New Macbook Pros only make me long for an Ap­ple cus­tom pro­ces­sor even more

The heart of the Mac is hold­ing it back.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Ap­ple un­veiled new Macbook Pros ( go.mac­world.com/mpcl) in July and they bring much of the en­hance­ments we ex­pected they would: Pow­er­ful new eighth-gen In­tel pro­ces­sors, new DDR4 RAM with dou­ble the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity, and—hal­lelu­jah—a qui­eter key­board.

It also has a big­ger bat­tery, but be­fore you get too ex­cited, there aren’t any ac­tual real-world gains from it. The new Macbook Pros are rated for the same “up to 10 hours

wire­less web and itunes movie play­back,” but good luck get­ting any­where near that with ac­tual work. Any­one who is us­ing their Mac pri­mar­ily for “wire­less web” surf­ing prob­a­bly shouldn’t be wast­ing their money on a $2,000 Macbook Pro.

The Macbook Pro up­dates are about speed. Ap­ple claims a boost of up to 70 per­cent for the 15-inch Macbook Pro and a whop­ping 100 per­cent in­crease for the 13-inch mod­els, which will surely make their tar­get au­di­ence happy.

A speed boost is nice and all, but the Macbook Pro will spend at least an­other year with­out adding much to the gen­eral lap­top con­ver­sa­tion. While brands like Mi­crosoft, Len­ovo, and Huawei have been in­no­vat­ing with de­signs and con­cepts that push the PC into the fu­ture, Ap­ple’s lap­tops are still stuck in the past, de­spite their in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance gains.

If that’s go­ing to change, Ap­ple needs to take con­trol of the Macbook Pro’s most im­por­tant com­po­nent: the pro­ces­sor.

ONE CHIP TO RULE THEM ALL

Ap­ple’s A-se­ries chips are ar­guably the most im­por­tant part of the iphone. It’s not

just the speed boost that gives the lat­est iphone an ad­van­tage over its An­droid com­peti­tors, but it al­lows Ap­ple to in­no­vate in other ar­eas as well. If Ap­ple was us­ing off-the-shelf pro­ces­sors, we likely wouldn’t have Face ID, the iphone X’s uni­form slim-bezel de­sign, or all-day bat­tery life. And they wouldn’t have any­where near the graph­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties that power games and AR apps.

The A11 Bionic chip lets Ap­ple op­ti­mize the sys­tem not just for speed, but for power ef­fi­ciency, ther­mal man­age­ment, and sta­bil­ity to al­low for im­prove­ments through­out all as­pects of the phone. Ap­ple’s A-se­ries pro­ces­sors have brought other sil­i­con-based in­no­va­tions, such as the W1 Blue­tooth chip, Se­cure En­clave, and S se­ries Ap­ple Watch pro­ces­sors, all of which work along­side the iphone’s core pro­ces­sor to cre­ate a seam­less, se­cure sys­tem un­ri­valed by any­thing run­ning An­droid.

But while Ap­ple has boosted the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Macbook Pro and imac Pro with its cus­tom T1 and T2 chips ( go. mac­world.com/t2pr), the front-fac­ing in­no­va­tions aren’t so ob­vi­ous. The most vis­i­ble (and con­tro­ver­sial) is the Touch Bar, but oth­er­wise, Ap­ple’s chips mainly repli­cate tasks that were pre­vi­ously han­dled by other con­trollers, such as se­cu­rity, au­dio, and Face­time cam­era pro­cess­ing. And on the new Macbook

Pros, the T2 chip also beefs up the se­cu­rity and al­lows for “Hey, Siri” (with­out a com­plex work­around [ go.mac­world.com/ h2sa]). That’s all well and good, but it’s a long way from the kind of sys­temwide in­no­va­tion we get with each new model of the iphone.

