Warner Bros. swiped our Harry Potter wand IP, says Kano

Kano, the venture-backed U.K. startup known for its build-your-own computer kits and software for teaching coding and associated STEM skills, has accused Warner Bros. of copying one of its products and infringing on its intellectual property (IP).

The product in question is the Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand that Warner Bros. announced back in October, and which began shipping to consumers in the U.S. and U.K. for $150 just before Christmas. London-based Kano issued a “cease and desist” to Warner Bros. this week, which TechCrunch has seen, requesting that the media and entertainment giant halt its go-to-market and promotional activities.

While Kano is probably better known for its Raspberry Pi and Windows-based modular PCs, the company launched a device similar to Warner Bros.’ new wand way back in 2018. Kano’s Harry Potter Coding kit came replete with a physical gesture-controlled Bluetooth wand designed to engage children through coding spells, making on-screen cauldrons change color, or feathers fly, via elaborate swishing motions with the wand.

Powering the wand are various sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, which help the wand convey its direction and motion to the tablet or PC to which it’s connected.

In the intervening years, Kano says it has sold some 180,000 units of its Harry Potter coding wand, a figure that rises to 460,000 when you factor in similar gesture-controlled products Kano subsequently launched in partnership with Disney spanning the Star Wars and Frozen franchises.

While Kano is no longer actively marketing its Harry Potter wand, some of its retail partners — which have previously included Apple and Target — do still sell it.

Patented

Last April, Kano co-founder and CEO Alex Klein was granted a patent for the wand’s gesture recognition system, covering the basic mechanics of how it works: The user holds down a button to begin the gesture recognition, and the screen displays a cursor trail as the user moves the wand to show how a spell is being cast in real time.

It’s worth noting that Kano launched its wand as part of a brand-licensing partnership with Harry Potter rightsholder Warner Bros., which is why Klein says he was perturbed to learn of its new competing wand hitting the market a few months back.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Klein explained that off the back of the initial success it saw with the Harry Potter wand in 2018, Warner Bros.’ corporate arm reached out to Kano to get it to explain a bit more about how the product works, including its componentry and how it’s able to recognize spells, and other potential use cases for the underlying technology.

And this is where things get interesting regarding its spat with Warner Bros.

Unlike Kano’s original Harry Potter wand, which was focused squarely on teaching kids how to code, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand is all about the smart home. It’s designed to connect to devices such as TVs, lights and speakers, so users can control their contraptions using “spells” and choreographed wand gestures.

According to Klein, Kano had already envisaged such use cases with its own wand, and had made some early developments in the smart home realm.

“In the process of making it easy for a person to hold down the button on the wand and cast a spell, we realized that this is a new language for human computer interaction,” Klein said. “You could be casting spells not only to make Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans explode on a screen, but you could [also] be doing gestures to control your lights, unlock your door and control the volume of music. We realized that this gestural form of interaction could be quite powerful and extended into other domains in the smart home. So we came in, they [Warner Bros.] got really excited about this idea of controlling the smart home.”

Klein showed TechCrunch a video of an early prototype of Kano’s wand controlling various connected devices, which he says was recorded in November 2018 as part of a demonstration in Warner Bros.’ offices.

Fast-forward to 2022, and with Warner Bros. bringing a similar Harry Potter wand to market, Klein says that he reached out to various people at the company to get an explanation, adding that he was told that an internal investigation would follow. But he said the line of communication went cold, leading to the cease and desist letter that Kano issued to Warner Bros. this week.

“A side-by-side comparison of the operation of both the Coding Wand [Kano’s] and the Spellcaster Wand [Warner Bros.’] makes clear — and has now made clear to multiple third-party observers, including patent and intellectual property experts — that an issue has arisen,” the letter states. “The new product uses intellectual property — multiple patent-protected assets, trade secrets, inventions, etc. — of Kano’s, some of which were shared in strict confidence with WB during the many detailed engagements between the companies.”

The story so far

Founded in 2013, Kano has raised some $45 million in funding from notable backers, including European VC Index Ventures, Barclays, Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and Microsoft, which worked with Kano to develop a Windows-based PC back in 2019.

Mark Zuckerberg is also apparently a fan of Kano’s products, according to this post from 2021.

