by Brandon Butler
Apple announces the same old new Macs, powered by the new M1 chip 11/10/2020

From the Apple Newsroom:

On a momentous day for the Mac, Apple today introduced a new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini powered by the revolutionary M1, the first in a family of chips designed by Apple specifically for the Mac. By far the most powerful chip Apple has ever made, M1 transforms the Mac experience. With its industry-leading performance per watt, together with macOS Big Sur, M1 delivers up to 3.5x faster CPU, up to 6x faster GPU, up to 15x faster machine learning (ML) capabilities, and battery life up to 2x longer than before. And with M1 and Big Sur, users get access to the biggest collection of apps ever for Mac. With amazing performance and remarkable new features, the new lineup of M1-powered Macs are an incredible value, and all are available to order today.

The three Macs announced today, the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air, and the Mac mini, all have a variation of the new M1 SoC from Apple, but everything else remains unchanged, from the wedge design of the Air to the Touch Bar on the Pro. Disappointingly, the webcams remain at 720p, and there are no touchscreens. I love being able to poke and swipe on my iPad Pro while also using the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad and keyboard shortcuts to navigate iPadOS, and I am surprised to see this functionality omitted from the new Macs. Your color options are gray or silver and all three new systems look just like the ones with Intel chips inside. But also lacking from today’s presentation: numbers.

Apple, as you can see above, loves to tout the performance increases, like 5x faster or longer, but they’re comparing these n-times to “than before”. Than before what? Yesterday’s Intel Macs? Last year’s Windows laptops? The Macintosh Performa 600 series? They don’t say. So the n-times numbers are meaningless.

So we just need to click over to the Tech Specs, right? Wrong: all Apple says about the M1 chip for the MacBook Pro is “8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores”. That’s not neither technical nor specific, Apple!

With all new ARM-based SoCs, GHz to GHz comparisons aren’t going to tell much of a story here, but having some sort of hard baseline would be useful. My guess would be clock speeds that are equal to or even less than today’s Intel chips, but with designs that don’t carry the legacy baggage of decades of processor design, so you’ll see better n-times performance from a slower clock speed.

But Apple is also staying with the familiar external designs of their laptops and Mac mini computer that consumers have been accustomed to for years. If Apple is renovating the Mac house they’ve started with the kitchen, but if they’re planning a full renovation, external changes like touchscreens or new colors are not coming with the M1 lineup. Does that mean the M2 refresh will bring us these big external changes? I don’t know. All I can say is that the feature set of the MacBook line has not excited me in many years, and that lack of excitement has persisted through this morning.

Apple announced today three very familiar products that they claim are significantly faster and more battery efficient than the competition. The M1 SoC is a huge announcement and a major change to the Mac, and I’m not implying anything less. But the SoC is just one small piece of the Mac, and there’s so much more Apple could do with the Mac to make it as fun and exciting as the iPhone and AirPods. Ultimately it will be up to the reviewers and early adaptors of these new Macs to run the geekbench scores and pull clock speeds from Xcode, test the battery life, and put the M1 SoC through its paces. I’m steadfastly optimistic for the Mac but today’s announcements are hopefully just the beginning of this “momentous day” for my favorite computer.