Apple has a chance to drive continued momentum to its Macs ahead of the holiday shopping season, especially since it’s expected to announce more computers that run on its own chips instead of Intel’s processors.
Recent computers that run on the company’s powerful M1 processor have “fueled” Mac growth, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in June. In the most recent three quarters ending in June 2021, Apple sold $26 billion in Macs, up nearly 33% from the $19.59 billion it sold in the same period last year. “In fact, the last three quarters for Mac have been its three best quarters ever,” Cook said in June.
Before the pandemic, which drove new computer sales, many customers and analysts worried Apple was neglecting the Mac in favor of newer, faster-growing businesses like its Apple Watch and iPhones. But Mac computers remain essential for Apple. It’s only possible to develop iPhone apps on a Mac through Apple’s Xcode software, for example, and Mac remains a larger business than iPad.
Last month, Apple announced and subsequently released new iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches, leaving Apple’s line of Macs as the remaining major product line that hasn’t been updated this fall. The larger 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple’s highest-end laptop, hasn’t been updated since 2019 and currently uses Intel processors instead of newer Apple chips.
Here’s what to expect on Monday.
A completed transition
If Apple announces new MacBook laptops on Monday, it will be the culmination of a two-year transition to completely revamp the entire Mac lineup.
Since 2019, Apple has been replacing Intel processors inside Macs with its own processors, called M1, which provide longer battery life and allow Apple to more tightly integrate its hardware and software. Apple’s chips also enable new features while still providing enough power to run demanding applications.
Apple is likely to emphasize the advantages of its own chip, as it has done during the past several Mac launch events. Expect a new name for the M1 chip if Apple makes significant performance improvements. It could call it the M1X or M2, depending on how Apple wants to market the processor improvements.
Apple has reportedly been prepping a redesign for its high-end MacBook Pros with its own chips and new ports, including space for an HDMI cable to connect the laptop to monitors, and a magnetic charger, according to Bloomberg. Also in the works is an iMac with a bigger screen and a Mac Mini desktop with more power, according to the report.
On Monday, Apple is also likely to provide a release date for macOS Monterey, the latest version of the Mac software, which was announced in June but has not yet been officially released.
Apple’s Mac growth has also been driven by changes the company has made to address some longstanding consumer issues with some products.
Between late 2017 and the second fiscal quarter of 2020, Apple reported eight out of 10 quarters of flat or negative annual growth in its Mac business. Growth started taking off in 2020.
In 2015, Apple introduced a thinner keyboard design for its laptops, often called “butterfly keyboard.” In the coming years, the thinner keyboard became standard in Apple’s line of laptops.
But the keyboard was plagued by reports that it was unreliable, and that crumbs or dust could make certain keys “sticky” and fail to register or type certain letters twice. Apple has an ongoing service program to fix malfunctioning butterfly keyboards manufactured from 2015 through 2019 for free. It’s also facing a class-action lawsuit over whether it knew that the keyboards were defective.
During this period, the biggest new feature addition to Apple’s laptops was the Touch Bar, a strip of touchscreen that replaced the function keys. However, many users found it frustrating and less useful than regular keys. Software developers never flocked to create software for the touchscreen, and Apple’s recent M1 MacBook Air doesn’t have it.
Simultaneously, Apple significantly reduced the number of ports on its laptops, streamlining them into a few USB-C connectors. Users complained that they needed adapters, often called dongles, to attach things like mice and external monitors to the laptops, which sometimes used older USB-A connections. The dongles that Apple made were expensive, often costing more than $20 per adapter. The company temporarily slashed prices on adapters in 2016 after users complained.
That could change on Monday. Apple’s new MacBook Pro design could include an HDMI port for connecting the laptop to external monitors or TVs, an SD card port for photographers, and a new version of its MagSafe magnetic charger, addressing many complaints from professional users, according to Bloomberg. Apple’s 2017 MacBook Air was the last laptop to feature MagSafe charging, even though customers liked it.
Apple has started to reverse some of the Mac design decisions it made over the past decade. The M1 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro now have a more traditional keyboard with deeper keys. Both computers have received positive reviews. The laptops still use USB-C ports for charging, but Apple’s new iMac desktop, the first redesign since 2015, has a new kind of magnetic power adapter.
A surge in PC sales
Apple’s Mac business has been boosted by a global surge in PC sales during the Covid-19 pandemic as schools, businesses, and individuals bought new laptops and desktops to go to school or work from home.
Earlier this year, at its peak, PC sales (including Windows) had their highest year-over-year growth in 20 years, according to research firm Gartner. Research firm IDC said PC sales jumped 55% year-over-year in the first quarter. Analysts covering the PC industry and component makers said at the time that they were optimistic that there had been a permanent shift in PC sales trends.
But the pandemic-related PC surge may be coming to a close. In the third quarter, typically a boom time because of back-to-school sales, the U.S. PC market shrunk for the first time since the first quarter of the pandemic, according to market researcher IDC.
Apple’s computer shipments grew 10% during the third quarter, according to IDC, but the pandemic trends that lifted all manufacturers seem to have slowed significantly. Before the pandemic, PCs were one of the slowest-growing tech markets, with several years of flat growth in the past decade.
Apple hopes shiny new Macs can buck that trend.