Reflections on WWDC 2020
Yesterday was the keynote for WWDC 2020, the yearly Apple developer conference. While nothing in the keynote was that surprising, there were some interesting tidbits which signal solid direction in the way Apple is advancing. One of the most interesting “experiments” will be the long awaited convergence of mobile, tablet, & computing platforms.
Unlike Apple’s migration from PowerPC to Intel, or the general move from x86 to AMD64, the migration from Intel to ARM is going to cause a lot of unintended ripples (for good and bad) through the software community. For example, years ago Cloudflare compared Intel and Qualcomm built ARM servers and while on paper the ARM server looked extremely performant per watt, it fell very short on a number of specific cryptographic tasks. The average user would care about slow crypto a lot more than they realize - as almost everything done of the internet is encrypted today (or working towards it).
For the developer type, this change is going to be even more disruptive. The Mac Homebrew project leader said it best:
As a user: I’m really excited and have wanted this for years. As the @MacHomebrew project lead: it’s going to be a lot of hard work to get everything working but we’ve already started and we’ve dealt with similar disruptions in the past (e.g. clang).https://t.co/tuhXSHdkq6— Mike McQuaid (@MikeMcQuaid) June 23, 2020
Not unheard of, but also not easy. Homebrew Linux already supports ARM (such as for Raspberry Pis). However it is on a “best effort” basis and there are no binary files available (so larger projects can take quite some time to install/compile).
On the bright side Apple isn’t dumb and knows a lot of software is going to need to be updated for proper ARM support. Not only for the average consumer, but software that is very popular to use on their platform.
Apple will be contributing patches to widely used open source projects to add support for Apple Silicon 😳 pic.twitter.com/27SzRtxYr0— Mark Villacampa (@MarkVillacampa) June 22, 2020
For a long time ARM has been an extremly promising platform; that’s why it’s the defacto default for phones. However lack of mainstream support has held it back on the laptop/desktop platforms… until now. Apple’s move will forcibly improve ARM support on all platforms. Not that Linux and Windows don’t support ARM, they do, but the actual application software has always been a problem (see previously mentioned: Cloudflare crypto tests)
RIP OS X
Why this matters is best summarized:
I felt a great disturbance in the code, as if millions of regular expressions suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly broken. I fear something terrible has happened.https://t.co/RNXd6un5zI— Mike McQuaid (@MikeMcQuaid) June 23, 2020
Beyond just some developers, there are a lot of assumptions made about operating system version that will be broken by this change. It’s a very minor thing, but its going to be a tiny version of Y2K.
macOS 11 supports PencilKit, in case you needed yet another clue touchscreen macs are coming https://t.co/mlPVZGdPT5— Mark Villacampa (@MarkVillacampa) June 23, 2020
This all keeps in mind that for years iPadOS has been slowly working towards a more “desktop” like functionality with features such as keyboard & mouse support. Plus the iPad Pro is more powerful and expensive than the MacBook Air.
Hey They Stole It From Android/Apple
All this “theft” is a win for the users. Especially when the competing platform shows that they can do it better (and let’s be honest, Apple’s widget demo does look very slick).
In the end…
At the end of the day, Apple continues to innovate. They aren’t a perfect companym but neither are Google or Microsoft. Maybe it’s because I work in security (and that’s made me a bit jaded), but I evaluate companies these days based on who’s “least terrible”. Apple’s unified platfrom (from hardware, to software, to accessories) has gotten them in a lot of trouble recently with bullying and/or anti-competitive behavior but frankly so has Google. However that same platform has given them amazing strength. It allows them to put out a tiny accessory like the AirPods that seamlessly integrates to mobile, tablet, & desktop along with providing firmware updates so that they’re better on all platforms. That level of integration simply isn’t possible for anyone else to achieve currently.
The big question is, Can Apple continue its winning streak and be slightly less of a walled garden? Very few are happy with any of the major tech companies’ antics, so just a little change can go a long way. This WWDC could be the start of a good thing. Or we may just be watching Apple turn into 90’s Microsoft.