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.
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.
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.