Those in the tech industry have been eagerly awaiting Apple’s long rumoured, and finally announced, switch from Intel processors to their own in house chips, Apple Silicon. For those not versed in the ways of processors , it might be hard to see any difference between this machine and it’s Intel based predecessor . This is because on the outside, it’s exactly the same as the base level Intel MacBook Pro from the start of 2020. All the good new stuff is inside.
So why have Apple made this switch anyway? MacBooks have a good rep already, apart from their slightly dated design, and that hasn’t changed one bit. There are several reasons, cost being a large one, but also performance and having total control over the whole product. There is also the possibility of more integration with the Mac’s IOS siblings, and it is obvious from Big Sur that the Ipad and the Mac are moving ever closer together.
So what’s it like to actually use one of these things? I have actually had several Arm based laptops before, and they have been nice machines, but have suffered in two key areas. One, a lot of apps simply don’t work yet on Arm. Two, performance as lagged behind Intel machines at the same or sometimes even cheaper price point.
Apple has pretty much nailed both of these issues. Performance is amazing, and actually beats the larger 16 inch MacBook Pro. It also toasts just about every Windows based machine out there. As for app compatibility , Apple have introduced a software translation layer called Rosetta 2, which you are prompted to install the first time you try and install a non Arm compatible app. This works brilliantly. I run PHPStorm through it, and although there is the odd bit of lag, generally it works fine. When a native version comes out it will fly on this machine. In fact every app I have run has worked, either natively or through Rosetta.
When I used a Surface Pro X, even though I really liked the machine itself, I had to hunt down 32-bit versions of apps that could be emulated, or the even rarer Arm apps themselves. Even with native apps, performance was nowhere near what this Mac can do.
But the Mac M1 has another trick up it’s sleeve . It can run IOS apps, not all of them, but a lot. And although at first support was patchy and you couldn’t run them full screen, it’s getting better, and Apple Arcade games run a treat with this level of power. Couple that with a great screen, great keyboard, and industry leading trackpad, and you almost have the perfect laptop.
This is simply outstanding. I often go a whole week before I even need to plug this beast in. I have spent all morning using it for coding work , then checked the battery and it is still around 90%. It is almost like magic. This is a known benefit of Arm based machines, but again, the Mac M1 toasts it’s windows based competition . In fact it is hard to see how Wintel (windows and intel) can come back from this , but I hope they do, competition is always a good thing in the tech industry.
I did say it was almost perfect. There are a few things that could be better, starting with the design . It hasn’t really changed since 2016, that is a long time ago in the world of computers . Those screen bezels need to shrink for a start! More ports would be nice, at least 4 thunderbolts, and maybe an hdmi? That last one is probably wishful thinking.
Next, cellular connectivity. This is the one thing the Surface Pro X and indeed the Galaxy Book S has over this machine, they both take SIM cards and that is a big deal when you travel around as much as I do. I recall being in Heathrow Airport and someone emailed me with an urgent correction to their website. I had a Surface pro X at that time, and managed to do it in less than a minute , mainly because I had full 4G signal.
I am pretty sure Apple have most of these improvements lined up, as well as some I haven’t thought of, and we may possibly see them this year with the M2 upgrade or M1X. It is an exciting time to own a Mac, after years of keyboard issues and incremental upgrades, Apple is finally giving the Mac some love.