The stage is set for next year to be the most impressive in the history of Apple’s large series of Macintosh computers, all with a magnificent virtual celebration of the future of the Mac at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference.
In retrospect, WWDC 2020’s bombshell announcement that Apple is migrating the Mac from Intel processors to its own custom silicon was really just a teaser to whet the appetite of both developers and consumers. In the fall, Apple launched a trio of M1-based Macs, all sporting older designs in what was a clear effort to communicate: “Just wait.”
We have been waiting, and now WWDC 2021
Not only are we likely to get new Macs at WWDC, but there’s also a good chance Apple is starting to flex its chipmaking muscles with advanced models aimed at true “pro” users – especially developers, who are keen to get the coding fingers. on the next generations of macOS, iOS and iPadOS.
If the powerful N1, benchmark setting M1 was a shot in the arm for Intel, AMD and the older PC industry, what comes next could be a complete frontal attack: a series of products ranging from your desktop to your wrist, all on a shared architecture which will make it easier than ever for developers to create applications, and harder than ever for consumers to ignore the Mac as a viable alternative to the vast but squeaky PC landscape.
It’s a platform game. Just as the iPod was a Trojan horse to get customers interested in the Mac ecosystem, the iPhone has taken it to the next level. Now, with all your apps and data synced across large and small devices, thanks to the same beating heart at the heart of all devices, Apple will be able to truly own the user experience to an extent that no technology company has ever been in. able to achieve.
Hardware? Software? Both
Apple has always been known for world-class design, married to world-class hardware. But there was a catch: Apple’s design prowess was limited by hardware partners.
There are some vendors that Apple will continue to rely on for various parts, such as memory and wireless connectivity, but over the years the company has taken more control over the components of its devices, in places where CEO Tim Cook and his team feel like Apple can make it better internally.
The switch to Apple Silicon is the largest game changer to date for Mac. By replacing the brains of its computers, Apple no longer has to design based on the limitations of Intel’s older x86 architecture.
The problems with Intel’s chips were many, including heat dissipation and power consumption. These considerations affect all designs, leading to larger and larger machines that require larger batteries and the ability to operate at safe operating temperatures.
Of course, by designing its own chips, Apple has not magically defied the laws of physics. But by producing its own low-performance, high-performance processors, the company now has greater flexibility to push the design of the Mac in new ways, in new form factors, with a whole new look, without sacrificing any horsepower.
WWDC has historically been a software-focused show, and it will probably not be any different this year, with the next generation macOS – expected to be known as macOS 12 – officially unveiled.
But Apple Silicon and the new design capabilities it provides for the Mac mean that Apple will be able to push both hardware and software in new directions, together, in ways that were not previously possible. More than ever before, WWDC 2021 will reveal the Mac and Apple ecosystem as a true union of both hardware and software.
GPU X factor
Apple’s high-end computers are expected to have new Apple Silicon models that are stronger than the M1 chip that debuted last year in the MacBook Air, Mac mini and MacBook Pro. Whether called an “M1X”, “M2” or something else, these processors must enable greater capabilities for developers and other professional users, including extended external display support, more port connectivity, and faster processing capabilities.
While faster chips are an inevitability, and we already have a hint of what Apple is really capable of with the M1, there’s still a sharp hole in Apple’s Silicon strategy: graphics.
Apple is currently relying on AMD for discrete graphics processing on its most powerful computers, including the iMac, Mac Pro and 15-inch MacBook Pro. There is nothing to stop Apple from continuing to use AMD graphics technology for these machines with Apple Silicon. But will Apple continue to rely on an external partner for the GPUs?
With the M1 chip, we’ve seen a glimpse of Apple’s System-on-a-Chip features with built-in graphics. We still do not know how (or if) the company plans to handle discrete graphics.
We may not get answers to discrete graphics at WWDC 2021, or at all in 2021. But at least we’ll probably look at what’s capable of a more powerful SoC GPU, whether it’s “M1X” or “M2 . ”
Don’t forget iPhone and iPad too
Apple products complement each other not only from a user experience perspective, but also from a research and development perspective. Time and time again, we have seen progress on some platforms and devices coming to other products in the Apple series.
Touch ID was groundbreaking on the iPhone before expanding to the iPad and Mac. Apple Watch Force Touch (RIP) paved the way for 3D Touch on iPhone (RIP) and Apple’s Mac trackpad (still alive!). And Apple’s custom silicon, which dates back to the A4 processor on the first-generation iPad, was part of a long-term strategy to migrate the Mac to the ARM CPUs.
While we will hardly get new iPhone hardware at WWDC 2021, we get our first glimpse of iOS 15, as well as iPadOS 15. And with the iPhone, iPad and Mac all running the same chip architecture, the lines between their respective software platforms are becoming blurred.
Apple has repeatedly said that they do not intend to converge on these platforms, so do not expect one operating system to control them all. But it is likely that there will be increased feature parity across Macs, iPhones and iPads with this year’s software updates.
Just the beginning
New designs. New form factors. New abilities. New colors. It’s all on the table for Mac, and that’s why this year’s WWDC is already full of so much excitement and potential.
Last year’s M1 Macs were something of a stop, and Apple bought more time before it could really introduce the next generation of Mac hardware. And that hardware will be much, much more than just Apple Silicon running it.
Apple will not reveal all of its cards at WWDC 2021. The Mac transition to Apple Silicon is a two-year process, and we only have one year left.
But it is fair to say that WWDC 2021 will give us a clearer view of how Apple envisions the future of the Mac platform. Our first glimpse of the next generation of personal computing starts on June 7th.