Category Archives: MacBook Pro

The best travel accessories for your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Retina MacBook


Traveling with any MacBook is a lot easier today than it was five or ten years ago. Apple’s latest laptops consume much less space than their predecessors, and last much longer when they’re in active use. Whether it’s on a seat-back tray or resting in your lap, your MacBook can deliver quite a few hours of productive work time, video viewing, or even gameplay without assistance. But it can do even more if you bring the right accessories along.

My goal is to help you choose the best items to carry with you on the road — the type of items I’ve spent years testing. The picks below are highly practical and focused to make good use of space and address real-world concerns that many travelers have. Read on!


The Best Way To Protect Your Privacy. If you’ve ever tried to work or look at private files on a plane, train, or bus, you’ve probably noticed that some other passengers are craning their heads to check out your MacBook’s screen. There are some passive-aggressive approaches to dealing with this, but the simplest solution (apart from closing your Mac) is a privacy filter — a piece of form-fit film that can be placed on the screen to limit off-angle visibility. The #1-ranked option is 3M’s Privacy Screen Protectors ($26-$36/MacBook Air$37/13″ Retina MacBook Pro$37/15″ Pro. $28-$45 non-Retina Pro), which are normally sold in clear or black, but also offered in gold. Viewed straight on, they look substantially clear — a little tinting is obvious — but from the side, the screen looks partially or entirely black, depending on the viewing angle, with enough fuzziness to obscure the details of whatever you’re looking at.


The Best Travel USB Cable. I’ve carried a lot of USB cables around over the years, almost always for two types of devices: Apple devices and related accessories. These days, all of Apple’s iOS devices use Lightning connectors, and all of their accessories use Micro-USB cables. The easiest way to save space is to combine both of those cables into one, and the best of the combined Lightning and Micro-USB cables I’ve tested is Dodocool’s 2-in-1 Lightning/Micro USB Cord ($13). I strongly, strongly prefer licensed Lightning cables to generics, and this thick cable has proved very resilient in my travels. With a full-sized USB plug on one end, the other end has a Lightning connector there when you need it, pulling off to reveal a Micro-USB plug when necessary.


The Best International Travel Adapter. If you’re traveling overseas, being able to refuel your MacBook when you arrive in another country is critically important. Once you’ve packed the wall adapter that came with your MacBook, there are three options to consider: cheap, fancy, or powerful. If you want nothing more than a simple adapter, the least expensive option is a set of easily detachable wall plugs such as Bestek’s Grounded Universal Plug Set ($15). Get the whole set, pick the one that you need for a given trip, stick it on the end of your MacBook’s wall charger, and leave the rest behind for later adventures. Apple’s official option is the World Travel Adapter Kit ($40), which is the most compact because it replaces the wall plugs on your MacBook’s charger, rather than adding something on top of the existing plugs. The most deluxe is Twelve South’s PlugBug World ($45), which comes with both replacement international wall plugs and adds a 2.1-Amp USB port for only $5 more than Apple’s kit. This could be especially handy for users of Apple’s new 12″ Retina MacBook.


The Best Spare Power Solution – A Portable Power Outlet. When you’re running out of power in the middle of a flight, train ride, or bus trip, figuring out a way to keep your MacBook alive can be a challenge. MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops require Apple’s official wall adapter and MagSafe connector for charging, which limits your on-the-go refueling options. My strong recommendation is ChargeTech’s ChargeAll, which gives you a portable AC power outlet that can be carried anywhere. The 12,000mAh version ($150) can power a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro for just under 5 hours, while the 18,000mAh version ($200) works for over 7 hours, and has twin 2.4-Amp USB ports for iPad and iPhone charging. For Apple’s Retina MacBook, you can use your choice of ultra-high-capacity battery packs (my favorite is Anker’s Astro E7), any of which can be used with a USB to USB-C cable to power the 12″ MacBook.


