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Apple's transition to ARM processors

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Template:Mac OS X topics Apple's transition to ARM processors is an ongoing process of changing the central processing unit (CPU) of Apple Inc.'s Mac computers from Intel x86-64-based processors to ARM64-based processors developed in-house. The transition was announced on June 22, 2020 by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Worldwide Developers Conference.

The transition is the third time Apple has migrated its personal computer product line from one ISA to another. The first was the switch from the Mac's original Motorola 68000 series architecture to the then-new PowerPC platform in 1994,[1] and the second was the transition from PowerPC to Intel x86, which was formally announced in June 2005.[2]


Background[edit source | edit]

Transition from PowerPC to Intel[edit source | edit]

Since 2006, all Mac computers have been using Intel processors, following Apple's transition to Intel processors from PowerPC processors. During his keynote address at WWDC in 2005, Steve Jobs noted that Intel-based processors outperformed PowerPC processors in terms of energy consumption. At the time, laptop sales accounted for 53% of all computer sales in the United States.[3] By June 2006, only Apple's servers and a high-end desktops were still on PowerPC processors.[4] Intel-based Mac Pros XServe servers were announced in August 2006.[5][6]

In recent years, media reports have documented Apple's challenges with Intel products. It was noted that Apple had trouble with Intel modems for iPhones in 2017 due to technical issues and missed deadlines.[7] Meanwhile, a 2018 report suggests that Intel chip issues prompted a redesign of the MacBook.[8] In 2019, Apple blamed Intel processor shortages for a decline in Mac sales.[9]

Processor development[edit source | edit]

In 2009, Apple bought processor company P.A. Semi for $278 million.[10] At the time, it was reported that Apple bought P.A. Semi for its intellectual property and engineering talent.[11] Apple's CEO at the time, Steve Jobs, later claimed that P.A Semi would develop system-on-chips for Apple's iPods and iPhones.[12]

In the years since P.A. Semi was acquired by Apple, Apple has released a number of products with its own processors. By 2020, it was noted that the Apple A12X Bionic processor used in the 2018 iPad Pro models roughly matched the performance of Intel Core i7 processors used in MacBook Pros at the time.[13]

History[edit source | edit]

Rumors of Apple shifting to custom ARM processors began circulating as early as 2014,[14] when a site reported that Apple was testing an ARM based Mac prototype with a large Magic Trackpad. In 2018, it was reported that Apple was planning to use its own chips based on the ARM architecture from 2020.[15]

In the days prior to the 2020 WWDC address, various reports suggested that an official announcement of the transition was expected to be made during the event.[16][17] The announcement to transition away from Intel was indeed made during the WWDC keynote address on June 22, 2020.[18] Officials with Apple also say different processors will be developed for its line of personal computers.[1]

During the address, it was announced that all apps included with the upcoming macOS Big Sur release will have native ARM binaries added to it. Other apps, including Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro and Microsoft Word, were described as native ARM apps.[19]

The entire transition is expected to take two years, with the first Macs featuring Apple chips to be released by the end of 2020.[19] However, it has been noted that similar language was used during Apple's transition to Intel, and that transition took one year instead.[13]

To facilitate the use of software compiled for Intel processors on new ARM-based Macs, the company announced the Rosetta 2 dynamic binary translation software, with the company saying Intel-based apps should run faster on ARM-based Macs with Rosetta 2.[13] The Universal 2 fat binary was also introduced, enabling applications to support both x86-64 and ARM64.[20] In addition, a Mac mini-based Developer Transition Kit will be sold to app developers for testing purposes.[13]

Impact[edit source | edit]

Apple[edit source | edit]

Some articles have also noted the transition could provide an opportunity for Apple to cut component costs.[1]

Consumers[edit source | edit]

The transition could lead to thinner and lighter Mac laptops in the future, due to the power efficiency advantage that Apple's processors have over Intel.[21]

Apps created to run on the iOS platform will be able to run natively on ARM-powered Macs.[22]

Developers[edit source | edit]

As apps created to run on the iOS platform will be able to run natively on ARM-powered Macs, Apple hopes that the streamlining of software and hardware will make it easier for developers to build apps that will work across Apple’s entire range of devices.[22]

Intel[edit source | edit]

Media report states the transition will have a negative impact on Intel, as Apple reportedly accounts for 2% to 4% of Intel's annual sales.[23] However, it was also noted that sales from Apple won't disappear completely in a quick fashion.[23]

