Some Apple Macs will be equipped with Apple-designed processors

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has confirmed that it's ditching Intel processors in some of its Mac devices in favor of ARM-based Apple silicon, enabling iPhone and iPad apps to run natively on macOS for the first time. 

The move, which has been long-rumored, was announced by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who touted the switch to custom silicon as “a huge leap forward” for the Mac. 

While Apple kept tight-lipped on details, the company promising that its in-house CPUs will deliver major performance gains and less power consumption than Intel processors. It's also claiming the transition will give the Mac "industry-leading" performance per watt and higher performance GPUs, and will allow developers to leverage technologies such as its Neural Engine. 

We reached out to Intel for comment on this, and we were told "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."

Intel-based Macs aren't going away, with Tim Cook even saying that Apple is "very excited" about future Intel-based devices, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Apple-designed Silicon will be the best hardware for most Mac users, but the added compatibility with iPhone and iPad apps should be a major benefit for Apple's hardware. 

Maximum compatibility

In a demo using a Mac running the iPad Pro's A12Z Bionic processor, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi demoed a number of apps running natively on Apple silicon, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.  

All Big Sur apps are built native for Mac Silicon, but to ensure that all apps run on day one, the company has announced Rosetta 2, a tool that will automatically translate apps to be compatible with Apple's custom chips at installation. This means means that even if developers haven't fully updated their apps in Xcode, they should  work without modification. 

Virtualization technology also allows users to run Linux or Windows seamlessly using Apple Silicon too.

Perhaps most interestingly, Apple announced that iPhone and iPad apps will run natively on Macs with Apple silicon without developers having to make any modifications.

Apple is launching a Universal App Quick Start Program, which provides developers access to documentation, forums support, beta versions of macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12. The company will start shipping Developer Transition Kits this week, which comprises a Mac mini with an A12Z SoC,16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, and said it plans to release its first Apple Silicon-powered Mac later this year. 

However, despite rumors Apple would be quick to discontinue its current lineup, the company confirmed there new Intel-based Macs still to come, with its transition to ARM expected to take two years. 

Apple's shift to its own ARM-based chips comes just as the company unveils macOS Big Sur, which introduces a number of major design changes across the operating system

The developer preview of Big Sur is available from today, with a public beta to follow in July.

Carly Page

Carly Page is a Freelance journalist, copywriter and editor specialising in Consumer/B2B technology. She has written for a range of titles including Computer Shopper, Expert Reviews, IT Pro, the Metro, PC Pro, TechRadar and Tes.