Apple’s M1 Processor May Have Sped Up More Than Just Macs

Smooth transition

Key Takeaways

  • When Apple switched to Intel, it took Adobe and Microsoft years to update their apps.
  • This time around, a Photoshop beta was ready on day one.
  • Apple has been laying the groundwork for this transition for years.
Apple's colorful promo image for its M1 processor.

When Apple switched its Macs over to Intel chips in 2005, it took months, if not years, for software makers to adapt to the change. This time, in the switch to Apple Silicon, it’s taking days and weeks.

Adobe recently released beta versions of Premier, Rush, and Audition. A compatible PhotoShop beta was ready as soon as the new M1 Macs were available, and Lightroom followed a few weeks later. Even Microsoft’s Office suite is ready to roll. What’s so different this time around?

"Microsoft says users should notice major performance improvements when using the Office apps on M1 Macs," writes 9to5 Mac’s Chance Miller. "The Office apps are Universal, which means they also continue to run with the latest updates and features on Intel Macs as well."

Be Prepared

There were two things that hobbled Apple’s transition from PowerPC to Intel 15 years ago. One was that Apple just wasn’t that important. Creative industries may have still preferred the Mac, but all the important software was also on PC. These days, when Apple makes a change, even the biggest developers quickly get in line. Back then, it wasn’t certain if Adobe or Microsoft would ever make the changes.

For example, Steve Jobs announced the Intel transition at the June 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference. Adobe didn’t even announce a compatible version of Photoshop until April 2006, which didn’t ship until December 2006.

"[P]artners like Adobe and Microsoft are still not ready with their Universal Binaries; although, the transition was announced over six months ago," wrote AnandTech’s Anand Lal Shimpi at the time.

So, one part of the problem was that Macs just weren’t that big a priority. Also, just like with the new Apple Silicon switch, many professionals didn’t upgrade immediately, and even if they did, apps would run well enough in Apple’s original Rosetta translator, which let you run your old PowerPC applications on the new Intel Macs.

The other problem was that it was a huge pain for developers to switch. Today, most developers use Apple’s Xcode tools to write and compile their code, but back then, they used their own tools, many of which were incompatible. This meant that updating their apps meant updating their tools first.

And this had already happened. When Apple switched from OS 9 to Mac OS X in 2001, developers had to rewrite their apps to follow along. This time the computers stayed the same, and the operating system changed. Apple implemented the Classic environment, which let older apps keep running. Without getting into the low-level details, this too was a huge pain for developers, especially those who make huge software suites.

Xcode Today

This time around, Apple claimed that developers could just check a box in Xcode and their apps would compile for Apple Silicon, as well as run natively on the new M1 Macs. Amazingly, that turned out to be more or less true.

"I had to recompile [my app]. That was it," Greg Pierce, developer of the Mac and iOS app, Drafts, told Lifewire via Twitter. "That said, I don’t do anything that’s not pretty stock use of Apple frameworks."

The difference? These days, the majority of Mac and iOS developers are using Xcode and writing their apps using Apple’s tools and frameworks. For Adobe and Microsoft, the hard transition work is behind them. Both companies have also been shipping Apple Silicon apps for the iPhone and iPad. It’s obviously not quite this simple, but that’s the general idea.

So, Apple’s transition to ARM-based Apple Silicon has been decades in the making. The difficulty of pulling important developers along for the OS X and Intel transitions probably still rankles some at Apple.

Institutionally, Apple doesn’t like to be at the mercy of anyone else. Couple that paranoia with the power that Apple now enjoys, and you can see how a combination of painstaking planning and brute force has made the Apple Silicon transition so smooth that it’s virtually a non-event.

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