Apple Silicon, Apple everything!

Whew, Apple’s keynote from its WWDC 2020 event last week tore through about 1 hour 47 minutes of new features and information, in a pre-recorded set filmed in Apple’s campus in California. That stream worked well, easily the best presentation in this COVID-19 era.

First, a bunch of the stuff that will matter most across all the announcements made:

  • iOS gets homescreen widgets. Android, in 2008, had widgets, and they gave Android an information edge, without needing to open apps. Apple didn’t until now, and a curious thing is that Android widgets have died out a little. A quick ring around of friends and colleagues suggested people still use clocks, and weather, and maybe the Google search bar, but the days of pages of widgets are long gone for the majority. (Partly, widgets used battery life and Google changed how widgets would work to avoid siphoning off too much battery.)
  • iOS 14 lets users set default email, browser apps for the first time – here’s why that’s a big deal. Cunning of Apple to change this notoriously limited feature, but not mention it at the event.
  • iOS also gets App Library, just like the Android App Drawer, Translate, just like Google Translate, and much more. Gizmodo’s annual list of Everything Apple Tried to Kill at WWDC 2020 also includes Strava, Google Maps (again).
  • CarKey: I really like this feature where you can unlock your car with your phone. Yes, I said phone: iPhone will have it first, but Google is part of the same consortium.
  • Last iOS point: App Clips. These are small pieces of useful apps that you can use instantly with a tiny download, without needing the app. Apple’s example was grabbing a scooter, without needing the full app and a whole new account. And if you like it, you then download the full app later. Much like Google’s Instant Apps (Also, yes it’s still called iOS, not iPhoneOS.)
  • Sleep tracking on watchOS, with machine learning for tracking sleep movements. For a long time sleep trackers have been useful for giving you data on your sleep, but what to do with that data other than sleep more is tricky. I do hope Apple can do more here.
  • Privacy: Apple’s taken more steps for privacy, notably including a standard ‘nutrition label’ on apps in the App Store to show what data they will request on installation.
  • Smart home interoperability. Apple said it had a new smart home standard that Google, Amazon, and loads of others had signed onto.
  • AirPods automatically switching between devices will fix manual annoyances that I’ve seen people struggle with (No more “Oh sorry, my AirPods weren’t connected.”)
  • macOS Big Sur: Loads of design changes which clearly makes macOS look more like iPadOS which looks like iOS. It’s all coming together.
  • Big Sur also marks version 11.0 for Mac, finally moving on from Mac OS X.

And Big Sur led to Apple Silicon.

  • Apple did it: finally, at last, Apple announced it is moving from Intel to its own designed CPUs, with Johnny Srouji leading the hardware details. 
  • Haha wait, did I say details? No, we didn’t get much in the way of details, but it is a developer conference. Most of what Apple focused on was how this will affect apps that developers built and what developers will need to do.
  • Apple was amazingly tight-lipped about its transition at the keynote, with the term Apple Silicon now set to define Apple’s own processors, hardware, and software.
  • Apple said it had been building and refining Apple Silicon for a decade.
  • Apple didn’t talk about its architecture partner ARM at all.

Apple Silicon: What we know:

  • Thanks to the new custom hardware, now Macs can run iPhone and iPad apps, which is a huge deal, to say the least.
  • Apple suggested a two-year transition period, indicating that it will offer both Apple Silicon hardware and Intel hardware into 2022, before only offering Apple Silicon devices.
  • The transition for developers is comprehensive: there’s the expected virtualization and translations, plus APIs, iOS compatibility, and more.
  • Apple is building a bridge, and invited Microsoft and Adobe over first. In doing so, it could show Office working natively on Apple Silicon, and Adobe’s heavyweight apps like Photoshop as well. And we saw Tomb Raider running on an A12Z.
  • Apple Developers can pay $500 to loan a developer kit to get a head start on the transition, with Apple claiming apps built for current Macs can shift to the new Universal 2 binaries in just a matter of days, and these will work on both Intel and Apple Silicon.
  • The promise of developing one app for all Apple devices will be a huge carrot for developers to rework their apps.
  • More on the Mac Mini Apple Developer Kit.

Apple Silicon: What we don’t know:

  • So much! How this affects hardware roadmaps, pricing, real detail about the processors themselves and performance.
  • We also didn’t even see indicative performance details or comparisons versus Intel CPUs, Apple only promising it’ll do better.
  • We don’t know what the first A-Series Mac processor will look like, its specs, transistor count; anything. Or if it will even be A-Series or a new series for Mac! 
  • Intel’s statement, by the way: “Apple is a customer across several areas of business and we will continue to support them. Intel remains focused on delivering the most advanced PC experiences and a wide range of technology choices that redefine computing. We believe Intel-powered PCs— like those based on our forthcoming Tiger Lake mobile platform— provide global customers the best experience in the areas they value most, as well as the most open platform for developers, both today and into the future.
  • Analyst Geoff Blaber, VP Research, Americas for CCS Insight noted: “Microsoft’s experience with Windows is the blueprint for the potential and the pitfalls of introducing Arm chips to PCs. The advantages of cost, flexibility and power consumption are clear. But the practical reality of recompiling apps as a stepping stone will take time. Apple can make Final Cut Pro and iWork run seamlessly, but guaranteeing that a myriad of plug-ins behave is another matter.”
  • In short, there will be some pain. Apple is hoping that pain it inflicts just needs a Band-Aid or two along the way.

Need new Apple gear? What should you do?

  • In the best-case scenario, you don’t need a new Mac or MacBook and you can wait. Let it all play out while your 2019 MacBook Pro keeps going. Which is nice, in theory.
  • But more likely is you’re a core Apple user who can’t consider going back to Windows out of your personal preferences or necessity for work/hobbies, and you need a new device soon. 
  • Do you wait for the end of the year, for Apple’s first Apple Silicon device, and get a piece of the future, Apple’s new standard for 2021 and beyond?
  • Or do you buy a current Intel-powered Mac, knowing that it will gradually miss out over the years to come and become a legacy device that might lose resale value?
  • Nothing is clear at all. But it was a little bit funny to see Apple say: we’re dropping Intel and making the best ever Macs with our own chips. Also, by the way, we still have some new Intel-powered Macs in the pipeline! And “we’re really excited” about them!
  • In doing so, that is Apple’s ploy to give consumers some reassurances that the two kinds of hardware will see long-term support, and no one will either be left behind, or have transitioned too early.

Finally, no new hardware. We didn’t see anything you can buy: no new Macs or new HomePod or new headphones (AirPods Studio) or AirTags, etc. It is a developer conference, after all.

Published by Moey

Inked. Pierced. Chubby. Bearded. Cinephile. Left-arm Palsy-fist.

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