Before this year ends and the decade of the 2020s gets underway, Apple is poised to unveil a dramatic new architecture for its venerable Macintosh computing platform. Here’s why new Apple Silicon hardware is an important step in the future of the Mac.
Why Apple is moving to new silicon
Across the last four decades, Apple has uniquely made a series of radical moves to shift its Mac hardware to entirely new and materially different chip architectures.
No other computing platform has successfully performed such a complex undertaking on a similar scale even once, let alone attempting the three major platform shifts Apple has made on the Mac, from Motorola’s 68000 in the 1980s to PowerPC in the 90s and then to Intel x86 in the 2000s.
Each migration involved massive efforts to not only deliver new hardware, but also transform vast software platforms and create new development tools to minimize the transition pain of users and developers. When Apple migrated to PowerPC in the early 90s, other platforms of the day were supposed to complete parallel transitions of their own, including Microsoft’s Windows NT, IBM’s OS/2, the Commodore Amiga, and many others.
Apple’s unique ability to successfully complete the shift to PowerPC was complicated by other firms’ failing to do the same, resulting in Apple eventually ending up the only major PowerPC user. The difficulty of that transition and its unexpected result might suggest that in hindsight, it was ultimately a mistake to have attempted such a complex and risky task.
On the other hand, Apple’s migration to Intel Macs about a decade later was hailed as a masterful strategic move, enabling Apple to enter new markets and eventually expand its Mac platform dramatically. Yet Apple’s move to Intel’s chips starting in 2006 was largely enabled by the company’s previous PowerPC experience in learning how to execute such a transition.
An Apple Silicon transition that’s been underway for a decade
It’s useful to examine what benefit there is for Apple to again shift to an all-new chip architecture this year, this time using a custom silicon architecture of its own design rather than buying off-the-shelf chips available to any PC maker.