Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bloomberg: Apple switching Macs from Intel to ARM in 2020 →

Ian King and Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is planning to use its own chips in Mac computers beginning as early as 2020, replacing processors from Intel Corp., according to people familiar with the plans.

The initiative, code named Kalamata, is still in the early developmental stages, but comes as part of a larger strategy to make all of Apple’s devices — including Macs, iPhones, and iPads — work more similarly and seamlessly together, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The project, which executives have approved, will likely result in a multi-step transition.

On the benefits:

By using its own chips, Apple would be able to more tightly integrate new hardware and software, potentially resulting in systems with better battery life — similar to iPads, which use Apple chips.

And:

As part of the larger initiative to make Macs work more like iPhones, Apple is working on a new software platform, internally dubbed Marzipan, for release as early as this year that would allow users to run iPhone and iPad apps on Macs, Bloomberg News reported last year.

What It Means

This is huge news if true! Us Apple diehards and developers have been speculating for a long time as to the likelihood of this switch. In fact, it has been assumed that Apple has been testing ARM-based Macs for years now, evaluating their feasibility.

It makes sense, since Apple has increasingly been designing and making their own ARM-based silicon much to our benefit. To name the chips to date:

  • A-Series System On A Chip for iOS devices (mainly CPU, GPU, Secure Enclave, Neural Engine)
  • M-Series Motion Co-Processor for iOS devices
  • S-Series System In A Package for Apple Watch (CPU, GPU, Motion)
  • T-Series Co-Processor for Touch Bar Macs
  • W-Series Processor for wireless devices (AirPods, BeatsX, also Apple Watch)

As you can see, Apple has become quite the expert with ARM-based chipsets. Also supposedly in the works is a chip to handle AI tasks — something Siri can only stand to benefit from.

There are many pros to using ARM, as noted in the article. Better battery life and a shared code base for development are huge ones. Plus, Apple would no longer be beholden to Intel’s timeline and delays for new chips, which has caused Apple major pain points. If you’re worried what kind of headache we’re in for if and when the day comes, I’d look at Apple’s track record. They have handled similarly large transitions with relative grace, like when they switched from PowerPC to Intel.

No Easy Task

Make no mistake. Switching to ARM will be no easy task. There will be a multitude of items to address.

Boot Camp, for instance, which allows for dual-booting Windows and macOS, will need to be adjusted. The only reason it works now is because of Apple’s switch to Intel and the x86-64 architecture. Microsoft does have a version of Windows for ARM coming out, but it’s seriously lacking. Unless Apple has some crazy emulation magic up their sleeves, Windows fans may be forced to use this version for now.

Same goes for applications. Apps will need to be adjusted and compiled for ARM, but I’m sure Apple will do everything in their power to make it as seamless as possible for developers.

This news comes at a time where Apple’s software quality is largely being questioned, due to bug-ridden releases in 2017. In fact, Apple is expected to announce new versions of iOS and macOS at WWDC this year focusing on quality and performance in lieu of major new features. This can only be a good thing if they have a massive transition planned down the line.