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The MacBook Air is once again the benchmark by which other laptops will be measured

The MacBook Air is once again the benchmark by which other laptops will be measured


Many will be found wanting

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The new MacBook Air is fast
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Last week I wrote that Apple seemed “astonishingly confident” in its new M1-based Macs. This week we know why: they are astonishingly good. I reviewed the MacBook Air, Nilay Patel reviewed the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Chris Welch reviewed the new Mac mini.

All three are equally impressive, but it’s the Air in particular that stands out as offering incredible power at its price point. I’m also impressed with battery life. And the fact that Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer doesn’t cause slowdown or bugs for legacy apps.

Wins all around, then. Not very often that happens in consumer tech! The webcams are still terrible and there are lots of questions about what will happen with the truly pro Macs we will start seeing in the next couple of years. But rather than constantly look ahead to the next thing, just for a moment, enjoy: a tech company made a big promise that it could do a hard thing and then did that thing.

Okay, moment’s over. Sorry. I want to pay a little more attention to one point Chaim Gartenberg made when writing about the importance of these computers:

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. It’s Apple’s first-generation processor, designed to replace the chips in Apple’s weakest, cheapest laptops and desktops. Imagine what Apple’s laptops might do if the company can replicate that success on its high-end laptops and desktops or after a few more years of maturation for the M-series lineup.

It’s not difficult to divine the future of Intel and even Qualcomm’s roadmap — they are consistent (and consistently dull) in their year-over-year improvements. Their customers are phone and laptop makers, so they need to be clear and transparent about what’s up. And I don’t see either pulling a step change like the M1 out of a hat.

By contrast, we really have no idea what Apple’s chip roadmap looks like. We can make educated guesses based on what we would expect from the current chip and Apple’s philosophy.

We do know, however, that Apple is remarkably stable in its Mac product lineup. It doesn’t introduce a ton of different models. Different people could count differently, but I think there are eight distinct Macs that Apple sells: the Air, the entry level 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the Mac mini, the iMac (two sizes on this one), the iMac Pro, and the Mac Pro.

I’m listing them all out to make a point: if you’re familiar with Macs, you have a sort of inherent idea of what those computers are, relative to each other. That’s the other way we can perhaps predict what’s next for Apple silicon. For example, we know how much more powerful an iMac is than an Air, on a rough basis. But now with the Air, the baseline for that rough basis has just been radically improved. So if the Apple silicon-based iMac continues to be as big a leap over the M1-based MacBook Air as it has been in the past, look out.

But even if that doesn’t happen, PC makers have a problem today. So let’s come back to right now. Apple has a thousand-dollar laptop that beats the pants off anything else in its price class, and so every Windows ultrabook is going to be compared to it for the foreseeable future — and may likely be found wanting.

We have a running joke at The Verge that our old colleague Joanna Stern (now at the WSJ) would end every Windows laptop review with “for a hundred dollars more, you could get a MacBook Air.” For the next year or two, we all might be ending reviews of thin and light Windows laptops with something like “for the same price, you can get a MacBook Air that’s faster, lasts longer on a battery, and doesn’t have a fan.”

Do Intel, Qualcomm, AMD, Microsoft, Dell, HP, Asus, Razer, or anybody else in the PC ecosystem have something that will start chopping clauses from that sentence?

A brief programming note — I’m taking the next week off and may allow myself to be a a little intermittent in sending newsletters in December. I appreciate you all reading and hope you are staying safe this Thanksgiving holiday — and always.

Apple news that isn’t so good

┏ Apple will pay $113 million for throttling older iPhones in new ‘batterygate’ settlement. Sean Hollister:

The settlement (PDF) hasn’t been fully approved by a judge yet, but there’s a chance states might see their money sooner than actual iPhone owners. If you applied for your $25 worth of the $500 million class-action settlement, you probably did so in July, but the process is still underway. There’s a fairness hearing on December 4th that’ll decide whether the settlement was handled properly.

┏ Apple will reduce App Store cut to 15 percent for most developers starting January 1st. So this is a win for smaller developers, but I do think that a million dollars is kind of a low cap for a small business (costs add up fast!). One thing to note, though, is that this probably isn’t costing Apple much — the vast majority of its App Store revenue comes from bigger fish. Bottom line, though, is that it seems Apple is finally reacting to public pressure and the threat of regulation. Nick Statt:

The new App Store Small Business Program, as it’s called, will allow any developer who earns less than $1 million in annual sales per year from all of their apps to qualify for a reduced App Store cut of 15 percent, half of Apple’s standard 30 percent fee, on all paid app revenue and in-app purchases.

