What Does It Mean for Apple to Create Its Own Processors for the Mac?

While many of us were paying close attention to the new features in iOS/iPad OS 14 and watchOS 7, there was much more to unpack at WWDC 2020. Apple announced a new redesign to macOS, and gave it a new name – Big Sur. This marks a huge change in Mac software, and for good reason.

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There are a few Macs in the lineup that could see some love, including the iMac Pro. However, since this is a Developer’s Conference, Apple took some time to introduce a new experience when macOS Big Sur launches later this year.

What’s new with macOS?

macOS Big Sur MacBook and iMac
Courtesy of Apple

Claiming that this is the biggest update since macOS X (back in 2001), Big Sur brings the version number to 11 and a lot of new changes. The interface itself has been described as “spacious”, and that’s extremely evident when you start poking around.

Notably, the Menu Bar items have a bit more spacing between them, and there’s an all-new Control Center. And yes, this looks extremely similar to the same Control Center found on your iPhone and iPad. Plus, Apple finally has changed where you can access notifications, hiding them from the new CC icon in the Menu Bar.

Apple also decided it was time to change up the general design for many app icons that we have become accustomed to. These redesigned icons look more like something from iOS 7, and not something you would find on a software version released in 2020. The company claims this is meant to bring more “personality” to the desktop, but it’s a mixed bag of feelings for many.

Last year saw macOS Catalina bring along Catalyst apps, which are slightly redesigned apps from the iOS and iPadOS versions. With Big Sur, Messages gets the Catalyst treatment, bringing feature-parity with the macOS version and the iOS/iPadOS versions. That means you’ll get all of the new group messaging features, along with pinned conversations and more.

Redesigned Safari macOS Big Sur
Courtesy of Apple

Safari also saw a huge update, as users have a brand new “Start Page”, which can be customized with personal background images and redesigned sections for Reading List and iCloud Tabs. Foreign languages can be translated directly from the browser, and tabs have been redesigned to navigate even faster.

Apple finally switches to ARM for the future

Apple Developer Tools ARM Big Sur
Courtesy of Apple

As we stated before, the desktop Mac lineup could use some refreshing, outside of the Mac mini and obviously, the Mac Pro. However the iMac line still has enormous bezels, which is crazy to think about when you see the bezels getting thinner on just about every other Apple device. That includes the macOS Pro Display XDR, but that’s out of the price range for just about everyone.

You may be looking at the header for this section and wondering exactly what ARM means? ARM Holdings is a company based in Britain that creates and designs CPUs amongst other products. But something else that the company does is license out the instructions for a company to build its own processors. This is what Apple has done, as you’ll find these ARM chips powering your iPhone and iPad.

With how Apple has designed these processors, it’s how you keep seeing headlines like “Apple’s latest iPad is X% faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro”. That’s because the MacBook Pro is powered by Intel processors and while they are getting faster, they are built on an older infrastructure. That, along with not being built to Apple’s exact specifications and it can be frustrating.

xCode macOS Big Sur
Image Courtesy of Apple

ARMed (pun intended) with that limited knowledge, you can deduce that Apple’s announcement of creating its own series of processors for the Mac. The company plans on moving away from Intel entirely, and states that the transition is to begin this Fall. Culminating with the first ARM-powered Mac later this year. Then, the transition should be completed within two years.

Quick Note: Those who enjoy Intel Macs can rest easy knowing that Apple also confirmed there are new Intel-powered Macs in the pipeline.

Are we in store for a bumpy road?

Microsoft Pro X
Microsoft Pro X

We have already seen a semi-major computer released to the masses in the Microsoft Surface Pro X. And this is a great start, but unless the developers get on board, it can be a bumpy road. That’s one reason why Apple has opted to hold off on just making the transition entirely right now. Instead, it’s laying out a plan of attack before moving away from Intel.

Developers need time to create applications that are built on an entirely different infrastructure. And if Apple announced that Intel Macs were no longer available, many of your favorite applications would not even work. But that’s where Apple through another curve ball at us. By the time that the transition is complete, your iPad and iPhone apps will also work with these new ARM-based desktop computers.

Faster than before

Image courtesy of Apple

As one would expect, Apple is trying to get as many developers on board, and has made a modified Mac mini available. The “catch” here is that it’s powered by the same processor as is found in the recently-updated iPad Pro. The A12Z is an ARM processor and lives right in your iPad, so this developer kit is modified with a version of Big Sur for developers

To order the question posed, it’s a matter of opinion. Moving away from something that has been commonplace for the last 15-years is scary enough. Even for the “regular” person, because you don’t want to get excited for a new Mac, only to not be able to run the apps you need on a daily basis. But if the transition is done properly, and developers jump on board, then there should be very little issues. Essentially, you need to trust that Apple will not pull a Microsoft and rush out a product that is awesome in theory, but is rather confusing and frustrating.

What we think about the changes

When you dive deeper and start interacting with Big Sur, there’s one common theme across the board. The increased spacing between menu bar items, along with the redesigned Control Center have us feeling suspicious.

But this isn’t a “bad” suspicious, but maybe we are finally nearing a touchscreen Mac that many have been clamoring for, for years. Some of the interactions (i.e. the menu bar) is now wide enough for a finger to touch, instead of needing to rely solely on a mouse pointer.

With the move to ARM processors, and considering that the developer test kit is a Mac mini with the same A12Z as the iPad Pro 2020, it only makes sense. There are still a couple of unanswered questions that we won’t have answers to for a few years. Mainly, will Apple be capable of sticking to its 2-year roadmap for the integration of Apple Silicon? And will we have to wait even longer for a touchscreen Mac.

We can be sure of one thing though; it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Mac, and the platform is finally getting the love it deserves. Plus, having all of the same apps on your Mac that are on your iPad and iPhone is amazing. I, for one, cannot wait and I may be tempted to get the first Apple Silicon-powered Mac when it launches.

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