 in the summer, then the MacBook Pro 16 in the winter. The MacBook Air was upgraded in mid-March 2020 with much more capable processors, and it now effectively competes with the entry-level MacBook Pro 13, adding to the growing feeling that the MacBook Pro will also be updated any day now.

And what about the price? Well, this is even more elusive than the release date, with no firm data coming from any sources. However, once again we can use a little lateral thinking to make a decent guess at what the MacBook Pro 2020 might cost.

The main clue comes in the form of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which kept the exact same price tag of the MacBook Pro 15, despite offering a new form factor and features. So, if a duo of new MacBook Pro models are coming this year, we’d expect them both to follow the example set by the MacBook Pro 16 and keep its current starting price of $1,299, with and a handful of size and spec variations going up through the pricing gears.

The MacBook Pro 16 — but smaller

When Apple launched the MacBook Pro 16-inch in December 2019, it chose to bring its new features to this model only. That meant the smaller MacBook Pro 13 stayed the same — the same thick bezels, the same butterfly keyboard, the same everything.

That always felt like a temporary situation, especially when the positive reviews started pouring in for the vastly improved keyboard, better thermal architecture and more modern look and feel. We find it hard to believe Apple would want to restrict these features to the 16-inch model only; a revamped MacBook Pro 13 — complete with better keyboard and thinner bezels (allowing for a larger display) — is surely on the way.

Going back to those EEC filings, there are clues that indicate that the leaked device is part of the same family as the MacBook Pro, with the A2289 model number being prime among them. The MacBook Pro 16 has a model number of A2141, and is the first MacBook Pro to use a model number starting “A2” (previously, all recent MacBook Pros started “A1”). While various iPads also use model numbers starting A2, the emphasis on “portable computer brand” in the EEC filing implies this device is a relative of the MacBook Pro 16.

We think it’s highly unlikely this is a spec bump for the MacBook Pro 16, as it seems nonsensical to update that so soon after releasing it. The MacBook Pro 13-inch, however, hasn’t been touched since July 2019, making it the much more likely subject of the EEC filing. That means we can expect a similar spec sheet to the MacBook Pro 16: a Magic Keyboard with improved travel; slimline screen bezels; the Touch Bar with a physical Esc key and Touch ID button; and a new cooling system to extract more performance from the internal components.

What about if Apple launches a refreshed MacBook Pro 13 in March and saves the big changes for the 14.1-inch version later in 2020? Right now, the MacBook Pro 13 is stuck on 8th-generation Intel processors; we’d expect Apple to bump these up to at least 9th-generation chips, if not 10-generation ones. Aside from that, though, don’t expect too much — the big changes will come with the 14.1-inch model.

Apple might switch to AMD — or even ARM

It’s no secret that Apple has become frustrated with Intel, as the chip manufacturer has often struggled to meet deadlines, resulting in MacBooks launching without the latest and greatest processors inside them. It seems that Apple has just about run out of patience, and could well be looking elsewhere for its MacBook Pro processors. The question is which alternative it’ll settle on.

Right now, the leading candidate is AMD. In February 2020, MacOS beta code was unearthed that made reference to numerous AMD processors and graphics chips, including “Renoir,” which is a code name for AMD’s Ryzen 4000-series processors. These offer up to eight cores and 16 threads while using a tiny 15W of power. While it’s possible Apple was just testing them out and has no intentions of using them in future Macs, Renoir’s power-to-performance ratio seems absolutely perfect for a top-end machine like the MacBook Pro.

Apple demands very power-efficient parts for the MacBook Pro to enable it to be almost silent during most operations, and these chips would be easily efficient enough for Apple’s taste. Bringing these eight-core U-series processors to the 13-inch MacBook Pro could revolutionize what creative professionals could do with a smaller laptop.

What about ARM? Rumors of Apple switching its processors from Intel to ARM have been floating around for a long time, but it looks like 2021 could be the year this finally becomes reality according to a report from Ming-Chi Kuo. Both Bloomberg and Axios have reported that Apple is well underway with the switch, codenamed Kalamata, and Apple has proved that its own ARM-based chips are capable due to their superb performance in devices like the iPad Pro.

