I guess your next computer is… a computer?
There have been rumors about a possible ARM-powered MacBook circulating for a while. But now it’s a sure thing. According to Bloomberg, Apple will be announcing the future of Mac, powered by the companies ARM processors at WWDC on June 22nd. The last time Apple transitioned to a new CPU was back in 2006 when they switched to Intel.
This is kind of a big deal, we’re likely on the brink of a massive shakeup in the world of computing.
So why ARM? Why now?
MacOS and Windows machines run on x86 CPU architecture — while iOS and Android run on ARM CPU architecture. Traditionally the x86 CPU’s (think Intel’s i5 and i7’s) have been the powerhouses, but ARM chips are catching up quick. And, as they do, the potential benefits of switching to ARM are becoming more alluring.
Think about the iPad Pro 2020 vs. the MacBook Air 2020.
- The iPad’s battery lasts longer.
- The iPad doesn’t get hot like the Mac does.
- The iPad’s CPU is more powerful than the MacBook Air.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. The MacBook will always be in the fight due to the app-gap. The software used on MacOS and Windows has been designed and compiled to run in an x86 environment.
Google has to deal with this problem from the other side while offering Android apps on their Chromebooks. Similar to iOS, Android apps are developed for the ARM processors found in phones, and Chromebooks are generally powered by x86 CPUs.
Google’s solution is to put Android apps in virtualized containers. It’s basically an emulated environment that the apps run in — separate from the operating system. It’s definitely a solution, but it comes at a cost. Containerized apps demand more performance than they should. It’s not a huge deal with lightweight mobile apps, but if you were running a few x86 apps, it could be. Especially if you’re on battery.
There are workarounds for incompatible software, but they won’t be needed indefinitely.
The iPad Pro has been the subject of debate since its inception in 2015. Is it a laptop replacement? A laptop alternative? Or is it just a tablet for media consumption and drawing? Why wouldn’t you just get a Microsoft Surface Pro!?
When the device first launched, it basically was a fancy tablet with pen support. But since then, the gap has been closing with each iteration. Now, with mouse support, it’s closer than ever to being a laptop replacement. But it’s still not quite there, and it’s because of the software.
Apple may use Google’s method of containerized applications to start — but it’s not going to take long for the landscape to change. If companies are too stubborn to transition their software to ARM, their competitors will.
Apple isn’t entirely relying on developers either. They’ve already been laying the framework for a transition.
- Apple has been porting iPad apps to MacOS with Project Catalyst.
- The company is now pushing Universal Software Purchases.
The switch won’t be entirely smooth, but the future looks promising. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of Mac looks like.