It’s that most glorious time of the year for the Apple faithful, with them kicking off their World Wide Developers Conference (or WWDC).
Whilst we got news of upgrades to operating systems that power their products (iOS, iPad OS, watchOS, tvOS and macOS), there was some news that been that some have been waiting for Apple to break – the transition away from Intel to its own silicon, based on the ARM Architecture.
Welcome to Apple Silicon – Image, Apple via WWDC feed.
Apple has made some major platform transitions over the years:
- From the Motorola 68xxx family to PowerPC Architecture
- From Classic Mac OS to macOS X Family
- From PowerPC Architecture to Intel x86/x64 (2005)
Now, it is moving away from the Intel Platform to its own silicon, based on the ARM architecture.
Haven’t I seen ARM architecture before?
If you’ve got an iPhone, iPad, AppleTV or Apple Watch… or in fact nearly any modern phone, at the heart of it is the ARM Architecture. It differs from the Intel instruction set, in being a RISC processor (Reduced Instruction Set Computing).
What benefits will it bring?
Apple is touting the biggest benefit is going to be giving better performance, whilst targeting a lower power budget. Or in more common terms, devices should last longer when doing work at full blast on a device.
It will also bring lots of technologies seen in the iPhone and iPad to the desktop.
Is it a proof of concept or is it alive?
At the demonstration shown today, macOS on ARM appears to be alive and well.
What if I’ve invested heavily in Intel-based applications?
Apple is reintroducing its translation again (as it did for the PowerPC to Intel switch) – called Rosetta 2
In theory, it should “just work” after installing an application. This was demonstrated with a copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider running.
Whilst they were demonstrated as “working”, judging performance is hard. Why?
The easiest way to explain what Rosetta does is it translates from one language (in this case, Intel-binary compatible), and translate into a language that the new chip will understand (ARM). This as you can imagine – has an impact on the performance of legacy applications.
What this performance penalty will be – is one to watch, as the developer’s kits start shipping and benchmarks “accidentally” leak (and anyone who doesn’t think a benchmark will leak soon… well…).
How long is the transition going to take?
Apple is estimating the first devices to ship with an Apple Silicon part at the heart of the device will ship towards the end of the year, with the entire product stack switching over to their Silicon within two years (akin to how they migrated from PowerPC to Intel).
Which leads to an important question…
Should you buy a Mac today?
Looking at past history, Apple supported the dual PowerPC/Intel running for nearly four years of releases (through Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard). Considering also developers are being given tools to create applications that can target both the ARM and Intel Platforms (called Universal 2), there should be applications for years to come – both inside and outside the Apple App Store.
And the Intel-based machine won’t just stop because Apple stops supporting the platform.
However, for those who utilise virtualisation, use BootCamp to use Windows and those whose applications target Intel only may want to tread carefully and see what happens next.
Indeed – Apple still have Intel-Based Mac’s coming out this year, along with its first ARM based device later on this year.
There’s a lot hidden behind the Apple kimono, along with plenty of questions.
Hopefully – we will get some answers revealed in due course.
All Images – Apple via the WWDC Keynote feed https://www.apple.com/apple-events/june-2020/
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