Apple botched the MacBook Pro notch

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The day that many have been dreading has finally arrived. Apple has added a notch to its new MacBook Pros. And somehow, Apple — notch pros at this point — managed to utterly botch the notch. Because the new MacBook Pros completely missed out on the most important part of the notch: adding Face ID.

I’ve been on the record of being extremely pro-MacBook notch: back in 2018, I argued that Apple should do exactly what it’s done here: add a notch to its MacBook laptops, taking up the exact width of the persistent menu bar that already permanently lives on the top of its macOS software (barring the occasional dip into a full-screen app).

And to be fair, Apple has actualized most of the benefits of a notch: smaller bezels, particularly at the top of the display, allowing for Apple to at least play in the same ballpark (if still not quite on the same level) as the ultra-thin bezels that have become the norm on premium Windows laptops from companies like HP or Dell.

Which is why the lack of Face ID here is such a glaring miss. As a means of visual identity across its product lineup, the notch is practically synonymous with Face ID on Apple’s devices. Seeing one here (and then not offering the tech) is incongruous right off the bat. It starts things off on the wrong foot; sure, most people don’t love the idea of a notch, but usually, there’s the acceptance that you’re getting the addition of Face ID. Here the cost of the notch returns far fewer rewards.

It’s possible that there are still technical issues here: maybe the Face ID module is just too big to fit into a laptop display, although Apple managed to fit it into both its iPhone and iPad hardware just fine. The existence of any number of IR-powered Windows Hello facial unlock systems would also indicate that the challenges (if they even exist) can be overcome.

Plus, look at the thickness of Apple’s new MacBook Pro lid:

Image: Apple

You’re telling me that can’t fit a Face ID module?

The hardware is all there: the M1 Pro and M1 Max share the same architecture as the A-series chips that Apple has offered for years, and Apple already offers Face ID on its M1-powered iPad Pro. And Apple’s notch already conceals a few extra components: as David Pogue notes on Twitter, the cutout also hides Apple’s TrueTone sensor, light sensor, and an LED status light.

It’s easy to imagine Apple integrating a lot of the useful things that Face ID does on its phones directly into its laptops. The highly marketed ability to instantly boot the new MacBook Pros with the ultra-fast M1 Pro and M1 Max chips could go even faster by unlocking your computer before you’ve even touched the keyboard. Face ID’s password unlocks would be incredibly convenient on websites since you’re already staring at your computer the whole time. And Apple would get to play up its Animoji and Memoji avatars with the sorts of wacky demos the company thinks are hilarious at its events.

The lack of Face ID means that Apple is still playing catch up to Windows. The past few years have seen Windows Hello facial recognition unlocking become more and more of a standard feature across laptops. Apple, meanwhile, despite arguably doing the most to popularize facial recognition unlocking (and Face ID) for personal tech, is still weirdly sitting on the sideline.

Plus, there’s the security aspect. Apple loves to brag about how secure its computers are. And yet, the company insists on locking down its computers exclusively with Touch ID — security tech that is, by Apple’s own estimations, orders of magnitudes less secure. According to Apple’s documentation, the odds of guessing a four-digit passcode are 1 in 10,000. The odds of someone else having a matching fingerprint to unlock Touch ID on your computer are 1 in 50,000. But Apple also says that the probability of a random person managing to unlock your device using Face ID is a whooping 1 in 1,000,000. Apple has better biometric security available that it could put on its laptops; it’s just choosing not to, year after year and redesign after redesign.

The notch has arrived, whether you like it or not
Image: Apple

Apple — and customers — do both still like Touch ID, at least conceptually. The argument for fingerprint-based biometrics has become a stronger one when wearing a mask for health purposes defeats a lot of the convenience of Face ID. And there have been rumors for years that Apple has been planning to bring back Touch ID to its iPhones in the form of an in-display sensor. But if Apple really is worried about losing some of the convenience of Touch ID, it could simply offer both security options, taking the bold step of actually letting its customers decide which biometric method they’d like to use. Or Apple could really take a stance on security and let users use both Touch ID and Face ID for even more secure biometric authentication, giving the company more security stats to tout and customers an extra layer of security.

A notch for Face ID would have been acceptable — even great. Or maybe Apple really, truly believed that Touch ID was the right solution for its computers and that all the new MacBook Pros needed was a higher resolution webcam and smaller bezels. But in that case, Apple could have tried to engineer a hole-punch camera, like those found on virtually every major Android flagship, for a more seamless look and feel that would still allow it to cut down the bezels.

But instead, the new MacBook Pros are stuck in a terrible no man’s land: all the size of a notch, without any of the utility.

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