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Apple's New 13-Inch MacBook Pro Should Prove Popular With Remote Workers

Apple's newest MacBook Pros sport a better keyboard and faster storage than their predecessors, with high-end trims also featuring faster processors and memory.

Just a few days after stating on its earnings call that Mac sales are getting a boost from remote workers, Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report is unveiling a MacBook Pro refresh.

Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which was announced on Monday morning, arrives just ten months after the 13-inch Pro received its last refresh. Like its predecessor, the new 13-inch Pro starts at $1,299; versions with better internals go, respectively, for $1,499, $1,799 and $1,999.

The 13-inch Pro’s starting price is $300 above that of the 13-inch MacBook Air, which was refreshed in March, and $1,100 below that of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which was launched last November. The $1,299 Pro’s main selling points relative to the $999 Air: It packs a faster Intel  (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report CPU (quad-core vs. dual-core), and it has an OLED Touch Bar.

Like the new MacBook Air and 16-inch MacBook Pro, the new 13-inch Pro relies on Apple’s proprietary scissor-switch keyboard design -- the company refers to it as the Magic Keyboard -- rather than the ultra-thin and oft-criticized “butterfly” keyboard design used by its predecessor. As a result, Apple’s entire MacBook lineup now sports Magic Keyboards.

Apple also doubled storage capacities for 13-inch MacBook Pro trims, with the $1,299 version packing a 256GB SSD. Also, the $1,799 and $1,999 versions have been given faster Intel CPUs that are part of the chip giant’s 10th-gen/Ice Lake Core processor line (it launched last year), as well as high-speed LPDDR4X memory.

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Starting with the MacBook Air refresh carried out in the fall of 2018, Apple has been paying greater attention to the low end of its MacBook lineup, after having strongly pitched the iPad Pro as a notebook alternative in prior years. Though Apple has by no means abandoned the latter effort -- over the last 12 months, it has given the iPad trackpad and wireless mouse support, and also rolled out new iPad multitasking features -- the company has also worked harder to address the needs of mainstream consumers who still prefer to use notebooks for productivity tasks.

Between them, the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro refreshes put Apple in better position to address a spike in notebook purchases that has been fueled by consumers and organizations looking to support remote work and learning activities during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Two weeks ago, Intel  (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report disclosed that its notebook processor shipments were up 22% annually in Q1 (desktop shipments fell 4%). And on Apple’s Thursday earnings call, CFO Luca Maestri forecast that iPad and Mac sales growth rates, both of which were negative in the March quarter, would improve in the June quarter as remote workers and learners provide a boost.

Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro just might be the last one to be powered by Intel processors and their underlying x86 instruction set, given that there have been multiple reports stating that Apple plans to launch its first Macs containing internally-developed processors relying on the ARM instruction set in 2021. However, it’s possible that Apple’s Mac lineup contains both x86 and ARM-based Macs for a period of time.

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