Apple isn't suffering fools with its newest Macs. The company clearly has no patience left for business as usual, at least when it comes to the Intel chips it's been using for the past 15 years. Instead, as it moves forward with its own processor, known as the M1, it's really just showing off.
It's hard to imagine any other way of looking at it. We'll get to why in just a minute, but first, let's look at exactly what the company announced today.
There were, in fact, three products introduced today, a new 13-inch MacBook Air, a 13-inch MacBook Pro, and a Mac mini, all powered by that brand new M1 processor. All of those are interesting, for different reasons, but the MacBook Air is the one worth talking about.
The MacBook Air is Apple's most popular product that isn't an iPhone or AirPods. In many ways, it's the best laptop option for most people. For the things that most people do, the MacBook Air has always been more than capable, especially if you don't need ultra-high performance for things like 3-D rendering or editing multiple streams of 4K video.
Until now. The M1-powered MacBook Air can do all of that with a processor it says is 3.5-times faster than the model it replaces. And it does it without a fan. That may not seem like a big deal, but the 2020 13-inch Intel Core i7-powered MacBook Pro that I've been using can't do it without sounding like an F-18 taking off from an aircraft carrier.
Like I said, that's just showing off.
There are a few tradeoffs. It appears, given the lineup Apple just released, that the M1 chip is limited to only 16GB of RAM. That explains why the company didn't introduce higher-end MacBook Pros or an iMac at this point. And it doesn't seem to support external GPUs, something that Mac mini users might miss. If you want either of those capabilities, you'll have to stick with an Intel-based Mac, which Apple will still happily sell you.
Unless you want a MacBook Air. Apple is now only selling those with its new M1 chip. Which, to be honest, is just fine.
Apple's been making processors for a while, and it's really good at it. Those chips have powered all of its other devices, including the iPhone 12. The A14 Bionic processor in that device is the fastest smartphone chip ever. It's 40 percent faster than the previous top chip, which happens to be the A13.
Now, Apple has taken everything it learned and put it in the Mac, and the results are similarly impressive. Actually, they're kind of overboard. Not only does Apple say the new MacBook Air is 3.5-times faster than the model it replaces, it also gets 50 percent longer battery life--up to 18 hours, to be precise.
That's really everything you need to know about why Apple made the switch to its own processors. The ultimate goal was to increase the performance per watt, or the amount of power a chip is able to deliver with a specific amount of energy. The fact that Apple has been limited in its effort to increase that performance by Intel's chips is what led us to this point in the first place.
Most people expected that would mean you'd get either similar performance with increased battery life or vice versa. Even in the best-case scenario, you might expect modest improvements to both. Instead, with the M1, you get both.
What Apple did isn't a modest improvement. It isn't incremental. It's really quite impressive for a first swing at a Mac with its own processor. And Apple just introduced three of them.
The MacBook Air, especially, is an incredible value. For the same $999 price point, you can now get a laptop that is as much as 3.5-times faster than the one it replaces, with all-day battery life.
To be fair, it could be some time before all of the apps you might want to use are updated to run on Apple Silicon. Photoshop, for example, should be available early next year. Apple says all of its apps will be ready when macOS Big Sur is available next week.
The company also says that apps that aren't updated should still run using Apple's Rosetta 2 framework, they just won't take full advantage of the new chip architecture. Obviously, I'll reserve my final impression until I've had a chance to get my hands on the new MacBook Air.
Until then, let's just consider that Apple is so far ahead of its competition that it's no longer about trying to win, it's just showing off.