Apple is going to turn the silicon world upside down at WWDC

A report says the company will trash Intel CPUs in laptops and desktops, and announce a switch to its own, ARM-based chips at the developer conference.

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According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple plans to absolutely upend the silicon world order by introducing Macs powered by its in-house ARM-based CPUs at this year’s WWDC. The chips would be based on the A14 chip — rumored to appear in this year’s new iPhone — a successor to the A13 Bionic and A12Z Bionic, currently used in the iPhone 11 Pro and latest iPad Pro, respectively. According to early supply chain reports, the new silicon is not only custom built to Apple's spec, but will be blazingly fast.

A new dawn — According to the report, the shift away from Intel silicon for its core lineup of desktops and laptops is fueled by diminishing performance gains in recent Intel chips. Apparently, Apple’s chip development group has concerns that sticking to Intel’s roadmap would cause delays with product plans for its more traditional hardware. Johny Srouji, who heads up the company’s efforts in custom silicon, is responsible for the company’s A4 chip, its first SoC, and is leading the charge on the shift away from Intel’s x86 architecture.

According to the Bloomberg report, the new ARM CPUs from Apple exhibit “sizable improvements” over Intel’s efforts, including significantly increased graphics performance. The report also mentions that the Apple hardware boosts artificial intelligence processing performance, which could play a big role as Apple dives deeper into machine learning and real-time AR processing.

Originally this new ARM-based hardware was slated to be introduced this year, but because of coronavirus-related delays (and likely the softness of the market at present), things may slip into 2021.

World Wide developer headaches — The one hitch in the program is that because of these major changes to underlying architecture, developers will have to update and outright rewrite some of their work, meaning a delay between this announcement and the actual release of these products so devs have time to play catch-up. It makes sense that Apple would introduce such a radical shift at its developers' conference, and the company has already been taking steps to unify its platforms. In 2014 it introduced its own programming language, Swift, and has been marrying features and apps in recent software releases across both iOS and MacOS.

One item of note on the transition, as well-known developer Steve Troughton-Smith points out, the last shift — away from PowerPC chips to Intel — was handled by loaning out new hardware ahead of time to devs. This time around, the “dev kit” may simply be an iPad with Apple’s new Magic Keyboard accessory. Quite a change.

A full-scale attack — The real story here is the coming challenge to Intel as the reigning chip king, and Apple’s ascendancy as not just a hardware maker but a cross-platform silicon leader. As Bloomberg notes, Apple plans to use these new ARM-based chips in its highest performing desktops (hello Mac Pro), suggesting that in the near future the company will have a proprietary set of chips that outperform the leading chipmaker’s efforts in a space it has long dominated. Highly kitted-out PCs have long been the platform of choice for graphic intensive applications like game development (and game playing) and video production, but if Apple can showcase that its silicon is a true step up from what Intel has offered, a sea-change might be afoot in some core industries. At least — with just 10 percent of the PC marketshare — that’s probably what Apple is hoping for.