At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) later this month, Apple plans to announce the beginning of its transition from Intel-based Macs to ARM-based ones with internally designed CPUs, according to a report from Bloomberg. The report comes from Mark Gurman, who has had a generally good track record on reporting the internal workings of Apple and cites “people familiar with the plans.”
The sources say that Apple is working on at least three different systems-on-a-chip for Macs. The first would be based on the A14, a processor planned for the new iPhone models coming later in 2020. The Mac processors would be manufactured by Apple partner TSMC “using a 5-nanometer production technique.” The project is codenamed Kalamata within Apple’s walls.
Apple last made a major transition in architecture when it moved from PowerPC processors to Intel ones in 2006, and it adopted a similar strategy of giving developers significant notice and providing tools for the change. As was the case between PowerPC and Intel, differences between Intel and ARM processors are substantial and will require developers to make changes to their apps.
Bloomberg’s sources clarified that the ARM Macs will continue to run macOS, not a branch of the iOS or iPadOS software used in ARM-based iPhones and iPads. That said, Apple began seriously planning the transition for Macs after it successfully adapted an iPad Pro processor for internal testing with Macs in 2018.
Testing of ARM-based Mac chips at Apple has produced “sizable improvements” compared to Intel chips in graphics and AI performance. The new chips are also more power-efficient, which Apple could use either to improve battery life or produce thinner, lighter laptops—or whatever combination of the two it deems desirable. The shift would also free Apple from the shackles of Intel’s development roadmap, which has on more than one occasion stymied Apple’s ability to release the products it wants to when it wishes to.
Further, Apple might no longer have to introduce secondary chips like the T2 security chip; it could put much or all of the silicon it wants on the system-on-chip, including a counterpart to its proprietary machine learning and AI processors from the iPhone and iPad, which currently have no peer in Macs.
Regardless of whether Apple moves forward with its ARM announcement plans, Cupertino will at a minimum introduce new versions of macOS, iPadOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS with “deeper integration of outside apps and services” (per Bloomberg) and expanded augmented reality features, as well as performance improvements. Rumors have also circulated about a new iMac model that may be introduced at the event.
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