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Experiences can be turbocharged with purpose-built tech: Apple’s Bob Borchers


This year has borne witness to the completion of a cycle. One that started in 2020, when Apple sent shockwaves in the tech world by announcing a move away from Intel chips for all Mac computing devices. They’d develop their own. No one, including Intel, saw this coming. There has since been a paradigm shift in how performance is assessed, in the computing space.

The Apple Silicon conversation tends to begin from this chapter, but as Bob Borchers, VP of Worldwide Product Marketing at Apple points out to HT in an interview, the journey began a long time ago, with the iPhone. It wasn’t unchartered territory. Yet, there’s work to be done, particularly for gaming and the value buyers, globally and in India, look for.

Also Read:Apple’s Mac Mini 2023 is a vehement reassertion of good things in small packages

What Borchers calls the “beating heart of our products”, Apple’s own chips power the entire iPad line-up, the Apple Watch, even the HomePod. “The thing that’s particularly unique about us making the investment in Apple Silicon, is that it has allowed us to craft products more holistically,” he says. The Apple M1 chips pushed performance benchmarks extensively, a cause furthered by the second-generation evolution.

It has taken time for Intel and AMD, which power a majority of the Windows PC ecosystem, to respond. In the meantime, Apple has used M-series chips to power iPad Pro devices too. The rest of the iPad portfolio, as well as iPhone, use iterations of the A-series chips.

Borchers was part of the original iPhone team at Apple. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Borchers has more than 30 patents granted or pending. You don’t hear of that every day, do you?

For years, conventional wisdom suggested that ultra-slim laptops and portable computing devices which were categorised as “fan-less”, had to compromise on performance. Apple turned that argument on its head, with the powerful MacBook Air and iPad Pro. These machines benchmark higher performance than many premium Windows laptops and convertibles.

“It comes back to that fundamental focus not on performance, which I would argue is maybe what others have done, but performance per watt,” says Borchers. “If you approach that ratio as kind of the key parameter of success, it really has you look at things very differently and think about trade-offs in different ways,” he adds.

Was such a leap forward in performance, battery life and use-cases not possible in a guidance-to-vendor sort of an environment? Just as was the case, when Apple was just one tech company Intel was supplying chips to.

Borchers points out that chipmakers in such situations focus on several products, and not specifics. “You can turbocharge experiences when you have amazing purpose-built technologies that you can bring together,” he says. “They need to think about kind of the lowest common denominator,” he points out.

Apple has developed a standout chip called the M1 Ultra, which remains unmatched as the fastest computing device silicon. This was achieved by interconnecting two M1 Max chips, the most powerful chips in the ecosystem individually, a feat unheard-of till then. The result is a 20-core CPU, 64-core graphics, and 32-core Neural Engine for machine learning.

Another example of purpose-built tech which Borchers is referring to, was on display at the 2023 India Art Fair earlier this month, where artists used the iPad Pro, Mac and iPhone to create digital art experiences, much beyond a traditional canvas. Augmented Reality and Lidar, or Light Detection and Ranging, sensors were used by artists.

“Was that our goal? No, our goal was to put technology in the hands of artists so they could go imagine the future that we none of us we could think about,” says Borchers.

One of the apps that is very popular with digital artists, is called Procreate, developed by the Australia based, Savage Interactive.

India as a market, continues to gain importance for Apple. This is something company CEO Tim Cook alludes to, in quarterly earnings results. Borchers says proof of that focus is the fact that Apple’s entire product portfolio is available in India. The Apple India online store offers the ability to customise the specifications of any Mac, before placing the order.

Borchers says customers in India are very concerned about battery life in mobile devices. “They want performance, they want value. There are some universal truths that I think are certainly at play here,” he points out.

There is always the question that buyers ask before a big-ticket gadget purchase – how soon is a new version coming? While Apple follows an annual update cycle for the iPhone, also dictated by ecosystem pressures, it isn’t the case always. Meaningful improvements, as Borchers calls them. “What we end up doing is focusing on refreshing products when we can make a meaningful improvement. We don’t do it just because up it’s been 12 months,” he says.

It hasn’t been easy for Apple, to play the balancing act. The iPad Pro 12.9 was updated successively in 2021 and 2022, with the Apple M2 chip replacing the M1. However, the MacBook Air generational changes happened in 2020 and 2022. There was also a two -year gap between refresh cycles for the MacBook Pro 14 and MacBook Pro 16.

While the iPhone and iPad, alongside the Apple Arcade game subscription service have been on the radar, Macs have struggled. Despite the significant bump in power. Apple hopes the winds of change won’t slow down. Borchers talks about technologies such as Metal, which developers use, to be able to derive optimal performance.

“We’re going to continue to invest in technologies that make that better. We know developers are excited about being able to take advantage of it,” he says. More games are coming as native on the Mac platform, including Resident Evil Village, the World of Warcraft, and Star Trek: Legends are some highlights of a small, but growing list.


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