New 16-inch MacBook Pro Model Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard
Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.
Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.
New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel
Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.
Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.
Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.
About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays
You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. But since nearly everyone uses Retina displays at scaled resolutions like 1920-by-1200 or 1680-by-1050, the practical upshot is that the new MacBook Pro won’t show any more content on the screen than the previous model, but what it does display will be a little bit larger. And it’s still gorgeous.
To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.
More Power, More RAM, More Storage
Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.
16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good, since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.
When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).
Radically Better Audio
Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.
For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.
Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.
Slightly Larger Physical Package
Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.
It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.
802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.
Price and Availability
You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD would set you back $6099.
Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.
Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.
There are plenty of situations where it makes sense to put a date in a filename, but if you don’t use the right date format, the files may sort in unhelpful ways. For instance, using the names of months is a bad idea, since they’ll sort alphabetically, putting April before January. And although the Mac’s Finder is smart enough to sort filename-3 before filename-20, most other operating systems are not (because 2 comes before 3). So, to make your life—and the lives of everyone with whom you share files—a little easier, use this date format, which is guaranteed to sort correctly everywhere: YYYY-MM-DD. That translates to a four-digit year, followed by a two-digit month (with a leading zero if necessary), and a two-digit day (again, with a leading zero if need be).
Some of Our Favorite Features of macOS 10.15 Catalina
In a break from Apple’s pattern of alternating cycle of releases,macOS 10.15 Catalinais not a refinement of 10.14 Mojave like 10.13 High Sierra was for 10.12 Sierra. Instead, Catalina boasts significant changes, both obvious things like new apps and less-obvious things like under-the-hood improvements. Here are some of our favorites.
iTunes Is Dead! Long Live Music, TV, and Podcasts
After 18 years of being a fixture on the Mac, the increasingly bloated iTunes has been replaced with a trio of independent apps: Music, TV, and Podcasts. Note that the iOS device syncing features of iTunes have moved to the sidebar in Finder windows.
Major App Updates: Reminders, Notes, and Photos
The ease of telling Siri “Remind me to touch base with Javier tomorrow at 10 AM” has long made Reminders useful, but the Reminders app itself was weak. Apple has overhauled it in Catalina, giving it a completely new interface that lets you create smart lists that collect tasks from multiple lists, add attachments to tasks, and click buttons to add dates, times, locations, and flags to reminders instantly. Best of all, lists finally have their own sort orders! Note that to see some of the new features, you must upgrade your Reminders database on all your devices and those of anyone with whom you share lists, so you may need to wait until everything and everyone is up to date.
Notes gains a new gallery view that provides thumbnail instead of a scrolling list. More practically, you can now share entire folders as well as notes, and for both, you can limit collaborators to read-only mode. If you use lists in Notes, you’ll like the new checklist features for reordering list items, moving checked items to the bottom, and easily unchecking all items to reuse the list.
With Photos, Apple redesigned how the main Photos view displays your pictures. Previously, it started with Years, zoomed in to Collections, and zoomed in again to Moments. Now Photos uses a more sensible Years, Months, Days hierarchy, with Years and Months using a large, easily viewed grid, and Days showing selected thumbnails of different sizes to focus attention on the best images. All Photos still shows everything in a grid. Apple also enhanced the machine-learning aspects of Photos so it can better understand who is in each shot and what’s happening—this helps Photos to highlight important moments and create better Memories. And you can now edit Memory movies on the Mac as well as iOS.
Screen Time Replaces Parental Controls
Last year, iOS 12 introduced Screen Time, which helps you monitor app usage and how often you’re distracted by pickups or notifications. Plus, it lets you set limits on particular categories of apps and make sure you don’t use your device when you should be sleeping. Even better, it enables you to manage what your kids can do on their iOS devices, when they can do it, and for how long.
All that goodness has now migrated to the Mac in Catalina, replacing the old parental controls, so if your middle-schooler needs help avoiding games when homework is due, or in putting the Mac to sleep when it’s bedtime, the new Screen Time pane of System Preferences has the controls you need. It also provides a wide variety of content and privacy controls.
Voice Control Your Mac
Although Apple has buried the new Voice Control settings in System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control, if you’ve ever wanted to control your Mac with your voice, give it a try. It’s astonishing, and you really can run through a set of commands and dictation like this:
Open TextEdit. Click New Document. ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent comma a new nation comma conceived in liberty comma and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal period’ Click File menu. Click Save. ‘Gettysburg address.’ Click Save button.
You can even use your voice to edit the text you dictate! Make sure to scan through the full set of commands to see what’s possible, and remember that you can add your own commands.
Enhanced Security and Privacy
Apple continues to improve macOS’s security and privacy controls in a variety of ways:
In Catalina, the operating system runs in a dedicated read-only system volume that prevents anything from overwriting or subverting critical files.
Kernel extensions, which are often required for hardware peripherals, now run separately from macOS, preventing them from causing crashes or security vulnerabilities.
