Well, I was wrong. And it kind of makes me happy that I was wrong. Apple will be going through another major architecture change for the Mac range of computers – even in the face of the pandemic and economic downturn. But after watching the the World Wide Developer Conference 2020 (WWDC 2020), I am somewhat more optimistic than I was.

I like how they demonstrated all the apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, alongside Adobe Photoshop, all running natively on Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor running macOS Big Sur (yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir), and the system didn’t flinch once. This is the same processor used in the iPad Pro 2020. And they demonstrated a triple-A game running with Intel x86 code translation, performing admirably well. What’s interesting is that these new Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPadOS apps natively. It’s genuinely nice to see a build once, run everywhere platform.

I’ve been down the Mac transition route before – my trusty work G4 to an Intel Core 2 Duo. It was pretty painless, though some apps were left behind because the developer didn’t want to update or couldn’t update for whatever reasons. But ultimately we came through with relatively few scratches and we’ve had a good long run with Intel and the x86 architecture.

The biggest question mark in the whole thing is how well Windows is likely to run through their virtualisation system. We saw Parallels, a VM system for the Mac run Debian 10 just fine, but Windows was not mentioned at all. It may be the biggest casualty in this transition, which could piss off a number of developers that work across Mac, iOS, Windows and Linux. Maybe more details will be forthcoming about how Windows and VM will work with the A-series processors. If at all.

It’s interesting to note that after 20 years, macOS gets a major revision change and becomes 11. Yes, they finally cranked it up to 11.

Mac OS XI?
Yes, sir, no sir, three bags full, sir – macOS Big Sur

I love what Apple are doing with iOS and iPadOS in terms of improving usability – especially with widgets embedded directly within the home screens. macOS Big Sur gets a major cosmetic change as well as architectural change, of course.

I won’t be able to afford a new Mac for a good 3-4 years, and unless this change introduces some major price discounts, the spec I’m using is not something I’m likely to be able to personally afford again for a long time. The resale value of my MacBook Pro is going to be affected, obviously, given the Intel Mac is given a commuted death sentence.

But the people that have spent over £10-50k on Mac Pros which only very recently were updated as late as 2019 were always going to be the people who were really going to be miffed. Thankfully Apple expects the transition to take two years (for the whole range of Mac systems, I presume), but will be supporting macOS on Intel Macs for a good more number of years (probably at least 5, I’d have thought).

It’s certainly a start of an interesting new era of Macs, and indeed, the whole Apple ecosystem. But what will the likes of the EU (which is currently going after Apple for their App Store) make of an entire closed loop system – and what about the right to repair? Interesting times indeed.

There’s a LOT of hype going around that Apple intends to announce the switch from Intel processors to their ARM-based A-series processors for the Mac line of laptop and desktop computers. There are plenty of reasons for doing so – including complete control of the silicon and working to Apple’s own time frame rather than that of a third supplier (e.g. Intel).

BUT..

.. we’re still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which isn’t slowing down significantly yet (indeed, it’s getting worse – and I trust the WHO a lot more than the blathering jibber jabber from the UK government and the constant lies and deceit from Trump). People are still getting sick. The economy is doing badly, and it’s going to take years to recover. People are either furloughed or have been made redundant. If we get a second wave and have to go into a series of lockdowns again – this is only going to cause more frustration and loss of income.

Is now REALLY the time to introduce a whole new architecture on the desktop? Sure, for most developers that have moved to Swift, this shouldn’t cause too many problems. But if A-series Macs are announced on Monday, we still don’t know how much the development kits are going to cost, what kind of support developers are going to get for them over the coming months (consumer support from Apple isn’t great right now – taking far longer than usual), when the new A-series Macs might be introduced and what models will get the A-series CPU treatment first, etc.

I think it’s going to be tough enough as it is just to get the new Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 consoles out the door later this year. Everything is so uncertain.

Even the iPhone 12 is said to be launching at least one month later than usual. For me, I don’t see much reason to upgrade – at least not for the cameras at least – since I’m stuck at home at the moment and there’s really not much reason to take photos of anything. 5G? That ain’t going to be happening around where I live for some time. Don’t use it much while I’m at home unless the main broadband starts playing up, or I need another connection to test web sites I’m working on. But 5G is not something I particularly need or want right now. What does interest me more this year is the Apple Watch, which has been an incredible device ever since it launched and improved leaps and bounds with every generation.

If A-series Macs are getting the go ahead, what happens with all the recently updated Macs such as the 16″ MacBook Pro which has a new $800 GPU option which essentially gives it close to 2x the graphics performance of the highest end model from the end of 2019. If a whole new iMac design is announced on Monday, that’s surely going to have Intel CPUs? Apple is still tweaking the Intel platform. Thus how long is Apple actually going to support the Intel platform for – and especially for those that can afford to fork out for the super expensive Mac Pro and iMac Pro models if they’re going to be heading over to the ARM architecture? How long is it going to take for Apple to get the A-series processors up to those levels of performance?

In these uncertain times, it’d be nice to keep things somewhat certain until the world has managed to get this bloody virus under some form of control. An entire architectural change is not what’s not needed immediately – it could stand to wait a year or two first.

