The Apple M1 chip is helping Apple expand its brand lock-in

Macbook Air M1
Macbook Air M1 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

The new MacBook Pro isn't an Android device, so it isn't particularly interesting for a website like Android Central to cover. However, it is a good upgrade for the right person, thanks to the removal of the touch bar and new specs inside. As long as you can learn to enjoy the notch, that is.

More importantly, for Apple, tech writers, and tech consumers, is how it is the beginning of a new push to create more Apple ecosystem lock-in through hardware. Yes, you read that right: the new M1 chip is also a new way to get a subset of users onboard and keep them locked up there.

This isn't anything new, and every company — including the one who made whatever phone you think is the best Android phone — tries it, too. But few are successful; outside of Apple, Google, and Amazon. Most companies don't really offer any reason to buy more products. Google does it through a pretty damn good software ecosystem, Amazon does it through dedicated partnerships and first-party devices, and Apple does it through hardware interoperability.

This is new and different, though. You heard Apple and other developers saying it even if you don't remember it, but I can jog your memory if you watched the Apple event: There were a handful of third-party developer reps in it that talked about how the new M1 Pro was so much better. They all talked about how they were able to optimize their products for Apple's latest hardware.

M1 Chip

Source: Apple (Image credit: Source: Apple)

Apple kept saying it, too. Performance is X% better on apps optimized for the new M1 Pro. There were even fancy slides with bar graphs. Apple may have mentioned Rosetta and universal apps, but the focus was on the applications optimized for this new hardware.

We expected to hear how much better the new chip was compared to last year's new chip.

Was this to be expected? Sure, this was Apple's annual MacBook event. But hearing the word optimized over and over reminded me of another yearly Apple event — the one where we see the new iPhones. The difference was that Apple now has third parties, including some of the biggest names out there like Adobe, saying it in regard to the new "pro" model laptop.

I have no real clue how many units Apple plans to sell or even who should buy a new MacBook Pro. I do see how it has carved a niche for itself, though. Most people are fine with a Chromebook or light (read cheap) Windows laptop. Or even a MacBook Air. At the other extreme, we see folks like heavy PC gamers or CAD architects who need a Windows desktop decked out with one or more high-end graphics cards.

For professionals who don't work in the office all day every day, the new MBP looks pretty good, provided the right software works well. I doubt very many people will be trying to edit seven streams of 8K video while on battery power, but knowing that Apple got a company like Abode to make it possible through optimization for one specific chipset means there is only one choice: the new MacBook Pro.

Adobe tools

Source: Adobe (Image credit: Source: Adobe)

These same people will probably buy a new MacBook Pro the next time they need a laptop because they are now invested in the Apple ecosystem in an all-new way. They will probably buy a new iPhone and iPad the next time they need one because Apple products just work better when they are all tied together.

If a new MacBook ran the software you need better than any other laptop, you would at least think about buying one.

Yes, my example isn't one filled with a lot of users, but this is just the beginning. Apple, of course, makes sure all of its own apps work best on the newest products, and the company has enough influence to get other companies to do the same. It's finally leveraging it. And this is a pretty big deal. A newer iPhone runs so well because it has a stupidly overpowered chip inside of it, but older iPhones ran well, too. They were able to do it because the software was optimized for a single set of hardware.

Notches and notches

Source: Android Central Yo dawg we heard you like notches. (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

It could shift the PC industry. Emphasis on could.

Is this enough to shift the PC industry? I don't know. I don't think so, at least not yet. But if Apple is able to make sure the software you want works best on its next product, you're certainly going to think about buying one. The question is how far it all will go. Apple has had a good relationship with companies that make media editing tools for a long time so seeing them first out of the optimization barn is no surprise. We'll have to see if competitors, especially Microsoft with Visual Studio and Office (Google already went there), get on board.