Mark Zuckerberg apparently digs Kano. Image Credits: Mark Zuckerberg

However, Kano had been relatively quiet these past few years, announcing a round of layoffs in late 2019 and then not really releasing much in the way of new products. However, in 2021 the company did partner with Kanye West to launch Stem Player, a device that lets users isolate and remix individual song elements. It ultimately pulled back from the partnership due to antisemitic comments made by West.

Today, Kano continues to sell the Stem Player without West’s involvement, and a few weeks back the company unveiled the Stem Projector, while hinting at all manner of new products that may include food and clothes. The company also signaled its transition away from its legacy DIY PC business when it revealed it was spinning out its creative software suite Kano World as a standalone business.

However, the company does plan to stay at least a little bit true to its roots, as it’s developing a modular two-in-one device that can run Windows or ChromeOS, which Klein said it expects to push to market some time this year.

Kano’s upcoming DIY modular PC. Image Credits: Kano

Financially, things hadn’t been looking so great for Kano. At its most recently reported financial year ending of March 2021, Kano disclosed a pre-tax loss of £10.1 million ($12 million), though this was an improvement on the £16.8 million ($20.8 million) loss it reported the previous year. The company told TechCrunch a few weeks back that its provisional accounts for fiscal year 2022 show a pre-tax profit of around £1.2 million ($1.5 million).

What’s next

While Klein is naturally keen to paint an outwardly rosy picture of how things are going at Kano, the fact that it’s actively releasing and developing new products is an encouraging sign. However, a litigious IP scuffle with a billion-dollar mass-media conglomerate is probably the last thing it needs right now.

In a modern-day David versus Goliath scenario, defending IP rights in court as a relatively small startup is not a cheap pursuit — something that Klein is acutely aware of as he considers his next moves.

“It can cost up to $3 million to defend and protect a patent / technology IP,” Klein said. “This stacks the deck in favor of the big corporates. They can afford to throw aggressive lawyers at smaller companies and tie them up in process.”

There is nothing to say, at the moment at least, that this is definitely how things will unfold. But if it does, Klein indicated that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to defend Kano’s work, noting that he has been told by lawyers who have worked on the case so far, on a pro bono basis, that it’s a “pretty open and shut” case.

“If necessary, I’ll work late nights and weekends and represent us myself, pro se,” he said. “We will make sure our team’s hard work and creativity is not abused and ripped off. I may not have gone to law school, but all the proceedings are public, and can be understood with a little elbow grease.”

A Warner Bros. spokesperson finally provided TechCrunch with a comment, saying: “The claims made by Kano are without merit.”*

*This story was updated shortly after publishing to include a response from a Warner Bros. spokesperson.

Warner Bros. swiped our Harry Potter wand IP, says Kano by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook

The folks behind Nebia — the techy shower-head startup backed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and a host of other big names — have sold to Mark Cuban’s Brondell, which makes bidets, air purifiers and the like.

The Nebia name and water-saving nozzles will live on following the deal, co-founders Philip Winter and Gabriel Parisi-Amon said in a call with TechCrunch. Despite my nudging, the pair declined to say what Brondell paid to scoop up the brand, which launched on Kickstarter eons ago (in 2015). If you know the terms of the deal, wouldn’t it be cool if you hit me up?

Along with Cook and a bevy of early Kickstarter supporters, Nebia raised money from former Google boss Eric Schmidt’s family office, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Fitbit co-founder James Park, Y-Combinator, Stanford — need I go on?

Nebia stood out when it launched with pricey nozzles that blasted users with a fine, hurricanic mist, while conserving up to 70% of the water a typical shower head sprays out in the process, the startup claimed. This proved polarizing; Nebia’s exuberant storm won over yours truly, but divided a newsroom with its unconventional take on a beloved ritual. Over the years, Nebia dialed things down to win over more customers, whittling its projected water savings to around 50% in the process.

During its time as an independent company, Nebia estimated its customers conserved more “500 million gallons of water,” as well as the “equivalent of over 27 million kWh (27 GWh) of energy.” The firm said the energy savings were “roughly equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 2,700 American homes.” Winter told TechCrunch that Nebia’s products, including those it made with Moen, have reached more than 100,000 homes.

“I’m working right now on future products [at Brondell],” said Parisi-Amon — “ones that are directly related to what we’ve made before, and ones that are like completely different, but can still apply the materials that we’ve worked on and the analysis that we’ve worked on.”

