M1 Macs have perhaps had the most unfair testing of any recent models. Aimed at the lower end of the market, where 16 GB memory is ample, and few users do things like boot from an external disk, we’ve been putting them through paces more typical of higher-end Macs. In the next few weeks, Apple is expected to launch new Apple Silicon Macs which are aimed fairly and squarely at heavier use by those with greater expectations and demands. In this article, I suggest some points of improvement which need to be addressed in those new models.
The most obvious shortcoming of current M1 Macs is their limitation to a maximum of 16 GB memory. Although users have been impressed with how fast they remain when pushing that to its limit, many Mac users do need more than that, and this must be one of the main hardware features in future Apple Silicon Macs.
Some prospective purchasers of M1 Macs have held off because of their limited support for external displays, with their inability to drive two or more. A popular feature in many existing Intel models, even going back to better MacBook Pros from 2011 and before, it’s essential for many users who wouldn’t consider themselves in the least bit ‘pro’. Support for a single Pro Display XDR has made for some excellent demos, but only serves to emphasise the need to drive multiple external displays.
Bootable external disks
Booting M1 Macs from external disks has been a long and sorry saga in which Apple must have known early hardware limitations prior to macOS 11.2 but has stubbornly remained silent on their resolution, and most of all the changes brought about by Secure Boot’s new system of ownership. These remain undocumented except in Apple’s Platform Security Guide, which isn’t aimed at (or suitable for) users. Even now that it’s relatively straightforward to install and boot from a copy of macOS on an external disk, I’m unable to find any Apple support document which explains to users how this can be done, and guides them past its pitfalls and problems.
Remaining problems include:
- Existing documentation fails to point out that trying to install an older version of macOS is likely to fail unless performed using a bootable external installer.
- During installation, the installer offers to copy an existing user as the owner of the bootable volume, but fails to point out the problems which can result if that offer is declined.
- Ownership is new with Apple Silicon, unknown to those who already use Intel Macs, but is nowhere explained to users.
- The only tool provided to assist with problems,
bputil, is explicitly condemned by Apple, so deterring its use. Neither does there appear to be any tool or other means of discovering or correcting ownership problems.
- There are still occasions when the current ownership system fails, leaving the user with incomprehensible error messages and no clue as to how to solve them.
These need to be properly addressed before any new Apple Silicon Macs are aimed at a more demanding market.
Improving macOS updates
Many users are unhappy with the burden of macOS updates and the more limited range of updating options which the Sealed System Volume has brought. Although these can be mitigated effectively for those with two or more Macs using the Content Caching Server, Big Sur updates for M1 Macs have always required an extra 930 MB or so to be downloaded directly from Apple’s servers. Considerably more work remains to make this new macOS updating system better for all users, particularly those with Apple Silicon Macs.
Although not generally common, some users have reported repeated kernel panics on their M1 Macs which don’t appear to be related to third-party hardware. Being old school, I still believe that kernel panics should be extremely infrequent, and even seeing one a year on a Mac should be cause for concern. As Apple now owns the processor, the rest of the SoC, all the firmware, and the operating system, and has effectively eliminated third-party kernel extensions, there should be no excuse for continuing problems with kernel panics.
The current Intel Mac mini features four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and it’s five years since Apple first offered an Intel MacBook Pro with four Thunderbolt 3 ports. As the M1 is Apple’s first in-house chip supporting Thunderbolt, it’s perhaps only fair that it’s limited to two ports, but that isn’t sufficient for many users, who end up having to use third-party docks, or one of the new Thunderbolt 4 hubs. It’s imperative that any successor to the M1 can support four Thunderbolt 3/4 ports.
Choice of macOS version in 1 True Recovery
By and large, the new 1 True Recovery system accessed by holding the Power button at startup is a great advance over its predecessors, and there’s almost nothing that I’d want to change there. One significant improvement which it could offer, at minimal cost, would be a choice of currently available versions of macOS rather than just the current one.
I’m sure that you have your own ideas as to what Apple needs to improve in these new Apple Silicon Macs. I look forward to reading them.