‘I Can’t Tell the Difference’
My admiration for David Heinemeier Hansson has waned over the years, but I like to make sure my reading queue isn’t full of only authors with whom I agree. In this case, however, I appreciated his approach when considering Apple’s latest and greatest:
I had that Ultra machine all specced out in my cart when it suddenly struck me that I actually couldn’t recall any material difference hopping from the original M1 to the M1 Max machine. What if instead of splurging once again for more imperceptible power, I swapped back to that 2020 machine, just to feel the difference?
And what did he find when switching back to Apple’s thinnest, lightest, and least capable laptop on the market?
The 2020 M1 MacBook runs everything that I do more or less exactly as well as the three times more expensive specced-out MacBook Pro. Well, sure, I can measure an all-core full suite test run of our apps and find an advantage. But it’s not consequential, and that’s not a workflow I do all the time. Not even editing 50 megapixel photos in Lightroom seemed noticeably different.
One thing that hasn’t slipped my attention, but I don’t see many product reviewers point out, is that all of the M1 machines run on the same power, efficiency, and graphics cores — only with differing amounts of each. And when moving up to an M1 Pro or M1 Max, you’re primarily increasing graphics performance. (The M1 Ultra doubles everything, so it’s a bit of an outlier.) Sure, you do get a few more CPU cores and in a different ratio of the performance and efficiency types. Still, unless you have a workload that will light up all those cores at once, the basic M1 — in whatever machine you put it in — will probably get the job done just as well as the top-of-the-line chips.
DHH, realizing that the “low-powered” M1 didn’t throttle his workflow, concluded with an appreciation for features that only a MacBook Air can afford him:
And do you know what, I actually appreciate some of those vintage Ive sensibilities again: Slimness and lightness as qualities in themselves. Once a machine is Fast Enough and the battery lasts Long Enough, making it lighter and slimmer really does count for more. I don’t even mind the machine just having 2 USB Cs.
Maybe Ive was right all along — minus that awful keyboard! — he just didn’t have the chips to fulfill his vision.
I’m glad that DHH called out Jony Ive’s impact here. I have long felt that Ive gets a bad rap for what are relatively few of his design choices over a long and unfathomably successful and influential career. It seems that most people who criticize his work forget that many of the qualities that they love about their devices can be attributed to Apple’s design team under his leadership, too. But that’s a story for another day.