Macs Switching to Apple Silicon from Intel Chips: Q. & A.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, the company dropped a bombshell: in the future, Macs will no longer be powered by Intel chips but will instead rely on custom-designed Apple chips. As surprising as this is, the company has made such massive transitions twice before: first in 1994 with the move from Motorola’s 68000 chips to IBM’s PowerPC platform, and again in 2006 with the jump to processors from Intel. Here are answers to the main questions we’ve been hearing.

What is “Apple silicon”?

For many years now, Apple has created its own chips to power the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV. These chips, the A series, are based on a platform called ARM, though Apple took pains to avoid saying that during the keynote. Of all Apple’s products, only the Mac continues to use processors from Intel.

Apple said it would be creating chips specifically to power Macs, although they’ll be part of the same chip family used in iOS devices. That makes sense since macOS and iOS share a great deal of code under the hood.

Why is Apple making this transition?

There are three main reasons:

  • Performance: With its ARM-based A series of chips, Apple has achieved high levels of performance per watt. When chips run faster, they consume a lot more power, which cuts into battery life and produces a lot of heat. By creating its own chips, Apple can tweak the designs to the sweet spot of performance and power consumption for any given Mac—laptops trade processing power for longer battery life, whereas desktops have fewer tradeoffs. Plus, Apple can build special technologies, like advanced power management and high-performance video editing, into its chips to enhance those capabilities in macOS.
  • Profit: Apple didn’t mention this in the keynote, but it’s a big deal. Intel processors have high profit margins, and Apple would prefer to keep that money instead of paying it to Intel.
  • Control: Apple CEO Tim Cook has famously said, “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.” With Apple making its own chips, its product roadmaps are within its control, rather than being subject to Intel’s schedule, capabilities, and whims.

When will the first Macs with Apple silicon appear?

Apple said that we’d see the first Mac with Apple silicon by the end of 2020. If past performance is any indication, expect it in December.

The company did not say what type of Mac it would be, although the Developer Transition Kit hardware that developers can rent from Apple is a Mac mini with the same A12Z chip that runs the latest iPad Pro models. Other likely possibilities include the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac.

Is it better to wait for Macs with Apple silicon or buy Intel-based Macs while I can?

There are two schools of thought here. Some recommend buying the first models that appear after a major chip change because Macs with the previous chips may have a shorter effective lifespan once the transition is complete. Others prefer to buy the last models with the earlier chips under the assumption that the first new Macs might have unanticipated problems.

For the longest lifespan, wait for new Macs with Apple silicon. But if you’re worried that the first models out will have teething pains, invest in the last Intel-based Macs.

How long will Apple keep selling Intel-based Macs?

The company said that it anticipates releasing new Intel-based Macs for roughly 2 years and that it has some exciting new models in the pipeline.

How long will Apple continue to support Intel-based Macs?

Apple didn’t commit to a specific length of time but said it would be releasing new software and supporting Intel-based Macs “for years to come.” In the previous processor transition from PowerPC to Intel, Apple maintained the Rosetta translation environment for over 5 years.

In other words, if you buy an Intel-based Mac today, it should have an effective lifespan of at least 3–5 years. Businesses often refresh their Macs on such a cycle, so that’s not unreasonable.

Will my existing software run on a Mac with Apple silicon?

Happily, yes! Apple announced Rosetta 2, which will ship with macOS before Macs with Apple silicon appear. Rosetta 2 automatically translates existing Intel-based apps and can even dynamically translate apps with just-in-time code. If that all sounds like mumbo-jumbo, don’t worry—Apple said that Rosetta 2 will be completely transparent to the user.

We hope that’s true, but Rosetta 2 will probably work only with 64-bit apps that work in 10.15 Catalina. Old 32-bit apps that don’t run in Catalina are unlikely to be supported, nor will low-level software like kernel extensions. Plus, with translated software, performance is always a question.

Will I have to upgrade my apps for Macs with Apple silicon?

Although existing apps should still run, thanks to Rosetta 2, developers will be recompiling their apps to take advantage of all the capabilities of Apple silicon, so where upgrades are available, you’ll generally want to take advantage of them. Native apps running on Apple silicon should enjoy better performance.

Will I still be able to run Windows software in Boot Camp or a virtualization app?

Maybe. Apple talked about virtualization on Macs with Apple silicon and even showed off Parallels Desktop running Linux (versions of which run on ARM chips) but said nothing about Windows.

There are some ARM-based PCs, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, that come with Windows 10 for ARM. So our guess is that Boot Camp is history, but you’ll be able to run Windows 10 for ARM in Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. That may be sufficient if your needs are mainstream, but Windows 10 for ARM has a long list of restrictions.

Are there any other advantages to Macs with Apple silicon?

Indeed! Apple said that Macs with Apple silicon would be able to run all iPhone and iPad apps. During the keynote, the company demoed a few such apps running in their own windows on a Mac with Apple silicon. Whether this is game-changing depends on your needs, but given the millions of apps for the iPhone and iPad, it could be compelling.

Is this transition a good move?

Although there will undoubtedly be some bumps along the way, we think it is. Macs with Apple silicon should be faster and have better battery life than comparable Macs with Intel-based chips. It’s possible that Apple will lower prices too, given the savings from not buying expensive chips from Intel. And while the capability to run iPhone and iPad apps won’t float everyone’s boat, it could be useful.

And if nothing else, it’s yet another example of how we live in interesting times.

