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The M1, the future, and the Apple we all need
Tim Cook and his cadre have the unique opportunity to make history - question is, will they take it?
It’s been more than a week since Apple released its M1 Ultra processor and the new Mac Studio — making waves across the entire personal computer industry for a variety of reasons — but many of us are still trying to wrap our heads around the company’s plans for the future. As some had long suspected, Apple did an amazing job at building an architecture that really can upset the status quo in the personal computer market. Amazingly, it is capable of upsetting it at every segment, from the most affordable generic tablet to the most expensive professional workstation. The importance of this cannot be overstated: disruptions of this kind rarely ever happen anymore and this one seems to be happening at the right time, too.
It’s actually something that should be giving AMD and — especially — Intel executives nightmares: after almost three decades of painfully (often intentionally) slow progress in CPU development from these two companies, here comes a third one that re-enters the personal computer market with the intention of carving its own path in it, following a different approach, in less than two years. The M1 family of processors has already proved that it can power almost everything, from a mainstream iPad to a creators-focused mini-workstation, offering comparable or higher performance than similar devices powered by Intel or AMD processors and nVidia or AMD graphics subsystems, while using far less power.
An architecture of disruptive potential
Provided that optimized and/or custom software will closely follow, this transition to Apple silicon has the potential to change everything. It will be exciting to see, for instance, just how powerful the M1 processors can really get with the advent of the rumored M1 Extreme — two M1 Ultra chips interconnected in the same way an M1 Ultra chip comprises of two interconnected M1 Max chips — in the upcoming Mac Pro.
What’s more, because of the flexibility and scalability of this architecture there’s talk of Apple meaning to try out new form factors and/or devices: from an iKeyboard-like entry-level Mac to a 15-inch Macbook Air to a huge foldable iPad Pro to an Apple TV-sized “iPlay” media player/gaming console. The possibilities are almost endless considering that the M1 will be succeeded by an M2, M3, etc. line of faster, smarter, better chips.
Apple seems to be making all the right moves in order to place itself in an advantageous position for the future of computing products or even tech products as a whole. The introduction of the M1 is already having Intel, AMD, nVidia and others rethink their strategies and re-evaluate the importance of innovation and bold bets. The transition of Apple itself to its own silicon will be complete by December and the company will be officially entering a new chapter in its 45-year history in 2023. It will probably be doing so holding more raw potential than ever before.
The question is: how will the Cupertino giant wield this newfound power?
A new chapter, a unique opportunity
Apple has always been a lifestyle-inspired, high-margin-seeking, profit-driven company that puts its own interests — the interests of its shareholders and its executives — above everyone else’s, including the interests of consumers and even its partners. Almost all companies of this type do, but Apple has been particularly single-minded in that regard, to the point of ruthlessness. This is how the company managed to hit the absurd market valuation of 2 trillion dollars (even of 3 trillion briefly), a feat Tim Cook and his lieutenants should be ashamed of and happy for in equal measure.
What Apple should consider doing this time around, though, is think of consumers first. Owning almost every bit of the silicon in its Mx-based devices — the company will be practically buying just memory chips and SSD storage for this hardware from now on — means that it will be saving tons of money from licensing processors, chipsets, graphics subsystems or anything else it once needed in order to build Macs and other products. Those savings should be passed down directly to consumers. They should not be used to extend Apple’s profit margins which are already high (even higher than they should be in many people’s point of view) but rather to extend the company’s reach by making all of its Mx-based products as affordable as they can possibly be.
Is now Apple able to offer an M1 “iKeyboard” Mac for $299 without making much of a profit from it? It should do that. Can it build and sell a 15-inch M2 MacBook Air for less than an M1 MacBook Air costs now? It should do that. Can it help students have their first truly capable Mac Mini for $499 or less? It should do that. We are all pretty sure that Apple would strive to maintain a healthy profit margin in any case, but there’s a lot of room now for driving the prices of its computers or other Mx-based devices down and getting those products into more people’s hands — increasing the use and market share of its operating system, apps, and services in the process.
A chance to give back, the power to make a difference
There’ll be many Apple zealots claiming that the company does not owe anyone anything and that it should keep on operating in the way it currently does. That may be true. What is also true is that Apple has received much, much more than it has given back to society and the world at large for the last 20 years. People have been good to Apple, often loyal to a fault despite the controversy many of the company’s choices have stirred. Now the company should return the favor in a way that can effect real change on a much larger scale than its donations or grants ever did.
It’s not often that famous lines from comics and films apply to the tech industry, but this one does: with great power, comes great responsibility. What the Cupertino giant has the opportunity to do — especially during these turbulent times when people’s access to advanced technology could make a difference in their lives — is show that it understands and accepts that responsibility. Your move, Apple.