Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Side notes on the new M1 Macbook Pros.

Well, Intel was a good stepping stone.

The PowerBook G4 I bought for myself was my "main" computer during university years had a powerful and agreeable feeling: the silver finish, the slightly-transparent keys that still had the traditional tall and skewed capital letters, and the truly matte display. I owned a few Mac laptops since, mainly as secondary machines to use away from my desk until iPads existed, but have never since hungered for a notebook computer. If I'm using a Mac, I want to be grounded at my desk with a good display, a good keyboard, and any other controls and accessories set up just right. So I didn't really watch this event with intent to buy these utterly capable MacBook Pros now or later, but goodness knows my sensory inputs will be available for input on how these chips will be used for desktop machines. A few things that seemed nice anyway:

ProMotion on the Mac. The smoothness of 120 hertz isn't so fundamental as the shift to Retina, though proved surprisingly hard for me to unsee after using an iPad Pro. But ProMotion is also about efficiently reducing frame rates for static content, and that manner of smartness feels due as a standard for traditional computers, let alone luxury models.

The world is used to the "notch" now, and I think it looks all right on the MacBook Pro (for a 1080p camera, but no Face ID or Center Stage, as much as I'd like a reason to believe those will appear on desktop Macs soon). In software, the macOS menu clearly has to be taller to underlap the camera housing area, taking on a shape it's never quite had. When apps are in full screen, the horizontal extension of the notch is rendered black, temporarily creating the appearance of a notchless rectangular display – I think Apple's always avoided this – but developers can elect to use this space once they're ready.

What I found oddly cozy about the new Pros was the physical design. They aren't made to appear to have a thin "edge" which gently expands beneath into a deceptively thicker body, found also on the original iPad and the Intel iMacs. The shape instead resembles older MacBooks and MacBook Pros, where the front and sides are simply rounded by some modest radius into the otherwise flat surface of the underside, essentially making the volume of the body a good old rectangular prism again. I'm sure that space is well-utilized by the internals, which always resemble some sort of highly-advanced microscopic city. Finally, unlike the historically nickel-sized and slightly-rounded rubber feet, these models appear to have four short, extruded aluminum struts with rubber circles on the ends to give their undersides a little clearance from their resting surface. It all feels refreshingly like a statement, or at least an acknowledgement: "you can pick this up and take it around, but it's a substantial machine, a little more of a tank." I imagine you can feel its weight and stability when you place it where you want it, and that feeling seems to mean something.

Someone on MacRumors said Jony Ive's vision was "killed" by these designs. Obviously that's an exaggeration, but I'll concede the feeling of a more even balancing of the long-sought ideal of pure thinness, lightness and plainness with the practical ideal of things real pro users have understandably spoken up about when it's seemed like the Apple folks were out of touch. The new Pros are apparently neither thinner nor lighter than their predecessors, and it's nice to get the implied feeling that Apple no longer feels any wisp of shame about this.