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Apple’s new MacBook Pro models bring a new touch to the traditional keyboard

MacBook Pro featuring the Touch Bar. Apple

Apple revealed 3 new models of their MacBook Pro range Thursday on the 25th anniversary of Apple’s first notebook.

Apple’s first Mac notebook. Techcrunch

The major new feature of at least two of the models, is the “Touch Bar”, a small screen that replaces the top row of keys on the keyboard and features a Touch ID sensor to enable much of the same functionality that it provides on Apple’s mobile devices. The Touch Bar replaces the function keys and what shows on the screen depends on the app that is running. Given that most people rarely use the function keys, this is a huge improvement in terms of the functionality of the keyboard. The one exception to this is the Esc key which some software uses heavily, however, the Touch Bar can display this key if is important to the currently running application.

The Touch Bar is possibly a prelude to Apple making all of the key displays on its MacBook range electronic. This would provide easy switching between languages and again more functional changes to the keyboard depending on the running application.

Apple’s new Touch Bar announcement comes day after Microsoft’s own announcement of its new models of Surface hardware that feature touchscreen as a major element of their design. Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, has taken the view that touchscreen on a laptop is not something that people use and is not a path that Apple will take with its own machines.

The incorporation of Touch ID is likely to see a great deal of use however. Apple now offers a number of different ways of logging onto their computers. With the latest operating system Sierra, owners of an Apple Watch can use it to automatically log into their machines, although this is currently a bit hit-or-miss as to whether it works every time. The use of Touch ID to log into a machine and to use Apple Pay is likely to be far more useful. As more websites offer Apple Pay as an option to pay online, it adds to the growing numbers of ways of paying online without having to hand over credit card details, or personal details that could later be compromised.

Another design change is the move to only supporting USB-C types of connectors but actually are Thunderbolt 3 ports. These connector types allow any of the ports to be used for the power supply, allow far faster transfer speeds than USB 3 and the 15" MacBook Pro can connect to two 5K displays.

Apple’s personal computers have seen a steeper decline in sales this year, reversing a general trend where they where outperforming the PC market generally. In part, that has been blamed on the lack of new models and so investors will be watching to see if the latest models have an impact on overall sales.

What may have more of an impact on Apple’s sales of personal computers is the report from IBM that Macs are less expensive to run than Windows PCs. IBM has moved to a model for its 400,000+ employees that allows them to decide if they want to use a Windows or Mac PC at work. Since 2015, IBM has deployed 30,000 Macs and found that it estimates savings of US $273-543 per Mac over an equivalent Windows PC. 73% of its employees have said that they want a Mac as their next PC and so for IBM, the move has proved very popular and motivating for its staff.

The savings were achieved in large part by the big difference in support required by a Windows PC user compared with a Mac user. According to IBM, 5% of Mac users will call the help desk versus 40% of Windows PC users.

Despite this type of evidence however, moving to an IT model which involves either free choice of work device, or bringing your own device, is something that takes strong leadership that is often lacking in most traditional enterprises. Change may happen, but it will arrive far more slowly than some would hope for and possibly not at a fast enough pace to boost Apple’s sales.

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