Developers
July 22, 2020

Custom Silicon Macs and Developers: Why Apple's New Macs May Be The Ultimate Development Machine

Apple’s move to its ARM-based custom silicon signals a potential upheaval in the entire industry.
Source: Unsplash

Apple made headlines with its WWDC 2020 keynote, when it announced it was transitioning the Mac platform to its own custom silicon. While the move had been widely predicted and was the worst-kept secret leading up to WWDC, the news was nonetheless welcomed by many developers.

There are many reasons why developers are excited about the architecture change.

Apple’s Performance Track Record

Few companies have as successful a track record of using their own custom silicon as Apple does. Both the iPhone and the iPad run on Apple’s chips, which are based on ARM processors.

Arm Holdings designs and licenses its ARM chips to customers, offering different levels of licensing. Apple has the broadest license, allowing them to modify the designs as much as they want. The end result is a true custom silicon that has ARM elements, but far exceeds the performance of other ARM chips.

As a result, Apple’s iPhones and iPads have stayed at the head of the pack, in terms of performance among smartphones and tablets. In fact, not only does the iPad far exceed the performance of other tablets, but the iPad Pro is faster than the majority of PC laptops.

Taking Apple’s chips and placing them in machines with larger form factors and more memory, should yield significant performance improvements over the Intel chips Apple currently relies on.

Heat and Battery Life

Closely associated is the benefits Apple’s silicon provides in the realm of heat and battery life. As impressive as the iPad’s performance is, even more impressive is the fact that it achieves it without a single fan.

Thanks to efficiency of Apple’s chips, Macs will be able to run cooler, quieter and longer between charges.

Steven Sinofsky Weighs In

Interestingly, it’s not just current Mac users and developers who believe this transition will usher in exciting changes. Steven Sinofsky, the former head of Microsoft Windows development, had some strong words about how profound a change this is.

Sinofsky was replying to a tweet by developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who said:

I really hope the ARM transition is what gets Apple's Mac lineup to 120Hz, Face ID & touch. There are so many things we take for granted on iOS that make macOS feel broken without them, and with the convergence of the software and hardware it feels like those are closer than ever

In reply, Sinofsky made the following prediction:

It will. Guaranteed.

In two years there is only ARM hardware and in 4 Intel will be ancient memory. The ecosystem will have rolled over. And Mac will be the ultimate developer PC. iPad will be used for more and more “work”.

PS yes a computer without touch is broken.

For someone who has as much experience in the tech industry and the WinTel world as Sinofsky, this is a major prediction. What prompted it? Is Sinofsky on to something?

What the Mac Will Offer

In addition to the performance and battery life improvements, the new Macs will offer a number of additional improvements.

As Sinofsky accurately points out, much of Apple’s advantage comes down to its ecosystem. In many ways, the iPhone and the iPad have surpassed the Mac, in terms of the features they offer. As long as Apple relies on Intel, however, they are limited in their ability to bring parity across their platforms.

That strength of ecosystem will also be evident in Apple’s ability to bring iOS and iPadOS apps to the Mac without modification. Because the Macs will be running on the exact same chips as Apple’s mobile devices, Mac users will suddenly have millions of new apps at their fingertips.

For developers, this ability to run iOS and iPadOS natively will significantly improve their development process. While Apple’s development platform, Xcode, has an iOS emulator built-in, there’s no substitute for being able to load an app up and see how it’s performing. Being able to run those apps on the same computer as the development environment will help make that process even more seamless.

At the same time, through virtualization, the new Macs will still be able to run other operating systems, such as Windows and Linux. Suddenly a very clear picture starts coming into focus: a development machine that can run macOS, Linux, Windows and iOS and iPad apps. The fact that Macs will be able to do this while running cooler, and offering better battery life, not to mention providing things like Face ID, lends credence to Sinofsky’s claims.

Suddenly the Mac, powered by Apple’s custom silicon, does indeed begin looking like the ultimate development machine—and Intel should be very afraid.

TagsAppleMacsiOS
Matt Milano
Technical Writer
Matt is a tech journalist and writer with a background in web and software development.

