Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Bloomberg: Apple Set to Announce ARM Transition for the Mac at WWDC

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is preparing to announce a shift to its own main processors in Mac computers, replacing chips from Intel Corp., as early as this month at its annual developer conference, according to people familiar with the plans.

The company is holding WWDC the week of June 22. Unveiling the initiative, codenamed Kalamata, at the event would give outside developers time to adjust before new Macs roll out in 2021, the people said. Since the hardware transition is still months away, the timing of the announcement could change, they added, while asking not to be identified discussing private plans.

This will be the third CPU architecture transition for the Mac, after switching from the Motorola 68k series to PowerPC, and then from PowerPC to Intel. If the first ARM Macs begin shipping to customers early next year, that will mean a fifteen year lifespan for the Intel architecture. That compares to twelve years for PowerPC processors, and just ten for Motorola.

By all accounts, I think, the Intel transition went especially smoothly: the company announced its intentions at WWDC 2005 and, by Macworld 2006 — about seven months later — the company was selling its first two Intel-based products in the form of the iMac and MacBook Pro.

My expectations for this transition are very similar. Because the Bloomberg family of publications carry serious business news, it seems that there is one caveat per Gurman scoop. Even so, it would be shocking to me if the ARM transition were announced at any event except WWDC. If this project becomes public at any point this year, you will hear about it two weeks from now.

The biggest question in the lead-up to the Intel announcement in 2005 was whether existing applications would be supported. Apple’s response was Rosetta — an invisible translation layer that allowed simple PowerPC applications to run on Intel at acceptable speeds. Gurman’s story today builds lightly on his report from April, but does not add any information about this key question.

Update: Jesper:

Even if all of these are handled in the most inclusive way possible, unless there’s some sort of extra bone thrown towards Mac Pro users, who now have seen a platform long-neglected, then ostensibly rebooted, twice, back-to-back, the future for the Mac Pro as the value proposition it currently occupies is murky at best. Forming a Pro team and taking everybody out for a ride of gradually coming to terms with actual people’s actual needs only to decide that they are no longer a priority would be unspeakably stupid. Unless Mac Pros will live on in the current form, there’s more to this, although maybe not revealed immediately at this year’s WWDC.

With USB4 subsuming Thunderbolt 3, it’s not impossible that Mac Pro could just get AMD’s best performing CPUs in them and gain an impressive boost. (Although there’s other Intel technology to worry about, such as the wireless video standard one that powers Sidecar.)

Gus Mueller:

Will Apple release ARM based Macs this year? I hope so, I think the upside is huge. We’ll lose things like VMware and other x86 based applications which will be sad, but if it brings better performance and longer battery life, I’m all for it.

I’m hoping that this is transitioned better than a clean break between Intel and ARM Macs. Even though I don’t plan on buying a new Mac for years, it already sucks when I can’t open some 32-bit app on my MacBook Air running Catalina.

I was reading Jason Snell’s MacOS 10.16 wish list today, and he concludes a section about improving Catalina’s frustrating security restrictions like so:

I don’t need macOS to become less secure. I do think Apple needs to the work to make it easier for users to use their Macs, their apps, and their files without the operating system getting in their way.

Good computing gets out of the way. Apple’s software and hardware, at the best of times, gets out of the way. In my ideal world, Apple’s ARM Mac transition will erect the fewest barriers for users and be as seamless as possible. We shall see.