Winter and the rest of Nebia’s 15-person team also joined Brondell, the co-founders said.

Both executives emphasized that they’re still committed to helping folks conserve water — a critical task as climate change drives droughts

“That is why we started and that is why I, at the time, left Apple,” said Parisi-Amon. “I wanted to use my mechanical engineering degree to make a product that literally anyone could swap in for what they had, and was better for the environment,” added Parisi-Amon. “And that work is not done.”

Winter said as much as our call wound down earlier this week. “As the population grows, and we use more water per capita, and we have more frequent episodes of drought and more acute droughts, the equation is not a very positive one,” said Winter. “We have to figure out ways to use water more effectively.”

Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch

Angry Miao’s AM 65 Less is both more and less keyboard than you’ll ever need

Nobody is going to accuse Angry Miao of making boring keyboards (or earbuds). The company’s previous releases, The Cyberboard, Am Hatsu and Am AFA, are as overengineered as they are unique. When the company first started teasing its new 60% board, it almost looked too conventional to be an Angry Miao product, but keeping with tradition, there’s a twist here.

See, the AM 65 Less: AM Compact Touch is a wired and Bluetooth-enabled 60% keyboard with an HHKB layout — which means there are no function keys, no numpad and, as is standard for this layout, no arrow keys. Typically, keyboard enthusiasts then put those arrow keys on a separate layer, accessed through a key combo. As you can imagine, that can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you write a lot. But having their hearts set on this layout, the Angry Miao designers decided that instead of keyboard shortcuts, they could put a small touch panel on the front of the case. The argument here is that this offers the advantages of a small 60% keyboard and symmetric HHKB layout, while still featuring arrow key functions. Did I mention Angry Miao really likes to overengineer its products?

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Originally, the company had called the board the ‘AM 65 Less,’ but that caused a bit of confusion in the community, given that it’s not really a 65% keyboard either. The official name is now the AM 65 Less: Am Compact Touch.

Angry Miao sent me a review unit in the Famicon-inspired ‘8-Bit’ colorway last month (there are seven variants in total) and I’ve been using it almost exclusively ever since.

Despite the touch panel, this is the company’s most conventional keyboard yet. It features a hotswap PCB, so you can easily change the switches if you want to, south-facing RGB lighting, and with the exception of the high front, it looks pretty normal for a small keyboard.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Let’s talk about the touch panel first, since it’s surely the most controversial aspect of the board. It works just as described and it does what it does well, but arrow keys remain infinitely more convenient. The promise here is that you won’t have to move your wrists as much because your thumbs can handle moving the cursor, since it’s already aligned with the touchpad. In reality, you’re likely going to move your hands more, because you’ll use your mouse more. For fixing the kinds of typos you catch while writing a word, it’s easy enough to go back a few letters. For anything more, which you can do by keeping your finger on the touchpad, it becomes a bit of a guessing game whether you’ll be able to time things right to stop the cursor where you need to. I ended up putting the cursor keys on a layer, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the touchpad, of course. Your mileage may vary.

The fact that the touchpad is at the front of the board also means you can’t really use a wrist wrest, something that’s exasperated by the fact that the board sits at a non-changeable 10-degree angle. I ended up putting a wrist rest a few inches away from the board, leaving enough space to still use the touchpad, though I never found the high angle to be a problem. The company recommends a split wrist wrest for users who want to use one.

Like all Angry Miao products, this one is unapologetically not for everyone. The fact that it feels and sounds fantastic makes up for its quirks, but I can’t help but wonder what an Angry Miao 65% board with arrow keys would be like.

One of Angry Miao’s latest innovations is its adjustable leaf spring that lets you change the flex of the PCT and hence the typing experience from very hard to soft. Currently, most other keyboards use a gasket design and very flexible PCBs to allow for a softer typing experience. If done right, that usually works, but in many of the keyboards I’ve recently tested, it didn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. Here, you can really feel the difference between the various settings (though it does take a bit of work to open up the board and make those changes to the springs).

In addition to the different springs, the board also comes with all of the necessary tools to change them out, as well as a very nice screwdriver, an additional bottom foam mat, cleaning cloth, replacement cables and screws. There is no carrying case. Instead, Angry Miao opted for a soft carrying pouch.

