Apple Silicon Macs – so good we’ll need fewer upgrades?

Home » Apple Silicon Macs – so good we’ll need fewer upgrades?
Apple Silicon Macs – so good we'll need fewer upgrades?

The launch of Apple Silicon Macs back in 2020 was one of the longest-awaited developments in the history of Macs. The rumors date back to at least 2014, and with hindsight, the writing was already on the wall when Apple developed its own chip for the first-gen iPad and iPhone 4 back in 2010.

Apple’s hardware chief, Johny Srouji, said last year that the company itself had been working on the project for 14 years

Mac architecture

The switch to Apple-designed M-series chips was the third time in the (then) 36-year history of the Mac that the company had switched processor architecture:

  • 1984: Macintosh launches with Motorola 68000 chip
  • 1994: Switch to PowerPC (PPC)
  • 2006: Switch to Intel
  • 2020: Switch to Apple Silicon

Benefits of Apple Silicon Macs

2020 was the first time that the company had ever designed its own Mac CPU, bringing to its computers the same two major benefits it already enjoyed with the iPhone and iPad.

The first is efficiency. Because Apple designs both hardware and software for iOS devices, it is able to ensure both total compatibility – and thus greater stability and reliability – and maximum efficiency. This is the reason that iPhones and iPads deliver far greater performance and battery-life than their relatively modest RAM size and battery capacity would suggest.

Apple can tweak its software to suit the hardware – something any manufacturer can do – but it can also tweak the hardware to suit software demands.

The second – and by far the most important – is that it frees Apple from third-party hardware cycles. Most flagship Android manufacturers are at the mercy of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon production cycles, for example. Want to design a faster phone? Well, you can’t until Qualcomm creates the processor needed to do it.

Apple, in contrast, can determine its own A-series chip cycles. It has so far settled on an annual tick-tock cycle, but is free to change that as and when it desires.

That created a big upgrade cycle

The vastly better performance and battery life offered by the M1 chip, compared to its Intel predecessors, created enormous demand for the first new Macs.

The launch also coincided with pandemic lockdowns, which created a boost to the PC market as a whole, with many people needing better computer setups to work effectively from home.

The second calendar quarter of 2020 (Apple’s fiscal Q3) saw a 21% increase in Mac revenue, helping to drive a record quarter.

That growth continued into the following quarter, with 22.5% year-on-year growth.

Macs continued to beat the PC market through 2021 and 2022.

But what goes up…

Just yesterday, however, we saw not just a fall in Mac shipments, but Macs falling at a faster rate than the PC market as a whole.

Mac shipments were down 40% year-over-year in the first quarter, according to analysts at IDC. That’s despite launches of M2 MacBook Pro and M2 Mac mini during the quarter.

The end of the pandemic boom is the primary reason for falling shipments across the industry. Apple experienced the biggest decline among PC makers in Q1, though, down 40% as the overall market shrunk 29%.

The new M2 machines simply didn’t excite the market in the same way – and that was pretty much inevitable. The M1 Macs were a whole new generation, while the M2 models were merely a decent evolution.

When friends with everyday computing needs asked my advice on which Mac to buy, I advised them to save money and opt for the M1 model instead of the shiny new M2, as they wouldn’t see any practical benefit from the faster chip.

Mac life cycles are likely to increase

Macs have always tended to have longer life cycles than Windows machines. It’s common for people to keep them for five years, and even 10-year-old machines remained surprisingly usable.

But with the power and battery-life benefits of M1 machines, and successive M-series updates more iterative than revolutionary, I’m betting that people will hold onto Apple Silicon Macs for even longer than they did Intel ones.

Indeed, the generational boost given to Macs by Apple Silicon is so great that the company seems to be struggling to figure out how to make a Mac Pro significantly more powerful than existing Macs.

This is not, of course, the end of Mac growth. The upcoming 15-inch MacBook Air will, I’m sure, prove enormously popular. Apple will also continue to add new features, like Face ID, in an attempt to persuade people to upgrade. Designs will continue to evolve. Maybe the company will even overcome its distaste for touchscreen Macs.

But I do think that Apple Silicon Mac life cycles are likely to be longer than Intel ones. When you still have both the performance and battery life you need from your existing machine, the latest and greatest model won’t look quite as shiny and new as it has in the past.

That’s my view – how about yours? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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