It is official. It is confirmed. Starting later this year, Apple will embark on a two-year process that will see the entire Mac computing device line-up shift from Intel processors to their own custom-made processors. While we had heard about this potential change over the past few weeks, the confirmation by Apple at the annual WWDC conference keynote makes things clear. The switch to the ARM-powered Macs starts towards the end of this year, with the first Macs rolling out with the new chips. It isn’t to say that this is the immediate end of the road for Intel and Apple's relationship, because there will be Intel powered Mac updates and upgrades lined-up over the next 24 months. But why did Apple decide to make this transition and phase out the long-standing partnership with Intel in favor of Apple Silicon? Not many may have realized, but it has a lot to do with iOS and iPadOS.
During the WWDC keynote, Apple confirmed that the custom-chips for the Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps. The underlying architecture of Apple’s A12Z chip which has been shipped with the Developer Transition Kit that includes a Mac Mini with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD with the macOS Big Sur developer beta, and the chips that power the iPhone and the iPad remains the same. Apple’s custom chips will have their own designed graphics and storage controllers as well. During the keynote, Apple demoed the power of the upcoming custom-chip powered Macs by also showing off the Monument Valley 2, Calm, and the Fender Play apps. We are finally entering the uniform world that Apple had envisioned with apps running seamlessly across all their platforms.
“From the beginning, the Mac has always embraced big changes to stay at the forefront of personal computing. Today we’re announcing our transition to Apple silicon, making this a historic day for the Mac,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With its powerful features and industry-leading performance, Apple silicon will make the Mac stronger and more capable than ever. I’ve never been more excited about the future of the Mac.” The messaging, from the outset, is very clear. Apple wants to take a new direction with the MacBook, a new future that it has more control over.
It is expected that the ability to run iOS and iPadOS app versions alongside the macOS apps will be available from the outset, on Macs that are powered by the Apple Silicon. And that journey starts at the end of this year. The iOS apps that can be run on these Macs will show up in the App Store for macOS—though we will probably get a clearer idea of what this means as we get closer to the launch. This would likely also mean that an app which you may have purchased on your iPhone or iPad already, will be available on the Mac without having to buy again.
This coming together of macOS with iOS and iPadOS started last year with macOS 10.15 Catalina and the Catalyst apps that support Apple’s UIKit software framework used for the iPhone and iPad apps. It may have been a bit more complicated then, but the change in the beating heart that is the silicon, just streamlines the attempts at uniformity further. If you look at the visual changes that Apple showed off with the upcoming macOS Big Sur, there seems to be a considerable resemblance to the iOS and iPadOS apps for the same—Safari, Messages and Photos, for instance. Apple is not wrong in trying to unify the experience for users, as much as possible, so as to reduce the potential jarring transitions albeit momentarily when switching between macOS and iPadOS, for instance.
Whatever the reasons for this switch, including the chatter about the reduced performance boosts that Intel is able to integrate in its newer chips every year, the uniformity is what Apple users would love to get used to. For Apple, this means an even closer marriage between hardware and software, which should only be good news for consumers.
While developers are expected to update their apps to work with macOS as well, Apple still has a Plan B in place. Rosetta has been recalled, and it is called Rosetta 2. This will look at apps that haven’t been updated by developers and translate them at installation time to work as desired. But when it is becoming simpler for developers to port apps to macOS as well, why would they really resist? The transition starts later this year, with the first Macs running the Apple Silicon rolling out. It isn’t a change that will happen overnight. The switch from Intel to the custom-chips will take 2 years, so don’t be too surprised to see some Mac updates and refreshes over the next 12+ months still being powered by Intel’s chips. But the future is arriving. And fast.