Apple’s new MacBook Pros will help pros do all their work on the go—except upload.
The company’s super-powered, go-anywhere MacBook Pros look perfect for the 5G age, as they download and edit massive ProRes video files and multi-track audio on location. When it’s time to show those masterpieces to the world, though, Apple-toting pros need to tether or find Wi-Fi.
That’s by design. Apple will likely enter the “always-connected” laptop market in 2024 with M-series chips that integrate Apple’s own 5G modem. Until then, it’s all about the tether.
Apple’s 5G laptop strategy right now is to tell you to buy an iPhone. The math is pretty simple: Qualcomm’s modems, which Apple has a deal to use at least through 2022, are a big cost on Apple’s ledger both financially and politically. Sure, Apple could price Qualcomm-packing laptops so it makes a profit, but the company doesn’t want to be even more dependent on its longtime frenemy as a supplier.
Selling you a MacBook Pro plus an iPhone or iPad means two Apple devices and only one Qualcomm modem. That’s more profit for Apple, and a way to trap you deeper in Apple’s ecosystem.
It’s also not like the 4G/5G laptop market is a big deal in the US. Always-connected laptops are a sideshow, even among the hardest-core road warriors, because few people feel the cost of another wireless carrier service plan makes sense for what they intend to do. Without its own silicon and a big consumer push, Apple will kick the 5G ball down the road until it’s strategic.
I’m betting that will be 2024.
Apple’s Quest for Modems
As the iPhone company, Apple has sought for years to be free of its modem partners. The company has often said it feels Qualcomm charges too much, and Intel couldn’t provide Apple with an adequate 5G chipset in volume. In 2019, Apple bought a lot of Intel’s resources and staff with the goal of producing its own modems and controlling its own destiny.
That takes years, though. The reports I most believe have Apple modems debuting, in a limited way, in 2023’s iPhones and then more broadly in 2024 iPhones. The iPhone line will be the top priority for the first run of modems, so attention won’t shift to the laptops until 2024 at the earliest.
Recommended by Our Editors
So in 2024 or 2025, Apple will have its own modem that will be integrated into an M-series laptop system-on-chip. There’s a network element that will come into play in 2024, too.
It just happens that 2024 is when nationwide coverage will open up on C-Band, the new US 5G band that was auctioned off last year. C-Band is currently being used by some satellite firms and they’re going to open some of it up next year, but big chunks of the country will be stuck waiting for 2024. For Verizon and AT&T, C-Band will be the key to offering broad 5G coverage with speed and capacity that feels genuinely different from 4G. More capacity means the potential for lower-cost service plans per gigabyte, breaking through another one of the walls that has stopped 5G laptop penetration.
So the pieces fall into place in 2024 or 2025. Apple will have its own 5G silicon, and cities around the nation will be getting big performance boosts on Verizon and AT&T. The buzz will be back for 5G, and Apple will be just in time for it. Until then, enjoy tethering.
Like What You’re Reading?
Sign up for Race to 5G newsletter to get our top mobile tech stories delivered right to your inbox.