Apple’s transition to ARM-based Macs may begin with a brand new 12-inch MacBook

It has been rumored for quite some time that Apple is planning to transition away from Intel chips in its Mac desktops and notebooks, opting for its own design with ARM-based processors. How Apple gets there, though, has been a point of contention.

Some have speculated that Apple will, essentially, just make the switch altogether, launching a range of new Apple-branded notebooks and desktops with the new processors inside. Others, though, believe we’ll see a slower transition, with one device leading the charge for all the others. Whatever happens in that regard, last we heard Apple is going to announce its transition to ARM-based Macs later this month at the upcoming all-digital Worldwide Developers Conference.

Now, a leaker that goes by the title Fudge, or @chobo_bit on Twitter, has detailed what they believe Apple’s move to ARM will actually look like, noting at the top of the post on Reddit that this will take years before the full rollout is completed. One of the more interesting details of the post, though, is how things will start (via MacRumors): a new, revitalized 12-inch MacBook.

Fudge believes that Apple will bring back the smaller notebook to herald in the change to ARM-based Macs.

Before we get there, though, Fudge looks back at how this all began, specifically with the T1 coprocessor in the MacBook Pro that Apple introduced in 2016. That eventually led to the T2 coprocessor, and Fudge says this was Apple’s first step in the transition to custom-made chips for its desktops and notebooks.

The next step is the first Mac notebook with an ARM-based chip under the hood, and Fudge genuinely believes that we will see Apple bring back the 12-inch MacBook to get there. That may raise a red flag for you, because the introduction of the original 12-inch MacBook also brought with it the butterfly keyboard, which, ultimately, did not lead to great things for Apple. The company even dropped the butterfly keyboard altogether with its most recent MacBook Pro and MacBook Air refreshes, but we may be seeing it again.

Fudge believes a revitalized 12-inch MacBook could see Apple also welcome back a redesigned butterfly keyboard, too:

There are rumors that Apple is still working internally to perfect the infamous Butterfly keyboard, and there are also signs that Apple is developing an A14x based processors with 8-12 cores designed specifically for use as the primary processor in a Mac. It makes sense that this model could see the return of the Butterfly keyboard, considering how thin and light it is intended to be, and using an A14x processor would make it will be a very capable, very portable machine, and should give customers a good taste of what is to come.

Fudge doesn’t know if there will be any design changes with the new 12-inch MacBook compared to the original model, which would make sense. There isn’t a lot of real estate there to change, unless Apple wants to (hopefully) reduce the bezels around the 12-inch screen.

Boot Camp may get booted in Apple’s efforts to switch to ARM-based chips. It’s not a secret that emulating x86_64 on ARM-based machines isn’t as smooth as many would like, and, as a result, Apple may abandon Boot Camp as a necessary sacrifice to the switch, at least until Microsoft’s Windows operating system gets friendlier with the hardware.

Looking ahead, and, more specifically at app support, Fudge details how Apple could address apps made for Macs that are distributed outside of the Mac App Store:

  • Developer will need to build both x86_64 and ARM version of their app – App Bundles have supported multiple-architecture binaries since the dawn of OS X and the PowerPC transition

  • Move to apps being distributed in an architecture-independent manner, as they are on the App Store. There is some software changes that are suggestive of this, such as the new architecture in dyld3.

  • An x86_64 instruction decoder in silicon – very unlikely due to the significant overhead this would create in the silicon design, and potential licensing issues. (ARM, being a RISC, “reduced instruction set”, has very few instructions; x86_64 has thousands)

  • Server-side ahead-of-time transpilation (converting x86 code to equivalent ARM code) using Notarization submissions – Apple certainly has the compiler chops in the LLVM team to do something like this

  • Outright emulation, similar to the approach that was taken in ARM releases of Windows, but received extremely poorly (limited to 32-bit apps, and very very slow)There could be other solutions in the works to fix this but I am not aware of any. This is just me speculating about some of the possibilities.

As it stands right now, expectations are that we’re going to see the first ARM-based Mac, which will probably be a notebook, in 2021. However, as noted before, we could see the first signs of Apple’s plans to change things up at this year’s WWDC. Which would make sense, the company has to make sure that developers have plenty of time before the change happens, even if it is going to be a slow transition overall.

Go read through Fudge’s full post, it’s definitely worth a read.

What do you make of all this? Are you looking forward to Apple using custom-made chips in its Mac lineup? Or would you prefer to see the company stick with Intel? Let us know!