Imagining the possibilities with Apple silicon

What other features could Apple silicon enable on Apple's computers?

m1 macbook air macbook pro mac mini
Apple

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The M1 Macs have arrived. The benchmarks are in. And what we've seen is nothing less than mind-blowing performance from Apple's own silicon, compared to the Intel chips that came before. But this, as we know, is just the beginning. The M1 is only the first in a whole family of chips that will be powering Macs from now on.

As impressive as these new processors—and the improvements they bring in speed and battery life—are, some have felt underwhelmed by the new Macs, given that they look pretty much identical to the models they're replacing. This was by design, of course, to impart a feeling of continuity from Apple's existing models, assuring customers that fundamentally nothing has changed.

But as we look forward to the next generation of Macs that are no doubt working their way down the pipe even as we speak, it's time to start thinking about what other features Apple's unprecedented control over the hardware and software might enable the company to bring to its most venerable product line.

Face the music

As an owner of a brand new M1 MacBook Air—replacing my six-year-old model—I've been delighted with the addition of Touch ID. Being able to quickly and easily authenticate for access to everything from systemwide settings to my 1Password vault is great, and way better than laboriously typing my administrator password every time.

But.

I have to admit that I find myself missing Face ID. Yes, it's not always perfect—sometimes it can't recognize me because of the mask I wear wherever I go or other times because I'm all bundled up against the encroaching winter. Sometimes I still need to still enter my password like I'm from olden times. But on the whole, Face ID still often feels magical—like my device knows me.

macbook pro touchid Apple

Touch ID is nice. Face ID is better.

Face ID certainly seems like it's ripe for inclusion the Mac in the near future. Apple took some flack for not beefing up the front-facing cameras in the new M1 MacBooks, but to me that suggests that it's planning a more substantive update. And while simply updating the camera to 1080p would help, why limit yourself that when you could instead bring the TrueDepth camera package and Face ID to the Mac?

Doing so would also solve the problem of the lack of the biometric authentication on the iMac. While the idea of an external keyboard with Touch ID has been floated, I have to imagine there are some security concerns with incorporating the biometric sensors on an external piece of hardware. Face ID would obviate that, by being built right into the main display. Plus, there's no better feeling than waking up your Mac and having it recognize you.

At a cellular level

Most of Apple's other devices have long had some form of cellular connection, whether it be the iPhone (obviously), the iPad, or even the Apple Watch. And yet, in all this time, the MacBook has never made the cut.

It's not outlandish: plenty of PCs boast cellular connections for those times when you're not near a Wi-Fi signal. Sure, you can tether your laptop to your smartphone—if your plan allows it—but adding a cellular option to MacBooks would still likely be a welcome development for those looking for an all-in-one package.

Plus, let's not forget that Apple is soon to start building its own cellular radios. While those are predominantly destined for the iPhone and iPad, it's not hard to imagine that the company might, now that it's producing those chips in bulk, include them in other devices. It's not a sure thing, of course, but it's another way to show just how many capabilities Apple's custom silicon unlocks.

Nano nano

Keeping things largely the same is, as we've discussed, a strategic move. But once the transition is finished, Apple has the chance to revisit and rethink some of its longstanding Macs, and no model is perhaps more ripe for a radical redesign than the Mac mini.

Teardowns of the new M1 mini have exposed a frankly jaw-dropping amount of space inside the interior. As someone who's taken apart multiple Mac minis, these little computers were always impressive in the way that Apple had managed to shoehorn in so much technology, packing the cramped boxes to the gills via clever engineering.

But Apple's own internals are much, much more compact than their predecessor; it seems clear that Apple simply dropped its new board inside the Mac mini enclosures that it had sitting around, leaving plenty of room inside the units for...air?

mac mini top down 10302018 Apple

A smaller Mac mini? Yes, please.

It's not hard to imagine a Mac mini that's much smaller than the current version, perhaps more the size of an Apple TV—an incredibly powerful desktop computer that can, unbelievably, fit in one's pocket. If the company decides to invest in a smaller configurable tower to scratch the itch of those who need configurability, why not create an even smaller desktop Mac—a Mac nano—to provide a basic, entry-level experience? The potential is clearly there; it's just a question of whether Apple thinks there's a market for such a computer, competing against rivals like the Raspberry Pi and Intel's NUC.

But, if nothing else, it's hard to argue that there would be a certain amount of awe-factor from producing the smallest desktop Mac ever. And that's the real power of Apple silicon: the ability to rethink all the assumptions that we've all made about these computers that have been around for decades.

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