There are obvious hardware benefits when Apple moves to ARM processors, as well as the underlying software, which means the move will bring benefits to both the company and us.
Apple has carefully and methodically laid out all of the pieces so it can move to ARM, but it’s still a major transition for the Mac. Still, it will be worth it for Apple, for the Mac, and for all of us, because of the specific key benefits that ARM will bring.
Replacing Intel processors with ARM processors gives Apple some significant hardware benefits. And replacing Intel with ARM or anything at all also gives it opportunities.
The low-end Mac benefits from a switch to ARM processors
Intel is considerably behind on its projections for more performance from its processors, and it doesn’t seem to be catching up. Apple, historically, has not cared about this, and that was essentially the impetus for the last two changes.
Intel has made some progress, yes. But, for five years now, he has not set a deadline that he has not missed – some of these deadlines taking years after the promised date.
It’s complicated, but ARM processors deliver better performance than Intel processors for 90% of what a Mac is used for – or at least more performance than Intel’s current track record. And, at the same time, for many engineering reasons, an ARM processor has the advantage of also producing less heat than Intel for the same performance.
Apple has been very successful and continues with its own ARM processor design for iOS
If there were no other benefits, it was worth it for Apple to upgrade from Mac to ARM. New Macs using it will be faster and more powerful, and they will be able to accelerate at higher clock speeds without running the machines too hot.
T1 and T2 chips are already ARM and do a lot for macOS now
It’s not just speculation based on specs and projections, we already have evidence on Macs dating back to 2016. That’s when Apple introduced its ARM T1 chip into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, and in 2017 the T2 made its debut in the iMac Pro.
Both are conspicuously concerned with security because they manage Touch ID and the secure enclosure. However, the T2, in particular, has brought other benefits that Apple has not promoted, but they are extremely important for overall performance.
The T2 chip supports audio processing, for example, and does some of the video encoding work away from the main processor on the Mac. This is enough to speed up the execution of a Mac equipped with T2 for jobs that use unloaded processes compared to another.
Apple’s move to ARM gives it control of the entire Mac stack
Throughout its history, Apple has worked to do everything it can. It is not just a corporate ego, however, it is a policy with crucial benefits. It’s because Apple controls both the operating system and the hardware that it can progress at the same time.
It is because Microsoft does not control both Windows and PCs that the WinTel platform is probably blocked. Microsoft knows that there will easily be dozens of companies, hundreds of applications, and countless devices that expect Windows to work as it always has. Even when new hardware technologies are developed, it takes much longer to infiltrate each PC manufacturer. There are millions of PCs made with a myriad of component combinations, and they all have to run Windows.
Apple has avoided this, but it has always been dependent on the manufacturer of its processor. There is no doubt that Apple first influenced Motorola, then PowerPC and Intel. But at least in the case of Motorola and Intel, Apple was a small business compared to its other customers.
Now, with ARM, Apple does have its processor. Apple can design Mac ARM processors as it does for iOS, and it can take advantage of all the benefits of hardware and software development in locked mode.
From PowerPC to Boot Camp: we have already been here.
Previously, Apple’s transition work was so secret that we literally saw nothing. It was Steve Jobs who revealed during the Intel transition that Mac OS X was already designed to run on new processors for many years.
The late Larry Tesler said the switch to Intel was made before Apple even bought NeXT.
So, without a doubt, there have been Macs powered by ARM in Apple, but this time we’re seeing public signs of the movement. Apple may not admit that it’s about switching to ARM, but it has made some key changes that have expressly configured the Mac for this new future.
One of the most glaring signs was with macOS Catalina. Despite the problems that some applications have encountered with the latest macOS, the move to Catalina has also sorted out some rubbish.
Only 64-bit applications run on macOS Catalina, which means that all of the old 32-bit applications that might have been difficult to support on ARM, or port on the new processor, have already been abandoned.
Likewise, Catalyst is at least trying to get developers to code in a certain way, which means taking advantage of the work they’ve done for ARM processors in iOS.
Mac and iOS developers will continue to use Apple’s Xcode software to build their apps, but they won’t have to think about different technologies as much. Apple can make the key things we see in the new SwiftUI work on both platforms, and can forget about the legacy code that it had to support and that developers had to understand.
The Mac mini 2018 has an ARM processor – it’s the T2 chip.
Just like when it moved to Intel, the new move to ARM means that years or decades of old code can be left behind, and Apple can build on a whole new code base designed to help developers on Mac and iOS.
All development is not equal
Although we have experience with two processor transitions to show us how remarkably well Apple will handle a third, for the same reason, we know where there will be problems.
Specifically, you can bet that Microsoft and Adobe will be late for the party as they have been before.
However, it may not be as safe a bet as before. Where Microsoft has delayed the creation of an iPad application and Adobe has delayed the transfer of its software to Intel, the two companies may have changed their minds.
Microsoft and Adobe are now developing iOS applications and devoting significant resources to them. If Catalyst is as much help in creating Mac versions of iOS software as Apple hopes, it may be the first time the two have joined in time.
Whether they do it or not, there will again be a transition period before they finally arrive, and there will be a transition period when Apple switches to ARM, although this time it will likely be longer . Tim Cook is unlikely to be able, or willing, to emulate Steve Jobs’ announcement that all Macs will use Intel processors within two years. He will surely not be able to match the way Apple actually made this move in the 18 months.
Indeed, Apple has just launched its most powerful machine of all time, the Mac Pro. It will take demand from this Pro market for Apple to even switch this machine to ARM in the short and medium term.
The benefits further down the line are clearer, but it will always be a transition. But it won’t be a transition that will cause big problems for users.
We know this because, again, we have been here before. In the 1990s, with the switch to PowerPC, and in 2006 with the switch to Intel, applications will surely arrive in what are called big binaries. They will be able to work on both older Intel and ARM processors without the user having to do anything.
It will be to help people with existing Intel Macs, but it will also mean that Apple can continue to sell new Intel until the line eventually switches completely.
What is not clear is just where Apple will launch its first Mac ARM. Chances are it’s a MacBook Pro of some description, just because Apple sells more laptops than desktops, and it will want the ARM processor to be a hit.
But that could see a bigger impact of adding ARM to a previously underperforming device like the MacBook Air. It’s hard to see how Apple will maintain a consistent line of devices if the cheaper air outperforms the Pro.
If we don’t know it yet, we at least know that Apple knows it.
He anticipated this, and it has prepared us for years to move to ARM. This is a giant movement that other companies have been reluctant to try or are only doing for the first time. But, Apple has smoothly handled a big hardware change twice before.