October was a busy month for tech news, with both Apple and Microsoft holding big product launches.
After two years of no significant updates to its laptop line, Apple has finally unveiled improvements to the MacBook Pro… to a lukewarm reception.
Just the day before, Microsoft also hosted an event, announcing its addition to its Surface line. Even though Microsoft hadn’t taken as long as Apple to grow the family, the new device packed a punch… for those with a permanent desk. Travelers, though, won’t be particularly thrilled.
So now we have two new devices, from two of the largest tech companies in the world. What, if anything, do travelers have to gain from them?
Apple’s Latest Updates to the MacBook Pro
As expected, Apple announced its long-awaited MacBook Pro upgrade at a press event on October 27th. This new model inherits the distinctive all-aluminum look of its predecessors, and just like them, it comes in 13″ and 15″ versions.
Despite it being around a year and a half since the last update, though, the new model wasn’t particularly heavy in new features. You’re basically looking at a redesign of the laptop, with the most significant changes coming to its keyboard.
The Touch Bar
The new Touch Bar is the biggest upgrade. Taking the place of physical function keys, it offers a bunch of different options. As well as standard functions like controlling volume and brightness, it can also adapt to whatever you’re doing at the time.
If you open a web browser, for example, it’ll show your favorite tabs automatically, and a tap will open them. For better or worse, there’s no need to deal with the trackpad, or an external mouse.
Speaking of the trackpad, it also gets a revamp. It’s much larger, as conventional clicking has been replaced by Force Touch feedback.
Unsurprisingly, Apple made a big deal of the Touch Bar — after all, it’s the main improvement in this new MacBook Pro. Honestly, it’s not all that exciting — but it’s all we get for now, and at least it does have at least one small useful aspect for travelers.
It introduces Touch ID to the laptop range, which speed ups the logon process, helps identify you on some websites, and works with Apple Pay. Better laptop security? We’ll get behind that.
Smaller and Thinner
Maybe the most noteworthy feature of the new MacBook Pro for travelers is the size and weight. The 13″ model weighs three pounds, and the 15-inch version is only a pound heavier. Both machines are around 0.6″ thick. That’s a good half-pound lighter, and a little thinner, than the old versions.
This may be a small change, but for frequent travelers, and particularly digital nomads, it’s a big deal. This upgrade could mean an end to compromises for some who previously had to choose between the lighter MacBook Air, and the more powerful MacBook Pro. There’s now basically no weight difference between them.
Just as new features come in, old ones go out. The new MacBook Pro ditches several of its ports, including the beloved Magsafe charging connector, HDMI and standard USB, in favour of four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports.
If you want to plug almost any of your existing accessories into your new Macbook Pro, you’re out of luck without an adapter. And you know how much we love adapters around here.
More significant for travelers, especially photography fiends, the SD card slot is gone. If you’re planning to upgrade and your camera doesn’t have Wi-fi, you’ll need to factor a new cable or a card reader into your budget. Hopefully one that uses USB-C. Sigh.
And the Price
MacBooks are never a bargain, and this is no exception. A new MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar starts at US$1,799 for the 13-inch with 256 GB of storage, up to US$2,799 for the 15-inch with 512 GB. That’s a noticeable jump from the previous model.
If you don’t want the Touch Bar, you’ll save three hundred dollars… but you’ll lose two of those four Thunderbolt ports as well.
Microsoft’s Latest Addition to the Surface Family
While Apple’s announcement was an update to an existing device, Microsoft bought a brand new member to its praised Surface family — and an honorable addition it is.
The company unveiled its Surface Studio on October 26th, and it is, to say the least, a remarkable machine: a gorgeous 28-inch all-in-one PC that will top the Christmas wishlist of many a graphic designer.
The Studio has surprised the market, with tech journalists going as far as saying Microsoft is surpassing Apple as the most forward-thinking company of the two. That’s a big turnaround from decades past.
However, since most travelers won’t carry a desktop with them, it’s hard for us to get too excited about it. Since the other two members of the family: the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, aren’t due for an upgrade quite yet, does this mean that Microsoft has nothing up its sleeve for travelers?
Not exactly. The other main announcement was the “Creator’s Update”, a refresh of Windows 10 with some features that may even be useful for digital nomads.
Easier Communication & Sharing
Microsoft wants to “make people the center of Windows,” whatever that means. With that in mind, a new feature, Windows My People, aims to making staying in touch even easier. The program will join several services together, including mail, Skype, Xbox Live and SMS from cell phones. Missing messages might become a thing of the past.
Your important contacts will always be visible on the toolbar,and you’ll be able to share content, such as photos or documents, by simply dragging the files to the contact’s icon. No other apps or programs needed.
And the Price
Just in case you’re curious, a Surface Studio will retail for US$2,999. It’s not a cheap option, but if you’re a graphic or web designer with a home base, it’s worth considering.
The Windows 10 upgrade, which will come out in spring next year, is free.
So What Do We Take From This?
Were these announcements much ado about nothing? Not necessarily. Microsoft’s Surface Studio is seriously impressive, and if anything, goes to show how the company isn’t done innovating with its Surface line.
On the other hand, the “meh” upgrade to the new MacBook Pro has left people wondering if Apple has used up all of its bullets, and pondering whether we’re on the brink of a role switch in the tech world.
It feels like Apple has missed an opportunity here. With Microsoft and other PC manufacturers now designing genuinely innovative hardware, it’s an exciting time in tech. What developments will we see over the next 12 months… and which company will be creating them? For the first time in years, it’s truly hard to know.
What do you think about Microsoft’s and Apple’s new devices? Anything you wished they had announced instead?