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Apple's new M1 chip, Macs, lack of performance data, and more tech news today
Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Wednesday, 11 November 2020.
1. Apple’s M1 chip, and new M1 Macs
Apple’s event yesterday introduced its Arm-based M1 chip as its new Apple silicon chipset, and announced three new Macs that will sport the no-longer-Intel hardware: the 13-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and a surprise, the Mac Mini. The new Macs look just about identical, with some keyboard changes, and the main promise is more battery life right now.
To be clear, these are the low-end Macs getting a boost:
- They go on sale next week, at more or less at the same prices as the current Intel versions.
- We haven’t seen any reviews yet from independent sources.
That’s the top line.
Let’s dig in a little.
The M1 chip:
Finally, we saw some limited detail into the first Apple silicon system-on-a-chip (SoC) for Macs. Built on a 5nm process, with 16B transistors (up 35% from the A14), 8-core CPU (four performance cores, four high-efficiency cores), up to 8-core GPU, and a 16-core neural engine.
- The integrated chipset means buying a new Apple Mac with its silicon is more like an iPad: you only choose RAM, plus storage size.
- I was supremely disappointed that Apple didn’t give us real data on what it has here with the M1. We only saw glimpses through Apple-tinted glasses and animations.
- Much of what Apple said was carefully or even bizarrely framed to look great. For example, it promised, on many occasions, “up to 5x” better CPU performance or “up to 3x” better GPU performance. But the key is that it depends on your reference. As it turns out, Apple does release the fineprint, but that makes comparisons clearly weak.
Here’s one of its graphs with no X or Y labels, and no true reference (which “laptop chip”?):
- Apple also rolled out phrases like the MacBook Air is “faster than 98% of laptops sold last year,” which is meaningless.
- The crux of that is that Apple doesn’t break down category or pricing. The vast range of laptops sold are entry-level and budget devices which are simple, battery-life focused. It includes $270 laptops, $350 laptops, and all the low-end that are sold to most people. The average selling price is around $650.
- Apple is super careful to pick and choose its figures here — the MacBook Air is $999. Yes, it should be faster than most PC laptops. Is it faster than $999 laptops?
- Final point on this: Only one of the top 50 bestselling PC laptops from Amazon costs more than the MacBook Air. PCs, for many people, aren’t gaming or pro creative devices.
- And the reason I’m letting myself be frustrated is explained in this fabulous deep dive from Anandtech, which is as close as we’ll get to knowing M1 performance now: “Apple claims the M1 to be the fastest CPU in the world. Given our data on the A14, beating all of Intel’s designs, and just falling short of AMD’s newest 5950X Zen3 – a higher clocked Firestorm above 3GHz, the 50% larger L2 cache, and an unleashed TDP, we can certainly believe Apple and the M1 to be able to achieve that claim.“
- The likely performance, and Apple’s ability to improve its platform through the years, looks astonishingly good and makes Intel looks astonishingly slow.
- We’re looking forward to independent benchmarks very much!
- MacOS Big Sur is out tomorrow, November 12, too.
Battery, cooling keyboard:
- Where Apple did talk numbers was the battery. Taking a more holistic approach with Apple silicon, and following the better efficiencies we’ve seen from other laptops running Arm-based silicon, there are big battery life gains.
- Apple noted an increase in battery life for as much as between 6 and 10 hours, while batteries remain the same size.
- The MacBook Air now has no fan, with only passive cooling and Apple suggesting no performance or heating issues when under load. Will that work out? Some commentators think it’s purposefully limiting.
- Oh, and some of the new MacBook Air function keys have different functions (Twitter).
- It’s genuinely curious that Apple didn’t include 4G LTE connectivity, just as it does with the iPad range, which many people love. Not that Macs have had this in the past, but Arm-based chipsets and modems are the bread and butter of Apple’s iPhone and iPad. It makes too much sense.
- I guarantee Apple does this at some point, it may just be it wanted to offer the equivalent device for now, and later add more features and complexity to its range in future updates.
- Apple didn’t put out a touchscreen version Mac either, despite noting that apps written for iOS/iPadOS now run on macOS Big Sur with Apple silicon hardware.
