What M1 means for the future of Apple's Macs

Now that more details about Apple Silicon have been revealed, it’s clear that even the giddiest expectations fell far short of Apple’s real ambitions in building its System-on-a-Chip brains for a new generation of Macs.

Not the iPad Mac

For several years now, long-term Mac fans have fretted that their beloved, 40-something-year-old graphical computing platform was being sidelined as all of Apple’s attention was being focused on the youthful new future of iPads. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has frequently expressed his affinity for the mobility of iPad, causing some to worry he might someday abandon the Mac as a complex relic of the past.

Apple has promoted the iPad as an effortless to use, ultra-light, super thin, long-life computing experience for mainstream audiences. Over the last ten years, the iPad burst onto the scene and radically shifted how educators teach, how salespeople market, how the enterprise deploys digital tools for its workers, and how individuals relax with technology at home.

While iPad has ballooned into a huge new computing platform of hundreds of millions of users, it hasn’t replaced the venerable Mac. Rather than being “cannibalized” by iPads the way that the markets for netbooks and basic PCs were, Mac sales have grown alongside iPads— and not by accident.

Clouds of insistence from analysts and columnists claiming that Apple would— or even should— let go of Mac sales to concentrate on iPads turned out to be ill-informed noise. The idea that Apple needed to merge or integrate its two computing platforms into a “refrigerator toaster” hybrid also proved to be wrong.

Instead, Apple has continued to maintain macOS and iPadOS as separate platforms differentiated by their user interface and the core tasks they perform for different audiences. At the same time, the company has increasingly brought new technologies from one product to the other, making adjustments as needed to fit each’s unique characteristics.

When Apple shipped its first Developer Transition Kit at WWDC, some were surprised that it was effectively a Mac mini enclosure with the internals of an iPad. That again reinforced fears that the future of the Mac might be just a big iPad— similar to how the original iPad ten years ago was dismissed as “just a big iPod touch.”

However, that’s not what Apple will be shipping as its new M1-based Mac mini later this month. Instead, the machine boasts an entirely new chip explicitly optimized for the Mac. And it’s more than just a chip. As a “System on a Chip,” Apple’s new M1 leverages the power of shrinking down and tightly integrating various components into a single part. That’s the real secret that has enabled semiconductors to transform technology and advance the future of computing— the often forgotten partner of the software running above it.

The Big Sur prize

On top of building its silicon, Apple is also unique in the industry as its own software developer. A lot of computing companies once did both— DEC Alpha; SGI and MIPS; IBM and POWER; Sun Sparc and Solaris. But for many years, most PCs shifted to the duopoly of Intel and Microsoft. Developing custom silicon or an original OS software platform just seemed like too much work.

Apple’s new M1 is specifically optimized for macOS Big Sur. While the chip enables Macs to natively run apps developed for iOS and iPadOS for the first time, Big Sur also includes Apple’s Rosetta 2 technology for translating existing Intel apps to run seamlessly as well— in some cases even faster than they would run on Intel chips.

macOS Big Sur

Moving an existing platform to a new processor architecture is a lot of work, fraught with problems. Microsoft has been struggling to get its Windows platform to run effectively on ARM chips since the total failure of Windows RT back in 2012, despite setting expectations for compatibility quite low. Sony experienced some headaches with its new generations of PlayStation video game consoles moving from MIPS to PowerPC to AMD, even with limited expectations of backwards compatibility.

Today, Apple has to deliver a seamless, effortless transition that runs effectively all existing Mac apps on an entirely new CPU architecture. Apple isn’t just shifting from Intel to new CPU cores — it’s also moving the Mac to its own Apple GPU architecture for the first time, while also debuting its Neural Engine on the Mac along with custom ML acceleration blocks, plus a variety of other specialized hardware controllers, codecs, a new image signal processor, a new memory architecture, and a freshly custom-developed Thunderbolt controller supporting the new USB 4 specification.

