If WWDC 2021 was any indication, Apple is now poised to remove a growing number of Intel Mac users. The company frowns on machines on seemingly arbitrary lines, rather than technical limitations. As it prepares to migrate the rest of its lineup to Apple Silicon, it is already dropping features, even for brand new machines.
Shortly after Wednesday’s opening speech, the company indicated which desktops and laptops would be able to install the new version of macOS. Several machines that had been supported with Big Sur from last year could no longer upgrade to macOS Monterey. This included iMac models manufactured before 2014, Mac Mini models before late 2014, and MacBook Air and Pro models manufactured before early 2015.
This is where it gets interesting. Apple has withdrawn its support for Early 2014 MacBook Air, which basically runs a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U (Haswell) processor with 4GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 5000. When asked, Apple said it should downgrade the older hardware when those machines no longer support the experience that users expect from macOS.
This is remarkable, because macOS Monterey Is support the late 2014 Mac Mini, whose base model… contains a 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5-4260U (Haswell) processor with 4 GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 5000. Owners of the 15-inch MacBook Pro mid-2014 are in a similar situation, like the mid-2015 model which is still supported has almost exactly the same internal components as the base spec.
One of the likely reasons Apple has to make such decisions is the unique way it updates its computers. That same Mac Mini i5-4260U was on sale at Apple until the 2018 refresh, and four years is a long time for a chip to be on sale. This means that with Monterey, Apple would have to abandon models that customers could have bought just three years ago.
Likewise, the base 21.5-inch iMac model, which was refreshed in early 2019, was powered by Intel. i3-8100, a CPU from the end of 2017. And this is the model that has just been replaced by the new one, ultra-thin M1 edition which has generated so much applause in recent months. By dragging its feet with chip refreshes over the past few years (not helped, of course, by Intel’s own woes), Apple is making it harder to make a compelling technical argument for removing support. some models and not others.
Likewise, even newer Intel Macs running macOS Monterey will have their experience limited in some ways. 9to5Mac noted that Apple has listed a series of features in Monterey that will not be supported by any Intel Mac. This includes the ability to blur backgrounds in FaceTime videos, copy live text from images, and use the new, more detailed maps.
In these cases, it is likely that the new features will be coded to take advantage of the M1 neural engine. But that doesn’t mean that some of these features might not work on Intel machines, if Apple was willing to give it a go. When even affordable Windows laptops with integrated graphics can blur backgrounds in a Zoom call, is it fair to turn down a similar FaceTime feature to someone spending $ 2,800 on an Intel MacBook Pro today?
The only thing the company is really risking with all of this is some goodwill with users who persist with their old Macs. Apple’s priority is naturally to look to its future, but the decision to perhaps arbitrarily withdraw support from certain machines is not ideal.
Compare that to smartphones, where Apple runs its competition for operating system support with older devices. The iPhone 6S, from September 2015, will be able to upgrade to iOS 15 this fall, in a world where competing manufacturers have only recently deigned to start offering three years of OS support for an equivalent Android device. When it comes to desktops and laptops, Apple should strive for an even higher level of support.
Comparing this to Apple’s last transition, the first Intel Macs arrived in January 2006, and Apple’s first Intel-only operating system update arrived in the summer of 2009. Apple will likely continue to offer security and usability updates for older models, but the handwriting is on the wall for any Macs running Intel currently on sale. If you are looking to purchase one of these machines today, be aware that you might not use all of these great new features announced in future WWDCs. Hey, you might even run out of new operating systems to install in the not-so-distant future.
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