Starting with a grand virtual celebration of the future of the Mac at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, the stage is set for the coming year to be the most spectacular in the history of Apple’s storied line of Macintosh computers.
In retrospect, Apple’s bombshell announcement at WWDC 2020 that the Mac will be transitioning away from Intel processors and toward its own custom silicon was actually only a teaser to pique the interest of developers and consumers alike. Apple introduced a trio of M1-based Macs in the fall, all with legacy designs in a simple attempt to communicate: “Only you wait.”
We’ve been waiting, and now WWDC 2021 is set to take place from June 7 to June 11. Though there have been reports of an Apple special event before then, it’s expected that the company will show off new iPads, AirPods, and possibly its rumored “AirTags” in April. There’s also a possibility of a new Apple TV, but new Mac hardware — and the software that goes with it — is a better match for WWDC.
Not only will we probably get new Macs at WWDC, but there’s a good chance Apple will start flexing its chipmaking muscles with higher-end models aimed at true “pro” users — particularly developers eager to get their coding fingers on the next generations of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.
If the power-saving, benchmark-setting M1 was a shot across Intel, AMD, and the legacy PC industry’s bow, what’s next might be a full-frontal assault: a lineup of products ranging from your desktop to your wrist, all designed on a shared architecture that will make it easier than ever for developers to build apps and harder than ever for consumers to reject the Mac as a viable alternative.
It’s a game that takes place on a platform. The iPhone has brought the Mac ecosystem to the next level, much as the iPod did in getting consumers interested in the Mac ecosystem. Apple will be able to fully own the user experience to a degree that no other technology company has ever been able to do, with all of the applications and data synced through devices large and small, thanks to the same beating heart at the heart of all of its devices.
Is it hardware or software? or both of them
Apple has always been recognized for combining world-class architecture and hardware. However, there was a catch: Apple’s design capabilities were constrained by its hardware partners.
Apple will continue to use certain vendors for different parts, such as memory and wireless networking, but the company has gained greater leverage over the components in its devices over the years, in areas where CEO Tim Cook and his team believe Apple can do it better in-house.
The move to Apple Silicon is the most significant shift in Mac’s history. Apple no longer needs to design around the weaknesses of Intel’s legacy x86 architecture by switching out the brains of its machines.
Intel’s chips had a slew of issues, including heat dissipation and power consumption. All of these factors influence design, resulting in heavier, bulkier machines that require larger batteries and the ability to operate at safe temperatures.
Apple hasn’t magically defied the laws of physics by making its own chips. However, by creating its own low-power, high-performance processors, Apple has gained more versatility in designing the Mac in new ways, in new form factors, and with all-new looks, all without losing any of the horsepowers.
WWDC has always been a software-focused event, and this year will be no exception, with the official unveiling of the next version of macOS, which is supposed to be known as macOS 12.
However, Apple Silicon and the new design possibilities it provides for the Mac mean that the company will be able to drive both its hardware and software in new directions at the same time, in ways that have never been possible before. WWDC 2021 will show the Mac and the Apple ecosystem as a true union of hardware and software more than ever before.
The X-factor in GPUs
Apple’s high-end computers are supposed to use new Apple Silicon versions that are beefier than the M1 chip that debuted in the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and MacBook Pro last year. Regardless of whether they’re called an “M1X,” “M2,” or something else, these processors would need to have more functionality for developers and other professional-grade users, such as extended external display support, improved port access, and faster processing speeds.
Though faster chips are unavoidable, and the M1 already gives us a taste of what Apple is capable of, there is one major flaw in Apple’s silicon strategy: graphics.
On its most powerful computers, such as the iMac, Mac Pro, and 15-inch MacBook Pro, Apple currently relies on AMD for discrete graphics processing. There’s nothing keeping Apple from using AMD graphics technology in combination with Apple silicon for these computers. Would Apple, on the other hand, want to continue to rely on a third party for its GPUs?
We’ve had a glimpse of Apple’s System-on-a-Chip capabilities with onboard graphics with the M1 chip. However, we also don’t know how (or if) the company intends to manage discrete graphics.
At WWDC 2021, or even in 2021, we may not get a response on discrete graphics. At the very least, we’ll get a look at what a more efficient SoC GPU, whether it’s the “M1X” or “M2,” can do.
Also, don’t forget about the iPhone and iPad.
Touch ID debuted on the iPhone before making its way to the iPad and Mac. Force Touch (RIP) on the Apple Watch paved the way for 3D Touch on the iPhone (RIP) and Apple’s Mac trackpad (still alive!). Apple’s custom silicon, which dates back to the A4 processor in the first-generation iPad, was part of a long-term plan to move the Mac to ARM processors.
While new iPhone hardware is unlikely to be announced at WWDC 2021, we will get our first look at iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. And, because the iPhone, iPad, and Mac all use the same chip architecture, the distinctions between their software platforms will become even hazier.
Apple has confirmed repeatedly that it has no intentions to integrate these systems, so don’t expect a single operating system to govern them all. With this year’s software updates, however, it’s possible that feature parity will be improved across the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Also Read: WWDC 2021 includes Apple Glass
This is just the beginning.
There are new prototypes. There are new types of factors. New technologies are available. Colors have been modified. All are on the table for the Mac, which is why this year’s WWDC is already buzzing with anticipation and promise.
Last year’s M1 Macs acted as a stopgap, allowing Apple some breathing space before unveiling the next generation of Mac hardware. And the hardware will be something more than the Apple silicon that drives it.
At WWDC 2021, Apple will not disclose all of its cards. The Mac to Apple Silicon transition is a two-year process, and we’re only halfway through it.
But it’s safe to say that WWDC 2021 will give us a better idea of how Apple sees the Mac platform’s future. On June 7, we’ll get our first look at the next generation of personal computing.