WWDC 2022: M2, Macbook Air, Mac Gaming, and What’s Old is New

June 7, 2022 / Ben Bajarin

M2 Debut: Next Generation of Apple Silicon
With heavy anticipation, Apple’s next-generation silicon design for the Mac was unveiled. Unsurprisingly called the M2, new details were shared by Apple, which sets the stage for this year’s Apple Silicon platform to push the Mac forward.

I always paid particular attention to the language used to put Apple silicon into context every time Apple executives talked about it publicly. As I pointed out with M1, Apple positions its silicon efforts in several specific ways. Flexible, entire solutions (SoCs), and power-efficient. Apple is not shy in stating its singular focus on performance-per-watt, and the release of M2 was no different.

“Today, we begin our second generation of Apple silicon designed specifically for the Mac. M2 starts the next generation of Apple silicon and goes beyond the remarkable features of M1. Unlike others in the industry, who significantly increase power to gain performance, our approach is different. We continue to have a relentless focus on power-efficient performance. In other words, maximizing performance while minimizing power consumption. – Jony Srouji”

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates Apple’s guiding philosophy when designing SoCs and precisely when designing SoCs for the most performance-hungry form factor.

The M2 brings a few key technical enhancements over the M1. The main ones being it is manufactured on second-generation 5nm process technology, and it is now based on the A15 architecture where M1 was A14. Both those advancements will bring a slight performance boost of 18% to multi-core performance and overall power efficiency and battery life in more performance-heavy workloads.

It will be interesting to see if other M2 chips stay on second-generation 5nm process technology or if Apple embraces 4nm or 4nm+, which is ready to be used from TSMC in future M2 chips, or if they wait until M3 jumps to the next process node. The most salient performance takeaway from M2 is that it competes with 10 and 12 core processors in performance but uses far less power.

MacBook Air: The Best Selling Mac
Apple is following its pattern from M1 by updating the Macbook Air first. Interestingly, Apple noted, what many of us in the analyst community have known for a while, that the MacBook Air is Apple’s best-selling Mac. It has always been priced more at the entry-level for the Mac line, but consumers, students, and business professionals alike buy this particular Mac in droves. The timing of releasing an updated Macbook Air now is perfect for the back-to-school market. I believe this specific Macbook Air may set all-time annual sales records over all other Macbook Airs. I say that for a few reasons.

First, it is an updated design with the most color options seen in a Mac in years. I went to the hands-on area after the WWDC keynote and got to hold and use the new MacBook Air, and its size, weight, and overall look and feel will be compelling for the market.

The second reason is that the market will view the M2 as more mature than the M1. The market had a little hesitancy in adopting the M1 as it was Apple’s first silicon for Mac. We know from history that the broader market likes to wait for a version or two after the first release to make sure all the kinks are worked out. Apple has established its credibility as a silicon designer for notebooks and desktops. I don’t believe there are any issues standing in the way of the market more broadly adopting and trusting Apple’s M series chips in their primary notebook and desktops.

Given all the markets where the MacBook Air has sold well, the combination of the redesign and second-generation Apple silicon M2 positions it well for success.

Gaming: AAA Titles Come to Mac?
One of the most frequent questions I get about the Mac is whether or not Apple cares about more hard-core gamers. I use the term hard-core here to specify the AAA titles we see come to gaming platforms like Windows and Xbox, and Playstation that do not come to the Mac. Apple cares about gaming, but the most successful games for iOS and macOS tend to be more casual.

This was the first WWDC and keynote in general, where Apple made more specific points to appeal to a much broader swath of game developers, including those that make AAA games for platforms like Windows, Xbox, and Playstation. Interestingly, Apple did not necessarily position the Mac itself as the reason to start taking game development more seriously but their unified silicon architecture that spans iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even AppleTV. Looking more at Apple silicon as a development platform makes it even more appealing to develop than if you just looked at the Mac. While Apple silicon is fueling the Mac to record sales, it still does not have the potential market size of Windows gaming or that of Xbox or Playstation by itself. But if you look at the market size for Apple silicon as a gaming platform, it drastically increases game developers’ addressable market for AAA software titles.

I have heard rumblings of Apple starting to hire internally more folks with rich AAA gaming development backgrounds, which makes me think they are starting to get more serious about the Mac platform as a rich gaming platform that can appeal to casual and hard-core gamers alike. It is still a big question mark whether Apple’s silicon platform can sway AAA game developers, but if they can, it will provide another massive lift for the Mac.

When it comes to gaming on the Mac, it will be a challenge for them to pull off one title at a time. They will need a library or catalog which means a broader deal with a big AAA publisher could be the right approach to act as a catalyst. That said, it is unlikely AAA game publishers would push exclusives to macOS which means the desktop/notebook market would remain extremely competitive even if AAA games game to the Mac. However, strategically it is smart since Windows has a big differentiating value proposition around gaming and a AAA title library that the Mac does not have. 

What’s Old is New
I’ll close on this observation. Apple’s largest short-term business and revenue growth opportunity are not with the shiny unreleased product. It’s not even with the single best-selling consumer electronics device of all time (iPhone). It is with the product that started it all—the product that changed the technology world forever–the Mac.

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