What we think we know about Apple Silicon Macs

Apple will soon introduce the first Macs based on Apple Silicon.What do we think we know about them so far?

Apple, Mac, macOS, Big Sur, Windows, enterprise, Apple Silicon

Following years of speculation, Apple confirmed its plans to move to Apple Silicon at WWDC 2020.

The move will likely help maintain interest in the Mac, particularly among enterprise professionals already using iPhones – though initial deployment will be limited as IT puts the new Macs through rigorous testing and approval processes.

So, what do we think we know about these new Macs?

What’s the plan?

Apple said it would introduce the first Apple Silicon Macs in Q4 2020. We still expect that to be the case, and it’s widely believed the company will introduce Apple Silicon-powered MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros (though not necessarily by those names) first.

It’s thought the company will introduce Apple Silicon powered iMacs and a MacBook Pro in 2021, with iMac Pro and Mac Pro the following year. The Mac mini will get an upgrade at some point, but no one seems to agree when.

What chip will be inside these Macs?

A recent report claims the processors will be similar to the A14X Bionic chip anticipated to appear in a future iPad Pro. Another recent leak claims Apple has developed two new chips for these Macs: An eight-core processor for the MacBook Air and a 12-core processor intended for the 13-inch MacBook Pro type model.

Apple is building a 16-core chip for introduction in 2021, another recent leak claims. This sits in line with an earlier claim from Bloomberg.

These chips should be similar to those used in iPhones but will likely be designed to benefit from the thermal advantages of being inside Macs, which should equate to additional performance.

What does the chip do?

Apple has revealed some of the SoC features. These include: a high-efficiency audio processor, HDR display support, high-performance CPU cores, low-power video playback, an always-o processor, advanced power management, machine learning accelerators, the secure enclave, a high-quality camera processor, fast storage and bandwidth, high-efficiency on chip GPU, the Neural engine and unified memory.

They also implement support for high-performance video editing — all on the chip. But it's the inclusion of built-in support for machine learning that may open up new opportunity for enterprise tech.

What about the GPU?

Apple says it will use its own GPU in these systems, the efficiency of which might even allow it to make like the Apple III and ship Macs without fans.

What about battery life?

Users should get better battery life than they've ever seen on a Mac. The China Times has previously claimed a 15-to-20-hour battery life (via: MacRumors).

Will they be redesigned?

No one seems to be discussing it much. I think these Macs may be a little thinner, and while I continue to expect Apple to move to a new design ethic eventually, for the present it may want to maintain the familiar appearance to help people accept the new processor.

What about the software?

You should be able to use most current applications on Apple Silicon Macs, thanks to the built-in Rosetta 2 emulation the company has introduced; it helps applications built for Intel chips run on Apple Silicon. You will also be able to run iPhone and iPad apps on your Mac.

Sure, but are the processors any good?

The signs are that these chips will deliver outstanding performance and consume less power. Apple at WWDC demonstrated Maya and Shadow of the Tomb Raider (two quite demanding apps) running on an Intel Mac using Rosetta 2 emulation. Geekbench data claiming to represent the A14 chip is here.

Will these Macs run Windows?

I have asked several people and no one is saying. Boot Camp will not be supported and we have been told these Macs will run Linux and Docker in emulation.

It is interesting to note that Microsoft is working to improve Windows and app support on the ARM-based Windows 10 PCs that already exist. Microsoft is also one of a number of collaborators working to port Java to ARM-based computers.

Given that a version of Windows that runs on ARM already exists, it’s easy to believe Apple Silicon Macs will be able to support Windows at some point. But (as I said) no one is saying, at least not yet.

If the capacity to support Windows on a Mac is important to your business, you will still be able to get Intel Macs for the next couple of years.

Will these Macs support Thunderbolt?

Yes. It is also possible we’ll see Thunderbolt 4 support.

What will they cost?

I’ve heard a range of speculation on cost, most based on the idea that Apple Silicon will be cheaper in comparison to the cost of Intel processors. Some claim a $799 MacBook Air type model and $1,099 for the Apple Silicon MacBook Pro, which I kind of like. It is also possible Apple will divert money saved on processor supply toward new features, such as 5G.

What about troubleshooting?

To access the equivalent of Recovery Mode on an Apple Silicon Mac, you will hold down the power button until the Mac starts up in the Startup Manager Interface.

Here you can reinstall the OS, boot and assign security settings to different startup volumes. A Mac Sharing Mode will turn the Mac into a file server to transfer data between machines.

What will developers get?

Addigy founder and CEO Jason Dettbarn thinks the move to Apple Silicon will unleash innovation in laptop design. “While it may take a few years, the modern laptop, through the innovations of Apple Silicon, may see its next large leaps in innovation,” he said. “Development right at the silicon layer means there will be advancements in enterprise security and management that will also be ground-breaking

Developers will get faster high-performance applications, will be able to offer up universal apps and should be able to augment application experiences with AI. If they want, they will be able to offer up apps that work on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV.

What's to like?

Over time, Apple Silicon Macs will deliver better performance and battery life and access to a wider field of applications than ever before. They may also be a little cheaper.

“We think it's going to create a more powerful Mac computer that will be selected by more people within the workplace, especially as more people from within the workplace go home,” Jamf CEO Dean Hager told me.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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