The build quality here is impeccable. The company says the CNC milling of the aluminum case alone takes almost 6 hours, with the case then being sandblasted and painted afterwards (with all of the colorways using two colors: one for the part of the case up to the top of the first row of keys and another for the rest). Mechanical keyboard fans are nothing if not persnickety, but I think they are going to have a hard time finding fault with the execution here, be it the rounded corners, the painting or even the finishing on the inside of the board.

You open the board from the top, which is a bit unusual, but it also makes it pretty easy to take it apart. Once inside, there are a few more connectors than you are probably used to — in part because of the battery and Bluetooth module. It’s also easy to see why the board sounds good. Not only is there plenty of foam, but also a nice copper weight (the whole keyboard weighs in at about 3.3 pounds). Add the battery and the result is a board with very little room to sound hollow. There is also no rattle from the screw-in stabilizers.

If you own one of Angry Miao’s Cybermat charging mats, you’ll be able to wirelessly charge the AM 65 Less with that, too.

The switches that come with the bundle version are Angry Miao’s Icy Silver switches. These are premium transparent linear switches, manufactured by TTC, with dual-stage springs and an initial force of 45 grams. There’s very little stem wobble here and they are very smooth, though one thing worth noting is that as I took off the keycaps, the switches often came out of the PCB with them. That’s not been a problem in daily usage, but worth mentioning nonetheless.

The result of all of this is a keyboard that is a joy to type on. Every key press sounds like two pool balls hitting each other, which is what I personally look for.

Like all Angry Miao products, the 65 Less doesn’t come cheap, though while high, the price isn’t completely outrageous in the world of higher-end mechanical keyboards. The standard base kit, without switches and keycaps will retail for $398, the bundle with switches and keycaps that match the variant you choose will cost $498.

Given that the likes of Keychron barely charge $20 more to go from a barebones kit to a fully assembled one, that’s quite a difference, but a lot of these are custom designs and the company sells its switches for about $1 each.

We’re also talking about some thick, high-quality keycaps — at least on the 8-Bit version I tested. For this version, the company is using the Cherry-profile JTK Classic FC keycaps, inspired by the Nintendo Famicom of the 80s, which, best I can tell, were first available in a group buy in 2020 and now available in stock at a number of vendors. These are triple-shot ABS keycaps with latin and hiragana legends that feature a mix of the original base kit and its novelties. Other variants feature keycaps the company created in collaboration with the likes of Domikey and others.

Image Credits: Angry Miao

While I haven’t tested these, there are also two special editions. For $450 for the base kit and $550 for the bundle, the Laser kit features LED light elements on the front left and right (inspired by Tesla’s Cybertruck, the company says). The Mech Love version, at $515 and $615, features customizable LED elements in the open spaces next to the first row and personalizable engravings on the back. It looks like the company may later make these additional LED modules available as add-ons, too.

Whether these boards are worth that is going to be in the eye of the beholder. The fact that Angry Miao is launching all of these variations must mean that the company believes it’ll see a fair number of orders. It’s definitely the company’s most approachable product yet and while the prices may seem eyewatering, they are within the ballgame for higher-end custom keyboards, where they keycaps themselves can often cost $150 or more. Like with so many “hobbies,” at some point, you are paying a lot more for incremental improvements. Whether you want to own a keyboard that costs as much as a laptop is something you have to decide for yourself. It’s definitely the closest we’ve seen Angry Miao come to building a straight-up everyday keyboard.

The pre-launch for all of these variants will go live on Indiegogo on February 2.


Image Credits: TechCrunch

Bonus: HyperX is launching its first artisan keycap today, Coco the Cozy Cat. The 3D-printed artisan from the gaming brand is available today (starting at 9am EST) and tomorrow and priced at $19.99. Apparently, this is the first in a series of time-limited designs the company plans to drop every month.

Angry Miao’s AM 65 Less is both more and less keyboard than you’ll ever need by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

Review: The 2023 Mac Mini is a serious contender with the M2 Pro

Apple’s latest silicon innovations shine in the Mac Mini. The tiny desktop computer is the latest Apple computer fitted with the M2 chipset. For $599, buyers can opt for the M2, or they spend $1,299 for the impressive M2 Pro, which features unique benefits.

For the last several days, my M1 Mac Mini sat on the sidelines while the new Mac Mini used the court. This machine soars. As expected, the new SoC lets the machine easily jump through applications and tasks. That said, the M1 Mac Mini released in 2020 has always worked fine. I’ve used one since launch and still find it adequate. It’s not new-phone fast anymore, though. With this M2 Pro, I feel like an F1 driver with a new set of tires and a tank full of gas. I’m ready to go for another hundred laps.

