2020 MacBook Air with M1 Chip
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple is holding a launch event on Monday to announce new products, likely to include the redesigned MacBook Pro.
Apple has a chance to drive continued momentum into its Macs ahead of the holiday shopping season, especially as more PCs running on its own chips rather than Intel processors are expected to be announced.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in June that modern computers running the company’s powerful M1 processor “fueled” Mac growth. In the last three quarters ending in June 2021, Apple sold $26 billion of Macs, up roughly 33% from the $19.59 billion it sold in the same period last year. “In fact, the last three quarters for Mac were its best three quarters ever,” Cook said in June.
Before the pandemic, which drove sales of new computers, many customers and analysts were concerned that Apple was neglecting Macs in favor of newer, faster-growing companies like the Apple Watch and iPhone. But Mac computers remain essential to Apple. It’s only possible to develop iPhone apps on a Mac with Apple Xcode, for example, and the Mac remains a bigger company than the iPad.
Last month, Apple announced and later released the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, leaving Apple’s line of Macs as the remaining major product line that didn’t get updated this fall. The larger 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple’s latest laptop, hasn’t been updated since 2019 and currently uses Intel processors instead of the newer Apple chips.
Here’s what to expect on Monday.
If Apple announces new MacBook laptops on Monday, it would be the culmination of a two-year transition to completely revamp its Mac lineup.
Since 2019, Apple has been replacing the Intel processors inside Macs with its own, called the M1, which provides longer battery life and allows Apple to integrate its hardware and software more tightly. Apple chips also enable new features while still providing enough power to run demanding applications.
So far, Apple has released four different Macs with its new chips: the MacBook Air, the Mac Mini, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the redesigned 24-inch iMac.
Apple is likely to emphasize the advantages of its own chips, as it has during the past several Mac launch events. Expect a new name for the M1 chip if Apple makes major performance improvements. It could be called the M1X or the M2, depending on how Apple wants to market the processor improvements.
Apple is said to be preparing to redesign its MacBook Pro with its own chips and new ports, including space for an HDMI cable to connect the laptop to monitors, and a magnetic charger, according to Bloomberg. Work is also underway on an iMac with a larger screen and a more powerful Mac Mini desktop, according to the report.
Apple is also likely to give a release date on Monday for macOS Monterey, the latest version of the Mac software, which was announced in June but not yet officially released.
2020 MacBook Pro 13-inch Touch Bar
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple’s Mac growth has also been driven by changes the company has made to address some of the long-standing consumer issues with some products.
Between late 2017 and the second fiscal quarter of 2020, Apple reported eight out of ten quarters of flat or negative annual growth in its Mac business. Growth started to take off in 2020.
In 2015, Apple introduced a thinner keyboard design for its laptops, often called the “butterfly keyboard”. In the coming years, a thinner keyboard would become standard in Apple’s line of laptops.
But the keyboard has been plagued by reports that it is unreliable, and that crumbs or dust can make some keys “sticky” and fail to register or type certain characters twice. Apple has an ongoing service program to repair defective Butterfly keyboards manufactured from 2015 through 2019 for free. It also faces a class action lawsuit over whether it knew the keyboards were faulty.
During this period, the biggest new feature added to Apple laptops was the Touch Bar, a bar of the touch screen that replaced the function keys. However, many users found it frustrating and less useful than regular keys. Software developers never scrambled to create software for the touchscreen, and Apple’s M1 MacBook Air didn’t even have that software.
At the same time, Apple has significantly reduced the number of ports on its laptops, simplifying them to a few USB-C connectors. Users have complained that they need adapters, often called dongles, to attach things like mice and external monitors to laptops, which sometimes use outdated USB-A connections. The dongles made by Apple were expensive, often costing more than $20 per adapter. The company temporarily lowered adapter prices in 2016 after users complained.
It could change on Monday. Apple’s new MacBook Pro design could include an HDMI port for connecting the laptop to external monitors or TVs, an SD card port for photographers, and a new version of the MagSafe magnetic charger, to address many of the complaints from power users, according to Bloomberg. Apple’s MacBook Air 2017 was the last laptop to feature MagSafe charging, although customers liked it.
Apple has begun to reverse some of the Mac design decisions it made over the past decade. The M1 MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro now have a traditional keyboard with deeper keys. Both devices received positive reviews. Laptops still use USB-C ports for charging, but the new Apple iMac desktop, the first redesign since 2015, has a new type of magnetic power adapter.
A boom in PC sales
Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple’s Mac business has been boosted by the global rise in PC sales during the Covid-19 pandemic as schools, businesses and individuals buy new laptops and desktops to go to school or work from home.
Earlier this year, at their peak, PC sales (including Windows) posted their highest annual growth in 20 years, according to research firm Gartner. Research firm IDC said PC sales jumped 55% year-over-year in the first quarter. Analysts covering the PC industry and component makers at the time said they were optimistic about a lasting shift in PC sales trends.
But the sudden rise in the number of computers linked to the pandemic may be coming to an end. In the third quarter, a time of boom usually due to back-to-school sales, the US PC market contracted for the first time since the first quarter of the pandemic, according to market researcher IDC.
Apple computer shipments grew 10% during the third quarter, according to IDC, but the pandemic trends that drove all manufacturers appear to have slowed significantly. Before the pandemic, computers were one of the slowest growing technology markets, with several years of steady growth in the past decade.
Apple hopes the shiny new Macs can reverse this trend.