Bloomberg Reports ARM Macs Coming Next Year

Mark Gurman, Debby Wu, and Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on three of its own Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, based on the A14 processor in the next iPhone. The first of these will be much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad, the people said.

There’s not much new information in this report, but what is new is interesting, and I want to focus on that. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be based on the A14 is news. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be spectacular news, because the A13 in the iPhones 11 and new SE already offers faster single-core performance than a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, and iPad Pros have better multi-core performance than MacBook Airs.

If what Bloomberg is reporting is true — see footnote below, of course — they’re burying the lede. An ARM chip in a Mac that’s “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be much faster than anything Intel offers for use in portables.

Apple is preparing to release at least one Mac with its own chip next year, according to the people. But the initiative to develop multiple chips, codenamed Kalamata, suggests the company will transition more of its Mac lineup away from current supplier Intel Corp.

Of course they’re going to transition more than one Mac.

The latest iPad Pro has four cores for performance-intensive workloads and another four to handle low-power tasks to preserve battery life. The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, the people said. In some Macs, Apple’s designs will double or quadruple the number of cores that Intel provides. The current entry-level MacBook Air has two cores, for example.


Despite a unified chip design, Macs will still run the macOS operating system, rather than the iOS software of the iPhone and iPad.

Duh. Unsaid in the article but widely known to be true is that Apple has had MacOS compiling for ARM for years, just like how they had MacOS compiling for Intel years before they announced the switch from PowerPC — what Steve Jobs described as a “secret double life”.

Apple is exploring tools that will ensure apps developed for older Intel-based Macs still work on the new machines.

Yeah but what tools? They already have cross-compilation tools in Xcode. The $64,000 question is whether they’re going to have an emulator for running x86 code on ARM Macs. When Apple transitioned from Motorola’s 680x0 family of processors to PowerPC, and when they transitioned from PowerPC to Intel x86, they built emulators into the OS so that old binaries still executed. If they don’t offer an emulator, all existing Mac software will need to be recompiled.

The company also has technology called Catalyst that lets software developers build an iPad app and run it on Mac computers.

Catalyst isn’t really relevant to the x86-ARM transition. Catalyst is already here, today. Whatever problems developers (and users) have with Catalyst, they’re not related to ARM vs. x86 — iOS apps have always been able to be cross-compiled to x86 because that’s what the Xcode iOS Simulator is — a version of iOS that runs on Intel.

If Apple plans to start this transition with new hardware in 2021, I expect the initiative to be announced at WWDC in mid-or-late June this year.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Thursday, 23 April 2020