All new apps, whether from the App Store or directly from developers, must now be “notarized,” which means Apple has checked them for known security issues.
Macs with Apple’s T2 security chip now support Activation Lock in Catalina, so if they’re stolen, there’s no way to erase and reactivate them.
Catalina now plays a mean game of “Mother, May I?,” so apps will have to ask permission to access data in your main folders, before they can perform keylogging, and if they want to capture still or video recordings of your screen, among other things. Apps even have to ask to be allowed to put up notifications. Be prepared for an awful lot of access-request dialogs.
Attach an iPad Sidecar to Your Mac
Our final favorite feature in Catalina is Sidecar, which enables you to connect an iPad to your Mac and use it as a secondary screen, either extending your Desktop or mirroring what’s on the main display. It does require a relatively recent Mac and an iPad running iOS 13, but it works either wired or wireless.
On the iPad, you can keep using Multi-Touch gestures, and Sidecar even supports the Apple Pencil so you can use the iPad like a graphics tablet. Apps that have Touch Bar support will display their controls on the bottom of the iPad screen, even on Macs without a Touch Bar.
More Smaller Features
Those are our favorite big features, but Catalina boasts plenty of smaller ones too:
A new Find My app combines Find My iPhone and Find My Friends into one.
Find My can locate offline devices using crowd-sourced locations.
Apple Watch users can authenticate anywhere on the Mac by double-clicking the side button. (Oh, thank you, Apple!)
Mail can block email from specified senders and move their messages directly to the trash.
You can mute specific Mail threads to stop notifications from chatty email conversations.
Enough! We’ll keep covering new Catalina features, but once you upgrade, spend some time exploring, since there are so many neat new things you can do. And remember, we recommend caution when upgrading your Mac—see our earlier article on that topic.
Traditionally, extended keyboards come with a Forward Delete key that, when you press it, deletes characters to the right of the insertion point, unlike the main Delete key, which deletes to the left of the insertion point. Forward Delete still exists on Apple’s Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, but it’s missing from the Magic Keyboard and all Mac laptop keyboards. If you like using Forward Delete (and well you should!), the secret key combinations that simulate it for any Apple keyboard that lacks it are Fn-Delete and Control-D. You can often add Option to the mix to delete the word to the right of the insertion point instead of just a character.
Confession time. If there’s one topic we can’t stop talking about, it’s backups. Backups are essential, since no one can guarantee that your Mac or iPhone won’t be lost or stolen, be caught in a flood from a broken pipe, or just fail silently. It happens.
You should have a good backup strategy that ensures backups happen regularly, but it’s not paranoid to make double extra sure when you’re doing something that’s more likely to cause problems than everyday activity. And by that we’re thinking about upgrading to a major new operating system, such as macOS 10.15 Catalina or iOS 13.
The reason is simple. As much as Apple tests the heck out of these upgrades, so many files are in play that all it takes is one unexpected glitch to render the entire Mac or iPhone non-functional. Wouldn’t you like to be able to revert instantly if something does go wrong?
Mac Backups before Upgrading
On the Mac side, most people should be using Time Machine. It ensures that you can not only restore your entire drive if necessary, but also easily recover a previous version of a corrupted file. The other advantage of having Time Machine backups (and a bootable duplicate, discussed next) is that you can use either to migrate all your apps, data, and settings back to a new installation of macOS, should that become necessary.
As useful as Time Machine is, a bootable duplicate made with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner is the best insurance right before you upgrade to Catalina. If an installation goes south, you can also boot from your duplicate and get back to work right away.
Finally, although it’s not directly related to backing up before upgrading, we always recommend an offsite backup made via an Internet backup service like Backblaze. This is because a fire or flood would likely destroy your backup drive along with your Mac.
So please, back up your Mac before something goes wrong. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive to get started, and we’re happy to help.
iOS Backups before Upgrading
Although upgrade-related problems are less common with iPhones and iPads, they can still happen. It’s more likely that you’d drop your little friend accidentally while juggling groceries or forget it after your workout at the gym, but regardless, a backup ensures that you don’t lose precious photos if you’re not using iCloud Photos or My Photo Stream, and backups make migrating to a new device like a fancy new iPhone as painless as possible.
With iOS, though, you don’t need extra software or hardware to make a backup. Apple provides two ways of backing up your iPhone or iPad: iTunes and iCloud. We generally recommend backing up to iCloud if your backups will fit in the free 5 GB of space Apple provides or if you’re already paying for more iCloud space. If you’re not a fan of the cloud or don’t have space, there’s nothing wrong with iTunes backups, though they’re a bit fussier to set up and manage.
There’s also no harm in using both, with iCloud for nightly automatic backups and iTunes for an extra backup just before upgrading to iOS 13 or to a new iPhone or iPad. A second backup can be useful—we’ve seen situations where an iPhone would refuse to restore its files from iTunes but would from iCloud.
