A month ago, Apple introduced the world to a game-changing move that has the potential to ignite a revolution in the PC space: the move to ARM architecture. Even though the exact wording by the Cupertino-based company is that they’re moving to their own Apple Silicon, the world knows by now that the company meant a move to the ARM architecture. After all, they have been using their own in-house silicon for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch — which, to be frank, are all based on the ARM architecture.
Some may say that this move will cause a huge shift in the PC segment. They have their reasons to do so, and it boils down to one thing: performance. ARM processors have been giving a decent performance without sipping much of a device’s battery life, as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Apple’s A-series chipset have demonstrated time and time again.
This key factor has likely pushed Apple to pursue its own chipset-making efforts and strengthen its resolve in pushing its own silicon to more powerful devices. For years, ARM has been strong-armed by x86 architecture on laptops and desktops simply because Intel’s architecture provides more performance. However, benchmarks over the years have shown that ARM chipset is somehow capable of providing desktop-class performance. The only missing thing is one strong push towards transitioning traditional desktop OS and apps into the ARM architecture.
Then, WWDC 2020 happened. Apple is now transitioning macOS to the ARM architecture. As such, developers have to recompile their code for ARM. Those who don’t comply sooner have to face the wrath of Apple’s plan for x86 in the future. It is going to take a lot of hard work for some since x86 is entrenched long enough that a majority of code is sometimes dependent on x86-only libraries.
The long hard work for developers may pay off with a decent performance for the users. This, while consuming lesser battery. As such, the world may finally see a laptop that really touts an all-day battery life for the first time.
The benefits of macOS on ARM, however, may not only extend to its Apple user base. Surprisingly, Windows 10 users may also see some benefits. That is if they run the new Windows 10 on ARM too.
While Apple’s shift to ARM is new and perhaps shocking to most this year, another company had been making steady headway into ARM transition. Microsoft, with its ever-popular Windows 10, already began its transition to ARM last year.
However, it's not really a transition: it’s more of a show of support that Windows can run on any devices. And considering that ARM is slowly taking over the world, Windows 10 on ARM is Microsoft’s signal that it is ready to take the architecture seriously. It even partnered with Qualcomm for the chipset that powers its Surface Pro X. That device, together with Windows 10 on ARM, signals Microsoft’s gamble that the architecture is the future.
Microsoft has been slowly and painfully dragging on that gamble, though. Windows 10 on ARM still supports a measly number of desktop apps, and there are fewer laptops with support for the architecture and the OS. That’s the reason why Apple’s move to ARM is not just beneficial to its loyal userbase, but also to those adopting Microsoft’s vision for ARM.
macOS’ move to ARM will actually incentivize more developers to build more apps for the architecture. These developers will then be encouraged to support Windows 10 since it’s not a stretch to develop apps on the same architecture for a different OS. For example, Adobe can easily bring their Creative Cloud to Windows 10 on ARM should their macOS ARM version really bode well.
The success of macOS on ARM will also affect the standing of Windows 10 on ARM in the foreseeable future. If all goes well, manufacturers may soon take notice of ARM and sell more ARM-based laptops in the future. This creates a cycle where the more manufacturers are on board, the more consumers will buy ARM-based laptops. This, in turn, reinforces the need for more developers building for the architecture.
However, the extent on which Windows 10 on ARM will benefit from macOS’ transition is also dependent on a single factor: Microsoft’s dedication to the architecture. Time and time again, the company has demonstrated some poor planning over its software development process. Remember Windows 10S? Nope, most people don’t remember that — precisely because Microsoft also gave up hopes on that.
The same thing can also happen for Windows 10 on ARM. It is not farfetched to think that Microsoft will again bust its efforts on porting its software to the new architecture. After all, support for Windows 10 on ARM has only seen the slightest interest from consumers and companies. If at any rate, Microsoft decides to push the pause button on its ARM efforts, then Windows 10 on ARM will slowly lose the spill-over benefits from ARM macOS.
Then, there’s also the performance issues. While Apple Silicon has been steadily trading blows with Intel’s x86 chipsets, the same can’t be said for other ARM-based chipsets. However, any performance gap is likely to be ironed out in the near future should more manufacturers jump ship and use ARM for desktops and laptops.
Still, it’s too early to tell how Windows 10 on ARM will play out in the future. Perhaps the benefits of ARM macOS will impact the PC industry and creates a domino effect where ARM-based systems are favored than x86 ones. Only time will surely tell.
But whatever happens, any benefit from macOS’ move to ARM will also translate to an advantage for Microsoft’s beloved Windows 10.