Apple Silicon on Mac

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On 23rd June 2020, in its WWDC 2020 keynote Apple announced that it will be moving its entire Mac lineup to Apple Silicon within 2 years. When Apple transitioned its Mac lineup from PowerPC to Intel that process took only 210 days.

Apple Silicon is Apple’s implementation of the ARM ISA. Apple Silicon will be designed by Apple and manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Contrast this with Intel CPU’s that implement the x86 ISA.

Today, ARM chips are most commonly found in smartphones. This includes most Android phones and all iPhones. There are a few laptops based on ARM but ARM is still not commonly used in laptops.

I believe that the primary reason Apple is transitioning their Mac lineup to Apple Silicon is to gain more control over the experience.

On iPhone Apple controls the entire experience. From the software you see, all the way down to the System on a Chip (SOC) running everything. This control is what allows Apple to produce new iPhones every year, like clock-work. That same control also lets Apple tailor iOS to hardware, producing a seamless, optimized experience.

By bringing Apple Silicon to Mac Apple can apply that same philosophy to the Mac.

The second reason Apple would want to bring Apple Silicon to the Mac is Apps. Not just any Apps. I’m talking about iOS Apps.

The App Store is critical to the iPhone’s success. I believe the iPhone is the first phone that allowed you to download 3rd party apps but don’t quote me on that. Of course, I'm excluding the apps that you can get from your carriers. The Apps are what enabled the iPhone to be pretty much whatever you wanted to be.

Apple Silicon will enable the Mac to run iOS apps natively. Of course, I know, I know, there's already lots of software available for the Mac without iOS apps. The problem though is that those pieces of software are more focused on the work side of things. Things like development, and creative work. The result, Mac lacks general consumer appeal. With Apple Silicon though, you’ll be able to use the Twitter App on your Mac and I think that’s cool.

One more point that I need to bring up is that, if you can run iOS apps on the Mac, you now have parity across all Apple platforms. The Apps you write for the iPhone can run on all other Apple Devices. The same goes for Apps you write for the Mac targeting Apple Silicon, they will run on the iPhone and iPad as well. And that’s exciting.

Apple has done its best to reduce the pain points its users face in this transition. Catalyst, XCode, and Metal all make this transition process painless for most developers but there are of course exceptions. So, expect to see that some apps, particularly those that rely on lower-level functionality to break.

For those that are running old pieces of software on the Mac, and I know there are loads of you out there, you can still run that piece of software on Apple Silicon Macs. Apple has implemented Rosetta 2 an x86 emulation layer using a combination of hardware acceleration and software optimizations in OS 11. However, do note that apps not updated for the Apple Silicon will run slower.

For those running Windows on Mac, I have a piece of bad news for you. Windows will not run on an Apple Silicon based Mac. First of all, Bootcamp will not be available for Apple Silicon based Macs. This is what Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering have to say on the matter:

“We’re not direct booting an alternate operating system, …. Purely virtualization is the route. These hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct boot shouldn’t really be the concern.”

You may be able to run Windows via a virtual machine (VM) such as VMWare or Parallels but both companies have yet to comment on the matter. However, at this time, we do know that both VMWare and Parallels won’t work on Rosetta 2 and a rebuild of those Apps for Apple Silicon based Macs will be needed.

I welcome the arrival of Apple Silicon on Mac. I am looking forward to getting one to play with when it becomes available.

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