Apple has announced it is moving to its own ARM-based silicon for the Apple Mac line, signalling the shift away from Intel processors for the first time in recent history.
Announced at WWDC 2020, alongside the new macOS Big Sur operating system, was the new Apple Silicon platform. It’s the biggest change to the Mac line since the switch from PowerPC to Intel more than a decade ago.
Apple says the first Macs rocking Apple Silicon will arrive by the end of the year, with the transition expected to last two years. Current owners of Macs don’t need to worry about being shut out though, as CEO Tim Cook says it plans to support Intel Macs via macOS updates for years to come.
The key benefits of the shift appear to be:
- The most powerful Mac computers ever (that will play out in testing)
- Better power management for improved battery life on MacBooks
- Universal apps across the entire Apple ecosystem
- Improved gaming support via the custom GPU component
Let’s delve a little deeper into what to expect.
What is Apple Silicon?
Since 2006 Apple Mac laptops and desktops have run on Intel processors, the kind of which we see in Windows PCs. That is coming to an end. Apple is scaling up the A-Series processors it uses for the iPhone and iPad and bringing them to the Mac in a massive sea change for the classic personal computing range.
But Apple Silicon isn’t just about the CPU, the first of which is called the A12Z. The company is bringing a custom-built GPU into play, which it says will support high-end gaming experiences, as well as using high-performance DRAM. Within Apple Silicon is also tech to support image processing from the cameras, machine learning through a new neural engine, audio processing and much more. The system-on-a-chip is the future of the Mac.
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When will Apple Silicon MacBooks and iMacs arrive?
Apple has promised the company’s new Apple Silicon Mac computers will be here before the end of 2020, but did not get into specifics. Recent rumours have suggested a new version of the 12-inch MacBook ARM may be first on the agenda, as well as refreshes to the iMac and 13-inch MacBook Pro.
It will take around two years to complete the transition to Apple Silicon. After that, there will be no more new Intel-based Macs in production, but more will be released during the transition.
Does Apple Silicon make my Mac and apps obsolete?
Tim Cook assured current users that macOS will be supported for years to come, so no. You will still be able to run the same software and apps on that MacBook you just purchased for the foreseeable future. As for the app library, Apple is making it easy for developers to quickly recode their apps so they can work on both Intel and Apple Silicon based Macs.
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Will iPad and iPhone apps run on Apple Silicon Macs?
Yes! This is one of the key lures for developers and consumers. For developers, it’ll mean they will offer the same application, built on the same architecture across the entire Apple ecosystem, meaning the same app written for an Apple Watch can be easily optimised for a Mac too.
Apple has already started the journey towards this eventuality with Project Catalyst, which helps iOS developers bring their app to the Mac, but this will be much easier moving forward when it comes to apps built on Apple architecture.
Which macOS apps will support Apple Silicon?
Apple revealed the likes of Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Cloud – including Photoshop – are already being optimised for Apple Silicon. They’ll be ready for consumers on day one. Of course Apple-built apps like Final Cut Pro are also on board with the switch.
During the presentation at WWDC Apple looked to reassure those who may be nervous about the switch by showing power-hungry tasks, like 4K video rendering, being accomplished with consummate ease, but this again will play out in testing.
For other developers, Apple says it’ll take only a matter of days for existing code to be recompiled in Xcode for use with Apple Silicon. Devs will be able to get a jump start on this process before Macs running Apple Silicon come to market using a dev unit Mac mini running the A12Z CPU.
However, it also has back-up plans with software called Rosetta 2 (it was initially used during the switch from PowerPC to Intel) able to convert apps for use with Apple Silicon on the fly. As a future insurance policy, Apple is building new virtualisation tools into macOS Big Sur to ensure that you can run apps in different environments. All in all, it appears all of the bases will be covered.