I threw everything in my daily rotation at the M2 Pro, and it never blinked. It zoomed through media encoding and heavy photo editing. It conquered benchmarks and put up with Chrome’s never-ending quest for system memory. It’s been a joy to use.

The Mac Mini has long been Apple’s most affordable computer. But, occasionally, it was left out of Intel CPU updates over the years, making the computer look unloved and forgotten. Now that Apple is making its chips, the Mac Mini is back in rotation. In 2020, the Mac Mini helped debut the M1 chip. Now in 2023, the Mac Mini, alongside the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro, is debuting the M2 Pro.

Buyers have a couple of options with the M2 Mac Mini. For $599, they can select the base model that features the M2 CPU, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage. Spend $799 to upgrade the SSD to 512GB. The M2 Pro is available for $1,299, and for that price, buyers get 16GB of memory and 512GB of SSD storage. Spend more to upgrade the number of cores in the CPU and get more system memory and up to 8TB of local storage.

The differences between the M2 and M2 Pro are minor, but consequential. The M2 Pro offers significant advantages for some uses. The M2 Pro has double the amount of transistors over the M2 and has twice the memory bandwidth. The M2 has an 8-core CPU with a 10-core GPU. The M2 Pro has up to a 12-core CPU and up to a 19-core GPU. The M2 Pro also has an additional Thunderbolt controller, allowing it to be equipped with four  Thunderbolt ports instead of the two on the standard M2 Mac Mini. This also allows the M2 Pro Mac Mini to support up to three monitors instead of the two from the standard M2.

The M2 Pro in my tester set incredible benchmarks. For example, in Geekbench 5, the multi-core benchmark clocked in at 14,991. That’s several clicks over the performance of the M1 Max in the Mac Studio (12,336) and Intel Xeon W-3245 from late 2019 (14,674). The single-core benchmark was even more telling: The M2 Pro scored 1,932, topping the previous record of 1,900 set by the 13-inch M2-powered MacBook Pro. The M1 Mac Mini scored 1,715.

Benchmarks only tell part of the story.

Let’s look at the placing of the $2,099 M2 Pro against the stock $1,999 Studio M1 Max. Think of the Studio line like super Mac Minis. The Mac Studio with the M1 Pro and Max was released nearly a year ago, in the winter of 2022. Apple will likely refresh it eventually, but as it sits, it offers distinct advantages over the new M2 Pro Mac Mini, even though the benchmarks place the Studio behind the newer computers. The difference comes down to the beefy M1 Max. The Max designation signals the chip has additional CPU cores, video decoding pipelines and Thunderbolt controllers. The $1,999 Studio also ships with 32GB of RAM, wherein it’s an additional $199 surcharge in the Mac Mini. The Mac Studio has a front-facing SD card slot, which I’d love to have on the Mac Mini.

Apple is keen to point out that the Mac Mini can play video games. But this isn’t a gaming computer. For the Mac Mini to perform well as a gaming computer, the games must use Metal, which means it’s coded directly for Mac OS. Unfortunately, there are very few games on the market in this format. Apple provided me with a copy of Resident Evil Village, and the graphics are the best I’ve ever seen on a Mac. They look great, and the game is smooth and responsive, but I highly doubt anyone is shopping for a Mac Mini with the primary purpose of playing games.

Gaming has never been a Mac selling point. Unfortunately, the M2 doesn’t change that, though it’s lovely to see Apple’s strides in this area.

The M2 chip brings the Mac Mini into a new world of performance. The benchmarks show a computer capable of keeping up with the fastest computers Apple has ever made — and now the performance is available at relatively low prices.

But do you need the M2 Pro? That’s my lingering question. The M1 chips can handle most daily tasks, and the M2 is built from the same secret sauce. So would I find the M2 Pro a must-have upgrade if it was my money? I don’t think so.

I doubt most users would see a difference between an M2 and M2 Pro outside of resource-heavy media editing software. The standard M2 is suited ideally for browsing the internet and using Apple’s built-in apps. And the standard M2 would still be an impressive upgrade over existing systems. The $599 M2 Mac Mini, even with its limited local storage, seems like a killer deal.

