It is very likely that it will determine the future shape of Apple products.

This is the world's first general-purpose computer "ENIAC", which was born on February 14, 1946.

▲ Picture from: Wikipedia

It is undeniable that "ENIAC" is a behemoth. It covers an area of ​​170 square meters and weighs 30 tons. It uses 18,000 electron tubes as components and can perform 5,000 operations per second.

▲ Picture from: University of Pennsylvania Archives

The reason why its body is so huge is because the volume of the tube itself is not small. Not only the power consumption is high, but it is also easy to generate heat and cannot work for a long time.

This is the latest generation of iMac, unveiled on April 21, 2021.

The thickness is only 11.5mm and the weight is less than 5kg. It uses the M1 chip, which can perform 11 trillion operations per second.

After 75 years, it is also a "computer", but the gap in form has turned upside down. Undoubtedly, this is a testimony of the leap forward in industrial manufacturing. Not to be ignored is the rapid evolution of the processor.

How M1 reshapes the form of computers

On November 15, 1971, Intel engineer Hough invented the world's first commercial microprocessor "4004". Although it runs at only 108KHz, it is not as good as the "ENIAC" 25 years ago. But its integration level is much higher than the latter. It integrates 2300 transistors and weighs less than 30 grams.

▲Picture from: Wikipedia

This day was regarded as a milestone in the IT industry and went down in the annals of history. Since then, PCs have gradually become desktop, miniaturized, and mobile.

In 1998, the first generation iMac G3 turned out. Although it was not the first "all-in-one", it was the first to integrate the CRT monitor, computer host, and audio in one, while controlling the volume to a level that seemed "petite" at the time.

▲ A classic by Jonathan Ive. Picture from: cultofmac

After each generation of iMac, the thickness and volume are almost continuously reduced, until the debut of the lightest and thinnest iMac in history. This is inseparable from the efforts of Apple's design team, and it is inseparable from the high evolution of the processor.

At Apple's spring conference on April 21, Apple's senior vice president of hardware engineering John Tenus introduced in his opening remarks for the new iMac:

Relying on the SoC architecture, M1 allows us to work hard to promote the development of Mac, leaving the past far behind. Today we are very excited to introduce a new Mac based on the M1 from the ground up.

This is the 2021 iMac.

Apple attributed the significant changes in this generation of iMac to the arrival of the M1 chip:

The advancement of each generation of iMac is aimed at realizing our long-standing vision: to make the entire computer invisible. The reason why the previous generations of iMac have not changed much in appearance is because the technology is not yet mature, allowing it to achieve rapid progress.

Until now, M1 has brought us closer to the aforementioned vision than ever before.

How did M1 change the shape of iMac? Apple has solved this mystery by comparing the internal structure of the previous generation iMac.

It can be seen from the information sheet that in the back shell of the previous generation iMac, there is a huge motherboard and a burly cooling system. Its common goal is to meet the high power consumption requirements of the processor.

Moreover, various components such as CPU and GPU are scattered throughout the system, making it difficult for the motherboard to lose weight.

Now that the M1 adopts the SoC architecture, the previously scattered components are integrated into this compact motherboard, which greatly reduces the space occupied by the motherboard.

At the same time, because of the M1's breakthrough energy efficiency, the previous huge heat dissipation system was replaced by two lightweight small fans, integrated on both ends of the motherboard, and placed in the "chin" below the screen.

Therefore, the back of the iMac no longer needs to be curved to wrap the huge motherboard and cooling system. The integration of the above components has reduced the total volume of the new iMac by as much as 50% compared to the previous generation.

With this compact design, the new iMac is only 11.5mm thick and can be easily integrated into more different spaces.

From this point of view, it is reasonable for Apple to attribute the design change of the iMac to the advancement of the M1 chip. The highly integrated architecture and superb energy efficiency ratio give M1 the ability to change the shape of the terminal.

After the arrival of the new iMac, the M1 chip has covered most of the Mac camp. The high probability is to solve the material inventory. The M1 version of MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini have not changed significantly in appearance.

However, from the internal structure, the difference between the new MacBook Air and the previous generation is still very obvious. After canceling the fan design, a lot of space is freed up in the upper left, which provides more possibilities for subsequent changes to the MacBook Air.

▲ The M1 version of MacBook Air is on the right. Picture from: ifixit

The disassembly diagram of the Mac mini also shows that the motherboard with the M1 chip is almost twice the size of the iPhone 12 mini, and it takes up much less space than the previous generation.

