5 things Apple has to do to win with Macs this fall

Ignored at WWDC, MacBook laptop and Mac desktop hardware can still take big steps before the holiday shopping season.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

While it wasn't a surprise, the lack of any Mac hardware updates at last week's Apple  WWDC conference still disappointed potential MacBook , iMac and Mac Pro shoppers, many of whom have been waiting patiently for the company to release radically updated versions of some systems and correct long-standing problems with others.

Mac Pro fans had already girded themselves for a long wait: Apple had previously confirmed that the replacement for the infamous, aging trashcan Mac wouldn't arrive until sometime in 2019. But the desire for replacements for the more mainstream Mac lines is even more acute. The MacBook and MacBook Pro family is suffering from a surge of keyboard issues owing to its seemingly fragile butterfly keyboard design.

There's still just over six months left in 2018, and plenty of time for Mac updates and new products to appear. Last year's WWDC hosted a wide range of computer updates, mostly to internal components, but a fall launch for new MacBooks or Mac desktops would easily make up for the lack of hardware at WWDC 2018. 

But a straight-up "specs bump" with new Intel chips won't cut it: Apple needs to address some key issues with the Mac. To that end, here's what we'd like to see changed once new models are announced.

Hit reset on super flat MacBook keyboards

Some people hate the extra flat keyboards on the current generation of MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops . Other people tolerate them, if begrudgingly. Absolutely no one loves them. Besides lacking enough tactile feedback, these keyboards are sensitive to crumbs and debris of any kind, resulting in stuck keys which lead to costly repairs, lost productivity and even lawsuits

If you're suffering from a stuck MacBook key, this method works about half the time. If it fails, taking your laptop in for repair is the only option. That was never a problem with previous MacBooks. Either go back to the earlier keyboard design, or go back to the drawing board -- but the current iteration just isn't cutting it.

Make the Touch Bar truly optional

The MacBook Pro Touch Bar can be good for exploring emoji you may not know even exist.

The MacBook Pro Touch Bar can be good for exploring emoji you may not know even exist.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

I actually use the Touch Bar on a MacBook Pro on a regular basis. I sometimes swap between several laptops a week. But whenever my laptop travels take me back to a MacBook Pro, I make the Touch Bar part of my interface. I use it primarily for controlling screen brightness, volume and other system tasks. But it's not a universally adopted control interface, and plenty of Mac users either don't care for it or don't feel they need it.

The least expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar is a full $500 less than the least expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar (yes, there are CPU and storage differences as well). The 15-inch MacBook Pro, however, is only available with the Touch Bar. I'd wager that many potential shoppers would jump at a chance to shave a few hundred dollars off a 15-inch Pro that skipped the high-concept Touch Bar. 

Apple Mac Pro
Sarah Tew/CNET

Take care of true Pro desktop users

The Mac Pro, intended to be Apple's highest-end desktop PC, has been stuck in stasis since 2013. Serious photo and video editors, 3D modelers and other power users have been waiting for an update since then. To the company's credit, Apple acknowledged its missteps with the Pro last year, and promised a ground-up redesign, which is now confirmed for 2019. My colleague Lori Grunin points out all the things a new Mac Pro must have, from user-replaceable parts to a cheaper entry-level version. 

My take is that even if we can't actually buy a new Mac Pro in 2018, we should at least get a sneak peek at what it'll look like, what's inside it and how much it will cost. That way, pro users can decide if they want to wait for the 2019 modular Mac Pro, or go with the iMac Pro, which is available now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Give us the MacBook Air update we've been asking for

It's the one thing everyone asks about and obsesses over, above all other Apple issues. When will the legendary MacBook Air get a serious upgrade? This 13-inch laptop isn't very different from when it launched a decade ago, in 2008. The current design, largely static since 2010, got a tiny CPU bump last year, but is still several generations behind in its processor, display (non-Retina screen!) and overall design. Despite this, the Air is so popular that even in its sadly dated current form, it's still one of the most commonly spotted laptops in coffee shops and on college campuses.

The rumor mill about a new version of the Air is getting stronger, and if the reports of a system with a slimmer body, better Retina-class screen, newer CPU and a price tag under $1,000 are true, we'll probably be looking at a runaway hit. But whether that rumored model retains the "Air" name, or gets rebranded as a "MacBook (13-inch)" -- or something else -- is anybody's guess.

Amazon Basics Computer Accessories
Sarah Tew/CNET

Just one more port

Yes, you can still find a MacBook with extra ports. The 13-inch Air and the one older 15-inch MacBook Pro design Apple still sells both have USB-A and HDMI ports, as well as the deeply missed MagSafe power connection. But for the rest of us, it's USB-C or bust.

I get it, it's a handy connection type, and can handle power, data, video and accessories. Plus, you'll never accidentally try and plug something in upside down as it's a reversible plug. But, for those of us living in the real world, where you sometimes run into a USB memory stick, a mouse with a USB connector, a display or TV set you need to connect to via HDMI, or an Ethernet port, I hope Apple considers sneaking a USB-A or maybe even an HDMI port back into the mix.

The clock is ticking

We may or may not see some combination of these wish-list items on the horizon later this year. We expect new iPhones this fall, and Apple is also due to release new iPad Pros and a new Apple Watch, too. Squeezing all those and new Macs into a September event is a daunting prospect. But perhaps Apple will also hold a Mac-only event in September or October. 

Time will tell, but we hope it comes sooner rather than later.

WWDC 2018: Everything from Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference

See all photos

WWDC 2018: Everything Apple announced at its annual developer shindig.

iOS 12: Siri shortcuts, group FaceTime, Memoji and more.