As you might expect, the skeptics are looking hard to find problems with Apple’s first generation Macs with the M1 chip. They need something to do, but other than app developers who haven’t upgraded their goods to the new silicon, and a few glitches here and there, the rollout has been quite seamless. What’s more, high Mac sales clearly indicate customers are pleased, or at least the changes aren’t impediments to buying new gear.
Now I’m sure most people who purchase new Macs aren’t concerned so much about the fine details of a new processor architecture. That’s all about we geeks getting involved in the nuts and bolts and Apple’s design choices.
For the first release of the M1 Mac mini, MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, Apple followed the same tact used in the transitions from Motorola to PowerPC and from PowerPC to Intel. The external designs were virtually identical to the models they replaced except for the new hardware. As a practical matter, most everything you did to make the new Macs run was the same as the older Mac. The 24-inch iMac represents the first change, to a thinner, lighter form factor — and they come in colors, which makes it sort of a throwback to the second generation iMacs from over 20 years ago.
Apple set up an emulator to handle apps that hadn’t migrated to the new chips for better or worse. It didn’t always work as well as you might have wanted with the first Power Macintosh, but Intel Macs and M1 Macs provided pretty much a seamless experience. Perceived performance wasn’t changed all that much, so the end users didn’t have to concern themselves with such matters.
And now that Apple has made lots of progress with its Apple Silicon transition, where do they go next?
At present, if I were to buy a new Mac, it would probably be the 24-inch iMac. Again, I’d be sacrificing a small amount of screen real estate compared to my 27-inch machine. Performance ought to be considerably better. The real improvement I’d expect to see would be in opening files and launching apps due to the speedy SSD; the one I have uses the Fusion Drive. Also, macOS is apparently better optimized for Apple Silicon than it is for Intel, since the latter chips are meant to work on a number of different operating systems and hardware configurations, and support features Apple never uses.
I suppose the choice of color will appeal to some, but silver will work fine in my home office. I’m not about to concern myself with redecorating, though I can imagine the other colors will give people options that might not have otherwise considered. Then again, I have been using Macs since the days of beige, and having some fancy color doesn’t suit my style, and I’m not encouraged to consider whether the management at the apartment complex here should be asked to do a paint job.
Seriously, the speculation grows over where Apple Silicon will take the Mac next.
So when it comes to the iMac, one expects that another model, with a larger display and sporting a faster successor to the M1, will be forthcoming perhaps later this year. Based on the rumors, this could be a return of the iMac Pro, with a display that may match the 32 inches of the Pro Display XDR, though I don’t see it quite as expensive.
Or maybe the 27-inch display scaled up to 30 inches.
The processor might be the rumored M1X or M2 sporting 10-16 cores; 16 or 24 cores for the GPU. Or more. But it would otherwise be near-identical to the form factor of the 24-inch model except for whatever internal changes are necessary to support the beefier hardware, such as cooling systems, and, one hopes, more ports and more RAM.
Now before I go on, Apple gets consistently ribbed for not having enough ports on Macs for peripherals. I understand the design constraints of the M1 models, and certainly expect that the more powerful Apple Silicon chips will support more system memory and ports. Indeed, I wonder if it would even be possible to equip a future Mac Pro variant with memory that’s easily swapped. I realize that having the integrated memory system is probably faster, but Apple was smart enough to create this system-on-a-chip, so I would not be surprised to see more flexible versions that would even allow discrete graphics.
Expandability would be a given for the next Mac Pro. Again, there seems no reason why a future 40-core Mac Pro — or however many cores it has — won’t support gobs of RAM, expansion slots and ports. Today’s M1 chip is essentially a scaled up A14 Bionic, which debuted in the iPhone 12 last fall. Very likely the next chip would be scaled up from the A15 — or whatever it’s called — that will appear in the expected iPhone 13 this fall.
When it comes to the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the rumored 14-inch version, it would seem that an enhanced M1 would serve them well, offering more cores, more ports, possibly 32GB RAM and perhaps support for a 4TB SSD. No doubt they’d be slimmed somewhat with narrower bezels and such to better exploit the saved space.
To return to ports: I think the lack of ports complaint is overrated for most users. They don’t wire their systems with more than an extra drive or two and perhaps a printer or multifunction device. Even then, the latter can be wireless, as it is with my HP printer.
Apple originally promised the Apple Silicon transition would take two years, and I presume that starting point would be June of 2020 when the original commitment was made at the WWDC. This year’s WWDC keynote will surely include a progress report, but if you use the Intel transition as a guidepost, where it was completed months early, the final Apple Silicon upgrade will appear by the summer of 2022. Maybe sooner.
As you know, I host a paranormal radio show, but that doesn’t mean I have any mystical insights into Apple’s planning. Perhaps some of those well known “leakers” do, or they have just learned how to follow the tea leaves, and see the trends in future Apple products. Well mostly. It does appear that they rely on some inside sources that allow them to come close to the mark. After all, the essence of the 24-inch iMac, and its availability in different colors, was known months before the official launch.
On the other hand, I have long felt that Apple might very well be seeding leakers behind the scenes to build anticipation for new products. That way they are guaranteed to get the publicity spin they want and retain the proper level of plausible deniability. I would even suggest that some of these rumors are deliberately designed to be a just a little bit off to keep the air of credibility.
Long and short is that I do not expect to see any serious issues in Apple’s third processor transition going forward. So I continue to put cash away in hopes that I’ll be able to order a silver 24-inch iMac, with the 2TB SSD, to match my current storage needs, before my Late 2014 27-inch iMac breathes its last. And before I breathe my last.
THE FINAL WORD
Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Copyright 1999-2021 Making The Impossible. All Rights Reserved.
Print This Issue