Reports from Reuters to the Wall Street Journal have tried to suggest that all Apple is doing is moving from Intel chips to a “design from ARM Holdings,” which is entirely false. The new M1 Macs are the most uniquely custom-developed Macs ever, with altogether new blocks of logic all crammed into the most advanced development node available anywhere. ARM doesn’t sell an M1.

TSMC’s state of the art 5nm process for manufacturing ultra-dense semiconductor designs is newly enabling Apple to shrink down an entirely new and incredibly advanced Macintosh logic board into a single chip. This is orders of magnitudes far more sophisticated than Microsoft compiling Windows to run on a Qualcomm 8cx chip “customized” only in the sense of running at a different clock speed.

The last time we saw an entirely new PC this novel and uniquely advanced compared to the status quo was perhaps Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer back in 1988, which similarly incorporated custom logic chips to handle new kinds of processing that had not been done before in a desktop computer.

Apple’s iOS Silicon

All of the new technology on display in the new M1 chip is not, however, merely a version 1.0. Apple has spent the last dozen years perfecting and enhancing its increasingly bespoke silicon designs, including new processing engines, new microcontrollers, and novel security features. Across a decade of iPhone and iPad releases, the company has relentlessly advanced the state of the art within its SoCs while critics continually credited this work to “ARM,” most recently suggesting that Nvidia had somehow snatched up this asset with its acquisition of ARM Holdings.

Nothing could be further from the truth. No other ARM licensee, or manufacturer using chips from some other ARM chip maker, has yet matched the sophistication and pace of Apple’s silicon engineering. And it hasn’t been for want of trying. Samsung dumped massive investments into an effort to build its own M series chips before giving up.

Furthermore, Huawei and other Chinese makers have manufactured ARM reference designs under their own brand names, without achieving Apple’s results. Nvidia desperately tried to beat Apple with its Tegra chips before throwing in the towel in smartphones. Qualcomm has been embarrassed by its fall from mobile chip leader to merely a runner up by Apple ever since it was caught flat-footed by the 64-bit A7 back in 2013.

Intel once spent billions subsidizing Android licensees to produce tablets with its mobile x86 Atom chips before giving up on mobile. And now, Apple is taking its mobile expertise developed to power iOS devices and using it to drive its notebook and desktop Macs, starting with the MacBook Air, 13 inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. The company expects to complete a transition over the next two years. That would be hard to believe from anyone else, certainly after Microsoft’s eight-year struggle to make little progress with Windows for ARM.

But for the company that pulled off a transition to PowerPC processors while crippled with beleaguerment in the 1990s, then rapidly transitioning to Intel chips in 2006 while in parallel launching iPhone, despite still be regarded dismissively by the industry in the mid-2000s, using its new tier of custom silicon to build a new generation of Macs just looks too easy for the two trillion dollar company that now sets standards and defines the products that the rest of the industry meekly seeks to copy.

MacBook Pro notable features list

MacBook Pro notable features list

As I outlined before the M1 announcement, Apple’s move to its own SoCs isn’t just a chip migration. It’s a radical rethinking of desktop PCs that leverages massive amounts of engineering work already completed to deliver iPhones and the light and thin iPad platform, to make them ultra-responsive, radically mobile, and blur the line between hardware and software.

M1 brings ML acceleration, NSP, and a unified graphics architecture to the Mac desktop. And, notably, it optimizes macOS to take advantage of all these technologies from iOS while also freshly optimizing Apple’s iOS SoC silicon to serve Mac tasks, most notably Xcode development, but also Metal-enhanced gaming, hardware-accelerated video editing, iPhone-class digital imaging, and incredibly fast new custom storage and memory architectures. It also brings advances in security, lightning-fast wake from sleep, and dramatically increased battery life— all while also being faster than comparable Intel chips.

Let AppleInsider know what you’d like to know about Apple’s new series of M1 Macs.

Microsoft 365 and Office 2019 updates arrive with Rosetta 2 and Big Sur support

The latest Microsoft 365 and Office 2019 updates make the productivity suite fully compatible with macOS Big Sur and Apple Silicon — but it is not native code for the M1 processor.

