Apple Rumoured to Be Working on a MacBook Pro Overhaul

Mark Gurman, now at Bloomberg, has the scoop on an upcoming MacBook Pro refresh. Among the much rumoured updates is, allegedly, the replacement of the function keys across the top of the keyboard with a touchscreen OLED strip:

Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.

These are probably the least-exciting uses for something like this. Imagine scrubbing along the whole timeline of a movie with just the tip of your finger, or manipulating specific brush characteristics in Photoshop. Maybe you could flip through iBooks by scrubbing along, or customize it for changing equipment in a video game. Just a few ideas.

Maybe this and the lack of a headphone jack in the new iPhone have a much simpler explanation: maybe Phil Schiller got sick of hacky media playback controls. The previous-play/pause-next function keys on a MacBook can get confusing when there’s more than one media playback app open. And, as for the remote on a pair of headphones, it’s a very clever hack that doesn’t work reliably — at least, it doesn’t for me.

I think a multipurpose, adaptable function strip would be infinitely more useful than a strip of function keys. Here’s what I mean: look at your keyboard from an oblique angle and notice all the places where the original plastic texture remains, and where it has been worn down. If your keyboard is anything like mine, it’s probably mostly shiny, but the strip of function keys at the top likely looks pretty similar to the day you bought it. Those keys have valuable purposes, of course, but they’re nowhere near as oft-used as the rest of the keyboard. Why fix them in plastic?

But, then again, would you want your keys to be changing whenever you switch applications? I anticipate this and many other questions will be answered whenever this product debuts:

The MacBook Pros aren’t likely to debut at an event currently scheduled for Sept. 7 to introduce next-generation versions of the iPhone, according to one of the people.