┏ Apple’s biggest App Store critics are not impressed with its new fee cut for small developers. Tim Sweeney is not impressed.

Gaming news

┏ Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service launches on iOS as a web app. I am conflicted about this! On the one hand, I like the idea of more people realizing that the web is a viable app platform. On the other, I hate hate hate that it’s happening because of Apple’s ridiculous App Store policies. One thing Nick Statt notes: this technically means Fortnite is back on iOS, via this particular workaround.

┏ Google Stadia is coming to iOS officially as a web app. Quite a day for web apps!

Google says it has been building a progressive web app version of Stadia that will run in the mobile version of Apple’s Safari browser, similar to how Microsoft intends to deliver its competing xCloud service on iOS sometime next year. But Google intends to beat Microsoft to the punch with public testing of its version in the coming weeks. Nvidia also announced today that it a beta web app version of its GeForce Now cloud gaming service on iOS is available today.

┏ AMD Radeon RX 6800 review: entry-level 4K. Sean Hollister makes a good case for the entry-level GPUs being better than you might expect.

┏ Google Stadia survived a year, but its future depends on games like Cyberpunk 2077. Nick Statt on the state of Stadia:

But the key going forward will be moving beyond the “it’s good enough” strategy that has gotten Stadia to where it is now. That means convincing a prospective buyer of a game like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to buy it on Stadia and not one of the half-dozen other platforms it’s available on. That scenario represents Google’s biggest and most pivotal challenge going forward. It’s made only harder by the launch of next-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony, with the Xbox Series X / S and PlayStation 5 offering many of the same (and in some cases, better) load times and performance benefits Stadia touted last year without any of the compromises of using a streaming platform.

Google news

┏ Google Pay’s massive relaunch makes it an all-encompassing money app. Just describing the many things this app does is enough to widen the eyes and make you wonder if maybe Google should be reined in. And the methods by which Google collects the information it needs to enable all those features are all private and secure — but it’s very difficult to worry that they someday won’t be either.

┏ Google is rolling out end-to-end encryption for RCS in Android Messages beta. Yours truly:

Google has announced that it’s finally beginning to enable a key privacy feature: end-to-end encryption. For Android users who use Android Messages, one-on-one chats will eventually be end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning neither carriers nor Google will be able to read the content of those messages. Even though encryption is only beginning to roll out to people who sign up for the public beta for Android Messages, turning on encryption for RCS is a very big deal.

More from The Verge

┏ Amazon announces upgraded Echo Frames smart glasses as it opens availability to everyone.

┏ Intel’s new laptop is designed to help small companies take on HP and Dell. It’s a 15-inch productivity laptop, Dan Seifert writes. He says it looks nice in person. I’ll take his word for it, as it’s not so great in pictures. Will be curious to see which companies decide to pick this up and offer it.

Intel is launching a new laptop. Yes, that’s right, Intel itself has a new laptop that it designed in-house and will be selling through various partners early in 2021. The NUC M15 is the latest computer in the company’s expanding Next Unit of Computing line, which is best known for making tiny desktop PCs.

┏ Pixelmator Pro gets update for M1 Macs. I have been a huge Pixelmator (and Acorn) fan, so I am very excited to try this out. It’s just super refreshing to use a photo editing app that isn’t loaded down with all the conventions (and unnecessary features) of Photoshop. Pixelmator feels much more modern to me, even though it’s not quite as powerful.

┏ Wonder Woman 1984 will be released on HBO Max the same day it’s in theaters for no extra cost. Good. I have to say I didn’t expect I’d miss big fun popcorn blockbusters movies as much as I do. Excited for them to come back and even more excited to make my own damn popcorn, at home. Julia Alexander:

Unlike Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984 won’t cost anything extra beyond the monthly subscription fee. HBO Max subscribers will have the opportunity to watch the film directly from home. The streaming service costs $14.99 a month. The move comes as uncertainty grows over whether theaters will remain open as cases surge across the United States. Even if they do remain open, however, it’s uncertain whether people will actually attend screenings