▲ Picture from: egpu

If Apple wants to eliminate this remaining space and redesign the mold, it is entirely possible that we will see a new Mac mini that is 30%-40% smaller than the existing product.

How will the shape of Mac products change in the future? The direction is actually very clear: getting more compact, thinner, and even invisible.

The new iPad Pro is the "ideal product" that is at the forefront.

iPad Pro, a step further from the ideal form

Cook's Mission Impossible scene has become the "famous scene" of the spring conference. He turned into a flying agent and stole the M1 chip from the Mac and put it into the iPad Pro.

And this action allowed the performance of the new iPad Pro to "take off in place", and the CPU performance soared by 50% compared to the previous generation iPad Pro.

In the pictures displayed at the press conference, we can see whether it is running the Affinity Designer app, using various vector and raster tools, or using Sharp3D to render detailed design drafts, or adding complex special effects to 4K videos in LumaFusion, The new iPad Pro can handle it easily.

All these rely on M1's strong graphics processing capabilities: 8-core GPU, so that its graphics processing performance is increased by about 40%. In theory, it may perform better than a low-profile iMac with a GPU core locked.

In the app, project complex AR models into the real world, or play console-level popular games at ultra-high frames, or even use the Thunderbolt interface to connect to an external monitor and use Da Vinci Resolve for color editing… It can be said The new iPad Pro leaves a lot of room for imagination.

More importantly, the M1's energy efficiency ratio greatly improves the performance of the iPad Pro while ensuring the premise of both lightness and battery life.

Placing the iPad Pro on the Magic Keyboard, its shape seems to have a curious connection with the iMac. In terms of terminal form, it may be more advanced than the Mac series and closer to Apple's ideal computer.

With the blessing of 5G and Lidar, the playability of iPad Pro has a lot to be explored. In the promotional video, use iPad Pro to pull out actors from the green screen with one click and preview the synthesis effect; drag the design prototype of the building to the real space with one click; take out the iPad Pro anytime and anywhere to make calls and work, which all represent Apple's hope Users explore and use the possibilities of iPad Pro.

Since the iPad Pro is more advanced than the existing Mac in terms of terminal form, will Apple merge the two in the future?

John Tenus recently stated that the independent media outlet has no plans to merge the two product lines of iPad and Mac. Apple’s senior vice president of global marketing, Reg Joswick, said that Apple only wants to do its best in two different categories of products.

Therefore, in the short term, Apple does not reduce the complexity of the "computer" form, but wants to fully blossom. The Mac product line will still survive in a classic style.

What is the next form of the computer?

Eleven years ago, there was an article in the newspaper "Microcomputer World" about the prospects for the development of future notebook computers. The article's point of view is that "tomorrow's laptop may be rolled up, equipped with multiple screens, or it can be shaped like Transformers."

This vision has now become a reality. For example, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold folding screen computer, and then ASUS Lingyao X dual-screen computer.

However, when we talk about "computers" today, we are not just talking about desktops, laptops, or tablets. The concept of PC has long since evolved from a mere "personal computer" to a broad terminal device and platform for communicating with each other and obtaining information.

And these terminal devices and platforms have shown a trend of blooming. Behind this status quo is people's pursuit and desire for technological innovation.

From work to entertainment, from luxury goods to mass consumer goods, the continuous evolution of terminal functions and forms embodies the wisdom of creators everywhere.

It is difficult for us to think that "computing" can be integrated with "communication" until Fangzheng placed an antenna on the S2000 laptop and added a SIM card slot. In the fall of Palm, when people thought that the PAD form was swept away by the big wave, the appearance of the iPad changed this perception.

When people began to doubt laws such as "Moore's Law" and "Bell's Law", the arrival of the M1 chip can be described as the dawn of the IT industry's transformation.

In this context, no one can guess what form Apple's supreme vision of "making computers invisible" will take place in the future. It may be a brain-computer interface, or it may be a technology we have never heard of.

But on the way to pursuing this goal, we have already seen the impact of new computing platforms and chips on the shape of the terminal. This is true for computers, mobile phones, watches and even headphones.

Similarly, in the future, will the form of terminal products such as AR glasses and smart cars exceed our current cognitive scope? This question is left to everyone's imagination.

TalkFresh. Work email: wanghelong@ifanr.com.

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