How Apple Silicon cured its midlife crisis

The Mac, formerly the stodgier Macintosh, celebrates its 40th birthday today, putting Apple’s longest-running product squarely in middle age. But as someone with the back half of his life coming up and in marathon shape, Mac is in the strongest place he’s been in decades. In terms of revenue, Mac sales fell sharply in 2023, but that followed four years of growth, which was likely a product of increased demand for the upgraded Mac lineup.

In 2020, Apple finally started to deliver, ushering in the era we’re in now, thanks in large part to Apple Silicon coming to the Mac. Although the Mac was in shaky shape before Apple Silicon, it would be pretty silly to say that the Mac won’t make it to its 50th anniversary now. It wasn’t always a given, though. Although the Mac is Apple’s oldest product, it has gone through many moments where it seemed on the verge of irrelevance or complete disaster. For most of the 90s, before CEO Steve Jobs returned to lead the company he founded, the Macintosh was a mess.

It was too expensive for the power it offered, Apple’s product line was confusing and confusing, and Windows computers now had both the GUI and performance to make the Mac a poor choice for most people. And even after Jobs returned and introduced the iMac and iBook while reviving the Power Mac and Powerbook lines, the G3 and G4 still lagged behind PCs in most tasks. Unfortunately, the switch to Intel in 2006 helped make the Mac more relevant, even outpacing Apple a decade later, as the company pursued thin and light laptop designs with “innovations” like the Touch Bar and butterfly keyboard, and it kept allows it to run out of power.

But in 2014, when Mac turned 30, he was in a pretty good place. Apple has focused on the iPhone and later the iPad with former CEO Steve Jobs in recent years — a conclusion that the iPad will be a more basic vehicle for most people. But at least as far as laptops go, the Mac was quite attractive. The MacBook Air finally became what Jobs wanted when he unwrapped it on stage in 2008. It was a thin, light and reasonably powerful laptop that was affordable and had a ripple effect from people who bought iPods. iPhones helped popularize the MacBook Air in coffee shops and college campuses. The MacBook Pro, meanwhile, was well-suited to Apple for the creative professional, with a perfect screen, plenty of ports, and enough power to be an attractive mobile studio.

However, if you look closely, there were quite a few weak spots in the squad. Perhaps the most obvious was the strange saga of the Mac Pro. For years, Apple’s tower computer has been getting more and more expensive and clearly priced out among most consumers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Apple failed to understand what its target market was looking for when it released the cylindrical Mac Pro redesign in 2013, and then failed to improve it meaningfully for years. Between a lack of updates and a design that limited expansion, the Mac Pro was a bit of a joke in Apple’s lineup for the better part of a decade.

Apple then made an equally disastrous change to the MacBook Pro in 2016. Let’s count how Apple dropped the ball with this generation of laptops. Firstly, invalid butterfly keyboardApple existed because they could make these laptops as thin and light as possible. Then there was the removal of useful ports such as HDMI, USB-A and SD card slot in favor of only four USB-C / Thunderbolt ports, one of which was needed for charging. There’s also a Touch Bar, a thin OLED strip on the keyboard that changes dynamically depending on the app you’re using. A neat idea that didn’t get much traction with developers or end users, and the lack of a physical escape key confused users for years.

Finally, while Apple managed to make the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models thinner and lighter than their predecessors, . Many users experienced overheating and CPU throttling, as if an extremely thin body combined with powerful chips was a bad combination.

Meanwhile, the venerable MacBook Air languished for years with minor updates and a design that quickly became uncompetitive and a low-resolution display. The iMac and Mac mini came together as solid options for users looking for a desktop machine, but at the time, choosing a Mac laptop meant compromising and paying for something that probably didn’t check all the boxes.

In 2019, things showed signs of changing when Apple introduced a new, tower-style Mac Pro with increased expansion options. But more importantly, Apple reversed course on the terrible butterfly keyboard and brought back the scissor-style keys to the MacBook Pro and, a few months later, to the MacBook Air (which has since been updated with a Retina display and more modern Intel processors). Surprisingly, Apple did it updated 16-inch MacBook Pro it was thicker and heavier than what it replaced, indicating that the company was moving away from thin and light at all costs, especially in products like this where chasing a smaller form factor at the expense of performance doesn’t make sense.

However, the Mac really took off again in late 2020, when Apple released the first Macs running on the company’s own custom silicon. Apple has been designing chips for years since A4 first arrived in the iPhone 4 and the original iPad in 2010, and the combination of efficiency and power the company has struck has proven to be a huge advantage for the company. And the first round of Apple Silicon-powered Macs included some of Apple’s most popular models, like the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The improvements were immediately apparent – , we said the M1-powered MacBook Air “redefines what an ultraportable can be.” The combination of huge performance gains, along with very impressive battery life, made the MacBook Air a no-brainer. Meanwhile, the Mac mini provided a ton of bang for the buck if you were looking for an inexpensive desktop computer.

The next big step for the Mac happened at the end of 2021, at Apple Completely solved my MacBook Pro problems It was introduced with the 2016 model. The completely redesigned 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models bring back many of the ports that Apple originally removed, ditch the Touch Bar, and use the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips from Intel, which greatly increase the multi-core performance of these laptops. based predecessors.

The last major piece of the puzzle came in March 2022, when Apple introduced Mac Studio. While the Mac Pro continued with Intel chips, the new Mac Studio represented a middle ground between the Pro and the mini. The $2,000 model includes the M1 Max chip, which you can get in the MacBook Pro if you’re willing to splurge, but the $4,000 model essentially combined two chips to make the M1 Ultra. That monster processor had up to 64 GPU cores, while its successor, the M2 Ultra, allows for a 76-core GPU with a 24-core CPU and 32-core Neural Engine for machine learning tasks. Plain and simple, this is the kind of power that Apple hasn’t offered in its computers in a long time.

Since 2022, Apple has been largely in refinement, improvement, and iteration mode, with many Macs moving to the M3 architecture. But there are still a few places that could use an overhaul—the Mac Pro moved to Apple Silicon late in the transition to these new chips, only arriving last June. Although it has an expandable tower-type case, it works with the M2 Ultra, which you can get in Mac Studio, but it costs $3,000 more. There’s a pretty big opportunity for Apple to position itself in the higher-end class of workstations – perhaps it could combine the two with the M3 Ultra to further separate the Mac Pro from the Studio.

On a more consumer-focused level, Apple has recently taken another step toward making Mac gaming a thing, bringing in popular, mainstream names like the company. Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4 to the platform. But despite the sheer power Apple Silicon offers, the company is still not on the same playing field as Windows. If the company can find a way to make it easier to port games, developers could have a whole new market to sell to and another feather in Apple’s cap. If the company has any desire to push past PCs the way the iPad dominated the tablet market, they need to step up to get big games on the Mac.

And of course, we’re only a week away from Apple unveiling the Vision Pro, its first new platform in almost a decade. While it’s pitched as a pretty expensive stand-alone device, it’s not hard to imagine the market expanding if the form factor adapts. If this happens, we may see the Vision device running natively instead of viewing Mac applications. Apple has long believed that its platforms should stand on their own—witness the empty calls for a version of MacOS for the touchscreen Mac or the iPad Pro. But in that case, maybe 10 years from now we’ll be talking about how spatial computing is the next thing that drives the Mac forward.

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