Apple’s radical update to the macOS platform will have to wait before it can take to the stage. Although Tim Cook and his team will take to the virtual stage this week, the focus will be on the iPhone finally shipping with 5G. The revolutionary MacBooks will have to wait for their moment in that spotlight… a spotlight that will ask how Tim Cook is going to solve the biggest problem facing macOS over the next few years.
This problem arises from Tim Cook’s decision to move the entire macOS platform to Apple’s own chip designed based around ARM. The presumptive MacBook and MacBook Pro releases following this decision, expected to be on sale before the end of 2020, will set the tone for the transition’s success. I’ll be carefully watching how Apple addresses the biggest issue of app compatibility both during the presentation during the launch event and beyond as they reach the market.
The bar is set high for Apple. It’s clear that the geekerati are expecting the new MacBook ARM machines to carry backwards compatibility for all of their key applications as well as unlocking new experiences and power with apps specifically coded for the ARM environment. This will initially be handled by Rosetta 2, built-in software which will allow x86-Intel based apps to run on the new ARM-based hardware.
Apple has suggested that, thanks to setting up each app for Rosetta 2 during the installation process rather than at runtime, users will not notice that emulation is being used. Like any technological claim, the market will decide if this statement stands up in all cases. Consumers who are looking to invest in a high-end machine – and by its suffix the MacBook Pro certainly sets itself up as such – will want a full suite of apps available at launch.
There’s a cautionary tale with Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, the Windows 10 on ARM 2-in-1 that debuted last year. The device was pitched by Microsoft as a device for a “tech forward mobile professional” and having spent time with it, the Pro X works incredibly well in the area that it was designed for.
Yet the mainstream reviews focused on its inability to run Photoshop or complicated video editing. The geekerati’s expectations were for a different kind of machine altogether; something closer to the Intel-powered Surface Pro 7 (launched at the same time) but with the inherent advantages of ARM.
The same giddy expectations around Apple’s transition of the Mac platform are growing in the forums and social groups that follow the company. If you buy the ARM-powered MacBook Pro, it’s going to do everything… isn’t it? It’s going to do everything faster, with more battery life, in an exciting slimmer design… isn’t it? It’s going to be the perfect laptop… isn’t it?
I want Apple to have found a solution to the Intel on ARM problem. I want these new MacBooks and MacBook Pros to arrive before the end of the year with seamless compatibility between the older x86 apps, the new ARM based apps, and the wider world of progressive web apps.
Not only will that benefit the macOS ecosystem, but it will also push Microsoft’s Windows 10 on ARM ecosystem to greater heights, which in turn will push Apple forwards. It would create a rising tide that would reinvigorate and lift up the desktop and laptop ecosystems from both companies. It would introduce a new virtuous cycle of development, design, and innovation.
Apple needs to immediately deliver on the expectations its dedicated fanbase has set for these first Mac machines. Yet we need to wait another month to see if Tim Cook is able to reach, or even clear, that incredibly high bar. It’s going to be an anxious wait all round.