The MacBook Air’s brain transplant is an unalloyed success. After running on Intel gray matter for more than a decade, the transition to Apple silicon is surprisingly smooth and, in most ways virtually unnoticeable.
Shortly before the world plunged into a pandemic, Apple upgraded its popular, ultra-slim notebook with a new Intel 10th Generation Core i CPU and replaced the derided butterfly keyboard with the reengineered Magic keyboard it first unveiled with the 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019. Little did we know that this would be the last MacBook Air with an Intel processor.
As COVID-19 took hold and Apple, like virtually everyone else, adjusted to our new reality, the company was cooking up a generational shift, one that it would have to unveil during its first-ever virtual World Wide Developer’s Conference.
During the keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that they were working on Apple Silicon (ARM-based processors, similar to those that already power all of its iPhone and iPads), and that it was set to begin the 2-year process of transitioning all of its Macs to the new platform (and away from Intel). While not officially combining its mobile and desktop platforms — MacOS, iOS and iPadOS — into one, the Apple Silicon would, among other benefits, allow for mobile apps to run on the desktop platform.
Image for post
The Magic Keyboard is a pleasure to use. A Touch ID power button makes it easy to unlock the laptop. (Photo: Lance Ulanoff)
To support what might be a bumpy transition, Apple delivered a Developers’ Transition Kit in June to support Universal Apps, and Rosetta 2 to support applications that typically run on Intel CPUs but will need support for Apple’s ARM-based silicon.
Undertaking such a radical transition during the most tumultuous time in recent human history is arguably risky, at best. Still, Apple was building on an already impressive processor track record. Its A-series CPUs, which Apple builds with silicon partners, are so powerful and impressive, and typically more than your standard smartphone need, that I was excited about what Apple Silicon might mean for desktop performance.
Now, I’m using the first fruits of that labor: A 13.3-inch MacBook Air running Apple’s M1 chip, its first bit of Apple Silicon (the company also unveiled a 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini running the same processor).
The same, yet different
Apple’s new MacBook Air with Apple M1 chip is, externally, at least, identical to the MacBook Air I looked at in March. As I mentioned, it has the same Magic Keyboard (such a vast improvement over previous ones) and Touch ID/power/wake button. For what it’s worth, the Touch ID is an almost flawless biometric security system. I registered my index finger and then used it to unlock the system (later I used my Apple Watch), log into apps and sites, and make purchases.