July 8 update below, post originally published July 6.
With Apple paying a bit more attention to MacOS now that the transition to ARM is under way, details on the new Mac hardware are coming out, and there are some interesting moves coming up in the next year.
Extensive details on the updated hardware plans come from J Glenn Kunzler at SonnyDickson.com, and focus on the benefits of ARM:
“It’s like this: even at this early stage, Apple already knows with certainty that their existing A12Z chip (or a lightly tweaked modification thereof) works brilliantly as a Mac Mini. The first benchmarks we know of on their Developer Transition Kit already shows impressive performance, even running under Rosetta rather than natively on the machine.”
July 8 update: Moving away from Intel to ARM offers many advantages to Apple, and it will take the opportunity to rebalance the offerings at each point in the portfolio. ZDNet’s Ross Rubin explores the new ARM-powered advantages:
“The launch of the first Apple Silicon Macs looks bright. Initial benchmarks of the development Mac mini show Apple’s first ARM-based PCs dramatically outperforming the Surface Pro X. And even though it’s unfair to compare a desktop to a slim tablet, the Surface Pro X is itself based on a faster version of the Snapdragon architecture than most Qualcomm PCs, and the developer Mac mini’s A12Z Bionic processor is two generations behind what Apple will likely release in shipping hardware.”
Rubin sets out the three advantages ARM will offer – speed, battery life, and connectivity – and how these impact each area of the Mac portfolio. Given ARM’s ‘base line’ advantages are the unique selling points of the MacBook Air, it makes sense for Apple to reconsider the Air as part of a platform refresh.
July 7 update: The move to ARM architecture for Mac is not going to be without problems. Apple has extensive work with integrated graphics cards on the iPhone and iPad, the move to ARM means that compatibility to external peripherals (such as external GPUs) could easily be lost. Ewdison Then highlights the complication at Slash Gear:
“Switching to its own ARM-based graphics microarchitecture means switching away from AMD’s, NVIDIA’s, and Intel’s and the compatibility with peripherals that those have brought. In particular, the external GPUs or eGPUs that MacBooks finally started supporting recently may instantly become obsolete for the next generation of Apple computers.”
Just as important as the hardware that Apple launches in the initial wave of ARM machines will be the hardware that isn’t launched. It’s not something that will be immediately needed by the mid-range Mac laptops (such as those in the portfolio’s MacBook Air space), but watch for the gaps and the missing elements. Those will be the pain points Apple will need to address during the two-year transition.
One expected change at front of house is the MacBook Air. Apple’s once revolutionary laptop is going to end with Intel.
Apple’s move away from Intel is driven by many small advantages, not least the tighter integration between software and hardware. ARM has previously been seen as a lacking the grunt of Intel. With the Windows 10 on ARM powered Surface Pro X from Microsoft, it’s clear that a pivot point has been reached, and ARM architecture can match the x86 platform favored by Intel.
And the initial benchmarking of Apple’s ARM-powered Mac Mini development kit show it beating the aforementioned Surface Pro X, and offering similar performance to low- and mid-ranged Intel hardware. Which brings the MacBook Air into sharp focus on the chopping block.
As many have noted, the designs of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air machines launched earlier this year are incredibly similar. There are differences in terms of the chipsets so the MacBook Air is a little bit down on power compared to the more expensive Pro machine, but if you blurred the names Apple has its classic ‘good/better/best’ triplet with the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro with 8th generation Intel, and the MacBook Pro with 10th generation Intel.
Do you still need ‘Air’ identifier? Kunzler once more:
…what we’ve heard, and which, again, makes a huge amount of sense, is that Apple, going forward, will offer only a single line of notebooks, which will simply be called “The New MacBook”, or just “MacBook”.”
The recent use of a standalone ‘MacBook’ in the MacOS laptop range was for the eponymous lightweight and fan-less computer, a retina display, and a smaller footprint to the MacBook Air. Now look again at those ARM advantages. Powerful chips suitable for a mid-ranged laptop… less cooling required… more efficient use of power to extend battery life.
It ticks all the boxed. And from the marketing point o view Apple needs a strong statement of intent that MacOS and the MacBook will thrive under the ARM brands. Leaving behind the ‘Air’ to represent the historic lightweight Intel, and moving forwards with the monolithic ‘MacBook’ for the future is the strong statement needed.