The Best Little Travel Drive. I tend to take a lot of photos (and at least some videos) when I’m traveling, and given the limited amount of space on my MacBook, a spare drive for holding overflow content is always handy. The one I’ve recently fallen in love with is Seagate’s Seven ($95, review here), which is covered in steel and billed as the world’s thinnest 500GB portable hard drive. Bundled with a USB 3.0 cable and capable of fitting pretty much anywhere — it’s smaller than an iPhone 6 Plus — it has enough storage space to hold a gigantic photo and video library on its own, tucking away in your bag when not in use. As prices of solid state drives (SSDs) continue to come down, however, traditional hard drives will need to be as thin and affordable as Seven to remain relevant.

The Best Carrying Case. There’s no single laptop bag that’s right for every user; the designs vary a lot in style, size, and features. But I’ll give you a few pointers that will help you choose something that’s going to work the best for you over time. Any bag you buy should have a dedicated, padded compartment for your MacBook. Preferably, it will have several compartments to carry accessories such as the ones shown above, including a couple of relatively large pockets capable of holding the MacBook’s wall adapter and a spare battery if you’re buying one. It should zipper closed for security, come from a company with a history of quality manufacturing, and be easy to carry in the way that you feel most comfortable toting around several additional pounds worth of stuff. Estimate that your MacBook, adapter, and supplies will add between 4 and 6 pounds of weight to your back or shoulder.


I personally love Incase’s DSLR Sling Pack ($80), because I always travel with a camera and laptop; this one fits both MacBook Airs and the 12″ MacBook, but is a very tight squeeze for my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro. Despite that fact, the build quality is so excellent that the zipper and exterior have remained intact for years despite holding all sorts of computer and camera gear. There are many, many other laptop-ready options out there in several major styles, including Messenger Bags, BackpacksBriefcases, and Purses like the ones shown above. Just make sure the bag you pick has the combination of security, space, and practicality you need.

Even More Great Options

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Filed under: How-To, Buying Guides, General, Mac, Tips and Tricks Tagged: 3m, Accessories, Anker, Cable, carrying case, ChargeAll, Dodocool, international adapters, Lightning, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, micro-usb, portable power, privacy film, Seagate Seven, Travel, travel drive, USB-C

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How-To: Choose the best stand or desktop mount for Apple’s iPads and Macs


Apple currently sells more “laptop” than “desktop” Macs, but in reality, most Macs will be used substantially on flat surfaces — desks, tables, and sometimes nightstands. iPads are more lap-friendly, but also tend to get used upright, particularly for watching videos and access in the kitchen. Since I’ve spent a lot of time testing Apple device stands and mounts, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you, so you can choose the solution that best suits your Mac, iPad, or both at the same time.

Below, I’ve hand-picked options for different types of users, starting with passive MacBook stands such as Twelve South’s BookArc for MacBook Pro ($50). Made from Mac-matching aluminum with gray rubber inserts, BookArc is designed to safely hold a MacBook Pro upright so that its ports and SD card reader are easily accessible. Twelve South also sells a smaller version of BookArc for the MacBook Air, a bigger BookArc for the Mac Pro, and an earthy version called BookArc mod for fans of wood. That’s a rarity, as most Mac and iPad stands are designed to match Apple’s products, as you’ll see inside…


The passive MacBook stand options continue with Rain Design’s mTower ($50), a futuristic cradle that manages to riff on Apple’s design themes without looking derivative. Made from a single piece of sandblasted aluminum, it can accommodate any MacBook model from the 11″ Air to the discontinued 17″ Pro thanks to rubber inserts hidden inside. It has the least conspicuous use of non-metal materials, if that matters to you.


My personal MacBook Pro sits inside a Cooler Master L-Stand ($39). Viewed from the long side, it looks like a metal L, with a boxy (rubber-lined) hole for the MacBook. Mirrored accents on the box give it a really nice touch of added style in person. While L-Stand is large enough to accommodate every MacBook from the 11″ Air to the 17″ Pro, it doesn’t have any special inserts for the thinner models, which will consequently lean inside the frame. I’d call this best-suited to Pro models, and not as great for Airs (or the upcoming 12″ MacBook).


