First, what was announced? There are lots of great roundups of the event, sites like The Verge or Apple’s Newsroom, will have comprehensive rundowns. In short, Apple announced a new Macbook Air, a new 13-inch Macbook Pro, and a new Mac mini. What’s noteworthy about these new computers is they all have a first-of-its-kind Apple system-on-a-chip (SoC), the M1. Apple is promising these new computers will have significantly better battery life (nearly double!) and performance (2-3x) than their previous-generation counterparts. Alongside performance gains, these new computers will natively run iOS apps! M1 is built on top of ARM, the same architecture used by iPhones and iPads, enabling M1 computers to run most(1) of your favorite iOS apps and games. To answer the question posed at the beginning of the paragraph, Apple announced new computers, with serious performance improvements, that are able to run iOS apps.
Before the event I made a prediction:
Apple has decided now is the time to start the transition to ARM because its new chips will blow past current generation Macs in both CPU and GPU performance.
So how did I do? On the CPU-front, I was spot on. Apple says the new laptops will have 2x the performance of the previous-generation computers. Early benchmarks show significantly better single-core scores than previous generations, and better multi-core scores than all but the most powerful iMacs and Mac Pros. When it comes to GPU performance, it’s still a bit too early to tell. Apple says M1 has “the world’s fastest integrated graphics” and will have 2x the performance of the previous generation. But my prediction hinged on M1, with its integrated GPU, having better performance than other Macs with discrete GPUs. Early benchmarks show M1 being faster than a GTX 1050 Ti, though that card is now a few years old. More benchmarks are needed to understand M1s graphics performance profile. All in all, I’m going to say my prediction was a winner!
As exciting as some of these announcements are, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. First, Apple announced the transition to ARM, months ago. A lot of what was announced last Tuesday had been previously announced or could be reasonably assumed. Second, the transition to ARM has the potential to unlock new hardware features that we didn’t see, like cellular, or a touch screen, to make newly available iOS apps easier to use. Instead, these new computers are the same computers we had before, only faster and with better battery life. We might one day see cellular Macs with touch screens, but that day wasn’t today. I think that speaks to the Apple that exists today. A company that makes the best products in the world. But also a company that gradually improves those products. And perhaps, gone are the days when ‘One more thing’ meant something radical.
(1) App developers can opt-out of having their apps on the Mac