Apple is finally willing to make gadgets thicker so they work better

Key Points
  • Apple is finally putting function over form. Some of its newest gadgets are thicker than previous models, but you get better keyboards and longer battery life.
  • Under Jony Ive, Apple seemed obsessed with creating really thin devices but, at least if you consider the previous butterfly keyboards, at the cost of function.
  • Apple's new MacBook Pro has a better keyboard and longer battery life, but it's 2% bigger and slightly thicker than the 15-inch model it replaces.
Apple CEO Tim Cook pose next to an image of the new iPhone 11.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

Apple has started to make its products thicker in an effort to give people what they want: functionality over form. This is a good thing. There are two recent examples: this year's iPhones and the new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

This is a theory, but it seems this may be that there are some design changes being made after the departure of Apple's former chief design officer Jony Ive. Ive was known for creating gorgeous products but, sometimes as we've seen with the older MacBook keyboard, perhaps at the cost of functionality. Form over function, as they say. (Here's a good example: according to Bloomberg, the abundance of glass at Apple's new HQ, designed by Ive, was causing people to reportedly walk into windows.)

I'm not knocking Ive or his ability to create great products. Just look at the iPhones over the past several years along with the iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods. You name it, he had a hand in it. But sometimes there were just parts of those products that seemed to be flawed because the products were too thin.

If you look back at the iPhone 8, for example, the phone measured just 7.3-mm thick, an example of Apple's seeming obsession with creating devices that were as thin as possible but often at the cost of battery life. But this year, Apple put a huge focus on battery life because it knows that's one of top things people want from their phones (along with great cameras). As a result of the larger battery, this year's iPhone 11 is slightly fatter at 8.3-mm thick. It's barely noticeable but shows that Apple knows people are willing to sacrifice on thinness for a phone that lasts all day.

Then there's the 16-inch MacBook Pro that was announced on Wednesday. It's less than 1-mm thicker than the 15-inch MacBook Pro that it replaces, and it weighs 4.3 pounds instead of 4 pounds in the prior model. It's 2% larger than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, too. All of this helps Apple include what people want in a similar but slightly bigger form factor: a keyboard with keys that you can actually tap into and that works, instead of one that's practically flat with very little key travel. The flat so-called butterfly keyboard was prone to exposure to dust and debris, which could lead to keys not registering or repeating themselves and, ultimately, lots of typos.

Apple also focused on battery life in its new laptop. It lasts an hour longer than last year's model and charges fully in just 2.5 hours. That's partly because Apple was able to increase the battery size, something that likely contributed to the larger and heavier form factor.

Ive probably had a hand in some of these products, since Apple typically develops them over a long period of time and his departure was only announced last June. But, without Ive, who was said to be more withdrawn toward the end of his time at Apple, perhaps the company's design teams had a bit more freedom to make gadgets a bit thicker than before, instead of focusing on thinness and external beauty.

Lots of people seemed worried that Apple might lose its way in design after Ive's departure. How could it possibly create iconic devices if, seemingly, all of the major releases in Apple's last decade of dominance have been designed under him?

But if Apple is moving ahead without Ive's constant input (his new design firm will still advise the company), then it may have a bit more freedom put function over design, and giving people keyboards that work and batteries that last longer.

Apple unveils its latest MacBook Pro with a new keyboard
Apple unveils its latest MacBook Pro with a new keyboard