Confirming rumours from earlier, Apple today confirmed that it will be making its in-house processors for Mac laptops and computers. The chips will be based on Advanced RISC Machines’ (ARM) 64-bit architecture, similar to what runs on Apple’s iPhones and iPads. The company announced a “quick start program" today, which gives developers access to documentation, sample code and access to labs “all around the world" so that they can start working on apps for such systems.
There’s also a Developer Transition Kit, which includes a Mac Mini enclosure, with an Apple A12Z Bionic chipset inside, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and the beta version for MacOS Big Sur. This is the same chipset that runs on the iPad Pro tablet. While the company said it will start shipping the first devices on the new chips by the end of the year and a “full transition" will take about two years.
The company, though, does plan to launch a few more Intel-based Macs in the coming months and said it will continue releasing updates for Intel-based Macs for “many years to come". While the company didn’t explicitly say it, it does seem to be the end of Apple’s association with chipmaker Intel, and a big blow to that company’s business.
Further, Apple claims that the new ARM-based processors will allow faster performance and better battery life from Macs. And while we have to wait and find out, efficiency has been at the core of all ARM architectures till date. The company’s processor designs run on smartphones everywhere, including flagship-grade chipsets made by Samsung, Qualcomm and even Apple.
That said, Microsoft hasn’t yet been able to achieve faster performance on its SQ1 processor, which is an ARM-based chip developed for Windows 10, running on the Surface Pro X. Apple’s MacOS has been the desktop operating system that goes toe-to-toe with Windows, but the company’s control on both hardware and software has usually allowed better portability for apps.
The move also helps Apple create a more universal app platform. Since apps made for iOS and iPadOS are already tuned for 64-bit architecture, they will now be able to run directly on Macs, without any change. That means the Mac App Store will essentially get millions of iPhone apps added to its arsenal. “Most apps will just work," the company said.
According to Apple, while the processors will bring unique features for Macs, there will be an underlying architecture that will remain the same. That helps app development in a major way, and is the primary roadblock developers face when making apps for Windows 10’s desktop and ARM versions.
“The cast majority of developers can get their apps up and running in a matter of days," said Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple. The company also said Microsoft and Adobe are already working on apps for the new Mac silicon, including apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Lightroom and Photoshop. Apple event demonstrated Lightroom and Photoshop during its keynote, though demos can’t really tell you much.
What’s also worth noting is that Microsoft had already been working on porting its Office suite of apps, including the ones mentioned above, to 64-bit architecture. So the move to Mac silicon would likely not be a big change for the company. Similarly, Adobe has been showcasing 64-bit versions of its apps since a few iPads now, and though the company is yet to add its full set of features, the work has been on for a while now.
Apple, of course, is not the first PC maker to take the move to ARM seriously. As mentioned before, Microsoft has also been working on ARM-based PCs, and has the Surface Pro X out on the market already. The move is expected to hurt Intel majorly, since the company has been the primary chip supplies for Apple’s Macs. That said, Apple owns only about 10% of the world’s PC market right now.