Apple already designs a huge number of its own chips built from the ground-up to provide what Apple believes to be the best power and efficiency for its iOS, watchOS, iPadOS operating systems. These have enabled the Cupertino-based company to offer faster performance and better longevity than many Android-powered rivals – even those with three times as much RAM squeezed under the bonnet.
Unlike Intel chips, which currently power Mac laptops and desktops, Apple’s own chips will only have to work with macOS. By designing the chipset around the operating system, Apple hopes to be able to get the same power and efficiency gains seen on iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.
It also means Apple cam make its own decisions around what to prioritise – whether that’s endless battery life or unfettered speed.
And finally, Apple has confirmed that MacBooks and iMacs running its own chips will also be able to run iPhone and iPad apps alongside dedicated Mac apps. That brings together all of Apple’s distinct operating systems together seamlessly for the first time.
“From the beginning, the Mac has always embraced big changes to stay at the forefront of personal computing. Today we’re announcing our transition to Apple silicon, making this a historic day for the Mac,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “With its powerful features and industry-leading performance, Apple silicon will make the Mac stronger and more capable than ever. I’ve never been more excited about the future of the Mac.”
There’s no denying this will be a monumental change for macOS. It’s easily the biggest overhaul since the launch of Mac OS X – the last dramatic change from Apple, which took place back in 2001 and saw then-CEO Steve Jobs throw-out the widely-mocked operating system used across all Apple laptop and desktops.
But while it might sound simple – dropping an Apple chip into the next laptop instead of an Intel-branded one – this transition is anything but.
The move to custom-designed Apple silicon will have huge consequences for compatibility with existing software, accessories and more. Developers will need to support this new system architecture, which means some pretty drastic rewrites to some of your favourite apps – from Google Chrome to Photoshop, to take full advantage of the potential performance gains. In the meantime, you should be able to continue using your favourite software, it will just need to use the baked-in translation technology known as Rosetta 2, which ships with the next major macOS update.
According to Apple, Rosetta 2 means you’ll be able to run existing Mac apps that have not yet been updated, including those with plug-ins. Virtualisation technology should also mean you can run Linux on the new Apple chip-powered Macs.
This is reassuring. After all, given that developers weren’t exactly speedy to add support for the Touch Bar on the most recent MacBook Pro design, it might be a while before you’re able to download all of your favourite software natively for the new Mac models.
Microsoft claims it’s already working with Apple to update Microsoft Office for the new Mac silicon. Apple has also been working with Adobe to get these its industry-standard apps, like Lightroom and Photoshop, running on the new Macs. To demo the power of its own chips, Apple used an A12Z Bionic chip – which is found inside the latest iPad Pro models – to quickly edit a 5GB Photoshop PSD file on the new version of the photo editing software for Mac.
At the end of the WWDC 2020 opening keynote, Apple confirmed plans to ship its first Mac with Apple-custom silicon by the end of the year. The company hopes to complete the transition away from all Intel chips within two years. But don’t panic if you’re running an existing MacBook or iMac with Intel inside, Apple says it’ll continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come – and even has new Intel-based Macs in development.