The MacBook is changing fast, but it's still missing some key features

Commentary: New M1 MacBooks should follow the iPad Pro's lead and evolve their design.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

The new MacBooks look like MacBooks. But what if they started transforming?

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's latest generation of Macs has shifted to a whole new set of Apple-made chips. These MacBooks, and a Mac Mini, use an M1 processor that sounds like a more advanced version of the graphics-boosted processors in recent iPad Pro models, and promise incredible gains in performance and battery life.

And yet, these MacBooks and Mac Minis don't look any different. In fact, the design is practically identical to the models that existed before. 

Moving to new Apple silicon seems like it's already opening doors to more advanced machine learning and video and photo processing on Macs. These Macs also run iOS apps, something that hasn't been done before. But Apple's future of computing isn't extending, as yet, into design. Unless, of course, you consider Apple's other computer of the future: the iPad Pro.


The iPad and Magic Keyboard feel more futuristic than any M1 MacBook.

Scott Stein/CNET

The iPad Pro has Face ID. It has a touchscreen. It supports the Apple Pencil. It has its own trackpad and keyboard (sold separately). It has optional cellular. Why wouldn't the Mac get these extras, too?

I've been thinking about the possibilities of what new Macs could end up becoming, and what the iPad could evolve into, for years. The time has come.

Apple's still pursuing two separate product pathways between iPad and Mac, but the road between them seems to be getting closer than ever. Here's what we didn't get in new Macs, but I'd like to see soon.

A better camera

We're working remotely more than ever, and my life is lived on endless Zooms. The iPad Pro's cameras are great, but the front-facing one is set at a weird angle that makes Zoom eye contact awkward. MacBooks have perfect camera positioning, but not the best cameras. I haven't tested the new MacBook camera yet, and maybe new software makes it better, but the hardware is the same. I'd also love a proper Face ID-enabled TrueDepth camera on future MacBooks, with even higher-res capabilities for video streaming so I don't have to worry about finding a separate webcam.

Face ID

This hasn't been a great year for face recognition on phones because everyone's been masked, but at home I find that Face ID on the iPad Pro logs me into things a lot faster than Touch ID. Putting Face ID on a MacBook (and preferably keeping Touch ID as well, as a second security option) would make things a lot easier.

Moving up to 5G

Adding cellular to MacBooks is an obvious move, especially since so many Windows laptops have optional cellular. I wouldn't pay up for a 5G laptop, but lots of people would prefer to have the option. And since the new M1 is similar to the chips in phones and tablets (and the handful of Arm-based 5G Windows laptops), it shouldn't be that hard to do. 


Magnetic charging has come to the Watch and iPhones. What about Macs, once again?

Patrick Holland/CNET


Apple already invented a way to magnetically charge Apple Watches and iPhones, but took MagSafe away from MacBooks years ago. It's time to bring MagSafe back. Even better, MagSafe could possibly free up one of the USB-C ports for other things if it's stuck somewhere else on the MacBook body.


I'm just saying...you can do this on an iPad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A touchscreen and Pencil support

OK, Scott, you're describing an iPad. And you can always pair an iPad to a Mac with Sidecar. So what? The Pencil is a fantastic art tool, and touchscreens are a norm on other computers, even budget Chromebooks. Maybe Apple wants to rethink the MacBook design to make it more a folding hybrid at this point, but I think there's a lot of benefit that touchscreens and Pencil compatibility could offer.

Make an iPad that docks into a keyboard base and converts to a full MacBook. Why not? Now that MacBooks run iOS apps, it only makes sense. (And on the next iPad Pros, for that matter, why not unleash a form of iOS that feels more like MacOS?) That may never happen, or it may take years. But it's a reminder that, right now, Apple's first wave of next-gen Macs may not be the best wave.