On Tuesday, Apple announced two new laptops — a 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 13-inch MacBook Air — and an updated Mac Mini. Which, meh. Until you peek under their hoods.
The three new computers are the first devices in the world running on processors — called M1 — that Apple designed itself, rather than the Intel processors the company has been using for the last 15 years. There’s no reason why you, a normal person who just wants to use your laptop to do work or watch Netflix, should care about the kind of chip that’s in there (unless you’re a giant nerd about this stuff like I am). But in this case, you might want to pay attention, because these new Apple chips are powerful. And they haven’t made the Macs that run on them any more pricey.
Let me break it down for you.
Most other computer companies make them by mushing off-the-shelf components designed and manufactured by dozens of other companies together and slapping an operating system on top (usually Windows).
Apple, on the other hand, likes being in control of everything about its products — from the way they are designed, created, packaged, marketed, and sold, to the way the software that powers them looks and feels. This gives Apple an unprecedented amount of control over how regular people experience their products.
Except...for more than 15 years, Apple was dependent on another company, the chip giant Intel, to create its computers' processors, the hearts and brains that powered its laptops and desktops. (Trivia: Apple was experimenting with running software on Intel chips as far back as 1992. The project was codenamed Star Trek — “To boldly go where no Mac has gone before” — didn’t go anywhere though.)
A few years ago, Apple started designing and building its own chips for iPhones. Over time, the company became so good at this that its own custom chips that power small, thin devices, like newer iPhones and iPads, are significantly faster and consume way less energy than the Intel chips inside its laptops. If you own a MacBook that’s just a few years old and a recent iPhone, say, an iPhone 12 or an iPhone 11, your pocket-size phone is a lot more powerful than your laptop.
Apple’s own chips now power most of the company’s major products: iPhones, of course, but also iPads, Watches, and even AirPods have tiny Apple chips inside them. And now the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air have them too, making Apple’s control complete.
Because the new laptops announced today have Apple’s new chips in them, here’s how they will feel tangibly better than your current MacBook, even if they don’t look that different on the outside.
The overarching story Apple presented at its Tuesday event: way more powerful computers that are still as thin and light as your current ones at the same price or less, with much better battery lives.
How much more powerful? Apple claimed processor speed increases of two to three times over current-generation computers, and up to six times faster graphics performance, making things like playing graphic-intensive games and video and photo editing blazing fast. Apple said the computers will also be a lot more snappy to use, launching Apple’s own apps almost instantaneously, and waking up from sleep immediately, just like an iPhone or an iPad does when you press the wake button. We’ll have to wait and see how fast apps not made by Apple launch, however.
And because the M1 chip consumes a lot less power, battery life is massively improved. The new MacBook Pro, for instance, gets 20 hours of video playback, Apple said.
One more thing: Since the new chips are based on the same ones that power your iPhone and iPad, you can also run iPhone and iPad apps directly on these laptops.
The new MacBook Air starts at $999, while the MacBook Pro will cost $1,299. The updated Mac Mini will start at $699.
You can order them today, and they will be available next week.
The machines will run Big Sur, Apple’s latest operating system for its laptop and desktop computers. But you don’t need these new laptops to get it. Apple announced that Big Sur will be available to download for your existing laptop on Nov. 12.