Why Does the 13-inch MacBook Pro Still Exist?

At WWDC 2022, Apple unveiled the long-awaited redesign of its most popular laptop, the MacBook Air. It has a brand-new form factor and is available in four colors: Silver, Space Gray, Starlight, and Midnight.

The MacBook Air now sports thinner bezels, a larger, upgraded display, and a 1080p webcam. It has a MagSafe connector, fast-charge capability, four speakers, and full-size function keys.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has none of this. It also costs $100 more than the MacBook Air. So why does it still exist?

The Case for the Prosecution

The design of the 13-inch MacBook Pro hasn’t changed for years. If you got all of Apple’s laptops together for a family photo, the 13-inch Pro would look more than a little out of place. It lacks the now iconic notch (which means it has thicker bezels), and it still sports the more rounded chassis that is best associated with the Intel-era processors.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is also the only Apple laptop to include the much-maligned Touch Bar. Most people got used to it, but few grew to love it, thanks in no small part to Apple’s reluctance to give it any new functionality.

Then there is the webcam. 720p is just not good enough for a laptop in 2022. You can have the best image signal processors in the world, but 720p is still 720p. We deserve better, especially when this laptop starts at $1,299.

Then there’s the name. Is this still a “Pro” laptop? When the M1 laptops were released, the 13-inch MacBook Pro had a brighter screen and could be configured with two additional GPU cores compared to the MacBook Air.

Fast forward to 2022, and the MacBook Air has the exact same core count as the 13-inch Pro and, arguably, a better display.

I can see a place in the lineup for a laptop that is halfway between the MacBook Air and the 14-inch MacBook Pro in terms of price and specs, but this computer isn’t it. The 13-inch Pro is just too similar to the MacBook Air, and in some important metrics, the Air is actually a better computer.

The Case for the Defense

When Apple introduced the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro, they declared that it was the world’s second-best-selling laptop. The MacBook Air beats it to the top of the charts, but if you put that aside for a minute, the numbers show that people are voting with their wallets.

Apple’s customers like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yes, it has its quirks (I’m looking at you Touch Bar), but it’s not without some redeeming features.

Do you like good battery life? The 13-inch MacBook Pro has two hours more than the Air and three hours more than the 14-inch MacBook Pro. Would it be nice if it shared the new form factor of its siblings? Of course, but the current chassis is able to house a larger battery, and by Apple’s metrics, that gives it up to 20-hours of video playback.

And for those who question the Pro moniker on this laptop, it’s worth remembering that Apple included an active cooling system in the 13-inch Pro so that it could sustain higher CPU workloads for longer than the fanless MacBook Air.

Lastly, the 720p webcam is hard to forgive, but at least you will have the option of using your iPhone with the new Continuity Camera feature in macOS Ventura. I haven’t seen this in person yet, but I would expect it to be a better option than the 1080p camera in the Air.

The Jury’s Verdict

When you take everything into consideration, it really comes down to one question. If a friend or family member came to you and asked whether they should buy an M2 MacBook Air or an M2 MacBook Pro, what would you say?

For me, it’s the MacBook Air every time.

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