Apple is ready to admit it was wrong about the future of laptops

Apple's new 15- and 16 inch MacBook Pros have plenty to offer. They include the upgraded Pro and Max versions, as well as the improved M1 chip. Apple also introduced them last year.
Apple was so excited about these features that you would be forgiven if you forgot that it was the one which killed off most of them in 2016.

The pros finally heard from Related Apple

The full-height function row of the standalone Magic Keyboard is highly valued by users, so we have brought it to the MacBook Pro," Shruti Haldea, Apple's spokesperson, said when she explained why the Touch Bar was being scrapped, the OLED touchscreen strip Apple introduced five years ago. Pros can benefit from having a wider range of ports, Haldea said, summarizing in a concise manner what professionals have been saying for nearly half a century.

MagSafe, the magnetic charging connector that is convenient for laptops, has been removed by Apple in 2016.

Although it is clearly backtracking, I believe Apple is making the right decision with all three changes. A proper function row is more useful for most users than a software-based Touch Bar. MagSafe is quicker to connect than a USB cable and can protect your laptop from being broken if someone trips over the power cord.

All three of these features feel like the right call

It is difficult to overlook the larger context of these upgrades, which effectively brings the 2021 MacBook Pros from Apple back in line with features they offered between 2012 and 2016. The primary reason these MacBooks are receiving overwhelming praise is because Apple made a mistake in predicting the future of laptop design.

The MacBook's move to USB-C was arguably initiated with the 2015 13 inch MacBook. This model had only two ports: one USB port for charging, output and connection of all accessories, and one USB-C port for headphones. Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro refresh was the first to truly demonstrate its commitment to a USB-C future laptop. The 2016 MacBook Pro lineup offered two or four USB Type C / Thunderbolt ports in addition to the usual assortment of Thunderbolt and USB Type A ports. The dongle era had begun.

Apple was among the first to adopt this connector, which was a relatively new technology at the time. It was almost unheard of to go all-in with USB-C. While USB Type-A was dominant on desktops and laptops at the time, Android manufacturers such as Samsung were just beginning to abandon Micro USB in their flagship smartphones.

Most people are aware of what happened next. Owners were forced to buy adapters for all their peripherals. Although their laptop may be lighter and slimmer, professional use of their laptop on the move meant that any space or weight saved in a briefcase or backpack was offset by the bulky and complicated accessories.

The end of adapters

We all know the end result, but it is interesting to question what Apple believed would happen when it switched wholesale to USB-C. Apple, shortly after releasing its 2016 MacBook Pros, reduced prices on a number of its USB-C adapters to ease users' transition to the new standard.

This suggests that Apple believed #DongleLife would be a temporary transitional stage rather than the new norm it became. The 5K LG display, which was announced by Apple at the same event, is a good example of the accessories that it believes will become more common in the future. It was meant to be used with the new MacBook Pro. It used one Thunderbolt 3 cable to transmit video, power and data, as well as acting as a hub for USB thanks to three additional USB-C ports.

If monitors like this had become more common, users would be able to dispense many bulky adaptors and dongles and just have one cable for connecting to a static desk. While some monitors did have DisplayPort connectors, the majority of monitors shipped with a mixture of HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. Users were then forced to use adapters when they needed them. Many people enjoy using the same monitor for longer periods of time than their laptops, especially when they are secondary displays.

Apple is not the only company that has made a gamble on USB-C. VirtualLink was announced by a group of companies including AMD, Nvidia and Oculus. It allows VR headsets to be powered and transmitted data using a single USB-C cable. Although the USB-C port was available on Nvidia's 20-series graphics card, it was plagued by stupid adaptors and dongles. The 30-series was already out.

It is easy to see Apple abandoning ports as a cynical cash grab to increase sales of its USB-C accessories and dongles. Apple's future bets were wrong, however, this is a more optimistic interpretation. Apple believed it could outsource laptop ports to desk-based accessories such as docks and monitors, to make its laptops smaller and more compact. This ecosystem has not taken off and isn't becoming ubiquitous. Instead, people have to carry around endless adapters to perform simple tasks.

There are a few reasons why Apple's vision didn't become a reality. The first is that Macs don't have enough market share to make this a reality. Therefore, manufacturers of monitors/plugins had to use older standards from Windows machines to produce their mainstream devices. The confusing array of USB-C accessories and cables that support them is another. It can be hard to tell if a cable will charge your device, transfer data, and if it will fry your internals, due to the multitude of USB-C versions and Thunderbolt. It's not the plug-and-play solution Apple has in mind.

Perhaps people are more attached than Apple expected to older accessories, especially when it comes expensive professional equipment.

Apple's gamble on wireless audio for the iPhone paid off in a way that its USB-C laptop bet did not

In retrospect, it is interesting to compare Apple's decision to switch to USB-C wholesale on its MacBook with its decision not to remove the iPhone 7's headphone jack. Another decision that caused a lot of laughter at the time, and similar suspicions about adaptors or dongles, was Apple's decision to switch wholesale to USB-C on the MacBook with its decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. Apple's decision seems to have been reaffirmed five years later and its competitors followed suit. There is now a vibrant ecosystem of third-party wireless headphones. I can't recall the last time I saw anyone using an Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor. However, wired headphones are reportedly making a comeback.

It doesn't matter if Apple is the dominant smartphone manufacturer or if wireless audio was more appealing to users than USB-C accessories. However, many people were far more willing to accept Apples irritating headphone jack decision. It is open to debate whether Apple initiated a trend towards wireless audio, or whether it just turbocharged an already existing trend. But, Apple bet that wireless was the future of smartphone audio, and it appears to have paid off.

Apple did not mention its previous MacBook designs in this week's announcement. However, it was Apple's largest mea culpa since the Mac Pro garbage can. After having already decided to replace its controversial butterfly keyboard with more traditional scissor switch, Apple made a complete backtrack at the event. Apple made a mistake in 2016, but it has since gotten itself back on track.