The MacBook Air is once again the benchmark by which other laptops will be measured
Last week I wrote that Apple seemed “astonishingly confident” in its new M1-based Macs. This week we know why: they are astonishingly good. I reviewed the MacBook Air, Nilay Patel reviewed the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Chris Welch reviewed the new Mac mini.
All three are equally impressive, but it’s the Air in particular that stands out as offering incredible power at its price point. I’m also impressed with battery life. And the fact that Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer doesn’t cause slowdown or bugs for legacy apps.
Wins all around, then. Not very often that happens in consumer tech! The webcams are still terrible and there are lots of questions about what will happen with the truly pro Macs we will start seeing in the next couple of years. But rather than constantly look ahead to the next thing, just for a moment, enjoy: a tech company made a big promise that it could do a hard thing and then did that thing.
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Okay, moment’s over. Sorry. I want to pay a little more attention to one point Chaim Gartenberg made when writing about the importance of these computers:
The most exciting — or frightening, if you’re a traditional PC chip company — part of Apple’s new chips is that the M1 is just the starting point. It’s Apple’s first-generation processor, designed to replace the chips in Apple’s weakest, cheapest laptops and desktops. Imagine what Apple’s laptops might do if the company can replicate that success on its high-end laptops and desktops or after a few more years of maturation for the M-series lineup.
It’s not difficult to divine the future of Intel and even Qualcomm’s roadmap — they are consistent (and consistently dull) in their year-over-year improvements. Their customers are phone and laptop makers, so they need to be clear and transparent about what’s up. And I don’t see either pulling a step change like the M1 out of a hat.
By contrast, we really have no idea what Apple’s chip roadmap looks like. We can make educated guesses based on what we would expect from the current chip and Apple’s philosophy.
We do know, however, that Apple is remarkably stable in its Mac product lineup. It doesn’t introduce a ton of different models. Different people could count differently, but I think there are eight distinct Macs that Apple sells: the Air, the entry level 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the Mac mini, the iMac (two sizes on this one), the iMac Pro, and the Mac Pro.
I’m listing them all out to make a point: if you’re familiar with Macs, you have a sort of inherent idea of what those computers are, relative to each other. That’s the other way we can perhaps predict what’s next for Apple silicon. For example, we know how much more powerful an iMac is than an Air, on a rough basis. But now with the Air, the baseline for that rough basis has just been radically improved. So if the Apple silicon-based iMac continues to be as big a leap over the M1-based MacBook Air as it has been in the past, look out.
But even if that doesn’t happen, PC makers have a problem today. So let’s come back to right now. Apple has a thousand-dollar laptop that beats the pants off anything else in its price class, and so every Windows ultrabook is going to be compared to it for the foreseeable future — and may likely be found wanting.
We have a running joke at The Verge that our old colleague Joanna Stern (now at the WSJ) would end every Windows laptop review with “for a hundred dollars more, you could get a MacBook Air.” For the next year or two, we all might be ending reviews of thin and light Windows laptops with something like “for the same price, you can get a MacBook Air that’s faster, lasts longer on a battery, and doesn’t have a fan.”
Do Intel, Qualcomm, AMD, Microsoft, Dell, HP, Asus, Razer, or anybody else in the PC ecosystem have something that will start chopping clauses from that sentence?
A brief programming note — I’m taking the next week off and may allow myself to be a a little intermittent in sending newsletters in December. I appreciate you all reading and hope you are staying safe this Thanksgiving holiday — and always."