With the M2 and M2 Pro, the Mac Mini sits among the most powerful computers Apple offers at any price point. And let’s remember one of the Mac Mini’s main selling points: it’s mini. The Mac Min is a tiny package that offers a lot of flexibility. Bundle it with one of Apple’s Studio Displays for a great iMac alternative, or use it with an inexpensive monitor for a low-cost workstation. As always, the Mac Mini is a value proposition, and it’s never looked better than it does now with the M2 and M2 Pro.

Review: The 2023 Mac Mini is a serious contender with the M2 Pro by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch M2 Max review

The M2 Air is as close as Apple has ever come to the perfect MacBook. It’s a kind of platonic ideal for the category, and the culmination of key updates to the product line, including the arrival (and upgrade) of Apple silicon and the company’s acceptance that some things (bad keyboards, Touch Bar) simply weren’t working, no matter how hard it tried.

Taken as a whole, I don’t think I’ve ever liked an Apple laptop more than I like the 2022 MacBook Air, and I don’t anticipate that changing soon — at least not until the 2023 Air arrives, perhaps. Even with this month’s arrival of two new Pro models, last year’s Air remains the best mainstream laptop Apple has ever made.

There’s a rub, of course. There always is. Regardless of all the innovations it’s built on top of, no mass-produced computer will please everyone. In fact, as a line, the Air has always been defined as much by the things it leaves out. It’s true that the Air is currently at its point of least compromise, but making a product thin and light has always meant some manner of compromise.

That’s where the new Pros come in. Apple’s lineup has ebbed and flowed quite a bit over the years. With the disappearance of the standard MacBook, the Air has shifted from travel-minded ultraportable to what is effectively the company’s default laptop. The M1 model has stuck around as the “budget” entry, but the Air was — and continues to be — the best choice for a majority of users.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

After years of relying on Intel, Apple cracked things wide open in 2020 with the arrival of in-house silicon. But there’s also a sense in which the company painted itself into a bit of a corner, moving forward. For most users, the power gains offer diminishing returns, if you’re not, say, editing multiple 8K videos or rendering 3D. That isn’t to say such power won’t be required in the future, of course, given the trajectory of computing requirements. It’s just that the $800 gulf between the starting price for the M2 Air and M2 Pro MacBook Pro (kind of a mouthful) ultimately doesn’t make a ton of sense for your average user.

This is, perhaps, a very long-winded way of saying the “Pro” in MacBook Pro is a less nebulous concept than ever before. It’s always been wholly clear that the Mac Pro, for instance, is designed for professionals than regular old consumers. The MacBook line has tended to be a bit more porous. If you’re more content consumer than creator, there isn’t exactly a load of reasons to make the leap. If, on the other hand, you’re a creator looking for a lot of power on the go, you’ll want to listen up.

Apple has comfortably settled into a nice, consistent design language with the MacBook line, with the strange exception of the 13-inch Pro. The entry-level Pro system remains a strange time capsule of earlier days, with Touch Bar hanging on like some vestigial organ and reminder of a nice enough idea that ultimately failed to justify its own existence. The far handier F keys once again reside up top on the newer models, where they belong. The TouchID (the best thing about the Touch Bar) is perched on the top left. The keyboard remains on the soft side, as is consistent across Apple products, but it works well, and the days of key-sticking frustration are finally behind us.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

One of the primary aesthetic distinctions between the Air and the Pro are the skinny speaker grilles that flank the keyboard. The speakers get about as loud as you’d want a set of laptop speakers to get, and the open design allows for a richer sound than you get on the Air’s single back-firing panel. It’s good for a quick video or some music listening, but I imagine if you’re, say, editing audio, you’re going to want a pair of headphones regardless.

Another key difference is ports. As a general rule, the more ports the better. Certainly that’s the case here. In fact, one of the Air’s most glaring issues is a lack of places to plug things in, limited to the proprietary MagSafe 3, two ThunderBolt 4/USB-C ports and a headphone jack. That’s it. In most situations for most people, that’s mostly sufficient. Carrying the Air around at CES the other week, it was mostly fine — until it wasn’t.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I suddenly found myself attempting to navigate the labyrinthian Forums shops at Caesar’s at 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. My external SD reader had completely given up the ghost sometime between my last in-person event and CES. A relatively unique set of circumstances, certainly, but it drove home how much I’d missed having a built-in card slot after jumping from the Pro to the Air. If you’re a professional photographer (I’m certainly not claiming to be one, mind), I don’t need to tell you how essential a tool it is.