- The M1 Macs won’t support external GPUs (Engadget).
- Massive question: what’s the difference between the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro? Apple didn’t make this clear, but the Air does have a 7 core GPU, the Pro 8 cores, plus a “USB-C power port” on the Pro. And aside from that, the Air is lighter and thinner, the Pro heavier. That gives the Pro two hours better battery life, it has a fan, it has a Touch Bar, louder speakers, better mics… and the screen can go 100 nits brighter? It just seems the differences here make the Pro better, but $300 better?
- Oh boy I can’t wait for comparisons.
- More serious questions. Apple is charging full price for a transition product here.
- It’s sticking to charging high-end prices for what isn’t native performance for almost every app that it doesn’t make itself. Will every app ever run? Apple’s dev notes mention that it’s emulator doesn’t support every Intel extension.
- I’m sure apps like Firefox or Airmail or LastPass will work. But it’s the one-man-developer apps that may struggle.
- Apple is only offering a max of 16GB of RAM with this lineup, suggesting limitations (The Verge).
- Apple brought back the Mac startup sound, created by Jim Reekes.
- And it brought back the “I’m a PC” ad guy (TechCrunch). But it didn’t bring back Justin Long, curiously.
What Qualcomm is saying:
Despite their legal entanglements over modems over the past years, Qualcomm represents an ally of sorts for Apple, and the San Diego company sees Apple’s Arm-based desktop chips as a catalyst for real change, which it would also benefit from.
- “We’re actually pretty excited about their announcement because what we feel it is acknowledging the journey we’ve been on for a couple of years. They’re acknowledging that Arm is a significant ecosystem and PCs no longer equal just x86,” said a company representative.
- “We know they’re going to be driving a lot of the same things Qualcomm started a couple of years ago. Driving innovation in form factors, thin and light, battery life, and so on.”
But Qualcomm did point out issues it has seen itself with its Arm-based chips, and those are with legacy apps:
- “Having emulators to bridge the legacy ecosystem with the new ecosystem is good, but you will have challenges,” a company representative noted in response to a question from Android Authority.
- “There’s a lot of very badly written, old software out there. And the emulators don’t resolve all of that. So, as you can imagine over the past few years, it’s like whack-a-mole, knocking them out one-by-one.”
Still, Apple might be the spark that sees app development take off — the Qualcomm executive also noted that they’d spoken to app developers who questioned the long-term viability of Arm in PCs. But these developers are now moving to “take Arm seriously” following Apple’s move.
2. Get a free Stadia Premiere Edition bundle — YouTube Premium members in US/UK only. I paid for this so what you’re getting for free is a pretty solid deal. Update: This may be coming to Canada and some parts of Europe on November 16th — you heard it here first (Android Authority).
3. Google Nest Thermostat review: Affordable excellence (Android Authority).
4. Google is adding native Android support for ultra-wideband for smarter item trackers and car keys (Android Authority).
5. Oculus Venues will bring Fox Sports boxing events to VR (Engadget).
6. Mediatek Dimensity 700 announced: Cheap phones get more 5G love (Android Authority).
7. Leica’s latest is a beautiful black and white machine, for a cool $6,000 (Gizmodo).
8. HTC sales nearly halved last month (Taipei Times).
9. The TikTok ban is tomorrow. Yeah, um, and TikTok says the Trump administration has forgotten about trying to ban it, would like to know what’s up. Just like us! (The Verge).
10. Mysterious bugs were used to hack iPhones and Android phones, and no one will talk about it (Vice).
11. Microsoft engineer gets nine years for stealing $10M from Microsoft, Bitcoin couldn’t help hide his tracks (Ars Technica).
12. The more costly disc drive PlayStation 5 is worth the extra money (Wired).
13. Hyundai reportedly in talks to buy Boston Dynamics. A robot dog with a car engine, coming up? (TechCrunch).
14. How to see the more-fireball-than-streaky Northern Taurid meteor shower peak this week (Space).
15. Astronomers conclude Jupiter’s moon Europa likely glows in the dark, thanks to radiation (Nasa/JPL)
16. “Deaf people of Reddit, what is the equivalent of having a song stuck in your head?” (r/askreddit).
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