Yesterday, Apple announced its first lineup of Macs switching to its internally-designed Apple Silicon as it transitions away from Intel. For what it’s worth, I thought the presentation itself was excellent, staying fairly conservative but still showing exactly what developers and Mac devotees needed to see. Some people wanted to see more dramatic redesigns, but I think they needed this first round of machines out so that people can make direct comparisons.1I want everyone to appreciate my restraint in not using the phrase “Apples to Apples.” You’re welcome.
The purpose of this one was to reassure everyone that they were well prepared for the transition and that they’re still committed to the Mac line. My favorite parts were the multiple below-ground six-colored hallways, and the part where a MacBook and Craig Federighi both got turned on instantly. I know that they like treating product announcements like social events for the press, but I wish they’d keep the pandemic format for all their future announcements, because they’ve all been really slick and charming.
I saw an editorial on The Verge titled “There’s a question mark hanging over Apple’s Arm Macs”, in which Jay Peters suggests that the success of the transition is a big unknown, because Windows and Samsung have both tried ARM-based machines, which quickly became notorious for app incompatibility. I perked up when reading this, because as out-of-touch as I’ve been with the tech world lately, I could still say, “Oh! I know this one! I know why this is a wrong opinion!”
The problem, I think, is looking at these new processors as “ARM” while ignoring that they’re “Apple.” There are huge differences between MacOS and Windows RT, not just in terms of Apple vs Microsoft, but in the base of users and developers. When you get a Windows machine, there’s an implicit assumption that it will be able to run everything. All the major apps, plus weird little utilities you found on some website 10 years ago and haven’t been updated since. I think Mac users have always put a higher premium on “the Mac experience:” we kind of assume universal compatibility isn’t going to happen (especially in the games space), and we tend to prioritize native Mac apps over ports.
There’s a reason they spent so much time in the presentation letting Mac app developers emphasize how easy it was to build their apps for the new chipset. And there’s a reason they emphasized Rosetta 2 and Universal apps, to reassure people that a Mac app built with XCode should run on any Mac, even if it’s not optimized to. I never used Windows RT, but if I remember correctly, the burden was on users to understand the difference between the ARM and Intel versions of Windows, and to understand which apps would run on which platform. Theoretically, the shift to the new Macs should be invisible to users.
Being able to run iOS and iPad OS apps on the new Macs might help fill up any gaps in useful, no-longer-available apps or utilities, as well. After all, they’re Apple machines that can’t run Intel software, and haven’t been able to for several years.
For my part, I’ve already ordered one of the new MacBook Pros2MacBooks Pro? to replace one I bought last year. I have to say that that’s not a sign of my confidence in the new machines so much as another way that Macs are in transition: for the first time since I’ve been getting Apple products, I’ve got a recent model that no one wants to buy. The early-2019 13″ MBPs have the lousy keyboard and older CPUs, so it was completely obviated by the newer 2020 MacBook Air within a few months after I’d bought it. I couldn’t even sell it in good conscience; I ended up just telling the few people who were interested that they’d be better off in every respect just getting the new MacBook Air. Resale value was the main reason that being an Apple early adopter/frequent upgrader was relatively risk-free for so many years. Now I have to be more careful and responsible, as if I were an adult or something.
All that said, I am confident in the new machines. I’ve loved using an iPad Pro. And I don’t remember the last big Mac transition, from PowerPC to Intel, causing me any more issues than the Y2K bug did. Considering that Macs and XCode are being used for more cross-platform development than back then, by orders of magnitude because of the iPhone, I’ve got little reason to doubt that this will go smoothly. I tend to favor native apps from Apple and “preferred Apple Developers” like Panic, anyway. I’m not abandoning my Intel iMac any time soon, though, if only because I don’t have any idea how well Blender and Unity will run (if at all) on the new hardware.
Frankly, the thing I’m most looking forward to is having a laptop that isn’t painful to use after a few minutes. For what seems like a decade, every MacBook Pro model I’ve tried gets so hot that I’d swear I can hear a sizzling sound every time I touch a function key, and I’m left wanting to cool off my thighs by pouring McDonald’s coffee on them. A laptop that’s all but unusable from May through August isn’t useful.
If the new machines’ power consumption is lower, I’m hoping that results in their running much cooler. Maybe that’s too much faith to put into an unlabeled graph with a line that says “2X,” but you can’t deny that one of those unlabeled curves is clearly much steeper than the other. Besides, it can’t be any worse.3Bookmark this to revisit in six months, to include a GIF of Nelson from The Simpsons pointing and laughing.