December 30, 2018 The year in Apple – looking at 2019 through the 2018 lens

The year in Apple – looking at 2019 through the 2018 lens

Based on what Apple did in 2018, I think we will see one totally disruptive event in 2019 within the Apple ecosystem, bringing the iOS/iPhone world closer to the Mac. Join me as I put on my future-speculating glasses, using clues gathered from 2018 to boldly proclaim what Apple crop 2019 will yield.

2018, in terms of products announced, was a run-of-the-mill year at first glance – new gen iPhones and iPads, and some updated Macs. But what made it great for us that like to analyse and speculate about Apple, lies in the many ways that what Apple did announce points to the future. Apple’s version of the future.

So this post is as much about speculating about 2019 as it is a quick look back at 2018. Because speculating is fun.

Reading 2018 between the lines

Rather than focusing on the physical products that Apple launched, let’s get straight to the point, which from this perspective is those announcements Apple made that says something about where it is going, and therefore, what might be on the slate for 2019.

A new generation in-house developed CPU for iPhones/iPads with desktop-class performance

The new Apple-developed A12 Bionic CPU is a powerhouse, and in terms of performance per watt, which is incredibly important for power-constrained devices like iPhones, it simply beats everything and anything else on the market by a wide margin.

The AXX chips were built for iOS, and are only used in iOS devices, which means iPhones and iPads. However, there is nothing technically that would stop Apple from expanding the AXX chip series to be used in other devices, if it so chooses.

As it happens, Apple has a very, to them, good reason to want to start using the AXX chips in Macs going forward: Apple hates to be dependant on 3rd party suppliers for central parts of its devices. And for Macs, there is no more central component than their CPU.

It is a given that Apple is irking to replace the Intel CPUs in their Macs with in-house AXX chips. Apple already knows it can build world class CPUs that are more tightly specced to their own hardware and software than can ever be achieved by picking off-the-shelf CPUs from another supplier. Of course they want to use their own CPUs everywhere they can. It is also pretty much a given that somewhere deep inside Apple HQ, there is a prototype Mac running a version of MacOS built for A12 Bionic. And it is probably smoking fast.

Still, swapping out the CPU in the Macs Apple ships is not a thing done lightly, or easily. There are huge ramifications on a number of fronts that this article will not get into. But what Apple could do, what it most probably will do, is to release one Mac powered by an AXX chip, as a kind of test case. Then take it from there.

Actually, Apple did the same kind of CPU architectural swap once before, in the time of MacOS X, so it knows how to pull it off.

iOS apps running on Mac

Do you have Apple’s latest version of MacOS, nicknamed Mojave (pronounced Mo-havie), running on your Mac? Then you also have, although you might not realise it, a couple new apps in your Applications folder. And those apps are nothing more than iOS apps wrapped in a thin make-Mac-compatible “foil”. One of them is Stocks. Open it up and have a look. Apart from a layout-tweak enabled by more screen real estate, it is identical to the iOS Stocks app.

This is part of an effort from Apple announced back in 2017, making it easier for iOS app developers to get their apps onto Mac, by simply applying that same kind of thin wrapping around it, enabling them to run almost unmodified on Mac.

This might seem like the start of a merger between MacOS and iOS, but that is not quite what Apple wants. They has stated repeatedly that they see phones and tablets as having a touch based interface and Macs having a mouse/keyboard driven interface. And they have backed up their stance by the development of iOS and MacOS. So not a merger, but a closer relationship. A give and take cross-germination of ideas and technology. To make it easier to transfer apps and features and services across the iOS/MacOS barrier, that kind of thing.

In that sense, having both platform run on the same family of CPUs would be a huge advantage: it would make the relationship closer by default and make developing a closer relationship so much easier. From a technical and from a logistical standpoint.

A MacBook-killing MacBook Air

As I laid out previously, at Apple’s October 2018 Mac-focused event, they announced a totally re-engineered MacBook Air. The announcement is the last piece of the puzzle I want to focus on.

On the face of it, it was a bit of a head scratcher in the sense that it made the existing MacBook look like a dud. Which is ironic, since the MacBook was introduced in 2015 as the heir-apparent to the MacBook Air. So it now looked like Apple had made a 180 degree turn and brought back what prior to the event seemed like a dead-in-the-water MacBook Air.

MacBook and the new MacBook Air specced out with 512GB SSD. Which one would you buy?

At the time of the introduction I speculated that it was because the MacBook didn’t sell very well, while presumably the MacBook Air, even though left largely undeveloped, continued to sell well. I still think that is part of the reason, but thinking about it some more I now believe Apple allowed the MacBook to be pushed out of the limelight for another reason as well.

2019

I will not go into the nitty-gritty of what (upgraded) products I think Apple will announce in 2019. Much of it is a given, based on the ever-steady upgrade cycle these things tend to have.

This is about the exciting stuff! So I’m going to call it: In 2019, the big Apple happening will be the release of a new version of the MacBook, powered by an A12 (or next-gen A13) chip. Maybe it’s an example of apophenia, but the clues seems to fit into a pattern too well:

The computer class performance, the low power requirements of the A12. The push to create iOS apps that can run on a Mac, within the mouse/keyboard interface paradigm. The MacBook being the most iPhone/iPad-like Mac there is: it has only one port and no fan, and for us that have taken apart and serviced both iPhones and MacBooks, the internals are strikingly similar as well.

It is almost like Apple could just shove an iPhone logic board into a MacBook shell, connect the trackpad to the iPhone screen touch input, the screen to the LCD input, the USB-C cable to the charging port input and call it a day. Yes it’s not that simple, but the rest is just software adaptions (not really, but not that far from the truth either).

There is hardly any question about it: We will see an AXX powered Mac in 2019. The speculation is which one: The MacBook, as this piece argues? Or a totally new Mac?

If the MacBook, the really interesting thing will be to see how Apple will position this new MacBook within the existing line-up of the other MacBooks. In terms of performance, it seems clear that it will be a doozy, based on the performance of the A12 itself. It should potentially also be a pretty cheap machine to produce, given that the CPU is produced in-house. This leaves Apple with a problem: If they price it cheaply, it will undercut the MacBook Air. It would be nice, and I still hope that is what they will do, for the sake of getting a reasonably priced but powerful Mac with a very long lasting battery in the hands of as many people as possible. I am not convinced that is what Apple wants to do, but I will leave that part of the speculation alone for now.

What about the Mac Pro?

Wouldn’t it be cool if the model Apple actually puts an AXX chip in turns out to be the new Mac Pro that Apple has promised for 2019? Imagine what Apple could do if it could let go of some of the thermal and power restraint the A12 chip normally operates under, pushing the power envelope while still dealing with a chip that is inherently low power!

For that to happen, Apple would need not only to have MacOS running well on the new AXX Mac Pro, but the suite of applications in use by a typical potential buyer of the Mac Pro would have to be able run well on the same too. Fortunately for Apple, most of those applications are Apple’s own, including the likes of Final Cut Pro for video editing.

By the way, did you know that Adobe announced they will release the full version of PhotoShop for iPad in 2019? Which means Adobe already has PhotoShop running natively on the A12 CPU. Intriguing isn’t it?

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