Another set of options comes from Henge Docks, which makes the Vertical Docking Station for MacBook Pro with Retina display ($94) and a Metal Edition version. One really nice thing about these solutions is that they manage all of the cables that go into a MacBook’s left side — power, USB, audio, and Thunderbolt — so all you need to do is (carefully) insert your MacBook Pro inside for connection to your monitor, speakers, and other peripherals. Just be aware of two issues: Henge ships its docks with Mini DisplayPort cables rather than Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 connectors, and all of the connections can be difficult to make correctly unless you do a little fiddling with the plugs to make sure they’re being held in the right places.

Active MacBook Stands


Perhaps the most popular Mac stands are “active” stands for MacBooks — ones that are designed to make Apple’s laptops feel more like desktop machines. The #1 best-selling laptop stand at Amazon is Rain Design’s mStand ($45), a sturdy single-piece aluminum design with rubber padding to protect both the MacBook and the desk underneath. With a nearly 6″ lift off the table’s surface, mStand enables you to raise and angle the MacBook’s screen to your chosen height, which helps both with visibility and FaceTime calls — no longer will your chin be the focus of video chats. Cables can be managed with a hole in the stand’s back, too.


Gorgeously designed with spring-loaded, adjustable support, Twelve South’s HiRise for MacBook ($70) has the ability to raise any MacBook Air or Pro from two to six inches off a table. It’s made from steel with rubber pads for the MacBook and plastic on the bottom, enabling you to rotate the stand around. HiRise is the rare MacBook stand that can bring different MacBooks to the same height as Apple’s monitors, adjusting to the needs of different Mac sizes. Note that some users have complained that the MacBook can slip off its angled V-shaped holder when it’s not in use.


There are also a couple of interesting MacBook stands designed for portable use. BlueLounge’s Kickflip comes in 13″ ($18) and 15″ ($20) versions, each a hard plastic hinge that attaches to the bottom of the MacBook, folding open to securely prop the machine up for easier typing. I really liked the fact that Kickflip is so easy to fold down when it’s not being used.


Twelve South sells a lot of other MacBook stands, and I’ve had mixed feelings about them — some are much, much better than others. The company’s alternative to Kickflip is called Baselift ($40), a plastic and microfiber pad that attaches to the bottoms of Macs to elevate them as needed. Reviews have been mixed overall, but most positive when used with the 11″ MacBook Air, which doesn’t have a version of Kickflip to call its own.

iMac + Thunderbolt Display Stands


While iMacs and Thunderbolt Displays don’t need stands, there’s legitimate value in reclaiming some of the space underneath them to use as a storage compartment. I personally use and really love Just Mobile’s Drawer ($85), which sits comfortably under 21″ and 27″ iMacs or Thunderbolt Displays, combining a very solid aluminum frame with a black slide-out drawer. The drawer’s front has a large central hole to make opening easy, and the back has two small holes in its upper corners if you want to place cables inside to store peripherals. This is seriously one of my very favorite Mac accessories, and one that gets more use (to declutter my desk, holding batteries for my Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad) than I ever would have guessed.



As an alternative to Drawer, Twelve South’s HiRise for Mac ($80) is smaller and takes a different approach. It’s designed to let you change the height of your iMac or Apple monitor by supporting the monitor’s stand on your choice of inner grooves, leaving the rest of the metal compartment open for storing items. The box has enough room inside for a Mac mini or some hard drives, including a perforated frame for proper ventilation.

iPad + Mac Stands


If you want a stand that will mount an iPad or iPad mini directly next to your Mac, you have options. Aukey sells the Desk Stand Holder ($36), which combines a gooseneck clamp for your iMac or Apple display with a hard plastic clip that holds your bare iPad, iPad Air, or iPad mini in place. You have to pick the version with the iPad holder that matches your model. Twelve South sells a more deluxe set called HoverBar 3 ($100) that includes clips for iPads, Airs, and minis, plus a desktop kickstand for the detached iPad.

iPad Stands


As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews, I’m a huge fan of ZeroChroma’s combination iPad stands and cases, which combine everyday protection with the ability to prop the tablet up for easy viewing whenever needed. ZeroChroma’s stands can rotate 360 degrees and support your choice of angles, including everything from video to typing positions. The option I personally use on my iPad Air and iPad Air 2 is Folio-Slide (iPad Air 2 version $70, iPad Air version $40), but you can compromise edge protection and save cash with the basic model Vario-SC (iPad mini version $35, iPad Air version $30). This is seriously my most-used iPad accessory, and the only one I’d feel completely lost without.


