I have already commented on previous occasions but I do not mind repeating it, I have been an Apple user for many years And, in general terms, I am satisfied with what the devices I have offer me. I do not defend everything they do, of course, yesterday I spoke about my current disaffection with the Apple Watch, a few weeks ago I wondered how widgets will work on iOS … I think I am objective when I analyze both the products and the decisions of those from Cupertino, and not only because it is my professional obligation, but also because, As a regular customer of the brand, I’d better be reasonably critical and not get carried away by dogmatism.
It is already more than confirmed, especially since the publication of this Bloomberg news, which the future of Apple computers involves moving away from Intel and betting on ARM processors designed to fit those of the apple. There will be those who do not remember it but the company took the opposite step, leaving behind PowerPC to opt for x86 architecture, 14 years ago now, in 2006. A change that, we were told, would open the door to endless possibilities.
The most obvious of these was, of course, Boot Camp: Mac could finally run Windows natively, without the need for emulation or virtualization. I thought back then, and still do today, that it was a very, very smart move by Apple. And we are talking about the times of the iPod, with a brand image through the roof, computers really desired by a large majority (if only for their exterior design in some cases) and the emergence of Starbucks coffee shops, which quickly began to fill with people with Macbooks. And that the iPhone was still to come …
Since then the internal architecture of Apple systems has not undergone major changes. It has evolved, of course, but always from the x86 model. Yes, there have been some more striking changes in terms of software, something that has reached its peak with the permanent removal of 32-bit software support on MacOS X 10.15 Catalina. A blow that many users continue to accuse, and that many others still keep us faithful (and what remains) to Mojave.
Apple, unlike other manufacturers, It is not afraid of being disruptive with the past, although the consequences of doing so may mean a jug of cold water for its users.. It has also done it on iOS, eliminating the compatibility with apps designed for old versions in the system. I have not yet counted the money I lost with that change, due to the purchased apps that I could no longer use. But it still seems to me an extreme position, and that the only solution that is proposed to me is that I contact the developer to update it … well, this is something that I find particularly annoying.
The theory of everything, according to Apple
I ask the most knowledgeable in physics to excuse the use of this concept as a synonym for all those theories and hypotheses that attempt to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics. Having made this clarification, no one escapes that ARM processors are not new to Apple. Their series of A processors, responsible for the operation of iPhones and iPads, have been using them for years and, from what can be deduced by simple observation, it does not give the impression that they plan to stop doing so in the short and medium term.
This caused that, from the first moment that the intentions of those from Cupertino to make the leap to ARM on their computers were heard, many of us began to think that Apple’s intention was to advance the unification of its lines of devices, in order to arrive at a moment in which all were based on the same platform (each device with its singularities, of course). And, of course, a single operating system, be it iOS or MacOS X. At this point, the bets are opting for a “fattened” iOS with some MacOS X functions.
To start I will say that it does not seem like a bad idea. The unification, well carried out, if it does not translate into the loss of functionality in one or the other devices, facilitates the synergies between them, expands the offer of available software. It allows the company to focus all its efforts on a single platform and, in addition, it provides a more coherent, more consistent environment, to those users who have chosen to remain in the Apple ecosystem. Seen this way, all are advantages, right?
What Apple leaves behind
I will summarize it in one word: compatibility. I have already mentioned it before, the jump to x86 allowed the arrival of Boot Camp and, as a consequence, that many people who positively valued Apple’s hardware but found themselves in need of working with Windows could make the leap. This boosted sales, which resulted in an increase in its market share. Something that, in turn, resulted in more software developers deciding to adapt their applications to MacOS X. A virtuous circle that, even with ups and downs, has remained until today.
The change to ARM will completely break this situation. Any Windows user who wants to use it on a Mac will have to go back to emulation and virtual machines. And beware, it is not that I despise them, far from it, two of the first applications that came to my computer were Parallels Desktop and VirtualBox. However These solutions have some limits and, in all cases, prevent 100% of the system resources from being used host in the emulated or virtualized system. A subtraction in performance that in many cases can make a difference.
It is also quite likely that we will see, for the first time in years, a significant decline in new applications reaching Apple computers. Developing for different operating systems is undoubtedly extra work. However, if at least they share the same architecture, the process is not as complex as if we were talking about totally different platforms. And yes, I know, there are a thousand layers of abstraction between hardware and software, but things still change, and those responsible for development tools will have to make a colossal effort to adapt to this change. So much so that the question is whether they will.
It is also true, it does not escape me, that the unification of the system can make many developers who currently only look at iOS, can quickly and easily reach Apple computers. This increase could compensate, I do not deny it, what I say in the previous paragraph. However, how likely is it that those applications are the ones that keep Windows tied to those people who would like to make the leap to Apple? Few, I’m afraid. I am afraid that not a few developers who were considering making the leap to MacOS are seriously questioning whether or not to do so.
And who wins?
A few days ago a colleague sent me this interesting opinion from Osmond Chia about it. It is this article that has led me to all the reflection I am developing here. And really that It seems to me an interesting and very valid point of view, but that I do not share in its entirety. And it is a bit “optimistic” to me. I think he puts a lot of weight on the positive points, which obviously exist and it would be stupid to deny, but he passes a little sidelong for the negatives, which I feel is what I have focused on.
It is clear that a processor, a custom designed architecture will allow Apple to exploit its potential in an exceptional way. It is nothing new, actually, we already experienced it with PowerPC. And if that works like this, a bespoke solution equal to better performance, conversely the one we experienced in 2006 should also have had the opposite effect, right? I understand that Apple engineers did an exceptional job on the jump to x86, because nothing is further from the truth. There were problems? Of course there were, just like any change, but performance stayed on the line.
Yes, it is true that unification can open the doors to the arrival of more applications for both iOS and MacOS, but at this point we must not forget that CatalystAKA Marzipan has already come a long way in that regard. Simultaneous development for MacOS and iOS is much easier now than it was two years ago, and it is probable that if the unification occurs, the change is not as substantial as it might seem at first glance.
And we are going to a point that is key: the price. It is quite likely (although obviously not certain) that the final cost per processor Apple must bear is lower once the change has occurred. This can potentially translate into a decrease in the final price of Mac, something that would certainly be highly celebrated by the community (me first). Now, what are the chances of that happening? I’m afraid (and I hope I’m wrong) not too many.
Why? Because if Windows users who want Apple hardware no longer have that option, hopefully this will translate into declining sales. And it is true that a lower price could attract new users but, let’s be frank, if it were to occur it would surely not be such a sharp decline as to make “change the chip” to a significant part of potential stakeholders. People who, in turn, would see it as a negative not to be able to install Windows. So, Faced with an estimate of less sales, will executives agree to reduce the profit margin per sale? I find it hard to believe.
But then, David, let’s see, who is winning with this change? It only occurs to me, in the face of a hypothetical price reduction, those users who are 100% installed in the Apple ecosystem, who miss nothing at all from other platforms, and who will also benefit from the effects of system unification. For the rest, both users and Apple itself, I feel bad saying this, but it seems like a wrong bet, and that can lead the company, again, to the difficult waters in which it had to operate, almost to the point of sinking, back in the nineties. And I really wish I was very, very wrong.
What do you think of this change? Do you think that Apple does well betting on its own architecture, or do you think that abandoning x86 is going to close doors that are unlikely to reopen? And if you are a Mac user, do you think, when the time comes, to buy a Macbook with an ARM processor or will you prefer to stay on x86 as long as possible?