To back up to iCloud, go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup, turn the switch on, and tap Back Up Now. For backups to happen automatically in the future, you must have sufficient space in your iCloud account (you can buy more), and your device must be on a Wi-Fi network, connected to power, and have its screen locked.
To back up to iTunes, connect your device to your Mac via a Lightning-to-USB cable, launch iTunes, and click the device icon to the right of the media menu.
Then, in the Backups section, click the Back Up Now button. If you’re prompted to encrypt your backups, we encourage you to agree since otherwise your backup won’t include passwords, Health information, or HomeKit data. For automatic backups via iTunes, select This Computer. After that, every time you plug into your Mac, it will back up.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we’re not talking about how to restore if something goes wrong during an upgrade. That’s because it’s impossible to predict exactly what might happen or what state your device will end up in. So if you’re unfortunate enough to have such problems—or to have some other catastrophic failure—get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.
If you own an iMac Pro, or a Mac mini, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro model introduced in 2018 or later, your Mac has one of Apple’s T2 security chips inside. On the whole, having a T2 chip in your Mac is a good thing, thanks to significantly increased security and other benefits, but there are some ramifications that you may not realize.
What Is a T2 Chip?
Let’s step back briefly. In late 2016, Apple introduced the T2’s predecessor, the T1, in the first Touch Bar–equipped MacBook Pros. The T1 offered three primary capabilities:
Management of the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor and storage of sensitive biometric information
Integration of the System Management Controller, which is responsible for heat and power management, battery charging, and sleeping and waking the Mac
Detection of non-Apple hardware
The T2 builds on the T1’s foundation, adding four more important capabilities:
Real-time encryption and decryption of data on built-in SSDs
Support for invoking Siri with “Hey Siri”
Image enhancement for built-in FaceTime HD cameras
Optional protection of the Mac’s boot process to prevent it from starting up with an external drive
All these functions become possible because the T1 and T2 are essentially separate computers inside your Mac, much like the A-series chips that power iOS devices. They have their own memory and storage, and run an operating system called bridgeOS that’s based on watchOS.
Some of these features enhance performance by offloading processing (like enhancing FaceTime HD and listening for Siri) to a separate chip. Others increase security by ensuring that they can’t be compromised by an attack, even if macOS itself has been infiltrated.
How Does a T2 Chip Increase Your Security?
There are four basic ways that the T2 chip increases security, two of which apply only to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.
The T2 chip ensures that all the components involved in the Mac’s boot process, including things like firmware, the macOS kernel, and kernel extensions—can be cryptographically verified by Apple as trusted. That prevents an attacker from somehow inserting malicious code at boot and taking over the Mac.
There are two gotchas, however. First, Secure Boot trusts only code that’s signed by Apple, with one exception: a specific bootloader signed by Microsoft to enable Windows 10 to work with Apple’s Boot Camp technology for running Windows on a Mac. That means you can’t boot from Linux in Boot Camp, for instance.
Second, with Secure Boot in its default settings, you can’t boot from an external drive at all. That’s great for security but can make troubleshooting internal drive problems tricky. To control these settings, Macs with T2 chips have a Startup Security Utility available in macOS Recovery (boot while holding down Command-R). You can use it to allow booting from an external drive for troubleshooting reasons and to turn down security if you need to install an older version of macOS or install macOS without an Internet connection available.
Because the T2 contains both a crypto engine and the SSD controller, it enables on-the-fly encryption and decryption of all data stored on the internal SSD. It uses the same technology as FileVault and requires a password at startup. Macs with internal hard drives and external hard drives don’t receive the T2’s protection but can still be encrypted via FileVault.
The big win from the T2 encrypting all stored data is that there’s no way to decrypt the data without the password—as long as your password can’t be guessed, there’s no reason to worry about your data if your MacBook Pro disappears. The potential downside here is that it’s impossible to recover data from a damaged Mac without the password.
The T2 chip also controls what happens with failed password attempts. Fourteen tries are allowed without delays, and then tries 15 through 30 are permitted with increasingly long delays (1 hour between tries for the last three). After that, more attempts are possible, but after 220 total attempts through various approaches, the T2 chip will refuse to process any requests to decrypt data, rendering it unrecoverable. In short, back up your data!
The T2 chip manages the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor that lets you log in to your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro without entering your password. Even so, the password is required after turning the Mac on or restarting, and the Mac also requires the password if you haven’t unlocked it in 48 hours, if you haven’t provided the password in the last 156 hours and used your fingerprint over the previous 4 hours, or if the fingerprint read fails five times.
This isn’t exactly related to the T2 chip, but all T2-equipped MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models feature a hardware disconnect that disables the microphone whenever the lid is closed. That prevents any software from turning on the mic and eavesdropping on you. No disconnect is necessary for the FaceTime HD camera when the lid is closed because its field of view is completely obstructed in that position.
So there you have it. The T2 chip significantly increases the security of your Mac, but it comes with tradeoffs that make it harder to boot from external drives or run other operating systems.