(Featured image by Apple)

Find Files in the Finder Better by Specifying a Search Scope

This isn’t about periscopes or mouthwash—when it comes to searching, a scope is the area in which a search takes place. When you use the Search field in a Finder window to look for files and folders, you have the choice of two scopes: This Mac or the current folder. You can always switch the scope after starting the search by clicking the other choice near the top of the window, but it’s easier to set the default search scope in Finder > Preferences > Advanced so it’s set right to start. From the “When performing a search” pop-up menu, choose Search This Mac to search across all indexed drives, Search the Current Folder to limit the search to the folder showing when you start the search, or Use the Previous Search Scope. Most of the time, if you have any idea where the item you’re looking for might be, selecting an enclosing folder and then searching within it is the best approach.

(Featured image by Noah Fischer from Pixabay)

Here’s What You Should Know about Battery Health Management in Catalina

We all want Mac laptops that can run for days on a single charge and never need their batteries serviced. Sadly, we’re always going to be disappointed. Battery and power management technologies continually improve, but those improvements are matched by more powerful processors and smaller designs with less room for battery cells. And, because physics is a harsh mistress, current lithium-ion batteries are always going to age chemically, so they hold less of a charge over time.

In the just-released macOS 10.15.5 Catalina, Apple has introduced a new battery health management feature that promises to increase the effective lifespan of the batteries in recent Mac laptops. It does this by monitoring the battery’s temperature and charging patterns and, in all likelihood, reducing the maximum level to which it will charge the battery.

You see the problem. While battery health management can extend your battery’s overall lifespan, it will likely also reduce your everyday runtime before you need to charge. It’s too soon to know the full extent of this tradeoff, and we suspect that it may be impossible to determine, given that everyone uses their Macs differently.

It’s worth noting that this battery health management feature appears only for those running macOS 10.15.5 or later, and only then if the Mac in question is a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 ports. In essence, then, it’s available only on MacBook Pro models introduced in 2016 or later, and MacBook Air models introduced in 2018 and later. (The Thunderbolt 3 port requirement is merely a shorthand way for Apple to indicate “recent Mac laptops.”)

So, if you have a supported laptop and you’re running macOS 10.15.5, what should you do? We see three scenarios:

  • Favor lifespan: If you seldom run your laptop’s battery down to the electronic fumes because it’s easy for you to plug in whenever you need to charge, leave battery health management enabled. That will preserve the battery’s overall lifespan to the extent possible.
  • Favor runtime: For those who need to eke every last bit of power from their batteries, disable battery health management. You might have to replace the battery sooner, but you’ll get more runtime in everyday usage.
  • Switch as needed: Many people need the longest possible runtime only occasionally, such as on long flights with no under-seat power. In such situations, switch battery health management off for the flight and back on when you return to normal usage patterns.

Switching is easy, but Apple buries it deeply enough that it’s clear that the company doesn’t think most users should be disabling it regularly. Open System Preferences > Energy Saver, click the Battery Health button at the bottom, and in the dialog that appears, uncheck Battery Health Management and click OK. You’ll be prompted to make sure you know what you’re doing; click Turn Off to finish the job.

One final note. The reduced maximum capacity with battery health management enabled may have an undesirable side effect—a recommendation from the Battery Status menu’s health indicator that you need to replace your battery. To check your battery’s health, hold the Option key down and click the Battery Status icon on the menu bar. At the top of the menu, next to Condition, you’ll see either Normal or Service Recommended. (In previous versions of macOS, it could have said Replace Soon, Replace Now, or Service Battery.)

Regardless of the term, anything but Normal indicates that your battery is holding less of a charge than when it was new. If you see that message and you aren’t getting enough runtime for your needs, get the battery evaluated at an Apple-authorized service provider or Apple Store.

(Featured image by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash)

Set Your Preferred Name and Photo for Messages in iOS 13

In your list of conversations in Messages, you probably have lots of people who have generic icons next to their names or numbers. You likely look like that to other people as well, but a new feature in iOS 13 lets you share your preferred name and avatar picture with other iMessage users (blue-bubble friends). In Messages, first tap the ••• button and then Edit Name and Photo. Then, in the activity view that appears, tap Edit under your photo to select a new photo and set your name as you want it. Make sure Name and Photo Sharing is enabled before tapping Done. From now on, for any iMessage conversations, you’ll see a little banner at the top that asks if you want to share your name and photo. Do so and your recipient will get a prompt to replace whatever they’re seeing for you. (And if, as a recipient, you don’t want to accept the new photo, tap the X button at the right of the prompt.)

(Featured image by Daniel Frese from Pexels)

Here’s How to Set a Default Printer on the Mac

If you have access to multiple printers, you probably know that you can choose one from the Printer pop-up menu at the top of the Print dialog. But macOS has a feature that should make it so you don’t have to switch printers manually as often. Open System Preferences > Printers & Scanners, and look at the bottom of the Print view. The Default Printer pop-up menu lists all your installed printers, plus an option for the Last Printer Used. That last one makes sense if you print a number of documents to the big office Canon, switch to printing images on the Epson photo printer for a while, and then switch back again. But if you primarily print to one printer, choose it from the Default Printer pop-up menu. You can still switch to another printer in the Print dialog anytime you want, but your main printer will always be the default.

(Featured image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

iPhone Not Charging? Clean Its Lightning Port with a Toothpick

If you’re plugging your iPhone in regularly but getting low-battery warnings when you shouldn’t, consider the possibility that something is preventing your iPhone from charging successfully while plugged in. If there’s no lightning bolt badge on the battery icon when the iPhone is plugged in, that’s a sure sign that no power is reaching the device. Another hint that failures could be happening intermittently would be a lack of charging in the Last Charge Level graph in Settings > Battery when you know the iPhone was plugged in. Luckily, the solution is often easy. Take a wooden (not metal) toothpick and gently poke around inside the iPhone’s Lightning port for pocket fuzz. You’d be amazed how much crud can end up in there. If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem and you use only a single Lightning cable to charge, try another one.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)