Another media report notes the transition's impact on Intel sales may be low, as Apple only has a 10% market share in the personal computer segment. The transition could, however, prompt other PC makers to look at different options as well, as Macs are considered to be premium products.[21]

Reaction to the change[edit source | edit]

Osborne effect fears[edit source | edit]

Similar to Apple's transition to Intel-based processors, there are worries over whether the company will suffer from Osborne effect as a result of the announcement.[24][25]

Skepticism over processing power[edit source | edit]

Some have expressed skepticism that Apple's smartphone-based processor offerings can replace processors that are used in a Mac Pro, and it remains to be seen whether Apple's processor design team can raise the processors' capabilities to a higher level.[26]

Support for Intel-based Macs, apps[edit source | edit]

There are also questions over how long Intel-based apps that are not ported over to work on ARM-based binaries will continue to work on ARM-based Macs. There are also concerns over when current users of Intel-based Macs might be forced to upgrade to ARM-based Macs.[26]

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Shankland, Stephen (June 22, 2020). "Apple gives Macs a brain transplant with new Arm chips starting this year". CNet. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  2. Honan, Mathew (June 5, 2005). "WWDC: Apple drops IBM PowerPC line for Intel chips". Macworld. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  3. ""Macintel" Q&A". EveryMac. January 16, 2006. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  4. Dalrymple, Jim (June 28, 2006). "One year later: How Apple's Intel transition is going". Macworld. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  5. "Apple Introduces Xserve with Quad 64-bit Xeon Processors". Apple Inc. August 7, 2006. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  6. "Apple Unveils New Mac Pro Featuring Quad 64-bit Xeon Processors". Apple Inc. August 7, 2006. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  7. Potuck, Michael (May 15, 2019). "Report: Apple's custom 5G modems may not arrive until 2025 after 'long and painful divorce' with Intel". 9to5Mac. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  8. Horwitz, Jeremy (August 17, 2018). "Apple reportedly redesigned basic MacBook after Intel chip issues". VentureBeat. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  9. Allan, Darren (May 3, 2019). "Apple blames Intel's processor shortage for slump in Mac sales". TechRadar. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  10. Krazit, Tom (September 18, 2009). "Apple acquires low-power chip designer PA Semi". CNet. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  11. Krazit, Tom (September 18, 2009). "Report: Apple wants PA Semi's engineers, not its chips". CNet. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  12. Krazit, Tom (September 18, 2009). "Report: Apple's Jobs: PA Semi to design iPhone chips". CNet. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Horwitz, Jeremy (June 22, 2020). "Apple confirms Mac transition to ARM CPUs, Rosetta 2 Intel emulation". VentureBeat. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  14. "Apple Testing ARM Based Mac Prototypes with Large Magic Trackpad?". MacRumors. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  15. King, Ian; Gurman, Mark (April 2, 2018). "Apple Plans to Use Its Own Chips in Macs From 2020, Replacing Intel". Bloomberg. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  16. Gurman, Mark; Wu, Debby; King, Ian (April 23, 2020). "Apple Aims to Sell Macs With Its Own Chips Starting in 2021". Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  17. Haselton, Todd (June 22, 2020). "Apple will stop using Intel chips in all Macs by 2021, top analyst says". CNBC. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  18. Warren, Tom (June 22, 2020). "Apple announces it will switch to its own processors for future Macs". The Verge. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Axon, Samuel; Amadeo, Ron (June 22, 2020). "This is Apple's roadmap for moving the first Macs away from Intel". ArsTechnica. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  20. Axon, Samuel (June 22, 2020). "This is Apple's roadmap for moving the first Macs away from Intel". Ars Technica. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Gurman, Mark (June 9, 2020). "In a first, Apple plans to shift to its own processors to power new Mac computers". Fortune. Bloomberg. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Lee, Nicole (June 22, 2020). "iOS apps will run natively on ARM-powered Macs". Engadget. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Holt, Kris (June 22, 2020). "Apple ditches Intel for its own processors in Macs". Engadget. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  24. Gassée, Jean-Louis (June 14, 2020). "Osborning The Mac. Or Not". Monday Note. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  25. Kelion, Leo (June 22, 2020). "Apple Mac computers make jump to its own chips". BBC News. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Barrett, Brian (June 22, 2020). "Apple's Intel Breakup Will Reshape Macs—and Beyond". Wired. Retrieved June 23, 2020.