How the M1 Processor Represents Apple’s Return to Form

As a brand, many affiliate Apple with technological innovations in the computer industry. Historically speaking, who could blame them? The Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, iPad, and, of course, the iPhone were all devices that disrupted the entire industry and are largely responsible for making Apple the industry titan it is today. After the death of Steve Jobs, Apple entered a state of technological stagnation when it came to innovation. While resting on a solid foundation of devices, Apple focused more on incremental, yet meaningful improvements to their product line. The subsequent iPhones became lighter and faster than the previous ones, while sporting better cameras and boasting new features. The same philosophy extended to their other products.

The new MacBooks used faster processors supplied by Intel in addition to better screens and fewer ports. Apple fans have later come to expect that Apple was no longer interested in being the trendsetter, but rather they focused on refining the already established conventions. While they did introduce the Apple Watch, which is their latest addition to the Apple family of products, it did not necessarily disrupt the industry, rather it was simply a high-tech accessory item. Eventually, Apple heavily expanded their business into subscription services by launching several services, such as Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Fitness+. Upon announcing the latest service, Apple revealed another subscription service that would merge a number of their other services together called Apple One.

With this deluge of services, it became clear to fans that Apple was seeking to prioritize increasing revenue rather than produce innovative bleeding-edge hardware. For a period of time, it seemed that Apple lost what made the company unique in the first place. The emphasis on subscription services, incremental upgrades to their hardware, and the overall unexciting nature of the brand. Apple has entered a ‘business-as-usual’ stage and they were coasting off the success of their products on an annual basis. That is, until they decided to shake things up again. Since 2020, Apple has been moving away from Intel-powered computing and started to use their own silicon. As a result of this shift away from Intel, Apple realized they needed to radically redesign their own hardware, which means their entire product family (outside of the iPhone and Apple Watch) needed a makeover.

The Macbook Air and Pro, iPad Air and Pro, iMac, Mac Mini, and the brand-new Mac Studio are all powered by Apple’s M1 processors, their in-house developed chip. Reception for these upgrades have been immensely positive so far. Their hardware is blisteringly quick, while maintaining remarkable power efficiency, even during peak performance. While these processors have their own bottlenecks, being based off of Apple’s mobile architecture, it still demonstrates the capabilities of Apple’s in-house manufacturing. Apple’s most powerful M1 variant, the M1 Ultra, is their fastest processor yet while drawing significantly less power than the most expensive GPU on the market and still outperforming Apple’s most expensive workstations on sale today. While Apple has exaggerated its performance metrics, the M1 Ultra is still an impressive feat. In addition to the new silicon, Apple redesigned most of their product family, further illustrating the new generation of Apple computing.

So, in a matter of a couple of years, Apple has reinvigorated itself as the premier brand for professionals and creators. The company has announced that their flagship workstation, the Mac Pro, will be receiving the Apple silicon treatment. Many fans speculate this could be the introduction of the long-rumored M2 processor, which would serve as a benchmark for ARM-based chips. This new line of M1-powered Apple computers are not only quite capable from a technical standpoint, but they are also competitively priced. Apple has long had a reputation of charging higher premiums for their products, which caused the term “Apple tax” to emerge. Today, Apple’s latest products seem surprisingly fairly priced. The Mac Studio, Apple’s new compact workstation, starts at $2,000 or $4,000 with the new M1 Ultra variant installed in the unit.

Image courtesy of Engadget

Top-of-the-line workstations from other manufacturers are either similarly priced or are more expensive than Apple’s new slate of computers, which positions Apple as the cheaper, more accessible alternative to professionals. To the everyday consumer who just needs a computer that works, they probably won’t need to spend two grand on a Mac Studio, but most people don’t need expensive workstations. Other Apple computers such as the MacBook Air, iMac, and even the iPad Pro are less expensive, yet still very capable computers. For gamers, Windows computers are still the way to go, unless they’re completely sold by Apple Arcade’s selection of mobile games or are content with mostly playing ‘Overwatch’. However, Apple has done perfectly fine by focusing on mobile gaming as their revenue dwarfs the major console manufacturers.

While being remarkably efficient and powerful processors, Apple’s M1 chips are more than just a much-needed enhancement above the Intel chips. They represent a return to Apple’s status as the bleeding-edge trendsetters that made them a valuable brand in the first place. They allow their computers to give the competition a headache again. With their reasonable price, attractive design, and impressive speed, Apple has now challenged their former business partner Intel for producing less capable, yet more power-hungry processors. Apple also challenged their Windows-based counterparts who are now the ones charging as much or more for less technically proficient machines.

While Apple may have lost their adversarial marketing edge of yore, they still have the spirit of shifting the weight of the industry in their favor. Of course, they are no means an underdog, being valued as a $2 trillion corporation and having billions of costumers. Apple still validates themselves as an alternative by selling wholly unique hardware and software. You cannot have a Windows PC run on Apple’s silicon, so you would need to buy a Mac. The M1 was the missing piece to Apple’s puzzle. The industry caught up to them in nearly every regard, whether it be their laptops or desktops or smartphones (only the iPad remains unparalleled), so they had to think of something that could help unify their brand even further. This is where M1 entered the picture and, thus, the Apple brand became whole again.

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Peter Finaldi

Graduate at Rutgers University. Writes about movies, video games, and anything else that I find interesting. My twitter: @PeterJFinaldi