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Commentary Laptops

Welcome to Apple's year of safe, boring Mac and iPad updates

When are we getting something actually new?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Surprise! Apple released new MacBooks on Thursday. Maybe you were expecting something affordable, something with Face ID, something with a more reliable keyboard. Dare we even dream of the long-rumored Retina Display MacBook Air?

No. Instead, there are new MacBook Pro models with bumped-up processors.

OK, that's not exactly fair. Apple has added a nice array of pro-centric improvements: More storage options (up to 4TB), more RAM options (up to 32GB), a True Tone display, always-on Siri. And the keyboard is now… quieter. (What everyone wanted was something that wasn't disabled by a single crumb or speck of dust, though.)  And the addition of an optional external GPU box will no doubt be welcomed by graphics professionals -- but I'm not rendering video, so all of that is far beyond my needs.

Meanwhile, the only iPad Apple has unveiled this year was an update to its entry-level model, adding Pencil stylus support. It's a great baseline product, but it doesn't take the iPad further.

So... here we are again.

I've been looking for that Next Big Step in Apple computers and tablets, and so far, it just isn't happening. Or, I'd settle for a great new mid-range product. Apple's latest updates do neither, leaving me wondering when something for the rest of us is arriving, and how much things will really change when it gets here. For Apple, lately, computer progress feels mighty slow indeed.

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The Microsoft Surface Go combines tablet and laptop... Apple still isn't going there.

CNET

The missing tweener

Microsoft's just-announced Surface Go is little more than a smaller, more affordable, less powerful Microsoft Surface. It is, to be clear, not in the same computing universe as the MacBook Pro: It's more of a Microsoft Chromebook. But at least its heart is in the right place: One machine that handles all your needs.

Apple's increasingly large gallery of options seems to keep skirting that mission over and over again. The iPad and iPad Pro are powerful and have great apps, but don't have computer-like web browsers and helpful things I need to work, like trackpads for editing as I write. The MacBook lineup is frozen in time: Nicely constructed, but running system software that isn't pushing boundaries. And, no touchscreens at all.

I'd love to just carry one Apple computer around. Preferably, an iPad. But I can't get all my work done on it... hence, I use a MacBook. But mine's an older Pro. I'd love something as light as the 12-inch MacBook, but I want that thing to have the touchscreen flexibility of the iPad Pro. Basically, again, the Surface, but with an Apple OS. An iPad with a better browser and touchpad/mouse support.

Is Apple working on a future solution to fuse these worlds? The company is on record, again and again and again -- as saying no: No touchscreen Macs. No combining of iOS and MacOS.

And yet, Apple has now committed to making it much easier for developers to move iOS apps to the Mac. That literally implies that a best-of-both-worlds device, maybe a whole new evolution, could still be somewhere out there, someday, on the horizon.

I've nearly given up on such a device appearing. Anyway, that thing will end up being expensive as hell if/when it arrives.

My favorite MacBook is three years old

I use a 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2015, a model that Apple just discontinued the 15-inch version of. It has lots of ports like HDMI and regular USB, and an SD card slot. It has a great keyboard. It has solid battery life. It's big and thick. It's fine. I'm typing on it now.

I haven't seen any reason to upgrade, and these newest MacBook Pro models don't move me much at all. If you can live with Apple's flattened butterfly keyboards, these new tweaks on the Pro may well be music to the ears of the Mac power user, the other everyday requests don't seem to be there. No Face ID (something that could be actually useful on a laptop). No old-school USB ports. And, most importantly, where's the totally redesigned keyboard?

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Bigger things to come in the fall, maybe?

Apple is still missing refreshes to half its iPad lineup, and the vast majority of its Mac lineup, which is likely to arrive this fall sometime. Reports point to a Face ID-enabled iPad Pro with smaller bezels, and maybe a more affordable 13-inch MacBook that just might be the "Retina Air" requested for years.

Those would be nice, but neither one may end up making the iPad more like a computer, or a MacBook more flexible and versatile. That's what I need, and that's what Apple still seems to keep punting down the road -- even as Microsoft and other PC vendors keep innovating along those very lines.