Apple analyst (but not botanist) Ming Chi-Kuo recently made some interesting claims about the future of Apple’s Mac lineup in an industry report accessed by MacRumors. According to him, we’ll be seeing Macs with ARM processes as early as the end of this year. Meanwhile, USB 4.0 will come to the Mac lineup by 2022. While the latter is to be expected as the USB standard continues to evolve, the former claim about ARM-based Macs is very interesting, in terms of compatibility and performance.
ARM CPUs are built on a RISC architecture that’s distinct from the x86 processors used in most PCs (and Macs). This means that code meant to run on x86 processors cannot run natively on ARM implementations and vice versa. Since all Macs and MacBooks to date are built with x86 processors, this would pose a major challenge to developers. They’d have to update their software and recompile it for ARM. In many cases, this is more than a trivial task: it could as significant–if not more–as the great 32-bit Purge.
One possible option is what Microsoft is doing: ARM-based Snapdragon laptops emulate x86 applications when running Windows. The trouble with this is that the emulation layer adds a massive amount of overhead, leading to performance that’s half or even a third of what it could be. There’s no real alternative to running native code. If Apple’s bringing ARM to the table, we expect they’ll have a viable solution, though.