macOS Big Sur marks the end of an era for Apple and the beginning of all things new.
The next major update to macOS, the software that drives Apple’s Mac computers, is called Big Sur. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find macOS Big Sur is actually macOS 11. Not macOS 10.(x). If you haven’t guessed already, Apple is finally letting go of OS X after almost 20 years of use (Mac OS X was first released in the year 2000). You can say that it’s the end of an era and probably even more far-reaching than when Apple killed iTunes last year.
Back in the day, macOS (OS X) versions were a paid upgrade (and they had big cat names; Leopard and Jaguar for instance). It was only in 2013 (with the Mavericks update) that Apple started offering them as free downloads, and oh, the cat names were gone too. But in the middle of all this, one thing remained constant. The fact that OS X was there at every newsworthy crossroad in the history of Apple and its many hardware transitions. From the “classic” Apple days to the new-age avatar (without the iconic Steve Jobs), and everything in the middle, OS X has seen it all.
But all good things must come to an end, at least that’s what Apple would like to believe, now that it’s on the verge of another transition. And it’s a big one. Big Sur marks the beginning of a new phase for Apple. Going forward, it is looking to leave behind memories of the last few years, memories that haven’t been kind, with the Mac (especially the MacBook) being marred in controversy. From failing butterfly keyboards to heating issues, it’s been one heck of a ride for Apple and the Mac. But there’s been an even bigger issue. Apple has itself been unhappy or rather unsatisfied with the Mac’s performance even though it continues to push out one of the most powerful (and expensive) computers in the world year on year.
The bone of contention has been Intel and its slowing performance gains. Apple believes there’s potential for more (power and efficiency), and Intel has been simply unable to deliver. Which is where Apple’s custom silicon comes into the picture.
Apple has been rumoured to be secretly working on its own ARM-based custom processor for the Mac for years now. Rumours that grew only stronger after Apple poached lead ARM architect Mike Filippo last year, to seemingly ramp up its efforts. And on June 22, 2020, CEO Tim Cook finally announced that Apple was indeed parting ways (or it was ready to part ways) with Intel and switching to its own processors for the Mac. Though a number of Intel-powered Mac computers are still in the pipeline, and Apple also plans to continue supporting existing devices for years, it’s obvious that the company is ready to ditch Intel for something that’s made a lot of sense for forever now, especially after Apple started making its own chips for the iPhone and iPad, but it happens when it happens. And it’s happening now.
Which is why a transition from OS X to OS 11 was also necessary. Apple says most (if not all) iPhone and iPad apps will work natively on its soon-to-launch ARM-based Mac computers and its custom processor will share core architecture with its existing chips, those that power its iPhones and iPads. Clearly Apple is looking to unify its products which is why it was probably not a good idea to stick around with OS X anymore. Microsoft tried to do something similar with its universal apps, though without any custom hardware chops. Apple, because it will control the whole ecosystem end to end, has a much greater chance to pull this off, though it would still be risky at least during the initial run.
Apple says it would take only a matter of days for developers to build apps for future Macs powered by its custom silicon. It is also ready to ship a Developer Transition Kit (that includes a Mac Mini with Apple processor) to make it easier for them to switch or port their apps to the new architecture.
Apple isn’t revealing any technical details such as clock speeds and benchmarks yet. But it is promising new levels of performance (and efficiency), which is classic Apple. Long-term Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that switching to ARM will boost Mac performance by up to 50% (even 100% in some cases). That’s the interesting (and exciting) part. But all that power without well optimized software and apps, will be a lost cause, and that is why Big Sur, great sir, is such a big deal. Hopefully, it won’t disappoint.