6 things we learned from Apple’s big Mac event

11 Nov 2020

Image: Apple

All the essential details from Apple’s latest tech showcase, including the new MacBook Pro and the M1 system-on-a-chip.

Apple has already revealed plenty of new products in recent months, including its latest Apple Watch and iPad devices and the new iPhone 12 range.

On Tuesday (10 November) Apple’s One More Thing event showcased its latest products in the Mac family. Here’s what we learned from all the announcements.

The M1 signals Intel’s end with Apple Macs

Earlier this year, Apple revealed that it would be moving away from Intel processors to silicon of its own making for the Mac range. It has now revealed the first products in that two-year transition – including its M1 chip.

The Arm-based M1 processor is expected to be strongly based on the A14 architecture used in iPhones. The 5nm system-on-a chip includes an octa-core processor, which Apple described as market-leading in terms of speed, performance and efficiency.

Built to tackle machine learning operations, the M1 has a neural engine that features a 16-core architecture, which Apple claimed is capable of 11trn operations per second.

“[The M1] builds on more than a decade of designing industry-leading chips for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, and ushers in a whole new era for the Mac,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice-president of hardware technologies.

Thanks to the M1 chip and the next Mac operating system (more on that below), users will be able to run iOS apps directly on Mac for the first time ever.

An open MacBook Pro showing video editing software on the screen.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro. Image: Apple

The new MacBook Pro beats any Mac for battery life

As expected, this M1 chip is set to feature in Apple’s new Mac line-up. For the 13-inch MacBook Pro, this means faster processing, faster graphics, faster machine learning capabilities and up to 20 hours of battery life – twice the battery life of the previous generation and the longest of any Mac, according to Apple.

Shipping from 17 November, the M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro will be available with up to 512GB of storage and prices starting from €1,425.

A rose-coloured MacBook Air opened to display the full keyboard.

The MacBook Air with M1. Image: Apple

The new MacBook Air gets creative with the keyboard

Also getting the M1 treatment is the 13-inch MacBook Air, which claims more than three times better CPU performance on the previous generation. Battery power is expected to be the longest of any MacBook Air and Apple claims that the power efficiency of the M1 means the new MacBook Air’s high performance can be packed into a completely silent, slim, fanless design.

The latest design also features dedicated keys for Apple’s Do Not Disturb, Dictation and Spotlight features (replacing the Launchpad and keyboard brightness commands that used to be found in this row of function keys). The new Air keyboard also includes a globe emoji on the bottom-left function key to enable quick emoji access, according to 9to5Mac.

The MacBook Air range is now solely sold with Apple silicon chips. These devices are shipping from 17 November, starting at €1,110.

A desktop computer set-up with the Mac Mini. The screen shows coding on the left-hand side with an image of a girl on the right stylised with graphics.

The Mac Mini with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Image: Apple

The new Mac Mini is higher performance at a lower price

The last device in this round of releases to get the M1 chip is the Mac Mini, Apple’s desktop computer.

The updated Mac Mini offers three times the performance of the previous generation and a six-fold increase in graphics performance. To keep all this contained in a cool, quiet and compact package, Apple has had to introduce an advanced thermal design.

Surprisingly, for the upgraded specifications, the new Mac Mini comes in at a lower price than the previous generation quad-core model. Also shipping from 17 November, the M1-based Mac Mini starts at €786, with configurations offering up to 512GB of storage.

A Mac Mini with a Pro Display monitor showing a different windows working on a rhino animation.

A Mac Mini with a Pro Display running the Big Sur operating system. Image: Apple

Big Sur is big on privacy concerns

As well as new chips, Apple’s new Mac line-up will come with a new operating system. MacOS Big Sur will be available from 12 November, featuring some big design changes and new app features.

One of the key selling points of Big Sur is speed, as the demo showcased how quickly a laptop running this OS could power up and load apps. As already mentioned, combined with the M1, Big Sur will allow users to run apps from the iPhone or iPad on their Mac computers, and much of the aesthetic for the new operating system has been borrowed from iOS.

Big Sur also comes with a privacy focus. An updated Safari will include a privacy report listing trackers the browser has blocked in the past 30 days and a password monitoring tool that will alert you if any saved passwords have been involved in a data breach. The App Store on Big Sur will also inform users of the kind of data apps might collect and if it is shared with third parties.

The new line-up is (somewhat) ready for remote working

Among the new features added to the 13-inch MacBook Pro are what Apple described as “studio-quality” mics and improved camera technology for sharper video.

However, while Apple is clearly trying to sell the benefits of these new computers to remote workers relying on video calls, others have criticised the company for sticking with 720p resolution for its webcams in both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. That said, the devices have been updated with better noise reduction, dynamic range and machine-learning-based face detection.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.