Apple's M1 Challenges All Competition

Price is a PC's only advantage

Key Takeaways

  • Apple’s M1 chip is far ahead of the competition.
  • The M1 is designed to perfectly match the Mac’s software, which gives it a huge advantage.
  • Now that Apple controls the chips, it could offer lower-priced Macs, like it does with the iPhone.
Graphic of Apple's M1 chip

The M1 chip is faster than almost any other computer chip available today, yet it sips power and stays cool like the phone chip it is. It’s likely going to change the rest of the PC industry, just like the iPhone destroyed Blackberry and the rest of the 2007 smartphone industry.

Here’s the state of the computer market until last week: Windows PCs, running on Intel and AMD-based systems, and Macs running on Intel. Price and performance of all computers was comparable, with Apple only operating in the higher-priced end of the market. And even that might change.

"The most exciting—or frightening, if you’re a traditional PC chip company—part of Apple’s new chips is that the M1 is just the starting point,” writes The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg. "It’s Apple’s first-generation processor, designed to replace the chips in Apple’s weakest, cheapest laptops and desktops."

M1 vs the World

As of the launch of the M1 on Nov. 10, it looks like this: On one side, there’s Windows on Intel and AMD, running hot, with noisy fans and terrible battery life. On the other is the Mac, which lasts all day on one charge, never gets hot or noisy, and runs your iOS apps. Its also faster than every PC a regular consumer would buy.

What happens next? The M1 is going to change the Windows/Intel world.

Apple’s Macs are now so much better that many buyers may switch just for the speed. Even if they know or care nothing about the differences between Intel and Apple Silicon, laptop buyers will soon know the $999 MacBook Air is faster than any other computer for that price, and that they can take it to school (or work, or on a business trip) and use it all day without plugging it in. 

Apple M1 CPU power chart claiming M1 is up to 2x faster

Intel and AMD may have nothing like this available any time soon, and even if they could, they couldn’t match Apple’s integration of software and hardware, which is one big reason these M1 Macs are so good. While chip manufacturers have to make relatively generic chips that appeal to a broad range of manufacturers, Apple only has to make chips for the macOS and iOS.

"It’s not just that Apple’s hardware is faster," writes Gartenberg, "it’s that Apple’s software is designed to make the most of that hardware, in a way that even the best optimization of macOS on an x86 system wasn’t."

A Right Old Pickle

This all leaves Intel, AMD, and even Windows in a bit of a pickle. For one, neither Intel nor AMD look like it’s beating the M1 in pure hardware terms anytime soon. And even if they could, it would require an OS vendor like Microsoft to get deeply involved in the chip-design process in order to come close to Apple’s integration.

This means that Windows PCs can only compete with Apple on price. The very high end of the market is still there, with Intel chips still able to outperform the M1, but not by much. The MacBook Air is only beaten by Apple’s own Mac Pro in a handful of tests, but Apple plans to have the Mac Pro running Apple Silicon within two years. This means that the only reason anybody would buy a PC laptop is because they prefer Windows, despite the way worse performance and battery, or they don’t want to spend $999 on the Air.

Price Umbrella

Back in 2009, Tim Cook was already laying out his iPhone strategy. "One thing we'll make sure is that we don't leave a price umbrella for people," he said during an earnings call. Cook’s Apple likes to sell cheaper iPhones and iPads, and it does this in two ways. One is to keep the old models around, lowering their prices after new models replace them. The other is to have cheaper products like the entry-level iPad and the iPhone SE. 

Imagine this strategy applied to the Mac. Now that Apple makes its own chips, it can enjoy the same cost savings as on the iPhone. The more chips you make, the cheaper they get. And when the M2 inevitably arrives next year, the M1 will be old tech, and easier to make. When it used Intel chips, Intel reaped these savings. Now, though, Apple can take those savings and apply them to its Macs. 

You want the latest M3 MacBook Air? $999. But perhaps you’re happy with an M1 model, in which case you’ll pay, say, $799.

M1 MacBook Air, M1 MacBook Pro, and 16-inch MacBook Pro side by side on Apple's website

All of this adds up to good news for Apple, great news for Mac users, and terrible news for other chip makers. It could also be bad news for people who prefer Windows, unless this provokes a big change in the way Microsoft does things. 

As of now, the power in the PC world has shifted. "No one talks about not getting fired for buying IBM anymore," writes Apple pundit John Gruber. "Soon, no one will think you always lose betting against Intel and x86."

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