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26th June 2020

WWDC 2020: Apple CPUs in Desktop Macs

A lot has already been said and written following Apple’s first completely virtual conference at WWDC 2020. With major changes coming in iOS14 there has been a lot to dissect and talk about. If you want to read more about the latest iOS bombshells that Apple dropped then check out this extremely well written and interesting blog here. However, this particular blog looks at the more nitty-gritty details of the changes coming to Mac. With several monumental changes being announced it is only right that we take a closer look at how the world of the Mac is soon to be completely changing once again and provide you with our take on it.

First Things First

So it has officially been confirmed that Apple will be leaving Intel and switching to custom Apple CPU’s, for its future line of Mac hardware. The switch to Apple silicon chips has been labelled as “a historic day for the Mac” by Apple CEO Tim Cook. The chips are taken straight from Apple’s A12Z that is in its iPad 2020. Theoretically, there should be a host of advantages that come from Apple-designed CPUs. But there’s also a host of questions that come with this announcement, for example, why did Apple decide to go it alone when they could’ve switched to AMD? Did they perhaps get sick of waiting for Intel with no guarantee that the chips will be good? It’s known that Intel have been trying for years to get a low wattage high-performance CPU out and maybe Apple simply couldn’t wait any longer and felt forced to do it theirselves. Sometimes if you want something done it’s best to do it yourself, is that the case with Apple silicon?

One advantage of Apple switching to Apple silicon chip is that Mac will now be able to run iOS apps along with macOS apps which is a significant development. According to Apple, most iPadOS and iOS applications will “just work”. While the first Macs with Apple silicon chips will not be released until the end of the year, it is certainly an exciting transition that Apple says will take 2 years.

Apple has said that their in house RISC architecture chips are designed for efficiency to gain higher performance per watt and can get better performance than Intel chips. Along with improved performance, they are touting less power consumption. And with every major Apple product now migrating to common technology and the ARM-based architecture, it should now be easier and more simple for developers to write and optimise apps across all devices. With the chips being such a major milestone and numerous benefits being attached to the changing from Intel chips, it is to be expected that Apple are going to switch out the chips without any other major changes allowing them to market a “brand new product” while highlighting performance and battery life as the major changes, so if you were expecting any major aesthetic and visual design changes from Apple this year with their Macs you may have a little longer to wait.

Apps on Apple Silicon

With regards to apps, Apple announced that their pro apps will be updated to deliver industry-leading performance, making the most of the new custom technology of Apple silicon. Adobe have already begun work with Apple to ensure smooth integration of Creative Cloud and Microsoft are also working on updates for Microsoft 365.

Apple has also boldly claimed that Final Cut Pro users will be able to playback three 4K video streams seamlessly at full resolution, and that users will be able to see a general improvement in performance.

There has also been little to no mention of Windows and Bootcamp. Another unanswered question that arises from Apple’s announcement is what exactly is going to happen to Bootcamp once Apple silicon is rolled out? There’s no telling when Apple will make announcements on this or if they even know yet what the plan is and it is slowly beginning to feel like we are discovering more questions than answers from Apple with the announcement of Apple silicon.

Rosetta 2

Along with the announcement of Apple silicon, the return of Rosetta was also announced with macOS Big Sur. Rosetta 2 is a translation process that will ease the transition from Intel processors to their own ARM processors. Rosetta is mostly invisible to the user and will automatically kick in for actions that require Intel instructions and thus begin the translation process. Rosetta “supposedly” runs on set up so there isn’t any performance loss, however that’s to be decided when end users actually get to run it. With the arrival of Universal Binary 2 & Rosetta 2, other questions arise. For example, we don’t know how expansive support is going to be, many users will also want to know exactly how long Rosetta 2 will be around for? Forums are already filling up with concerned users who want to know just how long do they have to switch from Intel to Apple CPU and if purchasing an Intel Mac right now is a wise decision or if maybe they should just wait until the transition is complete (2 years). Along with this, there’s the added cautiousness that a lot of early adopters experience with teething problems. Will there be teething problems with Apple’s silicon chips? While Apple will profess increases in performance, improved efficiency and that Apple silicon will be all-round better than Intel, such questions can only be answered with time.

Universal App Quick Start

To help ease the transition for developers to Apple silicon and Big Sur, Apple is offering select applicants to join their Universal App Quick Start programme. The program includes all the tools, resources, and support needed to build, test, and optimize next-generation Universal apps for macOS Big Sur. The programme includes full access to beta software and tools that are required to develop universal apps for Apple silicon Macs, technical support, private forums, as well as exclusive access to a Mac Developer Transition Kit.

Before you think that you can head over to the Apple website and get your hands on one of these Apple SoC Mac Minis think again, priority is being given to developers and you will need to apply. Furthermore, if your sole reason was to benchmark it (like we would’ve) i’d read the fine print on the agreement you sign to purchase.

The big announcements made at WWDC 2020 have left many Mac users with smiles on their faces and excitement for what the future holds. However, there are also many who have been left with a plethora of unanswered questions and concerns that come from the introduction of Apple silicon. Many of these questions can only be answered by Apple and are yet to be revealed, however, there are other questions that ultimately cannot even be answered by Apple and instead will only reveal themselves over time. What the future holds with Apple silicon is far from certain, but we can guarantee is that the introduction of Apple silicone is definitely a major milestone in the Apple story.

26th June 2020

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