The 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro is coming soon, with preorders beginning Friday and models shipping June 24. It’s a notable product for a bunch of conflicting reasons. First and foremost, it’s the first Mac ever to ship with the M2 processor, so how it performs will give us our first glimpse into how Apple plans on advancing the Mac processor line-up from generation to generation. It’s also the only Mac laptop shipping without a MagSafe charger and the last to have a Touch Bar.
So while the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro is going to get attention because of the M2, it’s also worth asking the question that was on everyone’s lips last week after it was announced: Why does this computer exist at all?
Theory 1: Recycling
Apple loves recycling, not only when it uses recycled aluminum in its devices but when it exports features like Center Stage from one product to another. Consider the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro the ultimate in recycling.
It’s literally the same as the 13-inch M1 Macbook Pro. The case hasn’t changed. The ports are the same. The Touch Bar is the same. The only thing different is the M2 on the inside, which isn’t nothing–but it does mean that Apple had to make minimal changes to its production line to get this new laptop out the door. (And since it’s made using older parts and hardware, this is probably why it’s available this month, and the new M2 MacBook Air won’t follow until sometime in July.)
The longer a product is in production, the more profitable it is to make. Margins go down, the company recoups its investment in the assembly line, and the price remains the same. The 13-inch M2 Macbook Pro has got to have some pretty sweet margins. (And maybe Apple made a whole lot of Touch Bars and has nowhere else to sell them.) A new 13-inch MacBook Pro with the design of the 14- and 16-inch models would cost a lot more for Apple to make and would be less profitable if Apple didn’t hike up the price. Which brings me to my next theory.
Theory 2: Marketing
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299. That’s a simple fact, hiding a more complex one: the new, high-end MacBook Pro models with mini-LED screens and MagSafe charging and fancier processors start at $1,999. The gap between the 13-inch model and the others is sizeable, and Apple wants to offer a laptop it can call MacBook Pro for appreciably less than $2,000.
One reason for this is the classic marketing approach of offering a product line in good/better/best versions. The low-priced “good” model gets people to consider the product. But when they look at their options, they realize how much better the “better” version is. People are more likely to buy the middle of the range, not the bottom. The existence of the 13-inch MacBook Pro will sell a lot more 14-inch MacBook Pros.
Then there’s the fact that product names matter. The new M2 MacBook Air may be, in almost every important way, identical to the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro in terms of performance–and superior to it in terms of features like a bigger screen and MagSafe charging. But that’s a MacBook Air, and while nobody is saying that MacBook Airs are for babies, I’m absolutely sure that many organizations (and individuals) simply won’t be caught dead buying a MacBook Air instead of a MacBook Pro. For them, there’s this MacBook Pro. Sure, it might be a MacBook Air in all but name… but, yep, names matter.
If it seems like I’m being a bit mean to the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro, well, that’s where you’re right. But it does have some features that might make it a good buy for a very specific clientele.
First off, it’s got a cooling fan, and the M2 Air doesn’t have one. In the M1 generation, this made almost no difference in normal operations–you really needed to crank up the graphics processors and run them for a long time to get the chip to heat up so much that the Air throttled back on power while the Pro could keep on chugging away. We don’t know yet just how the M2 will run, but it’s possible that for certain jobs that require extended processor performances, the fan-cooled model will do a better job. (I would argue, though, that if you’re planning on doing that level of work, you should really consider one of the more expensive MacBook Pros if you can afford it.)
According to Apple’s specs, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a bigger battery than the Air, so it can offer two hours of extra battery life. If battery life is your most important feature, the new 13-inch Macbook Pro makes sense.
Some people really love the Touch Bar! It’s clearly on the way out, but if you love the Touch Bar and don’t want to give it up, the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro might be the fastest, most advanced computer to ever support it. Get it while you can.
Beyond that, though, I’m drawing a blank about why people would want to buy it. If you’ve got a deathly fear of magnets? If you don’t want a notched display? If the prospect of a higher-quality webcam fills you with dread of more Zoom meetings in your future?
For all of those people, this computer is for you. But I suspect that the computer for the rest of us will ship in July, with MagSafe, a better camera, a full-height row of function keys, a better webcam, a sleek and modern design, and a choice of four colors… and all for the same price or less.