Apple silicon Macs: A tale of two transition paths

After years of speculation over whether it would happen, and months of rumors over how it will happen, the day’s almost here. This week, Apple is prepared to launch the third processor architecture transition in the history of the Mac.

In some ways we know exactly what to expect from this transition. We’ve seen the benchmarks on iPad and iPhone chips. We know that this will mean the ability to run iOS apps on Mac hardware, and we feel confident that performance and energy efficiency will be two major coups of the Mac switching to Apple’s own chips.

But, at the same time, we still don’t know the details of what approach Apple will take with the processor transition. As we sit just hours away from the announcement, there seem to be two distinct paths that Apple could take.

Business as usual

Back in 2006, when Apple made the jump from the PowerPC chips it had been using since the mid-90s to the Intel processors that powered the majority of the competing PC market, there was a lot of trepidation around the change, and not just for technical reasons. After all, Intel, with its cozy relationship with Microsoft and PC makers, had once upon a time been a symbol of everything Apple had stood in opposition to.

So, in no small part to assuage its customers that these new Macs would be just like the old Macs that they had come to know and love, Apple engineered a transition that was as boring as possible. Starting at that year’s Macworld Expo, the company slowly unveiled Intel-powered versions of its computers, which looked…exactly the same as their predecessors. Yes, the MacBook Pro name dispatched with the storied PowerBook line, but otherwise, there were no significant differences.

macbook pro Apple

The first Intel-based Mac laptop had no significant changes other than the processor.

The same for the Intel-powered iMac, which outwardly was identical to the iMac G5 that it supplanted. They were followed by an Intel-powered Mac mini and, later that year, the Mac Pro, both of which used the same enclosures as their predecessors.

Only the MacBook, which didn’t appear until the the late spring of 2016, looked like a wholly new computer than its PowerPC counterpart, the iBook, which switched to a widescreen display and the “chiclet” keyboard it still has today.

Rumors of the upcoming Apple silicon transition certainly make it sound like the Cupertino-based company will follow this playbook once again. Recent reports suggest that the company will unveil two Apple silicon-powered MacBook Pro models in 13-inch and 16-inch sizes, as well as a 13-inch MacBook Air model, all of which are purported to be more or less resemble the existing models.