Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Pro and Air: What they will—and won’t—do5 min read . Updated: 11 Nov 2020, 11:53 AM IST
- Better battery life, faster performance and access to iPhone and iPad apps all sounds great, but where are the touch screens?
I know exactly what drove you to buy your latest laptop. It was the processor’s high-performance cores. Oh, wait, it was the neural engine. Or the nanometer processes per second. Or the industry-leading performance per watt. Yes, it was definitely that.
Fine, I don’t know what most of that means, either. Yet at a virtual event out of Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, Apple executives made a very good case for why we should spend a little time thinking about our laptop’s chipset—at least once a decade or so.
Starting next week, the $999 MacBook Air and $1,299 MacBook Pro will begin shipping with Apple’s new M1 chip. That chip—which Apple spent a lot of time waxing on about—promises hours and hours of battery-life gains, much faster performance and the ability to run iPhone and iPad apps right on your Mac’s screen. The $699 Mac Mini desktop is getting the M1 update, too.
Apple’s latest MacOS Big Sur, which includes a makeover to make the operating system look more like iOS and iPadOS, will be available on Thursday for older Macs, and will ship on these systems, too.
While Apple has been making its own chips for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches for over a decade, based on design from Arm Holdings, this is the first one it’s putting into a publicly available Mac. The company said in June it would transition its entire Mac lineup from Intel’s chips to its own in-house silicon over the next two years.
It certainly seemed like a great move for Apple and its own Mac business, which has experienced a surge in sales since work-from-home life took hold, but Tuesday we got a glimpse of why it could be great for Mac users—especially those of us who can never get enough battery life.
Yet, like previous silicon and tech transitions, I expect some turbulence on this flight. Not only is it unclear how much software will be optimized for the new systems at launch, but Apple seems to be holding back on a true hardware upgrade. Where’s the touch screen?
Here’s the biggest thing you should know about these complicated chips: They are more power-efficient. That means better battery life.
Apple says the new MacBook Air will get six more hours than the current Intel version—and as much as 18 hours of video playback. The MacBook Pro can go even longer, Apple says, promising it to be the longest-running Mac ever, with as much as 20 hours of video playback. Sure, these days we rarely stray too far from our multigadget chargers, but I can’t wait to test those claims in my coming review of the two laptops.
Old Apps, New Apps
Because these machines now have the same underlying architecture as your iPhone and iPad, you will be able to run those apps. Well, sorta. Apple says hundreds of thousands of iOS and iPadOS apps will be available in its Mac App Store. While many apps work fine without any changes, Apple will label apps as not verified until a developer confirms that its apps work with the M1 chip. Because there are no touch screens on the new Macs, this might include better handling with mouse and keyboard.
Some developers may also opt out of having their apps in the Mac App Store. For instance, if you make a flashlight app for the iPhone, why bother? Or if you already make a great Mac app, why bring over your iOS one?
Worrying about your beloved Intel-compatible apps working on these? Apple says not to. Its Rosetta 2 technology allows Intel apps to work out of the box. In fact, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said in the taped presentation that some of the more graphically demanding apps might perform better on an M1 system.
This area of app compatibility is where I do have some worries. While Apple has had answers to many tough questions, you don’t know how all this will really work until you start getting in there with your apps and settings.
Apple spent a lot of time on how the M1’s cores and processes and other thingamajimmys make it better and faster. In fact, the new Air is even faster than 98% of PC laptops sold in the past year, the company claimed. How much faster? What models? That wasn’t said.
With the new MacBook Air model, it promises as much as 3.5x faster CPU performance than the previous Intel version and 5x faster graphics. All that, and no more fan inside, since these chips run cooler. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro promises 2.8x faster performance than the previous Intel-based MacBook Pro. (The Intel based MacBook Air is no longer available through Apple’s store. Higher-end versions of the Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro, starting at $1,799, remain available, along with the Intel-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro.)
The most interesting thing? Now that the performance gap between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro has shrunk, your decision seems to come down to paying $200 more for slightly longer battery life, a slightly brighter screen, improved speakers and mics—and a Touch Bar. And nobody really cares about the Touch Bar.
What you don’t get is an improved design. No thinner body, no flipping or rotating screen, no touch screen. It’s true that these are the latest 2020 MacBook designs, with the new nonbutterfly keyboard, but a new chip deserves its own expression of hardware.
And perhaps even more important this year, there is no improvement in 720p resolution of the cameras, although the company says it has improved noise reduction, dynamic range and white balance. That will require some testing.
Indeed, testing. That’s exactly why you should wait for my review before buying one of these new machines. They may change performance and battery in unimaginable ways, but they might also require us to change some of our usual habits and what apps we use.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text