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DevelopersJuly 22, 2020
Custom Silicon Macs and Developers: Why Apple's New Macs May Be The Ultimate Development Machine
Apple’s move to its ARM-based custom silicon signals a potential upheaval in the entire industry.

Apple made headlines with its WWDC 2020 keynote, when it announced it was transitioning the Mac platform to its own custom silicon. While the move had been widely predicted and was the worst-kept secret leading up to WWDC, the news was nonetheless welcomed by many developers.

There are many reasons why developers are excited about the architecture change.

Apple’s Performance Track Record

Few companies have as successful a track record of using their own custom silicon as Apple does. Both the iPhone and the iPad run on Apple’s chips, which are based on ARM processors.

Arm Holdings designs and licenses its ARM chips to customers, offering different levels of licensing. Apple has the broadest license, allowing them to modify the designs as much as they want. The end result is a true custom silicon that has ARM elements, but far exceeds the performance of other ARM chips.

As a result, Apple’s iPhones and iPads have stayed at the head of the pack, in terms of performance among smartphones and tablets. In fact, not only does the iPad far exceed the performance of other tablets, but the iPad Pro is faster than the majority of PC laptops.

Taking Apple’s chips and placing them in machines with larger form factors and more memory, should yield significant performance improvements over the Intel chips Apple currently relies on.

Heat and Battery Life

Closely associated is the benefits Apple’s silicon provides in the realm of heat and battery life. As impressive as the iPad’s performance is, even more impressive is the fact that it achieves it without a single fan.

Thanks to efficiency of Apple’s chips, Macs will be able to run cooler, quieter and longer between charges.

Steven Sinofsky Weighs In

Interestingly, it’s not just current Mac users and developers who believe this transition will usher in exciting changes. Steven Sinofsky, the former head of Microsoft Windows development, had some strong words about how profound a change this is.

Sinofsky was replying to a tweet by developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who said:

I really hope the ARM transition is what gets Apple's Mac lineup to 120Hz, Face ID & touch. There are so many things we take for granted on iOS that make macOS feel broken without them, and with the convergence of the software and hardware it feels like those are closer than ever

In reply, Sinofsky made the following prediction:

It will. Guaranteed.

In two years there is only ARM hardware and in 4 Intel will be ancient memory. The ecosystem will have rolled over. And Mac will be the ultimate developer PC. iPad will be used for more and more “work”.

PS yes a computer without touch is broken.

For someone who has as much experience in the tech industry and the WinTel world as Sinofsky, this is a major prediction. What prompted it? Is Sinofsky on to something?

What the Mac Will Offer

In addition to the performance and battery life improvements, the new Macs will offer a number of additional improvements.

As Sinofsky accurately points out, much of Apple’s advantage comes down to its ecosystem. In many ways, the iPhone and the iPad have surpassed the Mac, in terms of the features they offer. As long as Apple relies on Intel, however, they are limited in their ability to bring parity across their platforms.

That strength of ecosystem will also be evident in Apple’s ability to bring iOS and iPadOS apps to the Mac without modification. Because the Macs will be running on the exact same chips as Apple’s mobile devices, Mac users will suddenly have millions of new apps at their fingertips.

For developers, this ability to run iOS and iPadOS natively will significantly improve their development process. While Apple’s development platform, Xcode, has an iOS emulator built-in, there’s no substitute for being able to load an app up and see how it’s performing. Being able to run those apps on the same computer as the development environment will help make that process even more seamless.

At the same time, through virtualization, the new Macs will still be able to run other operating systems, such as Windows and Linux. Suddenly a very clear picture starts coming into focus: a development machine that can run macOS, Linux, Windows and iOS and iPad apps. The fact that Macs will be able to do this while running cooler, and offering better battery life, not to mention providing things like Face ID, lends credence to Sinofsky’s claims.

Suddenly the Mac, powered by Apple’s custom silicon, does indeed begin looking like the ultimate development machine—and Intel should be very afraid.

Apple
Macs
iOS
About the author
Matt Milano -Technical Writer
Matt is a tech journalist and writer with a background in web and software development.

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