Mac turns 40, but what will it look like at 50?

OPINION: The Mac is 40 years old and it looks like it might be entering a mid-life crisis. However, come its 50th birthday on the other side, the Mac could be a more interesting range of computers than ever.

Apple Silicon was a seachange for the Mac and, without yet digging beneath the surface, seems like a hugely positive one. It led to a range of efficient devices that have wowed reviewers and consumers alike for their ability to generate impressive power with low to zero fan noise and, for MacBooks, offer impressive battery life.

It marked an evolution of the range, with new designs for MacBooks and the iMac as well as the new Mac Studio coming along with it. It’s not just about the hardware either, MacOS has changed too. But, as Apple has iterated from its M1 to the M2 and the M3, progress has stagnated. So, what’s next?

Picture this: It’s January 2034 and Apple has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. You’re just starting your work day so you take out your Apple device and get to work. But, it’s not an Apple device you own, rather it’s part of a monthly plan that gives you access to a range of Apple services across software and hardware.

Your Apple device looks like an iPad but it comes with a range of attachments. First, you take your morning conference call with the team, using it like a tablet then, when that’s over, you take out a keyboard attachment that gives it a MacBook form factor to get those all-important reports written. But, now, you need to craft a presentation while using a spreadsheet for reference. You take out an additional screen attachment, detach the keyboard for wireless use and use both screens together to better multi-task.

After the workday is done, it’s time to game and there is a breadth to the games on offer. You whip out your Wi-Fi-connected controller to play a game of EA Sports FC 34 before moving on to a long session of Elder Scrolls VI before wrapping up with a dose of the latest Resident Evil. Here’s the catch to all of this, compatibility is far less of an issue because you’ve worked all the ding dong day in the cloud (via ComputerWorld) and all these devices and attachments are incredibly low-power offerings that’ll last you days on end.

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Now, my little fantasy there may err more on the side of my daydream than reality but it’s based on a range of innovations we see creeping into the world of computing today. Apple is yet to show signs it’ll venture into being more flexible on the operating system side of things, with pleadings of an iPad Pro with MacOS currently falling on deaf ears and there isn’t much sign we could get something similar to Samsung DeX but for Macs, even if the iPhone seems clearly powerful enough to run a desktop experience.

Then, there’s gaming. Apple is showing more and more of a keenness to broaden its gaming offering, with widening support for native titles as well as its Game Porting Toolkit as well as just having allowed the Xbox Game Streaming app into the App Store (via The Verge). And, I’d expect this to grow a lot in the next five years but, in 10 years, the concept of more and more Mac experiences being based in the cloud seems like a significant possibility. It may be further down the line but such a move could also aid with the current slowdown of performance increases generation-on-generation that we’re seeing from the M-series of chips, as well as the company still has not created a true extremely high-performance replacement to the Intel Mac Pro and accompanying dedicated graphics cards.

The cloud and software innovation may seem like a more obvious route for where the Mac could go in the future but the hardware could be hugely exciting too. Apple’s current future-gazing product is the Apple Vision Pro which, of course, does innovate the different experiences operating systems can offer in a way that’s less cumbersome than hardware innovation. But, with Apple yet to dabble in the world of foldable, rollables and detachable, there’s a lot more to come from Cupertino.

Ctrl+Alt+Del is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.

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