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With Apple 5G modems coming, would you buy a 5G MacBook?

16-inch MacBook Pro vs. 13-inch vs. Air
16-inch MacBook Pro vs. 13-inch vs. Air (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

A recent analyst report claimed that Apple's 2023 iPhone will be the first to feature an Apple-designed 5G modem. That's something that's been coming ever since Apple bought Intel's failed modem business and Apple does love to have control over as many of the chips inside an iPhone as possible. But an Apple modem does have another potential home – MacBooks.

People have been begging Apple to put a cellular modem into MacBooks for years. Probably since before the iPad got it, but my memory isn't that good. It's yet to happen, but could an Apple modem fix that? Possibly. But probably not.

As much as Apple's wish to control the chips does sometimes inform design and feature set decisions, I don't think that's the case here. Apple could have put a Qualcomm or Intel part into a Mac before today. Other vendors already do it. The problem isn't so much hardware, but software.

Macbook Air M1

Macbook Air M1 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I'm not the first person to say this, but macOS just isn't yet set up for an always-on connection – especially when those connections are more often than not, metered. Having a cloud backup service crunch its way through someone's data cap because it didn't know it was on cellular wouldn't be a good look. By contrast, iOS and iPadOS both know all about cellular connections and have the mechanisms in place to control their use. macOS, not so much. It needs granular control of apps so as to control the kinds of data connections they can use at the very least. Some sort of Low Data Mode would be cool, too.

Sure, Apple could no doubt add that kind of thing to macOS. It's got some very capable engineers after all. And I suspect it will, one day. But if software is the blocker here just as I think it is, it's nothing to do with modems and an Apple modem won't unblock anything.

Which is a shame, really. Nobody can argue that a new MacBook Air with 5G connectivity wouldn't be super sweet.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

1 Comment
  • Wow, 6 whole votes so far, and a tie. I said no because I have had a cellular capable 'laptop', a Surface Go specifically. I only turned the cell on when I needed it, so avoided the potential for data use surprises. Still it was $15-$20/month for the privilege. I could just as easily have tethered in those instances I needed connectivity. Not sure the always on aspect really excites me. I travel with a phone, that is connected and makes me aware of anything that needs immediate attention. If it needs a laptop to deal with the issue, it isn't that hard to fire it up and connect. I'm not discounting use cases where this would be beneficial. I'm sure there are some, but for me, not worth the $150-$200 extra it will cost to give the privilege of paying a monthly cell charge.