What I do know is that high-end Windows laptop makers know they are in Apple's crosshairs. Hopefully, companies like Razer and Dell have a plan to keep the big money laptop market competitive like Google, Samsung, and other partners were able to do in the mobile sector.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Quote from article: “… companies like Razer and Dell have a plan to keep the big money laptop market competitive like Google, Samsung, and other partners were able to do in the mobile sector.” Taken individually, Apple mobile division is so dominant in the mid- to high-end market over Google, Samsung, and other partners. No, Dell and other PC makers need to avoid what is happening in mobile! Samsung flagship sales are tanking every year. Google Pixel is barely on life support…maybe P6 will change that…doubt it. The other partners survive by mass selling cheap units.
  • Apple's mobile division isn't dominant in the way you people are alluding to. Performance is just not something I think about on mobile, since my Galaxy Note 9 still performs like it did on Day 1, which is faster than I need for practically anything on a mobile phone. My iPhone 11 Pro is a lot faster, but I don't feel it... at all... ever. What Apple has perfected is using their software [and services] ecosystem to induce value into their hardware devices. They have the most complete, aesthetic, uncluttered and seamless user experience compared to practically all of their competitors. Not even Windows on Surface devices compare, because Microsoft was not able to get Windows Phone to stick, they cannot afford to give away software like Office and their media ecosystem pales in comparison to Apple's (iTunes, Music, Podcasts, Books, etc.). On top of that, Apple is still committed to delivering experiences based on native code on their devices, which often perform better than Web Apps and use less RAM. Beyond that, Apple has an advantage when it comes to their developer following. If Apple decided they wanted macOS on Itanium tomorrow, developers would jump on top of it and start porting their apps wholesale to the new macOS. Microsoft couldn't even get developers to buy into Windows Forms, or WPF, or WinRT, or UWP... or... anything, really. Microsoft will not be able to do what they really need to shake things up until they get brave and release a version of Windows that cuts the chord and forces the developers to move forwards. Windows 11 could have been that version, since they were going to leave the majority of Windows devices in the dust, anyways, but they didn't take it. I think Microsoft will need to go back to delivering Consumer + Enterprise versions of Windows. Otherwise, their efforts in the Consumer market will always been held back by them being beholden to the Enterprise market. Apple avoided this issue by simply stopping targeting the enterprise market. They did the same with Final Cut Pro X, as well. This strategy has really paid off for them. I don't think Microsoft has the leadership or the cahones to do what they need to offer a UX competitive with Apple. The prices of these new M1 Pro chips are definitely an olive branch to them from Apple, though! The M1's were scary given the price point of e.g. the Mac Mini, but if Apple upgrades all of their devices and ramps the prices back up (lower prices were likely used to incentivize developers to hurry up and get on board, by forcing sales up), we'll be back to the stalemate we had before M1. Intel's 12th Gen is already competitive, if not better, and dGPUs from Nvidia and AMD are superior. So, the marketing is nice but doens't play out in reality at the price points they're setting for these devices. But the ecosystem tie-in is real, and anyone who owns more than one Apple device finds it hard to consider a competing device that won't "play along" with them. This is where Apple wins big. Once you get into that ecosystem, their software and services also become "no brainers."
  • I think Apple has mastered lock-in, and has moved to phase 2 : remonetization. Lock-in is complete because switching from 1 Apple device means losing so much time, apps, media, cloud services... that it's barely justifiable. Not only that, but owning one Apple device pushes you to buy several (Phone -> watch, tablet, PC, earphones...) making lock-in even stronger. Now that' they've got all those users locked-in they can move on to extracting more - and recurring- money from them. aside from the obvious price increases, they're doing the following:
    - unrepairable hardware, unless you're Apple. Both the design and the legal aspects ensure your repairs are performed and invoiced by Apple, and that they're more expensive (soldered SSDs, DRM'd parts)
    - smorgasbord of me-too platform-exclusive services, which usually aren't any better than more open alternatives, but benefit from being default, not paying the 30% Apple Tax, and integration into the OS/account...
    - expansion into non-IT stuff. Even if Apple only make 0.05% as Apple Pay commission, this can't be insignificant. Ditto TV, News,... It would be interesting to look at a) the money spent on Apple by Apple users (ie, not a device's ASP, but revenue generated per user) and b) the share of actual devices in that, especially its evolution over time. Apple seems to be making ever more money, and yet more profit, on declining phone sales? (though I think unit sales picked up recently ? ). As a user, this warns me NOT to switch to Apple. With Android I can at least switch OEMs, repair my devices, choose my clouds providers, and not pay ever more for the same basic functionnality.