Like the Air, the Pro sports a pair of USB-C ports on the left side, just below the MagSafe connector. One of my highly specific issues with the Air is the decision to place the two USB-C ports on top of each other. Putting one on either side makes more logical sense in instances where the plugged-in object blocks the second port. Here, thankfully, the third sits on the other side. I’m among those who welcomed the return of MagSafe. It was one of the more beloved features of MacBooks past, and an odd thing to drop along the way.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s worth noting that, in spite of being custom built for the purpose, it actually charges a bit slower than USB-C. But the magnetic detachment is a little extra peace of mind for the clumsier among us (I do claim to be one of these, however), and it frees up the other ports for other, noncharging tasks. The final port is an HDMI output that supports 8K displays — a first for the MacBook line and an extremely appealing feature for the creator class.

What strikes you first on unboxing the new Pro, however, is the weight. The thing is heavy. The default weight of the 14-inch model is 3.5 pounds. The Air is 2.7 pounds. The 12.9 iPad Pro is 1.5 pounds (sans-keyboard case, mind). If you anticipate that the device will spend 50% of its time in your backpack, this is certainly something worth factoring in here. At 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches, the footprint is also larger than the Air (11.97 x 8.46 x 11.97) in every dimension.

Not that any of this is surprising, of course. That’s kind of the whole deal. The Pro delivers a lot more horsepower and bells and whistles. Being a bit more stationary just sort of comes with the territory. This is also due, in part, to the Air’s smaller display, which is 13.6 inches to the Pro’s 14.2. A larger surface area is a foregone conclusion. In addition to being larger, the screen is simply a thing to behold. The Air’s 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display gets a big bump to a 3024 x 1964 Liquid Retina XDR. It’s really gorgeous and bright at up to 1,600 nits for HDR content or 500 (the Air’s overall peak) for SDR. The refresh rate maxes out at a smooth 120 Hz — double that of the Air. Is any of this necessary for watching Netflix? Not really. Is it nice to have? Obviously. And it’s certainly a great mobile screen for those whose job descriptions involve creating visual content. macOS is still a long ways from becoming a gaming powerhouse by any stretch, but it’s come a long way over the past decade, and first-party silicon is a big piece of that. (Steam doesn’t hurt, either).

Apple M2 Max

Image Credits: Apple; M2 Max

The baseline ($1,999) Pro sports an M2 Pro chip with a 10-Core CPU, 16-Core GPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The review unit Apple sent isn’t quite top of the line, but it’s pretty close. It’s got the M2 Max with a 12-Core CPU and 38-Core GPU, 64GB or RAM and 2TB of storage. As configured, it’ll run you $4,100. If you really want to go all in, you can bump the RAM up to 96GB and storage to 8TB. Suddenly, you’re tipping the scales at $6,300. That’s more than 3x the cost of the base unit — a $4,300 increase. In other words, you can really trick this baby out, but it’s gonna cost you. And then some.

Performance is certainly reflected in the Benchmarks. The Max chip hit 1952 on the single-core and 15249 on the multicore GeekBench 5 tests (average of three tests). That’s a truly impressive gain over 1,922 and 8,974 we got with the M2 Air. The M1 Ultra still blows them all away with a 20,000+ multicore score, but that’s to be expected with desktop architecture. It frankly boggles the mind to consider the future of the Mac desktop (Mac Pro, perhaps?).

Image Credits: TechCrunch

In the meantime, it’s extremely impressive to see the gains made for notebook processors over the past two years. Unlike the Air, the Pro’s got a fan and a pair of vents on either side of the engraved MacBook Pro logo on the bottom of the system. A quartet of rubber feet elevate the system a bit, to give the outgoing warm and incoming cool air somewhere to go. Truth is, you’re not likely to trigger with most day-to-day activities, but when the time comes to truly push the system to its limit, you’ll be very glad Apple didn’t go fanless across the line.

