Announced by Tim Cook and his team at last month’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple’s move to ARM-based processors for its Mac computers is now public. In “about two years time”, the transition will be complete, presumably meaning that any new MacOS machine will have an ARM processor. Intel will continue to be supported on older machines, but Apple has redefined what it means to be a desk-bound Mac.
There is a growing consensus that Apple is not just redefining its own product line, but will drag the Windows 10 ecosystem with it.
Apple’s first commercial MacOS on ARM product is expected to be a MacBook Pro that will launch at the end of this year (developers already have access to a Mac mini powered by the iPad Pro’s A12Z Arm processor for testing). This will solidify the new Apple experience with the geekerati, and Apple’s hope will be that the ‘average’ consumer buying the new hardware will still be able to run all their favourite and mission critical apps, while noting the longer battery life, lower temperatures and improved connectivity.
Anyone paying attention will realise that this first clearly radical ARM-powered MacBook Pro is going to be out on the bleeding edge, it’s going to have some teething issues, and the promise of 100 percent compatibility may not be immediately there. But the response to the Mac mini based ‘Developer Transition Kit’ suggests that this MacBook is going to be far closer to the mark than many expect.
Unless there is an uncharacteristic stramash that brings the whole project down, this MacBook Pro is going to make a simple statement. Intel belongs to yesterday, the future belongs ARM.
“[Microsoft will either] forget Windows on ARM and cede modern PCs to Apple, or forge ahead, fix app compatibility problems and offer an ARM-based alternative to Apple’s new Macs. It’s a false dilemma, of course. Microsoft will forge ahead…with repercussions for the rest of the Windows PC industry.Specifically, what are Dell, HP, Asus, and others going to do if Apple offers materially better laptops and desktops and Microsoft continues to improve Windows on ARM Surface devices?”
I don’t think that anyone reading this will assume that Apple’s competition will not react. They may not go ‘all-in’ and do a complete switch to ARM-based machines, but it’s a safe bet that there will be similar ‘exploratory’ Windows 10 on ARM laptops on sale during 2021 by a number of manufacturers, with a larger volume of entry- and mid-range ARM machines available during 2022.
Where the ARM chips will come from, and if any existing manufacturer will want to have its own ARM chips ready, is a question for another time.
Microsoft has been working on a Windows 10 version for ARM, which can be found on the Surface Pro X released late last year, arguably beating Apple to the punch with a modern ARM machine. That’s first mover advantage in terms of the buying public. If we look behind the scenes, both companies have been working with ARM hardware and software for many years – Apple with the iOS platform, and Microsoft with Windows Phone and Windows CE and Pocket PC – but the time for small projects and pilots are over.
Apple has made its intention to go big clear to everyone paying attention. ARM is the future, and Apple is forcing that future to arrive a little bit sooner. That future is going to dominate the discussions and future plans of the industry. There has to be a reaction – a reaction that has been forced on to the rest of the industry by Apple’s dominating move – because the alternative would mean defeat in the technological ARM race.
(…I know, I know, but I’m a Dad and I’m proud of that pun, okay?)
Now read more about Apple’s ARM plans and how gamers are being left out…