Did Apple just show its hand on future low-end MacBooks?

Analysis of the MacBook Pro announcement from friend-of-the-blog John Garner:

Yesterday’s announcements about refreshing the high-end MacBook Pro models effectively gave away Apple’s plans on the less capable models.  As I’ve mentioned multiple times, when you attack to disrupt an existing market, you do it at the low end.  Notice how there were no significant announcements in the low end segments of the laptop models yesterday.

What Apple effectively did yesterday was to recapture their R&D expenses on Intel laptops by releasing models in a high margin segment, and left the medium- and low-end segments for its future A-series laptops.  They

  • kept the pro users happy with a new faster machine,
  • made sure that the funds that they’d spent designing last year’s models which were never released because of failed Intel execution, and
  • bought themselves about six months to get their new ARM chip models ready.

And if you looked closely at the announcement, you can see what technologies will feature in the future lower-end A-series models, i.e., 13.5″ 4k Retina Screen likely with Haptic Engine and TrueTone, much longer battery life (24-hour), 256-512GB SSD, 7nm six-core ARM chip with T2 chip built-in clocked at about 2GHz, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and 8-16GB of RAM; priced at about $1000 USD.  Performance measured with GeekBench 4 will likely be about 4500-5000 single core and 10-12000 with multiple cores.

Personally, I’m pleased because the new MacBook Pro finally offers me the RAM and the speed which will justify buying a new laptop.  (Mine is actually 9 years old.)  I aim to double RAM, storage, processor performance, and ideally screen resolution every time that I upgrade.  I used to upgrade every 2-2.5 years; it’s been a long wait (but this 2009 MacBook Pro has also been a wonderful machine.)

My take: I got a little lost there in the geeky weeds, but sounds plausible to me.

8 Comments

  1. David Emery said:

    It’s fascinating to me how popular the earlier series are, ending with the mid ’15 model, that have USB2 and SD card slots. I’m strongly considering buying one of those instead of a newer model (to replace my mid ’14.). It’ll be a couple less dongly-things I’d have to carry with me when I travel (I do a lot of photography and would really miss the SD slot.)

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    July 13, 2018
  2. Fred Stein said:

    Great to hear refresh at the low-end.

    Rene Ritche’s review of the Pro line-up suggests a big up-tick in revenue. There are many true professionals, people who make their living using the Mac to produce digital content. Their productivity gains easily justify the cost of upgrades. This will wake up analysts when the results come in, next two quarters.

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    July 13, 2018
  3. Gregg Thurman said:

    I can see the logic in Garner’s treatise up to his timeline.

    To be a viable product it is going to need MacOS apps coded to run on A-Series processors, or in the alternative, iOS apps that can run on MacOS. Either way, developers are going to need more than a year from WWDC 2018 to complete the rewrites.

    Apple could be abandoning significant R&D expenditures on low end laptops until the transition to A-Series occur (Fall 2019?).

    Whenever Apple makes the switch it will be top to bottom, not just low end.

    There is no point in producing two variants that will each need support for at least 5 years.

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    July 13, 2018
  4. Steven Noyes said:

    I have no idea what the excitement over an A series MacBook is. I mean, none. Not one little bit.

    There are strong advantages in staying with Intel besides basic raw performance (yes, Intel is steps ahead of ARM in desktop performance). I can think of not one single technical reason to move macOS to ARM. Not one reason.

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    July 14, 2018
    • Gregg Thurman said:

      If I understand Bitcode correctly, it means iOS apps could run on Intel chips without a major rewrite or vice versa (Mac apps from Intel to A-Series), when appropriate.

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      July 14, 2018
      • Steven Noyes said:

        You don’t really understand it correctly. While Apple has done stunning things with the A Series processors for iOS, the ARM chips still have some serious performance issues when it comes to various exception latencies that impact desktop apps more than mobile. Chief among these is the MMU. In this one area (an area heavily leveraged by desktop), Intel has a huge performance difference than the current ARM designs.

        As for Bitcode, that is within the same platform at this point and not across platforms. It is interesting but still along way off and FORCES all developers to go through the central AppStore and this is something many developers are reluctant to do on macOS.

        How long did it take to get native versions of Office and Photoshop? 3 years or so? I personally don’t want to go through that again. And what about VMWare? I would not be surprised if 30%-40% of macOS users also run VM’s and not having a robust VM for Intel processors would be a deal breaker.

        One big advantage this time, however, would be Endianness would not change from Apple’s A series and Intel’s X-86 since both are using little Endianness. This make regression testing much easier and faster. Performance, wise, however, the best A series are still a long way behind the mid grade Intel chips and this is not a backward step I think the user base really wants to take.

        At the end of the day, I see no technical reasons to justify a switch for macOS to ARM. There are lots of downside risks and almost no upsides. It might happen, I just don’t see it.

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        July 15, 2018
  5. Gregg Thurman said:

    THANK YOU JOHN KONOPKA ! ! !

    Bitcode changes everything in my line of thinking.

    I’m just guessing now, but it would seem that making your current app Bitcode compliant will be far easier than rewriting for a different processor. Am I thinking this through correctly? If so, switching to any processor other than Intel could happen much faster than previously thought.

    John, can you keep us informed on the progress of Bitcode? Knowing it’s progress may present a golden opportunity to short INTC.

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    July 14, 2018

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