Monday’s Apple Unleashed event brought the usual raft of announcements from the tech giant as it unveiled its latest products. Top of the bill were its new MacBook Pro laptops, powered by chips it has designed in-house. The launch of the MacBooks could mark a renewed push to capture enterprise customers for Apple, which at the moment is a minor player in the PC market.
The new MacBook Pro laptops, which come in 14in and 16in varieties, were announced by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the online event on Monday, and promise big processing speed increases over their predecessors in many graphical and technical workloads, the company says. While such claims are hardly unusual, the performance bump offered by Apple’s newly announced chips, the M1 Pro and M1 Max, did shock many analysts. They could spell trouble for Intel, the company’s erstwhile semiconductor supplier.
Is Apple getting back into business?
With a line-up of products mainly aimed at consumers, Apple has a relatively small slice of the PC market. The latest figures from research company Gartner show that in the second quarter of 2021 it shipped just over six million units, giving it an 8.5% share of the market. This is well behind the market-leading trio of Lenovo, HP and Dell.
Becoming a viable option for businesses could help Apple build this market share, and tech analyst Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight believes this is a priority for the company. "It is apparent that Apple is focussed on the business segment," he says. "While the premium features [of the MacBook Pros] will resonate with everyone, the price might be out of reach for some consumers."
Indeed, at $2,000-$2,400 (about £1,400-£1,700) the new MacBook Pros are not a cheap option, and Pescatore says their performance is likely to be attractive to businesses and Apple's core audience of digital content producers. "Ultimately, these new machines powered by Apple silicon will provide plentiful benefits to the content creators and storytellers," he says.
Gartner's Mikako Kitagawa agrees. "I believe Apple is targeting the business market, especially creative professionals and business users who need high-performance devices such as in the engineering and science fields," she says.
But Kitagawa is sceptical that this approach will pay off outside of Apple's established audience and customer base, with many business users reluctant to move away from the Windows ecosystem, which is underpinned by Intel's x86 chip architecture. "I don’t believe this release can significantly increase Apple share in the business market," she argues. "The creative professional market is one of Apple’s core markets, and they are defending the market. But the new MacBook Pro will not necessarily add more business users beyond their core markets, definitely not large organisations."
The new Apple M1 Max - maximum pain for Intel?
Apple announced last year it was moving away from Intel to produce its own customer silicon, launching its first in-house chip, the M1, based on the Arm architecture in October.
The original M1 offered high performance against comparable Intel chips, but was only suitable for low-end machines. Apple's higher performance MacBooks, designed for intensive workloads, continued to use Intel chipsets. However, the M1 Pro offers 70% increased CPU performance, and double the graphics performance, of the first M1, with the M1 Max more powerful still. Both chips are built on a 5nm process node, and the M1 Max packs in 57bn transistors, making it the largest Arm-based chip ever produced.
All of this is bad news for Intel, says Mike Orme, who covers the semiconductor market for GlobalData. "This will eliminate Intel entirely from the Mac family leaving [Intel CEO] Pat Gelsinger saying plaintively that he's going to work as hard as he can to win Tim Cook back," he says.
In a broadcast interview on Monday, Gelsinger said: "Apple decided they could do a better chip themselves than we could. And, you know, they did a pretty good job. So what I have to do is create a better chip than they can do themselves. I would hope to win back this piece of their business, as well as many other pieces of business, over time."
That will be easier said than done, as Intel has problems elsewhere too. As Tech Monitor has covered, other tech giants including Google and Amazon are developing their own chips, and on Monday Alibaba became the latest company to get in on the act, announcing its own Arm-based server chips to run its cloud data centres. Intel has previously supplied chips to Alibaba.
Kitagawa adds that the new M1 processors will be eagerly anticipated by many of Apple's existing customers. "This can certainly boost the refresh from Intel-based devices to M1 devices among professionals who have been waiting for an M1 release for them, as well as encouraging more applications to be natively written for the M1," he says.