If you want your iPad to be as slender as possible and don’t mind carrying a stand separately for times when it’s needed, there are lots of generic “tablet stands” out there to choose from. My personal favorite is Belkin’s FlipBlade Adjust ($33), a really well-made and nicely adjustable aluminum stand with rubber lining in all the right places. But Anker makes a less expensive (and very popular) alternative called the Multi-Angle Portable Stand ($10) which is Amazon’s #1 best-selling tablet stand due largely to its pricing.


Stands that also charge iPads are relatively uncommon, in part because so many people want their iPads to be upright in landscape orientation — a position that forces charging to take place from the left or right edge. But if you want to use your iPad in portrait orientation while charging, Twelve South’s HiRise ($35, above left) and HiRise Deluxe ($60, above right) both provide nice ways to do that: HiRise is a minimalist iPad Air/iPad mini stand that depends upon a self-supplied Lightning cable for charging, while HiRise Deluxe includes the cable and a more easily adjustable back support. Both can also work with iPhones.


Last but not least, if you’re looking for an iPad desktop stand that’s designed to be left on your desk but capable of being adjusted in pretty much any way you prefer, The Joy Factory continues to offer an incredible collection of carbon fiber-assisted stands — some with medical and professional applications. Two of its MagConnect models combine an 8″ adjustable arm with the ability to magnetically grab an included iPad frame: the Desk Stand ($75, left) has a plastic base, while the Tripod and Microphone Stand ($78) can attach to 1/4″ or 5.8″ screw mounts. If you need even more adjustability, the Clamp Mount ($135, right) has two 8″ arms and a clamp to grab your desk or table.

Even More Great Options

Read more of my How-To guides and reviews for 9to5Mac here (and don’t forget to click on Older Posts at the bottom of the page to see everything)!

Filed under: How-To, AAPL Company, General, iOS Devices, Mac, Reviews Tagged: iPad, ipad air, iPad mini, Mac, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mounts, stands

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Apple releases OS X 10.10.3 build 14D127 for public and developer betas

Screenshot 2015-03-30 17.00.18

Apple today released yet another build of OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 to both the developer and public beta programs. This version is labeled as 14D127, which is several builds newer than the previous release of 14D113. As always, this new release includes various bug fixes.

As we’ve previously highlighted, 10.10.3 will bring a new, more diverse Emojis keyboard to the Mac, improved login for Google services, and APIs for the new Force Touch Trackpad on the new 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. Apple has not yet announced when 10.10.3 will be released, but perhaps a launch will come in line with the upcoming MacBook in April.

New in this beta:

Click to view slideshow.

Photos app quick tour

Filed under: AAPL Company, Mac Tagged: 10.10.3, Apple, Emojis, Force Touch trackpad, Google Services, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Retina Display

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Review: Swapping MagSafe for SnapFit, BatteryBox adds 60Wh of portable power to MacBook Airs, Pros


Thanks to Apple’s patent on the MagSafe connectors used in MacBook Airs and Pros, the list of third-party external batteries for MacBooks previously began with Hyper’s HyperJuice/HyperJuice 2 and ended with Lenmar’s ChugPlug — not much of a variety. Apple’s legal department chased Hyper for attaching harvested MagSafe connectors to its batteries, and Lenmar chose a workaround, sending ChugPlug’s power indirectly though an Apple wall adapter. Neither solution was ideal. It took until now for a completely different third solution to appear: BatteryBox ($220) from Gbatteries Energy.

BatteryBox is the first MacBook power option I’ve tested that doesn’t require either MagSafe or an Apple wall adapter to function. Since the developers went out of their way to create something that won’t run afoul of Apple’s legal team, there’s absolutely nothing Mac-like about its brick-like rectangular design. And it’s not cheap, priced between the two HyperJuices and higher than ChugPlug, which can now be had for only $100. But it works, adding a 60-watt-hour additional battery to the 38-95-watt-hour cells already inside MacBook Airs and Pros. So if you’re on the road without access to a power outlet and need to add hours of additional runtime to your Apple laptop, this is a viable alternative….