There’s another reason Apple may switch to ARM, and interestingly enough it comes not from the world of hardware, but of software. The clue here is Project Catalyst, Apple’s ongoing effort to make iOS apps work on the Mac. The project has started out with iPad apps making the leap first, and supposedly will expand to include iPhone apps in 2020. The eventual goal is to allow any app work on any Apple platform. According to the reports, Apple hopes to facilitate this by outfitting all of its devices with ARM chips. For one thing, this would make life massively easier for app developers, who could work on apps knowing they’d be running on the same architecture regardless of the device.

While Apple’s ARM-based A-series chips have show impressive performance, it’s unknown how well they would stack up against the high-end i9 in the MacBook Pro. However, former Apple senior executive Jean-Louis Gassée has raised an interesting point: Ampere Computing already sells high-powered ARM chips that can compete with Intel Xeon processors, thus potentially paving the way for even the Mac Pro to switch to Apple-made chips. Still, we expect that Apple will probably debut ARM chips in the MacBook Air (potentially at WWDC), which is a safer bet given in the MacBook Air performance is less important, then perhaps transition the MacBook Pro to ARM at a later date.

Regardless of whether Apple switches to ARM or AMD chips, we think it’ll happen in the 14.1-inch MacBook Pro, not the refreshed 13-inch model launching this March. A total overhaul of the MacBook Pro, bringing a new keyboard, larger display and better thermal performance, seems like a more fitting time to equip it with a new processor family, as opposed to a simple spring refresh.

An all-powerful, eye-burning Mini-LED display

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Over time, the MacBook Pro has built up a reputation for its stellar display, which boasts exceptional brightness, a wide color gamut, and low color error rates. Yet recent rumors suggest that those screens are set to get even better.

According to reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is working on a Mini-LED display that will dramatically ramp up the quality, and we are already seeing this technology proliferate in high-end monitors launching in 2020. Apple’s Pro Display XDR — its highest quality, most luxurious monitor so far — contains 576 LEDs; a Mini-LED MacBook Pro could boast up to 10,000 LEDs.

Kuo reckons this tech will launch in the 14.1-inch MacBook Pro and a refreshed MacBook Pro 16, as well as a 27-inch ‌iMac Pro‌, a 12.9-inch ‌iPad Pro‌, a 10.2-inch ‌iPad‌, and a 7.9-inch ‌iPad‌ mini, and this belief was recently backed up by a report from Taiwanese publication DigiTimes. Packing in so many LEDs into a MacBook Pro display will result in exceptional HDR performance, wide color and high contrast, while also avoiding the burn-in problems that OLED panels can experience. All in all, that should help take Apple’s MacBook Pro displays to another level entirely.

There are a few caveats. For one thing, Kuo understandably expects such advanced tech to cost an arm and a leg, so it won’t make it to every Apple device. As well as that, Kuo predicts a launch date of late 2020 to somewhere around the middle of 2021, meaning we may have to wait a little longer for this super display.

MacBook Pro 2020: Our wishlist

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are a few other things that we’d love to see on the 2020 MacBook Pro. While not all of these have been rumored, we wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them in the next iteration of the device.

Top of our list has to be Face ID. While the iPhone has had Face ID (and Windows has had Windows Hello) for a while now, Apple’s MacBooks have been bereft of this tech for far too long. Face ID on a MacBook would be more secure than Touch ID and even more convenient — all you’d have to do would be to sit down at your desk and look and your screen, then boom — you’re logged in. No reaching for a Touch ID button, just a seamless experience of the kind Apple is well known for. Interestingly, Apple seems to be at least considering bringing Face ID to Macs, according to a recently unearthed patent. Whether the company will actually implement it, however, is unknown.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t talk about the ports. Apple thankfully seems to have left behind the days of the single USB-C port now that it’s killed the 12-inch MacBook, but it’s still possible to buy a brand-new MacBook Pro with just two USB-C ports. That’s appropriate for the MacBook Air, but for a device aimed at professional users with a plethora of accessories, monitors, and devices to connect up, that’s just not enough. We’re all for the super-speed benefits of Thunderbolt 3, but we need enough ports to be able to get our work done without drowning in dongles.