Apple’s new MacBook Pro over ARM has three great advantages and a major problem

The 20 July update below, originally published on 19 July.

Confirmation of Apple’s move from Intel-based processors to ARM-based processors on the Mac platform will affect consumers for years, if not decades, to come. This year’s ARM-powered MacBook Pro will be on the cutting edge of a transformational plan.

It is right to be excited about this move and its impact on Apple and the broader industry, but the transition will not be without risk. Here are three areas where MacOS is going to deliver over ARM … and a threat that you should be aware of.

July 20 update: As Apple has pushed ARM into the foreground, it is worth remembering that the transition is not instantaneous. Not only will new Intel-powered machines remain on sale, but MacOS will support the old architecture for years to come; Note that MacOS 11 will support Macs from Big Sur 2013.

Brooke Crops discusses this issue. While the obvious call is to wait for new technology, which is what I’m looking for here, Crops has a good counter argument for staying with Intel and buying a new Intel machine today:

“After Apple announced its transition to Intel in 2005, it took Apple almost four years to come up with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, the first OS that no longer supported older PowerPC processors. What will the transition look like this time? I don’t know, but, again, your Intel-based MacBook won’t be instantly obsolete, either way. “

MacOS at Intel remains a solid choice with few cavities. For those who want to join Apple on the erosion of the ARM revolution, read on for the benefits and disadvantages…

Macbook is going to be thin

Even though this new MacBook Pro has a keyboard and screen wrapped in aluminum with a glass trackpad and not enough ports (which MacBook has enough ports?), The MacBook powered by ARM is going to be a redesigned one.

Apple’s prediction for thin and light machines would be well served by ARM’s switch. I hope that – like the iPad and iPad Pro – fans will not be needed to help cool the laptop. Thermal design will still be important, but you can pack the MacBook board as densely as an Apple Mac board with less heat to overcome the core.

One of the thinnest MacBooks yet, compared to ARM-powered MacBooks.


There are going to be questions about the relative performance of ARM processors compared to Intel-powered Macs – as well as comparisons of Windows 10 over ARMs (although early benchmarks appear to favor Apple). The eyes will be on MacOS 11 and it will continue to serve millions of Intel machines currently in use, along with optimization for ARM.

It is not just raw power where performance can be improved. ARM processors should be more efficient in using battery power. It can see a laptop that will comfortably reach twenty hours of battery life when in use. Assuming that Apple stays the same size as the battery. It can stay in the current endurance window and reduce capacity, which will help build a thinner and lighter machine once.

The other area provides better performance over ARM connectivity, specifically LTE. One look at the specs of many ‘Pro’ Windows 10 machines and you will see the cellular connection available. This is not something you find on MacBook Pro hardware, rather it is on the iPad Pro. While Apple has not previously confirmed any specification for consumer-centric ARM machines, adding LTE support should be considered.

Apple’s attention

MacOS has not appeared anywhere on ARM. Apple’s engineering team has been working on this internally for many years, and some of the major third-party software will be working with the new architecture. The lack of ‘new’ features in MacOS over the past few years has left the MacBook range looking particularly like Apple’s secondary team behind the iPhone and iPad families.

How far below Apple is from a powerful standalone computer running a Mac from a cloud connected device, or more engineers assigned to ARM instead of Intel, is unlikely to give a clean answer.

But ARM is the future of the Mac platform. Apple would not like to top the ball on this one, in fact it would not only want to push growth vigorously, it would be seen to push development in public.

This means that MacOS is going to get a lot of attention over the next two years, which should be of great benefit to the platform and will build confidence in the new ARM world.

The cutting edge threat

From a practical point of view, MacOS on ARM is a very new thing. It may have been tested inside Cupertino, it could run on developer transition units, and it could be with external app developers, but when sales started both MacBook Pro hardware and MacOS on ARM software its major test is done.

It would be very unusual if any product was perfect at launch, software bugs and unexpected use cases would always appear, even in mature hardware such as the iPhone. With the move to ARM, everything is going to be new, and the edges are rough.

If you are not ready to get your hands dirty and nothing is broken, the first wave of MacOS on ARM hardware may not be for you. Test out and break everything, and join the second wave later in 2021.

Apple’s decision to move the Mac platform to ARM should have a lot of benefits, and many of these will be evident on the first consumer laptop to go on sale immediately. As with any significant move to a new architecture, it is going to be a bit rocky in the beginning. Apple may have smoothed out as many bumps during the trip, but the public has a way of pushing the edge of the envelope backward.

This is ultimately a good thing, as it brings more stability to the platform, but it is not an easy ride to get there.

Now read more about the new ARM MacBook Pro launch details…