Well, the reviews are out and the resounding victory of Apple’s move to their own, in-house ARM-based chips seems like a forgone conclusion already. The reviews aren’t just good, they are glowing. The expectations haven’t just been met, they are being shattered left and right. The Apple M1 chip is powerful, capable, and Apple’s prowess feels on full display with these three new pieces of hardware as the new power-sipping Macbooks run just about everything they try with aplomb and defy what we think is possible in a post-Intel Macbook world.
Over at The Verge, things were headed towards a perfect 10 in their review and to my knowledge, that doesn’t happen too often. There was one thing that held it up and it is a similar complaint we’re seeing across the board against this new era of Mac OS on Apple M1 chips: mobile apps are just bad. Part of Apple making this move to an ARM-based silicon for their desktops was the benefit of sharing a similar architecture between all their products and the wide lanes this would open for iPhone and iPad apps to easily work on Macbooks.
After all, the very-solid Rosetta 2 emulation that Apple is pulling off for non-M1-optimized Intel-based applications like Photoshop or Illustrator is proof that Apple knows how to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to cross-platform applications. I honestly thought that if they could deliver on that front (and they can as witnessed in multiple videos showing Intel-based apps running very well on the M1 chip), getting mobile apps to the Macbook would be a walk in the park. It clearly isn’t that simple.
From early reports, there are busted pieces all over the place with iOS and iPad OS apps on the new Macbooks. First, some apps you may want to use simply aren’t made available on Mac. If the developer chose not to make it installable, you’re just out of luck. Then, you have apps that install, but don’t work well at all. HBO Max, for instance, will run but won’t go full-screen even when you hit the full-screen button. There are weird bugs with apps opening on top of others when responding to notifications and apps that can’t be deleted the way you would expect and the whole thing – for the way Apple has delivered the rest of the M1 experience – looks half-baked.
Finally – and probably most importantly – the fact that Apple has continued to deny the need for touch on macOS has solidified the mess that will likely continue for some time with mobile apps on their desktop platform. Remember, iOS and iPadOS are touch-based systems with iPads only just recently getting a form of mouse and trackpad support. These apps are built from the ground up with touchscreens in mind and the lack of that interface on a Mac will likely make using these apps with a trackpad and keyboard a tough consideration for quite some time.
Don’t get me wrong, Android apps on Chrome OS are still a messy work in progress. They are better, sure, but there are still lingering problems. While I can mitigate some of these issues by reaching up and touching the screen to navigate an Android app on most Chromebooks, those types of UI problems are far from the only issue we still face with Android/Chrome OS integration. However, the mess that Apple has on its hands with their attempt makes me feel a lot better about where we are with Chrome OS.
You see, reviewers have given the Play Store on Chromebooks a hard time from the day it was delivered. In some ways, that is for good reason. In many instances, however, many people fail to realize the complexity of what Google is doing in a non-closed ecosystem like this. Not only do they have to figure out the quirks between Android and Chrome OS, they have to consider all the varied hardware that it will all run on, too.
If Apple, with its own custom chips, its own hardware, and its own app ecosystem can’t make this happen overnight, I don’t think it is reasonable to think anyone can. With the proficiency of Rosetta 2 on display and Intel/M1 emulation that frankly demolishes what Microsoft has done so far with Windows on ARM, I suppose I expected mobile apps to simply be perfect on Macbooks with the M1 chip, too. In fact, I expected to almost be a bit perturbed by it. Turns out this mobile apps on a desktop thing is just flat out difficult.
While I think Apple will eventually figure it out, it gives me a bit of comfort knowing that Google isn’t just messing around with Android apps on Chromebooks like some sort of side project. They aren’t just bored with it and shrugging their shoulders. The experience of Play Store apps on Chromebooks keeps getting better and is far, far better than it was when this whole thing began. So, cut Google a bit of slack on this one the next time that Android app on your Chromebook is acting up. Merging operating systems is hard, especially across such wildly different hardware. In fact, viewed in this light, what they’ve pulled off thus far is quite impressive, and I’m more excited than ever for what is to come.