The latest release of Microsoft’s Office suite of apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive can be installed on devices that are based on the Apple Silicon architecture. For the best experience, install the November 2020 build 16.43, or newer.

Beyond Apple Silicon compatibility, the new release includes the “latest optimizations for macOS Big Sur” which is expected to be made available on Thursday afternoon.

Microsoft says that the Apple Silicon updates have feature parity with the previous versions. It also says that the first launch of each Office app will take a bit longer, as macOS is generating optimized code for the Apple Silicon processor — confirming that the code isn’t native to Apple Silicon, and is relying on Rosetta 2 for operation.

There does not appear to be any discrete download at this time. The new updates are available through the Microsoft Update utility in macOS.

A Microsoft 365 subscription comes in business, personal and family versions. The business version costs from $5 per month per user, and the personal edition is $6.99 per month.

Microsoft recently announced that it was officially ending support for Office 2016 for Mac on October 13, 2020. Apple Silicon compatibility in Office 2016 is questionable.

Apple TV app is now on PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5

Ahead of the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 5, the PlayStation Network has added the Apple TV app to its store, bringing Apple TV+ to both consoles.

As previously reported to be planned, Sony has added the Apple TV app to its PlayStation Network in the PlayStation Store. It appears to be rolling out steadily and so is not yet available in all territories, but it’s been added in advance of the launch of the PlayStation 5.

It means that PlayStation 4 or 5 owners will have all of the regular Apple TV+ content available to them directly in the console. That includes Apple TV Channels, and also any media bought via the iTunes Store.

Sony earlier confirmed the addition was coming after Xbox beta testers discovered the app on the Xbox App Store.

Apple's MacBook Air with M1 chip outperforms all existing MacBooks in benchmark testing

With Apple’s first Apple silicon Macs due to arrive in the coming days, early benchmark testing on Wednesday reveals the company’s new M1 chip outperforms its top Intel-based machines.

A Geekbench test result from a “MacBookAir10,1,” the designation of Apple’s just-announced MacBook Air with M1 chip, reveals a single-core score of 1687 and a multi-core score of 7433. The 8-core processor was clocked at 3.2 GHz.

By comparison, aggregate scores compiled by the benchmarking site show the M1 blowing past all mobile Macs, all current Mac mini configurations and a healthy portion of iMac specs. That includes the late-2019 MacBook Pro with Intel Core i9-9980HK processor clocked at 2.4 GHz.

According to the unverified results, the MacBook Air testbed was equipped with 8GB of RAM and ran macOS 11.0.1, the forthcoming next-generation operating system due for wide release on Thursday.

In introducing the M1 on Tuesday, Apple touted its first in house-designed Mac chip as a breakthrough for desktop processing. With leading performance per watt and extreme power efficiency, the silicon is expected to shake up the semiconductor market.

Apple outlines device and software leasing in macOS Big Sur licensing agreement

Apple quietly added a new section to the macOS software licensing agreement ahead of Thursday’s release of Big Sur, detailing rules governing equipment and software leasing that are pertinent to services like MacStadium.

First spotted by MacStadium’s Brian Stucki, Apple added a new section to its macOS licensing agreement that lays out, in black-and-white terms, regulations for operating Macs in data centers.

Aptly titled “Leasing for Permitted Developer Services,” the new section effectively approves macOS hosting and assigns directives that companies need to follow in delivering Mac-based services to customers. MacStadium, for example, provides products that enable access to enterprise-class Mac infrastructure for private clouds, dedicated servers, developer operations and more.

Apple allowed server farms to operate, but until now refrained from specifying best practices.

“I’ve had Apple account reps very eager to introduce me to their large clients only to have Apple system engineers shoot down the whole idea as a gray area.'” Stucki writes in a blog post.

