If WWDC 2021 was any indication, Apple is now ready to cut off increasing numbers of Intel Mac users. The company is deprecating machines on seemingly arbitrary lines, rather than technical limitations. As it gears up to transition the rest of its lineup to Apple Silicon, it’s already dropping features even for brand new machines.
Shortly after Wednesday’s keynote, the company outlined which desktops and laptops would be able to install the new version of macOS. Several machines that had been supported with last year’s Big Sur were now unable to upgrade to macOS Monterey. That included iMac models made before 2014, pre-late-2014 Mac Minis and MacBook Air and Pro models made before early 2015.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Apple withdrew support from the MacBook Air from early 2014, which at base spec runs a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U (Haswell) CPU with 4GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 5000. When asked, Apple said that it has to deprecate older hardware when those machines no longer support the experience that its users have come to expect from macOS.
That’s notable, because macOS Monterey does support the late 2014 Mac Mini, the base model of which… packs a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U (Haswell) CPU with 4GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 5000. Owners of the mid-2014, 15-inch MacBook Pro are in a similar situation, as the mid-2015 model that’s still supported has almost the exact same internals at the base spec.
One of the likely reasons that Apple’s having to make decisions like this is because of the unique way it updates its computers. That same i5-4260U Mac Mini was on sale at Apple until the 2018 refresh, and four years is a long time for any chip to be on sale. It means that with Monterey, Apple would have to abandon models that customers could have bought just three years ago.
Similarly, the base model 21.5-inch iMac, which was refreshed in early 2019, was powered by Intel’s i3-8100, a CPU from late 2017. And that’s the model that has just been replaced by the new, ultra-slim M1 edition that has garnered so many plaudits in recent months. By dragging its feet with chip refreshes over the last few years (not helped, of course, by Intel’s own woes), Apple makes it harder to convincingly make a technical argument for withdrawing support for some models and not others.
Similarly, even new Intel Macs running macOS Monterey will find their experience limited in some ways. 9to5Mac noted that Apple has listed a series of features in Monterey that will not be supported by any Intel Mac. That includes the ability to blur backgrounds in FaceTime Videos, copy live text from within images and utilize the new, more detailed maps.
In these cases, it’s likely that the new features are coded to take advantage of the M1’s Neural Engine. But that’s not to say that some of these features couldn’t run on Intel machines, if Apple was willing to put in the work. When even affordable Windows laptops with integrated graphics can blur backgrounds inside a Zoom call, is it fair to deny a similar FaceTime feature to someone spending $2,800 on an Intel MacBook Pro today?
The only thing that the company really risks with all of this is some goodwill with users still persisting with their older Macs. Apple’s priority is understandably to look toward its future, but the decision to perhaps arbitrarily pull support for some machines isn’t ideal.
Compare this to smartphones, where Apple runs rings around its competitors for OS support with older devices. The iPhone 6S, from September 2015, will be able to upgrade to iOS 15 this fall, in a world where competing manufacturers have only recently deigned to start offering three years of OS support for an equivalent Android device. When it comes to desktops and laptops, Apple should be striving for an even greater level of support.
Comparing this to Apple’s last transition, the first Intel Macs arrived in January 2006, and Apple’s first Intel-only OS update arrived in the summer of 2009. Apple will likely continue to offer security and usability updates for older models, but the writing’s on the wall for any Intel running Mac currently on sale. If you’re looking to buy one of those machines today, you should be aware that you could be boxed out of using all those exciting new features announced at future WWDCs. Hey, you might even run out of new OSes to install in the not-too-distant future.