  • All those points, and people are still buying more Apple products or switching from Android. Why??? Because 99% of the time, things just work with Apple. No, they are not perfect, but when a flaw is found it is fixed quickly. Your self-repair point is not a point at all. How many people really repair their own device? It’s such an insignificant number that Apple has no need to make a product that people can fix themselves…. And they have streamlined the repair process so much that it’s not even needed. Maybe in the android world this is more important because the repair process is horrible. You seem very jaded, yet you have no vested interest in Apple or it’s products.
  • I didn't say self-repair, though my brother does it 'coz he's got kids and kids break phones like crazy. I said non-Apple repair, any old shop can repair my screen or swap my battery for around $50. I'm not jaded, I just try to be sensible. When repairs cost more than a full new device, that's an issue. And Apple things don't Just Work, there seems to be a recall / class action / extended warranty issue on every single device. As the resident nerd, I have an interest in advising people. I'm advising people to buy Apple stuff when they're very locked-in, and/or too tech-adverse to manage the switch. The reste of the time, unless there's a very specific need, I advise not only to go Android, but to go low/midrange. 90% of people don't need more than a $200 phone, and are actually better served by one (battery, storage, FM...)
  • Yes. That's what I did. I went from Android to iOS because it was the easiest way to consolidate my digital ecosystem into as few vendors as possible. Google and Microsoft have too many gaps in their services, particularly the media ecosystems. Tons of books are simply absent in Play Books. Google Podcasts is missing some podcasts on Apple Podcasts. Microsoft only sells Movies & TV shows. Going to iOS means that I can delete my Google and Microsoft accounts at-will. I only have a Google account because I still own my Galaxy Note 9 (which runs like Day One, despite its age... that has certainly improved in Android over the years). And no, 99% of the time things do not just work with Apple. I have an iPhone 11 Pro, iPad Air 3 and Apple TV 4K. Have fun mirroring your PC screen to an Apple TV, if it isn't a Mac. AirPlay has been opened up a bit more by Apple, but that's about it. Apple has services built into iOS, iPadOS and tvOS that work better on those platforms than competing services (Background Sync, etc.). In addition to that, they are extremely convenient on the native platforms, but not so much - and often, completely absent - on competing platforms. Glue Services like Home and Health are not available on competing platforms (though Home is available in some home devices like TVs and such). iCloud Photos, Apple Podcasts, Apple Books, Apple Home, iCloud Drive, etc. on Android or Android TV? You can only get a couple of those on Windows or ChromeOS (the latter only via a Web App). FaceTime, iMessage, SharePlay? Continuity and Hand Off? Nothing available for Android or Windows works as well, without having to load up your phone with additional software. Beyond that, there is still a disparity in App Quality between iOS/iPadOS and Android in the mobile market. I have lots of Apps on both platforms, and in over half of them they are practically abandonware on Android. The rest barely receive any development, while the iOS versions are constantly updated. Android is still pretty bad when it comes to Tablet Apps, as well. Things don't just work with Apple. Apple has opened up some things, like AirPlay, but that's about it. The rest of their services are tactfully deployed in a way to create value in their platforms through convenience. Even if you never use Apps/Services like iWorks, Apple Maps or iCloud PIM/Drive; this remains significant. The kinds of things geeks talk about on Android Central, like Google Assistant vs. Siri, are literally ignorable. I don't think I know any mobile users that actually use either of those - regardless of platform. I am NOT complaining about this. I think that's their prerogative, and I use their devices and services... so that's whatever. But this IS actually a competitive advantage. With Apple, I feel like someone can literally use one main account for all of their devices, and get along quite well. With Android or Windows, I don't think this is possible. I'd need at least an Amazon or Apple account to round out the ecosystems, there. If I weren't a PC gamer, I'd probably be all-Apple, at this point. Games are really the only major selling point of Windows to me, at this point. Microsoft has just created a frankenstein with its platform. Android will never have anything that isn't a heavily fragmented user experience with varying levels of API implementation and app compatibility (i.e. the FiLMiC Pro mess that lasted well over a year - really never ended, people just started upgrading their devices which fixed it... indirectly).
