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Apple Computers Software

Thoughts on Apple Silicon

WWDC has come and gone, and the rumors were largely true: Apple will begin a migration to its own CPUs (which Apple is currently just calling ‘Apple Silicon‘) sometime later this year. This move had been rumored for a few years now, so it came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Apple has long strived to control the entire widget, and with this move, it will remove Intel from the product matrix, giving Apple near total control over it’s Mac’s technological composition.

Now, Apple didn’t say anything about future Macs, apart from telling us they will use Apple Silicon. But if you watched enough technical presentations from WWDC, and paid attention to some of the details, there are some pretty obvious tells.

One of the biggest tells was Apple declaring in their keynote video that future Apple Silicon based Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps directly. These apps will be available in the Mac App Store automatically, unless Developers check a box that will restrict them from appearing there. Now, many iPad apps have been gaining mouse/trackpad input support, so these apps running on an Apple Silicon Mac will probably perform as good on a Mac as they will on an iPad. But what about iPhone apps? These apps generally do not have input device support beyond touch. How will these apps function on a Mac?

Touchscreen Macs.

Apple has been saying for a decade that adding touch input to a Mac was a bad idea. But during that same time, Apple has brought mouse/trackpad/keyboard/pen input to the iPad, something it said was best controlled with touch. So all the while Apple has been claiming that the Mac with a touchscreen would be a terrible compromise, they were bringing the Mac-ness of using a keyboard/mouse/pen to the iPad. So it clearly thinks that an iPad with expanded input support beyond touch is now a good idea.

If you’ve used the macOS Big Sur beta, you’ve no doubt noticed some of the big changes to the user interface/experience. Much of the UI looks more like iPad OS now. Apple is pushing for the Macs icons to use the same ‘squircle’ shape that the iPad/iOS use. It’s made the menu bar’s top items more spaced out, as if to allow for a larger touch target. They’ve applied the same spacing to the menu bar icons as well. The modal save/don’t save/cancel dialogs now feature larger buttons, as if to accommodate fingers instead of mouse cursors.

Control Center in macOS Big Sur. It sure does look like a lot of these UI elements are optimized for touch, doesn’t it?

So basically, Apple has made numerous UI enhancements that all seem to drive towards one goal – better input with something as imprecise as a finger.

Now, maybe we won’t get touch support when the first Macs with Apple Silicon ship later this year. Nobody knows which Macs will go first, but if it is a Mac with a built in screen, there’s a strong likelihood that it will feature a touchscreen.

There’s one other observation I’d like to make. Just a few years ago, Craig Federighi said during a keynote that Apple was not merging iOS and macOS. Well, they may both remain distinct OSes particular to their own hardware, but Apple has definitely gone just about as far as merging them as you can go without actually merging them.

The Proof:

  • iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur share a common design language.
  • With Apple Silicon, you can now develop for both platforms in one app codebase, using SwiftUI.
  • You can easily bring your UIKit iPad app over to the Mac, thanks to the work of project Catalyst.

And if the above two scenarios don’t work for your iPad app scenario, you can just run the iPad app as-is on your Apple Silicon based Mac.

Now, there are still some major distinctions between the two platforms. For instance, the iPad still lacks a window manager. It is reliant on the App Store for installing new apps. The iPad security model is more restricted than the Macs. It doesn’t have legacy hardware support for the devices like the Mac does. There is still a feature chasm between the two platforms. But that chasm has grown considerably smaller. It’s small enough now that comparing the high end of the iPad (the iPad Pro), and the low end of the Mac (Macbook Air), can make choosing one of these devices for a particular task difficult. Once the Macbook Air/Pro can run all of the same software that you can run on an iPad, along with software that’s not restricted to the App Store, the chasm will be even smaller between the two platforms.

That sure does sound like the two products have merged to me.

Oh, and one final thought. The TouchBar is a goner. There was no mention of any improvements to the TouchBar API during WWDC. With touchscreen capability coming to future screen enabled Macs, the TouchBar becomes relegated to the long list of Apple technologies that never quite made sense.

Now, if we could just get Apple to add the AppleTV remote to that list.

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