Now that the new 2020 iPad Pro has launched alongside a new folio case sporting a full size keyboard and trackpad (an additional £300 on top of the iPad Pro itself, BTW) – what exactly is Apple going to be doing with the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines?

Here’s Apple’s TV ad for the new 2020 iPad Pro:

This also brings up whether the MacBook/MacBook Pro range will be moving over to Apple’s ARM-based A-series chips. Would there be any point now if the iPad Pro is just getting more and more powerful and supports trackpad and Bluetooth pointing devices?

I’d still say that if Apple moves to custom-processors for the MacBook/MacBook Pro and iMac ranges – they’re likely to be AMD-based Zen 2 architecture combining the CPU and GPU on the same silicon. This would retain the x86 compatibility that a lot of us sysadmins require, along with better performance and power usage over Intel’s processors.

That’s not the time. That’s how much money you’ve spent on the Apple ecosystem so far.

Meanwhile, Apple has also launched a new MacBook Air with 10th generation Intel processors – available with a quad core Core i7 – which is exceptional for a device that slim.

So again – what’s happening with the various brands? I realise there are some pretty fundamental differences with macOS and iPadOS – but ultimately will the iPad Pro ever run macOS and combine iPadOS features? For the price of the cover which contains the keyboard and trackpad (I still cannot get over the cost – £300!), you can buy a reasonable PC laptop for not much more money.

This is perhaps the most appropriate headline regarding that £300 keyboard and trackpad (click the image to go to the article):

Since Apple started producing its own silicon for the iPhone, the A-series of ARM-based chips has gone from strength to strength. No better device to demonstrate the muscle of the Apple designed SoCs is the iPad Pro. It’s a very capable multitasker – great with media consumption and even pretty decent when it comes to media creation too. But is iOS and iPadOS limiting the series’ potential?

If Apple intends to put their own silicon at the heart of the Mac, it needs to be able to run all current software at the same or better performance than that which is offered on the current Intel platform. Apple has only just released the Mac Pro, a full on Intel-based Mac with up to 28 cores (56 threads) and is a beast (and possibly one of the best design PCs in existence according to several reviews I’ve seen – it’s so clean and manageable inside!). It seems they intend to release a 14″ 10th generation Intel based MacBook Pro at some point this year too.

Yet in the PC world, AMD has the Ryzen 3990X processor with a stupidly insane number of cores: 64 (128 threads) and is an overkill for all but the most intensive applications. For those that need the performance, I don’t think the ARM64 architecture has got to the point where it can compete in that space for a good number of years. Certainly, if Apple were to release a Mac in 2021 with an Apple designed SoC – even if it’s the standard MacBook (not the Pro) model – this means introducing tools to convert existing x86 code to ARM64 and vice versa. Nobody is ever going to run Logic Pro or Final Cut Pro on a simple MacBook, but how powerful does the Apple processor got to be in order to perform the code translation. Or how much work will the developer have to put in to create a universal binary that runs on both platforms? It’s Rosetta all over again.

Then there is the question of Windows. Intel Macs can run Windows natively via Boot Camp. Or via virtualisation within macOS. But if Apple starts moving to ARM processors, this obviously will break that feature – which is very useful for those that develop for both the macOS and Windows platforms.

Microsoft has done some legwork porting Windows to ARM. They’ve even released a Surface Pro laptop (the Surface Pro X) which runs Windows under ARM. But there are so many limitations with the platform which make adoption pretty terrible (and expensive) right now. Apple could potentially update Boot Camp for use with ARM Windows, but until the Windows on ARM platform is sufficiently mature – I don’t think it’s worth it. Even through x86 emulation, it’s not going to be good enough.

Then there are the Thunderbolt 3 ports on current Macs. Dongle city. Thunderbolt is very much an Intel thing, so Apple would still have to continue licensing it from them as well as perform extensive testing to ensure existing peripherals continue to work.

The important thing for me is that Apple doesn’t try to force an iPad-like experience on macOS. If macOS is going to go ARM, I want the macOS experience and to see the performance from applications around the same mark as the Core i9 and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M in my MacBook Pro (which has got to last me 4 -5 years before I can afford another major Apple purchase).

So at what point do you release an ARM-based Mac (if at all)? Difficult to say, but I’d say it’s 2021 would still be far too early. It’s not as though we’ve reached a plateau of power/performance which was certainly the case with the G4 and G5 processors. IBM pretty much forced Apple’s hand, because it just wasn’t possible to put a G5 processor into a laptop.

So maybe Apple should keep ARM to the mobile devices, and switch to AMD for its processors instead. They’ve leapfrogged Intel at an important milestone when it comes to die shrinkage – and, after all, they devised the whole x64 architecture anyway. And AMD must be pretty decent given that both Microsoft and Sony will be using their CPU and GPU technology in the PS5 and Xbox Series X. So any all-AMD Mac/MacBook Pro would be a decent all rounder.

It’s been argued that he x86 architecture is old and out of date – and it has been around for a very long time, this is true. But ultimately it’s allowed those of us with feet both in the Windows/PC world and Mac world the ability to co-operate with each other like never before and do stuff that just wasn’t possible back in the days when Macs where running 68000 or G4/G5 processors.