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Apple announced that its new Apple Mac line-up would transition from Intel x86 to its A-series ARM-based System-on-a-Chip processors from year-end.

Apple Mac going to iOS is a poorly kept secret. Rumours flying for years that macOS and iOS/iPadOS would merge and create a homogenous product and app line. The move makes sense as the lines between desktop and mobile computing all but disappear.

To achieve the transition, Apple has announced a new Apple Mac OS ‘Big Sur’ that includes technologies to transition to Apple silicon. It promises that developers can easily convert their existing macOS apps and can make their iOS and iPadOS apps available on the Mac without any modifications.

Big Mac Sur

Apple has launched the Universal App Quick Start Program at A$779. Registered Apple Developers must apply to join. It provides access to

  • Documentation
  • Forums support
  • Beta versions of macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12
  • Limited use of a DTK to build and test Universal 2 apps.
  • The DTK must be returned to Apple at the end of the program, comprises Mac mini with Apple’s A12Z Bionic SoC, 16/512GB and a variety of Mac I/O ports.

What will happen to your old Intel Apple Mac?

Hardware does not last forever – even a well-made Mac. Apple will continue to support macOS and its Intel hardware for some time although it says that this will be a two-year transition. Three-to-five years support for a recent Intel Mac is a safe bet.

GadgetGuy’s take – The transition to Apple’s ARM silicon had to happen

Big Sur is similar in concept to Microsoft Universal Windows Platform (UWP) that allows Windows 10 apps to run on x86 and 64-bit ARM processors (as the Apple A-series is). Although in this case, Microsoft has not eschewed x86 for ARM – just included Windows on ARM products in the line-up. Pundits predict that Windows 10 and Android will eventually merge – although increasing interoperability is more likely the next step.

This begs the questions

  • Whether new ARM-based Mac’s will have touch screens? Of course, they will! Lack of touch has been a long time Mac user grievance.
  • If ARM processors have the grunt to run large, legacy monolithic programs? Apple is confident this will not be an issue.
  • And will the app transition will be financially viable enough for developers to bring all the older macOS apps over? So far it has not been an absolute success with Microsoft UWP.

The press release mentions the use of Rosetta 2 – an emulator that should allow users old MacOS and even Linux apps to run in a virtualised space. Although emulators are not ideal as they use lots of memory and processing power. Apple must be confident that its A-series can provide that.

Apple Mac

What is the impact on Intel? GadgetGuy’s opinion.

Sales of Mac have been declining from their peak in 2015 (21 million) to around 15 million today. In part, it is because of the advances of iPad Pro and the lure of touch cannibalising sales. In part, it is because Windows now runs about 90% of all desktops/laptops/hybrid tablets.

But if you look at Apple versus all other comer’s OS camps, then iOS (iPhone/iPad/watch) has about 15% and macOS 9%, so combined Apple has 24% – not too shoddy for a single company.

Android has 38% and Windows 36%. Apple’s move tears down the traditional battle lines. Now with one OS and one architecture, it has a solid platform for growth and more importantly, for its highly profitable App Store and services.

Is Intel mortally wounded? No, but it may be the tonic it needs to diversify. More of an issue is whether Intel as a U.S. company can maintain sales of its x86 products to Chinese manufacturers (U.S. Entities List issues) that could also see an increasing swap to Windows on ARM or a new OS like Huawei’s Harmony altogether. Interesting times.

Vale Intel Mac. Welcome, Mac Sur. Now the pundits will be asking what SUR stands for. And we tend to think it is short for Survival.