Much has been made of the new M1 processor-equipped Macs from Apple – the fabless MacBook Air, the diminutive Mac mini and the peerless MacBook Pro 13″. They’re currently wowing everyone with their power efficiency (and battery life in the laptops) and their heat characteristics (they’re silent or fanless) and lastly, and probably most relevantly, their speed. They’re toasting the vast majority of x86 (Intel and AMD)-based PCs out there and faster for most people than any previous Mac. And they’re available for new low prices which make it a no-brainier for businesses to invest in one for testing purposes.
The speed isn’t just about how quickly they can render video or process images, it’s all about the useful life of the device as well. My guess is that Apple just extended the useful life of a Mac by a couple of years – and this is a series of machines that routinely is a workhorse for 5-10 years.
I can’t give a better illustration than a render I did last night (I haven’t got my M1 Mac yet) from an 2016-vintage Intel MacBook Pro 13″. It took 2.5 times the length of the footage to render out (1080p). When I did a similar export from my iPad Pro 2020 model, it took a fifth of the length of the footage to render. These devices are a lot faster than the latest models and they’re even faster than the ones they’re intending to replace.
So, it’s great that Apple is currently vending the fastest laptops and micro-desktops on the market.
But that’s not the first I’m talking about.
Apple has always made great hay out of being a system designer. That the tight integration of their hardware and software makes for great computers. We were able to see this with iPhone and iPad – devices which are much lower specifications on paper, but which easily smoke the competition in benchmarks and real-world usage. And this is the thing – it’s only been a few years that Apple has been designing their own chips for the i-Devices. Before that they were like everyone else – using someone else’s chips.
They bought chips from Intel for the Intel Macs.
They bought chips from IBM for the PowerPC.
They bought chips from ARM and Intel for the Newtons.
And they bought the 68K processor series from Motorola for the original “classic” Macs.
This is the first time that Apple can honestly talk about an integrated system when it comes to the Mac. This is hardware designed for software. This is software designed for hardware. This is the dream that Apple has been flogging for nearly five decades. It came to light with the iPhone, it’s come to full truth with the M1 Macs.
The M1 Processor is not designed for the high end. It’s fast, but look at that IO. Only one controller (for thunderbolt/USB) which means a limited pipe in. And it’s hardware wired for a maximum of 16 GB of RAM.
There’s room fo something else.
The next thing on the agenda is what happens with the higher-end Macs. Is there a need for an iMac Pro or is it just the “best” in Apple’s traditional Good/Better/Best product matrix? Will there now be room in the product roadmap for a thin and light return to the MacBook form factor? What’s a Mac Pro going to look like? Is there finally room for a Macintosh computer that’s got some expansion (like the Mac Pro) but sits on a desktop? Maybe for one Mac that can take an internal graphics card without having to buy a high end Workstation-class machine that consumes the power of a small mid-American town in winter.
Will this be like the i-Devices – with a M1X and an M1Z on the horizon? Or will Apple go all-in with a whole new no-holds-barred series (I’m calling them P1) which has multiple controllers, a special bridge to expandable RAM and up to 64GB of RAM on the SOC.
Will Apple be chasing the graphics market next? After decades of being poorly served by the graphics companies out there, isn’t it time they served themselves? They’ve been pushing Metal hard for exactly this reason. And Apple is always keen to provide a solution when the market has been providing something substandard and getting away with it.