By Stephen Hackett
May 4, 2021 11:00 AM PT
All hail consumer hardware
Three years ago, I wrote about how far Apple has strayed from its once-iconic Grid of Four product strategy:
To quickly recap, this is what Jobs and company came up with after his return to Apple and the Great Purge of many, many Macintosh models. It was so obviously simple: a user could find where they were on the grid and purchase the right machine for them.
Apple has moved way beyond this strategy, blurring the lines between consumer and professional Macs, even as notebooks have taken over the industry.
On the mobile front, there have been some clarifications over the last few years, with the resurgence of the MacBook Air and the death of the 12-inch MacBook and its one lonely USB-C port. Sure, having two models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is still a bit awkward, but maybe that will get sorted out with time as well.
Over in Desktop Land, I think things could be shaping up to make a lot more sense than they used to, especially when it comes to the iMac. While we’re still waiting for the other Apple silicon shoe to drop, putting the M1 in the new 24-inch iMac aligns that machine pretty clearly with Apple’s other consumer-focused products.
For years, the two sizes of iMacs have formed a sort of spectrum of computing power and features.1 The smaller machines had a ceiling in terms of capability, and the larger ones picked up from there.
But with the M1 and whatever comes next, I believe we’ll see a sharper distinction between the consumer and professional iMacs, just like we will with the notebooks.
This will manifest itself not only in terms of raw CPU speed, but also the number of ports, RAM and storage ceilings and GPU performance. The M1 has hard limits in what it is capable of, but Apple can use those to its advantage when wanting to separate and clarify its lines of computers.
The M1x—or X1, or whatever Apple will call it—system-on-a-chip destined for larger notebooks, the bigger iMac and even the Mac Pro will outclass the already amazing M1. This will let more users make the move to Apple silicon. That is great for users like me, Jason and Dan who use our Macs to crunch audio and video on a regular basis.
Perhaps just as exciting is that it marks the return of truly consumer-focused Mac hardware. It gives Apple the freedom to do things like make colorful iMacs and (hopefully) colorful notebooks. It can lead to lower starting prices, as consumers won’t need to pay for pro features they don’t really need. The Mac can become more approachable and fun, which is something we haven’t always seen since the Grid of Four fell apart.