The New Macbook Pro Has a Touchscreen Keyboard, Whether You Like It or Not

You wanted a new MacBook Pro? You got one.

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Oct 27 2016, 6:30pm

For Apple fans, today has been four long years in the making.

While you can practically set your smartwatch to a new iPhone being released every fall, the update cadence of the company's high-end laptop lineup has been somewhat less predictable. Yes, there's been experimentation on the lower-end of the line—the MacBook's sudden lack of ports stunned the internet about a year and a half ago—but the high-end laptop, designed for "real work," hasn't been significantly updated since 2012.

That ended today when Apple, at an event at is headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., introduced a new MacBook Pro (MBP), which comes in two sizes, 13 inches and 15.5 inches, and both have hi-res Retina displays. They're Apple's thinnest and lightest MBPs yet, with the fastest CPUs yet, but you probably figured that.

Prices start at $1,799 for the 13-inch model and $2,399 for the 15-inch model (a 13-inch model that doesn't have the Touch Bar starts at $1,499), and they begin shipping in two to three weeks.

So what's changed?

Meet the "Touch Bar"

Screenshot: Nicholas Deleon

The Touch Bar sits along the top of the MBP's keyboard—we'll get to the keyboard itself shortly—and provides much of the same functionality that the old function keys used to. You know, actions like lowering or raising the brightness of the display or raising or lowering the volume of the speakers/headphones. But now, instead of a discrete, always-visible row of buttons, you've got a thin, touch-sensitive display strip that changes depending on the your needs. Inside the Spotify app? You'll see the likes of play, pause, and rewind. Fiddling around in Finder? Mission Control (which I've never stopped calling Exposé, actually), which reveals your desktop and makes it easy to swap between different windows, is yours to command. And Touch Bar can even be used to scrub through photos inside the Photos app.

Touch ID, Apple's biometric fingerprint reading security feature from the iPhone, is now also baked into the new Touch Bar, letting you unlock the MBP without having to manually enter your password.

Phil Schiller, Apple's marketing chief, asked event attendees to pause for a moment for a "requiem" for the old school function keys.

The concept of a keyboard with context-sensitive keys has been kicking around for a while: One one high-profile model, the Optimus Maximus, was making the rounds in the tech blogosphere way back in 2007 only to never really become a thing. But you can make the argument that the proliferation of smartphones (and tablets, I guess) over the past 10 years has gotten people used to the idea of context-sensitive keyboards.

Will the Magic Toolbar have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day computing? I'm skeptical—how often do you press the functions keys in a typical day?—but at the very least it gives the new MBP a self-assured swagger that its aging design was lacking.

Ports!

The MacBook introduced in early 2015 already set the stage for this, but the MBP no longer has the USB ports you're used to. Nope, the now has four Thunderbolt ports, Intel's proprietary port that also supports the new, smaller, and reversible USB-C standard. What does that mean for you? Basically, if you want to continue to use your current USB devices, like mice, you'll need an adapter.

What's not here?

The MBP may be Apple's high-end laptop but that doesn't mean it has every single feature you'd come across on competing laptops (provided you're OK with using Windows). For one, the Retina display isn't a touchscreen. Plenty of high-end Windows laptops from companies like Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft have touchscreens in their high-end laptops—but if you're a loyal Mac user I'm not sure you'll mind the absence.

Etc.

This isn't related to the MacBook Pro, but Apple also took nearly 30 minutes at the start of its presentation to discuss Apple TV, its streaming video device. Twitter's new app will let users watch live video (including the NFL) on the Apple TV, while a new app developed by Apple, called TV, will aggregate TV listings across installed apps. "It will completely change how you watch TV," claimed Tim Cook. Netflix does not appear to be supported by the TV app, which is a kick in the shins, for sure.

This story was updated to correct the description of the Thunderbolt ports.