Apple Silicon at WWDC 2020: Everything you need to know

Apple has kicked off the fourth gigantic Mac evolution, and it's a transition that's been over a decade in the making.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

We've known it was going to happen for years, and that day has now come. Apple has announced the fourth evolution for the Mac -- a slow, but inevitable move away from Intel.

Apple's no stranger to making sweeping changes to the Mac. First, there was the PowerPC architecture. Then, Apple made the shift to MacOS X. Next, came the shift to Intel processors. Today sees Apple begin the transition away from Intel and to Apple Silicon.

So, what is Apple Silicon? 

Well, essentially right now, it seems to be Apple's A12Z 64-bit ARM-based system on a chip used to power the 2020 iPad Pro.


At no point in the presentation did Apple make any mention of Arm, and it only made passing references to Intel.

This is about pushing the Apple brand forward.

Must read: WWDC 2020: iOS 14 kills the biggest iPhone annoyance

WWDC 2020: Apple Silicon highlights in pictures

What can Apple Silicon do?

During the WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple previewed hardware running this chip and it showed it doing things like running Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as Adobe Creating Cloud applications, and it showed it handling heavy workloads such as rendering four 4K Apple ProRes video streams in Final Cut Pro without breaking a sweat.

Apple was very clear about what's behind the move: Offering more performance with fewer power demands and delivering the best of both the notebook and desktop worlds without the downsides.


What are the specs?

As is Apple's style, there were no benchmarks putting Apple Silicon against Intel chips. 

But Apple wasn't backward in coming forward with its silicon credentials -- over two billion chips shipped in more than a decade. It's been designing the A-series processors, pushing the performance of the iPhone chips up a hundred-fold, and the iPad graphics performance up a thousand-fold. Apple is no longer reliant on Nvidia for GPUs, and it has gained an encyclopedic knowledge of everything that's needed to design and develop world-class silicon.


What is Rosetta 2?

When Apple made the shift from PowerPC to Intel, it used a binary translator called Rosetta to offer backward compatibility. The new macOS release -- codenamed Big Sur -- will ship with Rosetta 2, and this will automatically translate existing Mac apps at install time, all happening behind the scenes without any input from the user.

There were also no specs given on how well the Rosetta 2 translator worked and the performance hit. But Apple showed off the A12Z-powered Mac running iPhone and iPad apps. Also demoed was Linux running in a virtual machine. 

"What about Windows 10?" I hear you ask. Well, eagle-eyed viewers of the keynote will have noticed a Windows virtual machine in the dock running inside Parallels Desktop.


When will Apple Silicon Macs be ready?

As for timelines, here is where Apple was playing it vague and carefully. While a developer kit that includes an A12X-equipped Mac mini with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage will be available from this week, the first Apple Silicon Macs will be available "by the end of the year."

Apple CEO Tim Cook was also keen to point out that the company had more Intel-based Macs in the pipeline for release this year, but the full transition to Apple Silicon will take two years, and macOS will continue to support Intel Macs for years to come.

While Apple didn't in any way criticize Intel, the message was clear: In a little over a decade of designing chips for the iPhone, Apple can now easily replace the chip-giant and get better performance in the deal.

If that's not a signal to Intel that it needs to up its game, I don't know what is.

Editorial standards