He goes on to highlight key terms in the agreement. First, Apple requires companies lease hardware and software “in its entirety to an individual or organization,” ensuring peak performance and a one customer to one machine setup. Lease periods must be 24 consecutive hours and customers need to review and accept licensing terms for all first- and third-party software.

Apple also specifies when leasing can be made available under “Permitted Developer services.” The tech giant notes lessees can tap data centers for “continuous integration services” like software development, automated testing, running developer tools and more. Virtual machines are also supported under Apple’s license.

Stucki notes companies like MacStadium are responsible for enforcing all macOS licensing rules and rolling out services in coordination with Apple’s Developer Relations team.

Apple TV+ to air Oprah interview with President Barack Obama

Oprah Winfrey is set to interview President Barack Obama on an upcoming episode of Apple TV+ series “The Oprah Conversation,” and users without a subscription will be able to watch it.

Credit: AppleCredit: Apple

The episode will debut globally on the Oprah-headed Apple series at 9 a.m. Eastern (6 a.m. Pacific) on Tuesday, Nov. 17. It will be available to watch for free through Tuesday, Dec. 1, meaning that anyone with the Apple TV app will be able to stream it. After that, presumably, it’ll remain available for Apple TV+ subscribers.

Read more…

Apple updates TestFlight with automatic beta build update option

Apple has updated its TestFlight app with a new feature that allows beta testers to automatically install new updates pushed from developers.

The TestFlight platform is a tool that allows developers to prototype apps with a small group of testers before releasing it on the App Store.

With the version 3.0.0 update on Wednesday, TestFlight users can enable a setting that allows new builds to be automatically installed when available. Previously, software distributed via TestFlight needed to be reinstalled manually with each new release.

In addition, Apple says that the update contains bug fixes and under-the-hood improvements that should enhance the app’s stability. The new update comes about a month after Apple updated its App Store Connect app with TestFlight functionality.

Although aimed at developer prototyping and beta testing, a number of TestFlight users have taken to using the platform as a sort of underground and exclusive alternative to the App Store.

The TestFlight app is available as a free downloader here.

Price wars continue to drive down Apple Silicon Mac prices

New deals continue to deliver impressive discounts on brand-new Apple Silicon MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and the Mac mini. Save up to $100 on 13-inch MacBook Pros with optional AppleCare an additional $60 off.

Exclusive Apple Silicon Mac deals

After we covered earlier deals on Apple Silicon Macs, Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama has issued its own set of prices drops available exclusively for AppleInsider readers.

Save up to $100 instantly on the standalone 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini. Plus, MacBook Pro shoppers can grab an additional $60 off AppleCare. All of these discounts are available when you shop through the Adorama pricing links in this post or in the AppleInsider Mac Price Guide and apply coupon code APINSIDER in the same browsing session. These deals are link-activated so you must shop through our links with the code to secure the advertised prices. Step-by-step instructions can be found below.

Apple Silicon Mac promo code deals

New deals on Apple Silicon Macs

13-inch MacBook Pros with Apple Silicon

  • 13″ MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $1,225* ($75 off)
  • 13″ MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB) + AppleCare: $1,399* ($100 off)
  • *Price with promo code APINSIDER using the pricing links above for activation. Plus, save $60 on AppleCare with code.

Apple Silicon MacBook Air deals

  • 13″ MacBook Air (M1, 8GB, 256GB, 7-core GPU): $950* ($50 off)
  • 13″ MacBook Air (M1, 8GB, 512GB, 8-core GPU): $1,199* ($50 off)
  • *Price with coupon code APINSIDER using the pricing links above for activation.

Apple Silicon Mac mini markdowns

  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $675* ($25 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB) + AppleCare: $849* ($50 off)
  • *Price with coupon code APINSIDER (case sensitive) using the pricing links above.

