If Apple abandons the use of Intel CPUs in their future Mac computers they won’t enter a territory they haven’t been before. The tech pioneer used to use IBM and Motorola CPUs since its earliest days. However, in the middle of the last decade, Apple migrated to Intel CPUs and essentially ended its days of competing with Intel PCs on the basis of processor speed.
Now those days of Apple utilizing a unique CPU architecture that competes with Intel may soon be back, reports a Bloomberg story.
The initiative, code-named Kalamata, is apparently early in its development, which contradicts the intention of making such a move possible by 2020. When Apple moved from PowerPC to Intel the plan apparently took five years. Without getting into the impacts of this Kalamata move—from Intel x86 to Apple-designed CPUs—one of the most confusing questions that emerge from this story involves the upcoming modular Mac Pro.
Modular Mac Pro Woes
As associate editor, Akiko Ashley said the other night on a post-Nvidia GTC event phone call, “why purchase a new Mac Pro next year if in 2020 Apple moves to a new CPU architecture?”
“Exactly!” I quickly replied.
If Bloomberg’s story is spot on Apple will begin migrating Macs to new (possibly A series) Apple CPUs as early as 21 months from now. That, according to the Bloomberg story, will come in stages.
So let’s say the new modular Mac Pro in 2019 ships with Xeons from Intel. At what part of, and how long away, will the next model Mac Pro ship with an Apple CPU?
Bigger Problems Exists
This is just the first troubling aspect of this news. The larger issue has to do with the setback to Apple’s Mac developers. This especially hits hard in the pro apps space like in the CAD and 3D markets that Architosh covers.
Very few industrial heavy-weights in the AEC and manufacturing CAD and engineering software space write every single line of code in their tools. Instead, they rely on third-party software developers who write specialized toolsets, APIs, modeling and visualization engines, and data converter applications. A modern CAD application has a lot of stuff in it made by other people.
When Apple moved to Intel, suddenly Mac developers had possibilities that existing third-party software tools makers could quickly modify their developer toolkits to the new x86-based macOS. That’s largely what happened. Now going the other way will undo that progress and pose problems.
The Good News
The good news is that moving Macs to essentially the same CPU architecture as iPads and iPhones is a move to a very large platform. The Apple iOS platform is larger than the macOS platform. Many core technologies—like the graphics API OpenGL—exists already for ARM-based chips architectures in the form of OpenGL-ES.
Key tools like Siemens’ Parasolid modeling engine, the most popular such engine in the CAD market, is fully written for iOS and is essentially the same. (see: Architosh, “Why Shapr3D Changes the iPad Pro Story From Toy to Tool,” 1 Mar 2018)
Istvan Csanady, CEO and co-founder of Shapr3D, a ground-breaking new MCAD tool for just the Apple iPad Pro with Pencil (it requires the Pencil) told Architosh that the iOS as an operating system and the iPad Pro hardware is not a limiting factor in what Shapr3D can do. In other words, Apple’s iOS platform (software and hardware) appears up to the task on many levels to do everything that big workstation iron has done.
But is it really?
Many leading developers, including Autodesk, have praised the performances of Apple’s iPad Pro hardware and software. But for Apple to successfully move the macOS world over to the iOS (ARM-based chip) world of Apple A series processors, they will need to do many things really well, including helping not just major developers but the smaller developers that those larger developers depend on, to essentially rewrite their x86 legacy code bases over to ARM.