WWDC 2020 Hardware Without Hardware: Why Apple Announced a Mac Revolution Without Showing a Device 06/23/2020

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It is the bang of this year’s developer fair WWDC: Apple now also wants to use the self-developed A-processors from the iPhone in its Mac computers. But instead of showing new devices with the chips, Apple concentrated on something completely different – and has good reasons for this.

It was a historic day for the Mac, announced CEO Tim Cook yesterday in the opening speech at the in-house exhibition WWDC. 90 minutes of the virtual keynote had already passed, and the most important topics such as iOS 14, the next iPadOS and MacOS Big Sur had long since had breakfast (you can find an overview here). And indeed: The announced decision to equip Macs with their own A-Chips now has the potential to fundamentally change Apple’s computers.

So it is surprising at first that Apple did not have any new devices to show. But Apple should have had important reasons for this.

Focus on software

First of all, there is of course the most obvious: WWDC is a software fair – and hardware has only been seen as a marginal phenomenon in recent years. There were always announcements of new computers, but they weren’t the highlight of the fair. For example, Apple used the opportunity last year to present the final version of its Mac Pro, but the high-performance computer had been announced and shown long in advance. The iPhone – the high point of WWDC in the first few years – had already been pushed to a separate date in 2011. For the fair, the new devices would only have been a distraction from the core topic.

The biggest topic about the new computers at the fair is in good hands anyway: How will the software run on them? Unlike the x86 processors from Intel, the A-Chips from Apple use an ARM architecture. Both platforms require programs to have different logic as to how exactly they should calculate the program code. In plain language this means: If software was developed for one of the two architectures, it does not simply run on the other.

That would be pretty daunting for many potential customers. Most private customers may be well served with a browser and an office package, but the professionals and somewhat more demanding private users are unlikely to want to do without their favorite programs and specialized work tools. If an ARM Mac hit the market with no lead time, it would be missing dozens, if not thousands, of critical programs. And the lack of compatibility would deter many customers from buying.

Orderly transition

And another aspect is likely to have prevented Apple from announcing specific hardware: If a new ARM computer had been presented on stage, its core features such as performance and battery power would have been completely lost in the countless questions about compatibility. Instead, Apple dedicated itself entirely to this topic – and can therefore concentrate fully on speed comparisons and the like when actually introducing the devices.

At the same time, WWDC is the perfect place to announce such a major change as an architectural change. Numerous developers, whose programs would not run on the new Macs, have followed the announcement and can now use the panels to find out exactly whether and how they need to adapt their apps. With the introduction of Rosetta 2 and a conversion function in Xcode, Apple is also making sure that the switch is as easy as possible. In addition, there is the announced transition phase of two years: Those who rely on Intel computers will get them for another two years, so the promise. Until then, however, all programs should really be converted.

What role does Corona play?

The current corona situation may also have played a role, albeit a smaller one. Apple recently announced in the US that it would close some of its stores after they had only reopened their doors a few weeks ago. Since many customers look at a computer on site before striking, this consideration could also have been a factor in the final decision against new hardware.

In the end, Apple could clearly benefit from the decision. When the first ARM Macs are presented, whenever that is, almost all concerns about compatibility should be off the table, almost all relevant programs are available. Apple could then do exactly what the company can do best – and let its stylish, high-performance hardware speak for itself.

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