Now We Know Why Macs Are Moving to Apple Silicon

Macs Will Transition to Apple CPUs

We’ve been hearing the rumors for years. Now we know why and when Apple made the decision to move Macs to Apple Silicon.

The Move to Apple Silicon

When one of Apple’s partners is doing a great job, Apple executive are pleased. Nothing to do but move on to the most urgent crisis. But when an Apple partner screws up, look out.

Three years ago, Intel screwed up.

Apple Silicon slide from WWDC 2020 keynote
Apple Silicon marketing matrix

[WWDC 2020: It’s Official. Macs Will Transition to Apple CPUs]

According to PC Gamer, the failure of quality assurance of the Intel Skylake CPU sealed the deal for Apple.

The “bad quality assurance of Skylake” was responsible for Apple finally making the decision to ditch Intel and focus on its own ARM-based processors for high-performance machines. That’s the claim made by outspoken former Intel principal engineer, François Piednoël.

We’ve heard for years that Apple has been unhappy with Intel, but what surfaced were vague notions of rollout timing and Intel’s Canon Lake debacle, that is, getting to a 10 nanometer process. But now, Mr. Piednoël, who left Intel several years ago, has revealed that silicon bugs became a major issue.

“The quality assurance of Skylake was more than a problem,” says Piednoël during a casual Xplane chat and stream session. “It was abnormally bad. We were getting way too much citing for little things inside Skylake. Basically our buddies at Apple became the number one filer of problems in the architecture. And that went really, really bad.

The Intel compatibility of Macs has long been an important factor in the ability to run Windows natively. So a switch away from Intel would be a very big deal for Apple and its customers. But Mr. Piednoël describes the sea change at Apple.

“For me this is the inflection point,” says Piednoël. “This is where the Apple guys who were always contemplating to switch, they went and looked at it and said: ‘Well, we’ve probably got to do it.’ Basically the bad quality assurance of Skylake is responsible for them to actually go away from the platform.”

Author James concluded:

It does have to be said that this is still just the publicly stated opinion of one former Intel engineer and can’t necessarily be taken purely as fact, and obviously isn’t the only reason for Apple’s switch either.

Apple Marketing

Most assuredly, Apple executives and senior engineers looked hard at the potential transition. The fact that the ARM CPUs were working out so very well in iPhones and iPads must have always been in the back of their minds. But a final decision would depend on engineering realities. And, apparently, crucial Intel mistakes.

Would the evolving A-series be powerful enough? Would the graphics component of the ARM series be up to current and future standards? Would Rosetta 2 technology be able to handle modern Intel-based binaries? Could Xcode make the transition for developers acceptable? Would there be pleasing gains made in the integration of Apple designed silicon and macOS? Could adequate virtualization be implemented? Would the ability to run iOS apps natively on Macs be a major plus?

When the answer to these questions all became Yes, Apple made the commitment. And while all that formed the basis for Apple marketing during WWDC, the company apparently feels that it has the technical acumen to pull it off in a way that will satisfy customers and bring about positive change. After all, this kind of CPU architecture transition has been done several time before by Apple. When software tools and CPU horsepower were much more primitive.

In the end, the lesson here is that Apple has enormous resources and technical talent. When an Apple partner fails them, Apple will take the initiative and go its own way. And while the resulting change in gears may seem risky and uncomfortable for a time, Apple always finds a great path forward.

3 thoughts on “Now We Know Why Macs Are Moving to Apple Silicon

  • Rosetta 2 better be very very good (high quality), and will have to run Intel/Windows apps fast right out of the gate. There’d be a lot of bad press if the Mac performance running PC apps/Windows was far slower than the equivalent PC hardwire.
    I can imagine that developing and testing Rosetta 2 will be very expensive and enormously complex). I don’t know what percentage of Mac buyers actually boot in the x86/Windows on their Macs, so I don’t know how much impact there really would be. I personally have never run any PC software on a Mac.
    The move to Apple doing ARM based Macs does seem like the right thing to do. Apple will have to minimize the impacts on current non-Apple apps also, as developers will surely be slow to invest in any significant app updates just to run on an ARM-based Mac.

  • The Case for ARM-Based Macs

    The Obvious Win: Reduced Power Consumption
    But lower power wouldn’t be the only benefit of switching to ARM, or even the main benefit.

    Apple’s True Motivations: Control and Profit
    Apple wants to control its own destiny, and the best way to do that right now is to control the processor roadmap. Roadmap refers to future development plans: what features are added, in what order and on what schedule, which fabrication plants and processes are used, how many processors are produced, and how many units are allocated to each manufacturer. Apple doesn’t want to depend on Intel for these key decisions. As Tim Cook has famously said, “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.”

    The other reason for switching from Intel to ARM is profit. Intel processors are high margin products, and Apple wants to capture that lucrative margin for itself rather than paying it to Intel.

    In short, Apple’s main reasons for switching from the Intel x86 architecture to the ARM architecture are business, not technical.


  • I suspect there’s even more to the story. Apparently, Apple has MacOS running on iPhones. Does this mean a seamless experience from phone to desktop like Continuum or Dex? only better? I’m sorry, but this prospect excites me even more than moving Macs to Apple Silicon (which really is exciting to me)!

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