Apple’s 3rd Keynote in 3 months, which is their 4th and most likely final keynote of the year, is now upon us, and it is time for One More Thing. That one more thing will almost certainly be the first Apple Silicon Mac(s), and besides (ironically) the information Apple gave us back at WWDC in June, there isn’t a lot of rumours to go on, so what might the key points of the Apple Silicon Macs?
The most noticeable change with introduction of Apple Silicon powered Macs is battery life, redefining all day battery life to be in the 18 hour territory, rather than the 10 to 12 hours that it is now. This will not only be down to ARMs better performance per watt, but the fact that the Apple Silicon CPUs will also feature the efficiency cores that were first introduced in A10 alongside the iPhone 7.
The A14 CPU found in this year’s iPhone already outperforms all of Intel CPUs currently found in Macs in terms of single core performance, including the $5,999 Mac Pro.
Where the A14 is currently trailing is on multicore perfomance, as at the high end it currently only contains 4 Perfomance and 2 Efficiency cores. While popping this into a MacBook Air, and replacing its 2 (effectively perfomance core) CPU will be a noticeable performance upgrade, it has yet to be seen if Apple can successfully design and have fabricate CPUs with 8 or more perfomance cores, that would be required to give a noticeable boost in performance to the MacBook Pros and iMac, which leads us nicely on to the models…
Besides the year old powerhouse Mac Pro and the (probably doomed) iMac Pro, all models are up for grabs in the first round of updates.
The most likely model to see an update is a thin and light notebook, which will either be the resurrection of the MacBook (which was a perfect fit for an ARM Processor all along) or an update the MacBook Air, as replacing the CPU with the one found in the iPhone 12 would already give a noticeable improvements to both battery life and performance.
The MacBook Air Lineup is already reasonably streamlined, 2 models with different CPUs, with build to order options for the RAM, Hard drive and choice of 3 colours.
I expect the the Apple Silicon Mac’s to become more constrained in terms of customisation, with CPU and RAM fixed for each model, leaving build to order options to just be hard drive capacity and the color.
The other no brainier update is the Mac mini, although I would expect it to be a major step up from the Dev Kit, especially in terms of IO.
The 2 less likely updates are the smaller iMac (which was last updated in March 2019), and the MacBook Pro which saw a substantial update to the larger now 16 inch model last year, and a smaller update to the 13 inch model in May.
The iMac isn’t constrained by battery consumption, so if it does get updated the story will have to be all about speed, and I am not sure in terms of multicore performance the first round of Apple Silicon Mac’s will have a substantial enough performance leap to confuse the message.
The MacBook Pro is so integral to many Pro workflows, that I feel it would be risky to update it on day 1, but then again they did it when they switched to Intel! The more interesting aspect is that the MacBook Pro features a dedicated GPU on the high end, with options up to 8GB of dedicated RAM. If Apple do update the MacBook Pro 16”, they would either solved the integration with external GPUs, or they something a lot more powerful than graphics capabilities of iPad waiting in the wings for when they were less constrained by power.
Apple used the Intel transition to rename its computers to all start with Mac (PowerMac became Mac Pro, PowerBook became MacBook Pro etc), so would be interesting if Apple keeps up its current trend and we see an Apple Book.
This has already been announced, but expect the keynote to focus on a number of iOS apps being demoed that are now available on the Mac
Now that the Macs are running a fork of the iPad and iPhone hardware stack, now would be the perfect time for Apple to offer cellular as an option on their laptops. If this does happen, expect it to come at a premium as the software patents are relative to selling price, so this could be a $200+ option.
Not something that you typically associate with Apple, but the replacement of the pricey Intel CPUs (and potentially AMD GPUs) with Apple Silicon will represent a significant drop in cost of materials for Apple, in particularly at the high end where the CPUs in the MacBook are rumoured to still cost Apple hundreds of dollars.
Do I expect Apple to pass all of these savings on to the customer? No. But, I think it will allow Apple to hit those key price points, such as a $499 Mac mini, $999 MacBook Air etc
Naturally the Apple Silicon Macs will ship with Big Sur, but Intel Macs will also get to experience the new look and feel that it introduces. Big Sur will get its release date at this event, so at least all of us sticking with Intel based machines for a while longer get something to play with.