  • The new Macbook Pro is a niche product aimed solely at big-bucks "creatives". The non-8TB SSD products are still too expensive vs Wintel or especially Chromebooks. This is just a way to begin to "merge" their macOS and iOS operating systems. That way they radically reduce their dev. costs and can begin to merge their iPhone and Macbook product lines. The addition of the "NOTCH" (and the focus of their iPhone ads lately) should tell you all you need to know about where this is all going. It's all about vertical integration now.
  • I've been a non-Apple user for years now, but the M1 chip actually is pretty exciting to me as a photo and video creator. On the Intel and Windows side PC desktops and laptops have been very slow to evolve, unlike what we've been seeing in the mobile space. My hardware is still fine for now, but when it comes time to upgrade to be able to edit 8K video I HOPE Intel and AMD will have stepped up to compete. If they don't, I may have to go the dark side...
  • I have a MBP M1 and love it, I think PCs are archaic and have no need for them outside of a work computer because my accounting software works better on it. I can't understand how the iPhone is popular, it's an awful product and non intuitive to use compared to Android. So I have Apple computer and Android phone and all is well.
  • Everything Apple does is designed to lock you in. I'd expect M1 to be no different.
  • MacBooks have always been considered better on some level and what's it achieved? Not a lot. For all the words Apple produces their pc segment is less than 10% Of course M1 is amazing, if you wanted a MacBook already. It's not as if Windows isn't either good enough or essential still. Me? MacBooks are still clamshell laptops or to put it another way they're still not Surface Pros or Surface Laptop Studios. Great performance, but still not good enough.
  • 10%…. One company has 10% share. Do you seriously have any clue how massive that is? Think about the PC/Laptop space and how many players are in it.
  • Are you saying they causing lock-in by just making a good product? Anyway, interesting article, read the whole thing in Jerry's voice - "Yo dawg we heard you like notches." XD
  • Your analysis almost exactly pairs with mine. Apple has finally succeeded in leveraging its very-specific-hardware which runs very-specific software dichotomy to great advantage. The actual raw computing power with more modest power constraints of the M1 chip are fairly compelling if one can simply stomach the lock-in. When those inevitable occurrences come where another manufacturer produces an innovative product that doesn't run IOS if will be difficult for those locked into Apples infrastructure to jump ship. (They stand to lose not only interoperability with other iThings, but performance as well for those applications that are natively available on IOS.) There will even be a vested interest in not really looking at hardware or software that isn't Apple.
    I'm ultimately not sanguine about stepping into the Apple infrastructure bear-trap. In doing so, I'd lose is the ability to even consider upgrading in any number of ways. The new macs don't have any upgrade paths, either because the items are wave soldered to the main board or because Apple has deliberately built-in failure for swapping in non-Apple (or even not-this-particular Apple device) hardware. Other manufacturers are doing the former, but no one but Apple seems to be doing the later. This also locks repair into licensed Apple dealers and then only if you've ponied up for the Apple Care "add-on." (How can you call something an add-on when it's basically necessary for you to repair a device without spending almost as much as the purchase price?)
    In addition, M1 chips don't currently support eGPUs at all and there's some indications that they may never do that. It's possible that Apple Silicon may evolve to the point where no eGPU is a non-issue but I have my doubts on that. In addition, it cuts off one more possible route for upgrading performance. (Albeit, at present, new GPUs are costing way above MSRP so this isn't the most attractive way to goose performance. However, it still costs less than buying a whole new computer, especially at Apple premiums.)
    What do PC manufacturers have to counter? They have a depth of field that Apple will never match. You can easily match a PC to the level of work you expect to do and then you have a wide range of manufacturers which each add distinctive touches. I really like the ASUS extra screen built into their high-end laptops. I also really like the Framework laptop for it's absolutely upgradeable and serviceable platform. Other folks will choose other manufacturers and models to suit their wants and needs. That's something you just can't get at Apple.
    However, sticking with the PC for the time means we have to wait what I suspect will be quite some time before there is something comparable to the M1 from Intel/AMD. It will initially take is something on the level of Rosetta 2 for Windows applications and Microsoft has already shown itself to be somewhat wanting in the cross-interpreter area. But I notice Apple is downplaying Rosetta 2 now, mostly because it will never offer the performance upgrade native applications will have and some just will never work under an interpreter. This would be true of any similar offering under Windows. So there'd also have to be a concerted effort and the means to re-compile and re-configure the existing code-base into new native applications. Microsoft would have to match Apple's excellent application development platform, however here they definitely have the chops to do just that.