Apple launches new MacBook Pro laptops with its own faster chips

The new MacBook Pro laptops with 14-inch and 16-inch displays are powered by the new chips. PHOTO: APPLE

LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Apple took the most aggressive step yet to strip Intel chips from its computers, announcing more powerful home-grown Mac processors alongside a total revamp of its MacBook Pro laptop computers.

The new chips - called the M1 Pro and M1 Max - for the redesigned MacBook Pro are 70 per cent faster than its M1 predecessors, Apple said. It also added larger screens, MagSafe charging and better resolution to the two new MacBook Pros.

The new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros start at US$1,999 (S$2,697) and range up to US$6,099 in their most expensive variations.

With the moves announced in an online event on Monday (Oct 18) dubbed "Unleashed", Apple is courting a group of users that include professional photographers, film makers and audio producers looking for a powerful tool - a prestige segment that rivals such as Microsoft have in recent years tried to peel away from with its lineup of Surface hardware.

But it is also laying out a path for what Apple's computers will look like when it completes its two-year transition away from Intel chips next year. The chips have helped propel Mac sales, which were up 32 per cent to US$26 billion in the first nine months of Apple's fiscal 2021.

Last year, Apple started transitioning its low-end Macs to its own M1 Apple Silicon chip. The new chips, however, are a bolder stroke, aiming at outclassing Intel's highest-performing products.

Apple shares rose as much as 1.4 per cent to US$146.80 after the event. They had gained 9.2 per cent this year through the end of last week.

The chips include 10 total CPU cores - the components that handle processing - up from the eight in the M1 chip. The 10 cores are split into eight high-performance cores and two cores for tasks that require less energy. That compares with four high-performance and four low-performance cores in the M1.

Apple is also upping the graphics performance for the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which come with 16 and 32 graphics cores, respectively. That's up from the seven or eight-core options offered with the M1 Macs. Graphics performance with the M1 Max is as much as four times faster than on the earlier M1 chip, while the M1 Pro is twice as fast, Apple said. It's also 13 times faster than earlier Intel models.

The M1 Pro supports 32 gigabytes of memory, while the M1 Max has up to 64 gigabytes. That's up from 8GB or 16GB offered with the M1.

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The screens of the new MacBook Pros have 24 per cent thinner borders on the side and a 60 per cent thinner border at the top thanks to a new display cutout. That feature, also called a notch, makes the display look more like the one on an iPhone.

The new models have an updated, boxier look and lack the controversial Touch Bar, the touch-screen strip introduced with the 2016 redesign. Apple replaced the Touch Bar with a new circular fingerprint scanner and larger physical function keys.

Besides reversing that change from the prior version, Apple is restoring three ports that users missed after they were removed five years ago: the HDMI port, an SD card slot and MagSafe charging.

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The displays also include ProMotion, a feature that allows the screen refresh rate to reach higher levels for a smoother overall experience. Apple added a similar feature to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max in September. And the company is adding a 1080 progressive-scan video-chat camera, improving a component that users of earlier MacBook Pros have found subpar. The microphones and speakers were upgraded as well.

The HDMI connection makes it easier to tie the laptop to a TV or external monitor, while the SD card slot is a convenient offering for on-the-go photographers. MagSafe, meanwhile, makes its return to the MacBook Pro after the feature was added to the iPhone 12 last year. It uses a magnetic charging adapter for the laptop. That means if the charging cord is tripped on, it will be yanked out - rather than sending the computer tumbling to the floor.

The new 16-inch model can reach up to 21 hours of battery life when watching video, while the smaller 14-inch model has 17 hours, Apple said. The products also support a new fast-charge feature, which can quickly juice the laptop's battery to 50 per cent from zero.

One challenge Apple may face with its new MacBook Pro is the ongoing chip shortage and supply-chain slowdown sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic. The new computer goes on sale on Monday and is due to hit stores next week but shipment delays have hampered other recent launches. Customers trying to order Apple's latest iPhones, watches and iPads are being told that products won't be delivered until November or December.

Cheaper airpods with some premium features

Apple also announced several new music-related products at its Monday event. The company announced a US$5-a-month version of its streaming music service that will allow access to its full music catalogue on Apple devices by using its Siri voice assistant. Apple's full service remains US$10 a month, and shares of streaming music rival Spotify Technology were up 0.4 per cent on the news, suggesting Spotify's investors do not view the new service as a major threat.

Apple also introduced a third generation of its AirPods wireless ear buds. Apple's new AirPods are sweat- and water-resistant for use with workouts and will have some sound features previously found in the higher-end AirPods Pro, Apple said during the launch event. Apple said the new AirPods will cost US$179 and start shipping next week. The base AirPods model got a price cut and will now cost US$129 in the United States.

Add-on devices like AirPods tend to be large sellers during holiday shopping seasons and have become one of Apple's fastest-growing categories, with its home and accessories segment growing 25 per cent to US$30.6 billion in Apple's fiscal 2020.

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