At 84888, the GeekBench Metal score handily beats the M1 Max (~64000-66000), courtesy of those 38 cores. Again, the M1 Ultra still beats the M2 Max’s GPU scores (>90000). The staggered rollout of silicon iterations may get a bit muddied for consumers, but the quick rule of thumb here is that the M2 Max trounces existing Mac laptop chips and even comes within spitting distance of the M1 Ultra. The native macOS port of Resident Evil Village, for instance, played smoothly (remind me to get a Bluetooth control), though the bottom of the Mac got quite warm to the touch. I was able to get it downright hot playing some Steam titles. Was I just looking for an excuse to replay Disco Elysium? Who can say, really?

Performance was great, probably keep it on a desk when you game (oh, and maybe pick up a decent Bluetooth controller while you’re at it). While extremely efficient, Apple silicon isn’t beyond the need for cooling with resource-intensive tasks. With daily tasks, it stays cool. However, you don’t have to push the system to the limit to noticed a marked difference in processing power. Things I do on the regular, like opening apps and editing podcast audio are perceptively zippier, coming off using the latest Air as a daily driver.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new chips bring other updates beyond process power. There are some slight tweaks to the ISP (image signal processor) — specifically with regards to picture contrast. The webcam, still positioned in that display notch you either like or loathe, is more or less the same 1080p hardware you’ll find in the Air. The bump to 1080p was a long, long awaited upgrade, particularly in this golden age of the virtual meeting.

Top: MacBook Pro native camera; Bottom: iPhone 14 Pro via Continuity Camera Image Credits: Brian Heater

Some of the camera hardware (see the Studio Display) got off to a rough start. As we know, there’s currently only so much one can do with the processor versus good, old-fashioned camera hardware, but it’s certainly to a point where I’d feel wholly comfortable using it for a work meeting. Of course, if I’ve got an iPhone handy (as I usually do), I’m going to instead opt for Ventura’s Continuity Camera feature. Above, you can see two screenshots taken in Zoom, one with the built-in webcam and the other with a mounted iPhone 14 Pro. The choice is simple.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The battery life, meanwhile, is just straight up awesome. With video playback, I was able to squeeze an impressive 21.5 hours out of the system before the screen shut off. That’s just shy of the stated 22 hours. The Air and 13-inch Pro, meanwhile, are listed as up to 18 and 20 hours, respectively. It’s easy to see Apple hitting a full day in a generation or two. In the meantime, you should be able to make it through that direct flight from New York to Singapore without incident (no, I can’t sleep on flights, either).

Really, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the new Pros. They’re big, bold and brash. They can do all sorts of things that would have seemed impossible on a MacBook only a few generations ago. They’re an exciting signpost for how far Apple’s notebooks have come and provide insight into where things are going, if the company continues its current pace of new chips a couple times a year.

The last few generations of Macs can perform tasks that might have seemed impossible pre-pandemic. While that includes gaming, they still aren’t gaming machines by many definitions. If playing the latest and most resource-intensive titles is central to your computing experience, you know the drill. Apple silicon is built with workflows in mind. That is say, the “Pro” is more creative pro and less professional gamer. For those tasks, these systems sing — and if you want to play games after work, the new chips are increasingly capable with each generation.

As noted above, this particular system is $4,100, as configured. Starting with the $1,999 base, an upgrade from the M2 Pro 10-core CPU/16-core GPU to the 12-core CPU/19-core GPU is a $300 add-on. Bumping that up to the Max with a 30-core GPU is a $500 increase over the base price. The top of the line M2 Max with a 38-core GPU is $700. Things can get real pricey real quick when you’re staring at Apple.com checkout. You try to future-proof and hedge your bets, as you consider whether you plan to hold onto your machine for three, five or 10+ years. It’s an investment, right?

I don’t foresee Apple suddenly make another generational leap in the near future, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been wrong before. Predicting where tech will be in a decade can be a fool’s errand, even if it happens to one that’s central to this job. However, much as I noted above that the Air continues to be the best MacBook for most, I feel fairly confident that the M2 Pro will be plenty for most creative professions. If you need the added firepower of the M2 Max, you probably already know who you are. And hey, I can’t say I minded using it as my daily driver for a bit. Those load times might feel insignificant, but they add up.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s a reaffirmation of the “Pro” in MacBook Pro: chunky, heavy, blazingly fast, full of ports and packed with the best the company has to offer. And they’re decidedly not for everyone — not even most. I’m still going to recommend the Air for nine out of 10 people (if not more) who ask me which MacBook to buy in the coming year. If you’re that 10th person, you almost certainly already know.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch M2 Max review by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch