At its worldwide developer conference on June 22, Apple confirmed the years-old rumour that it will be using its own processor for its Macs computers.
In what Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook calls a historic moment, Apple unveiled that all of its MacOS Big Sur demo, the next operating system for Macs, was run on an unspecified device built with the Apple A12Z system-on-chip (SoC), the same silicon that powers the Apple iPad Pro, along with 16GB of RAM.
The A12Z SoC is built on the same architecture as the processor used in the iPhones, which is a custom chip based on ARM. For the Mac, Apple announced that it has created a family of SoC specifically for it. Using the same architecture across the Mac, iPad and iPhone reduces the work for software developers who want to create cross-platform apps. In fact, Apple demonstrated iPhone and iPad apps running natively on the demo Mac system.
Apple’s ability to run mobile apps natively on a desktop operating system is a direct challenge to Google and its ChromeOS. Although they’re in vastly different performance and price range, Google’s Chromebooks also have their Play Store mobile app store enabled. With that said, our previous experiences with it have proven to be less than stellar.
In addition to its App Store, Apple is urging software developers to create native apps for its new silicon. Microsoft is already turning its Office Suite for the new Mac, and Adobe is doing the same for its creative cloud suite. Apple has also demoed Final Cut Pro playing back three 4K video streams simultaneously on the new system to prove that the chip has the needed performance for video editing.
To increase the performance of apps built for Intel-based Macs when running on the new Mac processor, Apple introduced Rosetta 2, a binary translator that recompiles Mac apps designed for Intel’s instruction set and converts them to the instruction set used by Apple’s new silicon. The translation occurs at both during installation and on the fly. This feature reduces the performance penalty for apps that don’t yet have a version designed to run natively on the new processor. The new chip also has rich support for virtualization for those who want to run a Windows or Linux system within the MacOS.
Apple will be releasing a Mac with the A12 processor by the end of the year. While the company maintains that Intel is still included in its product roadmap with two Intel-based macs coming next year, it said that it expects to fully transition into using its own chips in two years.
And while Apple did not specify the reason that it wants to move away from Intel, the news is far from surprising. Apple is known for aggressively reining in control over its products from manufacturing to design. In addition, the company has had 13 years of experience in designing chips for its mobile platforms, chips that are often considered to be the fastest in their classes. The nail on the coffin is Intel’s stagnation in the past five years; stuck on its 14nm process with incremental performance improvements gen-on-gen could have been the final straws that broke Apple’s patience.