Apple Monday announced one of the biggest shifts in the company’s history, saying it will leave behind Intel-made chips to use its own processors in future Mac computers. The move will allow apps made for devices including iPhones, iPads and Apple TV to also run on Mac computers.
“Today is going to be a truly historic day, showing how we’re going to take the Mac to a truly new level,” said CEO Tim Cook during the opening session of Apple’s first virtual World Wide Developers Conference. “This is a huge leap forward for the Mac. When we make big changes, it’s for one simple reason, to make the best products.”
For years, Apple has been moving to better control, simplify and unify the various operating systems and other software for its computers, phones, watches, tablets, streaming devices and home-automation systems.
By moving to the same home-grown family of Apple Silicon chips that already power iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs, the company should save substantial development costs, improve power usage, better control development of the “brains” to its computers, and likely unleash a flood of games and applications that have thrived on the vast iOS App Store but never made it to the Mac.
It is the first time in 14 years that Apple has moved to a new family of chips for its laptops and desktops. Apple has been making its own, highly regarded chips based on ARM architecture for its iPhones, iPads and other devices for a decade—experience that Cook and other Apple executives said during the two-hour recorded presentation had prepared them well for the transition.
Indeed, as Apple executives pointed out during the presentation, its current family of A12X chips make its iPad Pro devices faster than many laptops in the market.
The new A12Z Bionic chips are already running in special developer-only versions of the Mac Mini that will be available this week to the company’s millions of third-party developers. Consumer versions of new Apple Silicon machines will begin arriving by the end of the year, Cook said.
The company, as has been its practice for years at WWDC, also shotgunned through dozens of other improvements as well as new versions of its various operating systems, including iOS 14, iPadOS14, WatchOS7 and the newest Mac OS version, to be called Big Sur, following the company’s naming conventions. To reflect the big shift represented by Big Sur, Apple departed from the numbering it has used for 15 generations of MacOS X, designating it MacOS 11.
The operating system for Apple TV—the pricy streaming device that handles video, games, music and some other kinds of apps—will be upgraded picture-in-picture video playback, full 4K resolution for videos played through Airplay, and multi-user support for its Apple Arcade games.
The company also unveiled a sleek trailer for Foundation, an original series based on Issac Asimov’s celebrated science-fiction series, to appear in sometime in 2021 on the company’s TV+ streaming service. The series stars Cassian Bilton, Laura Birn and Jared Harris.
Some of the other big announcements of the morning include:
> Sleeker, airier desktop design with more consistent icons and logos.
> Translation capabilities between 11 different languages.
> An overhauled Widgets, providing easy, customizable mini-programs that provide simple access to information such as the weather, stock prices and more.
> App Clips, similar to QR codes, that can be scanned to quickly call up apps in stores and other locations and also simplify touch-less payments through Apple Pay and the Apple Card.
> Scribble, handwriting-recognition software designed to turn handwriting on touchscreens into editable, even formatted text that can also be shared to other devices and apps.
> Maps improvements that now include cycling information and city guides.
> Sleep tracking and handwashing apps for the watch and iPhone.
> Adaptive lighting for HomeKit.
> Movie-theater-style spatial audio for the AirPods Pro earbuds.
Throughout the presentation, Apple emphasized its approach to privacy, sometimes contrasting it with products from major competitor Google, but also highlighting protections and controls built into its apps and web browser, Safari, among much else.
Cook said the company expects to support Intel-compatible operating systems for its current installed base of Macs for “many years to come,” and also has additional Intel-based machines scheduled to debut later this year.
Big Sur will run on both current Intel-chip machines and new Apple architectures, taking advantage of a series of programs that will allow developers to quickly recompile their programs, and for systems to virtually run new and old programs on any Apple computer. One of the programs is a revived version of Rosetta, which did much the same translation duty in the mid-2000s after Apple transitioned from Motorola-made PowerPC chips to the Intel systems that were already in wide use with Windows-based machines.
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