Apple today kicked off its annual World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) with a keynote event, embedded above, that saw the company introduced updates for iOS, iPadOs, watchOS, privacy, tvOs and macOs.
The event would be notable for many electronic musicians for that alone, but Apple also announced the most significant change to the Mac platform in 15 years, that it is transitioning from using Intel processors to ‘Apple Silicon’.
Apple’s mobile devices – running on Apple’s custom silicon – have long benefited from CPU performance that leads their competition. Their computers, though, use standard Intel processors, and have offered relatively undistinguished price/performance.
Apple plans to change that, and also to make MacOS a much more flexible platform, with its announcement today of plans to transition the Mac to custom ‘Apple Silicon’. The transition promises to deliver more powerful macs at more affordable prices, and to create a common platform for iPhone, iPad and macOS applications.
Apple also introduced macOS Big Sur, which the company describes as is biggest update in more than a decade.
Big Sur includes technologies that are designed to ensure a smooth transition to Apple silicon. Developers can convert their existing apps to run on Apple’s new Macs, while providing compatibility with existing Macs. And for the first time, developers can make their iOS and iPadOS apps available on the Mac without any modifications.
Apple says that they will continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come, and has new Intel-based Macs in development.
What This Means For Musicians
Apple promises a painless transition, similar to their change, 15 years ago, from Power PC CPUs to Intel.
Musicians that went through that transition may remember ‘Rosetta’ and ‘Universal Applications’, which allowed users to run legacy applications for years on new hardware. These made it relatively painless for many musicians to transition from old Power PC Macs to Intel Macs.
Many Mac-based musicians, though, will also remember losing legacy applications that never got updated by their developers to run on Intel chips. And some may have had to say goodbye to audio interfaces or other peripherals, because it was not worth the effort for some manufacturers to update their drivers to work with Intel-based Macs.
So the downside of the transition is that long-time Mac users may find some of their hardware and software orphaned by the transition to Apple Silicon.
The upside, though, is that all of Apple’s hardware – from mobile devices, to computers to home media devices – will now be based on Apple’s ARM chips. This promises to be a huge change, because iPhone and iPad applications will now run on Macintosh computers. This means that tens of thousands of iOS music apps will now run on Macs. Conversely, it means that desktop-level DAWs may be easier to port to mobile devices. And it should be easier than ever for developers to create applications and platforms that work across Apple’s mobile and desktop platforms.
Applications In Transition
Apple says that it, along with major developers, already have their apps running on the new ‘Apple Silicon’ Mac platform. Based on this, it sounds like there will be a lengthy transition period where your old apps work, while updated apps will deliver new features and better performance.
A less obvious side-effect of the transition for musicians is ‘bloatware’. Apple’s ‘Universal Applications’ essentially deliver two copies of an application in one file One is compiled for the legacy platform and another for the new platform.
This means that – during this transition period – you’re likely to see some application bloat and lose some disk space to version of applications that you do not need.
It also means that some time in the near future, it will not make sense for developers to offer updates for your existing MacOS computers. There will be compelling arguments for creating apps that can run on iPhone, iPad & Macs, but little incentive to update apps that are limited to running on Intel-based applications.
And it means that – at some point in time – Apple will remove their ‘compatibility layer’ and support for ‘Universal Applications’. This should open up a lot of disk space, but also mean that some legacy apps will be orphaned.
Macs based on the new Apple Silicon should be commercially available later this year. Apple expects its transition off of Intel to be complete within 2 years.