Apple Silicon and What It Means to Developers

by Tiffany Tang | Jul. 8, 2020

After 15 years of using Intel processors, in early July, Apple announced at the World Wide Developer Conference 2020 that it would be transitioning its Mac and Macbook computers to ARM processors instead.  What would this mean for companies that design software, applications, and games for the Mac ecosystem? 

By developing its own chip for laptops and desktops, Apple is dictating its own product lineup without depending on a third party.  By switching to the ARM processors, Apple reclaims design control over its products.  Apple’s new chips, called Apple Silicon, will be completely customized, but with implementation using an ARM instruction set.

Technically, Apple could license the Intel x86 instruction set architecture, but ARM processors are known for lower power consumptions compared to the x86.  Basically, Apple can make its Macbooks with longer power usage.  But more importantly, Apple switched to building its own chip so it can gain control of the entire production line from hardware to software. Owning the entire process will not only allow Apple to have a better idea of how its products will perform, but it also opens the door for Apple to optimize its products up to its standards.

The transition to ARMS processors means that some Mac applications will not be native to the new Macs.  For applications that support both x86 and ARM, Apple is introducing the “Universal 2” binary that will package both codebases together.  It’s also bringing back another version of Rosetta, called Rosetta 2, which works as an emulator for applications that haven’t made the transition to ARM. This program allows for x86 applications to run on ARM Macs; however, those applications will be running with reduced performance.   

Apple knows this transition can be troublesome for its software and application developers who have been working with Intel processors.  To help them through this transition, Apple is providing a “Developer Transition Kit” which comes with an Apple A12Z SoC.  It’s meant for developers who want to port their x86 applications to ARM macOS, and it comes with a beta version of Big Sur. 

For Mac game developers, the future is murky.  Not only are most games made for Windows, but porting triple-A games is extremely expensive.  While most games that are available on Macs are ports of Windows games, the cost and effort to developers far outweigh the benefit of making their games available to Macs, not to mention that the quality falls short on the Macs compared to Windows.  With the ARM’s processor, porting Windows games may be even more expensive and difficult.   Apple may be willing to sacrifice of revenue in favor of focusing on higher revenues from iPhone games.  According to a 2020 Parks Associates study, only 18% of U.S. PC gamers prefer to use Apple/Mac compared to 72% who prefer Windows.

  

Apple’s iPhone app store has had much greater traction than PC gaming, and the new Apple Silicon provides game developers the option to choose whether their iOS and iPadOS games are listed in the Mac App Store.  These games will then run natively so they won’t encounter the same quality issues as ported Windows games.  In addition, it’s far less expensive and wearisome to make an iPhone game work well on an Apple Silicon Mac than it is to port a triple-A, DirectX game in Windows to Metal in macOS.  We’ll have to see what the future holds for Apple’s game developers.

For more information on gaming, adoption and insight into Apple products  visit Parks Associates website: 360 View: CE Adoption & Trends 3Q 2019.



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