The new MacBook Pros bring back the smart simplicity of the Steve Jobs era

M1. M1 Pro. M1 Max. For Apple, three is always the magic number, and the new MacBook Pro range is a timely reminder

Apple MacBook Pro chips being presented on-screen
(Image credit: Apple)

Something really struck me when I was watching the launch of the new MacBook Pro (2021): Apple’s thinking in threes again. And that’s a good thing.

If you know your Apple history, you’ll know that the Apple of the 1990s that Steve Jobs returned to was all over the place. It seemed to make a different computer for every retailer, resulting in a sprawling mess of a product range that even Apple’s managers didn’t understand. 

When Jobs took the reins, he asked the management team: “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?” They couldn’t answer. So Jobs swung the axe, killing off 70% of Apple products, firing thousands of staff and reducing its computers to two kinds of products – consumer and pro – and three different propositions: good, better and best. That simplicity, along with some stunning industrial design, put Apple on the path to world domination.

So it’s good to see good, better, best is clearly in Apple’s mind again. M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max. And it’s happening in more than just Apple Silicon.

Apple's rule of three

Look at the iPhone range. There’s the iPhone 13/iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13 Pro, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Good, better, best. The mini’s just a 13 for smaller hands.

Now we have the MacBook Pro with M1, MacBook Pro with M1 Pro and the MacBook Pro with M1 Max. You can be sure there’ll be an even more powerful M1 Max-powered Mac Pro to sit above the M1 iMac and Mac mini, but we don’t think it’ll be ready until well into 2022.

Admittedly it falls down a bit with the iPads – the new iPad mini isn’t a smaller entry level like the iPhone 13 mini is; it’s more like the Air – but it’s still there: iPad, iPad Air / iPad mini, iPad Pro. And while Apple is keeping the old AirPods in the product line for the time being, the real choice is between the newly announced AirPods 3, the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max. 

Apple loves the rule of three: Steve Jobs used it in his keynotes – remember “An iPod. A phone. An internet mobile communicator” at the original iPhone launch?  – and Apple’s execs peppered tonight’s presentation with it. And that’s because the rule of three is something that really resonates with people: it’s easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to sell. And it shows that Apple is thinking clearly about its products. If Apple has a lucky number, it’s three.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (