Bring back the badass black MacBook

Commentary: It's time for a jet-black aluminum MacBook. Apple has the technology.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read

We're getting new Macs tomorrow. And boy, are they late.

It's been 526 days since Apple released the last MacBook Pro. 597 days since the last MacBook Air. The Mac Mini hasn't been refreshed for over two years.

You could point to any number of reasons as to why. Supply. Demand. Components that aren't that much more powerful than they were two or three years ago.

Here's some wishful thinking: the Mac is late because Apple needed time to perfect its badass black aluminum body.

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Imagine if Apple introduced a jet-black MacBook Pro. Just imagine.

Photoshop by Mark Hobbs/CNET

Remember the black MacBook that was on sale from 2006-2008? It was the first Mac I'd ever considered buying. It made the company look like a rebel at a time when Apple was anything but. (It was during the height of the "Apple white" design phase -- white iPods, white earbuds, white laptops, white iMacs -- The Simpsons dedicated an episode to how conformist the Apple brand had become.)

And it didn't hurt that the black Mac was one of the very first to come with the awesome MagSafe magnetic charging cable that kept users from tripping on their wires and slamming their laptops into the ground.

But that Mac was made of plastic. It wasn't particularly thin or light, and it wasn't the only game in town for people craving a black PC.

Besides, by the time I could afford the black Mac, a far more attractive laptop had come along: the Dell XPS M1330. (I got a refurbished model for cheap.) Gaping at the slim design, LED-lit screen and integrated GeForce graphics, my friends and I agreed: With Apple, you paid too much for too little PC.

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The black plastic MacBook, circa 2008. No Mac has been this black since.


Eight years later, I'm a different person, and Apple's in a different place. The MacBook has the best battery life, build quality, touchpad and screens of practically any line of laptop, even if Apple stubbornly refuses to update the low-res panel in the MacBook Air. With the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple finally embraced the standard HDMI port for video output and placed USB ports on both sides of the machine. (I told myself I'd never buy a computer without that.)

I don't game on my laptop anymore, so I don't need Windows and all its bloat. I just want a premium machine that can handle dozens of browser tabs, plus some photo and video editing, without breaking a sweat. So last fall, I told myself I'd buy the next MacBook Pro.

But a new Mac didn't show up. Each traditional Apple release window came and went without a new computer. At the same time, Windows manufacturers didn't stand still: Now, I can't help but eye the Razer Blade Stealth, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (with its gorgeous OLED screen), the HP Spectre , and the HP Spectre x360 in black and gold.

Know what those laptops have in common, other than being relatively small? They're black -- which means they stand out in a world full of shiny silver MacBook Air clones.

But not one of those black aluminum bodies holds a candle to the deep, jet-black finish of the new iPhone 7. Those Windows PCs are a dull, pale grey by comparison.

Watch this: Jet Black iPhone 7 scratch test

Nobody does aluminum like Apple. (Nobody says "aluminium" like Apple's Jony Ive.) With the MacBook Pro, Apple showed the world how to make a strong, light, cost-effective unibody aluminum notebook enclosure that felt like a million bucks. Now, aluminum is everywhere -- but Apple kept refining its metallurgic talents until it could produce the glossy, sports-car like finish of the new iPhone.

And I refuse to believe the iPhone is the only place Apple will use that finish. Sure, it scratches, but that jet black finish is like nothing else out there.

Rumor has it that in 2011, Steve Jobs himself killed a plan to produce black aluminum MacBooks -- but only because Apple's powder-coating technique wasn't up to par. Five years later, that's clearly not a problem anymore. We have the technology.

It's time for Apple's MacBooks to go back to black.

Originally published Oct. 20