A problematic roll-out
There is one reason, and one reason only, why Apple is moving to its own, proprietary CPU: to further lock in its user base.
Windows and Linux can run on Apple's computers only because they use Intel CPUs. With Apple's switch to ARM, Mac-labeled laptop and desktop computers become less flexible and so far less desirable. They can no longer provide "the best Windows experience," as some enthusiasts like to put it.
The experience of Google and Microsoft in using ARM CPUs (to replace Intel/AMD CPUs) on laptops is not good. Sure, they get 5G connectivity and longer battery life, but that does not compensate for sluggish operation and, in the case of Windows, incompatibility with important software.
This is being repeated in the Apple world, where third-party software is slow in arriving, especially software that Mac users depend on, such as from Adobe. One CAD vendor that has been candid about Apple's switch is Vectorworks, who are working on making its software work on the new CPU, but has no timeline for completion. Adobe's "next summer" statement is sufficiently vague to allow for delays and worrisome, given third-parties have already had a half-year's headstart on rewriting their programs. Meanwhile, Apple ships the new MacOs for the new Macs now.
Third-party vendors might, of course, be just a little bit ticked off that they need to do all that code re-write just to stay in a sliver of a falling computer market, one in which Macs in 2020 Q2 sold a mere 6.7% of all personal computers worldwide -- down from 7.4% a year earlier.
The telling part is all that Apple left out of the the presentation and the misleading charts that purported to show the necessary superiority of its ARM CPU. Here are some of the complaints from the tech media [with my responses in square brackets]:
- Love charts without X and Y axis numbers. [The charts are meaningless, because there are no numbers on the X and Y axes, and we don't even know if the Y axis starts at 0.]
- Apple failed to show benchmarks of its new M1 CPU against its own Macs running Intel CPUs. [Perhaps the numbers would look less good, and maybe even be catastrophic.]
- Why only Thunderbolt 3 ports, instead of v4? [I suspect that the new ARM CPU could not handle the bandwidth for video displays required by Intel in the v4 spec, specifically 8K panels.]
- A 13" computer with 16GB of RAM max should not be allowed to be called a Macbook Pro. The old Mac Minis cap out at 64GB of RAM; the new Mac Minis are limited to 16GB. The new Macbook Pros cap out at 16GB of RAM; the old Intel Macbook Pros cap out at 32GB of RAM. [This could be an addressing issue, in which a limitation of the ARM CPU is the amount of RAM it can address.]
- They're hedging hard with lots of “first step” and “multi-year” transition so far. [The introduction reminds me of the launch of iPhone, which couldn't do copy'n paste for the first several years.]
- Craig Federighi is noting how the Mac “instantly” wakes from sleep. [So does my Intel i5-based Chromebook.]
- No eGPUs. [Some Apple users plugged in external graphics boards, but this is not possible with ARM-based CPUs.]
- Today's PC laptops have fantastic screens with tiny bezels; face unlock; touchscreens and pencils; 4G modems; tons of awesome features. This looks like a faster MacBook Pro from 2015 with a tiny touchbar nobody wants. [Possiblereasons as to why Windows computers have that 95% market share.]
- Apple's new MacBook Air and Pro still have 720p webcams. [This could be a supplier issue, or more likely Apple saving money on hardware.]
As Frank Riff put it, "For those who hoped that Apple was going to use the Apple Silicon transition to course-correct on issues such as ports, Touch Bar, and perhaps introduce a new design language or new iOS features such as FaceID, tonight was a bitter disappointment."
Apple bases its claim of a 3.5x speed increase on benchmarks it did not make public, against Windows PCs whose identities it kept secret. This tells me the company has much to fear from the switch once independent benchmarks pop up in the real world.
I don't like Apple products. I find the hardware limiting (who ships overpriced laptops without touch screens, and crams ports too tightly together? Apple!) and the software irritating (who designs a mobile touch interface with an inconsistent Back button? Apple!).
The sliding market share of Macs forces Apple to compete against Windows users, rather than for Mac users -- Windows users who spent the last two decades showing no interest in Apple's fenced-off products.
I admire Apple's gamble on switching to a power-efficient CPU that it manufacturers to its own spec. As I see it, however, the gamble will not pay off.