The first Apple laptop powered by its all-new computer chip could be coming soon. Here's everything we know about it so far. (AAPL)
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The biggest change to Apple's Mac product line in years could be just around the corner. Apple is holding an event on November 10 — its third virtual keynote in three months — where its expected to introduce the first Mac that will run on its homemade computer chips. The unveil would come after Apple announced its plan to transition away from Intel to its own Mac chips during its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The announcement has seemingly been long overdue, considering the Mac is the only Apple product line that doesn't run on the company's own processors. Apple demonstrated the types of workloads its chips will be designed to handle and shared its strategy for making the switch from Intel, saying that doing so will enable better performance and specific features tailored to Apple's hardware. "When we look ahead, we envision some amazing new products," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the presentation. "And transitioning to our own custom silicon is what will enable us to bring them to life." But there are still many unanswered questions about the transition, especially around the first devices that will come with the new chips and how their performance will compare to Intel-powered computers. What's immediately apparent, however, is that the switch will make Apple's Mac computers feel a lot more like the iPhone and iPad. Switching to its own chips means all of Apple's products will run on a common architecture, so iPhone and iPad apps will be able to run on the Mac. Apple's latest version of macOS also comes with a redesigned look that feels a lot more like the iPhone and iPad's software, complete with iPhone user interface elements like the Control Center. The move will also help Apple build specific features tailored for its hardware into future products, just as it's done for the iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad. Here's a closer look at what we know so far about Apple's big switch to its own chips.SEE ALSO: Apple is fixing one of AirPods' biggest annoyances in its next major software update Apple silicon will launch this year.
The first Mac computer to run on Apple silicon will be launching by the end of the year, Apple said. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reported in October that Apple would be holding an event in November to announce its first Apple silicon-based Mac. Then, Apple said on November 2 that it will be holding another product-focused event on November 10, leading many to believe that this keynote will indeed be focused on Apple silicon. The company has not shared any additional details about future Macs just yet, but Apple is rumored to be working on a 14-inch MacBook Pro and a redesigned iMac, among other products. TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is known for his Apple product predictions, has reported that the first Apple silicon device will be a new 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, according to 9to5Mac. He also said a new MacBook Air powered by Apple silicon will be coming next year. The full transition from Intel to Apple's own chips is expected to take two years. Apple will still support Intel-based Macs.
Apple isn't completely moving away from Intel just yet. The company said it will continue to support Intel-powered Mac computers for "years to come" and still has Macs running on Intel chips in its pipeline. We still don't know much about what the chips' performance will be like on Macs.
Based on what we know about Apple silicon, it's difficult to say exactly how the company's chips will perform compared to an Intel-based machine. Apple's Johny Srouji said during the company's presentation that Apple's chips will provide a "whole new level of performance" for the Mac, and that the company's goal is to deliver high performance with low power consumption. But all we currently know about silicon's performance is what the company has shown us so far. To demonstrate, Apple showed how a computer running on Apple's chips could handle tasks like editing a multi-layer 5GB file in Adobe Photoshop and running three simultaneous streams of full resolution 4K video in Final Cut Pro. "Apple didn't really mention anything about benchmarks and performance, so we don't know how good it will be," Mika Kitagawa, research director at Gartner, said in an interview with Business Insider. The chips that power Apple's iPhones and iPads are based on ARM technology, and by moving the Mac to ARM-based processors, all of Apple's major products will run on the same architecture, making it much easier for the company to create a consistent experience across its phones, tablets, and laptops. But there have been concerns around performance and app compatibility when it comes to ARM-based laptops. For example, Microsoft's Surface Pro X runs on an ARM-based processor instead of Intel's. The Verge reported the proprietary chips had erratic performance and blocked some crucial desktop apps like Dropbox from installing or working correctly. But Apple's upcoming Macs may avoid significant issues since the company has been laying the groundwork for this move for a while.
Apple has developed 10 generations of ARM-based chips for the iPhone over the last decade and six generations of iPad-specific chips. As such, Apple has a lot of experience creating its own custom processors across its product line, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch. Plus, Apple has already been preparing developers by requiring that they all move their apps to 64-bit architecture instead of 32-bit since iOS 11 launched in back in 2017. Apple also launched Catalyst last year, a program for helping developers port their iPad apps to the Mac. "Partly just historical and structural, Apple is better prepared for this than Microsoft and Windows are," Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said to Business Insider. So what does this mean for app compatibility? Apple is providing tools for developers that it hopes will make the switch as simple as possible.
Apple also outlined how it's going to ensure that existing apps run smoothly on Apple silicon-powered machines. It began shipping developer kits to app creators that consist of a Mac mini enclosure running on Apple's A12Z processor back in June to get them ready for the transition.
iPhone and iPad apps — Apps that are already available on the iPhone or iPad will be able to run natively on Apple silicon-powered Macs. That means Mac owners will have a much larger library of apps at their disposal when computers running on Apple silicon launch. Making existing Mac apps compatible with Apple silicon Macs— Apple has already been working with companies behind crucial desktop software, like Microsoft and Adobe, to get their popular programs like Office and Photoshop compatible with Apple silicon. For developers that want to convert their existing Mac app so that it works on Apple silicon machines, Apple says the new version of Xcode will enable app makers to recompile their code and get their programs running in a matter of days. Developing apps for Intel Macs and Apple silicon Macs — Apple's Universal 2 tool will help developers ship apps that work on both Intel-powered Macs and Apple silicon-powered Macs. Running apps that are only optimized for Intel-based Macs – Apple is also shipping an emulator program called Rosetta 2, which translates existing apps so that they can run on Apple silicon-powered Macs. Rosetta 2 will be able to examine the code as soon as you install an app so that it launches and performs smoothly as well as doing so in real time as needed. Apple showed how this works by running the animation and modeling software Autodesk Maya in Rosetta 2 on a Apple silicon-based Mac.
It's too early to know exactly what this means for future Macs from a customer's perspective. But we'll probably see more Apple-specific features and an experience that's more consistent with that of the iPhone and iPad moving forward.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions around whether these new Macs will live up to Apple's claims when it comes to performance and app compatibility. With such limited information, it's impossible to know whether a first-generation Apple silicon-based Mac would be a better purchasing decision than an Intel-powered Mac. But Gillett predicts that even early Apple silicon Macs will probably be fine for those who just need a general purpose laptop and don't regularly use specialized software for work-related tasks. Similarly, Tom Hackenberg, senior principal analyst and associate director for processors at Omdia, says that more obscure software may be more prone to compatibility issues. Emulators also tend to run software more slowly than native applications. "There may be more compatibility issues than the average consumer can tolerate," Hackenberg said. "Emulators tend to run the software slower." In a broader sense, the switch to Apple's own chips will likely mean more Apple-specific features for the Mac. Much like Apple has added its own features and technologies to the iPhone and iPad that make them different from other smartphones, breaking away from Intel will allow Apple to put its own stamp on future laptops and desktops.
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