Apple’s One More Thing Turned Out to Be Three

on November 11, 2020

Apple announced its transition to Apple Silicon back in June. Since then, industry watchers have been formulating a hypothesis on which Mac will be the first model to sport Apple’s new silicon design. Over the past few events, leakers had left only a few surprises for the official event, but for the “one more thing” event, Apple delivered at least a couple from a device launch perspective as well as its strategy.

A More Aggressive Transition

The MacBook Air was the best bet when guessing where Apple would debut its own silicon. A very popular model in the portfolio, the MacBook Air, would appeal to users who care about mobility, battery life, and a slim design but don’t usually run very intensive workflows. Expectations were met as Apple introduced the MacBook Air as the first home for the new M1 chip.

But Apple did not stop there!

After the MacBook Air, Apple added the M1 chip to a new Mac mini, a model that Apple updated back in 2018. The Mac mini is Apple’s most affordable Mac, and the newly launched model starts at $100 less than its predecessor. This is the only price concession Apple made contrary to what some industry watchers were expecting. Some analysts argued that the in-house design would allow Apple to lower prices without necessarily impacting margins. I was somewhat skeptical of such a move for two reasons. First, Apple is not under any time pressure to get market share. Over the past couple of quarters, sales have been growing due to higher demand driven by Covid-19 and supply issues on the Windows camp. Second, aggressive pricing might have sent the wrong signal on how competitive the new silicon was compared to Intel’s designs. Given the times we are in when people are re-evaluating the tools they are using while working from home, the Mac Mini certainly offers Apple an interesting opportunity.

The big surprise of the event, however, was that the M1 chip made its way into the 13″ MacBook Pro. Most people expected that support for what is considered the most popular Mac model and the model that appeals to more pro users might come in a second wave in 2021 once Apple has some time to put the M1 to a real-world test.

Such a broad portfolio right out of the gate shows the confidence Apple has in its solution overall. The combination of silicon, OS, and apps optimization that Apple claims will deliver unprecedented performance.

The other surprise and sign of confidence on Apple’s part was timing. While we knew a launch would happen before the end of 2020, Tim Cook even confirmed that during the latest earnings call, most expected the first product to ship in 2021.

Macs Get iOS Apps but No Touch

It was fascinating to notice that, at least on Twitter, not many people commented on the lack of touch. It seems as though most have given up even on the idea that Apple might change its mind about adding touch to the Mac.

The M1 ability to support iOS apps without developers having to optimize them would have been the perfect reason to add touch to the Mac. Although they might still not believe in vertical touch, Apple could have explained that they thought users might want that option.

An alternative that could have met users halfway was to add the same cursor solution Apple put on the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard, something I hypothesized since the product was released.

Instead, we have neither.

Maybe this is so that developers actually choose to optimize their apps for the Mac so users can have a better experience. It will certainly be interesting to see if Apple can replicate the developer engagement they had on the iPad. You might remember that when the first iPad came to market, Apple had the 2X option that made iPhone apps run on the larger iPad screen out of the box without developers having to do anything. That played a significant role in helping people see the iPad’s potential, but the actual value came when apps were purposely designed for it. With the Mac, Apple was never able to replicate the success of the iOS app ecosystem. The numbers just did not make it worthwhile for mass-market app developers to invest in the Mac. The hope now is that, as volumes grow from the appeal of the consistency between iPhone and Mac experience, developers might feel different about their investment. If this plays out, Apple would be able to achieve even more differentiation against Windows-based PCs, which should be the ultimate game.

The M1 performance and OS optimization might be enough to get Mac users to upgrade, but Apple cannot stop there. We know switching OS is a much bigger decision for people to make, especially in an enterprise environment. iOS apps’ support can really facilitate that move. It would be much easier for an enterprise that is already supporting iOS devices to justify expanding to the Mac than it ever was to think they needed to add Mac support to their Windows support.

No New Designs

Another expectation people had was that together with the new silicon, there would be a new Mac design for whatever product Apple decided to ship first. This did not turn out to be true. Another clue on how Apple is thinking about the transition to its own silicon design.

The shift is not about differentiating within their portfolio, which would have been easier with a new hardware design. The M1 is about perfecting the Mac formula. Changing the design would have distracted from the true value of these new products. It would have diluted the impact of what Apple is building. Some of the benefits the M1 brings could have enabled a change in design, shaving a couple of millimeters here and there or maybe using a different screen technology. Had Apple done that, like for like comparisons with current products might have been harder to make.

At the “one more thing” event, Apple sold one thing only: the power of vertical integration, what they learned, and made them so successful with the iPhone. If you buy into it, Apple will have a much stickier proposition than any hardware design change they would offer.