(*) How to apply the APINSIDER coupon

  1. Make sure you’re using a browser with cookies enabled that isn’t in private mode.
  2. Click on the price link to the desired configuration from this article or the Adorama price links in our Price Guides. You MUST click through our links in the same shopping session that you use our coupon. If you try to save a link for late, the coupon WON’T WORK. Once you click through a price link, you’ll see a price that’s higher than advertised (we’ll fix that in a moment).
  3. Add the Apple Silicon Mac to your cart anyway, and when you’re done shopping, begin the checkout process.
  4. Look for a link that says “Do you have a gift card or promo code?” next to the gift icon. Click that to bring up a coupon code field.
    Where to find Adorama coupon code field
  5. Enter the coupon code APINSIDER in the field and click apply. The discount should appear under “Promo Savings” above the order total.
  6. That’s it. As always, if you have any issues, you can reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll try and help.

Additional Apple deals

Lowest Apple prices

AppleInsider and Apple authorized resellers are also running additional exclusive discounts on hardware that will not only deliver the lowest prices on many of the items, but also throw in bonus deals on AppleCare, software and more. Here are some of the offers:

New 'Platypus' attack can extract data from Intel chips, but Macs are mostly safe

A group of researchers have disclosed a new security vulnerability in Intel CPUs that can allow an attacker to extract data — but most Mac users are safe.

The so-called “Platypus” attack targets the Running Average Power Limit (RAPL) component of Intel CPUs. That’s a system that lets firmware and software platforms read how much power a CPU is pulling to complete its tasks, and has long been used to track and debug performance.

In a paper published on Nov. 11, the academics detail how the Platypus attack can determine what data is being processed inside an Intel CPU by analyzing values reported via RAPL.

Using Platypus, which is an acronym for “Power Leakage Attacks: Targeting Your Protected User Secrets,” the researchers found that they could infer the loaded values or data types in a CPU. Those loaded values can include passwords, sensitive documents, encryption keys, or virtually any other type of data.

The attack can also bypass the security mechanisms that typically protect those types of data. By simply looking at variations in power consumption, they can extract data while bypassing features such as kernel address space layout randomization and trusted execution environments.

Researchers, for example, were able to retrieve private RSA keys from a secure enclave by monitoring RAPL data for 100 minutes. They also managed to extract AES encryption keys in an attack targeting an Linux kernel memory space, though that exploit took 26 hours.

Platypus is a first-of-its kind attack because it can be carried out remotely, unlike other exploits that leverage CPU power read-outs. Malicious code leveraging Platypus can be embedded in malicious apps.

The attack was first disclosed by academics from the Graz University of Technology, the University of Birmingham, and the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security.

Who’s at risk

Linux is the most vulnerable operating system because it ships with a universal driver for interacting with RAPL. Attacks on Windows and macOS are possible, though the Intel Power Gadget app must be installed on a target device first.

Both Intel and the Linux kernel have shipped updates mitigating the attack. Intel has released a list of impacted CPUs, but noted that it wasn’t aware of any attacks in the wild leveraging Platypus.

The researchers note that it’s likely other chipmakers are also affected by Platypus, since almost all CPUs include an RAPL interface. That could include AMD chips, as well as ARM-based devices. However, the researchers noted that they haven’t had enough time to evaluate the impact on ARM-based chips.

For users on Intel-based Macs, avoiding or uninstalling the Intel Power Gadget tool is a good way to mitigate the threat of Platypus. It’s also a good idea to only download apps from the App Store or trusted developers.

Microsoft beta build of Apple Silicon-compatible Office for Mac imminent

Microsoft plans to push an Apple Silicon-compatible Universal build of Office for Mac to its beta channel by the end of Wednesday.

Erik Schwiebert, the Principal Software Engineer for Apple products at Microsoft’s Office division made the announcement on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon. Apple began accepting Universal app submissions on Tuesday.

Schwiebert said there’s no official word on a public release date or Universal Office version for final release. Instead, the beta issuance is simply an “initial peek for customers to test on hardware they may be acquiring this week.”

Earlier in November, Microsoft issued a beta build of Excel that introduced Apple Silicon support for SQL Server connectivity settings.