Key Details:

  • First MacBook external battery with an alternative to MagSafe
  • Offers 5-13 hours of power for MacBooks, depending on model and what’s being done with Mac
  • Boxy shape and large size are unusual, suited to large bags
  • Requires 6-8 hours to recharge with a user-supplied 2A charger
  • Also powers iPhones and iPads



As its name suggests, BatteryBox is a box measuring roughly 3.7″ long by 2.5″ wide by 1.95″ tall. Gbatteries markets it as “smaller than the size of a can of soda,” which might be handy for figuring out if it can fit in a given compartment you have in a bag, but it looks like a big black wall adapter, with a physical volume equivalent to four stacked decks of playing cards, or three stacked original iPods. Apart from five bright green power indicator LEDs and a button on the top, and spots for cables and ports on the edges, BatteryBox is very plain, contrasting with the handsome metal HyperJuices and the almost futuristic-looking ChugPlug.


A gray MacBook charging cable is permanently attached to one side next to a full-sized USB port. The opposing side has a micro-USB port, which connects to an included micro-USB to USB cable so you can recharge BatteryBox from a self-supplied 2-Amp USB power source. Apple’s iPad power adapters work, as do third-party alternatives such as Anker’s awesome 60W 6-Port USB Charger, but the total charging time is a lengthy 6 to 8 hours. I was disappointed that Gbatteries doesn’t include a wall adapter given BatteryBox’s price point, and surprised that the battery didn’t appear to recharge at all when connected overnight to a 1-Amp USB port.


What’s new in BatteryBox is SnapFit, a MagSafe alternative that completely does away with magnets in favor of four large black plastic clasps. Each SnapFit connector is specific to one type of 2012 or later MacBook Air (11″/13″) or MacBook Pro (13″/15″) model, with markings on the bottom to indicate compatibility. They’re shaped like keys, each with a center channel that grabs BatteryBox’s cable and surrounds its charging pins with a rigid frame. A second channel on the edge can hold another part of the cable when it’s wrapped around BatteryBox for storage.


A small plastic peg goes into the hinge gap between the MacBook’s keyboard and screen, holding the charging pins in place. Since you can see a large black bar on top of your MacBook, it’s not a beautiful solution; similarly, as you lose the ability to enjoy magnetic attachment and detachment, it’s not as foolproof as a MagSafe connector. But again, it works, notably without interfering in any way with port or keyboard functionality. It’s 100% stable on a desk, and unless you’re doing a lot of jostling, not prone to disconnect on a lap, either.


Rather than attempting to recharge the MacBook, BatteryBox serves as an alternative to wall power, “bypassing” the MacBook’s battery while also reducing BatteryBox’s own performance degradation over time. Gbatteries claims that its cell will last for 3,000 cycles — several times more than other batteries — in part because it’s not being drained in the same fashion, or inefficiently. The company measures BatteryBox’s Mac-powering abilities by the number of continuous hours the accessory can conceivably keep various MacBook models running on its own: an 11″ MacBook Air (with an internal 38Whr battery) is said to last up to 12 hours, versus 7.4 hours for the 13″ Pro (74.8Whr), 5 hours for the 15″ Pro (95Whr), and oddly 13 hours for the 13″ Air (54Whr), probably a misprint.

Are the numbers realistic? Sort of. In my testing, BatteryBox performed in the exact manner promised: I started by running my 13″ MacBook Pro down to 93%, then connected BatteryBox, and used the computer for many hours doing a variety of both low-power and deliberately battery-killing tasks. Over the first several hours of use, the MacBook’s battery never wavered from 93% until I disconnected BatteryBox as a test; it fell to 92% and then stayed there for additional hours as I continued to rely on BatteryBox. The upshot is that you will definitely get multiple hours of extra power for your MacBook regardless of the model you’re using, though Gbatteries’ numbers presume that you’re using the newest and most power-efficient Macs, while doing the least power-intensive work.


