Updated Feb 14th: article originally posted February 11th
Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptops have lifted the bar on the raw performance that a laptop can achieve. Much of that is down to the tight and unique arrangement Apple has between its proprietary hardware and software. But that tight integration is not without issues. Something is missing from Apple’s laptops, and it’s not something that can be remedied quickly or easily.
What’s missing? Gaming is missing.
Update: Tuesday 14th February: Putting the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro through its paces, the team at Notebook Check have compared the Apple Silicon GPU inside the top-or-the-range macOS laptop with the closest Windows PC hardware… and Apple is holding its own:
Native benchmarks like 3DMark Wildlife Extreme Unlimited show that the M2 Max GPU can even compete with RTX 3080 (Lenovo Legion 7 16) or RTX 3080 Ti laptops (Alienware x15), while the Geekbench performance is roughly on par with the RTX 3060. The graphics performance is stable under sustained workloads and even on battery power, which is definitely an advantage over Windows laptops with discrete GPUs.
If Apple has the underlying power of a gaming laptop, what’s stopping it from being a gaming laptop?
Let’s be clear; I’m using ‘gaming’ as an industry term rather than games because there clearly are games available for the Mac platform. I’m talking about the mainstream gaming industry that offers AAA titles, big names, long-running franchises, and cultural moments. Why is it massive news every time Apple gets a single bespoke title at the same time as every other platform gets a dump-truck full of titles to enjoy?
Power Gaming’s Leo Stevenson highlights what’s on offer.
“…the number of big-budget games available for Mac is limited. My Steam library is in the triple digits, but the number that runs on Mac is less than a third. Once you factor in that this MacBook can’t run 32-bit games, you lose even more.”
The Mac platform isn’t ready. For all the talk of the high performance and outstanding potential of the Apple Silicon chipsets, we’re not going to be seeing top-line gaming on a gaming-focused MacBook Pro any time in the near future.
Much of this is down to the hardware itself. Don’t forget that game developers would be adding another platform into the mix – Apple will have to sit alongside a wider range of PCs, the Sony Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and arguably Nintendo’s Switch.
Apple Silicon offers faster and more efficient CPUs, improved GPUs, and the opportunity to ‘port down’ to the iPad and iPhone platforms. All great, but Apple is not using the ‘standard’ components that you find throughout the PCs and Consoles of the gaming industry.
Apple may want gaming on the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and the wider range of deskbound computers. Apple may want to bring the best possible gaming experience to its users. But this isn’t something that can begin in-house and be worked on in secret until a dramatic reveal. Here’s Tim Millet, Apple’s vice president of Platform Architecture and Hardware Technologies, on the issue of preparing the platform for a potential future:
“The other thing we wanted to do, and I think we have hopefully done, is to seed the Mac, the full Mac lineup, with very capable GPUs, whether it be the MacBook Air, obviously, all the way up to the beast, Ultra chips that we can put in our Mac Studio.” Because until you do that, until you have a population distributed, developers are going to be wary about making a big investment and kind of focus on Mac.
The macOS platform is an impressive toolbox, but its a unique toolbox, one that Apple will need to work hard to inspire its use by the gaming industry. Porting from Windows to Mac is not an easy task. And that will put a significant demand on any developers’ resources. Right now, is there enough return from the Mac market to make this a profitable choice?
None of these are insurmountable problems in the long term. While many of them are rather ‘chicken and egg’, Apple is showing a drive in some areas, deciding to be the egg and invest in areas so that the macOS platform can be ready to meet the gaming challenge when the industry feels it is ready to join them.
But the platform is not there yet, and Apple knows this. Here’s Millets once more:
“Gamers are a serious bunch. And I don’t think we’re going to fool anybody by saying that overnight we’re going to make Mac a great gaming platform. We’re going to take a long view on this.”
For many, gaming on a laptop is a crucial consideration when buying a system. Apple is working hard to make the hardware accessible to developers, to allow tools to work within the macOS ecosystem, and to roll out gaming-level hardware to create an addressable and profitable gaming audience… all of this needs to be in place before Mac and Gaming belong together,
Apple knows there is a huge gap in the MacBook market, and this problematic omission is not one that can be easily fixed.
Now read the latest mac, iPhone, and iPad headlines in Apple Loop, Forbes weekly news digest…
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