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  • M1 Powered MacBooks To Drastically Change The Way Laptops Work? Or A Ploy For Platform Control

    With the release of Apple's first M1 powered MacBooks, the tech world has been shocked by the actual performance of these machines after they created much anticipated hype on papers. Apple's processing prowess had yet been measured in its A-series chips for iPhones and iPads which remains unmatched since more than a decade. The change, however, recently transformed the way we see laptops and our expectations surrounding these machines. 

    Ever since Apple announced the move to an entirely new breed of processors for its MacBooks, there had been much anticipation which was closely matched by an equal amount of skepticism. Apple claimed faster MacBooks with close to 20-hour battery backup which sounded ridiculous, but yet people banked on the thought since it was Apple. 

    The Story Until

    The first passengers on the ARM processors aboard the hype-train were companies like Qualcomm and Microsoft which failed to deliver when results were evaluated besides promises. It was in fact clear that Microsoft wanted to show-off what Windows could do on an ARM based system in the Surface Pro X. Several experts were quoted saying that these Surface machines are built for a world that does not even exist. [source

    The Apple Story

    Apple has in fact made sure that its promises hold fulfilled. Several users and developers have noted significant speed in terms of processing. Basic tasks like browsing/streaming etc. seem faster than ever. Even apps with no ARM compatibility run faster than they did on intel macs through the emulator: Rosetta. Here is an instance of compiling speeds achieved on the M1 MacBooks as opposed to the intel ones.

    The difference is notable enough to not ignore. However, most apps need to rely on the Apple emulator to run on the new Macs. That certainly raises concerns about how Rosetta handles App updates should the native ARM versions see a delay in the launch of native Apps. 

    Most larger companies will certainly accomplish and adapt, meanwhile the small developers and the Apps that do not posses the capital to invest in building an ARM native version of Apps will suffer. 

    Apple's Solution To The Money Matters

    Apple's solution is, on the hindsight, an effort to control its platform. This includes complete control over hardware, and a complete control over 3rd party software distribution on top of that.

    Apple has been encouraging developers to build ARM native Apps for MacBooks ever since the release of MacOS Catalina which saw the end of 32-bit applications. The adaptation back in 2018 was swift and most users didn't even notice the change, this one, however, is bigger. Most softwares, and especially, the creative ones (that Apple claims to build machines for) are based on the x86 architecture. 

    Despite that, even with Rosetta, Apple doesn't fail to deliver speed and efficiency. An article published in PC magazine saw the M1 MacBooks overpower intel counterparts and even machines like the Dell XPS 13 in a series of benchmark tests. 

     

    Screen Shot 2020-11-23 at 1.32.16 PM.png

    Image : PC Magazine

    Additionally, Apple announced that its Small Business Program will now only charge developers 15% of total sales under a threshold as opposed to 30% previously. This is a bid to encourage developers to build native Applications for the ARM MacBooks and thus empower the Apple ecosystem control.

    And Intel-AMD Race

    For years, Intel and AMD have been having a Dohori of sorts as both tried to topple one another in terms of speed and performance. Apple, it seems, has been in a completely different ballpark all together. Unlike most Laptop manufacturers out there, Apple already had experience working with an all owned platform with its iPhones and tablets. As it has been noted countless times previously, the company is spared the compromises that competition has to make when deciding a system that works well with everything. On the contrary, Apple, given its already large fanbase, has to focus on performance alone. 

    Additionally, it is not just the hardware. Apple's software is also optimized specifically to the hardware's capacity and limitations. Jon Gruber wrote an excellent piece on the M1 processors where he talks about claims from Dave Smith, and basically tells us that since Apple's building the processors from scratch, its software is able to achieve up to 5 times the speed on half the RAM usage than it could on even the best of x86 optimizations. 

     

    With one company able to control much of how a machine works, we are certainly seeing improved performance over the ones controlled collectively by a conglomerate of different interests and expertise. This absolute control, however, doesn't sit right with some people who are concerned about the future of 'choice' and will. 

    The Concerns of Control

    Performance aside, several experts have expressed concerns over how users are handing Apple full control of everything (on top of the ecosystem of devices). The switch of MacBooks to ARM means that the support for Bootcamp and Hackintosh is now over. While the switch to ARM doesn't directly kill Bootcamp or 3rd party hardware running macOS, the side effect certainly kills of such modifications (of software that you paid for). 

    However, Apple lovers defended the claim as they pointed out that we'll see several manufacturers shift to ARM long before Apple officially ends support for its existing x86 based systems. 

    Concerns have also been raised over killing intel based Apps which Apple has defended citing its emulator support which they claim won't end unless they can enable most developers to build an ARM native app. However, what this does to small scale developers remains to be seen still. 

    We cannot say that this 'innovation'/'Power Control' measure is positive or negative just yet. The pros and cons of a fully controlled system will need more time to be evaluated. Until then we can only sit back to marvel at what Apple has been able to achieve through its M1 chips, while the rest of us who can't do that will sit back in skepticism about what this means for tech freedom and complete ownership of devices/services that we pay for! 

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