BatteryBox also works as an iPhone and iPad charger, actually refueling the devices’ built-in batteries multiple times as needed rather than needing to sit alongside them during regular use — a relief given the cell’s unwieldy size. Gbatteries estimates BatteryBox will deliver 80 hours of additional life for an iPhone 5s, 75 hours for an iPhone 6, 25 hours for an iPad mini, or 22 hours for the iPad Air 2, which is to say two or more charges for most current-generation Apple tablets, and five or six for various iPhones. Based on tests with an iPad 2 and iPhone 6 Plus, I believe that these numbers are reasonable.

My single biggest issue when using BatteryBox with Macs, iPads, and iPhones is the lack of granularity of its remaining power indicators: with such a large battery, five lights doesn’t tell you enough about how much power’s left. I found that when BatteryBox is unable to continue charging a Mac, even if it has one light left, it doesn’t have the strength to push remaining power to a less power-hungry iOS device, either. It can also be finicky when getting reconnected to its included micro-USB cable for wall recharging; I once had to reset the battery by holding down its button, which really shouldn’t need to be done, but did work.


Overall, BatteryBox is a pretty good option for MacBook Air and Pro users who really need extra power on the go. Its biggest assets are the SnapFit system, which indeed works around Apple’s MagSafe in a reasonable (though not beautiful) way, and its considerable power output, which is enough to keep any supported MacBook Air or Pro running for quite some time. On the other hand, its shape may well prove awkward for some users, the lack of an included wall adapter is an issue at this price point, and its power indicators could use some extra work, as well. HyperJuice and ChugPlug definitely have a strong new competitor to contend with, but each of these options has its own strength, and none is definitively superior to the others.

MacBook Air/Pro (2012+)

Filed under: AAPL Company, Mac, Reviews Tagged: battery, BatteryBox, external battery pack, Gbatteries, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, recharge

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Future Macs could get up to 10TB SSDs thanks to new Intel/Micron technology


SSDs are fast, but still expensive compared to spinning metal drives, giving us less storage capacity in today’s Macs than we got in older models. Pick up a classic 13-inch MacBook Pro with a hard drive, for example, and you’ll get 500GB of storage for $1100, compared to just 128GB of SSD storage in the $1300 entry-level Retina model.

That may be set to change thanks to new 3D NAND technology announced by Intel and Micron, allowing them to fit far greater storage capacity into the same space as today’s drives. By stacking flash cells on top of each other, up to 32 layers deep, they can can triple the capacity in the same size chip without the usual high price-tag, reports PC World.

For a standard 2.5-inch SATA drive that means up to 10TB of space; for the M.2 drive type used by most laptops, the 3D NAND will boost capacities up to 3.5TB.

We’ve been promised this technology before–Samsung demonstrated 24 layers of 3D NAND back in 2013–but Intel and Micron say that manufacturers will be able to buy the new chips later this year. Of course, with Apple not noted for its generosity when it comes to storage capacity, you may not want to hold your breath.

Filed under: Tech Industry Tagged: 3D NAND, Intel, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Micron, NAND, Solid-state drive

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Inklet plug-in adds pressure-sensitive drawing on new Force Touch MacBook trackpad


Ten One Design has released an updated version of its drawing plug-in, Inklet, adding pressure-sensitive drawing on the new Force Touch trackpad in all Mac drawing apps, including Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and Illustrator. The new trackpad was introduced by Apple on the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

This means MacBook owners with the new trackpad will enjoy enhanced, highly-accurate pressure sensitivity when drawing on the trackpad whether drawing with a stylus or with a finger.

Inklet for Mac adds an icon to your menubar that you click when you want to draw on your trackpad in your chosen app … 

Ten One Design said that the Force Touch trackpad plus Inklet allows people to leave their external drawing tablets behind when working away from the office.

“I did a quiet fist-pump when the new trackpads were revealed,” said Peter Skinner, a founder of Ten One Design. “They align perfectly with our vision for Inklet and mobile drawing without the hassle of external tablets.”

The company offers the app only for $24.95, or bundles it with its Pogo stylus for $34.90, both available from

Apple recently updated iMovie to add haptic feedback via the Force Touch trackpad.

Filed under: Apps Tagged: 12-inch MacBook, force touch, Force Touch trackpad, Inklet, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Pogo, Pogo stylus, Touchpad

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