CHIPS AND DIPS

With the ex­cep­tion of the Touch Bar, Ap­ple hasn’t had a truly ex­cit­ing new fea­ture in its lap­tops for quite some time. While Mi­crosoft is con­tin­u­ing to re­fine its Sur­face tablet hy­brid ( go.mac­world.com/sf17) and Huawei is ex­per­i­ment­ing with ul­tra­slim bezels and spill-proof key­boards ( go. mac­world.com/mxpr), Ap­ple’s Macbooks have evolved in steps rather than leaps, mainly be­cause of the up­hill bat­tle it faces with us­ing In­tel pro­ces­sors. In­tel does much of the work for its PC part­ners, but the macos sys­tem means Ap­ple is largely left on its own with in­te­grat­ing and op­ti­miz­ing the new­est chips, mak­ing it that much more dif­fi­cult to roll out new mod­els that take ad­van­tage of the lat­est

ar­chi­tec­ture ad­vance­ments.

With True Tone dis­plays, loads of RAM, and the Black­magic EGPU, this new Macbook Pro up­date proves that Ap­ple truly cares about its pro Mac prod­ucts. But it also high­lights just how far be­hind Ap­ple’s lap­tops have fallen. The lat­est In­tel chips are fine and the speed boosts should keep de­vel­op­ers and creative pros happy for the next 12 months or so, but what was once the strong­est war­rior on the road is merely the other op­tion for peo­ple who don’t want to use Win­dows. Noth­ing about the new Macbook Pro will tempt peo­ple from out­side the walled gar­den, and that’s not go­ing to change un­til Ap­ple takes over the whole sys­tem.

A cus­tom pro­ces­sor opens the Mac up to a world of op­por­tu­nity. Not only will it let Ap­ple amp up the speed and power ef­fi­ciency so we can fi­nally get a Mac lap­top that lasts all day and chal­lenges the top gam­ing lap­tops, but it will also let

Ap­ple of­fer up­dates on its own terms while open­ing up the Mac to iphone-like in­no­va­tions, the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. Even if we never get the hy­brid Mac (or Mac-life ma­chine) we all want, the ad­vance­ments in Siri, ma­chine learn­ing, and IOS in­ter­op­er­abil­ity brought by a cus­tom Ap­ple pro­ces­sor would take the Mac to new heights, while still giv­ing pros the speed they need.

IN­TEL OUT­SIDE

Ear­lier this year, a Bloomberg ru­mor sug­gested that Ap­ple is in­deed work­ing on a cus­tom pro­ces­sor ( go.mac­world. com/apcp) for its Mac com­put­ers, re­port­edly start­ing with the Macbook and Macbook Air. The goal would be to roll out the first Ap­ple pro­ces­sor-pow­ered Macs by 2020, which means the process will be a slow one, likely reach­ing the Macbook Pros last.

That makes sense. Ap­ple doesn’t break down its Mac sales by seg­ment, but I’m will­ing to guess that the ma­jor­ity of note­books are of the Pro va­ri­ety, which of­fer tremen­dous speed and screen up­grades over the lower-end mod­els. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for im­prove­ment. Lit­er­ally. Ap­ple’s Macbook Pro form fac­tor ac­tu­ally hin­ders the top speed ( go.mac­world.com/18mp) of the In­tel chips it uses. Ap­ple’s new Macbook Pros might be way faster than yes­ter­day’s mod­els, but they’re still slower than the fastest PC notebook avail­able, even if you max out the specs all the way to $6,700.

There was a time when things like 17-inch screens, back­lit key­boards, and track­pads marked Ap­ple’s lap­top in­no­va­tions, Ap­ple’s edge there is all but gone too. And un­til Ap­ple wrests con­trol of the pro­ces­sor from In­tel, it’s likely to stay that way. ■

The T2 chip gives us a taste of what Ap­ple can do with a cus­tom pro­ces­sor.

The Mate­book X bor­rows some of the Macbook’s stylings for sure, but its near–bezel­less screen is in a class by it­self.

A Macbook Pro with a cus­tom pro­ces­sor would be even bet­ter for creative pro­fes­sion­als like mu­si­cian Spencer Lud­wig.

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